I know putting potatoes and Irish together in a sentence is cliché. But I love my spuds! I consume them in moderation since it’s a good idea to eat a varied diet. Brown rice tops my grain/starch list these days. But there’s something about the taste of potatoes that screams to the Midwestern Irish in me, and I can’t think of a better day to indulge those cravings than St. Patrick’s Day.
My paternal grandfather was born on a small sustenance farm in County Cork. It’s now a successful dairy farm and still in family hands. When my late mom, two of my sisters, and I visited there in the 1980’s my cousins treated us to a delicious roast beef dinner. It was amazing to look out onto the same turf my grandfather saw in the 16 years he lived in that house back in the 19th century. And I was distracted by the view out the window when my plate full of meat, gravy, vegetables, and mashed potatoes was served.
With no disrespect to the British, that meal was heaven on earth after 3 weeks traveling through England on the only vacation on which I have ever lost weight. So I was taken by surprise when my cousin, Rita, dropped a boiled, red-skinned potato onto what I had assumed to be the little bread plate. It was then I realized how important the potato is to the “real” Irish!
In fact, potatoes can and do sustain life for many cultures and they’re used more widely around the world than you might think! Did you know that about 5,000 varieties of potatoes are known to man?
And yet taters have been pushed out of the lime light in recent years, as we’ve all discovered the health benefits of brown rice and ancient grains like quinoa. But the potato is the staple of a majority of world diets. And with good cause since it carries its fair share of vitamins and nutrients. With the health concerns of GMO products coming to light, potatoes are starting to enjoy resurgence in popular American cuisine.
The birthplace of potatoes is believed to be southern Peru and northwestern Boliva where it was first domesticated between 8000 and 5000 BC. After the Spanish conquered the Incan Empire the tuber made its way to Europe sometime during the 16th century. It spread throughout that continent and worldwide port locales.
Back in South America where thousands of varieties of the beloved tuber exist it remained a reliable food source. But only a few varieties made the journey to the “Old World.” Potatoes there did not have the genetic diversity to resist disease. Eventually a fungus spread through European potato crops. In 1845 Ireland was hit especially hard by the blight, which was one of the triggers of the Great Irish Diaspora, and one reason why I am an American.
Amazingly, potatoes can sustain humans when they are supplemented with simple sources of vitamins A and D like milk or butter. Personally, I could live on a steady diet of that! And I’m not alone. The potato is an important crop throughout Europe and has infiltrated Asia and India.
Each region where potatoes exist has put its own unique stamp on the staple leaving us rich with delicious ways to enjoy our spuds. A simple baked potato slathered in butter makes me happy. But there are many more creative ways to use taters.
I’ve been playing around with the idea of potato pizza to emulate the pizza rustica I used to buy on the streets of Rome when studying there more than a quarter century ago. The result was a creamy and crunchy potato pie with splashes of tomato, mushrooms, olives and cheese. It makes for a unique way to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, and it goes well with beer—green or my favorite, Black and Tan.
And don’t forget, St. Joseph’s Day is on the 19th. St. Joseph is the patron saint of Italy, so this recipe can be used to celebrate both days. Make the pizza on St. Patrick’s Day and heat up the leftovers on St. Joseph’s Day.
Give it a try and enjoy!
Potato Pizza Rustica
· 1 lb large Red-Skinned Potatoes (or packaged mashed potatoes)
· 1 Brown-Skinned Baking Potato
· Salt and Pepper to taste
· 3 T Extra Virgin Olive Oil
· 12 oz Tomatoes, cored and diced
· 4 oz Mixed mushrooms, cleaned, chopped, and sautéed
· 3 Garlic cloves, minced
· Olive Oil Cooking Spray
· 1/2 C Parmesan Cheese, shredded
· 1/3 C Olive Tapenade
· Wash, peel, and quarter red-skinned potatoes.
· Put them into a large pot of water and bring them to a boil on the stovetop.
· When the water reaches a boil, reduce heat and simmer 45 minutes until done.
· Drain pot and put potatoes into large mixing bowl.
· Mash potatoes with potato masher and add 1 T oil, salt and pepper.
Or use prepackaged mashed potatoes and eliminate preceding steps.
· Heat 1T oil in 12” sauté pan.
· Add diced tomatoes and season with salt and pepper. Cook tomatoes down until almost all the liquid is gone. Remove tomatoes from pan and set aside.
Or use 1 C prepackaged spaghetti sauce and eliminate these steps.
· Heat 1/2 T oil over medium low heat. Add chopped mushrooms and sauté until they soften.
· When mushrooms are just soft add minced garlic and sauté 1 min more.
· Preheat oven to 400°.
· Using vegetable peeler, shave long, thin slices from brown baking potato.
· Coat a round baking dish with cooking spray.
· Mix 1/4 C cheese into potatoes and pat them into baking dish, spreading over bottom and up all sides, about 1/4” higher than rim.
· Spread tomatoes (or spaghetti sauce) over potatoes.
· Spread olive tapenade over tomatoes.
· Spread sautéed mushrooms and garlic over olives.
· Lay potato slices, overlapping by 1/2”, over top of mushrooms, and covering entire top of the pie.
· Brush remaining 1/2 T oil over potato slices and edges of mashed potatoes.
· Sprinkle with salt and pepper.
· Place baking dish in preheated oven and bake for 25 minutes.
· Remove from oven and let the pie cook 10 minutes.
· Slice into wedges and serve.
This dish goes well with our Deconstructed Caesar Salad from the Solos section of our EWM A-La-Carte Recipes. Scroll down that page to find it!
Enjoy your pizza! Éirinn go Brách!
Photo Courtesy of Easy Weekly Meals