Our seasonal feature for September is none other than the much loved POTATO! Almost everyone I know loves a good potato and they have adorned dinner plates for as long as my brain will compute. Turns out they are quite easy to grow too. Imagine being able to traipse outside, harvest a few spuds and then make some delicious chunky wedges, seasoned with coarse salt and rosemary of course. Mmmm…drooling.
What I really love about good ‘ol potatoes is how versatile they are. Different varieties serve best for different cooking methods. I love this little ‘Poh’s Kitchen Guide‘, it’s a great help in selecting the right spud for the right purpose. After all, no-one likes a grainy mash or supposed-to-be crispy chips that turn to mush.
See below for a crash course from Natasha on how to grow your favourite spuds and I’m sharing a traditional Neapolitan recipe for a cheesy potato pie of sorts. The perfect comfort food.
Summer bodies…say what?!
How to grow them?
I have a fondness for potatoes, I decided I wanted to teach children to grow their own food long before I actually knew how to grow food. I got some experience working on organic farms in Victoria and the potato was the first crop I harvested. I acted like I knew what I was doing but when I put the fork in the soil my reaction gave it away, I squealed! I’m still amazed every time I grow something beautiful that we can eat! So let the potato squealing begin.
The very first thing you have to do when growing potatoes is to choose the variety you want. I choose mine based on how we like to eat them (as chips obviously) and how funky looking they are. There are blue, pink, purple, red, cream and white potatoes, there are potatoes for boiling, mashing, roasting, baking and yes potatoes for chips. Always grow your potatoes from certified seed potatoes which you can buy from your local nursery, this ensures that they are healthy and disease free. This year we have planted the all-rounder Royal Blues (which are really purple) and Dutch creams, which are great in a roast or as a mash.
Some gardeners like to wait till their potatoes are “chitted” (sprouted) before they plant them but I have found success when I have just popped them straight into the soil, so it’s up to personal preference. You can sow your potatoes direct into a garden bed or you can grow them in containers. This year we have planted ours in recycled Styrofoam boxes with a cage around the outside. This means we can move the box around if we need too, we have serious earwig problems (they go for the leaves) so I move the box and squash the earwigs underneath.
I once followed a very strict procedure for planting my potatoes (there is a guide on The Sage Garden Facebook) but I have relaxed over the years. Now I simply make sure they are planted in a sunny spot, and that the soil is well drained and rich before planting. You can achieve great soil by adding compost, manure and blood and bone. If you are planting in a container make sure you add plenty of organic potting mix. Plant your potato seed 15cm deep into the soil, cover with mulch and sprinkle a little blood and bone over the top. I like to surround my potatoes with peas or beans as little companions.
You need to build up the soil around the potatoes as the leaves begin to grow. This does feel strange when you first do it, as you are burying the emerging leaves but this will encourage more growth and thus more potatoes…the goal is more potatoes! You can start to build up the soil once the leaves are 15cm tall. If you have planted in a bed you can use the soil between the rows and add layers of mulch. If you are growing in a container you can add potting mix and mulch. After you build up the soil make sure you have left a little bit of green popping out. Regardless of how you have planted your potatoes they will benefit from a liquid fertiliser every 3 or so weeks and they do not like to dry out so keep up your watering.
Potatoes do have their share of pest and disease problems. Keep an eye on them, pick off any slugs and earwigs you see munching away and hope for the best.
Now for the fun part, harvesting your potatoes. Some people (me) like to have a little dig around when the leaves are still green to get some little potatoes as a taste test, however your potato will let you know when it is ready for harvest when its flowers or leaves start to go yellow. Although I originally harvested my first crop with a fork, I prefer now to do it by hand. It is way more fun and no potato gets stabbed during the hunt. If you are going to grow yours in a container you can simply tip them out, and get ready for dinner. Squeal!!
Words by Natasha Grogan of The Sage Garden
How to cook them?
This recipe for ‘Gateau di patate’ (potato cake), is based on a traditional Neapolitan recipe, and is something both my Nonna and Mother have made on a regular basis while I was growing up.
Essentially a layered pie of fluffy potato, mozzarella cheese, sliced boiled eggs and a crispy breadcrumb top – it’s the perfect simple, comforting dish for a relaxed mid-week dinner, or eaten cold for school lunches or a weekend brunch. It also happens to be vegetarian (provided you eat eggs) and gluten free (if you use GF crumbs).
My favourite bit is the crispy mozzarella bits in the top crust…I’ve been known to run away with pieces while leaving the filling, ha!
Gateau di patate
11 medium desiree* potatoes (approx. 2 kg)
1 cup of Parmesan cheese, finely grated
150 g of sliced mozzarella cheese
Fresh parsley, one small bunch, roughly chopped
Salt/pepper (season to taste)
1/3 cup of breadcrumbs
Butter (for greasing)
Take three of the eggs and hard-boil them (this can be done well in advance).
Peel potatoes and cut them into even sized chunks, before boiling these in salted water until tender and soft (a fork can be inserted easily).
Drain the potatoes and the gradually add them into your potato ricer** and process. Let potato mixture cool down sufficiently before the next stage.
Whilst you are waiting for the potatoes to cool, grease a ceramic pie or oven dish with butter (we used a 20 cm fluted pie dish). Then thinly slice the mozzarella and the boiled eggs (we use an egg slicer as it makes it MUCH easier).
Preheat oven to 220 C.
Once the potato has cooled down a little, add in the chopped parsley, remaining whole raw eggs, Parmesan, salt and pepper. Gently mix to combine all ingredients, using your hands.
Spoon half of the cheesy potato mixture into your prepared dish and flatten down.
Next, evenly layer on the slices of boiled egg and mozzarella cheese (we like to reserve a few slices of mozzarella for the top). Top ‘pie’ with the remaining potato mixture and a few remaining slices of mozzarella.
Finish dish by sprinkling breadcrumbs and bake in oven for 40-50 mins or until top of pie is golden brown and crispy.
Allow potato pie to cool for at least 5 minutes before serving. Can be served hot or cold.
*Feel free to mix up your potatoes, we used desiree as they are good all-rounders, but do make sure to pick a potato that’s good for mashing.
**We used a ‘Moulinex potato ricer’, which is a piece of kitchen equipment used to break down soft potatoes into a rice grain like consistency, if you don’t have one feel free to use a handheld potato masher (note: texture will vary slightly in this case).