For the love of mashes

Some time ago, my family moved to England for my father’s work and spent four years there. Though I was in college in the U.S. for part of that time and my parents now live in Massachusetts, I still have a great fondness for England and all things British, including British dishes. Something that seems more common over there than here is a “mash”; at least, British chefs talk about it more.

Here in America, we love our mashed potatoes, but it’s less common to see other vegetables thrown in with them. Mashes are very versatile and lend themselves particularly well to this time of year. You can turn any root vegetable into a great mash, either alone or in pairs. For example, celeriac (celery root) and potato are great together, as are carrots and rutabagas.

Mashes can also be more than just your root veggies, milk and butter. Various cheeses, herbs, spices and even fruit can combine to make dishes that stand on their own. For example, why not try a mash of potato and winter squash with Gruyere cheese and chives? Or how about a mash of sweet potato and parsnips, mixed with chopped apples and thyme? Even the basic ingredients can be played with. I once had a celeriac mash made with bacon fat instead of butter — delicious.

You can also build your mash as a complement to your overall meal. For example, if you are having steak or roast beef, try mixing in a little grated horseradish or some shredded cheddar cheese and chopped garlic with your mashed potatoes. If you’re having chicken, try some garlic, herbes de Provence (or simply some thyme and rosemary) and a little goat cheese. A great trick I learned from British chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall is to add lemon zest and a bay leaf to milk and warm it over the stove before you add it to your mash; it goes wonderfully with fish.

The main thing here though is not to be afraid to experiment. If you think it would taste good, try it. Mashes are eternally forgiving and adaptable, perfect for eye-balling measurements, quick to make and a deliciously hearty side for a fall meal.

Catherine McCosker is the farm and CSA manager at The Well School in Peterborough.

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