Vilana cake is an unusual sweet from the beautiful tiny volcanic island of La Gomera, in the Canary Islands, and is named after the ‘vilana’, or tin pot, in which it is traditionally baked. Thanks to its sub-tropical climate, La Gomera boasts fabulous produce – avocadoes, fresh fish, bananas, tomatoes – but the region is best known for its potato recipes, making the most of the island’s flavoursome root vegetables which arrived there shortly after the conquest of America. This simple, hearty cake incorporates mashed potato into its moist, buttery crumb, along with other key ingredients from the island: almonds, spice and dried fruit.Read More
Who needs E numbers and artificial colourings when you have the splendid, radiant palette of Mother Nature? Think of the vivid hot pink of a slender stalk of early season rhubarb, or the luscious magenta of a heavy, ripe raspberry; picture the coral, pearly inside of a freshly cut fig or the eye-popping green of a blanched broccoli stalk. These colours are something for the cook to get excited about; they make preparing a meal as much of a joy as eating it. It’s rather ironic that the slogan ‘taste the rainbow’ was adopted by Skittles to sell their sweets, whose artificial colours are a sorry simulacrum of the spectrum real food has to offer.Read More
Potatoes get a bit sadly overlooked in my kitchen, and I'm sure I'm not the only one to neglect these noble tubers. I reckon I cook with potatoes once a month at the very most, and probably not even that. I'm not entirely sure why they're so seldom featured in my recipes. Perhaps because mashed potato is a little bit of a faff, so generally I accompany my food with rice or couscous, which has a more interesting texture and which I actually prefer. Perhaps because I cook a lot of Middle Eastern and Asian food, where potatoes don't usually feature. Perhaps because I've got into this habit of rarely using them, they're not something that comes into my head when I'm thinking up recipes.
I remember the Great British Food Revival did an episode on potatoes a couple of years ago. Gregg Wallace did a fine job of persuading us all to reignite our love affair with the humble potato, bemoaning the fact that we're so obsessed with trendy foreign carbs (pasta, rice, couscous, bulgur wheat...) that we neglect our own home-grown starchy goodness. He offered a number of potato recipes designed to inspire us. One of them, potato gnocchi, he made look so easy and delicious that I made it the very next day.
Unfortunately, it was a disaster. My gnocchi, on contact with boiling water, disintegrated into a sieve full of squidgy mush. They were completely unrecognisable as gnocchi, and definitely not the kind of thing you can just toss in a tomato sauce and serve. I threw them in the bin - something I abhor doing - and cooked some pasta instead. Maybe it was this scarring experience that has all but banished the potato from my larder (I still have never tried to revisit making gnocchi, and doubt I ever will). I very rarely have kitchen disasters, so when I do it's pretty catastrophic - there are usually tears.
However, when Good Natured asked me to take part in a competition to design a warming potato recipe for winter, I figured I may as well put my creative energies to the test with this little-used ingredient. Plus there was a chance of winning some Le Creuset, and as anyone who knows me will know, I am a complete fiend for Le Creuset.
I had a number of ideas in mind, mainly based around memories of French ski resort food - i.e. heavy in butter, cream, cheese and bacon - but this one popped into my head and won. I'm a big fan of those potato farls you can buy in supermarkets - dense, doughy, fluffy pancake-like breads that are delicious toasted and smothered in scrambled eggs and (on a day when I'm feeling rich, so very rarely) smoked salmon. The use of potato in baked goods lends a really amazing moistness and a fluffy texture, so I wanted to try it in scones.
These are emphatically not the kind of scones you want to slather in jam and cream for afternoon tea. Instead they're dense, doughy and moist, ideal for brunch or lunch. They're enriched with aromatic thyme and sage, crispy bits of salty bacon, grated mature cheddar, and grated apple. The apple gives a slight sweetness and more moisture to the scone, while the cheese melts lusciously and turns gooey. The bacon and herbs work really well with the rich cheese, making the whole thing deliciously savoury.
The potato here lends an amazing moistness to the crumb. They're very doughy scones, rather than light and fluffy like your typical afternoon tea scones, but they would make a wonderful accompaniment to soup or stew - the perfect doughy morsel to mop up all those delicious juices left in your bowl. They'd also be good simply spread with butter and eaten for breakfast (which I did this morning while waiting for my porridge to cook), or topped with a light goat's cheese and some slices of apple for lunch. They're basically your typical bakery cheese scone, just made more interesting with the addition of potato, apple and bacon, and with a savoury squidgyness that is perfect for the colder months.
If this isn't warming winter comfort food, I'm not sure what is.
Bacon, apple and cheddar potato scones (makes 8):
- 300g peeled potatoes
- 4 rashers of smoky bacon
- 350g self-raising flour
- 1/2 tsp sea salt
- 2 tsp baking powder
- 1 tsp dried thyme
- 1 tsp dried sage
- 80g cold butter, cubed
- 80g grated mature cheddar, plus extra to finish
- 1 apple, grated (I used cox)
- 4 tbsp milk, plus extra for brushing
- 1 tsp Dijon mustard
First, boil the potatoes until tender, then drain and set aside to cool completely. When cool, cut into chunks. Cut the bacon into small pieces then fry in a hot pan until crispy. When cooked, place it on some kitchen paper to absorb excess fat and let cool.
Pre-heat the oven to 200C.
Put the flour, salt, baking powder, thyme, sage and butter in a blender and blitz until the butter has been incorporated. Add the potatoes and blitz again. Put the mixture in a bowl and stir in the bacon, cheese and apple, then whisk together the milk and mustard and add to the bowl. Knead until the mixture forms a smooth and slightly sticky dough.
Flour a baking sheet (non-stick if possible). Place the dough on a worktop and knead for a minute or so, then shape into a disc around an inch thick. Place on the baking sheet. Brush with a little milk, then grate some more cheddar over the top to cover. Then use a sharp knife to divide into eight pieces, cutting about 1cm down into the dough.
Bake for 45 minutes, until crispy and golden on top. Best eaten warm.