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July: Luxe mashed potato

Australian Gourmet Traveller recipe for luxe mashed potato.

By Brigitte Hafner
  • Serves 4
  • 10 mins preparation
  • 15 mins cooking
Brigitte’s luxe mashed potato
Brigitte’s luxe mashed potato

Stefano de Pieri used to make a divine dessert at Stefano’s using the best of Mildura’s citrus. He’d arrange slices of pink and yellow grapefruit, oranges and mandarins on a platter, pour over hot caramel and drizzle the lot with Cointreau. The caramel would dissolve, becoming a delicious sauce. This simple, colourful dessert is great with custard or thick natural yoghurt.

The rind and flesh of grapefruit make excellent chutney, and the rind is delicious candied on its own. Pink grapefruit segments with crab, chilli, coriander and avocado, with a coconut and fish sauce dressing, makes a fine salad. While grapefruit grows everywhere from temperate to tropical and even desert climates, the best-tasting fruit comes from very hot areas, such as Arizona, Florida and Israel. The heat helps the ripening process, producing fruit sweeter than that grown in cooler regions.

Back home, grapefruit are grown in Victoria’s Mildura, as well as in Western Australia and the Northern Territory. Depending on where they’re from, their season ranges from late summer to the end of winter. Grapefruit don’t ripen once they’re off the tree, so be sure to buy ripe specimens. Red varieties of grapefruit, also known as ruby or pink grapefruit, are becoming more popular and readily available. They’re much sweeter than their yellow-fleshed counterpart, and have fewer seeds.

The experience of eating an oyster that has been properly handled – that is, opened fresh and eaten straight away with its juice intact – is very different from eating one that has been opened in advance, probably under a running tap, and left to sit in the fridge for hours, if not days. The pristine oysters grown off Tasmania, South Australia, Western Australia and New South Walesdeserve better treatment, but sadly the latter example is still common in Australia.

Just as a winemaker works with nature to produce the most pure expression of a particular grape and its terroir, oysters are a direct expression of their environment, the microclimate and the work of the oyster farmer. With his farms along the estuary of the Clyde River in Batemans Bay on the New South Wales south coast, oysterman Steve Feletti is leading a revolution in oyster culture. “Great oysters are created by their provenance and affinage – the finishing process,” he says. Feletti’s practices are modelled on those of the great oyster farmers of the world, the French, and adapted to his specific microhabitats and our unique Australian conditions.

A range of factors influences the flavour and condition of an oyster: water salinity, temperature and pressure; the presence of mud or silt; levels of sun exposure; and tidal flow all come into play. Even lunar cycles affect the reproductive cycles of an oyster. Then there’s the farmer, who can manipulate the way oysters grow and the condition of their meat just by moving the racks they’re attached to closer to the surface or deeper in the water. Flavour differs from variety to variety. Pacific, Angasi and Sydney rock will taste different from one another and vary significantly in flavour depending upon the season and stage of reproductive cycle.

Oysters generally spawn over the hot summer months, but the quality of an oyster during and after its spawning cycle can be managed by the farmer. Oyster appreciation also comes down to education and personal taste. I especially appreciate oysters during the colder months, when they’re busy feeding and getting plump again. Their rich flavour at this time makes them particularly good eating. So buy a dozen – along with a sturdy shucker – and ask your fishmonger to show you how to shuck them (our tip: don’t rush it). Have them, in all their natural glory, for dinner.

It’s taken a third of my life to get over my school sandwiches: soggy, limp and stained purple by canned beetroot. Ugh. I now love beetroot for its earthy flavour and striking colour, ranging from pale red through to deep purple. I especially enjoy baby beets. I find it easiest to peel beetroot after they’re cooked, as the skin comes off more easily.

Beetroot is great roasted and sprinkled with sea salt, or boiled for a salad with toasted walnuts and goat’s cheese, and drizzled with walnut oil. The tender leaves, gently sautéed and flavoured with nutmeg, egg and parmesan, are a perfect stuffing for ravioli. And I am now a convert to homemade pickled beetroot. I like to use sherry vinegar and coriander seeds, and serve it on buttered Baker D Chirico rye bread with Berkshire smoked ham, or with smoked eel pâté.

I have seen some lovely new varieties of beetroot – red and white striped (also known as target) and golden. The best time for eating is now through until November. Choose firm, shiny beetroot, heavy for their size and with leaves intact. Refresh limp leaves in cold water to revive them.

My mother has a German cookbook by Dr Oetker devoted solely to the potato. It lists more than 500 recipes, including many variations on potato dumplings, fried potatoes, potato soup, potato Rösti, and so on. The humble spud is a very versatile vegetable (not least of all if you happen to be Bavarian) and I have a weak spot for it. I love creamy mashed potato under my coq au vin. I adore cubes of potato crisped in duck fat or in dripping with roast beef, and pommes boulangère with lamb. You name it.

You need to choose the right potato for the job. Floury potatoes – including coliban, kennebec, Nicola, sebago, spunta and bison – are high in starch and low in moisture and sugar, making them perfect for mashing, baking, roasting and frying. Their waxy counterparts have a higher moisture content and are low in starch, meaning they hold their shape when boiled or added raw to casseroles. They’re best for salads, or simply tossed in plenty of butter and salt. Kipflers, bintje, Desiree, pink fir apple, red pontiac and purple congo fall into this latter category.

I must admit that for my luxe potato mash (pictured above), I go against common wisdom and use equal quantities of floury and waxy potatoes. The result is a more dense, flavoursome mash, which is more like a purée with its gloss and texture. I like to buy spuds from organic stalls or farmers’ markets, preferably with the dirt on – it protects the potato from degradation and light. A potato should have yellow or white skin under the soil and be firm. Potatoes exposed to sunlight will develop a green tinge, and shouldn’t be eaten. A common misunderstanding is that when a potato starts to shoot it’s not edible. This isn’t the case – simply snap off the shoots before using them. Potatoes are harvested year-round and cold-stored for many months. Now, though, is a great time for eating them – many varieties are at their peak, and the weather especially calls for it.

Brighten a winter’s day with yellow and ruby grapefruit or freshly shucked oysters, or warm up with the earthy flavours of potato and beetroot, writes Brigitte Hafner.

Ingredients

  • 500 gm each of spunta and Desiree potatoes, peeled and halved
  • 50 gm butter, coarsely chopped
  • 100 ml hot milk (not boiled)
  • 60 ml extra-virgin olive oil

Method

Main
  • 1
    Place potatoes in a large saucepan of cold salted water and bring to the boil over high heat. Cook until potatoes are just tender when pierced with a small sharp knife (12-15 minutes), drain and return to pan. Allow steam to evaporate, then beat in a little butter at a time with a wooden spoon until well incorporated and smooth. Add milk, whisk well until smooth and fluffy, stir in olive oil and season to taste. Serve immediately, drizzled with extra olive oil, if desired.

Notes

ALSO IN SEASONFRUIT
Apples, cumquats, custard apples, grapefruit, lemons, limes, mandarins, nashi, oranges, papaya, pomelos, rhubarb, tangelos.
VEGETABLES Asian greens, avocados, beetroot, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, celeriac, celery, fennel, garlic, horseradish, Jerusalem artichokes, kale, kohlrabi, leek, okra, olives, parsnips, potatoes, pumpkins, shallots, silverbeet, spinach, swede, sweet potatoes, turnips, witlof.
SEAFOOD
Blue warehou, dusky flathead, grey mackerel, sand whiting, silver warehou, snapper, tailor.

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  • Author: Brigitte Hafner