Potatoes, more than just a spud


LUSK – In honor of St. Patrick’s Day, let us also honor the humble potato! 

The potato plays a major role in the entire history of Ireland. Without getting on my soap box too much, potatoes are an underappreciated starch in the diet of many, both historically and today. With more potassium per serving than a banana, they are also high in Vitamin C, Vitamin B-6 and Magnesium. 

Potatoes have been so important to Irish history that the rise and fall of an entire country’s culture depended on this root vegetable. The Irish Potato Famine was responsible for a major immigration of the Irish to the United States and continues to be an important part of their heritage in recipes.

The following recipes are not necessarily well known but I hope they open the world of options for you when it comes to the “earthly” spud.

Potato Candy 

This candy became popular during the depression. While not necessarily Irish in origin I would like to think the ingenuity and frugality of this candy would have impressed the humble housewife of Ireland as much as it did the cooks of the 30’s. I often double this recipe. It is very rich and makes a lot. The texture is somewhere between a nougat and a fudge. Because this doesn’t require any heating these are perfect for making with kiddos.

1/2 cup cool or cold plain mashed potatoes. I usually use leftovers, but you can cook and cool some just for the recipe.

1/4 tsp salt

6-8 cups powdered sugar

1 tsp vanilla

4-6 tablespoons peanut butter or other nut butter.

In the bowl of a stand mixer or large bowl using a hand mixer combine potatoes and 2 cups of the sugar. It will be runny at this point. Add the salt and vanilla. Running the mixer on low begin adding in the powdered sugar a cup at a time combining well. Depending on the humidity and moisture content of the potatoes you will need from 6-8 cups of powdered sugar. Add in the sugar until a thick paste has formed that is no longer sticky but is not cracking and dry. You should be able to touch it without it sticking to your fingers.

Dump onto a large piece of wax paper dusted with powdered sugar and wrap the resulting disk. Place in the refrigerator for a minimum of 1 hour but not more than 90 minutes.

Remove from the fridge and divide “dough” into four portions. Dust another piece of wax paper and line a cookie sheet with dusted wax paper as well. Working with one piece at a time roll out the “dough” to between 1/4 and 1/2 an inch thick. 

Once it is rolled out warm the nut butter just to soften it for easy spreading. Spread 1/4 of the nut butter on the dough and roll up jelly-roll style. Place the “logs” back in the fridge for another 1-3 hours until very firm. Cut into slices and serve or place in an airtight container with wax paper between layers. This candy will keep for about a week in the fridge.

Colcannon

This wouldn’t be a St. Patrick’s Day column without Irish recipe. Colcannon is a favorite at my house. We actually cook it more at the end of the summer when our garden produce is going crazy, but we like it for St. Patrick’s as well. This is an easy dish that is just different enough to make it special. It really depends on where you go on how colcannon is made. Some use kale, others use ham, and some use no meat at all. This is the way my great grandma made it so it’s how I make it.

3 pounds of potatoes of choice, scrubbed well and quartered

3 tablespoons olive oil

1/2 pound of bacon diced

1 small head of green cabbage or 1/2 of a large head shredded (4-5 cups raw)

2 tablespoons minced garlic

2 bunches of green onions whites and greens diced 

4 tablespoons butter

1/4 cup heavy cream

salt and pepper to taste

Place quartered potatoes in a saucepan with just enough water to cover them. Salt well and bring to a boil. Simmer until cooked through and soft to fork piercing.

Drain potatoes place in a large bowl, breaking up with fork to let steam escape. 

While potatoes are boiling pour olive oil in a large skillet and then place bacon in the skillet. Sauté bacon for 3-5 minutes stirring frequently. Then add in garlic and onion whites, sauté for 30 seconds or so and then put all cabbage in. This will look like a lot but will cook down significantly. 

Sautee cabbage, bacon, garlic and onion whites until garlic is cooked down and softened and bacon is cooked through. You may place a lid on the skillet to steam and assist with the cooking but stir frequently to avoid burning.

Once moisture has cooked off the cabbage mixture remove from heat.

Mash the potatoes with the butter and cream. I use a pastry cutter or hand masher, but you can also use a hand mixer or stand mixer. Do not over mash, leave lumpy. Then add in the cabbage mixture and the onion green reserving a few for garnish.

Mash all together until mostly smooth. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve hot with onion greens on top.

Fasolakia (Greek potatoes
and green beans)

Along with the Irish the Greeks also know how to make potatoes delicious! I LOVE this recipe. It is mostly hands-off and is great as a standalone vegetarian dish or to accompany lamb chops or a good steak. It is hearty and make the house smell amazing. Even better, it’s a great way to use up green beans from my garden.

1/2 cup Olive oil

1 Large onion, finely diced

6 Cloves garlic, minced

1 (14.5 oz) Can chopped tomatoes or 3 fresh tomatoes, diced

2 tbsp Tomato paste

3 Medium potatoes, cut into 1 1/2” pieces

1 lb Green beans, ends trimmed

1 cup Flat leaf parsley, finely chopped

1-2 tbsp Freshly chopped dill (or 2 teaspoons dried)

1 1/2 cups Water

Salt and pepper to taste

Heat the olive oil over a medium high heat in a large saucepan. Add the onion and garlic and cook till soft, about 2-3 minutes.

Add the canned or fresh tomatoes and tomato paste and cook for another 5 minutes.

Add the potatoes and stir thoroughly to combine.

Add the green beans by laying them on top of the potato mixture. DO NOT STIR.

Over the green beans add the parsley, dill and enough water (depending on the size of your pot) to just cover the beans. Cover and allow to cook for 15 minutes then stir all the ingredients together.

Season with salt and pepper and lower the heat to a low setting and cover and cook for another 30 minutes, until the potatoes are tender. Season with more salt if needed.

Enjoy with a chunk of feta cheese and plenty of crusty, artisan bread.

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