Monday, 11 August 2008

There's more to life than potatoes

I love a potato, me. In pretty much any way, shape or form - a mound of mash with sausages and a blob of fiery mustard, a bowl of chips with some aioli in front of the telly on a quiet evening, or a soothing plate of creamy, nutmeggy dauphinoise with roast beef, it is the ultimate accompaniment to a meal, and one I don't reckon I could do without for more than a week. But it is not the only accompaniment.

My friend Pete was literally horrified - wouldn't stop going on about it - at the weekend when I didn't serve potatoes with supper - I mean, really, is this Ireland? Is it still 1912? Darina Allen at Ballymaloe Cookery School once said that the Irish, God bless them, do not consider it a meal without the presence of potatoes in one form or another. But cookery has come such a long way, there are so many equally delicious foods that provide the starch and carb hit we like with our protein. We ate roast lamb (protein) with flageolet bean salad (starch), grilled aubergines and courgettes (vitamins and that) and watercress, rocket and pomegranate salad (er...salad I guess) - were spuds necessary? Am I a culinary dunderhead who does not produce what the average man wants of a Saturday night supper - enough potato to soak up the wine he is glugging? I'll leave that to you to decide, but in the context of the evening menu - a lot of crostini (see below), the main course described above, cheese, and then for pudding basil ice cream with shortbread and raspberries - I thought that the beans would be less heavy than a mountain of spuds. Neither were as heavy, it turns out, as this friend (a 16 stone Hungarian) sitting on me on the kitchen floor at two in the morning.

This was in fact a punishment for the basil ice cream - 'why can't we just have something normal, like vanilla?' (dear oh dear) - which had got him really riled. In his defence, (and I really shouldn't be defending such a narrow-minded philistine), he did taste it three times before becoming absolutely convinced he didn't like it, and I think that's fine. If you say you don't like something and refuse to try it you are a moron. If you try it and don't like it, then you are absolutely entitled to that opinion. There is no right or wrong in cookery. The ice cream went down extremely well with everyone else - it's a corker, and you can find it in Sarah Raven's Garden Book which is my book of the month.

Here are the recipes for two of the crostini we had to start. To make the crostini, preheat the oven to 200C, slice up a country-style baguette, rub with a little garlic, drizzle with oil and pop in the oven for a couple of minutes.

Broad bean, mint and pecorino

Makes enough for 20 small crostini I reckon

250g broad beans, podded
6 large mint leaves, roughly chopped
30g grated pecorino or parmesan
1 clove garlic, crushed
Juice of a lemon, plus extra if needed
A good slug of extra virgin olive oil

Bring a pan of salted water to the boil, add the beans and simmer for four minutes. Drain and run under cold water for a couple of seconds. Put in a food processor with the mint, cheese, garlic, lemon juice and salt and pepper and blend, pouring in the oil as you go till required consistency. Taste and adjust for seasoning, perhaps adding a little more lemon juice if you fancy. Spread on the crostini.

Chicken liver and caramelized shallot

Enough for 20

25g butter
5 shallots, peeled and sliced
100 ml marsala or sherry
250g chicken livers, washed and roughly chopped
2 teaspoons capers, roughly chopped
1 tablespoon chopped gherkin
1 tablespoon chopped parsley

Melt half the butter in a saute pan over a low heat and add the shallots. Season and gently cook for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally, till soft and slippery. Whack up the heat and add the marsala. Boil for 10 seconds scraping the onion juices from the bottom of the pan and add the liver, breaking it up a little more as you stir. Reduce the heat to medium and simmer for 3 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the capers, gherkin, parsley and the rest of the butter. Stir and simmer for a further minute. Serve hot or cold on crostini.

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