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Layer it on in winter

Pan haggerty is a rustic supper dish of potatoes and cheese from Northumberland in the northeast of England. My friend Dianne Firth who told me about this recipe began making it years ago while living in Scotland. It subsequently became a favourite dish for her family.

To make pan haggerty, sliced potatoes, onions and grated cheese are arranged in layers in a heavy frying pan with a little oil (instead of dripping); it is then covered and cooked slowly on top of the stove until tender and golden brown. Originally and with the help of a plate, it would have been turned over in the pan to cook the other side. It is easier, however, to finish the cooking in the oven or under the grill.

As a variation for the dish, Dianne Firth suggests adding a layer of shredded cabbage or a similar green vegetable to add interest and flavour to the dish. Lately I have been adding a root vegetable such as parsnip or celeriac to it, which works quite well too. Pan haggerty is a very good winter dish that everyone is sure to enjoy. It is surprising it is not better known.

Traditionally, pan haggerty is served cut into wedges straight from the pan in which it has been cooked. The melted cheese holds the layers together well.

To accompany it, I suggest the delicious ''new'' mushy peas. This is based on a Jamie Oliver recipe. The low glycaemic index of the peas will help to even out the high one of the potatoes, making for a well-balanced meal. Steamed Dutch carrots would also work well with it.

My references for these recipes came from British food writers Jane Grigson and Marguerite Patten, and my friend Dianne Firth.

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PAN HAGGERTY

Serves 4

The quantity of ingredients listed is as a guide only as it will depend on the size of the vegetables and the size and shape of your pan. You may need or want to use a little extra potato and cheese for the top layer.

2 medium onions (about 300g), thinly sliced

4 large potatoes (about 600g), peeled and thinly sliced

125g cheddar cheese, grated

sea salt and freshly ground pepper

4 handfuls shredded cabbage, brussels sprouts, kale or silverbeet (optional)

2-3 tbsp canola or vegetable oil

To cook the pan haggerty you will need a heavy, medium-sized, non-stick frying pan that can be used in the oven. If you haven't got a suitable one, line a frying pan with baking paper instead. Brush the bottom and sides of the pan with some of the oil.

Use a food processor to grate the cheese and slice the potatoes and onions and keep them separate. Our pan haggerty is assembled in two layers of potato, onion and cheese, with another layer of potatoes on top. (It can also be done in one layer with potatoes on top.)

Arrange a third of the sliced potatoes in the bottom of the pan. Spread half the onion slices over them and sprinkle on half the grated cheese. Season this layer well with salt and pepper. If using cabbage or other greens, spread that over next, so it is between the layers. The vegetables will end up piled high in the pan, but settle down as they cook.

Repeat the layers of potato, onion, cheese and seasoning. Then add a final layer of potato. Press the vegetables down in the pan with your hands. Pour a little oil over the top and around the sides of the pan. You could add a little extra grated cheese on top too if you like.

Cover and cook slowly for about 20 minutes on the stove or until the underneath is golden brown. Heat the oven to 180C and transfer the pan to finish cooking in the oven. When the potatoes are tender, uncover and increase the oven temperature to 200C or heat the grill. Bake for a few more minutes to brown the top or do it under the grill. Allow the pan haggerty to settle for a few minutes in the pan. Then take to the table and cut into wedges to serve.

Diana Lampe is a Canberra writer, dlampe@bigpond.net.au

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