13 October 2012

"Flemish mixture of potatoes and one or two types of finely chopped vegetables...boiled together then mashed and seasoned."
Oh, there's something special about a mashed potato. It doesn't really need messing with, beyond a splash of milk and an excess of butter. But a couple of extra ingredients mashed in turn the humble gravy vehicle into a warm, comforting meal in itself.

Small wonder that there are versions of this all over Europe. Colcannon, champ, rumbledethumps, bubble - and that's just the British Isles. Cabbage is generally the common element, but I'm also reminded of the mash with smoked haddock and peas that was one of my favourite childhood dinners, or the huge bowls of mash with garlic and goats' cheese that frequently passed for cooking in my first year at university.

The point is that it's easy, cheap, and uses up whatever's left in the kitchen, but also tasty, filling, and infinitely soothing: a big, pillowy comfort blanket to wrap around your middle on a cold night.

This dish is probably better known by its Dutch name, stamppot. Stoemp is the Belgian version, and so naturally the only one Larousse recognises. The egg yolk and crème fraiche make it richer, which may be more in keeping with Brussels cuisine, but this could be left out if you want to keep a lighter, fluffier texture.

It is of course infinitely adaptable to whatever root vegetables and greens you have to hand. It would be more traditional to use onion, diced and boiled with the vegetables, instead of the spring onions added at the end - and to use kale instead of cabbage, which would need a little longer to cook. You could also add fried diced bacon, if you're worried about getting your five portions of pork a day. Here I use what we happened to have in the kitchen, which is after all the point of the dish.

It wants a strongly flavoured sausage on the side - we had a delicious, sticky-fried and garlicky butcher's sausage with it - but if I could have found a free range smoked sausage to steam in the same pan on top of the cabbage then serve in slices alongside, I think that would have been even better.


Ingredients (serves 3-4)
600g floury potatoes
300g carrots
300g savoy cabbage or other dark greens, shredded
2 bay leaves
A sprig of thyme
4 spring onions, sliced
A knob of butter
1 tbs crème fraiche
1 egg yolk

Peel the potatoes and carrots, and cut into roughly equal-sized pieces. Put the potatoes into a pan with cold water to cover and plenty of salt.

Tie the thyme and bay leaves together with string, and drop into the cooking water. Bring to the boil.

After 5 minutes, add the carrots. Top up with just enough boiling water to cover the vegetables.

After another 10 minutes, place the cabbage on top and put the lid firmly on.

Once the cabbage is tender, drain the vegetables, remove the bundle of herbs, and mash together with the spring onions, butter, crème fraiche and egg yolk.

Season well to taste and serve hot, with garlicky sausages straight from the frying pan.

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