I have only ever met one person who doesn’t like potatoes. What is not to like! They have a mild taste, come in different colours, they change texture depending on cooking method and they are a marvellous vehicle for tangy flavours.
It’s not many years ago that most Northern Europeans and Americans would eat potatoes in some form or other every day and perhaps a couple of times a day. But it hasn’t had a long history, being only discovered at the same time as America (along with tomatoes, chillies and maize). They were hardly an instant success (but more instant than the tomato which was considered by many as poisonous till the 1800s) and the French authorities used devious strategies to encourage the population to manger this new vegetable. It’s said they grew potatoes behind walls and fences and had patrol guards. This encouraged theft on a grand scale and so potatoes became prized and widespead, as all things illicit tend to be.
Paul Gayler is one of Britain’s most popular chefs. A familiar face on UK TV, he often appeared on such programmes as Good Food Live with Jeni Barnett where he demonstrated his skills as a chef but also as a natural and approachable chap without the ego of many celebs. His food is always innovative but accessible to the home cook.
A Passion for Potatoes has an amazing selection of recipes for everything from the humble boiled potato to the more elaborate Potato, Courgette and King Prawn Spiedini with Mustard-Smoked Paprika Mayo. Each recipe is clearly written and even those with a lengthy list of ingredients are not a challenge.
Mashed potatoes are a real comfort food. Paul admits that he still enjoys mash with salad cream, as he did in his childhood. Glad he mentioned that first, because it’s one of my personal favourites and a dish seldom presented in polite company and never (till now) mentioned in a cookbook. Please note, dear reader, that it must be salad cream and not mayonnaise. This chef has, however, considered those with more educated palates and offers ten versions which include the basic perfect mash (sans salad cream), Irish Champ (a delicious alternative) and Charred Onion and Bacon Mash which is going to be a regular at our table. This is one of those dishes that feeds only half the number of people you would imagine. Make double the recipe or you’ll spend the evening begrudging their every bite.
There is much more than mash, though. Dumplings, gratins, bakes, roasts, chips, main courses, and even a few sweet treats and breads. There is plenty to tempt fish lovers as well as vegetarians and meat eaters, but my favourite dish (at the moment) is Sausages with Caramelised Truffle Potatoes, Red Onions and Garlic. The potatoes are dark, could be mistaken for beetroot, and the balsamic and wine glaze gives a rich sweet taste.
Buying cookbooks is a bit like buying a CD. There are often only a few tracks that are worthwhile but you buy the thing anyway. A Passion for Potatoes is rare in that I could be quite content if forced to eat every dish. The basic ingredient is cheap, healthful (it’s the other ingredients you have to watch) and easy to prepare, and it’s available all year round. There is everything here from kid-friendly jacket potatoes to posh nosh to impress friends. An attractive and practical book.
A Passion for Potatoes
Author: Paul Gayler
Published by: Kyle Cathie
Cookbook review by Chrissie Walker © 2018