For anyone tightening their belt after the Christmas festivities, the potato is a nutritious, purse-friendly way to see off the January blues, writes Diana Pilkington.
By Diana Pilkington January is a hard month to love. The coffers are bare, winter is in full swing and calorific treats are off the menu as the nation tries to combat the traditional post-festive bloat.
Thankfully, the humble potato goes some way to addressing these concerns. Not only is it a cheap cupboard staple that's easy to cook, it has the starchiness we crave on cold nights and experts say it's good for our health, too.
Despite popular opinion steering us away from carbohydrates, spuds are naturally fat-free, low in calories and a good source of fibre, vitamin C, potassium and vitamin B6.
In fact, a recent study found eating a portion of potatoes twice a day can lower blood pressure, and a separate study claimed potatoes provide more health benefits than so-called 'superfoods' like banana, broccoli, beetroot, nuts and avocado.
Sian Porter, consultant dietician to the Potato Council, said: "It is important to have a wide variety of foods in your diet and to include at least five different portions of fruit and veg a day, but sometimes our heads are turned by new things and we underestimate old favourites like potatoes and how they compare to other, often more expensive, 'superfoods'."
So whether you're mashing, baking or boiling, it's high time to fall back in love with the trusty spud.
Spud specifics Ever wondered which of the many varieties of potato are best for different dishes? Here's a guide to the new potato classification system by manyfacesofpotatoes.co.uk :: Fluffy Typical varieties are Maris Piper or King Edward. When cooked it has a fluffy middle, but don't boil them for long as they don't hold together well. Use them for making family favourites such as roasties, jackets or chips.
:: Smooth Typical varieties include Desiree. When cooked this tatty has a smooth texture. Try as mash, wedges or boiled - or cooked in a sauce, such as dauphinoise or a hot pot.
:: Salad Typical varieties are Charlotte or Maris Peer. When cooked it feels firm to the bite and they taste great simply prepared in their skin. Try them in salads or served as an accompaniment boiled, steamed or roasted whole.
Now perk up your January with these cheap, potato-based meals...
Sun-dried tomato, chicken and potatoes (Serves 4) Price per portion: £1.43 Calories per portion: 275 kcals 4 medium (smooth) potatoes, cut into small chunks 4 chicken breasts or 8 thighs, cut into chunks 2tbsp sun-dried tomato paste 1tbsp olive oil 2 cloves garlic, sliced 5 whole mini peppers 10 cherry tomatoes 2tbsp fresh parsley, chopped Preheat oven to Gas 6/200ºC/400ºF.
Place all of the ingredients (except the parsley) onto a large baking tray, or use two trays if needed. Toss together so that everything is coated. Spread out into one single layer on the trays, and then season.
Cook in the oven for 25-30 minutes until browned and tender.
Scatter with parsley and serve with extra seasonal salad leaves.
Winter potato pot (Serves 4) Price per portion: 87p Calories per portion: 164 kcals 4 medium potatoes (fluffy), skin on, cut into small cubes 1tbsp olive oil 1 small leek, thinly sliced 5 rashers lean bacon, each cut into 3 bits 6 baby carrots, peeled and cut in half lengthways ¼ swede, peeled and cut into small cubes 300ml cider or stock 2 sprigs fresh thyme, remove leaves and use Handful curly kale, shredded In a large pan heat the oil then add the leek and bacon and cook for 3-4 minutes. Next, add the carrots, swede, cider and thyme. Bring to the boil and fast-simmer for 15-20 minutes with the lid on the pan. For the final 5 minutes, add the kale and lightly steam. Serve in deep bowls.
Potato and bacon cakes (Makes 4-6 cakes) Price per portion: 58p Calories per portion: 178 kcals 4 large potatoes (fluffy), skin on and cut into small cubes 4 lean rashers smoked bacon, grilled and chopped 4 spring onions, finely sliced 2tbsp green pesto Seasoning Flour for dusting 1-2tbsp olive oil for frying Eggs for poaching Take the cubed potatoes and place in a large plastic (microwave proof) bowl. The potatoes will cook quicker if not packed too densely. A bigger bowl with a thinner layer works best.
Rinse the cubes with water, drain, then place back into the bowl and add a small splash of water and garlic. Cover with a plastic plate or cling film and cook. For a microwave of 800 watts (category E), cook for 5-8 minutes. For microwaves of different watts or category, adjust the cooking time in accordance with the manufacturer's instructions. After cooking, shake the bowl and leave to stand for 1 minute.
Alternatively, place the potatoes in a pan on the hob, with just enough boiling water to cover them. Put the lid on bring to the boil and simmer for 15-20 minutes or until tender. Drain.
Crush the potatoes. Add the bacon, spring onions, pesto and seasoning and mix well together.
Take handfuls of the mixture, shape into a ball and then flatten and make into cake shapes. The mixture should make about 4-6 cakes. Lightly dust with flour and then chill.
Heat the oil in a frying pan and cook the cakes for 1-2 minutes on each side until golden brown.
Finally, heat a large pan of boiling water. Crack the eggs into the water, turn off the heat and leave for about 6 minutes (for a soft poach). Remove and serve on top of the potato cakes.
Garlic, chilli potatoes with prawns (Serves 2) Price per portion: £2.40 Calories per portion: 265 kcals 2 medium (smooth) potatoes, cut into small chunks 1tbsp oil 2 cloves of garlic, sliced 225g raw tiger prawns, peeled 1 lime, juice and rind removed 1 red chilli, deseeded and finely chopped 2tbsp sweet chilli sauce Knob of butter to serve Handful fresh coriander to serve (optional) Place the potato chunks in a large plastic (microwave proof) bowl. The potatoes will cook quicker if not packed too densely. A bigger bowl with a thinner layer works best.
Rinse the potatoes with water, drain, then place back in the bowl. Cover with a plastic plate or cling film and cook. For a microwave of 800 watts (category E) cook for 5 minutes, but for microwaves of different watts or category adjust the cooking time in accordance with the manufacturer's instructions.
Remove the potatoes from the microwave, shake the bowl, stand for 1 minute and then drain. Season.
Heat the oil in large frying pan or wok then saute the potatoes and garlic for 3-4 minutes until they start to brown. Add the prawns and cook until they change colour from grey to pink. Add the lime juice and rind, chilli and chilli sauce.
Stir through the butter, scatter with coriander then serve.
Italian hot potato salad (Serves 4) Price per portion: £1.01 Calories per portion: 232 kcals 500g new potatoes (salad), scrubbed and cut in half 2tbsp olive oil Seasoning 2 cloves garlic, crushed 1tsp dried oregano 1 red pepper, deseeded and cut into chunks 1 yellow pepper, deseeded and cut into chunks 10 cherry tomatoes 100g mozzarella cheese, roughly torn Preheat the oven to Gas 6/200ºC/400ºF.
Place all of the ingredients (except the cherry tomatoes and cheese) on one or two baking trays and combine the ingredients together to coat. Then, spread the ingredients out into a single layer on the trays.
Cook in the oven for about 30 minutes until tender and golden. Add the cherry tomatoes 5 minutes before the end.
Serve on a bed of mixed salad and herb leaves, scattered with mozzarella.
:: Recipes provided by manyfacesofpotatoes.co.uk, which has teamed up with James Martin to launch a competition to find Britain's best potato recipe. See website for more details