Monday 24 October 2016

Spuds up! Rachel Allen's top tips and recipes for making the most of buttery new potatoes

There's nothing nicer than the simple gorgeousness of a buttery new potato, says Rachel Allen, who loves to grow her own. Photography by Tony Gavin

Published 29/06/2015 | 02:30

Rachel Allen with some of her new potatoes. Photo: Tony Gavin
Rachel Allen with some of her new potatoes. Photo: Tony Gavin
New Potato Salad with bacon, capers and gherkins

When it comes to food, there's nothing more exciting than harvesting it yourself. And digging your own potatoes before cooking and eating them has to be up there as the most soul-warming, satisfying thing to do.

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 It's not just the process of stepping on the garden fork then lifting it out to reveal the mud-covered golden nuggets, but the flavour of freshly dug potatoes is something that's quite unlike any other. The  almost-sweet nuttiness of a fresh, new potato is really pronounced and the texture is perfectly waxy and floury at  the same time.

When you are buying potatoes, just like any other vegetable, the more local, the better - and the muddier, the better too. When veggies have been washed, they tend to deteriorate quite quickly, losing flavour and nutrients, so a bag of muddy spuds - from down the road, if possible - is just what you're looking for!

When I'm cooking new potatoes, I love to add a good pinch of salt, or even to cook them in sea water, which adds so much flavour and, I guess, some goodness too. A couple of sprigs of mint, thyme or tarragon will work as well, and add some flavour. Add a dab of Irish butter and some sea salt flakes over the top and, frankly, you have a simple feast like no other.

You could also add your new potatoes into a delicious salad, like the one pictured opposite, and you have a perfectly summery main course or starter. Or, do as the Spanish do, and make a tortilla de patatas for a beach picnic. The classic potato and onion tortilla, opposite, is perfectly portable and just what you need out in the fresh, blustery Irish air.

New potato and chicken liver salad with glazed shallot


Serves 4.

You will need:

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

400g (12oz) small new potatoes of equal size, scrubbed clean - don't clean them until you're ready to use them, see my Tip, above

15g (½oz) butter

300g (10oz) chicken livers, the membrane removed and cut in half

4 handfuls of assorted salad leaves

For the dressing, you will need:

6 tablespoons walnut oil or extra-virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons sherry vinegar

Half teaspoon Dijon mustard

For the glazed shallots, you will need:

4 shallots, each approximately the size of a golf ball

25g (1oz) butter

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

Half a teaspoon of sugar

2 tablespoons water

First, put a saucepan of water on a high heat and add in a good pinch of salt. Bring the water up to the boil, then add in the new potatoes. Boil for them 15-20 minutes until they are tender. While the potatoes are cooking, make the dressing.

Mix together the walnut oil or the extra-virgin olive oil, whichever you're using, the sherry vinegar, the Dijon mustard, and some salt and freshly ground black pepper to season. Once the potatoes are cooked, cut them in half or quarters while they are still hot and drizzle some of the dressing over the top and set them aside.

Next, get the glazed shallots on the go. Peel the shallots and cut them in quarters through the root. Place a frying pan or saute pan on a high heat and add in the 25g (1oz) butter and the extra-virgin olive oil. When the pan is hot and the butter is foaming, tip in the quartered shallots and the sugar. Cook, uncovered for 5-10 minutes until golden, then season with salt and freshly ground black pepper, add in the water, cover with a lid and cook for another 8-10 minutes until tender.

After this time, the liquid should have evaporated and you should be left with a lovely glaze surrounding the shallots. If there's still a bit of liquid left in the pan, remove the lid and cook the shallots, uncovered, for a minute or so, until the liquid is reduced. Scrape the quartered shallots out of the pan and place them in a small bowl and set them aside. Don't wash the pan.

To cook the chicken livers, place the unwashed pan back on the heat, allow it to get hot, then add in the 15g (½oz) of butter. Once the butter is foaming, add in the chicken livers, season with salt and freshly ground black pepper and cook over a high heat for a few minutes on either side until the livers are cooked to how you like them. Toss the cooked quartered shallots in with the livers for a few minutes, then turn off the heat.

Toss the salad leaves in the remaining dressing, then place the dressed leaves on your plates. Divide out the chicken livers and the shallots, then place the dressed, cooked new potatoes over the top or on the side. Serve straight away.

Spanish tortilla with bacon, cheddar and marjoram

Serves 4.

A tortilla is Spain's answer to Italy's frittata. Traditionally it has onion and potato in it, but sometimes you find meat in it too. Not only is the tortilla eaten hot out of the frying pan, but it can also be eaten cold, as a picnic, or it is delicious on the beach at lunchtime.

It also works well for totally easy, casual entertaining. Serve with a salad. Some pesto is good drizzled over this too.

You will need:

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

200g (7oz) bacon, cut into lardons ½cm x 2cm (about ¼in x ¾in) long (I love Gubbeen bacon)

1 large onion, finely chopped

6 eggs (the better the eggs, the better the tortilla)

150ml (5fl oz) cream

125g (4½oz) Cheddar cheese, grated

1 tablespoon marjoram, chopped, plus extra for garnish

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

10 small or 5 medium boiled new potatoes, sliced 1cm (about ½in) thick

You will need a 25cm (10in) frying pan. Put the frying pan, non-stick if you like, on a high heat. When it is hot, add the extra-virgin olive oil, the bacon lardons and the finely chopped onion. Cook until the bacon lardons are crispy and the chopped onion is nice and golden. Take the frying pan off the heat for a moment to cool down slightly.

Meanwhile, preheat the grill and whisk the eggs in a big bowl. Add the cream, the grated Cheddar, the chopped marjoram, the salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste (I don't mind tasting the tiniest bit of raw egg if I need to check seasoning). Whisk to combine, then stir in the sliced cooked potatoes.

Put the frying pan back on the heat, but turn it down to low. Add the seasoned egg, cream and Cheddar mixture from the bowl and cook the tortilla slowly until the bottom is golden brown, then put under the hot grill for a couple of minutes, until the top is just set. Turn it out onto a plate to serve and scatter with some marjoram leaves if you like.

If I'm using a nice-looking, rustic, cast-iron frying pan I just put the frying pan on a board on the table and serve the tortilla from there.

New Potato Salad with bacon, capers and gherkins

Serves 4.

You will need:

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

400g (14oz) small new potatoes

4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

250g (9oz) streaky bacon, cut in to 2cm (about 1in) pieces

1 tablespoon cider vinegar

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

1 tablespoon chopped tarragon

4 spring onions, sliced

2 tablespoons capers

5 cornichons, (or 2 medium gherkins) cut in to slices (about ½cm)

Put a saucepan of water on a high heat, adding 1 teaspoon of salt. Bring it to the boil, then add the new potatoes. Cook them for about 20 minutes until they are soft to the point of a knife.

While the potatoes are cooking, put a frying pan on a medium-high heat, add 1 tablespoon of extra-virgin olive oil followed by the streaky bacon pieces. Cook the bacon pieces for 6-8 minutes until they are golden and crispy, then drain them on kitchen paper and set aside.

To make the vinaigrette, in a bowl, whisk together the remaining 3 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil, the cider vinegar, the Dijon mustard and the chopped tarragon and some salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Drain the potatoes, then while they are still warm, cut them in half, or quarters if they're a bit bigger, toss with the vinaigrette, the sliced spring onions, the capers, the cornichons or the gherkins, whichever you're using, and the cooked streaky bacon pieces. Serve immediately.

Note: You could also make individual tortillas by brushing a muffin tray with olive oil and then filling each cup hole three-quarters full. Pop into the oven preheated to 180°C, 350°F, Gas 4 for 20-25 minutes or until the mini tortillas are firm in the centre. Made this way, you should get 20 individual tortillas.


Rachel's tip

If you've bought, or dug, some lovely, muddy new potatoes, and want to keep them for a few days, cover them with damp newspaper, and store somewhere cool, away from light.

Rachel recommends

The very best way to eat a freshly boiled new potato, in my opinion, is with good Irish butter slowly melting on top and a nice sprinkle of sea salt. It's something that I long for when I've been away from home; a combination of three quintessential Irish flavours that can't be beaten. We now have a handful of companies harvesting Irish sea salt, and the ones that I've been using a lot are Co Mayo's Achill Island Sea Salt from Keel in Achill, see

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