Potatoes are such an excellent marker of the seasons for me. Late winter, and into spring, you will find me carefully lining up my potato “seeds” in egg cartons, their little eyes pointing skyward to start a process only known to potatoes: chitting. It’s a lovely old word with the sole purpose of describing the process of encouraging potatoes to send out shoots to start growing new tubers.
It sometimes seems funny to me that I spend all that time aligning my seed potatoes so their eyes point to the weak winter sun when most people inadvertently achieve natural chitting in the dark recesses of their onion and potato storage cupboards. However, potatoes bought for eating that send shoots out of their eyes are not suitable for planting. They are often full of viruses that will affect the growth, so it is always best to buy good-quality seed potatoes if you want to grow spuds at home.
Six weeks after they have been set the task of chitting, I plant the shoots in neat rows, hilling and mounding as the season progresses and trying to get as many potatoes from a plant as I can. With plenty of water, sunlight and mulch, spring turns to summer, summer to autumn and the miracle of the potato is revealed. One seed potato can spawn kilograms of new spuds under the ground.
In my neck of the woods, potatoes are everywhere. So much so that at the beginning of each May, Trentham holds its yearly Spudfest: a knees-up, Aussie celebration of the humble spud where the local Country Fire Authority men and women raise money by cutting and cooking chips until exhaustion sets in, and children are entertained by a man wearing a very large Mr Potato Head costume.
This potato roll might not be on offer at any of the stalls at Spudfest, but it’s definitely lovely to try at home while potatoes are in their prime. The potatoes are cut and layered with cheese and then roasted in a sheet. I find the potato sheets are most flexible when they come out of the oven, so if you’re not confident you’ll get the filling made while the potato sheets are cooking, make the filling first. The sheets of potato are then rolled with the spinach and ricotta filling, much like a savoury Swiss roll impersonating a cannelloni. It’s a great dish for those gluten-free people who have to miss out on the pasta variety. It’s also very forgiving, so if it flattens out a bit when you bake the rolled product, you can cut it and manipulate it back into a neat cylinder during plating.
– 6 potatoes (sebagos are best for this right now), peeled
– 150g grated parmesan cheese
– 2 tbsp olive oil
– 1 onion, diced
– 4 tbsp fresh parsley, chopped
– 1 tsp paprika
– 2 cloves garlic, minced
– 240g spinach
– 200g ricotta cheese
– salt and pepper
– 100g shredded mozzarella cheese
– 500ml tomato sauce (I like to roast ripe tomatoes with a little basil, salt and olive oil in a hot oven, and when they have released their juices, pass them through a mouli or coarse sieve. Reduce if the sauce is too thin.)
– 16 basil leaves
Preheat oven to 180ºC.
Using a knife or mandolin, cut the potatoes into slices three millimetres thick.
Line two baking trays with baking paper (I find it easier to make two smaller rolls, about 20 centimetres by 25 centimetres). On the baking sheets, sprinkle half of the parmesan cheese and spread until it is evenly covering the paper. Place the potatoes over the parmesan so each potato is overlapping the previous potato both vertically and horizontally. Continue until you have two rectangles about 20 centimetres by 25 centimetres. Sprinkle the rest of the parmesan evenly over the potatoes as well as a little salt. Bake for 30 minutes, until golden and the potatoes are flexible and slightly crispy.
In a frying pan heat two tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat. Add the onions and cook until caramelised (about 15 minutes). Add the parsley, paprika and garlic. Cook for five minutes on low heat. Add the spinach, stir to wilt, then remove from the heat.
When cool, place in a bowl and combine the spinach mixture and the ricotta. Season the mixture with salt and pepper to taste. Sprinkle the mozzarella over the potato sheets, and then evenly spread the ricotta mix. Place a small amount of tomato sauce on the fillings.
Take one end of the potato sheet holding onto the baking paper and begin rolling, making sure the ingredients are not coming out the ends. Once it is completely rolled place the potato roll on the baking paper in the oven and bake for 15 minutes.
Remove from the oven and let settle for a few minutes. Cut with a sharp or serrated knife, then serve on a pool of warm tomato sauce with a garnish of finely sliced basil.
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Apr 27, 2019 as "A fine roll model". Subscribe here.