Each month our chefs in the Curve create dishes containing the ‘seasonal fruit or vegetable’ of the month, this month we will be celebrating potatoes and pomegranate!
Nutritious, delicious and endlessly versatile, the potato is by far the most important vegetable in Europe and has been particularly warmly embraced by cooks in the UK and Ireland. How impoverished would our national cuisine be without golden roast potatoes, thick-cut chips, or creamy mash?
After selecting the right potato for the job, a little attention to detail during preparation can transform the humble spud into a gastronomic experience that is hard to beat. Just try reading the small selection of recipes we’ve picked out without wanting to make one immediately.
Potatoes were cultivated five thousand years ago in what is now Peru. They were introduced to Europe via Spain in the 1550s and arrived in the UK sometime in the 1590s. Somewhat surprisingly, potatoes weren’t grown in North America until they were taken by Irish emigrants in 1719. They travelled to Australasia with Captain Cook in 1770.
When first introduced to Britain, potatoes were an exotic and expensive food with a reputation as an aphrodisiac. It was more than a century later before they became a firmly established staple food.
In the 1840s the potato crop in much of Europe was wiped out by potato blight – an infection of the fungus Phytophthora infestans. Ireland was particularly badly hit as the crop was dominated by a single, highly susceptible, variety. In just over a decade the population of Ireland dropped by over a fifth: it is estimated that a million people died of malnutrition and a million more emigrated. This tragic episode serves as a reminder of the importance of maintaining genetic diversity in agriculture.
Solanum tuberosum is a plant in the nightshade family that is now grown in some 130 countries in all corners of the world. Potato plants reproduce vegetatively by growing tubers from which the new plant develops, hence potatoes are clones (the offspring are genetically identical to the parent plant).
Pick potatoes that are firm, with smooth undamaged skin. Avoid any that are bruised, tinged with green or sprouting.
For culinary purposes, potatoes are loosely grouped into waxy or starchy (in reality many potatoes fall somewhere between the two). Waxy potatoes hold their shape when cooked and so are good in casseroles and gratins or for serving as boiled potatoes. Starchy ones are better for mashing, baking, roasting and frying. Some of the more commonly available varieties are listed below.
Well I didn’t know that…….
A spud is a small, narrow spade that was once used for digging potatoes.
Why not try and make chips with spiced salt and smoked garlic mayo?
With their glossy, leathery skin containing hundreds of seeds that sparkle in bright pinkish-red pulp and juice, there’s something very festive about pomegranates. Their attractive appearance and fragrant sweet-sharp juice adds excitement to both sweet and savoury dishes.
Elizabeth David (in Elizabeth David Classics) suggests serving them with a touch of rose water, lemon juice and sugar. Jamie Oliver’s Pomegranate and Gin Cocktail is a simple and striking party drink that works equally well with vodka.
The pomegranate is native to Iran where it still grows wild today and from where it spread to India, China and Europe at least two thousand years ago. The pomegranate plays a key part in the Greek myth explaining the origin of the seasons – read the story of Demeter (Goddess of agriculture) and Persephone here.
Spanish sailors took the fruit to America as its tough skin and durability made it a fruit well suited to long sea voyages.
Pomegranates have long featured in traditional dishes throughout the Middle East and the Caucasus. They are now grown in the Mediterranean, tropical Africa, India and South East Asia. Largely ignored by the English-speaking world until relatively recently, they have become a much less rare sight in the UK in the last decade.
Punica granatum is a small long-lived tree whose fruit contain seeds (precisely 840 each, apparently) that are distributed by birds feeding on the pomegranates.
Pick fruit that are weighty for their size (indicating a high liquid content) with taut, glossy, unbroken skin.
Stored in a fridge or other cool, dry place, pomegranates keep for many weeks if not months. How long yours keep will depend on how long they were stored before purchase, but pomegranates bought in good condition should be fine for a month.
To extract the pulpy seeds, cut in half and spoon them out. Discard the bitter white flesh. If it’s the juice you’re after, roll the pomegranate on a hard surface with the palm of your hand before cutting in half. Squeeze the contents into a sieve and press with a wooden spoon.
Fruit to cup……
Grenadine, a syrup traditionally made from pomegranate juice, can make a delicious addition to drinks and desserts. Beware of synthetic concoctions made without pomegranates.
Why not try and make feta and pomegranate salad?