Chef, food writer and author Olia Hercules grew up in Ukraine, then Cyprus, before a stint working in restaurants in Sicily inspired her career in food. Here, she shares her memories and her recipe for potato and courgette ragu.
Potatoes in Ukraine are so flavoursome, all they need is to be boiled and then have a sprinkling of salt. But courgettes and beautiful flat summer squashes called (ever so playfully) “pattypants” grow in abundance there too, and they are an amazing addition to spuds. Traditionally we use dill in the ragu, but sometimes I’ll add coriander or basil instead.
Serves 4 people as a main 4-6 tbsp sunflower oil 50g flour 250g potatoes, skin on, thinly sliced 500g sliced courgettes, pattypant or marrow 1 tbsp tomato paste 5 banana shallots or one big onion, peeled and thinly sliced 2 garlic cloves, crushed 500g flavoursome beef tomatoes, grated and skin discarded, or 400g tinned 100ml sour cream ½ bunch dill
1. Heat some oil in a heavy-based pan. Toss the courgette slices in flour, shake the excess off and fry them over a medium heat on both sides, until blistered. Do this in batches, adding some extra oil each time if the pan is looking a bit dry. When the courgettes are done, drop them on a paper towel to absorb the excess oil.
2. Now fry the potatoes without flouring, until they begin to colour nicely. You want to draw the sugar out of the spuds, giving them the richest flavour and colour.
3. Take the potatoes out for the moment and add the shallots and tomato paste to the same pan and cook over a medium-low heat, stirring often, until the onions start to soften and caramelise ever so slightly. Then lower the heat.
4. Place the courgettes and potatoes back into the pan, add the tomato pulp and 100ml of water. Season very well with salt and pepper and bring to the boil.
5. Lower the heat and simmer for 30 minutes, or until the potatoes are tender and the liquid is slightly reduced. Stir through the sour cream and garlic and sprinkle with dill, before serving with toasted bread to mop up the juices.