It was a sign.
A large, elephant-shaped sign.
Painted with some mighty inescapable strawberries.
The elephant was a resident of The Hempel Hotel in London, the venue for this weekend’s Food Blogger Connect 2010 (and, yes, I will be reporting on the bits of FBC that involved neither elephants nor strawberries in due course).
I think maybe the folks at Bord Bia had placed Mr. Elephant there as a not-so-subtle reminder to me that it was the start of Irish National Strawberry week. Like I needed a reminder.
I had already been displaying an elephant-like inability to forget that my last outing with strawberries wasn’t quite the success I’d hoped for. I mean to say, strawberries plus potato pancakes – I thought the idea had merit, though the pancakes I made at the time, unfortunately, didn’t. Now my elephant-shaped conscience was insisting I have another go. Who was I to argue?
The result, I can at least report, was a much better incarnation of the strawberries plus potato pancakes genre.
A combination of better-than-jam slow roasted strawberries from Gastroanthropologist (whom it was a delight to meet in person at FBC) and Miss Jane Bury’s potato pancakes, a recipe dating back to the early 1700s and set forth in Colman Andrews’ fabulous tome, The Country Cooking of Ireland.
As Caroline from Bibliocook says in her review of this book, it should be thrust into the hands of all prospective tourists to this country. The potato pancakes, from a recipe collection now held in the National Library, are well worthy of being scoffed on their own (though anything spud-like and fried in butter always is). They can have savoury or sweet additions (hence the strawberries, which I ate with them), though I do think that they’re most at home on the savoury side of the menu, strawberry elephants notwithstanding.
Gastroanthropologist’s Slow Roasted Strawberries
I was intrigued from the moment I read Gastroanthropologist’s recipe for slow roasted strawberries. Slow cooked and each delivering a concentrated strawberry hit, this I had to try.
I followed the instructions as she describes here with only minor adjustments. I didn’t have a vanilla bean but used a good quality vanilla extract instead. She also makes a sauce using the roasted strawberry juices along with Sauternes, though I used madeira instead, which made for a kind of tangy, fruity, toffee-ish sauce.
- 500g strawberries (small berries preferably)
- 1.5-2 tblsp butter
- 0.5 tsp natural vanilla extract (or pulp from half of a vanilla bean)
- 1-2 tblsp demerara sugar
- around 50ml madeira (I used a sweet malmsey) – or substitute another sweet fortified or unfortified wine
You’ll also need:
- A non-metal ovenproof dish – mine was around 20cm x 30cm
- Preheat the oven to 110C
- Add the butter to your non-metal oven proof dish. Place into the oven for a few minutes to melt.
- Trim the strawberries but leave them whole and toss in the sugar.
- Remove the dish with the melted butter, mix with the vanilla extract or pulp, place strawberries cut side down in the butter, return to the oven and roast for around 3 hours or until they slump inwards (and, as Gastranthropologist describes, they look like Hershey’s kisses).
- Once cool enough to handle, remove the strawberries. If you have juices remaining in the pan, pour off into a small saucepan. If you find, like me, that the strawberry juices have dried somewhat and formed a sticky layer, loosen with a little boiling water, then remove the contents to a small saucepan.
- Add the madeira to the liquid in the saucepan, place over a medium heat and simmer until it is reduced by about half. Add a little sugar to taste if you like and/or stir in a little cream. Serve with the roasted strawberries, ice cream or cream and maybe even some pancakes.
- I reckon that strawberries slow roasted with some balsamic vinegar instead of the vanilla might be worth a try.
- There might be enough for 2 in this, but that’s only if you feel like sharing.
Miss Jane Bury’s Potato Pancakes
This is as per the recipe described by Colman Andrews in Country Cooking of Ireland, except that I made the individual pancakes smaller than originally specified, as I found my batter to be quite soft and the pancakes prone to disintegrate. Smaller, thicker pancakes held together better.
These are very simple, but rich. Tasty eaten just on their own or best with other savoury foods, though they’ll accept sweet accompaniment too (and, if you’re going the sweet route, I would be inclined to reduce the amount of salt in the batter, perhaps by about half).
- 850g potatoes, preferably a floury variety (I used maris piper)
- 3 eggs, lightly beaten
- 1 tsp salt (reduce to abt 0.5 tsp if serving with something sweet)
- 240ml heavy cream
- 175ml milk or water or as needed (I used milk)
- 4-6 tblsp clarified butter
You’ll also need:
- A potato ricer – handy, though not essential, for mashing the potatoes – plus a frying pan, preferably non-stick, for frying the pancakes.
For The Mash:
- Peel your potatoes and cut into roughly even-sized slices, around 1-2cm thick. Rinse them under cold water.
- Bring about 1.5l of water to the boil in a saucepan, add about 2 tsp salt and the potato slices. Bring back to the boil and reduce to a simmer. Simmer gently, covered, for around 15-20 minutes or until just fork-tender. Drain well, then either let them sit, covered by a tea-towel, for about 5 minutes or place the pan over a low heat and stir the potatoes gently for a minute or so while they dry out.
- In a large bowl, put the cooked and still warm potatoes through a potato ricer, if you have one, or mash with a potato masher or a fork. Allow to cool a little.
For The Pancakes:
- Add the eggs, salt and cream to the mashed potatoes and stir well to form a thick batter. If too thick to flow from a spoon, dilute with milk or water.
- Place a frying pan over a medium heat and, when hot, add about 2 tblsp of the clarified butter.
- Add around 2 tblsp of batter to form each small, thick pancake (around 8-10cm diameter). Cook in batches, cooking each batch for 6-8 minutes, turning once, and repeat until the batter is used up, adding more clarified butter to the pan as needed. Keep pancakes warm in a low oven, covered with foil or just let people eat them as you make them.
- These are great on their own, though they’d go well with other brunchables, like eggs and bacon, or you can have them sweet, with sugar and butter, or, yes, maybe even strawberries.
- Of course you can add whatever herbs or spices you like to the pancake batter, though they’re pretty good just as they are.
- Around 20-24 small pancakes, serves 6-8