It was meant to be a doorstop or a bookend, but this old iron, bought for three euros at Porta Portese market, has unexpectedly grafted itself on to our kitchen lives, become part of our unsophisticated but trusted batteria di cucina and proved itself to be extremely useful. It’s perfect for squashing and searing steak, chicken or slices of vegetable onto the griddle, it’s not half bad at pounding a slice of veal to a scaloppine and it’s better, and more entertaining, than a rolling-pin when it comes to smashing, crushing and reducing digestive biscuits to crumbs. When the nutcracker alluded us, it made short shift of shelling the walnuts, hazelnuts, and on another, rather messy occasion, this iron conquered a coconut. I have only dropped it on my foot once.
If you can stand the excitement of my iron tales, there’s more. You know how the greaseproof paper scuttles back into a roll as you try to draw a circle on it with a blunt pencil in an attempt to line the cake tin ? Well it doesn’t if this sturdy chap is holding down the corner, he does the same with cookbooks that might otherwise fan closed just at the crucial moment - I know, it’s rock and roll in our house. Last but not least, our iron, our ferro stiro is ready, waiting, like a cymbal player in an orchestra, for the moment when the recipe says….. ‘place a heavy weight on top.’
I know, I know, it’s not the most commonplace recipe instruction, but every now and then, heavy weights – like cymbals – are called up for their moment of glory, like now, for pressed potato.
‘Pressed potato is a very tasty and brilliantly simple idea. It is, as the name suggests, potato that’s pressed with said heavy weight. More specifically you boil good waxy potatoes until they’re tender, then you slice them into thick rounds and layer them in a clingfilm lined mould or bread tin, not forgetting to sprinkle each layer cautiously with good, plump capers and season prudently with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Average pictures of this on Flickr but I’m sure your imagination is better.
Once you’ve filled the mould, tin or in this case a rectangular Pyrex container to the top, you bring the cling film over the potatoes neatly, as if you were swaddling a baby – not that I’ve ever swaddled a baby but I’ve observed – then you place your heavy weight on top and refrigerate overnight. The next day you invert the pressed potato onto a large plate and peel away the clingfilm so you can admire your curiously beautiful, patchwork potato loaf, flecked with green on the sides.
You can now slice your pressed potato with a sharp knife.
I’ve made two of these this week and we can now firmly agree with Fergus Henderson (this is his idea) that a slice of waxy pressed potato studded with salty, gutsy capers is a wonderful base for oily, salty things. Each slice dressed with anchovy fillets and more extra virgin oil is delicious, as is a slice beside two rashers of grilled bacon. On Tuesday Vincenzo had two slices topped with two frilly edged olive oil fried eggs. But our favorite was a slice of pressed potato with a couple of hard-boiled eggs and a very big dollop of one of the very nicest lotions, green sauce (salsa verde) made from masses of parsley, mint, capers, garlic, anchovies and olive oil. By the way, I am never using the mixer again for green sauce because it’s true, you end up with a pulp rather than the marvelous textural delight you get if you chop roughly by hand.
Green sauce is a wonderful thing, as is pressed potato and hard-boiled eggs for that matter.
This is a plateful that requires good bread, sourdough is particularly fine with this lot, and a serious amount of messing up – green sauce piled on potato and mashed into eggs, everything nudged and piled on bread, more oil, more bread to mop up more green sauce, another slice of pressed potato……you get the idea I hope . Bold and simple food.
You can of course use any heavy weight – before the iron I had a brick in the kitchen.
Adapted from Fergus Henderson’s book Nose to tail eating
Good waxy potatoes are important
- 2kg waxy (cyprus or the likes) potatoes, peeled
- a healthy handful of capers (extra fine if possible, if not roughly chopped)
- salt and black pepper
Boil the potatoes in salted water, check for when they are done with a sharp knife in order to catch them before they fall apart, Drain.
Line a bread tin or mould with cling film. As soon as the potatoes are cool enough to handle but still warm, slice them into 1cm thick circles. Lay one layer of sliced potatoes at the bottom of the tin – don’t be afraid to patchwork this – sprinkle cautiously with some of the capers, season with salt and freshly ground black pepper, cover with another layer of potatoes, more capers and salt and pepper. Repeat until the tin is full. cover with cling film and place a heavy weight on top.
Place in the refrigerator over night. The next day tip the pressed potato out of the mould and slice with a thin sharp knife.
Adapted from Fergus Henderson’s book Nose to tail eating
- Large bunch of flat leaved parsley
- a small bunch of mint
- a handful of dill
- a small tin of anchovy fillets in oil, drained and chopped
- 12 cloves of garlic peeled and chopped
- a handful of capers, rinsed if under salt and roughly chopped
- extra virgin olive oil
- black pepper
Chop your herbs finely but not too finely and mix with the anchovies and capers in a large bowl. Add the olive oil a bit at a time, you want to keep the consistency loose but still spoonable, not runny or too oily. Taste and season with black pepper, the anchovies and capers mean you probably won’t need extra salt. Serve in generous dollops.
I’m sure you can make a neater pressed potato than me, Vincenzo called my attempts pressed stressed potato, I was quite stressed at that particular moment so I wasn’t amused. I have another pressed potato in the fridge under the iron right now, we are going to have it tomorrow night with smoked eel and horseradish sauce which I’m hoping will be very tasty.
Other pressing concerns, yep, I have a few, mostly tedious and the reason I’m not here as much as I’d like to be. Thats life I suppose and it’s good to be here now. Have a really good (rest of the) weekend.