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Forget polenta and pasta. 1998 will be the Year of Mash
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The Independent Culture
Ask anyone what their favourite food is and they will inevitably come up with mashed potato. Of course not everybody thinks of it immediately, but serve it at your dinner party and you will be greeted with gasps of, "I love mashed potato, it's my favourite" and "I haven't had mashed potato for ages". Forget baked, chipped and roasted spuds; mash the ubiquitous tuber and you immediately add 200 per cent to its comfort-food rating.

For decades, mash has enjoyed its traditional role as the classic accompaniment to many a pie and banger. But now mash is very much of the moment. It, like rocket and olive oil, has been awarded Nineties elevated-food status, All you have to do is look at the menu in any fashionable eatery and mash will inevitably crop up, usually combined with something fashionable - there's basil mash, olive oil mash, parmesan mash, mustard mash, pesto mash, garlic mash and saffron mash, just to mention a few. Any restaurant worth its salt will also include an upmarket variation on sausages and mash. The demand seems to be so great that a new restaurant on the Portobello Road in London has opened up - called, of course, S&M - solely dedicated to serving sausages and mash.

But there's more to mash than potatoes - other vegetables lend themselves nicely to mashing. Parsnip mash scores highly in the taste stakes, as does celeriac, sweet potato, carrot, swede and pumpkin mash. However, other newly devised and perhaps over- ambitious combinations, such as sundried-tomato mash and wasabi mash, suggest overkill.

The key to sublime mashed potato, according to Simon Hopkinson, co-author of The Prawn Cocktail Years and the Independent on Saturday Magazine's cookery writer, is plenty of butter and hot milk (not cream), and finely ground white pepper.

But, if consumption is your game, and Smash is the closest thing you'll ever get to preparing real mashed potato, you can always console yourself by visiting MASH the restaurant, due to open at the beginning of March on London's Great Portland Street. Devised by Oliver Peyton, the man behind The Atlantic Bar & Grill, Coast and Mash & Air, it is bound to become an overnight success, with or without mash on the menu.

Aoife O' Riordain

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