vegetarian food Bangers and mash
Essential comfort when smoke gets in your eyes
Saturday 04 November 1995
You'll find me in the kitchen, comforting the dog, watching over the baked potatoes, avoiding small boys. Baked potatoes are as essential to Guy Fawkes night as fruit cake to a wedding. They can be safely eaten in the pitch dark, cupped between gloved hands, and their earthy, crisp skin giving way to a fleecy puree is the perfect accompaniment to the whole smoky affair of watching the sky light up.
The baking of potatoes is not as contentious as other standard preparations, but there are a handful of considerations. First, do you oil the skin? I do, with olive oil, which gives an irresistible sheen and crispness: sprinkle the tops with crystalline sea salt before they go in the oven for a really crackly, salty crust.
Another dilemma is whether to slow-bake or cook them at a high temperature: stick to the latter, giving them about one-and-a-quarter hours. Put them in the oven as soon as you get home from work and they will be ready to eat when you are. If you are cooking a lot of potatoes, don't overcrowd the oven, or they may end up steaming. You can always cook them in batches, then stuff and reheat them.
As for the garnish, think in terms of rich and lubricating: lots of butter and creme fraiche, salt and black pepper, grated Cantal or farmhouse Cheddar; olive oil, chopped parsley and garlic; or a vegetable such as fennel or salsify in a creamy, white wine-and-herb sauce, cascading over the top of the potato. You can stuff the potatoes by digging out the insides and replacing them with champ, that lovely Irish puree made with spring onions and an indecent amount of butter.
This is the season for big, fat, floury main crop potatoes, avoid the gargantuan specimens offered up as "baking potatoes", 220g/8oz is a sensible size. There is nothing to stop you baking new potatoes if they are big enough, in fact any potato will bake, although I am not fond of baked redskins.
Salsify is something I look forward to at this time of year. Unfortunately it is proving to be illusive this autumn, with just a trickle in and out of the shops. Don't be put off by its long, black, brutish looks. It is a root that cooks up beautifully, a wintertime delicacy with a flavour reminiscent of Jerusalem artichokes. Peel under running water wearing rubber gloves to avoid staining your hands. Halve lengthways if large. Cook in boiling water with a little lemon juice and flour (to keep the root white) until tender.
Celeriac, like potatoes, is a mealy sort of treat: ugly and gnarled, with fibrous matting that clings around the roots. It has a superbly aromatic flavour and comes into its own in purees and soups. You can make a mock brandade (a garlicky, salt-cod puree enriched with olive oil) by combining equal quantities of celeriac and potato puree, then momentarily frying garlic with cumin and cayenne pepper and stirring them in.
Celeriac remoulade is the French equivalent of coleslaw. Well, it's rather sexier than coleslaw: you can do things like strew it with quail's eggs. The secret lies with the mayonnaise. There must be lots and lots of it and it must be flavoured with mustard. I like to use a combination of grainy and smooth Dijon mustards - let the mayonnaise down with a good squeeze of lemon, and parsley should be present somewhere. There is a certain cachet attached to finely slicing your celeriac into neat, squared strips, but when the task falls on my chopping board, I settle for grated.
Baked Potatoes with Oil and Parsley, serves 4
You may recall a few weeks ago my raving about Alain Ducasse's lumpy mashed potato as served at Monte's dining club in Knightsbridge. It oozed olive oil, and was speckled green with masses of parsley and a little garlic. Well, here it is inside a baked potato.
If you are honouring bonfire night, then serve these potatoes with baked beans with a knob of butter stirred into them. When travelling through France recently I kept an emergency supply of baked beans in case the menu wasn't child-friendly: "Ah, les baked beans," the waiter would nod respectfully, and the service would be good thereafter.
4 x 225g/8oz main crop potatoes
extra virgin olive oil
for the filling
5 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 heaped tbsp chopped flat-leaf parsley
12 garlic clove, peeled and crushed with salt
salt and pepper
Preheat the oven to 200C (fan oven)/210C (electric)/ Gas 7/425F. Scrub the potatoes and dry them. With a small sharp knife, make an incision in the top of each one to form a flap. Place a little olive oil in the palm of your hand and rub your hands over the potatoes. Place the potatoes on a baking dish and sprinkle over some crystals of sea salt. Bake for one-and-a-quarter hours.
Remove the potato lids, scoop out the insides into a bowl and loosely mash with the other filling ingredients: refill the potatoes and replace the lids. Gently reheat.
Curried Celeriac Gratin, serves 4
This dish is perfect with baked potatoes - it only takes ten minutes to prepare, and one hour, ten minutes to bake, so will be ready at the same time as the potatoes.
When you use curry powder in this quantity, it is not necessary to fry it as you normally would.
700g/112lbs celeriac (1 average-sized root)
salt and pepper
250mls/8 fl oz double cream
50mls/2 fl oz white wine
13 tsp mild curry spice
Preheat the oven to 200C (fan oven)/210C (electric)/ Gas 7/425F. Cut the skin off the celeriac, quarter and thinly slice it - work quickly to avoid discolouring. Arrange slices in a gratin dish or casserole. Whisk the remaining ingredients together, season, and pour over the celeriac. Cover with foil and bake for 40 minutes. Remove foil and compress the celeriac a little, cook for a further 20-30 minutes until the cream is thick, the celeriac tender and the surface golden.
Red Pepper and Celeriac Charlotte, serves 4-6
This is the apple type of charlotte: top and bottom lined with slices of bread dabbed with melted butter that crisp up beautifully while baking. Inside are roasted peppers, a puree of celeriac and a layer of fontina cheese. It is fairly rich and substantial, so serve it as a main course with a salad before or after.
700g/112lbs red peppers (about 5)
2 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
salt and pepper
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
for the filling
juice of half a lemon
1.4kg/3 lb celeriac (2 average-sized roots)
150mls/5 fl oz creme fraiche
freshly grated nutmeg
salt and pepper
lemon juice for seasoning
about three-quarters of a large white loaf, thinly sliced with the crusts removed
175g/6 oz unsalted butter, melted
225g/8 oz fontina cheese, sliced
Preheat the oven to 200C (fan oven)/210C (electric)/ Gas 7/425F. Remove the core and seeds from the peppers and cut into wide strips. Place in a roasting dish, scatter over the garlic and season generously, pour over the oil and roast for 30-40 minutes until beginning to caramelise at the edges.
While the peppers are cooking, prepare the celeriac puree: bring a large pan of water to the boil and acidulate it with the lemon juice. Slice the skin from the celeriac roots and cut them into pieces. Boil for 15 minutes until tender, then drain and puree in a food processor with the creme fraiche. Season with nutmeg, salt, pepper and lemon juice.
Select a baking dish about 30 x 23cm (12"x5"), and 5cm (2") deep. Using a pastry brush, dab the bread generously on one side with the butter. Cover the base of the dish with the bread, buttered side down. Paint the topsides with butter. Add a layer of peppers, then the fontina, then spread the celeriac puree on top. Put another layer of overlapping slices of bread on the surface, again painting with butter.
Bake for 20 minutes, then reduce the heat to 170C (fan oven)/180C (electric oven)/Gas 4/350F, and bake for a further 20 minutes, until the surface is lightly golden and crisp. Serve immediately
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