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.
Catherine Fulvio’s Potato And Tomato Bake
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.
- 1kg potatoes, peeled (around 5 medium-sized spuds)
- 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
- 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.
- 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.
- Makes around 3-4 lunch servings or serves 4-6 as a side dish.