Super tuber: Mark Hix pays tribute to the old-fashioned potato

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Our neighbours, Judith and Gerrard, often bring us their freshly dug and picked produce from their allotment and it's such a pleasure to cook with; we often end up swapping food – something from the land for something that I have cooked or prepared. Our last exchange was a selection of Judith and Gerrard's heritage potatoes for a side of my De Beauvoir smoked salmon. There were five bags of delicious spuds containing relatively unknown or forgotten varieties with names such asUlster Sceptre, Lady Balfour and Rooster.

Rather like apples, we are seeing more and more old-fashioned potato varieties on the market and if you are a real potato freak you can get all sorts of varieties from Carroll's Heritage Potatoes on Tiptoe Farm in the beautiful River Till Valley in Northumberland (01890 883060 or visit Carroll's sell a great seasonal selection of over 17 types of heritage potatoes and their seeds and they're available by post. Or you can buy them through the specialist greengrocer Tony Booth in London's Borough Market (020-7378 8666).

Baked potatoes with Arenkha

Serves 4

Now, you must be wondering what on earth Arenkha is – and I'm pleased to say it's a delicious smoked herring roe, which is a really good and viable ethical alternative to caviar.

Arenkha is produced in Spain with a few other natural flavourings added, and I've used it here in the same way that I use caviar; by combining it with a jacket spud. You can buy Arenkha at Waitrose; it's Marine Stewardship Council-approved and costs £5.99 for 55g.

I like my jacket potatoes to have a nice crisp skin – so I bake them without foil, but that's up to you.

4 large baking potatoes
As much butter as you can manage
2-4tbsp sour cream
120g Arenkha
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Pre-heat the oven to 200C/gas mark 6. Wash your potatoes and bake them for about 1-1 hours until they are soft, depending on their size.

Cut off about a quarter of the top of the potato and scoop the flesh out into a bowl. Mash as chunky or as smooth as you wish, then mix with as much butter as you like and season to taste. Refill the skins, pop the top back on and reheat in the oven. Take the top off when ready, spoon in the sour cream, then spoon the Arenkha on top.

Gnocchi with venison ragout

Serves 4

For the venison ragout
500g stewing venison, diced into rough 1cm cubes
1 large onion, peeled, halved and finely chopped
4 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
100g pancetta or smoked streaky bacon, cut into rough cm dice
A few tablespoons of vegetable oil for frying
tbsp plain flour
1tbsp tomato purée
1tsp chopped thyme or oregano leaves
100ml red wine
750ml hot beef stock
230-250g can of chopped tomatoes

For the gnocchi

600-700g large floury potatoes, baked in their skins, peeled and mashed
1 large egg yolk
125g potato flour
1tbsp olive oil
Salt and freshly ground white pepper
A good pinch of freshly grated nutmeg

To serve

70g freshly grated Parmesan or Pecorino

Heat a little vegetable oil in a large, heavy frying pan. Season the venison and fry in a couple of batches on a high heat for 3-4 minutes until nicely coloured, then transfer to a plate or dish. Meanwhile, gently cook the onion, garlic and pancetta in a tablespoon of the

vegetable oil for 3-4 minutes without colouring, then stir in the flour and cook on a low heat for a minute. Stir in the tomato purée and thyme then gradually add the red wine and hot beef stock, stirring constantly to avoid lumps forming. Bring to the boil, add the venison meat, season and simmer gently for about 1 hours or until the meat is tender.

Meanwhile, make the gnocchi. Gently mix all the ingredients together and season to taste with salt, pepper and nutmeg. Roll the mix into balls about the size of a 10 pence piece, then with a fork flatten them slightly, and roll them into a rough tubular shape; leave to rest.

Bring a large pan of boiling, salted water to the boil and cook the gnocchi for 3 minutes, then carefully drain and toss in some butter.

Serve in warmed pasta bowls or plates with the sauce spooned over the gnocchi. Serve the grated Parmesan or Pecorino separately.

Rosti with fried ducks' eggs and bacon

Serves 4

Rosti is traditionally a Swiss breakfast eaten by farmers but it is now eaten all over the world, usually as a garnish. I suppose that if you want to cook this at breakfast then it would involve a fair bit of messing around in the morning, but you can easily get all the preparation done the night before so that you just have to pop it in the frying pan the next day. You can make about 14-16 individual rostis in a non-stick pan or make a larger one and cut it into four.

Some recipes use raw, grated potatoes and some use par-boiled. Peronally, I prefer par-boiled potatoes as I find they tend to come out a bit lighter and crisper.

1kg large floury baking potatoes, such as King Edwards, parboiled for 10 minutes in their skins; remove the skins after cooking and cooling
1 large onion, peeled, halved and thinly sliced
120-140g piece of streaky bacon or a piece of pancetta, cut into rough cm dices
4 ducks' eggs
Vegetable or corn oil for frying
60g butter

Grate the potato into a bowl, mix well with the onion and season. Heat a non-stick frying pan with a tablespoon of oil. Add the potato mixture to the pan, gently pressing it with a spatula or fish slice and cook for about 4-5 minutes until crisp. Then flip it over, add some butter and cook for the same amount of time – until crisp – then keep warm in a low oven. Meanwhile, fry the bacon in a little oil until crisp and fry the ducks' eggs in butter; then serve the eggs on the rosti with the bacon scattered over.

Cuttlefish with Red Duke of York potatoes

Serves 4 as a main course

Cuttlefish is much underrated in this country, although the flavour, taste and texture is almost identical to squid. Most of our UK catch will end up in Spain or other parts of Europe where it is looked upon in a slightly different light. Whatever you can do with squid you can do with cuttlefish – and it's often much cheaper than squid.

500-600g cleaned cuttlefish
500g Red Duke of York Potatoes, peeled and cut into rough 3cm chunks
1 large onion, peeled, halved and finely chopped
4 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
4tbsp olive oil
tbsp tomato purée
A good pinch of saffron
150ml white wine
500ml fish stock
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1tbsp chopped parsley
A couple of good knobs of butter

Cut the potatoes into rough 3cm chunks. Gently cook the onion and garlic in the olive oil for 2-3 minutes until soft then add the tomato purée, saffron and white wine, and simmer for a couple of minutes. Add fish stock, season and simmer for about 15 minutes. Meanwhile, cut the cuttlefish body into rough, 3cm chunks and separate the tentacles from the head. Add the cuttlefish and potatoes to the stock, simmering until the potatoes are tender and the sauce has reduced and thickened. At the end add the butter, freshly chopped parsley and the seasoning. Serve simply in a pasta bowl.

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