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Potatoes

Potato Stall, Union Square Market, New York

Potato Stall, Union Square Market, New York

Of the great passions to which I’ll publicly admit, two are gambling and food.  Every Monday night, I combine both.  At a shady poker league, I make the rules.  One of the unbreakable ones demands that last week’s pot winner provides next week’s snacks.

Usually, the blokes just lay down a lazy fifty for some average pizza.  One memorable night, however, a fella made baked potatoes. The pizzas arrived as usual, but the sizable Irish contingent in our league looked as though they’d just seen the Pope.  Through a misty vale of tears, six young men from County Wicklow landed on the spuds in preference to pizza with a passion.

Carb count aside; if you’ve a little Irish in you, there’s no point in denying your love for this humble root vegetable.

Although, my mother did do her best to ruin the potato for all time.  Thanks to the foul alchemy of over-boiling, she turned them into grey, chalky flavourless little pellets.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

Now is a decent time to go on the hunt for out-of-the-ordinary potatoes. There’s an excellent spud seller at South Melbourne Markets and some upright purveyors at Prahran and Queen Vic. Here, you’ll almost certainly be able to find the new staple of posh kitchens, the Dutch cream.  This waxy, rich cream-coloured veg is a genuine indulgence au gratin. It’s of such sterling quality, though, that you can just enjoy it gently boiled in its skin with a little sea salt.

You’ll need your ready reference guide to match a tuber with its purpose.  If it’s mash you’re after, add butter, double cream and waist-band inches to Nicolas, Desirees, Bintjes, or King Edwards. For fries, select low sugar varieties such as Sebago, Russet Burbanks, and Bintje. For potato salads, favour waxy varieties like Pink Fir, Patrone or Pink Eyes. If you’re preparing the classic Nicoise or any of its wonderful springtime variations, you may not use anything but Kipfler. I also like to use chats in a salad. And Malaysian curry powder, crushed peanuts, coriander and good mayonnaise to the little boiled bullets.

My favourite way with potatoes, perhaps a Sebago, is to slice thinly and layer the discs in a baking pan with olive oil and a goodly amount of minced garlic between the spud sheets. The taters turn out equally soft and crispy in all the right places after about 40 minutes at 190°. As winter does not seem to be done with us, this could be served in the next few weeks with quality kransky or wurst and some sauerkraut.  What cold afternoon is not improved, after all, by a good continental sausage?

Potato in an even simpler form is the buzzing gastronomic dish right now in Melbourne.

Ripponlea’s Attica is serving “A simple dish of potato cooked in the earth it was grown” to scores of die-hard foodies. I adore all this swooning over Ben Shewry’s $20 spud. I haven’t tried it yet, but I’m on the root-vegetable waiting list.

You have to respect the sort of simplicity that requires eight hours to achieve.  Just as much as you have to respect carbed-up Irishmen at the poker table.

 

 

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