I have always found hot mashed potato to be a superior cure for glumness, grouchiness and assorted aches of body and mind. Not any old gluey mash, mind you, but a fluffy, creamy pile of mashed fresh spuds, heaped in a volcano formation around a molten core of salty butter.
If I were on death row, perhaps for throttling an estate agent, or pushing a politician's face into the whirring blade of a food processor, I would not hesitate to choose mashed potato, pork bangers, peas and sticky onion gravy as my last meal. And if no pork sausages or peas were available, I would take the mash, straight up.
I don't often have the energy to peel a pile of spuds for real mash (my kids, annoyingly, seem to prefer crispy, healthy potato wedges) but I do find my thoughts turning to mashed potato when I am exhausted, hungry or fed up.
I'm also quite nuts about all the wonderful British traditional hashes of mashed potato. These dishes spring, in the main, from the thrifty use of leftover roast dinners, and although they have subtle regional differences, they draw from a common pool of ingredients: spuds, cabbage, onion, leeks, butter, chives, turnips, and, of course, butter. Ireland has colcannon and champ, England has bubble and squeak, and Scotland leads with three potato-based hashes: clapshot, stovies and rumbledethumps.
Rumbledethumps is, as far as I can ascertain, the only one of these flavoured hashes that is commonly (although not always) tipped into a dish, topped with cheese, and set in the oven to bake. It's a dish from the Scottish Borders, and usually features mashed potato, cabbage and onion, although I've found variations that include turnip. The delightful name of this dish (pronounced rumble-dee-thumps) is said to come from the bumpy burbling sound that the mixture makes as you turn it over in a hot pan. In my opinion, the name is more likely to be derived from gaseous, cabbagy pressure-leaks that make duvets float ceilingwards at night.
My version of rumbledethumps includes leeks, and I made it, rather prissily, in individual ramekins. Feel free to thump the whole mass into a big dish, and slap it in the centre of the table.
This dish can be made many hours - or even a day - in advance, and popped into the oven half an hour before serving.
8 large, floury potatoes, peeled
enough boiling water to cover the potatoes
2 tsp (10 ml) salt
4 leeks, white parts only, peeled and finely sliced
half a medium cabbage, core removed and finely shredded
3 T (45 ml) butter
1 T (15 ml) vegetable oil
about 1/2 cup (125 ml) milk or cream (or a little more, see recipe)
a little extra butter
2/3 cup grated sharp Cheddar
2/3 cup finely grated Parmesan, Grana Padano or Pecorino cheese
a little nutmeg [optional]
Pre-heat the oven to 200°C.
Cut the peeled potatoes into quarters. Put them in a large, deep pan and add enough water just to cover them. Add the salt, place on the heat and bring rapidly to the boil. Boil for 20-30 minutes, or until the potatoes are tender, and fall apart, when poked with a sharp knife.
While the potatoes are boiling, prepare the leeks and cabbage. Heat a pan, add the butter and oil, and stir-fry the sliced leeks for a few minutes until they soften (but do not allow them to brown). Now add all the cabbage, toss well so that every shred is coated with fat, cover and allow to steam gently for 3-4 minutes, or until the cabbage has wilted. Remove the pan from the heat and set aside, leaving the lid on.
Drain the potatoes in a colander. Leave the hot plate on. Allow the spuds to drain and dry out for a minute or so. Return the spuds to their cooking pan and place over the heat. Add the milk and another generous knob of butter, wait for a moment for the milk and butter to bubble, and, using a potato masher, bash and mash the spuds to a smooth, fluffy consistency, adding more milk if necessary.
Now tip the leeks and cabbage into the mashed potatoes, and stir well to combine. Remove from the heat and tip in half the grated Cheddar and Parmesan. Stir again, and season with salt and pepper. Tip the mixture into a big, greased baking dish (or individual ramekins) and smooth the surface, using the side of a knife. Grate a little nutmeg - just a whisper - over the surface. Sprinkle with the remaining Cheddar and Parmesan, and place in the oven for 10 to 15 minutes, or until the cheese topping is bubbling and golden.
Serves 8, as a side dish, or 4, as a main course.