Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Saddle Back Potatoes

When I was a kid we lived in a part of Newcastle that backed onto a massive expanse of paddocks and swamp. Our neighbours kept horses and cows in those paddocks, so we were lucky enough to grow up and a bona fide built up area with more than a little bit of country sensibility included.

Despite this, and contrary to the desires of so many little girls, I did not spend my childhood pestering my parents for a pony. More over, I never even asked any of my neighbours if I might ride one of their horses. They were for looking at and feeding. Nothing else. One horse in particular, Boomerang, seemed to me to distinctly be the kind of horse one should never ride. My mother, my sister and I squeezed through the gate in the back fence one afternoon with the intention of feeding Boomerang and a couple of the other horses some apples that had gone soft. Unfortunately for us, Boomerang spotted the apples in our hands and came galloping towards us at a rate of knots. When we realised he would probably flatten us in his excitement we turned and bolted back through the gate and slammed it shut seconds before Boomerang’s head appeared over the top of the fence, demanding the apples he knew we had.

Boomerang belonged to our neighbour Keith Hunter. He lived on the right side of our house (facing the street) and had turned most of his yard into a massive corrugated iron workshop in which he used to weld and blow things up (not on purpose, of course). He once made himself a horse float, then some time later he brought the thing home with Boomerang in it. We never questioned how Boomerang got his name until Keith actually sold the horse. He’d only just got done reporting the fact to my dad when a couple of days later we looked out into the back paddock and lo and behold, who should be standing out there? Old Boomerang. Boomer apparently had no regard for some scrappy bill of sale. That meant nothing to him. He knew where he lived and he knew what he liked and he wasn’t interested in being carted off somewhere else, even if money had changed hands!

Years later when we’d moved to Penrith – a barren, sprawling new housing development where nary a green paddock nor grazing horse could be found – my sister and I got it in our heads that we’d like to go horse riding. There was a place out along the Old Northern Road that was owned by one of my sister’s school friends that would let you ride there horses for a fee. We headed out there with my aunt and hired a horse each for a ride around the paddocks on the property. Sadly, we’d arrived at the end of the day when the horses were absolutely sick and tired of idiots who had no idea what they were doing.

My aunt had shown us how to pick a young branch off a tree and use it as a switch to encourage our horses to move. I’d managed to get mine out the corner gate and up into the top paddock, but that was as far as he was going. I whiled away my hour by clicking my tongue, clapping my heels against the sides of the horse’s belly and flapping the reins. He remained unimpressed until I finally gave up. I tugged the reins in the direction of the stable and said in a resigned voice, “Come on, let’s go home”, and you know, that bloody horse burst into a gallop! Up until that point, I wouldn’t have thought he had it in him!

12 small round potatoes
Can of olive oil spray
Salt to season
100g Parmesan cheese

1. Choose potatoes that fit neatly in the palm of your hand. They should be no bigger than a cake of soap and should all be of a similar shape. Peel them carefully so that they retain their shape. With a sharp knife, gently score lines across the tops of each potato. Space them about two millimetres apart, and ensure they’re no deeper then one third of the height of the potato.
2. Heat the oven to 220 degrees Celsius. Line a baking tin with baking paper (the thick silicon kind, not thin greaseproof paper). Arrange the potatoes in the tin – it’s okay if they touch each other.
3. Coat evenly with olive oil spray. Season with salt, making sure some gets on each potato. Place in the middle shelf of the oven and set your timer to 30 minutes.
4. When the timer goes off, take the potatoes out of the oven. Respray them with olive oil spray. Then evenly sprinkle Parmesan cheese along their ridged tops.
5. Replace potatoes in the oven and roast for a further 30 minutes.
6. Serve with any roasted meat or as side to a barbeque or salad.