Inside the crisp coating of these fried cakes the comforting potato mash is broken up by tangy pockets of melting blue cheese. It is important to use a fairly strong cheese with plenty of blue veining, otherwise the cakes will be all comfort and no character. Stilton is perfect, both because it is usually sold when fairly mature and strong and because its dry, crumbly nature doesn’t soften the mash. If you use an Irish blue, buy it from a cheese counter where you can test it first, as the stuff in the supermarket is often too young and mild. The fresh herbs are optional, though one or all of them will add a sparkle of freshness to these very wintry cakes. The flageolet bean dish is a richly flavoured way to present beans as a side dish. This quantity will easily satisfy four people, maybe more. It can also form the basis of a more substantial stew, with the addition of other vegetables, such as leek, fennel, mushrooms, green beans and peppers, even squashes. Here, the dish is finished to a fairly dry, intense consistency, but if you want to make it wetter simply stop the liquid reduction earlier and/or add more cream at the finish.
BOIL AND MASH THE POTATOES with the butter. There are detailed instructions for potato mashing in the wasabi mash. Cook the spring onion and garlic for a minute in a little butter, then stir it into the potato with the nutmeg, seasoning and some fresh herbs if you have them. Leave this mash to cool before gently stirring in the cheese and the egg yolk. The cheese should remain in uneven crumbled lumps scattered through the mash. It’s best if this is done a good few hours ahead, even the day before if that suits you, but no more than that.
Divide the mash into twelve pieces, then use your hands to make these into nice even-shaped cakes. Coat these in breadcrumbs by first tossing them in the flour, then dipping them in the egg and milk and finally in the crumbs. Make sure that the mash is well coated all over.
Heat some cooking oil in a wide frying pan, enough to come halfway up the cakes. Fry a batch of cakes, well spaced, at a fairly high temperature for about five minutes on each side. If you overcrowd the pan or cook the cakes too gently, they will fall apart or absorb more oil than you’ll want to eat. The balance you want to get is the cakes frying to a crisp, golden finish all round while heating all the way through. They will keep warm for a short while in a low to moderate oven, a few minutes after that they will fall apart.
Serve three cakes per person with some of the flageolet beans and maybe some buttered leeks to prop them up.
RINSE THE BEANS and put them in a large pot with plenty of cold water, bring it to the boil and skim off any froth that develops, then simmer until the beans are tender. This can take anything from 40 minutes to two hours, depending on the age of the beans. Drain the beans and put them in a smaller pan with the cider, stock, garlic and rosemary. Bring this to the boil and cook at a lively simmer (but no faster - it should take at least ten minutes to allow the beans to absorb the flavours) until the liquid has reduced to a level just covering the beans. Now chop the tomato flesh, add it to the pot and simmer for two minutes.
Everything up to this point can be done in advance and left to sit until you are ready to serve. To finish the stew, pour the cream into the beans with a little salt and pepper, bring it back to the boil and cook briskly for a minute. The resulting stew should be rich and not too wet.
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