How can this be? Elegant comfort food. Brisket, macaroni and cheese, mashed potatoes, brownies. Sure, they are all comfort foods but I wouldn’t go so far to say that they are elegant. It takes some pretty fussing piping and arranging to make them look nice. And there is seemingly little point as you will soon demolish them while sitting on the couch, wrapped in a blanket, watching Netflix.
This, like so many of my other recipes, came from a point of necessity. A sad eggplant. An enormous container of mashed potatoes. A few rogue mushrooms. And FMFK’s (future Mr. Fictional Kitchen) burning desire for something called potato cakes which he has never eaten nor has any idea how to make. Since I have a tendency to read cookbooks cover to cover, I did have an idea.
Some years ago, I was in a Borders bookstore. By the cash register was a bin of clearance books. Amidst the garishly colored romances, I noticed a slim, white hard cover called “Roast Chicken and Other Stories.” I plonked it into my pile of purchases without much forethought. Many of you may recognize the title, or the name Simon Hopkinson. If you don’t, I suggest you catch up with this article in the Guardian titled “This man is the best cook in Britain.” And if you are of the camp that British cuisine consists of little more than mush, bite your tongue and go away. Or try this recipe and repent.
His cookbook has been voted the most useful of all time and is full of the most lovely descriptions and stories. While the index may not be as thorough as my inner-organizer might like, it does treat a wide range of foods and cuisines with considerable skill.
Back in my kitchen, I quartered the mushrooms and chopped the eggplant with the intent of making a tart filling. Remembering the quart of mashed potatoes and the request for potato cakes, I changed tactic. I hope you change your dinner plans and do the same!
Crispy Potato Cakes with Eggplant Mushroom Ragu
Adapted, barely, from Simon Hopkinson
1-2 c mushrooms, quartered
1 medium eggplant, chopped
15 oz chopped tomato
salt and pepper
1 tsp dried oregano
Begin by sauteing mushrooms in olive oil over high heat. Be careful not to crowd the mushrooms in the pan. They should be browning, not stewing. Once the mushrooms are nearly done, add the eggplant. Continue to keep the heat high and stir regularly. Once everyone in the party is cooked, add chopped tomato. Cook an additional 10 minutes and season to taste with salt, pepper, and oregano. Serve over potato cakes or with crusty bread. It can be kept warm for several hours if need be.
5 c mashed potatoes
1 c flour
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
2 tbsp butter
Mix together mashed potatoes, flour, salt, and pepper ingredients. With floured hands, form small cakes about 3″ in diameter and about 1″ thick. Melt butter in a saute pan. Fry until golden brown on both sides. Keep cakes warm in a 200°F oven.