Dhaka, Bangladesh
Three recipes to make the most of the season's new potatoes

Three recipes to make the most of the season's new potatoes

Sometimes it feels like we have forgotten the simple joy of a potato. There are now so many alternatives - rice, pasta, quinoa, freekeh, the list is long - that I wonder if we cold-climate dwellers are falling a little out of touch with potatoes, not just a trusted culinary stalwart in the British kitchen, but an unsung hero. Alternatives there may be, but, to me, potatoes can never really be replaced. Potatoes are a faithful friend in my kitchen. They have unparalleled abilities, collaborating happily with other flavours and adapting easily to different forms and cultures. Many of these are deeply familiar, loaded with personal associations: for one, a hot tray of rustling, salted, roast potatoes alongside pints of beer; for another, crisply browned cakes of grated potato in latkes or rösti, or yielding mouthfuls of potato gnocchi coated in rich Italian sauces, or even a dry potato curry, dusted with aromatic spices. Not forgetting mash, chips, baked spuds, croquettes, dauphinoise, and so on. The possibilities seem to be endless. The other day I travelled from the west coast of Canada, where it was still remorselessly winter, to arrive back in London, where spring has definitely arrived. At times like this, my thoughts turn to the warming earth and planting seeds - not least seed potatoes. Most years I grow a few rows in my garden in Wales. I learned some years ago that the variety I like best is charlotte: its versatile waxy flesh becomes naturally buttery when cooked. Potatoes are useful as a ground-clearing advance brigade. Traditionally, growers will plant the tubers deep in the soil, keeping them in the dark to prevent them going green with toxic solanine. The digging is thought to improve the soil structure prior to growing other, more tender plants. Advocates of the "no-dig" method, however, eschew all the digging, planting out the tubers on the surface, and adding a mulch around them as they develop. This also smothers weeds, adds compost, and saves aching backs. Already in England's southwest and the Channel Islands, the soil is bearing spring's first new potatoes - Jersey royals and Cornish - which are now arriving on shop shelves. As soon as I can, I'll head out to buy a handful, still in their soil, delicate skins ready to rub off with the swipe of a thumb, and will serve them, tender and simply buttered - for lunch, perhaps, with a fillet of hot smoked fish alongside. March and April are also the months that lovage first arrives in my garden, its leaves still tender before it dwarfs everything else later in the year. The pleasure that is a bowlful of tiny new potatoes with finely shredded lovage, softened wet garlic, cider vinegar and olive oil is matchless. But potatoes are not just for spring. The grower's ingenuity has given us enough varieties to span the whole year with waxy, floury, and salad types - in yellow, white and even deep purple colours. As someone keen to eat seasonally, this makes the potato a constant kitchen companion and I love to exploit its chameleon qualities. Always as a mash with cream and butter; or roughly squashed with olive oil, salt and black pepper; or as a herby colcannon with a good handful of parsley and spring onions, finely chopped and sweated; or combined with parsnip, celeriac or turnip. I'll also make bubble and squeak, leaving the potatoes chunky with a good squirt of hot sriracha sauce on top. For me, potato love came early and is probably mixed with brother-love. The brother in question, Sam, used to grow potatoes on the railway embankment next to our garden in rural Leicestershire. Aged 5 or 6, dutifully and admiringly, and hidden from our mother's sight, I ate the products of his efforts, greenish and half-baked from a smouldering fire. As a meal it was poor, but the thrill of growing something, of making a meal on our own, was tangible. (To be continued)

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