I remember going to Chepstow racecourse once, with some work colleagues en route to a Christmas 'do'. I didn't win any money that day, but I did get to see John McCririck and I also had a bit of a food revelation. It was winter, and there was a little stall, selling sausages and gravy but with lots of different flavours of mashed potato. It made me wonder why so many of us settle for plain, buttery mash all the time, when you could (as Jamie Oliver would say) 'pimp it up' with spicy, warming, earthy or other savoury ingredients. Although there are definitely moments when a pile of soft, buttery mashed potato will only do, here are ten ways you can flavour your mash, should you get the urge:
Place a whole head of garlic on a baking tray and drizzle over a little olive oil. Loosely cover the bulb in foil and bake for about half an hour in a 200ºC oven. Take off the foil and squeeze the soft, aromatic flesh from the cloves and whip it, still soft and hot, into mashed potato. Just use as many cloves as you need to get the flavour you like. Taste and then season with some salt. Lovely with lamb.
Mustard (à la Nigel Slater)
In Real Food, Nigel Slater offers up his 'best ever mash'. A perfect mash, he says, must be 'fluffy, yet rich with butter. There should be no lumps and it must stand in soft, creamy clouds, not slouch all over the plate like a ripe cheese.' The next mash recipe he gives is seasoned with parsley and mustard, with a few spoonfuls of creme fraîche, which sounds heavenly. I'm already craving roast chicken to go with it.
Mascarpone (à la Nigella)
When Nigella showed us, on Nigellissima, how to beat mascarpone cheese into mash to make it soft, white and creamy, she totally changed the way we cook mash at home. Our now 'ordinary' mash is this: pale, creamy, fluffy and the perfect consistency. If I ever need mascarpone for a recipe and I know I'm not going to finish the tub, I plan mashed potatoes for tea the following night, to use it up. You just need to beat in a tablespoon or two (without adding butter or milk) and you'll notice a big difference.
Cheddar and Chilli Flakes
My mother often used to dish up cheesy mash for our dinner when we were young, and my childhood was probably defined by a pile of lumpy but stringy, cheesy mash alongside most things we ate. We loved it, and dipped forkfuls of it into tomato ketchup. Well I've ditched the tomato ketchup now, but I've added chilli flakes. Their peppery heat contrasts beautifully with the soft potato and the creamy, sharp flavour of the Cheddar. Go easy though, especially if you're eating with kids - just a pinch or two will add flavour. This is surprisingly good also with white fish. You could also add a handful of chopped parsley in, too.
One of my favourite ways to eat mash, especially with a pile of sticky pork sausages. Just cut off a slice of blue cheese (Stilton, Gorgonzola or something milder, like Blacksticks Premier Cru), breaking it up as you chuck it into the pan of mashed spuds. Beat with a wooden spoon, or a whisk and it'll melt beautifully into the potatoes. Keep tasting and adding more cheese, until you've got the flavour right for you. As well as differing in strength, blue cheeses are also quite salty, in general, so taste and season after you've added the cheese.
In Feast, Nigella Lawson offers a New Year recipe for Sea Bass with Golden Mash. The mash is golden, because it is infused with saffron as well as the usual milk or cream and butter, although she does say you can try turmeric instead. She says she used saffron because it is the 'traditional feast-day spice, conjuring up celebratory extravagance and exotic aroma.'
Think of the Irish 'colcannon' - the mashed potato dish with kale or cabbage stirred into it; or 'champ': mashed potato with spring onions stirred through. Greens go really well with mash, and bubble and squeak is one of my favourite ways to use up leftovers, topped with a poached, runny-yolked egg. Try greens such as spring onion, cabbage, curly kale, chives and parsley, too.
Olive Oil (à la Jamie)
In Cook with Jamie, Jamie Oliver makes mashed potato with olive oil, in addition to a little butter, salt and pepper and also a grating of Parmesan cheese. I tried this, and found that it still lacked the richness you'd get with milk or cream and butter - much more of a 'healthy' type of mash. And the flavour of the olive oil really does come through, which is great if you like olive oil, but not so much if you don't.
Big Veggie Mash Up
Yes, I know this was all about mashed potato, but there are other things to make mash with, you know. We went mad for butternut squash mash for a bit, and now we're mashing up sweet potato - or a combination of both. Obviously, you can also mash half potato and half swede, or use butternut squash, sweet potato or celeriac too, to add sweetness and colour to your mash. And I love mashed cannellini beans, with a little olive oil and a grated clove of garlic.
Semolina (Mock) Mash
Nigella again. In Nigellissima, she made 'Mock Mash', which was actually semolina made up with milk, butter, nutmeg and Parmesan until creamy. I liked it, but my kids weren't fooled - it has a sweetness which isn't at all off-putting, but the skin it forms on top is a bit, if you leave it out too long. If you make it, dish up quickly and serve hot.
What are your favourite ways to cook mashed potato or other mashed veggies?