Everyone, on the other hand, expects spuds on Paddy’s Day, but I’ll betcha nobody expects spudakopita (cue Python-esque diabolical laughter). You can get the low down on this potatoey St. Patrick’s Day version of spanakopita below (though there’s no need to restrict its making to one day of the year – remember that potatoes are for life, not just for Paddy’s Day).
What is special about St. Patrick’s Day when it comes to spuds, though, is that it was, and is, a traditional day for planting pototoes in Ireland. Kaethe Burt O’Dea of SPUDS.ie (who is quoted in today’s Washington Post piece on Ireland and the trialling of GM potatoes) wisely suggests that we might do well to reclaim this day as a National Potato Day and relegate the consumption of copious pints to a supporting role. I’ll plant to that.
Meanwhile, given the season that’s in it, I have found myself awash with samples of a spudly nature generously provided to me by assorted parties who know my taste in edibles only too well.
Last week, those samples included the legendary Lumper potatoes. They’re an item which continues to generate interest, with my recent post on the subject of Lumpers being referenced in this piece on the National Geographic website, no less (news of which got me out of bed yesterday far faster than is usual for a Saturday morning, I can tell you). Certainly, if you felt like giving your Paddy’s Day an historical twist, the Lumper would be the spud for you.
Far more modern in concept, of course, are the Keogh’s Shamrock Crisps which came my way during the week. First produced last year and widely available here in Ireland, they are making inroads into the U.K. market now too. Yes, they do contain real shamrock. No, shamrock itself doesn’t really taste of much (though if clever marketing had a flavour, this might be it) and yes, they’re well worth a whirl, especially if sour cream and onion is your thing.
Straddling tradition and modernity is Gallagher’s Boxty House Potato Pancake mix. This is a just-add-water mix developed and fine-tuned over a number of years by Pádraic Óg Gallagher, based on his mother’s boxty recipe (and the boxty which is made in great quantities at Gallagher’s Boxty House restaurant, which was established in Dublin’s Temple Bar before it was ever Temple Bar). The pancake mix is available in Dublin at Gallagher’s restaurant and also in Fallon and Byrne – I also gather that it is soon to be available in Selfridges in London. My preferred way of making these is to let them spread into reasonably thin pancakes, and give them perhaps 5 or 6 minutes on each side, until nicely golden brown and set. Though I love homemade boxty in its many forms, this makes for a nice alternative if you don’t have the time or inclination to get the grater out and do it yourself.
As if all of that weren’t enough to satisfy my daily quota of spuds, I’ve also lately been in receipt of some of the convenience range from Sam’s Potatoes, which includes assorted variations on the microwaveable steam-in-the-bag theme, with baby potatoes, family-sized rooster packs and even sweet potatoes (which hail from a different species entirely, but we’ll let that pass). These products do just as they say on the tin (or rather the microwaveable packet) and provide a fast, no-mess route to plain, cooked spuds. Like it or not, as producers contend with life in the convenience lane, these may indeed be the spuds of the future.
My spuds for the day that’s in it, however, are that most popular of multiple-choice options, namely none of the above. In a dish that is more Patrick than Parthenon, a Greek classic gets the Daily Spud treatment and you, my friends, get spudakopita.
Spudakopita: An Irish take on Spanakopita
Yes, it’s probably fair to say that not everyone expects spuds like this on St. Patrick’s Day. It’s certainly not traditionally Irish, but takes inspiration from other lands and applies Irish ingredients to them, which is as valid a version of modern Irish food as any (and if you’re looking for more on the subject of what constitutes Irish food anyway, you can pop on over to Wise Words and see what Móna (and her commenters) have to say on the matter).
What you see here is adapted from a recipe for spanakopita taken from the new cookbook by Lorraine Fitzmaurice – Blazing Salads 2 – which brings to the bookshelf a nourishing collection of vegetarian recipes from the long-established Dublin deli.
I can heartily recommend trying Lorraine’s original spanakopita recipe, which comes via a relative’s Greek mother-in-law (and, since receiving my review copy from the folks at Gill & Macmillan, I’ve been enjoying several other recipes from the book, including Lorraine’s butternut squash and chickpea curry and fragrant rice).
For this version of spanakopita, I have, however, swapped the filo pastry for thinly sliced potatoes and added some thyme and garlic (both of which I find hard to resist). And though there isn’t a great deal of feta-style cheese made here in Ireland, you could make use of one of the very notable exceptions: namely the feta-style cheese which is now being made from buffalo milk in West Cork by Toonsbridge Dairy, the folks who brought you Ireland’s first locally made buffalo mozzarella, and the worthy recipient, recently, of an Irish Food Writers’ Guild Award.
Of course you can use real feta cheese here (or even make your own feta-style cheese, if you were so inclined), or, if you want to try another Irish cheese, perhaps look for some fresh goats cheese, such as Bluebell Falls or Fivemiletown or St. Tola.
- Makes around 3-4 servings & takes approx. 1 hour to prep + 1 hour to bake
- 600g spinach leaves, washed and any tough stalks removed
- rapeseed or olive oil for frying
- butter for frying
- 1 large leek, about 200g once trimmed, white and light green parts washed and finely sliced
- 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
- 2-3 sprigs fresh thyme
- 275g feta (or feta-style) cheese
- 1 tblsp finely chopped dill
- 1 tsp lemon zest
- freshly ground black pepper
- 2 eggs
- 600g potatoes, preferably a waxy variety
You’ll also need:
- An ovenproof dish or baking tin – mine was about 28cm x 18cm and 4cm deep.
- Preheat your oven to 180C
- Bring a large saucepan of water to the boil over a medium-high heat. Add the spinach and allow it to wilt for about 5 minutes. Drain into a colander and allow it to cool a little, then squeeze out any excess water and chop roughly.
- Place a large frying pan over a medium heat. When hot, add about a tblsp each of oil and butter. When the butter has melted, turn the heat to low and add the sliced leek, stir and fry gently for about 5 minutes until starting to soften. Add the chopped garlic and the leaves from the thyme and fry for about a minute more, then add the spinach and a pinch of salt and stir and fry until the vegetables are tender.
- Place the leek and spinach mixture in a large bowl. Crumble in the feta cheese and add the chopped dill and lemon zest. Stir to mix and add black pepper to taste and salt if it needs it (it may not, depending on the saltiness of the feta). Beat the eggs and stir into the mixture.
- Scrub the potatoes well and, leaving them unpeeled, cut into slices approx. 2-3mm thick. Rinse in cold water and pat dry.
- Grease the base and sides of your ovenproof dish or tin. Cover the base of the tin with approx. ⅓ of the potato slices. Add about ½ of the spinach and feta mixture, followed by another layer of potato slices and the rest of the spinach and feta. Chop the remaining potato slices into thin matchsticks and toss with approx. 1 tblsp of rapeseed or olive oil and a pinch of salt, then spread over the top of the pie.
- Bake for about 1 hour or until the potato is cooked through and the topping is browned and crispy. If the topping starts to get too brown during cooking, cover with foil. Serve warm on its own or with a simple green salad or some good tomatoes in season.
- You could certainly add some toasted pine nuts to the spinach mixture if you liked or perhaps a scattering of chilli flakes if you wanted a little extra bite.