Spud Sunday: The Irish-Italian Job

Potato and tomato bake

Potato and tomato bake - an Irish-Italian meeting of ingredients

Think Irish, think potatoes. Think Italian, think tomatoes.

In truth, the two are not so very far apart.

Solanum tuberosum (potatoes) and S. lycopersicum (tomatoes) are both South American natives from the same genus, introduced into Europe following the Spanish colonisation of the Americas. We Irish were one of the earliest European adopters of the potato – though a few degrees farther south and we might, like the Italians, have favoured the potato’s juicy cousin.

As it stands, the Italians (with the noble exception here and in the UK of the Italian chip shop) aren’t big on potatoes. That doesn’t stop the Irish having a great fondness for Italian food, but often with a few extra potatoes thrown in. In fact there is probably nothing more Irish-Italian than a dirty big plate of lasagna and chips.

Bringing a little more sophistication to the Irish-Italian table, however, is Catherine Fulvio’s new, hot-off-the-presses book, Catherine’s Italian Kitchen. Married to an Italian and the energy behind Ballyknocken Cookery School in Wicklow, Catherine introduces Italian staples and some regional specialities to the Irish household in a very accessible format. Granted that tomatoes feature far more frequently in the book than spuds, she does marry the two very nicely in her potato and tomato bake. A truly Irish-Italian dish with not a chip in sight.

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Catherine Fulvio’s Potato And Tomato Bake

Catherines Italian Kitchen

Flavoured with fennel and saffron, this gratin-style dish really grew on me over time. I liked it when it came piping hot out of the oven, and scoffed more later, when it had cooled to room temperature. I enjoyed it even more the next day, reheated for lunch.

As Catherine notes in her book, make this only when you have very ripe and flavourful tomatoes. As for the type of spud to use, I’d prefer waxy here, but it can work with any type. You can enjoy it on its own or with a salad, though I think it would work well as an accompaniment to white fish or lamb.

You’ll need:
  • 1kg potatoes, peeled (around 5 medium-sized spuds)
  • salt
  • 100ml milk
  • 3 cloves garlic, sliced
  • 1 tsp fennel seeds, lightly crushed
  • 0.5 tsp saffron threads
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 500g ripe tomatoes (3-4 large tomatoes)
  • 120ml vegetable stock
  • 4 tblsp breadcrumbs (I used wholewheat)
  • 4 tblsp freshly grated parmesan
  • 2 tblsp extra virgin olive oil
You’ll also need:
  • Baking tin or ovenproof dish – mine was 28cm x 21cm x 5cm deep
The Steps:
  • Halve any very large potatoes so that you have roughly even sized pieces. Place the potatoes in a saucepan, cover with water, add about a tsp of salt, bring to the boil and simmer for 5-6 minutes. Drain, then slice thinly once cool enough to handle.
  • Preheat your oven to 180C and grease your baking tin or dish.
  • Mix together the milk, garlic, fennel, saffron, a few twists of black pepper and about 0.5 tsp salt (though if your stock is very salty, you may want to add less salt here).
  • Layer the potatoes in the bottom of the tin. Drizzle over a little of the milk and saffron mixture. Cover with a layer of tomatoes. Repeat, finishing with a layer of potatoes, then pour over the vegetable stock.
  • Mix the breadcrumbs and parmesan and sprinkle over the top, then drizzle over the olive oil.
  • Bake until the potatoes are tender and the surface is crisp and golden brown, pressing the surface of the potatoes down using a the back of a spoon or spatula from time to time during baking. Catherine suggests baking for an hour and an half, though an hour does it for me.
The Variations:
  • Catherine suggests that you could replace the tomatoes with either thinly sliced fennel or roasted red peppers. I quite fancy bulking this up by simmering some puy lentils for 20 minutes or so, then using the lentils and their cooking liquid in place of the vegetable stock.
The Results:
  • Makes around 3-4 lunch servings or serves 4-6 as a side dish.
Comments
  • I should have guessed that of all the recipes in the book, you’d make this one! Like you said, it’s the perfect Irish-Italian dish if ever there was one.

  • Hey Kristin – am I that predictable? :) (On second thoughts, don’t answer that!) I have also (so far) made Catherine’s tomato sauce and aubergine parmigiana (which is probably one of my all time favourite Italian dishes) though for spud publication, this indeed had to be the one.

  • I must confess do rather like chips and lasagne :) Same as I like a thin layer of spud in a moussaka. There is something about a sloppy tomato-based sauce and spuds and this dish sounds lovely! I am dying to try the parmigiana too.

  • […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Daily Spud, Billy Lyons. Billy Lyons said: RT @DailySpud: Proving that there's more to Irish-Italian cooking than lasagna and chips…: http://su.pr/A95JZT […]

  • Dear Ms Glutton, I will confess that I am quite partial to lasagna and chips myself! And do try the parmigiana – really full of flavour. I added in some mushrooms and swapped asiago cheese for the mozzarella and it was delish!

  • A stunning & divine looking potato saffron & tomato oven dish!!

    It screams: EAT & SAVOUR Me!

    MMMMMM,…real food!

  • This dish makes a lot more sense to me than lasagna with a side of wedges, lol. My friends actually serve lasagna with wedges AND garlic bread – talk about a carbo overload! Will have to try this dish…perfect comfort food for cold Irish weather!

  • I’ve never paired tomatoes and potatoes – what a terrific idea and great flavoring with fennel and saffron!

  • Look 100% amazing. Bookmarked!

  • Looks delicious for this rather cool weather we’re having here. I’m heading to the farmer’s market today on the hunt for some tomatoes and I’ll try this dish out as the combination sounds pretty yum!

  • I do now know what blood line my tomato lovin’ roots came from, but I would gladly except my son marrying his Irish roots to a beautiful Italian dish, oh uh, and nice cheesy potatoes in a tomato bake would do me just fine too.

    We know so many people in Jersey and Long Island with Irish first names and Italian last names, or vise versa, even his younger sister married an Tony Dennis. She IS Irish, so more good blood back in…

  • …or should I say ‘One’ for the Irish, lol…

  • Sophie: yes indeed, definitely real food to savour :)

    Clare: We do like our carbs – I’ve definitely had the lasagna + wedges + garlic bread combination more than once in my life :D

    5 Star Foodie: I’ve combined potato and tomato before, but usually involving some kind of tomato-based sauce with potatoes as an addition. Definitely never made a straight up potato and tomato gratin until this.

    aoife mc: it’s a good ‘un!

    kickpleat: yep, it’s definitely one for the cooler autumn weather…

    Chef E: Irish and Italian is just a good combination all ’round :)

  • That looks so comforting! My favourite tomato with potatoes has got to be ketchup – I’m a real heathen like that.

    Seriously though, I’m feeling terribly guilty. I was in Dublin at the weekend and I had been meaning to tweet you when I got there but blasted phone decided not to “roam” and I couldn’t. We had a lovely time if a tad wet and I highly recommend The Green Hen in Exchequer St if you’ve not come across it yet, the Ryanair inflight mag said it had only recently opened (although I read this on my return journey, ahem, I did not rely on Ryanair for my dining recommendations!!)

  • Hey Sarah – sorry to have missed you in Dublin – some other time for sure, eh? Haven’t come across The Green Hen but will have to go and check it out. As for ketchup – when it comes to chips, ketchup should go without saying! :)

  • Sounds delicious and just the thing to get me thinking about our trip to Rome next week.

  • Ooh, a trip to Rome? OysterCulture I am jealous!

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