Sunday 3 February 2008

Perfect Purple Potato Bread

"What I say is that, if a fellow really likes potatoes, he must be a pretty decent sort of fellow."
A. A. Milne (1882-1956)

It is the year of the potato and to celebrate Eating Leeds is holding an event where bloggers cook a potato dish and are encouraged to try a different variety of potato to their usual ones. So I turned to Yann Lovelock and Colin Spencer to find out more about potatoes.

The humble potato is known by many names (Lovelock dedicates two pages to its name): potato, earth apple, pomme de terre, spud, Murphy, tater, tatty, ground truffle, breadroot, prairie turnip, gruntbeer, kartoffel grond peer, krumpli, batatas, bilati aloo, Batavian tuber, foreign yam, Frank’s taro.

It has a fascinating history, originating in Peru where it broke up the soil to make the growing of maize possible. The Spanish explorers then ‘discovered’ potatoes and brought them back to Europe where for years they were shunned as poisonous, inedible and even immoral. In Scotland, Presbyterian ministers opposed eating potatoes because they were not mentioned in the bible. Walter Raleigh is credited with introducing them to Ireland. I am particularly inspired by the story of French military pharmacist, Parmentier who, in his campaign to popularise potatoes, served a dinner in which all courses were based around potatoes.

In Australian history taught in schools, the potato is probably most prominent in the story of the Irish potato famine of the 1840s because it sent migrants heading to our shores. But we are not taught that it saved so many from famine and war. Maybe we didn’t need to be told it was a vegetable of influence and benevolence. While appreciating Shila Hibben’s claim that ‘the potato, like man, was not meant to dwell alone’, none of us could imagine life without it.

The potato features heavily in the Australian diet. What small country town would be without its fish and chip shop (not the one where I grew up). My childhood was full of roast potatoes, mashed potatoes, boiled new potatoes, pomme noisettes, shepherd’s pie, baked potatoes, packets of chips (crisps), hot chips, potato cakes, rosti, and the occasional treat of a chip butty and I am sure there are many more I can’t remember. I think my mum even made boston bun with mashed potato in it. I remember when I started cooking, I made a chocolate mashed potato cake which horrified my brothers and sisters but delighted me.

My recipe books are full of fantastic potato recipes – you will find them on my blog in soups, salads, stews, burgers, roast dinners, festive food, soda bread, cookies, and there are many more to come. Last week I made a delicious potato recipe which I found on Ann and Jack’s blog, Redacted Recipes. I knew the Cheese, Onion and Potato Bread must be good because Jack came back to the recipe after 12 years without disappointment – he described it as ‘small loaf with a rugged exterior and a soft, savoury interior, and it should taste wonderful’. He was right!

I love vegetables in baking and unlike some cookbook authors, I don’t feel it needs to be a sneaky way of hiding vegetables and denying their existence. Rather, vegetables should be celebrated for making cakes and breads lighter, softer, moister and more full of taste.

When Eating Leeds suggested using a different potato, the obvious one for me to try was the delightful purple congo, which Colin Spencer describes as ‘dark violet and distinctly reminiscent of Elizabeth Taylor’s eyes’. I first noticed it last year at the Queen Vic Market. Then I saw Haalo making her wonderful purple gnocchi (and she kindly alerted me to the stall at Prahran Market that sells them). Happily, I found them close to work in the lovely little Lygon St fruit and veg shop in Carlton. (I could even weigh them on my new electronic scales I got for my birthday!)

I admit my excitement was all about colour rather than about different textures. I had visions of a purple loaf of bread. It wasn’t uniformly purple, but it pleased me immensely that the bread was flecked purple and green. What is really interesting about using purple potatoes is that you see them in the bread rather than having white on white.

This bread was one of the nicest quick breads I have ever made (apologies to Jack for a few changes). The potatoes were part of this – they added moisture and taste. But kudos must also go to the sweet softness of the spring onions, the smoked paprika, and the gruyere cheese. It was soft with a deep smoky cheesy taste. I mentioned to E that it almost tasted like bacon and he agreed that if I had told him it had bacon he would have believed it. I feel I finally have used my smoked paprika in a dish where it shines and blends perfectly with the other flavours.

I probably don’t even need to say it, but this recipe is a winner! It was delicious with roast veggies and Muhammara, and took much self-discipline to leave any for breakfast the next morning. But it was delicious at breakfast time with or without jam, eaten over the weekend newspaper (which was promptly delivered unlike last week).

Cheese, Onion and Potato Bread
(from Redacted Recipes)

1½ cups (6 oz s) self-raising flour
1 tsp salt
½ tsp smoked paprika (or cayenne pepper)
1 potato, grated (I used 2 purple congo – about 200g)
100g gruyere (or goats cheese or fetta or cheddar) cut into small cubes
5 spring onions, trimmed and finely sliced
1 heaped tsp fresh thyme
1 egg
2-4 tbsp milk (I used 4)
1 tsp grain mustard

Heat oven to 190 C.

Place flour, salt and smoked paprika into medium mixing bowl. Add grated potato, 2/3 of the cheese, onions and thyme. Mix thoroughly. Lightly beat the egg with 2 tbsp milk and the mustard, add it to the bowl and mix everything together thoroughly until you have a sticky shaggy dough. You may need to add a little extra milk if it is quite dry.

Transfer the dough onto a greased baking tray – use floured hands or just scrape it out with a spoon. Form into a rough round. Push the remaining cubes of cheese into the surface, evenly spaced, dust lightly with flour then bake for 40 - 45 minutes. Cool on a wire rack. NB my cheese had melted the bread onto the tray and I had to use an eggflip (spatula) to loosen it from the tray.

On the stereo:
The best of 1966-1970: Incredible String Band


  1. Cool! This recipe has found its way into two different blog events! I think your changes are great-- they make it YOUR recipe now. And I bet it tasted marvelous. Love the purple potatoes!

    Jack is off in the Italian Alps right now with limited access to the web, but I'll mention this to him next time he calls...

  2. Johanna, you're on a huge creative roll! This is just heaven - love, love, love those blue potatoes.

    Glad you're enjoying the Colin Spencer book. He's a wonderful champion of veg.

  3. You are killing me here Johanna! it looks gorgeous! I should be asleep soon, but I know I am going to lie awake thinking about this bread, wowee!

  4. I just love this post! Can't wait to try this recipe--it looks absolutely gorgeous--and I'm sure I can somehow adapt a vegan version (and no dreaded yeast! Yay!). Believe it or not, my mother once baked a chocolate-potato cake when I was a child. Must have been a trend back then ;).

    The list of potato names was so interesting, too. Oh, and glad you got your paper on time. . . so much more enjoyable when you can peruse over a cup of tea.

  5. What a pretty bread! I must admit that while I've seen purple potato around, I've never cooked or tasted it...does it differ much in taste/texture from, say, kipflers?

  6. thanks Ann - it did indeed taste marvellous - am so glad I saw it on your blog - please let Jack know I adored his recipe!

    thanks Lucy - blogging can get the creative juices flowing but I had to get rid of my backlog to face the week afresh with lots of time for Colin Spencer - he is so passionate about his vegetables!

    Thanks Holler - I know the feeling of lying awake thinking about food - this bread is so good I think you should try it, although then you wouldn't sleep for wanting to eat it :-)

    thanks Ricki - it was lovely to sit and read the papers in the morning rather than dragging myself to the supermarket late in the afternoon and finding they had sold out! I'd love to see a vegan version of this cake - smoked tofu might be good in it.

    thanks Ellie - the bread tasted so good but I also just loved how it looked and would have liked to frame some as well - I am not sure making bread with the potatoes was the best way to check how it tasted - I feel a bit undiscerning but I couldn't tell you - I think Haalo's post on the gnocchi might give a bit more info - she is much more informative on taste than me! I just get obsessed with colours and history - don't ask why :-)

  7. This really looks very good. I dont know if I'll find this purpose potatoes in India, but I can sure use the normal ones. Thanks a ton.

  8. I wish my childhood was full of shepherd’s pie. :(

    I think that's great that you made bread out of purple potatoes. If I could only get my hands on some purple potatoes.

  9. This a bread recipe I'll definitely have to try on my day off! I love the perfect specks of purple and green thoughout the bread. Yum.

  10. Loving the looks of this bread! I have been trying to do a bit more bread baking lately AND have been wanting to try the purple potatoes! So there ya go! I have guests arriving a week from today, so this recipe will happen when they leave and I have my time back in the kitchen! Nice history lesson also!

  11. Groovy! Love that quote (used it myself some time ago), as well as purple potatoes. Would that I could find them regularly. This is gorgeous. I swear these taters do taste differently than the whites.

  12. thanks Shella - I am sure this would work with normal potatoes

    thanks emiline - purple potatoes are wonderful if you can find them

    thanks DF - glad you loved the purple and green specks too - they made me happy!

    thanks wine deb - hope you enjoy your time with your guests - but it does make leisurely time in the kitchen seem even nicer when you get your place back to yourself

    thanks Susan - it is such a lovely quote - you can almost hear Pooh Bear saying it - I am sure he would be excited by purple potatoes :-)

  13. Using purple potatoes was a great touch - makes it look exotic! I can also see that a harder, smokier cheese like gruyere would work well too; I may have to try that next time I make it.

    I'm glad you had a hit with this one, Johanna!

  14. thanks Jack - this is great recipe which seems to suit many cheeses - I am very glad you resurrected it from the vaults :-)

  15. This looks stunning & really quite quirky ... I bet you'd get a few interesting questions if you served it up to guests!

  16. thanks Alex - yes I am enthused with those purple potatoes and keep meaning to buy more - and will definitely be serving this bread up to guests sometime!


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