Spuds you like

Perfection is peeled new potatoes, boiled in salted water, a touch of mint and a dollop of butter. Can perfection be bettered? Photograph by Jason Lowe

I was wandering around an up-market food emporium in west London recently and was so shocked and depressed by a dish of cooked new potatoes on show in the traiteur display, that I fled upstairs in despair to the associated restaurant earlier than intended, to recover and await the arrival of my host.

Now this may all come over to you as mildly melodramatic behaviour (there were atrocities that had befallen other comestibles too), but when I see potatoes mistreated, especially, in this case, some early and expensive Jersey Royals, it saddens me deeply. For here, not only were the potatoes in question un-peeled, they also looked as if they hadn't even seen a cold running tap before being cooked. Their skins were all wrinkled, which is a sure sign that they were at least three days old, but then who would have wanted to buy any in the first place? Whatever the poor things had been lubricated with, it had sure coated them well, giving the Jersey's that nice "Brylcreem look".

I know what you're thinking. Hoppy's about to drone on yet again about all that scraping and peeling of his new potatoes. Well I can tell you, if you too had had the misfortune to see those shrivelled brown lumps, you would have agreed with me on the spot. No, I think I have now exhausted this particular rant and if it hasn't sunk in yet, then there's no hope for any of you.

So this week, the brief I have given myself, to most generously give to you, is what to do with a nicely scraped new potato, other than just simmer it in salted water with a sprig or two of mint and rub its surfaces with a knob of Lurpak. Mind you, this is always the first thing I do to a clutch of marble-sized, early Jersey's, however the culinary mind is racing.

Fredy Girardet's puree of new potatoes with olive oil, serves 4

It must have been 1985 when I first discovered a recipe for this dish in Fredy Girardet's book Cuisine Spontanee (Robert Laffont, 1982). Coincidentally, around the same time, I had also just eaten a delicious dish of home-salted cod, olive oil potato puree and meat juices at the restaurant of Michel Lorain, alongside the river in the town at Joigny, Burgundy, while travelling back from a holiday in Provence with Terence Conran.

"I'm going to have a go at this dish as soon as I get back to London!" I exclaimed to Terence. "It's just gorgeous!" Little did I know that this fortuitous three-star visitation, combined with an intensive read of the Swiss fellow's repertoire, would generate a new trend with mash, simply from an excitable basement kitchen in the Old Brompton Road. For I do sincerely believe that the olive oil mashed potato (served with grilled fresh cod) we used to then offer at the restaurant Hilaire, heralded its British debut. Wish I'd thought of the idea first. (We soon ditched the home salting of the cod, by the way, as it seemed pointless. All it did was slightly change the texture of the fish. It most certainly bore no resemblance to the real thing: the stiff-as-a-board, deliciously smelly stuff.)

300g new potatoes, scrupulously scraped (larger Jersey mids are ideal)

125ml whipping cream

125ml extra virgin olive oil

salt, freshly ground white pepper and a pinch of cayenne

Boil the potatoes in salted water until tender. Drain and, while still hot, pass through the finest disk of a mouli-legumes back into the pan in which you boiled them. Warm together the cream and oil in a small saucepan and gradually beat into the potato puree with a stiff whisk. Season judiciously. A supremely fine accompaniment to grilled fish, grilled shellfish (particularly scallops) or small morsels of tender rabbit.

Warm new potato soup with tomatoes and basil, serves 4

One of my more studious chefs at Bibendum (in other words, he actually enjoyed using good cookery books) came upon this soup in the Greens Cook Book, by Deborah Madison (Bantam, 1987), who was the founder of Greens Restaurant in San Francisco; possibly one of the finest vegetarian restaurants of all time.

The correct way to describe Madison's recipes, however, is to look upon them as simply the freshest vegetable dishes prepared with enormous flair, intelligence and bold reasoning. I feel that every single idea in this book always respects the very best principles of cookery, yet manages to eliminate meat, poultry and fish from them, simply because they were, perhaps, otherwise engaged at the time. The flavour of the following recipe (slightly adapted) says it all.

60g butter

1.5 litres water

1 large white onion, peeled and finely chopped

1 bay leaf

a few sprigs of fresh thyme

750g new potatoes, scraped clean

1tsp salt

500g very ripe tomatoes, skinned, de-seeded and chopped

4-5tbsp olive oil

the leaves from a small bunch of basil

red wine vinegar, to taste

Melt the butter in a large pan with a little of the water, and add the onion, bay leaf and thyme. Stew over a low heat for a few minutes, then add the potatoes and salt. Cover, and simmer for five minutes. Pour in the rest of the water and bring to the boil. Cook until the potatoes are completely tender - almost overcooked, if you like. Work this mixture through a mouli-legumes and return to the pan.

In a separate pan, fry the tomatoes with a little seasoning in one tablespoon of the olive oil, cook until their juices have evaporated and they have thickened slightly. Now whisk them together to make a semi-smooth sauce and add to the potato soup. Put the basil leaves, a splash of vinegar and the salt into a mortar and pulverise with the pestle (use a food processor if you really must, but this method will, naturally, splatter everything up the sides of the vessel rather than work it together). Trickle the remaining olive oil into the basil paste, continuing to incorporate it with the pestle to make a loose "vinaigrette".

Finally check the seasoning of the potato and tomato soup before ladling into bowls. Float a spoonful of the basil mixture upon each one. Best served warm, rather than piping hot.

New potatoes, sliced, with garlic, parsley and salt cod, serves 4

Last New Year's Day, and the one before that, I ate a dish of salt cod at the Walnut Tree Inn, near Abergavenny. I know that to eat salt cod in most European countries is a matter of course; a festive dish, on, say, Good Friday or Christmas Eve. But I have always noted that it is a speciality of Franco's for lunch on 1 January. Is then salt cod, il baccala, an Italian tradition for the first day of the New Year? I guess it well might be. I sadly won't be eating it on 1 January, 2000 because Franco Taruschio won't be cooking anything at all, not even for ready money, on that momentous day. Front door locked. Closed. Wise.

The dish in question is as simple a preparation as one could possibly contemplate: thinly sliced waxy potatoes, olive oil, chopped parsley and salt cod, seasoned lightly and baked in the oven until done. I cheekily asked for extra garlic to be added to mine last year, assuming that some would be included in the first place. Apparently, not so. But Franco, being the sweetly accommodating fellow that he surely is, had scattered a generous sprinkle upon my serving.

So here is my interpretation of (clearly) a traditional Italian way with salt cod and sliced potatoes. The potatoes themselves were so very waxy, it made me think that it would work extremely well with the larger mids, once they have become a weekly staple. The addition of the garlic is entirely a matter for you.

600g dried salt cod, soaked for at least 24 hours, in several changes of water

750g large new - or certainly waxy - potatoes, peeled

6-7tbsp olive oil

a little salt and much pepper

2 cloves peeled garlic, chopped (optional)

4tbsp chopped parsley

Preheat the oven to 350F/180C/gas mark 4. Put the soaked cod in a large pan, cover with cold, fresh water and slowly bring to the boil. As soon as the water begins to tremble, just before rolling, switch off the heat, cover and leave for 30 minutes to finish cooking. Slice the potatoes very thinly (preferably on a mandoline) and set aside. Flake the fish from its bones and cartilage on to a plate.

Grease a baking dish with a little of the oil. First, arrange a layer of potatoes in the bottom, season, sprinkle with a little garlic (if you wish) and a tablespoon of the parsley. Sprinkle over some of the cod and moisten with oil. Cover with more potatoes and repeat until everything has been used up, finishing with a neat layer of potatoes on the top. Press everything together with the palm of your hand, so that some of the oil comes to the surface and can be smeared lightly over the potatoes.

Cover the pan and bake in the oven for 30 minutes. Now lower the temperature to 300F/150C/gas mark 2 and cook for a further 30 minutes. Finally, remove the lid for a further 30 minutes, so that the potatoes on the surface lightly gild (if you wish for them to be more crisp and golden brown, you can put this finishing touch to them under a hot grill).

Leave to cool at room temperature for about 10 minutes before serving, spooned directly from the dish at the table

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
News
Teeth should be brushed twice a day to prevent tooth decay
education
News
Bryan Cranston as Walter White, in the acclaimed series 'Breaking Bad'
news
Sport
footballChelsea 6 Maribor 0: Blues warm up for Premier League showdown with stroll in Champions League - but Mourinho is short of strikers
News
Those who were encouraged to walk in a happy manner remembered less negative words
science
Arts and Entertainment
Princess Olga in 'You Can't Get the Staff'
tvReview: The anachronistic aristocrats, it seemed, were just happy to have some attention
News
Renee Zellweger as Bridget Jones
i100
Life and Style
tech

Board creates magnetic field to achieve lift

News
There have been various incidents of social media users inadvertently flouting the law
news

Life and Style
Stack ‘em high?: quantity doesn’t always trump quality, as Friends of the Earth can testify
techThe proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
News
Bourgogne wine maker Laboure-Roi vice president Thibault Garin (L) offers the company's 2013 Beaujolais Nouveau wine to the guest in the wine spa at the Hakone Yunessun spa resort facilities in Hakone town, Kanagawa prefecture, some 100-kilometre west of Tokyo
i100
Sport
CSKA Moscow celebrate after equalising with a late penalty
footballCSKA Moscow 2 Manchester City 2: Premier League champions let two goal lead slip in Russia
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    IT Project Manager

    Competitive: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Chelmsford a...

    Business Intelligence Specialist - work from home

    £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and growing IT Consultancy fir...

    Business Intelligence Specialist - work from home

    £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and growing IT Consultancy fir...

    IT Manager

    £40000 - £45000 per annum + pension, healthcare,25 days: Ashdown Group: An est...

    Day In a Page

    Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

    A new American serial killer?

    Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
    Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

    Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

    Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
    Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

    Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

    Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
    Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

    Wildlife Photographer of the Year

    Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
    Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

    Want to change the world? Just sign here

    The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
    Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals

    'You need me, I don’t need you'

    Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals
    How to Get Away with Murder: Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama

    How to Get Away with Murder

    Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama
    A cup of tea is every worker's right

    Hard to swallow

    Three hospitals in Leicester have banned their staff from drinking tea and coffee in public areas. Christopher Hirst explains why he thinks that a cuppa is every worker's right
    Which animals are nearly extinct?

    Which animals are nearly extinct?

    Conservationists in Kenya are in mourning after the death of a white northern rhino, which has left the species with a single male. These are the other species on the brink
    12 best children's shoes

    Perfect for leaf-kicking: 12 best children's shoes

    Find footwear perfect to keep kids' feet protected this autumn
    Anderlecht vs Arsenal: Gunners' ray of light Aaron Ramsey shines again

    Arsenal’s ray of light ready to shine again

    Aaron Ramsey’s injury record has prompted a club investigation. For now, the midfielder is just happy to be fit to face Anderlecht in the Champions League
    Comment: David Moyes' show of sensitivity thrown back in his face by former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson

    Moyes’ show of sensitivity thrown back in his face... by Ferguson

    Manchester United legend tramples on successor who resisted criticising his inheritance
    Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

    Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

    Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
    British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

    British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

    Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
    Ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities - not London, or Edinburgh, but Salisbury

    Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2015

    UK city beats Vienna, Paris and New York to be ranked seventh in world’s best tourist destinations - but it's not London