Leeks. Cheese. Potato. Pie.
Four words that if said softly enough, sounds like a prayer.
I grew up on Cheese & Potato Pie, a standby supper for my Mam, as it was the first thing she ever learned how to cook as a young housewife; it’s simple methods but familiar ingredients providing reliable safety for the family.
As a result, this recipe tastes like a conversation with my Mam.
Recipe osmosis now means that it’s something I also turn to when I want something that lifts the heart in times of frenzy, even though I’m twice as lazy and half as busy as she ever was in the 90’s.
There really is nothing scary here, all we’re doing is frying leeks, making mash and grating cheese. The rest is just warming a few tins of tomatoes – for which I shall never apologise. This is a family tradition which I will continue until my poor arms can no longer mash. Some people go for beans, which of course, you’re welcome to go for, but tinned tomatoes are my instant go-to. And it has to be the cherry ones; whole, plump, and bursting.
I regard the process of making mashed potatoes as the kitchen Helen of Troy, because it’s the recipe that launches a thousand ideas.
- The potato peelings make fantastic homemade crisps once washed, patted dry, coated in olive oil, salt and paprika and baked in an oven preheated to 200°C for 20 minutes until hot and crunchy. Perfect to serve with a dip like this Red Pepper Sauce or this Burnt Garlic Hummus.
- The water I boil the potatoes in doesn’t go down the drain, oh no. That’s decanted into an empty, washed out milk carton in which I’ve dropped a vegetable stock cube and is used anywhere that I would use stock, the starch in the water providing a wonderful thickness to anything it anoints.
- Or even better, without the stock cube, used for bread like this Simple White Loaf. It also makes a great replacement for the beer in the Honey Beer Brown Bread.
- Should I be blessed enough to have any leftover pie, I let it go cold and form them into some Marmite & Parmesan Potato Cakes here for a real breakfast treat.
Like my Mam before me who always knew how to take one thing and make it more wonderful than its original promise, I will never let a good thing go to waste.
Serves 5 – 6
1kg floury potatoes – Maris Piper or something similar
125ml double cream
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
A grating of fresh nutmeg
A tablespoon or so of full-fat milk – if needed
150g mature cheddar
1 teaspoon olive oil
- On a high heat, bring a large pot of water to the boil. While it comes to the boil, peel the potatoes. As you peel, put the naked potatoes into a deep bowl of cold water. Once all of the potatoes are peeled, drain them and then carefully tip them into the pan of now boiled water.
- Add a little salt and boil them on a rapid bubble for about 15 – 17 minutes until they are soft and tender.
- Transfer the potatoes to a colander – but see the intro for what I do with the potato water – and then tip the potatoes back into the now empty pan. Leave to sit on the side for about 5 minutes so they have time to dry a little.
- Put the pan back on a low heat and add the cream, butter, a little salt and pepper and grate in the nutmeg, stirring around as you go so that all of the potatoes are coated. Once the butter is melted, take the pan off the heat.
- Using a potato masher, crush the potatoes until they have all collapsed.
- Grate in 100g of the cheese with a box grater (mind your knuckles) and swap over to a spoon and stir the mash until the cheese has melted and everything is soft and fluffy, adding a little splash of milk here and there if you feel it still needs softening. Taste for seasoning, it may need more salt, but you can be the judge of that. Leave to one side while you get on with the leeks.
- Preheat the oven to 200°C.
- In a wide frying pan with high sides, heat the olive oil until warm. While it warms, slice your leek into thick coins and then pop them into a colander and rinse with water. Sometimes they smuggle a bit of dirt in, they’re pesky.
- Once the oil is warm, put the leeks in the pan and sprinkle with a little salt and pepper, but not too much. Cook the leek, just stirring casually every now and then until they are soft and the rings are loosely coming away from each other.
- Once the leeks are soft, transfer them from the pan into the pot of mashed potato and using a spoon, stir them through the mash.
- Grab a small roasting dish – mine was a circular 22cm dish and 5cm deep – and spoon the mash and leeks into it, covering the bottom and pushing down so that the dish is filled.
- Grate the remaining cheese over the top – and more if you’ve got it, why not – and then slip in the oven and bake for 20 – 25 minutes until the top is golden and bronzed with the cheese still bubbling.
- Serve with some canned tomatoes which you’ve heated gently on the hob while the cheese cools slightly.
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