If the bowlful of pasta you had for dinner last night left you feeling bloated and lethargic, it might be time to rethink how you serve up some of your favourite dishes.
In his latest Channel 4 series, Secrets Of Your Big Shop, Dr Michael Mosley suggests that for those who find pasta problematic, swapping the spaghetti in spaghetti bolognese for a baked potato is gentler on the gut. “For people who find it difficult to digest wheat and gluten, or might have digestive issues,” this is a happy solution, advises Natasha Evans, a nutritionist on the show.
But potatoes provide a welcome alternative to more than just refined-wheat pasta (whose milling process removes the bran and germ from the wheat for a silky-smooth texture, but which results in a lack of fibre which, coupled with a naturally high gluten content, can cause tummy troubles even for those of us without an intolerance).
As well as being entirely unprocessed, “potatoes are a healthy form of starchy carbohydrates and an excellent source of energy,” explains The Telegraph’s nutrition expert Sam Rice, which makes the tubers a preferable option to many carb-based foods, including white rice and bread – especially when served up the form of a classic baked spud.
“The bulk of the nutrition lies in the [potato] skins,” says Rice. “One medium-sized potato contains 5g of fibre and half our daily requirement of vitamin C, so keeping the skins on is preferable nutritionally. As smaller potatoes have a greater skin-to-starch ratio, mini roast potatoes and new potatoes are both great choices, and baking rather than boiling retains more of the vitamins.”
As for whether you choose a white, floury specimen or an orange-fleshed sweet potato, it is purely a matter of taste. “The prevailing ‘superfoods’ narrative would have it that sweet potatoes are better for you than regular potatoes, but actually they have very similar nutritional profiles,” Rice says.
“White potatoes are slightly higher in potassium, whereas sweet potatoes contain more vitamin A. Sweet potatoes do have a slightly lower GI (the measure of how quickly a certain food raises your blood sugar) but this varies greatly depending on the variety of sweet potato and the cooking method. Indeed when baked, sweet potatoes and regular potatoes have a very similar GI.”
The good news is there are plenty of delicious ways to swap in a simple jacket potato without missing out on your favourite dishes.
Pasta alla Norma → Potato alla Norma
Tomato-based ragus traditionally served on pasta can be just as enjoyable spooned into a fluffy baked potato. Smash open a crisp-skinned baked potato by giving it a gentle bash with a rolling pin, then ladle over the sauce so it can sink into the flesh. Finish with plenty of grated Parmesan and a good grinding of black pepper.
As Mosley suggests, bolognese is also super inside a jacket, teamed with a side salad.
To transform Angela Hartnett’s recipe for pasta alla Norma into a potato dish:
Sprinkle 2 aubergines cut into 2cm cubes with salt and leave in a colander for 30 minutes.
Meanwhile sauté 3 finely chopped garlic cloves and a pinch of chilli flakes in 2 tbsp oil.
Add a 400g tin of plum tomatoes and simmer for 25-30 minutes, until they start to form a thick sauce, then add 1 tsp drained capers and a splash of white wine vinegar.
In another pan, heat 2 tbsp oil and cook the aubergine in batches until golden brown and cooked though. Add a little more oil each time you add more aubergine. Lift them out as they are done to drain on kitchen paper.
When all the aubergine has been cooked, add it to the tomatoes and cook together for five minutes.
Skip the traditional spaghetti accompaniment and serve instead over baked potatoes, with torn basil leaves.
Coconut prawn curry → Coconut prawn jacket
If your go-to side dish for a curry is white rice and you don’t fancy switching it for more nutritious brown, matching it instead with a potassium-rich, skin-on potato is a good way to up your fibre intake. A plain jacket spud is the perfect vehicle for a saucy and full-flavoured option such as a simple prawn curry or classic lamb madras.
Likewise, stir fries such as teriyaki chicken or sweet chilli pork are also fantastic piled into a potato, rather than onto noodles.
To transform this coconut-based prawn curry:
Cook 3 chopped onions in 6 tbsp oil until softened and colouring lightly (at least 15 minutes).
Meanwhile crush or blitz together 10 peeled garlic cloves and half a thumb-sized peeled piece of ginger.
Once the onions are ready, add the garlic and ginger, along with ½ bunch of coriander stalks (finely chopped) and fry for a few minutes until fragrant.
Add 2 tsp paprika, 1 tsp turmeric and 2 tsp medium chilli powder along with 50g creamed coconut, breaking it up as you stir.
Add 2-3 tbsp fish sauce and 600g raw prawns and cook until cooked through.
Serve over baked potatoes, garnished with coriander leaves.
Welsh rarebit → Cheesy Welsh spuds
If bread frequently forms the starting point for your meals and snacks, shake up your habit by swapping out the supermarket sliced white for a vitamin-C and potassium-rich baked potato. Pile your favourite lunchtime sarnie filling of egg mayonnaise, coronation chicken or tuna and sweetcorn into a hot potato, or leave out the pitta next time you pick up a kebab and instead stuff the spiced lamb cubes and salad into a jacket spud.
Alternatively, treat yourself to the ultimate, warming comfort of Welsh rarebit, with a jacket potato in place of the bread base:
To serve four, mix a splash of stout into 1 tsp cornflour.
Heat 100ml stout until just below boiling, then stir in 400g grated cheese.
Stir in the cornflour mixture, 300ml double cream, 2 tsp English mustard and 1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce.
Allow to cool slightly then beat in 3 large egg yolks.
Ditch the bread base and instead halve 2-4 baked potatoes, scooping out the flesh to leave a 1cm shell of skin.
Mix the flesh with the rarebit mixture then spoon back into the skins and return to the oven for 15-20 minutes until golden.
Chicken and leek pie → Creamy chicken and leek baked potato
The saturated fats and refined white flour used to make pastry, not to mention the emulsifiers, palm oils and preservatives that go into many shop-bought varieties, make it best left for occasional eating. There’s no need to miss out on your favourite fillings, however, as the middle of most saucy pies work brilliantly on top of a hot jacket potato.
Try it with your usual steak-and-ale number, with spinach and ricotta, or with creamy chicken and leek. Just make sure the filling is completely cooked through and piping hot before you load it into your spud.
To make the filling for Angela Hartnett’s chicken, leek and tarragon pie:
Cook 1 finely chopped onion, 1 crushed garlic clove and 2 sliced leeks in 2 tbsp oil until soft but not coloured.
Add 600g raw chicken, cut into strips and cover with 200ml chicken stock. Simmer and reduce the liquid by half, then add 100ml double cream.
Bring to the boil then simmer again to reduce by half, to a thick sauce, or until the chicken pieces are cooked through, then stir in 2 tbsp chopped tarragon.
Season well and serve over baked potatoes with a green salad.
Chilli nachos → Chilli baked wedges
Spuds make a satisfying substitute for corn tortilla chips in a batch of Mexican-style chilli nachos, replacing the refined corn, fats and salt in the triangular crisps with the fibre-rich properties of baked potato wedges.
Save time by microwaving the potatoes two at a time on full power for 10 minutes until soft, then bake for 15 minutes or so to crisp up the skin a little, before carefully cutting into wedges. Spread out on a baking tray, spoon over your warm chilli, grated cheese and any other favourite nacho toppings, then return to the oven for 10 minutes until melted.
To make smoky ox cheek and chilli for your spuds:
Brown 900g flour-dusted ox cheeks in 1-2 tbsp of oil in a heavy-based pan. Remove from the pan and set aside.
Fry 1 diced onion and 3 crushed garlic cloves in the pan for 3-4 minutes then add 1 tsp each of smoked paprika, ground cumin, ground cinnamon and dried oregano, along with ½ tsp chilli powder, and cook for another minute.
Add 1 heaped tbsp tomato purée and cook for a minute then pour in 500ml of beef stock and bring to a simmer.
Return the meat to the pan, cover tightly with a lid and cook in the oven at 160C/140C fan/gas mark 3 for at least four hours.
Shred the meat, stirring it through the sauce, and serve not on a mound of tortilla chips but on baked potato wedges, topped with grated cheese, salsa, pickled jalapenos and sour cream.