Time was when I could stay up all night to finish a riveting read. Not now. I still think of reading in bed as a pleasurable way to end the day but all too often the new day has already begun by the time I actually get into bed (i.e. it’s past Cinderella’s midnight) and so my concentration is partially entrained by the workings of sleep. I tuck into my book and read three paragraphs only to have a vague recollection that, in point of literal fact, I had already read the page … or else I get to the end of paragraph three and have to start all over again, at the beginning of the chapter because I can’t remember who is who or what is what and my grip on the plot is tenuous to say the least. All of which, naturally, defeats the purpose of enjoying a good read prior to restful sleeping. The solution? The solution I have found, of late, is to re-read much loved already-read books … or else lazily leaf through a book set in former ages when the throes of time were chronicled at a much slower pace. Any interruption brought on, nothing loath, by the drooping of eyelids and the dreamy unconsciousness of sleep bears no impact upon the reading material at hand. The book can be picked up again the next day, or week or month … and one’s amour propre as a book worm can be tactfully left intact.
I am currently leafing through “The Art of Eating” by MFK Fisher for the first time, and thoroughly enoying it. I am taking the liberty of quoting a few paragraphs from the chapter “The Measure of My Powers – 1929-1930” because my post today is about a potato recipe … and Mrs Fisher’s comments on the humble spud provoked a very strong “aha! moment” and head-nodding-in-agreement reaction from me.
“But that September noon in 1929, when Al and I ate in the courtyard with the two kind sily women and felt ourselvees getting nearer and nearer to Dijon, one important thing happened.
We were hungry, and everything tasted good, but I forget now what we ate, except for a kind of soufflé of potatoes. It was hot, light, with a brown crust, and probably chives and grated parmesan cheese were somewhere in it. But the great thing about it was that it was served alone, in a course all by itself.
I felt a secret justification swell lin me, a pride such as I’ve seldom known since, because all my life, it seemed, I had been wondering rebelliously about potatoes. I didn’t care much for them, except for one furtive and largely unsatisifed period of yearning for mashed potatoes with catsup on them when I was about eleven. I almost resented them, in fact … or rather, the monotonous disinterst with which they wre always treated. I felt that they could be good, if they were cooked respectfully.
At home we had them at least once a day, with meat. You didn’t say Meat, you said Meat-and-potatoes. They were mashed, baked, boiled, and when Grandmother was away, fixed in a casserole with cream sauce and called, somewhat optimistically, O’Brien. It was shameful, I always felt, and stupid too, to reduce a potentially important food to such a menial position … and to take time every to cook it, doggedly, with perfunctory compulsion.
If I ever had my way, I thought, I would make such delicious things of potatoes that they would be a whole meal, and never would I think of them as the last part of the word Meat-and-. And now, here in the sunny courtyard of the first really French restaurant I had ever been in, I saw my theory proved. It was a fine moment.” End of Quote.
Bravo Mrs Fisher. Let me also, just to get it out of the way, point out that potatoes are very much maligned in the healthy eating department. At the end of the post you will find a few links to articles which will give you an idea as to why potatoes are instead, on the contrary, a very nutritious food.
It was my brother-in-law who first alerted my attention to the fact that some people did not like potatoes. I mean, I knew many people would avoid eating potatoes for reasons in keeping with a slim line … but never for taste or satisfaction at the table. I just don’t understand how people can NOT like potatoes — they are so versatile and a delight to eat all year round, both hot or cold. I think that, just as with pasta, they are the most democratic of foods. They will take any sauce you care to cast their way and deliver back a lot of flavour. Witness my consternaton then, some months ago now, when my husband casually dropped a bombshell by mentioning that, when it came to it, he too didn’t think much of potatoes. He will eat them if they are served, naturally, but doesn’t particularly like them. You could have knocked me down with a feather! Do bear in mind that I have been regularly cooking potatoes for him, amongst other things naturally, since 1986 and that that you will forgive my lack of modesty when I tell you that I have been proclaimed the queen of roast potatoes by friends and family. What else is my husband hiding from me? The mind boggles.
There is nothing mind boggling about this simple recipe. It’s very old fashioned, probably very Roman. But I doubt you will find it on the menu in a Roman trattoria these days (except for Pecorino’s maybe, in the formally working-class area of Rome’s Testaccio – http://www.ristorantepecorino.it/ristorante.html). It’s very easy to prepare in a you-can’t-go-wrong sort of way. My grandmother used to make it, and to me that’s another reason for loving it.
You will require some onions, tomato paste out of a tube or tomato sauce, olive oil, potatoes and water. And salt of course. Salt and pepper. (You could make this recipe with garlic instead of onions and in that case I would include some parsely at the very end).
Here are some onion rings in the saucepan. Drizzle some olive oil over them … Here are some peeled potatoes. Cut up the potatoes and add them to the pan and turn the heat on. Add some water – enough to cover them, say. Then add a heaped spoon of tomato paste. Sprinkle some salt and give it a good stir. The potatoes need to cook until they are tender. Keep an eye on them so that they don’t stick to the pan. Stir now and then with a wooden spoon. Add more water when required. And by the end of 15-20 minutes, depending on how hard the potatoes were, you will be able to mush up the potatoes with the wooden spoon. Although it’s a good idea to use a fork for that. Taste … and add salt and pepper, as required. Likewise, drizzle a little more olive oil if you want to.
It may not look like much but I can assure you — you lovers of potatoes that is — that it is a most enjoyable side dish on the home table. I feel so sorry for my husband and my brother in law and for all those who are unable to appreciate the niceties of this wondrous tuber.
LINKS TO ARTICLES ON WHY POTATOES ARE HEALTHY AND NUTRITIOUS