Irish potato pancakes for St. Patrick's Day and tapioca pudding with sticky toffee apples

Tuesday, March 17, 2009
Faye Hatcher from BBC Radio Gloucestershire tucks in

BBC Radio Gloucesterhire ran a feature recently on frugal cooking and asked listeners to phone in with left over ingredients they had for someone to put them together to make something from them - which is where I came in.

The ingredients I had to work with were rather varied (thanks for that) - mash potato, red cabbage, watercress, apple crumble and tapioca pudding.

With St. Patricks day being today it seemed a good idea to look for something with an Irish theme. Potato pancakes bring together two staple ingredients abundant in Ireland in times gone by, as well as now - potatoes and flour. As mentioned on my Irish soda bread post, Irish flour is slightly different being much softer (a lower gluten content) which makes it ideal for the soda bread, and also potato pancakes.
You could have this as it is - if you want to cook frugally, vegetarian meals are the way forward, but also it's worth remembering not every meal needs to have meat or fish.


To go inside the potato pancakes I stopped off on my travels around the Cotswolds yesterday and picked some nettles. If you want to cook frugally, then one of the best places to start is to see what you can find growing in your garden, or out in the wild. Though in some cases you do need to ask the permission of the land owner.
With the warm spell we have been having for the last week the countryside is suddenly coming to life and the first nettles are just poking through. I picked mine near Stow in the Wold, but then later found some even better ones opposite the trout farm in Bibury when I stopped to pick up some smoked trout at the trout farm. Click here for some nettle tips I posted last year - you need to be careful where you pick them, wear gloves, and wash them well.

Cooking nettles

Tasting a bit like spinach or chard, nettles have a unique flavour - earthy & pungent, and once they are cooked the sting is destroyed. I have found the best way to cook them is to stir fry/ sauté them similar to the way you cook chinese leaf when making a stir-fry. This way they also don't take long to cook - maybe a minute or so - and the less you cook vegetables the more nutrients you save. Also when you sauté them some of the nettle leaves will brown slightly - that caramelisation gives you a wonderful flavour.

You can also steam them by putting them in a saucepan with a lid on. There should be enough water left on the leaves from washing them - but if not add a ladle or so of water just to make a little steam. They will cook this way in about 3 minutes. Then squeeze off excess water, season, maybe add a little butter and you can use as a vegetable in place of spinach or mixed in with spinach.

Potato pancakes

Similar to one version of Italian potato gnocci - these are made with mash potato and flour. 1/4 of the amount of flour to potato.
For these I used 1 lb (450g) mashed potato and 4 oz (110g) flour - which would feed 4 easily, or you could halve it for 2 people, or put the left over pancakes in the freezer, then they can be baked in the oven from frozen - around 20 minutes.
Once the nettles were cool I squeezed out the excess water (this would make the pancakes fall apart) then chopped them rounghly and added it to the potato mix with a teaspoon of wholegrain mustard and some seasoning.

Then - a bit like making bread (which reminds me to try making nettle bread) you fold it in, then turn out your potato 'dough' to a floured surface and knead it for just a few turns till it's smooth - that takes no longer than 20 seconds. Then, like you're making scones, roll it out to about 5 - 10mm or 1/4 - 1/2 an inch and cut out potato pancakes with a cutter. I used the 7cm (about 3in) cutter I use for fondant potatoes.
These are fried in a little veg oil for a minute either side till golden.

Red cabbage

While you can make red cabbage coleslaw, or just plain boiled red cabbage, my favourite way is to braise it in red wine (a frugal way to use up the ends of bottles, or the wine you're friends brought which you don't know what to do with, or left over mulled wine), orange juice, a sprinkling of brown sugar, mixed spice, cinnamon and a little butter. If you start it off with a lid on till it's soft, that creates steam which cooks it, then take the lid off so the liquid inside boils away. You can finish it with a squeeze of balsamic (a store cupboard essential). If you're adding orange juice at the beginning, leave the zest to mix in at the end - this will give you a great fresh orange flavour to your red cabbage.


The lady who phoned in the watercress suggestion has loads growing in the stream in her garden. Once it gets a hold, like mint it can go rampant, and you suddenly have a lot of watercress on your hands. One answer would be to either steam or sauté it as the nettles above and when cool freeze it in portion sizes which you can cook from frozen in the microwave or in a pan. You can also steam whole panfuls of watercress and puree it with a hand blender or food proccessor - add a little cream and you have a watercress puree - similar to this Richard Corrigan recipe for spinach puree. Such a puree goes really well with poultry and fish.

Watercress puree

The watercress puree I am making here is very simple - just what you need after a long day at work and not much time to spend in the kitchen. In the winter you want hearty gravies and cream sauces. As spring and summer arrives you want something lighter - dressings and vinaigrettes are a wonderful way of doing this - and there's so many flavours you can make just from your store cupboard or fridge.

I use my mini proccessor for this - if you don't have one of those you could use a hand blender, a pestle & mortar or just a chopping knife.
Add your watercress to the proccessor, add a ladle of olive oil over, a sprinkling of salt (no pepper needed as the watercress is strong), maybe a little chilli (a jar of ready chopped chilli is an essential fridge standby - it lasts for ages, and ends up much cheaper that always buying fresh ones). Then simply blitz it till it's pureed - 10 - 20 seconds.

Salad money saving tip

Watercress is also one of my top tips on my frugal food buying. Supermarkets must make so much money on those bags of ready prepped salad they sell - have you ever seen one recently for under 99p? You feel so virtuous when you buy salad - it makes a great healthy meal, but then you put it in the fridge for tomorrow, but tomorrow you feel like something different and the bag of half-used salad creeps to the back of the fridge, and a week later you end up throwing out a bag of smelly half composted salad.

Instead of the mixed salad go for watercress, rocket or baby spinach. These have 3 uses - you can have them as salad leaves one day, another day chopped up and added to mash potato or pasta sauce - like a herb, and another day they can be steamed and eaten as a vegetable. With these different uses, you are much more likely to use up the whole bag, so you save the waste.

Plating up

I went a bit restaurant-style with this - the red cabbage in the middle, 2 potato & nettle panakes on top and the watercress puree around.
To keep in with the St. Patrick's theme I also made another plate with a fillet of grilled Irish salmon. If you're being frugal here you could catch your own salmon. My grandmother's neighbour often went salmon fishing, and brought them back for his wife to cook - and it's so much better than farmed - real flavour. In the Cotswolds though, you could try it with trout. You can fish for trout at Donnington and Bibury trout farms - it's far cheaper than buying them, and if you enjoy fishing it's a great way to spend the day. They, along with Cockleford trout farm also sell their trout - either fresh or smoked at the farm or at local farmers markets.

Tapioca pudding with sticky toffee apples

Tapioca I do have to admit is something I have never cooked before, so it was really interesting to try for the first time. When I mentioned tapioca to my parents they both said "eww, frogspawn!". Tapioca was popular in school dinners in times gone by - it's great comfort food, a bit like rice pudding. Anything that's like rice pudding has to be good!

What is tapioca?

Tapioca comes from Cassava - which we know more these days for cassava crisps. It's basically a starch and for tapioca pudding you use pearl tapioca. I really had trouble tracking some down - it's not as popular these days as it was.

How to make tapioca pudding

Rinse the tapioca in a sieve. Soak for an hour in milk. Then bring to boil and simmer for 1/2 hour, stirring frequently to stop it sticking. When cooked add vanilla essence and sugar.

I used 1 pint milk, 100g tapioca, 1 tablespoon of sugar and 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla essence.

I have since also found this recipe which would be good to try with the rest of the tapioca.

Tapioca with apple

It was making the passionfuit panna cotta at the weekend that gave me the idea of doing the tapioca in a similar way.
I took some of the apple puree from the apple crumble and spooned that into the bottom of a few individual pudding tins - the sort you use for steamed puddings.
I was thinking of setting the tapioca with a little gelatine - like you do with the panna cotta, but in fact the tapioca is very starchy, so it really didn't need it. As it was rather too starchy I lightened it with a spoon of crème fraîche and a dash of water, then spooned it in to the tins on top of the apple puree. Then it just neeeded a little setting in the fridge (you could also flash them in the freezer for 10 minutes).
I turned these out on to the plate using the blow torch to release it (you can also put under running warm water) and spooned the toffee apples around.

Sticky toffee apples

This accompaniment was another couple of left overs - sticky toffee sauce from sticky toffee pudding at the weekend, and an excess apple (I'd ended up with one more than I needed) from the cider sauce to go with the pork tenderloin.
Last year on one of the rare times I visit my mum she made the main course, but hadn't thought of a dessert, so I looked around for what there was. There was a bunch of bananas going very overripe, so I made a quick toffee sauce - brown sugar, margarine (didn't have butter) and a little left over sherry (which she had won as a Christmas raffle prize), sliced the bananas and dropped them in till they were soft - a little like those foil parcels of baked bananas you put on the barbecue.

I cooked this apple in the same way, peeling it, coring it and cutting into slices, then dropping the slices into the warm toffee sauce till it was softened (cooked) - about 2 minutes on a low heat.
The rest of the apple crumble could made into granola - apple puree is one of the key items in granola as it binds all the dry ingredients together. Mix up the apple crumble with other store items - oats, nuts, seeds, dried fruit, spices - what ever you have really, and some rice syrup or golden syrup. There's a cranberry (crasin) version I cooked last month linked below.

Related posts:

What can I cook for St. Patrick's Day? - some Irish dishes I have cooked recently.


Sam said...

Looks like you had a fun St Patrick's day too! I'm impressed you came up with such good dishes from such a random selection of ingredients!

Jan said...

Fantastic post - looks like you had a great day!
Love all your ideas.
I want to make potato pancakes they look yummy thanks for sharing.

Joie de vivre said...

You are so creative!

Maggie said...

It's ages since I made potato pancakes and always love them. The rest of the food looks wonderful too.