Darina’s Saturday Letter

Latest stories

Father’s Day

The second Father’s Day with a difference is coming up.  At least this year there seems to be light at the end of the tunnel.  It’s been such a crazy time for so many families and frazzled parents trying to adjust to both dad’s and mum’s working from home. This scenario has certainly brought its challenges.

In virtually every household, there have been highs and lows… tempers have flared from time to time as we all scrambled to adjust to the new reality and tried to seem, in control in the midst of the all the uncertainty and seemingly endless lockdown confusion.  It’s been a serious learning curve for each and every one of us.  Almost everything has changed in our COVID parallel universe.  Many dads have been confronted for the first time with what was hitherto the hidden labour of childcare and housekeeping.

It’s been an eye-opener and a serious behavioural challenge.

During lockdown, some dads had very little access to their children others had a lot more than they bargained for and for the first time discovered the highs and lows of parenting.  The joy of the first smile, first tooth, first steps, potty training…and having to let go of many firmly held parenting resolutions re: online access…it’s been quite the rollercoaster.  In desperation anything to keep them quiet! 

Today we celebrate dads who together with mums have had to rise to the gargantuan challenges of the past year and because we’re only human there were good days and bad days.  I chatted to lots of dads and asked what special treat they would love for Father’s Day.  It was so funny because they all complained that their partners hardly ever made them puddings nowadays.  It was so sweet, each hankered after the nursery puddings of their childhood.  Even though it is June, several wanted steamed puddings, particularly spotted dick and custard. Another wanted a jammy Bakewell tart.  Bread and butter pudding, old-fashioned rice pudding came up too as did queen of puddings, treacle tart and jelly and cream.  A new one on me was something called Manchester tart, which I had never heard of before, apparently a school meals favourite.  Jam and custard featured a lot and of course rhubarb and apple pies.  This apple and custard pie ticks several boxes and Bumble’s ginger roll is an all-time favourite.  

So give Dad a big ‘well-done’ hug and make his day by cooking his absolute favourite pud – the way to everyone’s heart…  

Happy Father’s Day.

Manchester Tart

A delicious ‘new’ discovery for me.  Apparently, it was a favourite school pudding based on an original Mrs. Beeton recipe – it’s delicious.

Serves 8-10

Pastry

175g (6oz) plain white flour

50g (2oz) icing sugar

90g (scant 3 1/2oz) butter, cubed

1 egg yolk and 1 tablespoon water or 1 small egg

Custard Filling

4 large organic free-range eggs

75g (3oz) caster sugar

75g (3oz) custard powder

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

750ml (1 1/3 pints approx.) whole milk

180g (6 1/4oz) raspberry jam (approx.)

50g (2oz) desiccated coconut

1x 23cm (9 inch) tart tin with pop-up base

First make the pastry in the usual way.  Alternatively, put the sieved flour and icing sugar into a food processor.  Add the diced butter. Pulse until it resembles fine-ish breadcrumbs.  Add the beaten egg yolk and water or egg and pulse again for a few seconds until it begins to come together.  Turn out onto the work top and knead lightly to form a smooth pastry.  Cover and rest in the fridge for at least 15 minutes.  Roll out thinly, line the flan ring and chill for a further 15 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4.

Line the pastry case with parchment and baking beans.  Cook for 25 minutes or until pale golden brown.  Remove the paper and beans and return to the oven for a further 5 minutes.  By then the pastry case should be crisp and fully cooked.

Cool in the tin on a wire rack.

Meanwhile, make the custard.

Whisk the eggs with the sugar, custard powder, vanilla extract and 50ml (2fl oz) of milk.

Heat the remainder of the milk to the shivery stage.  Whisk into the custard base.  Return to the saucepan and cook over a medium heat until the custard is thick and smooth.

Spread a layer of jam over the base of the cold tart.  Pour the custard evenly over the top.  Sprinkle with desiccated coconut.  Transfer the tart onto a serving plate.  Chill and serve with softly whipped cream.

Apple Custard Pie

The most delicious apple tart with a ‘built in’ custard topping.

Serves 4

900g (2lbs) Bramley cooking apples

2 or 3 cloves

110g (4oz) caster sugar

350g (12oz) approx. flaky pastry or shortcrust pastry (note different cooking temperatures)

Custard

1 large egg, preferably free range

1 tablespoon sugar

150ml (5fl oz) cream

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 pie dish, 900ml (1 1/2 pint) capacity

Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4.

Peel and core the apples and chop into chunks put into a pie dish and add sugar and the cloves.

Roll the pastry into a sheet 1/8 inch (3mm) thick, cut several thin strips to fit onto the lip of the pie dish. Brush the ‘lip’ with cold water and press the strips of pastry firmly onto the dish. Brush the pastry strips with cold water and then press the lid of pastry firmly down onto the edges, trim off the excess pastry. Flute the edges and scallop with the back of a knife, cut some pastry leaves from the excess pastry, egg wash the pie, decorate with the pastry leaves. Make a hole in the centre and egg wash again.

For flaky pastry.

Bake in a preheated oven 230°C/450°F/Gas Mark 8 for 15-20 minutes, then turn down the heat to 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4.  Whisk the egg and sugar together then mix in the cream and vanilla extract. Make a hole in the centre of the pie and pour in the custard, put back into the oven for a further 20-30 minutes or until the custard sets and the apple is fully cooked.

For shortcrust pastry.

Bake in a preheated oven 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4 for 20 minutes. When the apple is almost cooked (test with a skewer). Whisk the egg and sugar together then mix in the cream and vanilla extract. Make a hole in the centre of the pie and pour in the custard, put back into the oven for a further 20-30 minutes or until the custard sets and the apple is fully cooked.

Sprinkle the pastry with a little caster sugar and serve.

Bumble’s Ginger Roulade

I spent a fun-filled weekend at Strathgarry House in Scotland doing a cooking class with Bumble and her sisters Jeannie Chesterton and Henrietta Thews.  Bumble demonstrated this recipe which we’ve been delighting our guests with ever since.

Serves 8-10

75g (3oz) butter

225g (8oz) golden syrup or treacle

50g (2oz) caster sugar (soft dark if you like)

110ml (4fl oz) hot water

110g (4oz) plain white flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon ground ginger

1 egg, preferably free-range and organic

300ml (10fl oz) pint softly whipped cream

50g (2oz) chopped crystallized ginger (optional)

icing sugar

Large Swiss roll tin 25.5cm (10 inch) x 38cm (15 inch) lined with silicone paper

Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4.

Barely melt the butter, golden syrup or treacle and sugar with the water.  Mix flour and baking powder and spice together in a bowl.  When the liquids have melted and cooled, add the flour, spice and egg yolk.  Lastly whisk the egg white until they reach a stiff peak and fold gently into the other ingredients.  Pour into the lined Swiss roll tin and bake in the preheated oven for 12-15 minutes (12 minutes works in our ovens).  Remove from the oven, cover with a damp cloth and leave to cool. 

Turn out onto a sheet of silicone paper which has been dredged with icing sugar.  Fill with softly whipped cream and crystalized ginger and roll up.  Transfer to a serving plate, decorate with a few rosettes of whipped cream and crystallized ginger.

Frosted Ginger Roulade

Bumble’ Top Tip

Bumble discovered quite by accident that the ginger roulade freezes really well. You can pull it out when required and cut into thick slices and put into a gratin dish, sprinkle with Demerara sugar and heat through in a very hot oven for 8-10 minutes – try it, it’s super!

Spotted Dick

Oh my goodness, does this bring back memories or what?!  Serve a steamed pud for an Autumn or Winter dinner party and everyone of ‘our’ age will dissolve into a sepia tinted haze of nostalgia!

Serves 4

75g (3oz) fat yellow sultanas or 75g (3oz) stoned Valencia, Lexia or Muscatel raisins or fat yellow sultanas

110g (4oz) butter, at room temperature

110g (4oz) caster sugar

grated rind of 1/2 unwaxed and organic lemon

2 eggs, preferably free-range and organic

175g (6oz) plain white flour

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1-2 tablespoons milk

15g (1/2 oz) butter for greasing the pudding bowl

Homemade Custard

1/2 vanilla pod or a few drops pure vanilla extract

300ml (10fl oz) rich milk

2 egg yolks, preferably free-range and organic

1 tablespoon caster sugar

Scant 1 litre /2 pint (6 inch) pudding bowl

Brush the pudding bowl with melted butter.  Press some of the sultanas or seeded and split raisins around the sides.  Cream the butter, add the sugar and lemon rind and beat until light and fluffy.  Gradually add the eggs, beating well after each addition. Stir in the flour and baking powder and enough milk to make the mixture just loose enough to drop from a spoon, add the remainder of the fruit.  Spoon into the pudding bowl.  Cover with a pleated piece of double greaseproof paper or foil and tie down.  (The paper is pleated to allow for expansion.)  Bring a saucepan of water to the boil, put in the pudding bowl, the water should come halfway up the sides.  Cover and steam for 2 hours. 

(Check the water level regularly to make sure the water doesn’t boil off).

Meanwhile make the homemade custard.

Put the vanilla pod (if available) into the cold milk and bring slowly to the boil.   Whisk the egg yolks with the sugar in a bowl.   Remove the vanilla pod from the milk and pour the milk onto the yolks, whisking all the time, (add the pure vanilla extract if using), return to the saucepan.   Stir over a gentle heat until the mixture thickens just enough to coat the back of a spoon, careful it must not boil.  Pour into a cold bowl and stir occasionally as it cools.

Treacle Tart

An all-time favourite.  The pastry lattice can be optional for a simpler version.

Serves 8

Shortcrust pastry made with:

225g (8oz) white flour

110g (4oz) butter

1 egg or water or a combination of both

Filling

400g (14oz) golden syrup

150g (5oz) fine fresh white breadcrumbs

2 organic lemons, zest and juice

1 free-range egg, beaten, to use as egg wash

1 x 18cm (7 inch) round tart tin with removable base

First make the pastry.

Sieve the flour into a large bowl. Cut the butter into cubes, toss in the flour, rub in with the fingertips until the mixture resembles coarse breadcrumbs. Whisk the egg with 2 teaspoons of cold water and add enough to bind the mixture. But do not make the pastry too wet – it should come away cleanly from the bowl. Flatten into a round and wrap in cling film and rest in the fridge for 15 minutes.

Using 150g (5oz) of the pastry (save the rest for the lattice top, cover and chill until needed).  Roll out thinly on a lightly floured worktop and use it to line a 23cm (9 inch) flan tin. Line with kitchen or greaseproof paper and fill to the top with dried beans. Rest for 15 minutes in the fridge.

Preheat the oven to 180˚C/350˚F/Gas Mark 4.

Bake the tart base blind for about 25 minutes or until pale and golden, remove the beans and paper.  Brush the pre-baked tart shell with a little beaten egg and pop back into the oven for 3-4 minutes or until almost cooked. Cool.

Be careful not to overcook because if this pastry gets too brown, it will be bitter, hard and unappetizing.

Place the reserved pastry for the lattice top on cling film and roll out thinly. Egg wash the pastry and set aside to chill in the fridge (the cling film makes it easier to move later). Do not cut into strips at this stage. Do not egg wash the strips once they are on the tart as it will dribble into the treacle mixture.

Meanwhile, make the filling.  Heat the syrup gently in a sauté pan.

When the syrup has melted, add the breadcrumbs, lemon juice and the finely grated zest to the syrup. If the mixture looks too runny, add a few more breadcrumbs.  Cool for a few minutes. 

Pour the syrup mixture into the lined tin and level the surface.

Take the reserved pastry from the fridge and cut into 1cm (1/2 inch) wide strips.  Make them longer than the edges of the tart tin. 

Egg wash the edge of the pastry in the tin, lattice the top of the tart pressing each strip down at the edge to create a neat finish.

Bake in the pre-heated oven for about 30 – 40 minutes until the pastry is a deep golden and the filling is set.

Remove the tart from the oven and allow leave to firm up in the tin. Serve warm or cold.

‘Chasing Smoke, Cooking Over Fire Around The Levant’ (Cookbook by Sarit Packer & Itamar Srulovich)

Even if you didn’t know Sarit Packer and Itamar Srulovich, you’d have to be intrigued by this title and bright orange cover.  There are many cookbooks these days so it’s difficult to stand out from the crowd but this one certainly does.

It’s a third book from the ‘Honeys’ who own the much loved London restaurants, Honey and Co, Honey & Smoke and Honey & Spice. 

Where there is smoke, there is fire and this irrepressible couple have been following the trail of smoke all their lives.  They tell me that where there’s fire, food, friendships and memories are made. 

Their own fires burn brightly at their grillhouse Honey and Smoke at the northern end of Great Portland Street in London.  The irresistible smell of aubergines, onions, courgettes and squash charring over coal and wood smoke wafts out onto the street to tempt the passers-by to follow the trail to the source of the delicious smells.

This book takes us across the Levant as Sarit and Itamar visit their favourite cities in Alexandrea, Egypt, Amman, Jordan, Acre, Israel, Adana, Turkey and Thessaloniki in Greece.  They’ve really get a knack for ferreting out the most delicious simple, flavour packed dishes – could be a meal for two or a mouth-watering joyful feast for your family and a few friends.  Perfect timing…exactly the sort of food I want to eat now that we can have a little get together outdoors, lots of fresh air and tantalizing smells.

Sarit and Itamar really are masters of cooking over fire.  I love how they pass on many of the tips and tricks they’ve learned over decades of grilling both at home and in their restaurants – there’s even some rainy day advice.  In Chasing Smoke, they’ve put together a beautiful collection of recipes from all over the Middle East from the most famous grill houses to the humblest roadside kebab houses, even cooking over a circle of stones on the sea shore.

I also learned about balcony cooking, the reality for so many in high-rise apartments but it doesn’t matter where you live, one can cook safely over a little grill and reawaken the hunter gatherer within us all.

It was so difficult to choose just a few recipes.  Here are a few to tempt you and suggestions for cooking in the oven if the heavens open…Enjoy

Chicken Heart Skewers

Many people have never eaten heart, which is a shame as it is easy to cook and has a pleasant, subtle flavour. The heart is a muscle (of course) and benefits from quick cooking over a very high heat to avoid becoming tough or chewy. Strangely enough, these skewers tend to be a favourite with kids, although we are not sure whether they’re more drawn by the idea of the flavour. Finding chicken hearts for sale can sometimes be tricky, but if you ask your butcher nicely, I’m sure they will set some aside. It is a part of the bird that tends to get thrown away, but really it should be celebrated.

Makes 8 skewers (allow 2 per person)

500g (1lb 2oz) chicken hearts
2 tablespoons flaky sea salt
2 litres (3 1/2 pints) very cold water

For the cooking
1 bunch of parsley (about 40g/1 1/2oz)
2 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
1/2 teaspoon hot paprika (or a pinch of cayenne pepper)
a sprinkle of flaky sea salt

Clean the hearts, removing any white membrane and trimming away viable veins. Mix the salt and water in a large bowl, add the cleaned hearts and leave to soak for 30 minutes to draw out any impurities.

Pick and chop the parsley, mix with the minced garlic and set aside until needed.

Tip the soaked heats into a colander or sieve to drain, then pat them dry with kitchen paper. Thread five or six on each skewer. Stack the charcoal on your BBQ really high to get a good heat. Sear the hearts for 2 minutes on each side on a very hot grill, then dip each skewer in the parsley-garlic mixture before placing on a serving plate. Sprinkle with the salt and paprika (or cayenne) and serve immediately.

To cook without a BBQ
Use a lightly oiled, preheated griddle pan over a really high heat on your stove or hob and cook just as you would on the fire (but without the skewers).

From ‘Chasing Smoke, Cooking Over Fire Around the Levant’ by Sarit Packer and Itamar Srulovich published by Pavilion

Joojeh kebabs – Chicken in yogurt and saffron

Makes 4 large skewers (allow at least 1 per person)

8 large chicken thighs (boneless and skinless) – about 1.2kg (2lb 10oz net weight)

For the marinade
1 onion, peeled (about 150g/5 1/4oz)
3 garlic cloves, peeled
1 green chilli, halved and seeds removed
2 tablespoons ras el hanout spice mix (see recipe)
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
zest from 1 lemon
1 pinch of saffron strands
1 tablespoon rose water
80ml (3 1/4fl oz) water
200g (7oz) goats cheese

Purée the onion, garlic and chilli together in a food processor. Transfer to a large bowl, then combine with the rest of the marinade ingredients. Add the chicken thighs and mix really well to cost all over. Leave to marinate for at least 2 hours and up to 24 hours.

When you are ready to cook, use double skewers for each kebab (to keep the thighs as flat as possible) and thread with two pieces of marinated chicken. Keep any remaining marinade to baste the chicken as it is grilling.

Roast over good hot coals to caramelise the marinade and develop the sweetness, turning the kebabs every 5 minutes and brushing with leftover marinade after each turn. The chicken will take about 15-20 minutes to cook through. If your BBQ has a lid, covering it for 5 minutes will help the kebabs cook well without charring too much, however we tend not to do this as we really favour the taste of the charred marinade.

Serve with a small herb salad mixed with orange segments, for a freshness that goes really well with the robust marinade.

To cook without a BBQ
Roast the chicken thighs (no need to skewer them) in a very hot oven (240°C/220°C Fan/Gas Mark 9) for 15-20 minutes, or use a lightly oiled, preheated griddle pan on your store or hob and cook just as you would on the fire.

Ras el Hanout Spice Mix

There are as many versions of this spice mix as there are spice shops in the Middle East.  The literal translation of ras el hanout is ‘head of the shop’, meaning the best the shop has to offer, and can contain up to twenty different spices.  This is our version, which you can make yourself.

60g (2 1/4oz) cumin seeds

60g (2 1/4oz) coriander seeds

90g (3 1/4oz) fenugreek seeds

3 whole cloves

2 dried Persian limes

30g (1oz) whole cardamom pods

20g (3/4oz) dried rose petals

20g (3/4oz) curry leaves

1 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1 tablespoon ground white pepper

1 tablespoon ground turmeric

1 tablespoon ground cinnamon

1 tablespoon amchoor (mango powder)

1 tablespoon sweet paprika

Heat your oven to 190C/170°C fan/Gas Mark 5.

Place the cumin, coriander, fenugreek, cloves, dried limes and cardamom pods on a baking tray.  Roast for 5 minutes, then add the rose petals and curry leaves and roast for another 3 minutes.

Remove from the oven and cool before using a spice grinder to grind to a powder.  Mix with the pre-ground spices.  Store in a dry, airtight container, ideally in the freezer.  This will keep for up to 6 months, but I always think you should try to use it within 2 months to get the flavour at its best. 

From ‘Chasing Smoke, Cooking Over Fire Around the Levant’ by Sarit Packer and Itamar Srulovich published by Pavilion

Pork Chops with Spiced Butter


This invariably ends up being a staple dinner when we are on holiday. We buy a couple of chops and a local spice mix, light a small BBQ in the garden and cook this just for the two of us.

Serves 2

2 large potatoes
2 large pork chops on the bone
juice of 1 lemon

For the spiced butter
50g (2oz) butter (or ghee)
1 teaspoon sweet paprika
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice (pimento)
a pinch of freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
zest of 1 lemon
1 garlic clove, peeled and crushed
1/2 teaspoon salt

Build a BBQ and let it settle to nice hot embers. Wrap the potatoes in foil and pop them in the coal about 45 minutes before you want to eat.

Melt the butter in a small pan and stir in the spices, oregano, olive oil, lemon zest, garlic and salt. Remove from the bear and leave to infuse for 5 minutes.

Brush the chops on one side with the spiced butter and lay them buttered-side down on the BBQ. Grill for 5 minutes, brushing butter on the top (previously unbuttered) side of the chops as they cook. Flip them over to grill for 5 minutes on the other side, again brushing the top side with butter. Remove to a plate.

Pull the softened potatoes from the embers and leave to cook for a few minutes until you can easily unwrap them. Slit them down the middle and pour the rest of the seasoned butter over them. Serve with the chops and drizzle the lemon juice all over.

To cook without a BBQ
Bake the potatoes in a hot oven (220°C/200°C Fan/Gas Mark 7) for 45-60 minutes until soft. Use a preheated griddle pan on your stove or hob and cook the chops just as you would on the fire.

From ‘Chasing Smoke, Cooking Over Fire Around the Levant’ by Sarit Packer and Itamar Srulovich published by Pavilion

Fire-top knafe

There aren’t many Middle Eastern recipes for sweet things cooking on the fire.  The tradition is only to serve fresh or dried fruit to end a meal or maybe tiny, very sugary baklavas, mini doughnuts or halva, if you want to spoil your guests.  Fire-top knafe is an exception to this rule.  This combination of desiccated kadaif pastry, stringy cheese, rich syrup and a hint of smoke was celebrated in Jordan more than in any other place we visited.  I didn’t understand why the pastry was desiccated until I got back to London, started experimenting, and jammed one mincer after another with fresh pastry.  The heat in Jordan dries the pastry, making it brittle and requiring a new method to make it delicious again.  You will need to open a packet of fresh kadaif pastry and leave it on a try in a warm room for a day or two to dry out completely.  You can make the sugar syrup and kadaif crust in advance, so you just need to prepare the filling and cook this on the day of serving.

Fills a 28cm (11 inch frying pan) (or a knafe pan, if you own one)

Sugar Syrup

400g (14oz) granulated sugar

230ml (8 1/4fl oz) water

a squeeze of lemon juice

2 teaspoons orange blossom water (you can use more or less, to taste)

For the crust

375g (13oz) kadaif dough, air-dried until crisp

100ml (3 1/2fl oz) sugar syrup (the rest is poured over the cooked knafe)

45ml (1 1/2fl oz) water

100g (3 1/2oz) melted ghee

For the filling

250g (9oz) fresh Mozzarella

250g (9oz) hard Mozzarella (the stuff you can grate)

To cook and serve

30g (1oz) melted ghee to brush the pan

ground pistachios to garnish (optional)

Combine the sugar, water and lemon juice for the syrup in a medium saucepan, set on the BBQ over a high heat and bring to the boil.  Move to a low heat and let it simmer very gently for about 10 minutes.  Remove from the heat and stir in the orange blossom water.  You could, of course, prepare this on the stove if you prefer. 

Break up the dried kadaif pastry, then mince in a meat mincer or grind in a coffee grinder until you have a fine powder.  Place in a bowl, pour over 100ml (3 1/2fl oz) of sugar syrup, the water and the ghee, and mix until the pastry is well-coated and resembles cooked couscous.  Bake in the oven at 170°C/150°C Fan/Gas Mark 3-4 for 15 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes until dry and crumb-like, but still pale.  Allow to cool and store in an airtight container until needed.

Drain the fresh Mozzarella and roughly tear apart.  Place in a bowl, roughly grate in the hard Mozzarella and stir to combine.

Brush the base of your frying pan (or knafe pan) with the ghee.  Set aside 4 tablespoons of the toasted pastry crumbs and press the rest into the base of the pan to form a crust.  Spread the cheese mixture over the crust, leaving a 1cm (3/8 inch) border uncovered around the edge.  Set the pan over a mellow, low heat and cook for 10-12 minutes, rotating the pan every 2 minutes, until the outermost edge of the crust turns deep golden brown and the cheese has started to melt.  Sprinkle the reserved crumbs over the melting cheese layer, cover, remove from the heat and leave to rest for 5 minutes.  Then take a large plate that can easily fit the diameter of the frying pan and place it on top.  Very carefully, holding the two together, flip them over so the knafe is on the plate.  The cheese will now be the base, and the crispy crust will be on top.  Douse with all the remaining sugar syrup, sprinkle with pistachios (if you wish) and serve hot.

From ‘Chasing Smoke, Cooking Over Fire Around the Levant’ by Sarit Packer and Itamar Srulovich published by Pavilion

World Oceans Day

Have you watched Seaspiracy on Netflix?  I watched it recently and am still reeling from it.  I reckon to know a little about the crisis in the world’s oceans but I had no idea just how shockingly serious the picture is nor did I fully realise that the future of mankind depends even more on the state of the seas and fish stocks than on what happens on land. 

I now understand that the ocean absorbs over 90 percent of the heat that enters the atmosphere, it provides over half of the oxygen we breathe, it supplies over 3 billion people with 20 percent of their daily protein needs, it enables global trade and transport, and provides healthy food and a livelihood to millions, if not billions of people. Without the ocean, humans could not exist on Earth.

I’m trying to pick up courage to watch David Attenborough’s Blue Planet series and Seaspiracy again so I can try to glean some hope from the depressing facts.  It’s difficult not to come to the conclusion that we should not be eating any fish or shellfish at all but life is rarely black and white…It’s a very challenging  time for the fishing industry with Brexit, fish quotas and EU policies…fishing is worth over €1 billion  to the Irish economy and employs 16,000.

Local communities around the world rely on fishing for their livelihoods, the skills have been handed down in many families through the generations.  My preferred option is day boat fish but there are few enough day boats still fishing around our coasts for a variety of reasons.

The bigger boats can go further out and stay longer at sea.  They target the fish shoals with sophisticated technology.  The ‘unintended’ consequences often result in copious amounts of by-catch and decimation of the ocean floor and breeding grounds.  Many species have been overfished almost to the point of extinction which impacts on many other species and habitats in the complex web.

As consumers, we really want to source ‘sustainable’ fish.  According to Ali Tabrizi in Seaspiracy, this area also appears to be problematic with many unanswered questions.

n 1987, the then Prime Minister of Norway, Harlem Brundtland defined sustainability as ‘Meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs’ which could be parsed into ‘balancing the needs of today with the needs of tomorrow’.  Marine ecologist and fisheries biologist Bryce D. Stewart from the University of York, strongly disputed that sustainable fisheries don’t exist.  He maintains that 65.8 percent of fish stocks are harvested sustainably and that 78.7 percent of all landings of marine fisheries come from biologically sustainable stocks. However, this doesn’t mean there are no problems; approximately 34 percent of fish stocks are now overfished and this proportion has increased from only 10 percent in 1990.

So, let’s do our best to seek out non-threatened species and strive to support our local fishing communities.   Be prepared to pay more for day boat fish if you are fortunate enough to source it.

So what species are sustainable in Irish waters?

Look out for hake, rock salmon, sometimes called coley or saithe and mackerel.  There’s also lots of squid which can be either tossed in the pan for seconds or else cooked long and slowly to melting tenderness.  Squid also makes delicious fish cakes.  Prawn stocks are healthy in some areas as is monkfish but for more detail check out the Marine Institute website – it’s a very large file but scroll down to Table 3 on Page 19 for a summary – red, green or white indicates the MSY of the species (Max Sustainable Yield). 

Meanwhile, here are some of my favourite fish recipes, eat them slowly and enjoy every morsel.

Hot-Smoked Mackerel Tostadas

These tostadas are delicious combining the smoky flavour of mackerel and chipotle, lightened with a vibrant, citrusy tomato salsa and finished with a slice of creamy avocado and a sprinkling of deep-fried shallots.

Serves 4

8 x 10cm (4 inch) corn tortillas

300g (10oz) hot-smoked mackerel fillet (look out for Frank Hederman’s smoked mackerel at Midleton Farmers Market or online)

1 x fresh Tomato Salsa (see recipe)

1 cos lettuce, shredded

For the deep-fried shallots (optional)

4 shallots, finely sliced

100ml (3 1/2fl oz) olive oil or vegetable oil for frying

To Serve

Chipotle Mayonnaise (see recipe)

1 avocado sliced

freshly squeezed lime juice (optional)

Fry or bake the tortillas until crisp and golden.

To make the crispy shallots, pour the olive oil into the frying-pan and heat until it is shimmering.  Add the shallots and shallow fry them until they are crisp and golden, trying not to burn them.  Fish out with a slotted spoon and drain on kitchen paper to absorb the oil (you can keep the oil and re-use it for frying). 

Flake the hot-smoked mackerel with a fork and mix into the fresh tomato salsa. 

Spread each tostada generously with chipotle mayonnaise and top with shredded lettuce.  Spoon over the hot-smoked mackerel salsa and top with a slice of avocado.  Squeeze over a little lime juice and if you like and sprinkle with deep-fried shallots.

Variation

This is delicious with any type of smoked fish and also with very fresh raw mackerel, cut as for sushi.

Tomato and Coriander Salsa

Bestin Summer and early Autumn when tomatoes are ripe and juicy.

This sauce is ever present on Mexican tables to serve with all manner of dishes. Salsas of all kinds both fresh and cooked have now become a favourite accompaniment to everything from pan-grilled meat to a piece of sizzling fish.

Serves 4-6

4 very ripe tomatoes, chopped

1 tablespoon red or white onion, chopped

1 clove garlic, crushed

1/2-1 chilli, deseeded and finely chopped Jalapeno or Serrano

1-2 tablespoons chopped fresh coriander

squeeze of fresh lime juice

salt, freshly ground pepper and sugar

Mix all the ingredients together. Season with salt, freshly ground pepper and sugar.

Taste and adjust the seasoning if necessary.

Chipotle Mayonnaise

225ml (8fl oz) homemade Mayonnaise (see recipe)

1 1/2 tablespoons puréed chipotle chillies in adobo

juice of 1 lime

1 tablespoon chopped coriander

pinch of salt

Make the mayonnaise in the usual way (see recipe).

Add the chilli adobe, lime juice and coriander.

Mayonnaise

I know it is very tempting to reach for the jar of ‘well-known brand’ but most people don’t seem to be aware that Mayonnaise can be made even with a hand whisk, in under five minutes, and if you use a food processor the technique is still the same but it is made in just a couple of minutes. The great secret is to have all your ingredients at room temperature and to drip the oil very slowly into the egg yolks at the beginning. The quality of your Mayonnaise will depend totally on the quality of your egg yolks, oil and vinegar and it’s perfectly possible to make a bland Mayonnaise if you use poor quality ingredients.

2 egg yolks, preferably free range

1/4 teaspoon salt

pinch of English mustard or 1/4 teaspoon French mustard

1 dessertspoon white wine vinegar

225ml (8fl oz) oil (sunflower or olive oil or a mixture) – We use 175ml (6fl oz) sunflower oil and 50ml (2fl oz) olive oil, alternatively use 7/1

Serve with cold cooked meats, fowl, fish, eggs and vegetables.

Put the egg yolks into a bowl with the mustard, salt and the white wine vinegar (keep the whites to make meringues). Put the oil into a measure. Take a whisk in one hand and the oil in the other and drip the oil onto the egg yolks, drop by drop whisking at the same time. Within a minute you will notice that the mixture is beginning to thicken. When this happens you can add the oil a little faster, but don’t get too cheeky or it will suddenly curdle because the egg yolks can only absorb the oil at a certain pace. Taste and add a little more seasoning and vinegar if necessary.

If the Mayonnaise curdles it will suddenly become quite thin, and if left sitting the oil will start to float to the top of the sauce. If this happens you can quite easily rectify the situation by putting another egg yolk or 1-2 tablespoons of boiling water into a clean bowl, then whisk in the curdled Mayonnaise, a half teaspoon at a time until it emulsifies again.

Pan-grilled Mackerel with Green Gooseberry Sauce

This is a master recipe for pan-grilling fish.

The simplest and possibly the most delicious way to cook really fresh mackerel.  I love a pat of simple parsley or herb butter melting over the top but I’ve been enjoying them with the first of the green gooseberries – they cut the richness of the mackerel deliciously.

Serves 1 or 2

2-4 fillets of very fresh mackerel (allow 175g (6oz) fish form main course, 75g (3oz) for a starter)

seasoned flour

small knob of butter

Garnish

parsley

Dip the fish fillets in flour which has been seasoned with salt and freshly ground pepper. Shake off the excess flour and then spread a little butter with a knife on the flesh side, as though you were buttering a slice of bread rather meanly. When the grill is quite hot but not smoking, place the fish fillets butter side down on the grill; the fish should sizzle as soon as they touch the pan. Turn down the heat slightly and let them cook for 4 or 5 minutes on that side before you turn them over. Continue to cook on the other side until crisp and golden. Serve on a hot plate with a little bowl of green gooseberry sauce.  Garnish with a sprig of fresh parsley or with some gooseberry leaves if available.

Green Gooseberry Sauce

Use the tart hard green gooseberries on the bushes at the moment, they make a delicious sauce.

275g (9 1/2oz) fresh green gooseberries

approx. 175ml (6fl oz) stock syrup to cover made with 110ml (4fl oz) of water and 75g (3oz) of sugar boiled together for 2 minutes

a knob of butter (optional)

Top and tail the gooseberries, put into a stainless steel saucepan, barely cover with stock syrup, bring to the boil and simmer until the fruit bursts.  Taste.  Stir in a small knob of butter if you like but it is very good without it.

Carpaccio of Mackerel with Ginger and Sesame Dressing

Love this recipe kindly shared by Ruairi de Blacam from Inis Meáin Suites.

This dressing makes a lot and keeps well.  It is also delicious with noodles or pan-grilled fish.  It is only worth doing this dish if the mackerel is super fresh, less than 5 hours out of the sea.  Ruairi makes a large batch of the dressing and uses it with many fresh fish and for a seaweed salad.  Store the dressing in a glass jar in the fridge for a couple of weeks or make less.    

Super fresh mackerel filleted – 1 mackerel serves 2 as a starter

Ginger Sesame Dressing

600ml (1 pint) sesame oil

600ml (1 pint) sunflower oil

150ml (5fl oz) soy sauce

75g (3oz) garlic, grated

100g (3 1/2oz) ginger, grated

150g (5oz) sesame seeds toasted

Optional

spring onions, thinly sliced at an angle

coriander leaves

Fillet the spanking fresh mackerel and remove all the bones.  Slice each fillet into 3mm (1/8 inch) thick slices, arrange in a circle on a chilled plate.  Spoon a little dressing over each portion.  Sprinkle with thinly sliced spring onions and coriander seeds.

Spicy Haddock and Squid Cakes with Thai Dipping Sauce

Curry Paste can vary in intensity, so be careful and add more or less as needed.

Serves 4 as a starter

2cm (3/4 inch) cube fresh ginger, peeled and grated

2 garlic cloves, roughly crushed

1 large bunch of fresh coriander, roots attached, roughly chopped

1-2 tablespoons Thai green curry paste

250g (9oz) fresh haddock fillet, skin and bone free cut in cubes

250g (9oz) squid, cleaned and roughly chopped

freshly squeezed juice of a lime

1 1/2 – 2 tablespoons) fish sauce (Nam pla)

lime wedges to serve

sunflower oil for frying

To Serve

Thai Dipping Sauce (see recipe)

Arjard (Cucumber Salad) (see recipe)

Maldon sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Put the ginger, garlic, coriander and curry paste into a food-processor.  Whizz until the mixture is very well processed.  Stir and re-blend if necessary.

Next add the fresh haddock, squid, lime and fish sauce.  Pulse – the mixture should not be completely smooth.

Heat oil in a deep fry or about 5cm (2 inches) in a deep frying pan, cook a little piece to check the seasoning.  Divide the mixture into patties roughly 4cm (1 1/2 inches) in diameter. The mixture will make 14-16.

Deep fry the fish cakes in batches of about six for 3-4 minutes until golden.  Drain well on kitchen paper and keep warm while you cook the rest.

Serve with Thai Dipping Sauce, a wedge of lime and maybe a few fresh coriander leaves.

Thai Dipping Sauce

A version of this sauce is ever present on restaurant tables in Thailand and Vietnam. A great dipping sauce to use with grilled or deep-fried meat or fish and of course spring rolls.

Serves 4

3 tablespoons Nam pla, fish sauce

3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime or lemon juice

3 tablespoons warm water

2 tablespoons sugar or more to taste

1 clove of garlic, crushed

1 red or green chilli (to taste)

Put the fish sauce, freshly squeezed lime or lemon juice, sugar and 3 tablespoons of warm water into a jar, add the crushed garlic. Mix well and pour into 4 individual bowls. Cut the chillies crossways into very thin rounds and divide them between the bowls.

For the Arjard (Cucumber Salad)

2 shallots, peeled and thinly sliced lengthways

1 red chilli, deseeded and sliced into rings

1 green chilli, deseeded and sliced into rings

4 tablespoons sugar

6 tablespoons water

6 tablespoons malt vinegar

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 cucumber, quartered lengthways and thinly sliced

Put all the ingredients except the cucumber in a heavy-bottomed saucepan. Bring to the boil and simmer for 3–5 minutes. Set aside to cool. Once cold, pour the marinade over the slices of cucumber and set aside to marinate in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.

Hake or Haddock with Piperonata and Buttered Crumbs

Piperonata sounds very grand but it’s really just a pepper, tomato, onion and basil stew, gorgeous with fresh fish. 

A crunchy topping in a creamy sauce is always tempting.

Serves 6-8

1.1kg (2 1/4lbs) hake, ling, haddock, grey sea mullet or pollock

salt and freshly ground pepper

15g (1/2oz) butter

Piperonata (see recipe)

Mornay Sauce

600ml (1 pint) whole milk

a few slices of carrot and onion

3 or 4 peppercorns

a sprig of thyme and parsley

50g (2oz) approx. Roux

150-175g (5-6oz) grated Cheddar cheese or 75g (3oz) grated Parmesan cheese

1/4 teaspoon mustard preferably Dijon mustard

salt and freshly ground pepper

Buttered Crumbs

25g (1oz) butter

50g (2oz) soft, white breadcrumbs

900g (2lbs) mashed potato (optional)

First make the Piperonata (see recipe), while it’s cooking make the Mornay sauce. Put the cold milk into a saucepan with a few slices of carrot and onion, 3 or 4 peppercorns and a sprig of thyme and parsley. Bring to the boil, simmer for 4-5 minutes, remove from the heat and leave to infuse for 10 minutes if you have enough time.

Strain out the vegetables, bring the milk back to the boil and thicken with roux to a light coating consistency. Add the mustard and two thirds of the grated cheese, keep the remainder of the cheese for sprinkling over the top. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper, taste and correct the seasoning if necessary. Add the parsley if using.

Next make the Buttered crumbs. Melt the butter in a pan and stir in the breadcrumbs. Remove from the heat immediately and allow to cool.

Skin the fish and cut into portions: 175g (6oz) for a main course, 75g (3oz) for a starter. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper.  Lightly butter an ovenproof dish, coat with the Mornay sauce.  Put a layer of Piperonata on the base of the dish.  Lay the pieces of fish on top. Top with another layer of sauce. Mix the remaining grated cheese with the buttered crumbs and sprinkle over the top. Pipe a ruff of fluffy mashed potato around the edge if you want to have a whole meal in one dish.

Cook in a moderate oven, 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4, for 25-30 minutes or until the fish is cooked through and the top is golden brown and crispy. If necessary flash under the grill for a minute or two before you serve, to brown the edges of the potato.

Note: Haddock with Piperonata and Buttered Crumbs may be served in individual dishes. Scallop shells are very attractive, are completely ovenproof and may be used over and over again.

Piperonata

This is one of the indispensable trio of vegetable stews that we always reckon to have to hand. We use it not only as a vegetable but also as a topping for pizzas, as a sauce for pasta, grilled fish or meat and as a filling for omelettes and pancakes.

Serves 8-10

2 tablespoons olive oil

225g (8oz) onion, sliced

a clove of garlic, crushed

2 red peppers

2 green peppers

6 large tomatoes (dark red and very ripe) (use tinned if fresh are out of season)

salt, freshly ground pepper and sugar

a few leaves of fresh basil

Heat the olive oil in a casserole, add the onion and garlic, toss in the oil and allow to soften over a gentle heat in a covered casserole while the peppers are being prepared. Halve the peppers, remove the seeds carefully, cut into quarters and then cut the pepper flesh into 2-2 1/2cm (3/4 – 1 inch) squares.  Add to the onion and toss in the oil; replace the lid and continue to cook.

Meanwhile peel the tomatoes (scald in boiling water for 10 seconds, pour off the water and peel immediately). Slice the tomatoes and add to the casserole, season with salt, freshly ground pepper, sugar and a few leaves of fresh basil if available. Cook until the vegetables are just soft, 30 minutes approx.

Roux

110g (4oz) butter

110g (4oz) flour

Melt the butter and cook the flour in it for 2 minutes on a low heat, stirring occasionally. Use as required. Roux can be stored in a cool place and used as required or it can be made up on the spot if preferred. It will keep at least a fortnight in a refrigerator.

Picnics

What gorgeous weather for a picnic…well at least it’s heavenly here, blue skies and the sun’s shining.  Sod’s law will probably dictate that it’s lashing rain as you read this…but there’s optimism in the air so grab your picnic basket and head for the countryside…

I come from a long line of picnickers, those who know me will be well aware that there’s always a picnic basket in the boot of the car plus a ‘Granny trolley’ (not sure if that’s what you call one of those roll-along deep shopping bags).  In case I need to schlep my picnic over rough terrain to reach the perfect spot – a sheltered nook along the seashore, in a woodland, on a river bank or beside a lake or babbling brook…

I also keep an old frying pan, some firelighters, a little pack of kindling, a box of matches and some newspaper so I can build a little fire on a circle of stones (where appropriate) to cook a few sausages.  Good breakfast sausages take on a whole new dimension of flavour when cooked and eaten outdoors.

So what to pack into your picnic basket.  My picnics are often super simple, a loaf of good soda or sourdough bread and Jersey butter….a few ripe cherry tomatoes, a bunch of radishes, perhaps a smoked duck or chicken breast or maybe some smoked mackerel or salmon to slice into thin slivers – all brilliant pantry standbys.  The Gravlax recipe I gave on the 1st May 2021 is also a brilliant picnic food, we’ve been having fun experimenting with a beetroot and dill version which is moist and succulent as well as gorgeous to look at when sliced into thin beetroot tinged slices.  Bring a little pot of sweet dill mayonnaise to drizzle over the top and enjoy it with a brown yeast or rye bread. 

It’s hard to beat a freshly roast chicken.  Time it to come out of the oven just before you leave so it’s still juicy and gorgeous when you unpack your picnic.  A bowl of homemade mayonnaise with a little tarragon snipped in would complete the simple feast and of course a jar of Ballymaloe Relish.  Another favourite is a piece of glazed freshly cooked loin of bacon with a sugary glaze spiked with cloves.  A picnic can be super simple, I love to have some artisan salami or chorizo, canned mackerel or sardines too…  For bang for your buck, it’s hard to beat a couple of ripe avocados sprinkled with flaky sea salt, what could be easier…

Pop in some fruit, maybe ripe cherries or a punnet or two of Irish strawberries.  We love to dip them in a little mound of castor sugar and then into a little pot of whipped cream – simple, delicious and super easy.  Bring a chilled ripe watermelon in a cold box and cut it into wedges– instant deliciousness and of course an oozy cheese and crackers.

For a less spontaneous picnic, one can make a creamy quiche or some empanadas, a crunchy filo pie and a seasonal fruittart. 

Don’t forget Myrtle Allen’s chest of sandwiches which takes a little time to prepare but always gets a brilliant reaction and is pretty much a complete picnic in a loaf.  Bring along a bottle of chilled rosé and maybe some homemade lemonade, elderflower fizz and some artisan beer.

Here are a few suggestions….

Myrtle Allen’s Picnic Chest of Sandwiches

Serves 8 approx.

1 x 900g (2lbs) pan loaf

50g (2oz) approx. butter

a long sharp knife with a pointed top

a serrated bread knife

Sandwich fillings might include:

scrambled egg and chives

gravlax with sweet mustard sauce

roasted pepper, Mozzarella and pesto

mature Cheddar cheese with Ballymaloe Country Relish and cucumber pickle

roast chicken with red pepper mayonnaise and sunflower sprouts

tomato, buffalo Mozzarella, tapenade and basil leaves…..

Garnish: salad leaves, watercress, flat parsley, cherry tomatoes, spring onions

Insert the knife at the side just over the bottom crust, just inside the back of the loaf. Push it through until it reaches but does not go through the crust on the far side. Without making the cut any bigger through which the knife was inserted, work the knife in a fan shape as far forward as possible, then pull it out. Do the same from the opposite corner at the other end of the loaf. The bread should now be cut away from the bottom crust inside without a noticeable mark on the exterior of the loaf.

Next cut through the top of the loaf to make a lid, carefully leaving one long side uncut, as a hinge.

Finally, with the lid open, cut the bread away from the sides. Ease it carefully, it should turn out in a solid brick or a round, leaving an empty case behind.

Cut it into slices, long horizontal ones, square vertical ones or rounds, depending on the shape of the loaf. Carefully stack them, butter them and fill them with your chosen filling or fillings in the order in which they were cut. Don’t forget to season each sandwich. Press the sandwiches together firmly and fill them back, still in order into the loaf.

For a picnic.

Close the top of the case and wrap it up, it will gape slightly because of the extra bulk of delicious filling. The sandwiches will keep very fresh.  Add some crisp lettuce and watercress leaves, small ripe tomatoes, spring onions etc. to look like a little hamper overflowing with fruit and vegetables.


Cheddar Cheese Focaccia Sandwich

This soda bread focaccia can be whipped up in 2-3 minutesand it takes just 20-30 minutes to bake.  It is best eaten on the day it is made but is still perfectly edible next day and is also very good toasted.  Here we bake it flat with a bubbly Cheddar cheese topping.

Cheddar Cheese Focaccia (see recipe)

Filling

slices of chorizo or salami of your choice

hard-boiled eggs

homemade mayonnaise, sweet chilli sauce

rocket leaves

First make the bread (see recipe).

To Assemble

Cut the bread in squares and split or hinge. Butter or drizzle with extra virgin oil, top with slices of chorizo, hard-boiled eggs, mayonnaise, sweet chilli sauce and rocket leaves or another filling of your choice.

Cheddar Cheese Focaccia

450g (1lb) plain white flour, preferably unbleached

1 level teaspoon salt

1 level teaspoon bread soda (Bicarbonate of Soda/Baking Soda)

sour milk or buttermilk to mix – 400ml (14fl oz) approx.

110-175g (4-6oz) Irish mature Cheddar cheese

1 rectangular tin with deep sides 31 x 21cm (12 x 8 1/4 inch)

First fully preheat your oven to 230˚C/450˚F/Gas Mark 8.

Sieve all the dry ingredients.   Make a well in the centre.  Pour all of the milk in at once.  Using one hand, mix in the flour from the sides of the bowl. The dough should be softish, not too wet and sticky.  When it all comes together, turn it out onto a floured board.  Tidy it up, flip over and roll the dough into a rectangle, approx. 31 x 23cm (12 x 9 inches).   Brush the tin with extra virgin olive oil. Press the dough gently into the tin. Scatter the grated cheese evenly over the top.

Bake in a hot oven for 5 minutes, then turn down the oven to 200˚C/400˚F/Gas Mark 6 for about 20-25 minutes or until just cooked. The cheese should be bubbly and golden on top.

A little sprinkling of sliced spring onions would be delicious over the top.


Heirloom Tomato and Ricotta Tart

How about this gorgeous tart for your picnic.  It was originally inspired by a photo on the cover of Delicious magazine. The ricotta and pecorino filling is uncooked, so be sure to assemble the tart close to the time of eating.  Choose really ripe tomatoes.  I use the delicious buffalo ricotta made in West Cork for this dish.

Serves 8

For the Pastry

150g (5oz) plain white flour

75g (3oz) cold butter

a little water, to bind

1 beaten organic, free-range egg, to seal

For the filling

250g (9oz) buffalo ricotta

100g (3 1/2oz) pecorino cheese, grated

2 tablespoons double cream

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

1 tablespoon honey

2 tablespoons chopped basil, thyme and marjoram, plus extra leaves to garnish

zest of 1/2 organic lemon

flaky sea salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper

650g (1 1/2lbs) mixed ripe heritage and cherry tomatoes, including striped zebra (green), red and yellow cherry tomatoes, if available

First make the pastry. All the ingredients should be cold. Sift the flour into a large bowl. Cut the butter into cubes. Toss the cubes into the flour and then proceed to lift up a few cubes of butter at the time in each hand. Using your thumbs, rub the cubes of butter across the middle three fingers, towards the index fingers.

Allow the flakes of floured butter to drop back into the bowl, then pick up some more and continue until all the butter is rubbed in. As you rub in the butter, hold your hands well above the bowl and run your fingers through the flour to incorporate as much air as possible to keep the mixture cool. This whole process should only take a minute or two – careful not to rub the butter in too much, or the pastry will be heavy. The pieces should resemble lumpy breadcrumbs. If you are in doubt, shake the bowl and any larger pieces will come to the top. Add salt if using unsalted butter.

Using a fork, toss and stir the pastry as you add just enough water to bind, 2–3 tablespoons should do the trick. If you are in doubt, discard the fork and collect up the pastry with your hand as you will be able to judge more easily by feel if it needs a little more water. Careful not to make the pastry too wet or it will shrink in the oven. If the pastry is too dry, it will be difficult to roll out.

When the pastry has come together, turn it out onto the work surface and flatten it into an approx. 30cm round. Cover with greaseproof paper and, if possible, set aside in the fridge to rest for at least 15 minutes to allow the gluten to relax. The pastry will then be less likely to shrink in the oven.

Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°C/Gas Mark 4.

Roll out the pastry to a circle approx. 25cm (10 inch) in diameter. Lift the pastry over a 23cm (9 inch) greased tart tin and press down gently around the sides. Trim around the edges with a sharp knife and prick the base gently with a fork. Line with baking parchment and fill with baking beans.

Transfer the pastry case to the oven and bake ‘blind’ for about 25 minutes until pale and golden. Remove the baking beans and paper. Brush the part-baked pastry case all over with a little beaten egg and pop it back into the oven for 5–10 minutes until pale golden brown all over. Set aside to cool.

To make the filling, combine the ricotta and pecorino in a bowl. Add the double cream, extra virgin olive oil, honey, herbs, lemon zest, salt and pepper. Mix gently together. Taste a little dollop of the filling with a slice of tomato and correct the seasoning, if necessary. It might need a little more honey.

Slice the larger tomatoes and cut the smaller cherry ones in half lengthways or crossways, as you prefer.

Not long before serving, spoon the ricotta filling into the cooked pastry case and arrange the tomatoes on top. I like to arrange the sliced, bigger ones, including the green zebra over the base and top with the smaller cherry tomatoes. Season with salt, pepper, a little drizzle of honey (about 1/2 teaspoon) and lots of thyme and marjoram leaves. Garnish with a few little basil leaves and serve soon.

From ‘One Pot Feeds All’ by Darina Allen, published by Kyle Books


Spanakopita

Greek Spinach and Cheese Pie

Spanakopita can also be made in individual ‘snails’, but this delicious flaky version comes in a sauté pan.  This version is good for a picnic feast as it serves 12–15 people.  You can halve the recipe if you’re serving smaller numbers.

Serves 12-15

150g (5oz) butter

900g (2lbs) leeks, sliced and washed really well

6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

500g (18oz) onions, finely chopped

8 spring onions (both white and green parts), finely sliced

900g (2lbs) fresh spinach, weighed after the stalks have been removed, washed really well

6 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley

6 tablespoons chopped dill

350g (12oz) feta cheese, crumbled

125g (4 1/2oz) Parmesan cheese, grated

4 organic, free-range eggs, beaten

9 sheets of filo pastry, 30 x 43cm (12 x 17 inch) (about one packet)

15g (1/2oz) melted butter, for brushing

egg wash, made by beating 1 organic, free-range egg with 2–3 tablespoons whole milk

flaky sea salt, freshly ground black pepper and nutmeg

Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4.

Melt the butter in a 26cm (10 inch) ovenproof sauté pan and cook the sliced leeks with 2–3 tablespoons of water for 4–5 minutes until tender (older leeks may take slightly longer). Scoop the leeks out of the pan and set aside on a plate while you cook the spinach.

Heat the olive oil in the sauté pan, add the onions and spring onions, and sweat over a low heat for 3–4 minutes, covered, until soft but not coloured. Increase the heat to medium, add the spinach and toss well to coat it in the oil.  Season with salt, pepper and nutmeg.  Add the chopped parsley and dill, and continue to cook for 4–5 minutes, stirring, until the spinach has wilted.  Turn out the spinach mixture into a colander and set aside to drain and cool.

Combine the crumbled feta and 100g (3 1/2oz) of the grated Parmesan in a medium bowl and beat in the egg.  Add the well-drained spinach and the leeks and season to taste.

Brushing each sheet of filo with melted butter as you go, layer up the pastry in the base of the sauté pan or roasting dish so that it comes up the sides, leaving enough pastry hanging over the sides to fold over and encase the filling.

Spread the filling evenly over the pastry and bring up the sides of the filo to enclose the filling.  Score the top of the pie into a diamond or square pattern and brush all over with the egg wash.  Sprinkle the surface with the remaining 25g (1oz) grated Parmesan.

Put the sauté pan onto a gas jet at medium, cook for 3-4 minutes or until the pan heats and the base starts to brown.  Transfer to the oven and bake for about 45 minutes until puffed up and golden.

Serve, cut into wedges, while still warm and fluffy.

From ‘One Pot Feeds All’ by Darina Allen, published by Kyle Books

JR Ryall’s Dundee Cake

This cake is famous – we all love it.  JR Ryle, head pastry chef at Ballymaloe House is also an avid picnicker and always includes this in his basket.

Makes 1 x 18cm (7 inch) round cake or 900g (2lbs) loaf

225g (8oz) softened butter

225g (8oz) caster sugar

grated rind of 1 large orange

4 eggs

225g (8oz) plain flour, sifted

50g (2oz) ground almonds

25g (1oz) mixed candied peel

100g (4oz) currants

100g (4oz) sultanas

100g (4oz) raisins

50g (2oz) glacé cherries, quartered

40-50 split blanched and peeled almonds

Preheat the oven to 150°C/300°F/Gas Mark 2 and line an 18cm (7 inch) round tin or a 900g (2lbs) loaf tin.

Cream butter and sugar until smooth and light.  Beat the eggs.  Add in three stages alternating with a tablespoon of the flour between each addition. Beat thoroughly.  Mix ground almonds, dried fruit and orange rind before folding into the mixture.  Fold in the remaining flour carefully.  Turn the mixture into the prepared tin and arrange the split almonds over the entire top.

Bake in the preheated oven for 2 1/2 – 3 hours until a skewer comes out clean. Remove from the oven and allow 10 minutes before turning onto a wire rack to cool.

Herb Week

Prompted by National Herb Week, this week’s column is all about my beloved herbs – not just parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme… I’ll encourage you to be extra adventurous – experiment with less familiar herbs. I’m loving the bright celery flavour of the new season’s lovage that’s popping up in the Ballymaloe Cookery School Herb Garden. It’s a leafy perennial that grows about 5 feet tall and comes back every year. The tender young growth is particularly delicious in salads and in soups but we also enjoy this under-appreciated herb in scrambled eggs, omelettes and potato and tomato salads with lots of slivered spring onions and parsley.

Fresh herbs can literally transform the flavour of dishes and just like spices, herbs have many different flavours depending on how they are used. Whether they are added at the beginning of the cooking process, in the middle, at the end or scattered in sprigs over the final presentation.

Some, like rosemary and thyme oxidise and discolour within minutes of being chopped, sage is similar. You’ll also have noticed that the fresh young growth is milder than the robust flavour of the evergreen perennials so use accordingly.

The blue, nectar rich flowers of rosemary, thyme and sage attract bees in spring and early summer and also provide flowers and leaves for an aromatic posy on your kitchen table. All of these herbs have medicinal as well as culinary uses. Rosemary is a powerful anti-inflammatory, a rich source of antioxidants, boosts the immune system and helps to improve memory.

So how about a simple glass of rosemary tea every day, just pour boiling water over a generous sprig of rosemary, allow it to infuse for 3 or 4 minutes and enjoy.

Sage too has similar properties, the latter is another underused herb but I fry copious quantities of young leaves to scatter over fried eggs, pasta or a risotto. They’re addictive and have you tried the Tuscan snack Salvia Fritti or Sage and Anchovy Fritters.  Talk about addictive, there never seems to be enough… the perfect nibble with a glass of crisp dry white Soave or a fino.

As ever I am encouraging you to grow your own herbs, close to your kitchen door so you can pop out on a whim to snip a few leaves (and flowers) to add magic to what might otherwise be a totally mundane dish.

Urbanites can grow lots on a window sill, in large pots or in galvanised buckets.

Check out your local garden centre or seek out passionate small growers at Farmer’s Markets to find unusual varieties of familiar herbs. For example, there are numerous forms of mint – apple mint, strawberry mint, pineapple mint, ginger mint, liquorice mint, chocolate mint, Moroccan mint…but spearmint and peppermint are probably the most useful. Apparently there are over 600 varieties on the planet.

There are also numerous sages, the purple and variegated are also easy to source but at least have common sage. Lemon balm is another perennial ‘must have’ and the variegated version, with its green and cream leaves is also worth looking out for.

But back to Herb Week, now in its 15th year, it was created in 2006 to celebrate the nutritional and medicinal value of herbs.  Check out the web for further information.

This year, parsley is the herb of the year – well doesn’t this versatile favourite deserve to be celebrated. I grow both curly and flat parsley and use it in copious quantities. No one should have to buy parsley and one can never have too much. It is a biennial (lasts 2 seasons) and bet you didn’t know that it has more Vitamin C than an orange. Just pick a couple of outside stalks off the plant at a time.  Flat parsley seems to be more fashionable now but both are equally delicious. Use all of the stalk too and at the end of the second year harvest the root, you’ll be blown away by the flavour, use in stews, salads, parsley pesto or the stock pot.

I’m not sure where to start with recipes, there are so many but here are a few of my current favourites – Sage and Anchovy Fritters, Melon in Lovage Syrup, Syrian Mint Lemonade, Parsley Pesto, Chimichurri, Parsley, Red Onion, Pomegranate and Sumac Salad.

Melon in Lovage Syrup

A beautiful ripe melon needs little embellishment, but even a mediocre melon is greatly enhanced by the haunting flavour of borage syrup.

Serves 4

1 ripe melon

2 tablespoons shredded mint leaves

Lovage Syrup (see recipe)

Slice or cube the ripe melon.   Put into a large bowl. Drizzle with the lovage syrup.  Toss gently and leave to marinate in the fridge for an hour or so.

Toss the melon with the shredded mint leaves.

Divide among four chilled plates and serve immediately.

Lovage Syrup

Makes 350ml (12fl oz)

175g (6oz) sugar

225ml (8fl oz) water

25g (1oz) lovage leaves

Put the sugar and water into a saucepan, add the lovage leaves.  Bring to the boil, stirring until the sugar dissolves.    Allow to infuse for an hour or two.  Taste.

Strain the syrup, discard the lovage leaves.  Store in a glass bottle in the fridge.   It will keep for several months.

Fresh Mint Lemonade

(Syrian Laymoun bi-na na – Fresh Lemon Juice with Mint)

Freshly squeezed juices were widely available, lots of orange and pomegranate of course, but we particularly enjoyed this refreshing lemon and mint drink.

Serves 6

juice of 6 lemons

300ml Stock Syrup (see recipe)

2 fistfuls of fresh mint leaves

300ml (10fl oz) cold water

Squeeze the lemons, pour the juice into a liquidiser.  Add the syrup (see below), fresh mint leaves and cold water. Whizz until mint is fine and the drink is frothy. Pour into a tall glass with lots of ice, drink through a straw while still fresh.

Stock Syrup

Makes 825ml (scant 1 1/2 pints approx.)

350g (12oz) sugar

600ml (1 pint) water

Dissolve the sugar in the water and bring to the boil.  Boil for 2 minutes then allow it to cool.  Store in the fridge until needed.

Parsley Pesto

Serve with pasta, over goat cheese or halloumi or drizzle over salads.

Makes 2 x 150ml (7fl oz) jars

50g (2oz) flat parsley leaves (no stalks)

2 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed

35g (scant 1 1/2oz) cashew nuts

200ml (7fl oz) extra virgin olive oil

50g (2oz) freshly grated Parmesan

salt

Chop the cashew nuts finely first.  Then put all the ingredients except the Parmesan, oil and salt into the food-processor.  Whizz for a second or two, add the oil gradually.  Add the Parmesan, whizz for another couple of seconds and a little salt.  Taste and correct seasoning.

Chimichurri Sauce

Chimichurri sauce is a hot perky sauce from Argentina.  Great with a pan-grilled steak, drizzle over a fried egg, vegetable pizza or pasta – have fun!

Makes 225-250ml (8-9fl oz) approx.

50g (2oz) flat parsley leaves

4 large cloves garlic peeled and crushed

2 tablespoons water

100ml (3 1/2fl oz) extra virgin olive oil or sunflower oil

50ml (2floz) red wine vinegar

1 red onion, finely chopped

1/2 chilli seeded and chopped or 1/4 teaspoon chilli flakes

salt

Chop the parsley finely with the garlic and water. (Alternatively, whizz in a food-processor, scraping down the sides of the bowl until well pulsed). Transfer to a bowl. Whisk in the oil and vinegar gradually. Add the red onion, chilli and salt. Taste and add more seasoning if necessary.

Parsley, Red Onion, Pomegranate and Sumac Salad

Keep this gorgeous fresh tasting recipe up your sleeve for when you have a glut of flat parsley.

Serves 4-6

4 handfuls of flat parsley leaves

175g (6oz) red onion, thinly sliced

2 teaspoons of sugar

a tiny pinch of flaky sea salt

1 tablespoon Forum white or red wine vinegar

Dressing

3 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil

1 tablespoon Forum white or red wine vinegar

1 teaspoon of pomegranate molasses

1 teaspoon of sumac

seeds from 1/2 pomegranate

Put the thinly sliced onion rings into a small bowl with the sugar, a tiny pinch of salt and vinegar. Allow to macerate for 30 minutes. Add the extra virgin olive oil, vinegar and pomegranate molasses and toss to mix evenly.

Put the parsley into a serving bowl. Add the pickled onions, sprinkle with sumac and toss well but gently. Sprinkle with pomegranate seeds. Taste and tweak the seasoning if necessary. Serve soon as a starter or with pan-grilled lamb chops.

Salvia Fritti – Sage and Anchovy Fritters

I always used to associate these delectable fritters with Tuscany where I first tasted them but I’ve also enjoyed them in Sicily.

Makes 20

40 large young sage leaves

20 finest-quality anchovy fillets

lemon wedges

Light batter

200g (7oz) plain white flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 egg

150ml (5fl oz) soda water

First, make the batter. Sieve the flour and baking powder into a bowl. Make a well in the centre and add the lightly beaten egg. Gradually whisk in the soda water, working from the centre to the outside of the bowl to make a smooth batter. Cover and allow to rest for an hour.

Heat the oil, preferably pomace olive oil in a deep fryer to 280°C (alternatively, use a frying pan with 6cm-7cm (2 1/2 – 3 inch) of oil).

Meanwhile, dip a sage leaf in the batter and shake off the excess. Lay an anchovy fillet or half if they’re too long, on top and press on another sage leaf to make a little sandwich. Dip the sandwiches, one at a time into the batter, shake off the excess. Cook in batches in the hot oil, turning once or twice – a minute should be sufficient. Drain on kitchen paper and serve immediately with a lemon wedge.

Irish Food Writers Guild Awards

Can you imagine the excitement when you open a letter – rare enough these days. Who can this be from? At least it doesn’t have a ‘window’ so hopefully it’s not another bill – WOW…. Guess what, we’ve won an Irish Food Writers Guild Award…!

Variations on this conversation happened in six different food producers’ kitchens recently. It was such a boost to the winners who have battled to stay afloat in unprecedented times.

Kristin Jensen, chair of the Irish Food Writers’ Guild (IFWG) remarked that the choice of winners reflected the times we are in.  During Covid – there has been a newfound appreciation for the simple pleasures in life.

Irish spuds topped with a generous knob of creamy, hand-rolled butter and served with traditional spiced beef are the makings of a fine feast and the cornerstone of many an Irish meal.  The kind of produce we take for granted in Ireland, these oft-considered store cupboard ‘basics’ have each been singled out for a 2021 Irish Food Award, and for good reason. 


That gives you a clue as to the winner’s identity.
Tom Durcan’s spiced beef was one of three awards to go to Co. Cork. Tom’s Spiced Beef can be found not just at his stall in the English Market but also in stores and restaurants nationwide, including Dublin’s Chapter One restaurant, where chef-proprietor and fellow Cork man, Ross Lewis is an enthusiastic champion of the tender, sweet-savoury delicacy.

www.tomdurcanmeats.ie


Irish staples such as spuds and butter are also award winners. 

Abernethy Butter from Co. Down also impressed the judges.  The award recipients haven’t the slightest clue that they have been secretly nominated by a Guild or several Guild members until they get notice.  Allison and her husband, Will Abernethy, are custodians of a near-lost tradition of handmade butter which they revived around ten years ago and have grown it with a variety of flavours as well as handmade fudge and lemon curd. A unique dairy product, there isn’t any other comparable commercial butter in Ireland in terms of process, their small-batch, slow-churned, hand-rolled butter shaped with wooden pats is made using Draynes Farm grass-fed, single-herd superb quality cream. Top chefs both here in Ireland and the UK frequently list Abernethy Butter on menus as a star ingredient in their dishes. Check out a slew of stockists and their walls covered with prestigious awards.
www.abernethybutter.com


And next the spuds.
Ballymakenny Farm Irish Heritage and speciality potatoes have developed a cult-like following in Ireland over the past few years for good reason, and despite the challenges of 2020 they continue to be the spuds everyone wants on their plates. Maria and David Flynn started out growing the usual potatoes for supermarket retail until Maria, unenthused by what they were doing, decided to literally inject a bit of colour into their farming by trying out the ‘purple spuds’ they have become best known for.
www.ballymakennyfarm.com

The Irish Drink Award went to Kinsale Mead – Wild Red Mead – Merlot Barrel aged, which was established by Kate and Denis Dempsey in 2017 – Ireland’s first commercial meadery for over 200 years. In 2020, Kate and Denis, inspired by the legends of Ireland’s Wild Geese, wanted to explore the potential of their mead further by ageing it in French wine barrels for twelve months. The IFWG Award is for their Wild Red Mead – Merlot Barrel Aged, a three-year-old fermented off-dry mead flavoured with tart Irish blackberry and juicy cherry, then aged for twelve months in Bordeaux wine casks. 2020 was a challenging year for the duo as direct sales were impacted, meadery tours were limited and tastings, food festivals and other promotional opportunities all ceased due to COVID-19 restrictions. They responded by creating virtual Online Mead Talk & Taste Zooms comprising tastings and intriguing insights into the history of mead in Ireland and the importance of mead in Irish food culture, held in high esteem and value.
www.kinsalemeadco.ie

The Outstanding Organisation Award went to NeighbourFood, the ‘virtual farmer’s market’, started in Cork in 2018 by Jack Crotty (Ballymaloe Cookery School Alumni) and Martin Poucher.
NeighbourFood has helped immeasurably to brighten people’s lives during the pandemic but also to save the livelihood of countless food producers, artisan bakers, cake makers, fish mongers, vegetable and herb growers, dairy farmers, cheese makers, brewers…who supply more than 65 locations in Ireland and 20 in the UK
Suppliers know in advance what is required of them, so there is no waste. Minimal packaging is used – another win for the environment. NeighbourFood has become an essential service and resource for growers and producers whose livelihoods were threatened as a result of the shrinking of the hospitality industry.
www.neighbourfood.ie

Ballymore Organics Porridge, Stoneground Flour and Semolina Loaf

The Environmental Award went to Ballymore Organics, a Co. Kildare producer for their outstanding organic porridge oats, stoneground flour and semolina.

Makes 1 loaf or 3 small loaves

350g (12oz) stone ground wholemeal flour

75g (3oz) white flour, preferably unbleached

50g (2oz) semolina

25g (1oz) oatmeal (use half for sprinkling on top of the loaf before it goes into the oven)

1 teaspoon salt

1 level teaspoon bread soda, sieved (Bicarbonate of Soda/Baking Soda)

1 egg, preferably free range

1 tablespoon sunflower oil, unscented

1 teaspoon honey or treacle

425ml (15fl oz) buttermilk or sour milk approx.

Loaf tin 23 x 12.5 x 5cm (9 x 5 x 2 inch) OR 3 small loaf tins 14.6cm x 7.5cm (5.75 x 3 inch) 

Preheat the oven to 200ºC/400ºF/Gas Mark 6.

Put all the dry ingredients including the sieved bread soda into a large bowl, mix well. Whisk the egg, add the oil and honey and buttermilk. Make a well in the centre of the dry ingredients and pour in all the liquid, mix well and add more buttermilk if necessary. The mixture should be soft and slightly sloppy, pour into an oiled tin or tins – using a butter knife, draw a slit down the middle. Sprinkle some sunflower or sesame seeds on the top. Bake for 60 minutes approximately (45-50 minutes for small loaf tins), or until the bread is nice and crusty and sounds hollow when tapped. Cool on a wire rack.

Rory O’Connell’s Radishes with Smoked Eel Butter

Delicious served as a little nibble before dinner.

Serves 4-6 as a starter

Smoked Eel Butter

100g (3 1/2oz) smoked eel

50g (2oz) Abernethy’s butter 

a few drops of lemon juice

sea salt and freshly ground pepper

To Serve

16-24 chilled radishes with leaves attached

Blend the eel and butter in a food processor until just blended. Season with a few drops of lemon juice, a little pepper and if necessary a little salt.

Place the butter in a bowl and serve alongside the radishes sprinkled with a little sea salt.

If plating the dish individually, spread a little of the butter on each plate and simply but artfully lay the radishes alongside with a sprinkling of sea salt.  Serve immediately.

Tom Durcan’s Spiced Beef with Avocado and Roast Hazelnut Salsa

Avocado and Roast Hazelnut Salsa

1 ripe avocado, halved, stone removed, peeled and diced into neat scant 1 cm dice

3 tablespoons of hazelnuts, roasted, skinned and coarsely chopped

3 tablespoons of hazelnut or olive oil

1 tablespoon of chopped flat parsley

Maldon sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Mix the ingredients for the avocado and hazelnut garnish. Taste and correct seasoning. This mixture will sit quite happily in your fridge for an hour as the oil coating the avocado will prevent it from discolouring.

Purple Potato, Pickled Beetroot, Red Onion and Scallion Salad

Purple potatoes cook pretty much the same as any other potatoes.  They can be boiled, mashed, roasted, made into soups…they also make delicious potato crisps, wedges and chips.  They always create a frisson of surprise and excitement when served and like all potatoes benefit from lots of seasoning, e.g. fresh herbs, spices, a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil or a generous pat of butter.  Here I’ve paired them with new season’s pickled beetroot and onions and a few scallions for extra flavour and a touch of green.

Serves 4-6

1kg (2 1/4lb) purple potatoes, freshly cooked

225-350g (8-12oz) pickled beetroot and onion

110g (4oz) scallions, green and white, sliced at an angle

small fistful of fresh mint leaves

salt and freshly cracked black pepper

Dressing

175ml (6fl oz) extra virgin olive oil

50ml (2fl oz) white wine vinegar

1 clove of garlic, crushed

1/4 teaspoon Dijon mustard

salt and freshly cracked black pepper

Garnish

Red Nasturtium flowers and leaves (if available)

First make the dressing by whisking the ingredients together to emulsify. 

Slice the cooked potatoes in half, quarters or wedges.  Season with salt and freshly ground cracked pepper.  While still warm, drizzle with the dressing and toss gently.  Transfer to a serving dish, add the coarsely diced beetroot and lots of the pickled onion slices.  Top with scallions and mint and mix very gently.  Garnish with red nasturtium flowers and pop a few small peppery nasturtium leaves around the edge if available. 

A gorgeous salad – both visually and nutritionally and of course delicious.  A little chorizo could also be tucked in with the purple potato for an even more substantial salad but don’t overdo it or better still, serve with Tom Durcan’s Spiced Beef.

Old-Fashioned Pickled Beetroot

Serves 5-6

450g (1lb) cooked beetroot

225g (8oz) sugar

450ml (16fl oz) water

175g (8oz) red or white onion, peeled and thinly sliced

225ml (8fl oz) white wine vinegar

Dissolve the sugar in water, bringing it to the boil. Add the sliced onion and simmer for 3-4 minutes. Add the vinegar, pour over the peeled, sliced (diced or cut into wedges) beet and leave to cool.

How to cook Beetroot

Leave 5cm (2 inch) of leaf stalks on top and the whole root on the beet. Hold it under a running tap and wash off the mud with the palms of your hands, so that you don’t damage the skin; otherwise the beetroot will bleed during cooking. Cover with cold water and add a little salt and sugar. Cover the pot, bring to the boil and simmer on top, or in an oven, for 15-20 minutes (in May/June when they are young) depending on size (they can take 1-2 hours in late Autumn and Winter when they are tough). Beetroot are usually cooked if the skin rubs off easily and if they dent when pressed with a finger.  If in doubt test with a skewer or the tip of a knife.  Use in chosen recipe or store in covered sterilised jars for up to three months…in a cool dark cupboard.

A Madeira Cake with a glass of Kinsale Merlot Barrel Aged Wild Red Mead

Serves 10

110g (4oz) butter, soft

175g (6oz) caster sugar

3 eggs

finely grated zest of 1 organic lemon

175g (6oz) plain flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 tablespoon milk

1 x 18cm (7 inch) cake tin with high sides, base and sides lined with parchment paper

Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4.

Cream the butter, add the caster sugar and beat until light, fluffy and pale in colour.  Add the eggs one by one, beating well between each addition so the mixture comes back to the original texture.  Stir in the grated lemon zest.  Add the baking powder to the flour, sieve gradually into the base, stirring gently rather than beating – add 1 tablespoon of milk to moisten.  Turn into the prepared tin, make a little dent in the centre and pop into the oven without delay.

Cook for 40-45 minutes or until fully cooked, the cake will have started to shrink in from the sides and be firm in the centre.

Allow to cool in the tin before turning out. 

Dust lightly with icing sugar and enjoy with a glass of Kinsale Wild Red Mead. 

Sustainability

Sadly Ireland, the ‘green clean island’ has consistently ranked among the poorest performing countries on the environmental sustainable development goals (SDG’s) presenting ‘a very disturbing picture of pollution and biodiversity loss’.  According to the latest Sustainable Progress Index (SPI) commissioned by Social Justice Ireland, we rank 11th out of 15th comparable countries in the EU.  It’s also pretty shocking to learn that although some areas are performing well, the biggest transgressor of environmental law in Ireland is the State.

In 2015, countries worldwide came together for the first time under the United Nations and adopted the 17 sustainable development goals.  They covered a wide range of areas from climate change to health, education and food waste.  An ambitious agenda for a better world by 2030. 

Since then, there has been many missed deadlines and many summits including a recent 2-day virtual summit hosted by President Biden to celebrate World Earth Day.  The US, China, Russia and EU participated.  Greta Thunberg has rocked the world with her clear science based message and direct challenges to world leaders and more recently Pope Francis appealed for the world to ‘take care of biodiversity, take care of nature’ and reminded us that Covid-19 and climate change demonstrated what scientists have been screaming from the roof top for decades we no longer have time to waste. 

Not for the first time, the general public are well ahead of the politicians, we’re all properly fed up of empty, flamboyant promises.  We crave action and direction.  We long for courageous leaders who will walk the walk not just talk the talk and we are ready to walk with them.  Time is most definitely running out. 

Coupled with the trauma of living with Covid, the enormity of the challenge can seem overwhelming. 

What can we do?  Let’s rack our brains to think of little things we can change in our everyday lives to live more sustainably and benefit the planet.

First, let’s pick up our pens and write to our politicians to emphasise that as citizens, we want Ireland to step up to the plate and honour our commitments.  I’ve always dreamed of Ireland, the Organic Food Ireland – think of how it would enhance the prosperity of our farmers and food producers at a time when people are craving food they can trust and are well aware of the damage pesticides and herbicides are doing to our health, the health of the soil and the environment in general…

In no particular order:

1. Avoid single use plastic and switch to reusable water bottles.

2. Let’s grow some of our own food – check out Grow Food not Lawns

3. Grow our own herbs, immediately we are eliminating all those plastic trays.  Grow perennial vegetables, herbs and flowers. 

4. Shop at a Farmers Market which also supports local farmers and food producers and small food businesses. 

5. Keep a stash of reusable shopping bags in your car.

6. Carry a coffee mug or glass in your bag.

7. Work towards Zero Waste, almost 50% of plastic waste globally is generated by shopping.  Leave the packaging behind and politely urge your supermarket to reduce unnecessary excessive packaging. 

8. Buy loose vegetables and fruit…

9. No need to line your trash bin with plastic – these bags takes 10-20 years at least to decompose.

10. Keep a few hens – 3 or 4 hens in a little coop in your garden will eat all your food scraps and reward you with eggs instead.  They are the ultimate recyclers and the manure will make your soil more fertile to grow more nutritious food – or link up with a neighbour who has hens, swap eggs for food scraps.

11. Keep bees, even one hive on your roof or in your garden, if you don’t want to be a beekeeper, why not contact a local beekeeper, they may be happy to look after your bees, buy the honey from them in exchange…see www.irishbeekeepersassociation.com

12. Think natural cleaners.  Make your own all-purpose cleaner.  Combine half a cup of white malt vinegar with a quarter cup of bread soda and 4 pints of water. 

13. Use cloth rather than paper napkins and washable wipe down cloths.

14. Let’s try not to buy more than we need, get creative and have fun with leftovers.  You’ll be surprised how much money you save and how little food you waste.

15. Buy local flowers, about 90% of flowers sold in florists are imported and heavily sprayed.  Ask for Irish foliage and flowers. 

16. Learn ‘how to recognise’ food in the wild, forage…

17. During Covid, many of us have realised we need a lot less ‘stuff’.  Shop in thrift or charity shops, donate, reuse, recycle, repair. 

18. Use a bar of soap rather than liquid soap in dispenses that have a far heavier carbon footprint. 

19. Use timber chopping boards and wooden spoons rather than plastic – they are more hygienic and in many cases are easier to clean. 

20. Collect kindling when you go for a walk in the country.  There are a million other ways we can make our homes more energy efficient.

21. Support small local shops, your local butcher and fish monger.  Seek out lesser known fish and cuts of meat, less expensive and absolutely super delicious.

22. Use all parts of vegetables, the green part of leeks for stocks and soups, stalks and leaves of beets, leaves of radishes…

23. Make the most of seasonal gluts, have fun preserving in oil, vinegar, jams, chutneys, ketchups, make kimchi….

24. Leftover bread can be whizzed up for breadcrumbs, frozen and used for stuffing’s or gratins, alternatively dice and use for instant croutons.

We can all make a difference in a myriad of ways and enjoy the feel good factor.

Nettle and Wild Garlic Soup

In late April, the air in the wood is heavy with the smell of wild garlic interspersed with nettles.  The pretty white flowers of the wild garlic mix with the bluebells and primroses. 

Use the wide leaves of the allium ursinum (ramsons) and the flowers of the allium triquetrum, the pretty flowers are divine sprinkled over the top of each soup bowl. 

Serves 6-8

45g (1 1/2oz) butter

150g (5oz) peeled and chopped potatoes

110g (4oz) peeled and chopped onion

salt and freshly ground pepper

900ml (1 1/2 pints) water or homemade chicken stock or vegetable stock

300ml (10fl oz) creamy milk

75g (3oz) chopped nettles

75g (3oz) chopped wild garlic leaves

Garnish

wild garlic flowers (preferably allium ursinum)

Melt the butter in heavy bottomed saucepan, when it foams, add the potatoes and onions and toss them until well coated. Sprinkle with salt and freshly ground pepper. Cover and sweat on a gentle heat for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile prepare the nettles (use plastic gloves) and wild garlic leaves. When the vegetables are almost soft but not coloured add the stock and milk bring to the boil and cook until the potatoes and onions are fully cooked. Add the chopped nettles and wild garlic and boil with the lid off for 4-5 minutes approx. until the leaves are cooked. Do not overcook or the soup will lose its fresh green colour. Purée the soup in a liquidiser or food processor. Taste and correct seasoning.  Serve sprinkled with a few wild garlic flowers.

Roast Megrim with Dill Butter

This is a very simple ‘master recipe’ which can be used for all very fresh flat fish, e.g. plaice, dover sole, lemon sole, brill, turbot, dabs, and flounder.  Megrim is less expensive but also delicious when super fresh.  Depending on the size of the fish, it can a starter or a main course.  It’s also delicious with Hollandaise Sauce, Mousseline or Beurre Blanc.

Serves 4

4 very fresh megrim on the bone

Dill Butter

50-110g (2-4oz) butter

1 generous tablespoon of finely chopped fresh dill

salt and freshly ground pepper

dill flowers (optional)

Preheat the oven to 190°C/375°F/Gas Mark 5.

Turn the fish on its side and remove the head.  Wash the fish and clean the slit very thoroughly.  With a sharp knife, cut through the skin right round the fish, just where the ‘fringe’ meets the flesh.  Be careful to cut neatly and to cross the side cuts at the tail or it will be difficult to remove the skin later on.

Sprinkle the fish with salt and freshly-ground pepper and lay them in 1cm (1/2 inch) of water in a shallow baking tin.   Roast in a moderately hot oven for 20-30 minutes according to the size of the fish.  The water should have just evaporated as the fish is cooked.  Check to see whether the fish is cooked by lifting the flesh from the bone at the head; it should lift off the bone easily and be quite white with no trace of pink.

Meanwhile, melt the butter and stir in the freshly chopped dill.  Just before serving catch the skin down near the tail and pull it off gently (the skin will tear badly if not properly cut).  Lift the fish onto hot plates and spoon the herb butter over them.  Serve immediately with a few dill flowers sprinkled over the top if available.

Breast of Lamb with Sea Salt and Coriander

Breast of lamb – also called flank, flap or lap – is the sweet and delicious equivalent of pork belly and is a very inexpensive cut of meat. Lean layers are interspersed with layers of fat, which renders out and gives the meat a sweet, succulent flavour. Freshly roasted and ground cumin is also delicious in this recipe, as is a mixture of coriander and cumin.

Serves 6

1-2 breasts of lamb, about 1kg (21⁄4 lb)

1 1⁄2 tablespoons coriander seeds

1 1⁄2 tablespoons sea salt

Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4.

Score the fat side of the breast of lamb with a sharp knife.

Roast the coriander seeds over a medium heat for 3–4 minutes or until they begin to smell aromatic. Turn the seeds into a mortar and pestle or a spice grinder and grind into a coarse powder.

Mix the coriander powder with the sea salt. Sprinkle and then rub it evenly over both sides of the lamb. Roast for about 45 minutes.

Serve with roast potatoes.

Rhubarb, Fresh Ginger and Sweet Geranium Jam

This delicious jam should be made when rhubarb is in full season and not yet thick and tough.  Even if you don’t have access to sweet geranium leaves, it will still be delicious.

Makes 8 x 450g (1lb) jars

1.8kg (4lb) trimmed rhubarb,

1.3kg (3lb) granulated sugar

grated rind and juice of 2 lemons

8 sweet geranium leaves, finely chopped

25g (1oz) bruised ginger plus 1 teaspoon grated ginger

50g (2oz) chopped crystallized ginger or stem ginger preserved in syrup (optional)

Wipe the rhubarb and cut into 2.5cm (1 inch) pieces.   Put it in a large bowl layered with the sugar, add the lemon rind and juice.  Leave to stand overnight.  Next day put into a preserving pan with the chopped sweet geranium leaves and the grated ginger.  Bash the ginger with a rolling pin, add the bruised ginger tied in a muslin bag to the pan.  Steadily bring to the boil until it is a thick pulp – 40-50 minutes approximately.  Remove the bag of ginger and then pour the jam into hot clean jars, cover and store in a dry airy cupboard.

If you like 50g (2oz) chopped crystallized ginger or preserved stem ginger can be added at the end.

Rhubarb and Ginger Bakewell Tart

We sometimes omit the pastry lattice and sprinkle flaked almonds over the top instead.

Serves 6

Pastry

50g (2oz) butter

110g (4oz) flour

pinch of salt

25g (1oz) castor sugar

1 beaten egg (use about half)

50g (2oz) butter

40g (1 1/2oz) castor sugar

1 egg

25g (1oz) ground almonds

40g (1 1/2oz) flour

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

3-4 tablespoons Rhubarb, Fresh Ginger and Sweet Geranium Jam (see recipe)

Garnish

Sweet Geranium leaves

1 x 18cm (7 inch) tin with a ‘pop-up’ base

Make the shortcrust pastry.

Sieve the flour and the sugar into a large bowl. Cut the butter into cubes, toss in the flour, rub in with the fingertips until the mixture resembles coarse breadcrumbs. Whisk the egg with 2 teaspoons of cold water and add enough to bind the mixture. But do not make the pastry too wet – it should come away cleanly from the bowl. Flatten into a round and wrap in parchment paper and rest in the fridge for 15 minutes.

Line the flan ring.  Spread a thin layer of rhubarb, ginger and sweet geranium jam in the base of the flan. Cream the butter, add the castor sugar and beat until white and creamy, add the beaten egg, and then stir in the flour, ground almonds and baking powder. Spread this mixture carefully over the jam and smooth the top. Cut the remaining pastry into thin strips and arrange in a lattice pattern over the top of the flan. Egg wash carefully and bake in a moderate oven 180-190°C/350-375°F/Gas Mark 4-5 for approx. 40 minutes. Sprinkle with icing sugar and serve warm or cold with a bowl of softly whipped cream.  Garnish with Sweet Geranium leaves.

* If you would like to decorate the tart with a pastry lattice, use 62g (2 1/2oz) butter and 125g (4 1/2oz) flour.

Wild Food of the Week

Pickled Wild Garlic Buds

By the end of April, wild garlic or ramps will be about to flower.  Pickle the unopened flower buds – they are delicious.   Serve with pâtés, starter salads and cheese.

3 parts white wine or cider vinegar

1 part granulated sugar

Fill a jar with unopened wild garlic flower buds.  Warm the vinegar, add the sugar, stir to dissolve and bring to the boil for 1-2 minutes.  Cool.  Pour over the buds, cover the jar and leave for 2-3 days before use.  Add to starter sala

Instagram – @niamhs_larder  

Grow Your Own

As I write this column the skies are blue and the sun is shining and new seasons produce is leaping out of the ground in the garden and greenhouse.  I so hope you too have managed to sow some seeds and experiment the sheer joy and excitement of seeing the seeds germinate and the first leaves unfurl and then there’s the gradual growth until your crop reaches the peak of perfection, ready to enjoy even if it’s just a few salad leaves in a seed tray on your kitchen windowsill.

Your very own organic leaves will taste sooo much better, because you, yourself have grown them, you’ll relish every bite and want everyone else to know how you grew and looked after and anticipated enjoying them for weeks.   When you grow some of your own food, it gives an added insight into the work and commitment that goes into producing beautiful produce, you’ll never want to complain about the price of food again and will want to hug every farmer and producer you meet.  I’m super lucky to have several garden heroes here who grow beautiful produce for us to enjoy and cook with and to sell in the Farm Shop, Farmers Markets and NeighbourFood.  So far we’ve had rhubarb, outdoor sea kale and now the asparagus is gleefully popping up out of the bed.  We’ve even had a few beets, they are about the size of table tennis balls at present but swelling every day.  Look out for new seasons beets in the Farmers Markets and use every scrap of the stalks and leaves as well as the beets themselves.  They are every bit as delicious as spinach, if anything, more delicious and meltingly tender and cook in minutes – also fantastic for juicing.  I’m a huge beetroot fan, love it hot as well as roast and pickled, for me it’s the vegetable that keeps on giving.  The new season’s crop is so mild and delicious compared to the end of last year’s crop which by now is woody and unpleasantly strong.  Try this beetroot gravlax with a side of salmon, it’s a delicious riff on the classic Nordic pickled salmon, gorgeous for a Summer lunch or as a nibble before a Summer BBQ, you love the cucumber and dill sauce and find lots of other ways to enjoy it. 

This week, I also include my new favourite cake which I told you about in November, it’s called Lori De Mori’s Olive Oil cake from Towpath, a little café on the edge of Regent’s Canal in London.  It may not sound appealing but for me it’s my new ‘best find’ of the last few months, a richly flavoured ‘madeira’ type cake that keeps brilliantly and if anything improves with age.  Try it, you’re going to love it, delicious with a cup of tea or coffee but also perfect as a dessert with some berries and a blob of crème fraiche.  This is ‘definitely a keeper’ as Rory O’Connell would say.

Wild garlic will soon come to an end so make a batch of Wild Garlic Pesto for your store cupboard before it disappears until next year.  Pick the smaller, sweeter leaves for best flavour. 

Another Tip…rhubarb is also at its best at present, so buy or harvest more than you need.  Chop into slices and freeze in kg bags for Winter –best to do this now while rhubarb is at its best.

Hope you too are feeling uplifted by the Summer weather, the bounty of the seasons and the gradual easing of Lockdown.

Here are some delicious recipes to enjoy this week.

Leila’s Olive Oil Cake

I find it just delicious on its own or with a little sprinkling of icing sugar.  I loved it recently with a compote of kumquat and some coarsely chopped pistachio over softly whipped cream but a generous tablespoon of roast rhubarb would be pretty irresistible too.

Serves 12

butter, for greasing the tins

3 organic eggs

300g (10oz) caster sugar

175ml (6fl oz) best quality olive oil

180ml (6 1/4fl oz) full-fat milk

1 organic orange, zested and juiced

325g (11oz) self-raising flour, plus extra for dusting

Preheat the oven to 180°C /350°F/Gas Mark 4 (160°C Fan).

Line, butter and flour a 24cm (9 1/2 inch) cake tin.

In a large mixing bowl or mixer, beat together the eggs and sugar until pale yellow. This should take about 5 minutes.

Slowly, in a continuous stream and on a high speed, pour in the olive oil, milk, orange zest and juice. You may need to lower the speed towards the end to prevent the mix from splattering everywhere.

Gently, fold in the flour, until fully incorporated.

Pour the batter into the prepared tin. Bake for about 45 minutes, until golden brown and a toothpick or skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean. Leave to cool in the tin.

(from Towpath by Lori de Mori & Laura Jackson, published by Chelsea Green Publishing)

Use every Scrap – Zero Waste Beetroot Tops (Stalks and Leaves)

Young beetroot tops are full of flavour and are often unnecessarily discarded; but if you grow your own beetroots, remember to cook the stalks as well. When the leaves are tiny they make a really worthwhile addition to the salad bowl, both in terms of nutrition and flavour. This isn’t worth doing unless you have lovely young leaves. When they become old and slightly wilted, feed them to the hens or add them to the compost.

Serves 4

450g (1lb) fresh beetroot tops

salt and freshly ground pepper

butter or olive oil

Keeping them separate, cut the beetroot stalks and leaves into rough 5cm (2 inch) pieces. First cook the stalks in boiling salted water (1.8 litres/3 pints water to 1 1⁄2 teaspoons salt) for 3–4 minutes or until tender. Then add the leaves and cook for a further 2–3 minutes. Drain, season and toss in a little butter or olive oil. Serve immediately.

Beetroot Tops with Cream

Substitute 75–125ml (3–4fl oz) cream for olive oil in the recipe above. A little freshly grated nutmeg is also delicious.  Taste and correct the seasoning.

Beetroot Gravlax

This modern Scandinavian version results in a two-tone gravlax, with a deep-red beetroot colour on the outside and salmon pink within.  Wild salmon is very difficult to source but why not try a side of fresh haddock.   

Serves 30–40

2 sides of wild salmon or organic farmed salmon

2 heaped tablespoons sea salt

3 heaped tablespoons sugar

2 teaspoons freshly ground pepper

2 tablespoons dill, chopped

175g (6oz) beetroot, peeled and grated

Cucumber and Dill Sauce (see recipe)

First prepare the salmon.

Fillet the salmon and remove all the bones with a tweezers. Mix the salt, sugar, pepper and dill together in a bowl.  Place the fish on a piece of parchment paper and scatter the mixture over the surface of the fish. Wrap tightly with parchment paper and refrigerate for a minimum of 24 hours.

Line a long oval dish with parchment paper. Put one fillet, skin side down, on the lined dish. Mix together the salt, sugar, pepper, dill and freshly grated beetroot and spread over the surface of the salmon.

Place the other salmon fillet on top and wrap the salmon tightly with the cling film. Place a weight on top (I use a chopping board). Turn a couple of times during the next few days. Serve with the Cucumber and Dill Sauce (see recipe).

Cucumber and Dill Sauce

Serves 8 – 10 depending on how it is served.

1 crisp cucumber, peeled and diced into 1/2 – 1cm (1/4-1/2 inch) dice approx.

salt and freshly ground pepper

1-2 cloves garlic, crushed

1 heaped tablespoon of freshly chopped dill

450ml (15fl oz) Greek yoghurt or best quality natural yoghurt

4 tablespoons cream

Put the cucumber dice into a sieve and sprinkle with salt and allow to drain for about 30 minutes.  Dry the cucumber on kitchen paper, put into a bowl and mix with garlic, a dash of wine vinegar or lemon juice and the yoghurt and cream.  Stir in the dill and taste, it may need a little salt and freshly ground pepper, or even a pinch of sugar.

Boost your gut biome    

Beetroot Kvass


This is a slightly sour/salty tonic of a deep-red colour known to help clean the liver and purify the blood.

2 large beetroot
1 1/2 litres (2 1/2 pints) filtered water (or non-chlorinated)
2 teaspoons sea salt
50ml (2fl oz) starter – this could be whey, water kefir, sauerkraut juice or kombucha

Scrub the beetroot but do not peel.

Chop into small chunks – 2cm (3/4 inch) cubes (roughly).

Put into a 2 litre Kilner jar or something similar with a lid.

Add the water, sea salt and starter and secure the lid tightly.

Allow to sit in a warming undisturbed place for about 5 days.

Bubbles will start to appear (fermentation is taking a hold) – taste it after day 3, if it is to your liking.  Strain out the beetroot chunks.  Bottle and store in the fridge once it reaches the desired sourness.

New Season’s Asparagus with Mussels and Hollandaise on Toast

Swap out seakale for asparagus if you are fortunate to have some.

Serves 4

8-12 stalks of asparagus in season

20-24 mussels

Hollandaise Sauce

2 egg yolks

1 dessertspoon cold water

110g (4oz) butter cut into dice

1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice, approx.

4 slices of pan loaf bread for toasting

sprigs of chervil or dill

First make the hollandaise.

Put the egg yolks into a heavy bottomed saucepan on a low heat.  Whisk with 1 tablespoon of water, then gradually whisk in the butter, cube by cube as it thickens gradually – careful it doesn’t overheat.  If it does, pull the saucepan off the heat and dip the base in cold water for a minute or two.  When all the butter has been incorporated, whisk in some freshly squeezed lemon juice to taste.  Transfer to a small Pyrex bowl or measure and keep warm in a stainless-steel saucepan of hot but not even simmering water while you prepare the asparagus and mussels. 

Break off the ends of the asparagus spears where they begin to get woody.  They will snap at that point if you bend over your index finger. 

Bring about 2.5cm (1 inch) of water to the boil in a saucepan, season well with salt and add the asparagus.  Cover the saucepan, bring the water back to the boil and cook for 3-4 minutes (depending on the size of the asparagus spears) or until the tip of a knife will pierce the thickest end.  Drain while still al-dente, it will continue to cook a little.

Wash the mussels, check they are all tightly shut.  Choose a wide sauté pan, add the mussels in a, maximum, double layer and cook for 3-4 minutes over a medium heat which is usually enough for the mussels to open.  Remove, strain and save the mussel liquor.

To Serve

Meanwhile, toast and butter the bread. 

Cut the asparagus spears into 2 or 3 pieces at an angle.

Remove the mussels from their shells, scatter over the asparagus, drizzle with Hollandaise and garnish with sprigs of chervil or dill and serve ASAP.

Rhubarb and Sweet Cicely Compote

Sweet Cicely is one of the first herbs to pop up in Spring, the seeds are spicy and the leaves have a liquorice sweet anise like flavour.  Use liberally to garnish sweet dishes. 

Serves 4

450g (1lb) red rhubarb, e.g. Timperely early

450ml (16fl oz) stock syrup (dissolve 175g/6oz of granulated sugar in 300ml/10fl oz of water and boil for 2 minutes)

4-6 sprigs of sweet cicely

Cut the rhubarb into 2.5cm (1 inch) pieces. Put the cold syrup into a stainless steel saucepan, add the rhubarb and sweet cicely.  Cover, bring to the boil and simmer for just 1 minute, (no longer or it will dissolve into a mush). Turn off the heat and leave the rhubarb in the covered saucepan until just cold.  

Remove the sweet cicely, serve garnished with fresh sprigs of sweet cicely and lots of softly whipped cream.   

BBQ

Yippee, the BBQ is back out in the garden, always a brilliant moment but this year there’s the added sense of escapism…More than ever, we’re relishing the thought of cooking outdoors and maybe having a few socially distanced friends to share the giddy joyous experience of eating al fresco.  We’ve really been counting the days until we can fire up the BBQ and get a sizzle going.  So let’s jump right in…

The choice of barbeques now available in mesmerising, but no need to feel deprived if you don’t have all manner of fancy kit.  Cooking over fire is as old as time and definitely adds an extra ‘je ne sais quoi’ to the flavour. 

A circle of stone or a simple brick frame to balance a rack or pan will get you started.  If you can source a piece of flat iron, you’ve got a plancha to widen your cooking options.  Practice makes perfect with any cooking over fire or even on a gas barbeque. 

 When maestro of open-fire cooking from Argentina (Francis Mallmann) did a guest chef BBQ here in 2016, he cooked over fire in five different ways.

1. A grate over live coals – parilla.

2. On a spit

3. Plancha – an iron plate, could be flat or with edges.

4. Asador – a metal cross to cook a whole lamb or goat.

5. Hung chickens over a fire on metals or wire chains.

Lighting a charcoal barbeque is never as easy as gas of course but it’s all part of the fun.  Wood and charcoal impart lots more flavour and I particularly love apple wood. 

The key to successful grilling is heat control, learning how to build a good fire and judging the temperature is even more crucial to success than the type or brand of grill or barbeque, you buy or the type of fuel you opt for.  Create two zones on the grate – a cooler 120˚C and a hotter 175˚C section – it’s not difficult to do this – pile the glowing hot coals higher in one area, this will enable you to create and cook at two different temperatures. 

You’ll need to cook large pieces of meat more slowly.  It’s all about temperature control – you might want to start something on a high heat to sear the outside to get a delicious crisp crust and then transfer onto lower heat to cook through or perhaps grill ingredients requiring different temperatures simultaneously.  If you are using a gas grill, just turn one side up and the other down.  On a BBQ, if the fire gets too hot, reduce the heat by spreading out the coals and raising the grate if that’s an option.

The Tools: (In a box)

A long-handled tongs

Long metal spatulas are top of the list must have’s –

Flat metal skewers for kebabs

A hinged grill rack

2 wire cake racks for turning whole fish or small fragile items easily

A natural bristle basting brush

Bamboo skewers

Instant read thermometer

Stiff wire brush for cleaning the grill

There’s something for everyone’s pocket and style nowadays from disposable foil trays available in supermarkets and petrol stations to a stylish, state of the art, range of gas barbeques that are pretty much a second kitchen with extra cooking rings –

I still love to cook a few sausages by the sea, there’s something about cooking outdoors that makes everything taste a zillion times better.  Virtually anything can be cooked on the grill or Barbie. A covered BBQ hugely widens the options and adds an extra smoky kick to the food.  I even cook pizza, roast a chicken or turkey…once again, practice makes perfect.

Butchers and supermarkets are offering a growing selection of ready to grill options but for the most part, the marinades are commercially made and very often contain a whole range of ‘unnatural’ ingredients that are either too sweet or too sharp.  A good olive oil, a squirt of freshly squeezed lemon juice, flaky sea salt, freshly cracked black pepper and a few fresh spices or spice rubs will add magic to your cooking.  Scatter some fresh herbs over the food just before serving, to add brightness.

Resist the temptation to have numerous meats, one joint of meat, or a side of fish or a variety of veg and some complimentary sauces and salads complete the feast.

Here are a couple of my favourite recipes and a spice rub but I’ll do another column on outdoor cooking in a few weeks.

Halloumi Skewers

Halloumi the squeaky Cypriot cheese brilliant for grilling and Summer salads. See hot tips.

500g Halloumi

extra virgin olive oil

freshly ground pepper

thyme, rosemary or oregano

Heat the barbeque or a pan-grill. If the halloumi is excessively salty, soak in cold water overnight or for at least an hour, discard water. Dry well, with kitchen paper.

Cut the cheese into 4 long pieces and thread into flat metal skewers or soaked satay sticks. Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil. Sprinkle with chopped rosemary, thyme or some dried wild oregano and some freshly cracked pepper. Grill for 2-3 minutes each side until golden and hot through.

Serve with smokey tomato sauce, chimichurri or aji green sauce.

Rachel Allen’s Spatchcock Chicken with Sumac, Thyme and Garlic

Serves 4-6

1 whole chicken

75ml (3fl oz) extra virgin olive oil

4 large cloves of garlic, crushed or finely grated

1 tablespoon ground sumac

1 tablespoon thyme leaves, chopped

salt and pepper 

To Serve

1 lemon, cut in wedges

a few sprigs of thyme

To remove the back bone of the chicken, use very sharp scissors and cut through all the way down from top to bottom. Place the chicken breast side up on your work top and using the palm of your hands flatten the chicken down. Using a sharp knife make a few slashes in the legs of the chicken.

To make the marinade, in a bowl use a whisk to mix together the olive oil, garlic, sumac and the chopped thyme, and season with salt and pepper. Place the chicken in a shallow bowl or dish and pour the marinade over making sure it gets into every little area. Set aside to marinate for 10 minutes or even covered in the fridge overnight on a wire rack to allow any excess marinade to drip off.  Then grill ideally on a Weber barbeque or a barbeque with a cover over a medium heat for 45 – 60 minutes approximately (the internal temperature of cooked chicken is   75 – 80°C/165 – 175°F).  To test, prick the thickest part at the base of the thigh and examine the juices, they should be clear.

Alternatively, to cook the chicken in an oven, preheat to 220°C/425°/Gas Mark 7.  Place the chicken on a roasting tray with all the marinade and cook for 45 minutes – 1 1/2 hours (the cooking time will vary greatly depending on the size of the chicken) until cooked. When cooked the legs will feel loose. Allow the chicken to rest somewhere warm for about 15-20 minutes if possible.

When ready to eat, carve the chicken into pieces, scatter with the thyme leaves and serve with some wedges of lemon.

Lamb, Pork or Chicken Satay

Cubes of tender meat (pork, chicken, beef or lamb) are marinated in spices, then threaded onto bamboo satay sticks and cooked on the barbecue or under the grill. Satay is especially versatile – serve as a starter with drinks, or as a light meal with rice and salad. Kids love them.  Shrimps work really well in this recipe too.

Makes 24 approx.

450g (1lb) lean lamb leg or chicken breast or thigh meat (boned and skinned) or organic pork fillet

1 clove garlic, finely chopped

2 shallots, or 1 small onion, finely chopped

2 tablespoons light soy sauce

1 tablespoon sugar

1 tablespoon ground coriander

1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice or red wine vinegar

To Serve

24-26 bamboo satay sticks or metal skewers (soak satay sticks in water 30 minutes before)

1-2 tablespoons vegetable oil

225g (8oz) Satay Sauce

lettuce leaves and flat breads

Cut the meat into 5mm thick strips and marinate with all the ingredients for at least 1 hour. Thread onto the soaked bamboo satay sticks so the end is covered. Allow to drain on a wire rack.  Heat a barbeque or pan-grill until very hot.

Brush each satay with a little oil and chargrill turning frequently until just cooked.  Serve hot with Satay Sauce (see 000), lettuce leaves and flat breads.

Spicy Peanut Satay Sauce

This satay sauce recipe given to me by Eric Treuille of ‘Books for Cooks’ in London can be made up to 3 days in advance. 

Makes 500ml (18fl oz)

225g (8oz) peanut butter

2 garlic cloves, crushed

1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger

1 teaspoon turmeric

1 teaspoon Tabasco

1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil

4 tablespoons soy sauce

2 tablespoons runny honey

juice of 1 lemon

125ml (4 1/2fl oz) water or coconut milk

Make the satay sauce. 

Place the peanut butter, garlic, ginger, turmeric, Tabasco, oil, soy sauce, honey, lemon juice and water in a food-processor or blender, pulse until smooth.  Cover and let stand for 30 minutes at room temperature to allow flavours to blend.  Serve chilled or at room temperature. (Add a little more coconut milk if too thick).

Tomahawk Steak

A seriously macho cut, tomahawk steak is a ‘bone-in’ ribeye cut from the 6th -12th rib with the bone left intact so it resembles a tomahawk. It’s sometimes called a cowboy steak. It can weigh between 30-45 ounces (850g-1.275kg), and will be close to 2 inches thick. It’s perfect for BBQ because the bone, usually 6-8 inches long, creates a handle which makes it easy to turn over on the BBQ.

1 tomahawk steak

flaky sea salt

freshly cracked pepper

extra virgin olive oil

Make sure the steak is at room temperature. Heat the barbeque or an iron pan grill on a high heat. Score the fat side. Season the flesh generously with flaky sea salt and freshly ground pepper. Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil. Grill first on the fat side on a medium heat for 4-5 minutes to render out the fat. Then sear the flesh sides on a high heat, turning only once when a crust has formed.  Reduce the heat to medium or move to a cooler part of the grill. Cook for 7-8 minutes on one side then 6-7 minutes on the other for medium-rare.  (check the inner temperature, it should read 57°C/135°F).

Allow to rest on a warm surface for 8-10 minutes before carving to allow the juices to redistribute themselves.

Slice the rested steak off the rib bone. Cut into slices across the grain and serve with the sauce and accompaniment of your choice – a creamy gratin dauphinoise, roast onions, wild garlic butter and salt, smoked paprika butter, anchovy and chervil butter, honey whole mustard butter….

Roast Onions with Rosemary

Serves 8

4 medium onions

4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons Balsamic vinegar

2 tablespoons rosemary, chopped

salt and freshly ground black pepper

skewers

Cut the onions into thick slices – about 2cm (3/4 inch) thick.  Thread 2 or 3 rounds onto flat skewers. 

Mix the oil, vinegar and chopped rosemary in a bowl.  Dip or brush both sides of the onion rings, season with salt and freshly ground black pepper.  Cook on a medium grill until cooked through and nicely charred. Turn occasionally and drizzle a little more dressing over the top to serve. Great with steak or halloumi.

Indian Spice Rub

Use for chicken, pork, lamb, fish and prawns.

Makes approx. 110g (4oz)

2 tablespoons of cumin roasted and ground

2 tablespoons of coriander roasted and ground

1 tablespoon black peppercorns roasted and ground

1-2 teaspoons cloves roasted and ground

2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon nutmeg

Toast the cardamom, cumin, coriander, pepper and cloves in a pan over a medium-high heat, stirring constantly for 3-4 minutes. Cool and crush in a pestle and mortar or whizz in a spice grinder. Add the freshly ground cinnamon and nutmeg. Mix well. Store in an airtight jar. It will keep for up to 3 months but try to use earlier. Store away from direct light, preferably in a dark glass jar.

Ramadan

This week, I wanted to understand more about the Muslim holy month of Ramadan which, this year starts at sunset on Monday 12th April. It follows the lunar calendar and begins and ends with the appearance of the crescent moon. Islamic tradition states that it was during Ramadan that God revealed the Qur’an, the Muslim holy book to the Prophet Mohammad as guidance for his people.

Ramadan in the ninth month of the Islamic calendar marks the beginning of Sawm, the Arabic word for fasting.

Many of us would know that Muslims fast from dawn to sunset for the whole month of Ramadan. Fasting is one of the five pillars of Islam, by which Muslims live their lives, along with faith, prayer (five times a day), charitable deeds and a pilgrimage to Mecca.  Fasting and hunger pangs are a stark reminder of our human fragility and how much we depend on food and those who produce it for our energy, vitality and very existence.

It clearly illustrates what it feels like to be hungry and thirsty which helps us to empathise, feel compassion and offer help to the poor and needy.

Muslims, apart from those who are vulnerable or pregnant, fast from food, drink, cigarettes and any sexual activity from dawn til dusk during Ramadan.

Fasting is not easy. At school, children find it particularly difficult while their friends are enjoying lunch and snacks. The last meal they will have eaten was Suhur before dawn and the next after sunset, will be Iftar which means breaking the fast.  First with a few dates and water, a concentrated source of energy and easy to digest.

After sunset prayers, many families invite neighbours and friends to join them to break the fast so Ramadan is also a time of sharing and celebration.  In non-Covid times, many mosques host community dinner on weekends, a wonderful break from cooking, a feast for students, the poor and everyone in the community.  Ramadan ends on the 13th May 2021, Muslims will celebrate Eid al Fitr – the Festival of the Breaking of the fast.

Traditionally, children receive presents from family and friends. There are special prayers followed by the fasting and celebrations.

I was intrigued to know what foods were traditionally enjoyed to break the fast. There are of course, many. 

Families around the world have their special favourites.  The women cook together to prepare the meal, often with recipes learnt from their mothers, mothers-in-law and sisters…. Virtually every list mentioned Moroccan Chorba, a comforting nutrient dense soup made with chickpeas or lentils, potatoes, root vegetables, lamb and spices like turmeric, ginger and saffron. There were lots of variations, try this delicious version.

Pide – Turkish handmade flat bread was another must have – you’ll love it and so will the kids.

Harira, a hearty soup of lentils is another favourite. One of the many versions of Kebabs with thick Greek yoghurt, or with a dollop of tzatziki on flat bread is another versatile irresistible speciality. Poached eggs with yoghurt and paprika oil is super delicious and really easy to whip up at home. Don’t forget to wish your Muslim friends Ramadan Kareem –Happy Ramadan.

Moroccan Lentil Chorba

This is a delicious nourishing soup filled with all sorts of good things.

Lots of vegetables to chop, the neater the dice, the better your soup will look and taste. The soup works well with either vegetable stock or chicken stock but chicken stock gives the most robust flavour.

175g (6oz) green lentils

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 medium onion diced into 7mm (1/3 inch) dice

pinch of salt

pinch of cayenne

1 small carrot diced into 7mm (1/3 inch) dice

1 stick of celery diced into 7mm (1/3 inch) dice

1 red or yellow pepper diced into 7mm (1/3 inch) dice

1 teaspoon cumin seeds, lightly roasted and ground

1 teaspoon coriander seeds, lightly roasted and ground

pinch of turmeric

1 tablespoon of peeled and grated fresh ginger

4 cloves garlic, crushed

700g (1 1/2 lb) ripe tomatoes, peeled and chopped or 500g (18oz) tinned tomatoes

1.35 litres (48fl oz) vegetable or chicken stock (see recipe)

salt, pepper and sugar to taste

110g (4oz) vermicelli, broken into pieces

4 tablespoons fresh coriander, chopped

Rinse the lentils in cold water and place in a saucepan. Cover with water. Bring to the boil, reduce the heat and simmer gently for 20 minutes or so until tender.

While the lentils are cooking, heat the olive oil in another saucepan and add the onions, pinch of salt and cayenne. Cover and cook on a gentle heat until the onions are soft. Add the diced vegetables and the rest of the spices. Cook for 5 minutes, add the ginger and garlic and cook for another minute. Add the chopped tomatoes and stock, taste and correct seasoning and simmer gently for a further 20 minutes.  Add the vermicelli and continue to cook for a further 10 minutes or until the diced vegetables are tender. 

Strain the cooked lentils, reserving the cooking water and add the lentils to the broth. If the soup is too thick, thin out with some of the lentil cooking water. Bring to a simmer. Taste again and correct seasoning. Serve with lots of chopped fresh coriander or parsley.

Gilbir – Poached Eggs with Yoghurt, Paprika and Mint

Another favourite Turkish way to serve poached eggs – called Gilbir – you’ll love this combination with toast or flat bread.

Serves 2

4 freshly laid organic eggs

30g (1 1/4oz) butter

2 teaspoons paprika or smoked paprika

1 clove of garlic, crushed

150ml (5fl oz) natural yoghurt

4 – 6 fresh mint leaves

First poach the eggs; bring a small saucepan of water to the boil. Reduce the heat, swirl the water, crack the egg into a cup, slip gently into the whirlpool in the centre. This avoids getting the tips of your fingers burned as you drop the egg into the water. The water should not boil again but bubble very gently just below boiling point. Cook for about 3–4 minutes, until the white is set and the yolk is still soft and runny.

Add 1 small crushed garlic clove to 3 tablespoons of natural yoghurt. Remove the poached egg with a slotted spoon to a warm bowl, add a good dollop of yoghurt. Melt a little butter in a small pan, when it begins to foam, add the paprika, stir for 30 seconds, careful it doesn’t burn. Drizzle over the eggs and yoghurt. Shred 2-3 mint leaves and scatter over the top. Serve immediately with some Turkish bread or toast.

Spiced Vegetable Pakoras with Mango Relish

Vegetable fritters in a spicy batter, delicious to snack on or as a starter with a relish of your choice.

Serves 4-6

A selection of vegetables:

1 thin aubergine cut into 5mm (1/4 inch) slices or into chunks at an angle

1 teaspoon salt

2 medium courgettes, cut into 2.5cm (1 inch) slices, if they are very large cut into quarters

12 cauliflower or Romanesco florets (walnut size approx.)

6 large flat mushrooms, cut in half

spinach leaves

Batter

175g (6oz) chickpea or plain white flour

1 tablespoon chopped fresh coriander

1 scant teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons curry powder

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice

175-225ml (6-8fl oz) iced water

vegetable oil for deep frying

Garnish

lemon wedges and coriander or parsley.

Put the aubergine wedges or slices into a colander, sprinkle with the salt, and let drain while preparing the other vegetables.

Blanch and refresh the cauliflower florets separately in boiling salted water for 2 minutes. Drain, refresh under cold water, and dry well.

Rinse the aubergine slices and pat dry.

Put the flour, coriander, salt and curry powder into a large bowl. Gradually whisk in the oil, lemon juice and water until the batter is the consistency of thick cream.

Heat good quality oil to 180°C/350°F in a deep fry. Lightly whisk the batter and dip the vegetables in batches of 5 or 6.  Slip them individually into the hot oil. 

Fry the pakoras for 2-3 minutes on each side, turning them with a slotted spoon. Drain on paper towels and keep warm in a moderate oven (uncovered) while you cook the remainder. Allow the oil to come back to 180°C/350°F between batches.

When all the vegetable fritters are ready, garnish with lemon wedges and fresh or deep-fried coriander or parsley. Serve at once alone or with mango relish.

Mango Relish

Mangoes are a great source of betacarotene and Vitamin C.  They aid digestion, reduce acidity in the system and help cleanse the blood. 

50ml (2fl oz) medium sherry

50ml (2fl oz) water

50ml (2fl oz) white wine vinegar

2 tablespoons sugar

1/2 cinnamon stick

1 star anise

1/2 teaspoon salt

pinch of ground mace

1 mango, peeled and diced

1 small red pepper, seeded and diced

1 tablespoon lemon juice

Put the sherry, water, vinegar, sugar, cinnamon, star anise, salt and mace into a small, heavy bottomed saucepan. Bring to a boil and simmer over medium heat for 5 minutes. Add the mango, pepper, and lemon juice, lower the heat and simmer for 5 minutes more. Remove from the heat and let cool completely. Spoon into a screw top jar and refrigerate until required.

Falafel with Tahini

Itamar and Sarit from Honey and Co in London shared their favourite Yemini falafel recipe with us. 

Makes 20 approximately (25g/1oz weight)

1/2 onion (approx. 60g/2 1/4oz)

1 clove of garlic (peeled)

250g (9oz) soaked chickpeas (125g (4 1/2oz) dried)

1 green chilli, seeds and all

3 springs of parsley, picked

1 small bunch of coriander (about 15-20g/1/2 – 3/4oz), leaves and top part of stems only

1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon freshly ground cardamom pods

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons garam flour (use plain if needs be)

1 teaspoon baking powder

To make the falafel

In a food processor, start with the onion, garlic, chilli and herbs and pulse them to chop roughly, then add the chickpeas and blitz until everything becomes a thick paste with small, even-sized bits.   You may need to scrape the sides down and blitz for another pulse or two to make sure that everything is evenly chopped, but do not overwork.  The best way to check whether it is done enough is to scoop up a small amount and squeeze it together in your palm – it should hold its shape.  If it falls apart, return it to the processor for another spin.  Tip the mixture into a large bowl, add the spices, salt, flour and baking powder and mix until all is combined well.

Preheat the deep fry 170°C/325°F.

Test the oil temperature by placing a small piece of bread or falafel mix in the hot oil – as soon as it starts to bubble up and float, you are ready to go.

You can shape the falafel mix in a few different ways:

Use damp hands and make little balls or torpedo shapes or you can simply drop in spoonfuls of the mixture for free-form falafel.  You want to be making them about the size of a walnut, no bigger, so that they cook through and crisp up at the same time. 

Carefully place the falafel in the oil – don’t overcrowd the pan and fry until the exterior is browned and crisped (about 2-3 minutes).  Remove to a plate covered with a paper towel to absorb the excess oil and repeat the process until you have fried them all.  

Serve immediately with tahini (see recipe).

Tahini 

The quality of your tahini depends hugely on the type of tahini paste you use. 

We use Al-Yaman from Lebanon which is delicious, but if you are lucky enough to find any of the Palestinian varieties, especially the Prince and Dove brands, you are in for a treat.  As a rule, you are looking for something from Lebanon, Palestine or Turkey.  

We make our tahini in a food processor, as it gives a smooth, airy, mousse-like texture, but you can achieve good results with a bowl, a spoon and some wrist action.

Makes about 240g (8 3/4oz)

125g (4 1/2oz) tahini paste 

1 clove of garlic, peeled and minced

a pinch of salt, plus more to taste

juice of 1 lemon, plus more to taste

about 120ml (4 1/3fl oz) water 

Place the tahini, minced garlic, salt and lemon juice in a bowl or food processor, add half the water and mix. It will go thick and pasty but don’t fear – just continue adding water while mixing until it loosens up to a creamy texture. Don’t be tempted to add too much water as the mixture will go runny, but if this happens, you can always bring it back with a little extra tahini paste. Taste and adjust salt and lemon to suit your taste buds.  

Note

You can keep tahini in an airtight container in the fridge for 2-3 days, but it will thicken and the flavour may need adjusting with a little more salt and/or lemon.  As a result we think it’s best to make it and eat it the same day – fresh is best.

Pide (Turkish Seeded Flat Bread)

Makes 2 breads

2 teaspoons dried yeast

1/2 teaspoon granulated sugar

300ml (10fl oz) tepid water

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

500g (1lb 2oz) strong white flour

1 teaspoon salt

egg wash, whisk 1 egg yolk with a pinch of salt

2 teaspoons nigella seeds

Sprinkle the yeast and sugar into 100ml (3 1/2fl oz) of the slightly tepid water in a bowl.  Leave for 5 minutes, then stir to dissolve, add the olive oil.

Sift the flour and salt together in a large bowl.  Make a well in the centre and pour in the liquid.

Add enough of the remaining water to make a firm but softish dough.

Turn out the dough on a lightly floured work surface and knead until smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes.  The dough will be quite stiff initially but it will become more supple as it is kneaded. 

Coat the dough evenly with a little olive oil.  Allow to rise in a bowl,   covered with a tea towel, until doubled in size, about 1 1/2 hours.  Knock back, then leave to rest for 10 minutes.

Divide the dough into two equal-sized pieces and roll each into a smooth ball.  On a lightly floured work surface, roll each piece into a round 25cm (10 inch) across, and 5mm (1/4 inch) thick.  Transfer to a baking tray, cover with a tea towel and leave to rise for another 20 minutes.

Meanwhile preheat the oven to 220°C/425°F/Gas Mark 7.

Score the top of each round of dough with a criss-cross pattern. 

Sprinkle each with nigella seeds, and brush with egg wash.

Bake in the preheated oven for 10-15 minutes until puffy and lightly coloured.  Wrap the breads immediately in a tea towel to keep the crusts soft and to prevent drying out.  

Enjoy with soup, kebabs…

Konafa with Orange Blossom Water and Pistachios

A favourite dessert and super delicious.  You can buy the soft white vermicelli-like dough frozen in Lebanese, Turkish and Greek stores. In Lebanon, it is called knafe here and issold by its Greek name kataifi in 400g packets; it should be defrosted for 3 hours. The quantities below will make one large pastry to serve 10 but you can also make two, half the size, one to serve fewer people and one to put in the freezer to bake at a later date. It freezes well uncooked.   This version is called osmaliyah. 

Serves 10

For the syrup

350g (12oz) sugar

250ml (9fl oz) water

1 tablespoon lemon juice

2 tablespoons orange blossom water

For the filling

500g (18oz) mozzarella cheese, grated

250g (9oz) ricotta

2 tablespoons sugar

2 tablespoons orange blossom water

For the pastry

400g (14oz) kataifi (knafe) pastry, defrosted

200g (7oz) unsalted butter, melted

Garnish

100g (3 1/2oz) pistachios, chopped

Make the syrup first. Boil the sugar with the water and the lemon juice over a low heat for 5-10 minutes, until it is just thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. Another way to test it is to pour a drop onto a cold plate and if it does not spread out like water, it is ready. Stir in the orange blossom water and cook a moment more. Let it cool then chill in the refrigerator. (If you have overcooked the syrup and it becomes too thick to pour when it is cold, you can rescue it by adding a little water and bringing it to the boil again.) 

For the filling, in a bowl, mix the grated Mozzarella cheese with the ricotta, sugar and orange blossom water.

Put the kataifi pastry in a large bowl. With your fingers, pull out and separate the strands as much as possible. Melt the butter and when it has cooled slightly, pour it over the pastry and work it in very thoroughly with your fingers, pulling out and separating the strands and turning them over so that they do not stick together, and are entirely coated with butter.

Spread half the pastry at the bottom of a large round cake tin or pan, measuring 28-30cm (11-12 inches) in diameter. Spread the filling over it evenly and cover with the rest of the pastry. Press down firmly and flatten it with the palm of your hand. Bake in an oven pre-heated to 180°C/350°F/Gas 4 for about 45 minutes. Some like to brown the bottom – which comes out on top when the pastry is turned out – by running it over heat on a hob for a brief moment only. Others prefer the pastry to remain pale.

Just before serving, run a sharp knife round the edges of the osmaliyah to loosen the sides, then turn it out onto a large serving dish. Pour the cold syrup all over the hot pastry and sprinkle the top lavishly with the chopped pistachios.  

Alternatively, you can pour only half the syrup over the pastry and pass the rest around in a jug for everyone to help themselves to more if they wish.  Serve hot.

Letters

Past Letters

  • Recipes