Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Boxty – out of the laundry room and into the frying pan

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Out of the laundry room and into the frying pan
(the gorgeous bowl and jug are by my aunt, Patricia Casey, artist and potter extraordinaire)

Writing in The Medical Times and Gazette in 1865, Henry MacCormac M.D., of Belfast, mentions the preparation of Boxty or ‘poorhouse bread’.

“The country people prepare, for purposes of laundry, potato starch. Raw potatoes are peeled, grated and washed. The gratings from which the boxty cake is made remain in the colander. This boxty cake … has a peculiar but not unpleasant flavour. I remember having partaken of it… in one of the houses of the peasantry.”

Thanks Henry, I know there were particular reasons for such frugality at the time, but that sounds really, really grim. No wonder Boxty isn’t our national dish!

As if that weren’t bad enough, a traditional rhyme suggests that if you were a female at that time, and this concoction wasn’t in your repertoire, you were in big trouble: Boxty on the griddle /Boxty in the pan / If you can’t make boxty / You’ll never get a man. Yikes!

Mercifully, laundry methods, society, and potato cuisine have all moved on since the dark days of the nineteenth century. You'll find that Boxty can be a type of potato cake, a dumpling or a pancake. Today’s recipe is for the pancake. My preference is for the floury Rooster potato but any floury potato will do.




For approximately 12 boxty pancakes you will need…

350g freshly boiled and mashed potato
50g butter
250g raw potato, finely grated
250g plain flour
1 teaspoon fine table salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
¾ teaspoon bread soda
350mls buttermilk

A little sunflower oil or extra virgin olive oil for frying

Mix the butter with the freshly made mashed potato while it is still hot. Leave to cool.

Meanwhile, wring the grated potato out in a clean tea towel to extract as much liquid as possible. (Discard the liquid.)  Add the grated potato to the cooked mashed potato along with the flour, salt, baking powder and bread soda and mix to combine.

Gradually mix in the buttermilk to form a thick batter.

Now, heat a frying pan over a medium heat. Wipe the hot pan with a wad of kitchen paper dipped in sunflower oil, giving the pan the barest sheen of oil. (Keep the oily paper to wipe the frying pan between cooking each pancake.)


Fry gently until the surface of the batter has set

Scoop about 80mls of batter into the pan and quickly smooth it out to form a circle. Fry gently until the surface of the batter has set, then flip the pancake over. Continue cooking for a further 30 seconds or so, or until the pancake is golden brown. Repeat until all the batter has been used up, keeping the cooked pancakes warm in a low oven.

Serve as part of a cooked breakfast or drizzled in maple syrup.




Variation:
I make tiny versions of these as an alternative to blinis and serve with smoked salmon and crème fraiche.

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Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Aubergine Involtini – from aloof to alive and about to burst into song!

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I have mixed feelings about aubergine (eggplant). All flawless purple skin and gloss and youthful glow, it is the supermodel of the vegetable patch. I arrange it in the vegetable basket, surrounded by other shining beauties – ripe red tomatoes, peppers, and perhaps a lemon or two just because they are opposites on the colour wheel and provide a pleasing colour contrast.

Aubergines - about to burst into song! 

One by one the contents of that basket are plucked and used: the tomato sliced and sprinkled with salt, eaten just as it is; the pepper might be cut into strips as a crisp sweet snack; the lemons will probably end up juiced into hot water as an alternative to tea.
Too late I’ll remember the aubergine because it does not grab attention in the same way as its companions. It is downright boring on its own and needs the right sort company to bring it to life. Too often I forget to introduce it to complementary flavours and end up having to consign its shrivelled remains to the compost heap.
Introduce aubergine to a lemon and watch the sparks fly...
Niki Segnit of The Flavour Thesaurus has similar feelings about this vegetable describing it as “unpredictable, often bitter, and needing a lot of attention (or an unhealthy amount of lubrication) to cajole it into a companionable mood.” - you know the type!
If you were to seat Aubergine at a dinner party, you’d make sure it was next to Garlic, Parsley, Lemon Juice, Olive Oil. Such great company transforms it from aloof to alive. Next thing you know, it’ll be singing!

As a starter (or light lunch) for 2 you will need...
1 medium aubergine
100g cottage cheese*
100g feta cheese, crumbled
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh parsley
½ clove garlic, crushed
1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
Freshly ground black pepper
1 small bunch of whole chives

1         Remove both ends of the aubergine and slice lengthways into ½ cm slices – a mandolin is best for this job but mind your fingers (I speak from experience - ouch!). There is no need to salt and drain modern varieties of aubergine to leach out bitterness. 
2         Heat a ridged grill pan (or a frying pan) over a medium heat. Brush the slices with olive oil and cook in a single layer, for approximately 2 minutes each side. You’ll probably have to do this in a couple of batches. Carefully remove the cooked slices from the grill pan and leave to cool completely.

Aubergine gets a grilling

3          Meanwhile, in a mixing bowl, mash the cottage cheese together with the feta cheese, parsley, garlic, lemon juice and black pepper. No need to use salt as the feta will be salty and there are plenty of strong flavours in the mix.

Seat aubergine next to garlic, parsley, and lemon juice to transform it from aloof to alive!

4         Select the best 6 slices of aubergine (any reject slices can be used on crostini) and lay them out on a flat surface. Place 2 teaspoons of the cheese mixture at the fatter end of each slice, about 2cm from the short edge. Lay a few whole chives across this and starting at the fat end, roll the aubergine slice so that it encloses the filling, with a plume of chives emerging from one end. Leave the finished roll on its side and repeat the process with the remaining 5 slices. Refrigerate until ready to serve.
5         To serve, arrange upright (see photo) - 3 per portion. Diced cherry tomatoes make a colourful addition and if serving for lunch, a green salad completes the picture.
*I’ve used cottage cheese to bind the mixture because, post Lockdown, the bathroom scales has taken to saying “Gerroff will ya!”.  Ricotta or Philadelphia would be suitable full fat alternatives for this dish.
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