When I read Peter Cundall’s description of how to turn your lawn into potatoes I had to try it. In his book The Practical Australian Gardener he says, “you’ll not only enjoy the most superb potatoes you’ve ever eaten, but you’ll never want to mow the lawn again”. How could I resist a set of instructions like that? Not having a lawn of my own I actually turned my housemate’s lawn into potatoes. He was a very indulgent landlord to let me rearrange his garden.
The potatoes were a particularly interesting gardening project because of the element of suspense. You can’t see the potatoes developing, so you don’t know how they’re going until you dig them up. That’s the most exciting part. You might have noticed that I’ve posted a few potato recipes lately and now you know why. I harvested the potato crop a couple of weeks ago when I moved. In fact, I harvested them by torchlight under my umbrella, so I haven’t got any photos of that stage of the process. I’ve got some photos of the earlier stages for you though.
These are the seed potatoes I bought. They’re Nicolas. They’re described on the box as “marvellous mashers”. What a beautiful piece of alliteration. Jackie French always emphasises the importance of buying certified disease free seed potatoes rather than using ones from the supermarket. Considering that she recommends growing most other things using seeds from ordinary fruit this is a notable exception. I suppose she has good reason for it. In any case the potatoes weren’t terribly expensive and were quite successful.
I started my potato patch without trying to destroy the grass. I simply dumped a bag of mushroom compost on top and laid out my potatoes. Over these I put some pea straw and a bag of cow manure. As we spread the mushroom compost my housemate said “oh, smells like mushroom”. He wasn’t as happy with the smell of the cow manure.
Waiting a few weeks until they emerged was a bit nerve racking. Were they going to come up?
Finally I saw some cracks developing in the manure. It was like Han Solo cracking his way out of his metal casing. A few days later my new babies popped up their heads.
As they grew I built up the mulch around their stems to make sure no light reached the tubers.
By the end of summer the plants had reached the top of their wire cage. They started to die off. I hoped that this was a sign the tubers were ready and not that my plants were dying from the heat.
When harvest time came I rummaged through the mulch. I was relieved and excited to feel the first tuber. They hadn’t grown right up the stem in the mulch, but there was a wonderful density of new potatoes down in the well composted base layers. It was a great harvest but I’m not sure precisely what the yield was. I’ve been jealously eyeing the 5kg and 10kg bags of potatoes at the greengrocer to try to figure it out. I’ve decided that my harvest was bigger than the 5kg bag, but probably not as big as the 10kg bag. It’s a lot more potatoes than I usually eat though. I’ve never eaten so many potatoes in so few weeks before.
I’ve already posted about my two cheeses potato bake and my patatas bravas. We had mashed potatoes too of course. Most excitingly I had my first try at making gluten free gnocchi. I’m often annoyed that something based on potato should be off the menu for me because of a small amount of flour in it. I hadn’t tried homemade gnocchi though because I was worried they’d be too fiddly.
Making your own gnocchi is certainly time consuming, but it’s very rewarding and it isn’t technically difficult. I have a method for you below, but unfortunately no quantities. If it’s any comfort to you it’s easy to tell when you’ve added enough flour because your mashed potato will start to form a dough.
Gluten Free Gnocchi Ingredients
potatoes (around 1 kg)
rice flour (less than 1 cup)
1. Peel and boil the potatoes. Drain them and mash them without adding extra liquid.
2. Stir a lightly beaten egg through the potato. I used my Kenwood mixer for this stage and the next one.
3. Add rice flour gradually, maybe 1/4 cup or a tablespoon at a time. Mix after each addition and feel the dough. When it stops feeling like mashed potato and starts to feel like sticky dough you are done. You should be able to squeeze the dough into a smooth ball.
4. Roll handfuls of the gnocchi mixture into long sausage shapes on a board. Then slice these into dumplings.
5. You need a pot of boiling water to cook the gnocchi. Drop in a bunch at a time, but not too many or they’ll stick together. You’ll know they’re cooked when they float to the top (which happens very fast – in 2 minutes or so). Scoop them out with a slotted spoon and cook the next batch.
6. Serve with a nice sauce. I used a simple tomato and basil sauce. You could also try a cream based cheesy one.
The gnocchi were probably my most successful potato meal. The rice flour didn’t have any adverse effects on the texture which was a relief. It is nice when something gluten free tastes as good as the real thing and gnocchi is a good example of this.