Darina’s Saturday Letter

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Summer Foraging

I’m sitting in my little garden in an enormous Adirondack chair sipping a glass of watermelon lemonade, the birds are twittering in the trees and the sun is beaming down – a lovely moment to be treasured.

But it sounds like there are tough times ahead of us this winter.  The cost of everything seems to be skyrocketing, who knows what’s ahead, but it will certainly be challenging and as ever, those less fortunate will be most heavily impacted.  Tough decisions to be made on how to allocate the weekly budget but whatever happens, let’s try to continue to feed ourselves and our families wholesome, nourishing food but that doesn’t need to be fancy or expensive.

I’ve written many times in this column about the importance of learning to be thrifty and mastering practical life skills.  Already many of us are questioning virtually everything we do, not a bad idea, do we need to use the spin dryer, how about putting up a washing line – I love hanging clothes out in the breeze and dashing out to bring them in before it rains – a blast from the past…

Question everything in your shopping trolley too and tot up how much you save.  Learn to recognise foods from the wild, they are bursting with goodness, much flavourful and more nutritious than virtually anything on the supermarket shelf because they haven’t been adapted to produce maximum yield at minimum cost.  Buy a book on foraging or go for a ramble with a knowledgeable friend.  If you are fortunate to be within a reasonable distance of upland areas or dry woodlands or scrubby mountains, how about collecting some wild bilberries.  For years we got baskets of wild blueberries or fraughans at Ballymaloe from the Knockmealdown Mountains.  Traditionally, the Celtic festival of Lughnasa on the last weekend in July was known as Frauchán Sunday.

These wild bilberries are really worth seeking out, the berries are smaller and tarter but truly delicious crushed with sugar then smothered with cream.  We requested them as one of the desserts, with carrageen moss pudding for our ‘wedding breakfast’.  If you have a glut – remember they freeze brilliantly. 

Wild blueberries grow on scritchy low growing shrubs and boast nearly twice as many oxidants as their cultivated counterparts.  So seek out some of these free foods and let’s build resilience for times ahead, it’s not too late to grow some of your own food for the Autumn and Winter.  Even if you don’t have a garden or raised bed, you’ be surprised how much you can grow in large containers on your patio or balcony.  Check out GIY Ireland for a myriad of terrific tips. 

Wild watercress and sea spinach are easier to find and there will be damsons, sloes and wild hazelnuts in early autumn.  There’s a fantastic crop of nuts this year but they won’t be ripe until late September so keep an eye out and bring children with you so they can have fun learning the skills of recognising food in the wild – Nature’s bounty to all of us.

Sea Spinach and Rosemary Soup

The trick with these green soups is not to add the greens until the last minute, otherwise they will overcook, and the soup will lose its fresh taste and bright green colour. For a simple spinach soup, omit the rosemary and add a little freshly grated nutmeg with the seasoning.

Serves 6-8

50g (2oz) butter

110g (4oz) onion, peeled and chopped

150g (5oz) potatoes, peeled and chopped

600ml (1 pint) homemade chicken stock, vegetable stock or water

425-600ml (15fl oz – 1 pint) creamy milk (1/4 cream and 3/4 milk)

salt and freshly ground pepper

225-350g (8-12oz) sea spinach or sea beet, destalked and chopped

1 tablespoon fresh rosemary, chopped

Garnish

2 tablespoons whipped cream (optional)

sprig of rosemary or rosemary flowers

Melt the butter in a heavy-bottomed saucepan. When it foams add the onions and potatoes and turn them until well coated. Sprinkle with salt and freshly ground pepper. Cover and sweat on a gentle heat for 10 minutes. Add the boiling stock and milk, bring back to the boil and simmer until the potatoes and onions are fully cooked. Add the sea spinach and boil with the lid off for about 4-5 minutes, until the sea spinach is tender. Do not overcook or the soup will lose its fresh green colour.  Add the chopped rosemary.

Liquidise and taste.  Serve in warm bowls garnished with a blob of whipped cream and a sprig of rosemary. If you have a pretty rosemary bush in bloom, sprinkle a few flowers over the top for extra pzazz.

Good to Know

If you need to reheat a green soup, do so at the last minute. If it sits in a saucepan or bain-marie for ages it will lose its lively colour.

Butterfly Sandwiches

Sounds very grand but they are simply Watercress sandwiches cut into triangles – a favourite supper or picnic food when we picked watercress in the Chapel Meadows behind the church outside the little village of Cullohill in County Laois where I spent my childhood.

Makes 2

a bunch of fresh watercress

4 slices of a good white pan loaf

butter

flaky sea salt

Slather the thinly sliced bread generously with butter.  Wash, dry and chop the watercress coarsely. 

Spread an even layer of chopped watercress,  about 1cm (1/2 inch) thick onto the slice,  should be about the same thickness as the bread.  Sprinkle with flaky sea salt and a grind of black pepper.  Top with the second slice, press down, trim the crust and cut into triangles. 

Enjoy the butterfly sandwiches soon, also delicious with an extra layer of cucumber slices – perfect for afternoon tea…

Chicory, Watercress, Apple and Hazelnut Salad

The Irish apple season has begun, we’ve got an abundance of Beauty of Bath apples this year too.  I love to put them into salads.  The dressing for this salad doesn’t need a robust flavour, use a light olive oil.

a handful of whole unblanched hazelnuts

2 bunches watercress

2 bulbs chicory

4 medium sized tart/sweet crisp apples

Dressing

2 tablespoons cider vinegar

pinch of salt

6 tablespoons light olive oil

To Serve

a small bunch of chives cut into inch or so lengths

Maldon sea salt

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

Toss the hazelnuts in a little oil and a sprinkle of salt and roast in a hot  oven until toasty brown.  Leave to cool. Break them into coarse pieces with a rolling pin

Make the dressing in a large mixing bowl; mix the vinegar and a pinch of salt along with the light olive oil.

Remove the more fibrous stalks from the watercress and separate the leaves of chicory. Cut the apples into slim wedges, removing the core with a sharp knife.

Just before serving.

Gently toss the chicory, watercress and apple in the dressing and transfer to a serving dish. Sprinkle liberally with the broken hazelnuts and chives and a pinch of Maldon sea salt. 

Pickled Samphire

Originally samphire was just pickled in a solution of 3 parts vinegar to 1 part water and a little salt, but of course one can add flavours, spices, herbs…

225g (8oz) fresh samphire

1 bay leaf

600ml (1 pint) wine or apple vinegar

1 dessertspoon sugar

10 peppercorns

2 teaspoons coriander seeds

1 sprig thyme

Put all the ingredients for the pickle into a stainless-steel saucepan, bring to the boil for 4-5 minutes.

Meanwhile, pick over and wash the samphire, blanch in boiling water for 1-2 minutes.

Pack in sterilized jars.  Cover with pickle, cover tightly. 

Store in a dark place and allow to mellow for 2 weeks before using.  It will keep for a year or more but its best eaten sooner.

Delicious with cold mutton or lamb, in sandwiches, add a little to mayonnaise to serve with fish.

Wild Blueberry and Rose Geranium Sugar Bites

Everyone should have a sweet geranium plant on their windowsill.  It’s got a haunting lemony scent and flavour and a variety of names.  Pelargonium Graveolens is the Latin name.   Cut this delectable ‘tray bake’ into bites.  This recipe will become a favourite. 

Makes 24

175g (6oz) soft butter

150g (5oz) caster sugar

2 large eggs, preferably free range

175g (6oz) self-raising flour

2 tablespoons freshly chopped sweet or rose geranium

225g (8oz) wild blueberries (blackberries or raspberries may also be used)

Rose Geranium Sugar

50g (2oz) caster sugar

1 tablespoon of freshly chopped rose or sweet geranium

25.5 x 18cm (10 x 7 inch) Swiss roll tin, well-greased or lined with parchment paper

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

Put the butter, caster sugar, eggs and self-raising flour and chopped sweet geranium into a food processor. Whizz for just a few seconds to amalgamate.  It should be softish – add a little milk if necessary.   Spread evenly in the well-buttered tin.  Sprinkle the blueberries (blackberries or raspberries if using) as evenly as possible over the top. 

Bake in the preheated oven for 25-30 minutes approx. or until golden brown and well risen.

Allow to cool slightly, sprinkle with caster sugar whizzed with leaves of rose geranium. Serve in squares.

Note

In Winter when the butter is harder to cream, it may be necessary to add 2-3 tablespoons of milk to lighten the mixture and texture.

Ice-Cream with Crushed Blueberries

If you aren’t fortunate enough to find the wild ones, look out for the plump and delicious Irish cultivated blueberries which are in the shops at present.

Serves 6-8

350g (14oz) whole unsweetened natural yoghurt

75g (3oz) caster sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

125ml (4 1/2fl oz) cream

Put the yoghurt and sugar into a bowl. Add the vanilla extract and mix well.  Stir in the cream and freeze in an ice-cream machine if you have one. Otherwise an excellent result is achieved by simply freezing it as it is.  Serve with crushed blueberries. 

Crushed Fraughans or Blueberries

fraughans or blueberries

caster sugar

softly whipped cream

Crush the berries with a pounder or potato masher and sweeten to taste with caster sugar. 

Watermelon Lemonade

Serve well chilled. 

110g (4oz) sugar

110ml (4fl oz) water

600g (1 1/4lbs) cubed watermelon

675ml (1 pint 3fl oz) cold water

110ml (4fl oz) fresh lemon juice

Place the watermelon into a blender. Cover and purée until smooth, then strain through a fine mesh sieve.

Next bring the sugar and water to a boil in a saucepan over a medium heat until the sugar dissolves, about 5 minutes. Remove from the heat. Stir in the cold water and  lemon juice. Put lots of ice cubes into 12 glasses, scoop 2 or 3 tablespoons of watermelon purée over the ice, then top with the lemonade.

Gently stir before serving.

Summer Shellfish

I’m writing this column from lovely West Cork.  I’ve been fortunate, the weather has been wonderful, sunny days and long balmy evenings to enjoy leisurely suppers in the shade of the ash tree.

I love to explore the islands and watch out for fisherman hauling in their pots on the way back to Baltimore Harbour.  A few days ago, we drew up beside a little trawler hoping for a few mackerel, no such luck, they are incredibly scarce this year but he had just hauled in his pots and had a bucket full of velvet swimming crabs – what a treat.  Most people can’t be bothered with them because they’re small and extracting the sweet meat is fiddly but I am in heaven picking through the little crevices and cracking the legs to enjoy the tiny morsels of white meat.  I also love the teaspoon or two of brown meat in the shell.

I’m happy to enjoy them just freshly cooked with maybe a little homemade mayo and some warm soda bread but they also make a fantastic shellfish soup – the shells have a ton of flavour.

The shrimp season opens on August 1st and will continue until mid-March.  Wonderful summer food, so easy to cook.  Enjoy them just as they are, add them to salads or pasta, pile them onto toast or make a buttery, herby Bretonne sauce to transform them into a luxurious feast. 

Apparently, the common brown crab is also scarcer this year but have you discovered spider crabs yet?  They are beautiful creatures with long spindly legs, there’s very little meat in the carapace (shell) but crack the legs and you’ll find lots and lots of sweet, juicy white meat.  Some fishermen and innovative supermarkets like Field’s in Skibbereen sell them already cooked as well as local mussels, clams and occasionally razor clams – another of my favourites.

All these local shellfish are perfect summer food – super quick and easy to cook so you can make the most of the beautiful weather and don’t have to spend ages in the kitchen.

Here are a few suggestions for you to enjoy…

How to cook crab

All types of crab are best cooked in seawater.  Alternatively, cook in well-salted freshwater.  For common crab, put the crab into a deep saucepan, cover with cold or barely lukewarm water, using 175g (6oz) of salt to every 2.3 litres (4 pints) of water.  This may sound like an incredible amount of salt but try it: the crab will taste deliciously sweet.

Cover the saucepan, bring to the boil and then simmer from there on, allowing 15 minutes for the first 450g (1lb), and 10 minutes for the second and third (I’ve never come across a crab bigger than that!).  We usually pour off two-thirds of the water halfway through cooking, and then cover and steam the crab for the remainder of the time.  As soon as it is cooked, remove it from the saucepan and allow to get cold.

How to cook spider crabs

For spider crabs, cook in the same way but boil for just 12 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and leave to stand for 5 minutes, then remove the crabs, cool and pick the meat from the legs and clean and wash out the carapace.  My favourite way to eat spider crab is to mix the sweet white meat with the very best extra virgin olive oil and a little freshly squeezed lemon juice to taste.  I then fill it back into the shell and enjoy it as the Italians do, with a glass of dry white wine.

How to cook Velvet Swimming Crabs… 

Follow the master recipe, add the crabs and bring to the boil. They will change colour from grey/ brown to orange red.  Simmer for no more than 2-3 minutes, drain and allow to cool.

Velvet Swimming Crabs with Homemade Mayo

Serve 3-5 crabs per person with a bowl of mayonnaise and a shellfish pick… enjoy a happy half hour or even more extracting the sweet juicy morsels of white meat.

Mediterranean Fish and Velvet Crab Soup with Rouille

I can’t pretend that this fish soup is either quick or easy. It’s a labour of love and worth every minute. Fish soups can be made with all sorts of combinations of fish.  Don’t be the least bit bothered if you haven’t got exactly the fish I suggest but use a combination of whole fish and shellfish.  The crab adds almost essential richness in my opinion.

Serves 6-8

2kg (4 1/2lb) mixed white fish 

6-8 velvet swimming crabs

150ml (5fl oz) olive oil

1 large clove garlic, crushed

275g (9 1/2oz) approx. onion, chopped

5 large very ripe tomatoes or 1 x 400g (14oz) tin tomatoes, sliced

5 sprigs of fennel

2 sprigs of thyme

1 bay leaf

fish stock or water barely to cover

1/4 teaspoon saffron

salt and freshly ground pepper

pinch of cayenne

Rouille

Serves 8

1 piece of French baguette bread, 20g (3/4oz) approx.

6 tablespoons hot fish soup

4 cloves of garlic

1 egg yolk, preferably free range and organic

pinch of whole saffron stamens

salt and freshly ground black pepper

6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Garnish

chopped parsley

Croutons

8 slices French bread, baguette, thinly sliced

75g-110g (3-4oz) Gruyére cheese, grated

mouli legume

Cut the fish into chunks, bones, head and all (remove gills first).  Heat the olive oil until smoking, add the garlic and onions, toss for a minute or two, add the sliced tomatoes, herbs and fish including the shells.  Cook for 10 minutes, then add enough fish stock or water barely to cover.  Bring to a fast boil and cook for a further 10 minutes.  Add more liquid if it reduces too much.

Soak the saffron strands in a little fish stock.  Pick out the crabs, remove as much of the crab meat from the shells as you can. Add to the soup. Taste, add salt, freshly ground pepper, cayenne, saffron and the soaking liquid.

Push the soup and soft shells through a mouli (this may seem like an impossible task but you’ll be surprised how effective it will be – there will be just a mass of dry bones left which you discard).

Next make the rouille. 

Cut the bread into cubes and soak in some hot fish soup.  Squeeze out the excess liquid and mix to a mush in a bowl.  Crush the garlic to a fine paste preferably in a pestle and mortar, add the egg yolk, the saffron and the soggy bread. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper.  Mix well and add in the oil drip by drip as if making mayonnaise.  If the mixture looks too thick or oily add 2 tablespoons of hot fish soup and continue to stir.

Next make the croutons. 

Toast slices of French bread slowly until they are dry and crisp. Bring the soup back to the boil. Serve each guest a bowl of fish soup with 3 or 4 croutons, a little bowl of rouille and a little bowl of freshly grated cheese.

To Eat

Spread each crouton with rouille and sprinkle with Gruyére cheese, float a few croutons in your bowl of Mediterranean fish soup.  Exquisite.

Buttered Shrimps with Bretonne Sauce

A gorgeous butter sauce, quick and easy to make and also delicious with other fish even with the humble mackerel if you are fortunate to find a few this year…

Serves 4 as a starter, 2 as a main course

900g (2lbs) shrimps

2.3 litres (4 pints) water

2 tablespoons salt

Bretonne Sauce

1 egg yolk, preferably free range

1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard

1 tablespoon parsley, chopped or a mixture of chervil, chives, tarragon and fennel, chopped (mixed)

75g (3oz) butter, melted

Garnish

flat parsley or fresh fennel

25g (1oz) butter

Bring the water to the boil. Add the salt, toss in the live or very fresh shrimps, they will change colour from grey to pink almost instantly.  Bring the water back to the boil and cook for just 2-3 minutes.  The shrimps are cooked when there is no trace of black at the back of the head.  Drain immediately and spread out on a large baking tray to cool.

Next make the Bretonne Sauce. 

Whisk the egg yolk with the mustard and herbs in a bowl.  Bring the butter to the boil and pour it in a steady stream onto the egg yolks, whisking continuously until the sauce thickens to a light coating consistency as with a Hollandaise.  Keep warm in a flask or place in a pottery or plastic bowl (not stainless steel) in a saucepan of hot but not boiling water.

Just before serving, peel the shrimps and toss in the foaming butter in a frying pan until heated through.  Heap them onto a hot serving dish or plates.  Coat with Bretonne Sauce.  Garnish with flat parsley or fresh fennel and serve immediately.  

Spaghetti with Shrimps, Red Pepper and Flat Parsley

Chunks of tuna or salmon may be substituted for shrimps in this recipe. Crispy bacon or Italian sausage is also good.

Serves 4

225-450g (8oz -1lb) spaghetti

2 fleshy red peppers

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 clove garlic

salt and freshly ground black pepper

225g (8oz) cooked peeled shrimps

a generous pinch of Aleppo or Urfa chilli flakes (optional)

175ml (6fl oz) cream

2-4 tablespoons chopped flat leaf parsley

4.5 litres (8 pints) water to 1 tablespoon salt

Quarter the peppers, remove the seeds and cut into dice.

Heat the olive oil in a sauté pan, add the garlic, peppers, season with salt and freshly ground black pepper, cover and sweat on a gentle heat until tender but not coloured – add the chilli flakes if using.

Meanwhile, bring the water to the boil, add 1 tablespoon salt. Add the pasta, stir well to make sure the strands are separate. Cover and bring back to a rolling boil, boil for 2 minutes. Turn off the heat and allow to sit tightly covered for 10 minutes approx. by which time the pasta will be perfectly cooked.

Just before the pasta is cooked, add the shrimps to the pepper, toss around for a minute of two to heat through, add the cream and parsley. Bubble up and taste for seasoning. As soon as the pasta is ‘al dente’, drain well, add to the pan and toss in the sauce over the heat until well coated.

Turn into a hot pasta dish, sprinkle with chopped parsley and serve immediately on hot plates.

Summer Salads

Understandably, this column is always written a little ahead of publication, chances are it’ll be raining today but after all the glorious weather we’ve been having, lots of requests for Summer grills and salads including several for perennial favourites like potato salad and now that the Irish tomato season is underway, a really good tomato salad.  We have 16 varieties this year including some ‘new’ heirlooms, notably Northern Lights; Green Zebra, San Marzano, Golden Sunrise, Yellow Submarine, Sartroloise, Tigerella, Brandy Wine, Black Russian, Marmande, Mirabelle Blanche, Andine Cornue, Stripe, Dzintre Lasite…

Early season tomatoes have not as yet developed the intense sweetness they’ll have in late August. Choose the ripest you can find, cut them in haphazard shapes. Season well with flaky sea salt and freshly cracked pepper.  I like to add freshly squeezed lemon juice, then drizzle them with runny honey.  Toss gently so they are well coated and garnish generously with lots of fresh mint or basil leaves.  We grow several types – Genovese, purple opal basil, lemon basil, Greek and perky Vietnamese… but the first three are best for a tomato salad.  Taste and tweak if you fancy.  This makes a delicious starter salad or an accompaniment to either fish, meat, feta or mozzarella or a selection of vegetarian salads.

The secret of a really delicious potato salad, the ultimate Summer crowd-pleaser, is to cook the potatoes in their jackets in really well-salted water.  Peel and coarsely chop while still warm.  Spread out on a wide platter, season ‘mindfully’ with sea salt and freshly cracked pepper.  Sprinkle with lots of freshly chopped parsley and green scallions.  Drizzle with French dressing.  Toss gently but thoroughly. This will be delicious just as it is but if you feel that a richer, creamier,  potato salad will work better with your meal, add some mayonnaise which has been loosened with water so it’s easier to fold through.  If you have a lovage plant in your garden, add some, it will contribute a delicious, fresh celery flavour.  Once again, taste.  However the secret which Myrtle Allen taught me is to toss the potatoes in French dressing while still warm. The potato variety also matters, some favour a waxy variety which makes a ‘tidier’ potato salad but we’ve always favoured British Queens or Kerr’s Pinks at this time of year.  Of course, you can add many other good things to the basic potato salad – cucumber pickle, smoked mackerel and dill, hard-boiled eggs, chorizo…Vegans could substitute a classic mayo with tahini … 

I’ve done quite a bit of recipe testing lately.  We love the new rice salad with irresistible crunchy topping, certainly makes a great stand-alone salad but we also enjoy it with these chicken kebabs which were inspired by a recipe we tested from Mezze.

This Pedro Ximénez Panna cotta is my new favourite dessert.  We’ve enjoyed it with a sprinkle of boozy raisins but it’s also surprisingly good with summer berries. The blackcurrant season is just starting, don’t forget my favourite super intense blackcurrants with icy cold cream.  Poach the currants in a simple syrup until they burst, a matter of minutes, then serve them immediately in small bowls with some icy cold, preferably Jersey cream…exquisite!

Potato, Spring Onion and Nasturtium Salad

For a classic potato salad, omit the nasturtium and substitute lots of spring onion and parsley instead.

Serves 4-6

900g (2lbs) freshly cooked potatoes – diced, allow about 1.1kg (2 1/2lbs) raw potatoes

1 tablespoon chopped parsley

1 tablespoon chopped chives or scallions or 2 teaspoons chopped onion

110ml (4fl oz) French Dressing

110ml (4fl oz) homemade Mayonnaise

salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

lots of nasturtium leaves and red, orange and yellow nasturtium flowers (75-110g/3 – 4oz)

The potatoes should be boiled in their jackets and peeled, diced and measured while still hot. Mix immediately with onion, parsley, salt and freshly ground pepper. Stir in the French dressing, allow to cool and finally add the mayonnaise. Toss in the coarsely chopped nasturtium leaves and two thirds of the flowers.  Scatter the remaining nasturtium flowers on top of the salad.

Best served fresh but keeps well for about 2 days.

Note: This potato salad is also delicious without mayonnaise.   Potato salad may be used as a base for other salads, e.g. add cubes of chorizo, cooked mussels or cockles or even diced cucumber.


Ballymaloe French Dressing

A brilliant all-purpose salad dressing.

50ml (2fl oz) white wine vinegar

150ml (6fl oz) extra virgin olive oil

1 level teaspoon mustard (Dijon or English)

1 large clove of garlic, crushed

1 scallion or small spring onion

sprig of parsley

sprig of watercress

1 level teaspoon salt (it’s vital to put in correct amount of salt)

few grinds of pepper

Put all the ingredients into a blender and run at medium speed for 1 minute approx. or mix oil and vinegar in a bowl, add mustard, salt, freshly ground pepper and mashed garlic. Chop the parsley, spring onion and watercress finely and add in. Whisk before serving, best used fresh.

Homemade Mayonnaise

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

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

Put the egg yolks into a bowl with the salt, mustard 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 to create an emulsion. 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 complacent 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.

Heirloom Tomato Salad with Basil, Olive Oil and Honey

Serves 6-8

8 very ripe heirloom tomatoes

salt and freshly ground pepper

2 tablespoons lemon juice

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 tablespoon pure Irish honey

10-12 leaves of fresh basil

Cut the tomatoes into a variety of shapes – 5mm (1/4 inch) thick slices or quarters or eighths depending on size.  Sprinkle with salt and freshly ground pepper. Squeeze the lemon juice over the tomatoes.   Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil and honey.  Add the ‘torn’ basil leaves, toss gently. Taste for seasoning and correct if necessary.

Chicken Shawarma Flatbreads with Yoghurt

Serves 4

For the Chicken

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 teaspoon sumac

1/4 teaspoon roasted and ground cumin

juice of 1/2 lemon

2 garlic cloves, crushed

1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves

1/2 teaspoon chilli flakes

6 boneless chicken thighs

For the Yoghurt Raita

200g (7oz) labneh or thick natural yoghurt

1 teaspoon sumac

juice of 1/2 lemon

1 small teaspoon honey

1 tablespoon fresh mint, leaves chopped

To Serve

4 flatbreads

1 little Gem lettuces 

1/2 cucumber, cubed

sumac

2 tablespoons pomegranate seeds

fresh coriander, chopped

Combine all of the ingredients for the chicken in a bowl.   Toss until coated, then marinate for at least 15 minutes or a couple of hours if possible.

Whisk all of the ingredients together for the yoghurt raita. Season with salt and pepper. Taste and tweak if necessary…

Preheat a barbeque or griddle pan to a high heat.  Cook the chicken for 5-6 mins on each side until nicely charred on the outside but juicy in the centre.

To Serve

Grill the flat breads for a minute or two on each side.  Slather each generously with yoghurt raita, sprinkle on a quarter of the cucumber dice.  Add a piece of chicken and sprinkle with sumac,  pomegranate seeds and fresh coriander.  Fold over and serve immediately.

A Salad of Coconut Rice with Sweetcorn and Peanut Crunch

The peanut crunch makes more than you need, store the excess in an airtight container and sprinkle over salads and fruit.

Serves 8

45g (scant 2oz) virgin coconut oil plus 1 teaspoon extra
3 onions (360g/12 1/2oz), peeled and roughly chopped
3 fresh makrut lime leaves
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
30g desiccated coconut
200g (7oz) white Basmati rice, washed until the water runs clear, then drained
300ml (10fl oz) full-fat coconut milk
200g (7oz) frozen sweetcorn, defrosted
1 1/2 tablespoons lime juice
1 tablespoon olive oil
20g (3/4oz) coriander leaves
10g (scant 1/2oz) mint leaves, roughly chopped

1/4 teaspoon sea salt

Topping
1 tablespoon virgin coconut oil
1 teaspoon chilli flakes
60g (scant 2 1/2oz) salted peanuts
40g (generous 1 1/2oz) desiccated coconut
3 shallots (40g/generous 1 1/2oz) fried in oil
1 teaspoon soft light brown sugar

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

Put the 45g (scant 2oz) coconut oil, onions, lime leaves and 1/2 a teaspoon of salt in a large sauté pan for which you have a lid. Put the pan on a medium-high heat, and cook, stirring often for 10 minutes until the onions are lightly coloured and translucent.
Stir in the desiccated coconut, cook for 3-5 minutes until lightly browned, then stir in the rice. Pour in the coconut milk or 200ml (7fl oz) milk and 200ml (7fl oz) water, cover, turn the heat to low and cook gently for 15 minutes. Uncover and fluff up with a fork.

Meanwhile, make the topping. Melt 1 tablespoon coconut oil in a large frying pan on a medium heat. Add the chill, peanuts and desiccated coconut and cook, stirring for 4-6 minutes until toasted. Take off the heat and stir in the fried onions, sugar and 1/2 teaspoon of salt, then tip on to a tray and leave to cool. Once cool, tip into a bowl.

Wipe clean the frying pan and put it on a high heat. When it’s smoking hot, add the sweetcorn and cook, stirring for 3-5 minutes until slightly charred. Tip into a bowl. Add the lime juice to the bowl with the olive oil, herbs and 1/4 teaspoon of salt.

Arrange the rice on a platter, sprinkle the topping and serve with the rest on the side immediately otherwise the delicious crunchy topping will soften.
Adapted from Yotam Ottolenghi

Pedro Ximénez Panna Cotta

Panna cotta is easy to make and there are endless possibilities. Pedro Ximénez, a sweet sherry is well worth looking out for, I particularly love the Lustau version.

Serves 8-10

3 gelatine leaves
800ml (1.4 pints) double cream
finely grated zest of 1 organic orange
1/2 vanilla pod, split lengthways in half and the seeds scraped out
100ml (3 1/2fl oz) whole full-fat milk
60ml (scant 2 1/2fl oz) brandy
110ml (4fl oz) Pedro Ximénez sherry
140g (scant 5oz) caster sugar

175g (6oz) raisins
150ml (5fl oz) Pedro Ximénez sherry

Put the gelatine leaves in a small bowl and pour over enough water to cover. Soak for 4-5 minutes or until they are soft, drain and squeeze out the excess water.

Put 50ml (2fl oz) of the cream in a saucepan with the orange zest and vanilla pods and seeds. Bring to the boil, turn off and leave to infuse.

Warm the milk gently in another saucepan, then take off the heat. Add the gelatine and stir to dissolve. Add the brandy, Pedro Ximénez and sugar. Strain the infused cream through a sieve, add to the milk mixture, mix well and allow to cool.

When cold, lightly whip the remaining cream and fold gently into the mixture. Pour into 8-10 ramekins, allow to set in the fridge for at least 2 hours until set.

Meanwhile, put the raisins into a small saucepan, cover with the sherry. Being very slowly to almost boiling point, turn off the heat and allow to macerate for at least 1 hour.

Serve each Panna cotta with a spoonful of Pedro Ximénez raisins.

Copenhagen – Smørrebrød (Open Sandwiches)

Apart from the thrilling restaurant and avant-garde café scene in Copenhagen, there’s still the Danish favourite tradition, smørrebrød – delicious open sandwiches mostly on rye bread with an endless selection of classic and creative new toppings.  A chilled-out way to enjoy a quick snack, lunch or entire dinner – perfect Summer food and infinitely adaptable.
Occasionally one tastes something that continues to live on in one’s memory – the flavour and texture of a smørrebrød that I ate in the 1970’s in Schønnemann’s in Copenhagen is unforgettable.  Rare roast beef, still warm on rye bread with remoulade sauce, crispy onions and horseradish.  The thinly sliced rare beef was still warm, the homemade remoulade sauce thick and unctuous, the onion rings sweet and crisp and finally a sprinkling of freshly grated horseradish all on a slice of Danish rye. The flavours and textures were exquisite.  I’ve returned over and over to recapture those flavours and that experience.

Smørrebrød (pronounced smuhr-broht) simply means bread and butter in Danish and is an interesting part of Denmark’s traditional food culture. 

After several decades of dwindling interest, smørrebrød is regaining popularity. Its waning coincided with a drop in quality – when all the toppings and rye bread became mass produced and there was more competition for fast food concepts like wraps, burgers and shawarma. But smørrebrød is having ‘its moment’.   Once again, cool young chefs are reclaiming the concept with home baked high-quality rye bread and homemade toppings served with ice cold artisan Schnapps and beer from microbreweries.

There’s a ritual, before you take the first bite, always a toast, Skal with Schnapps followed by a second toast, it seems the legacy of smörgåsbord is here to stay.


So how to make a memorable smørrebrød.  Super healthy and tasty rye bread is the foundation. The butter has to be salted. Next assemble the toppings…

According to my friend Trine Hahnemann, who has written a book ‘Open Sandwiches’ on the subject, there must be at least three of the following components: salt, sweet, sour, butter and umami. You’ll also need a contrast of texture and flavour. Balance soft with crunchy, sweet and sour…
There should be more than one colour and a garnish of fresh herbs, could just be a little pinch of cress grown on the windowsill.

Trine gives an example of a classic combination:
A slice of rye bread, buttered, hard-boiled eggs (soft and fatty), tomatoes (firm and sweet/tart), creamy mayo, salt and freshly ground black pepper and cress – a perfect simple smørrebrød.
There are several unspoken rules that only Danes can tell you about.
Always use herring first and then salmon or other fish.  Don’t combine fish with meat and vegetables…Finally, cheese always comes at the end.

Everyday open sandwiches are called Madder. For a family style supper, lay out a range of toppings on a board, everyone can assemble a madder of their choice – a perfect convivial supper. 

Trine Hahnemann reminds us that to make smørrebrød you just need a few basic ingredients most of which will already be in your cupboard or fridge.
You can of course buy some of the toppings but homemade will taste so much better and that’s the trademark of the young chefs who are spearheading the revival. Some of the smørrebrød establishments like Schønnemann’s (est. 1877) have chefs’ specialities like René Redzepi’s smørrebrød.  Smoked halibut with cucumber and dill mayo.

Good rye bread, a Danish staple, is now becoming easier to find over here. Trine gives 70 recipes and two rye breads in her ‘Open Sandwiches’ book published by Quadrille. It’s also worth knowing that rye bread keeps and freezes brilliantly.  All the pickles and condiments can of course be bought but will taste so much better and be better for you if homemade.

Just get started, include the kids, have fun and make delicious smørrebrød part of your everyday life.
Here are a few suggestions but of course one can use alternative ingredients depending on what you have to hand.

Beef, Remoulade, Crispy Onions and Horseradish

For perfection, the beef should be still warm and medium rare.

4 slices rye bread
butter
4 thin slices rare roast beef

Remoulade Sauce (see recipe)

cucumber pickle

fresh grated horseradish
crispy onions rings (cooked in dripping or oil)
flaky sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Butter each slice of rye bread evenly. Arrange a ruffled slice of rare beef on top. Add a dollop of remoulade on one side and some cucumber pickle on the other.  Grate a little fresh horseradish on top and garnish with crispy onions.  Sprinkle with a few flakes of sea salt and a grind of black pepper. 

Cucumber Pickle

Serves 10-12

1kg (2lb 4oz) thinly sliced unpeeled cucumber

3 small onions thinly sliced

225g (8oz) sugar

1 tablespoon salt

225ml (8fl oz) cider vinegar

Combine the cucumber and onion sliced in a large bowl.  Mix the sugar, salt and vinegar together and pour over cucumbers.  Place in a tightly covered container in the refrigerator and leave for at least 1-2 hours or overnight before using. 

Keeps well for up to a week in the refrigerator.

Seasonal Note

When we have our homegrown organic cucumbers, we find that we need to reduce the sugar by 50-75g (2-3oz).

Rémoulade

Taken from Open Sandwiches by Trine Hahnemann published by Quadrille

Makes about 400g (14oz)

200g (7oz) mustard pickles (see recipe)
150g (5oz) mayonnaise
50g (2oz) full-fat natural yoghurt
sea salt flakes and freshly ground black pepper

Drain the pickles a little in a sieve if you do not want the rémoulade to be too runny. Then mix them in a bowl with the mayonnaise and yoghurt. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Mustard Pickles

Taken from Open Sandwiches by Trine Hahnemann published by Quadrille
The best pickles I know of; this is my mother’s recipe. I use the pickles in the Rémoulade, but also just to serve as pickles for meat, fried fish or fishcakes.

Makes about 400g (14oz)

750g (1lb 10oz) green tomatoes, cut into chunks
1kg (2lb 4oz) courgettes (zucchini), cut into chunks
350g (12oz) onions, cut into chunks
35g (3 tablespoons) sea salt flakes, or to taste
500ml (18fl oz) apple cider vinegar
50ml (2fl oz) lemon juice
400g (14oz) granulated sugar
40g (generous 1 1/2oz) plain flour
2 1/2 tablespoons mustard seeds, ground
2-3 tablespoons curry powder, or to taste

Blend the tomatoes, courgettes and onions until very fine in a blender or food processor (or with a hand blender). Mix with the salt, then set aside for 3-4 hours in a cool place.

Pour the vegetables into a jelly bag and leave to drain for a couple of hours. Then place the vegetables in a big saucepan with 400ml (14fl oz) water and 75ml (3fl oz) of the vinegar. Bring to the boil while stirring, then let it simmer over a very low heat for 20 minutes. Once more, pour the vegetables into a jelly bag and leave to drain for some hours – even better overnight until rather dry.

Place the vegetable mixture in a big saucepan, then add the remaining vinegar and the lemon juice. Mix the remaining ingredients in a bowl, then stir into the vegetables. Bring to the boil, still stirring, then let it simmer for 30 minutes over a very low heat, stirring often. Season to taste with more salt, curry powder and sugar. Pour the pickles into sterilised jars and seal them. Store in a cold place, they will keep for 1 year.

Crispy Onions

Taken from Open Sandwiches by Trine Hahnemann published by Quadrille

Makes enough for 10-12 smørrebrød

750g (1lb 10oz) onions, finely sliced

50g (2oz) plain flour

1 tablespoon sea salt flakes, plus more to taste

1 litre flavourless vegetable oil, for deep-frying

Place the sliced onions in a bowl with the flour and salt and mix very well, until the onions are covered with flour.  Pour them into a sieve to get rid of any extra flavour.

Heat the oil in a frying pan.  Make sure the oil is hot by dropping in a slice of onion; if it sizzles, it is ready.  Reduce the heat a little and add one-third of the sliced onions.  Be careful – it may spit!  Don’t leave; instead, stir occasionally.  Fry until light brown and crispy.

Using a skimmer, transfer the onions to a plate lined with kitchen paper and sprinkle with a little more salt.  Repeat the process with the other batches. 

Mackerel Rillettes

Taken from Open Sandwiches by Trine Hahnemann published by Quadrille
In August, the mackerel are big and fat, and that’s when they are best to smoke. They can be eaten on rye bread with egg yolk and raw onions. When I visit my mother in the country in summertime, we always sit outside and eat the smørrebrød. I have merely added fresh coriander; I hope she doesn’t mind…

Serves 4

170g (scant 6oz) smoked mackerel
2 hard-boiled eggs, chopped
2 tablespoons finely chopped chives
5 radishes, finely chopped
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 tablespoons lime juice
1 1/2 teaspoons finely grated unwaxed lime zest
2 tablespoons chopped coriander, plus leaves to decorate
1 1/2 teaspoons chilli flakes
freshly ground black pepper
4 slices of rye bread
salted butter

Carefully remove and discard the skin and bones from the mackerel. Break up the fish into pieces.

Mix the mackerel, eggs, chives, radishes, lemon juice, lime juice, lime zest, coriander and chilli flakes. Season to taste with pepper.

First hard-boil the eggs.
Place the eggs in a small saucepan and pour cold water over, so they are covered. Bring to the boil and let them boil for 4 minutes. Take the saucepan off the heat, pour out the boiling water and pour plenty of cold water over the eggs. After 10 minutes, peel them; they are ready to be used.

Place the rye bread slices on a work too and spread the butter evenly on each slice. Divide the mackerel rillettes between each bread slice and top with the coriander leaves.

Tomato, Egg and Mayonnaise

Taken from Open Sandwiches by Trine Hahnemann published by Quadrille
You can use cottage cheese instead of mayonnaise here, if you prefer. Or change the herbs: chopped chives, chervil and dill will work well instead of cress.

Serves 4

4 slices of rye bread
salted butter
2 large tomatoes
2 hard-boiled eggs
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
2 tablespoons cress
sea salt flakes and freshly ground black pepper

Place the rye bread slices on a worktop and spread the butter evenly on each slice. Slice the tomatoes. Cut each egg into 4 slices, and place 2 slices of egg with 1 slice of tomato in the middle of each bread.

Divide the mayonnaise between the open sandwiches, place the cress on top and sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Denmark Food Scene

Just returned from a few action-packed days in Copenhagen, still a super exciting food town.  I’d been invited to join a friend’s table at NOMA, René Redzepi’s internationally acknowledged restaurant in the midst of a garden overlooking the famous Copenhagen incinerator and ski slope.  It’s been awarded the best restaurant in the world for 3 years in a row in the World’s 50 Best Restaurant Awards.

Having achieved all possible accolades,  René has decided to follow in the footsteps of Ferran Adrià of El Bulli in Spain so this will be the last season of NOMA.  He’s working on a new project yet to be revealed.  The whole NOMA experience is unforgettable from the moment you are welcomed on arrival.  One walks up the beautiful borders of swaying grasses and perennials interspersed with fresh herbs to the restaurant.  The planting plan was designed by Piet Oudolf who created the garden on the Highline in Manhattan.  The food is creative, complex and delicious. 

René and his team greeted us warmly with a glass of sparking fizz,

Fifteen memorable vegetarian courses followed – I would have no idea how to create any of the complex multi-ingredient dishes with up to 5 or 6 people working on each course.  Many are willing interns anxious to learn in this famous kitchen.  The name NOMA on your CV, certainly opens doors but nowadays questions are frequently being asked about the future of this practice. 

Some of the produce and fresh herbs come from the gardens and the glasshouse beside the kitchens and the fermentation and pickles are a revelation.  But Copenhagen is not just about NOMA, the restaurant that is credited with starting the Nordic food revolution and transforming Copenhagen into the culinary capital of the world. 

During the pandemic, NOMA opened Popl, a NOMA burger joint selling fat, juicy burgers made from organic grass-fed beef.  It too is a huge success but I particularly love the little cafés cum bakeries, wine bars and cocktail bars all of which serve a selection of delicious small plates.  In the few days we were there we tried as many as possible.

Lille Bakery in Refshaleøen is in an old industrial area in a non-auspicious part of town.  It was started in 2018 on a shoestring by Jesper, Mia and Sara who met at 108, the Michelin-starred restaurant of René Redzepi.  Tables are a mixture of junk shop finds and timber cable reels but the sourdough bread, flaky croissants, cardamom buns, sausage rolls and baked goods are exceptionally delicious.  I was thrilled to find that one of our past students, James Lang who learned to bake his first loaf of sourdough in our Bread Shed here at the Ballymaloe Cookery School was one of the bakers in this tiny but exceptional bakery.  I also loved their typical Danish breakfast, a ham and cheese sourdough sandwich slathered generously with butter and I’m still dreaming about the soft, puffy Berliner, a doughnut with no central hole in the centre filled with a rhubarb cream and topped with a little smidgeon of meringue.

Alice Café is another hidden gem in Markmandsgade 1. It too has a short menu of very good things and some say the best hand-crafted ice-cream in Copenhagen.  The notice board on the wall told us the time when the sourdough buns, flaky croissants, tebirkes (poppy seed pastries), cardamom twist and teboller (buttermilk buns) would be coming out of the oven.  Apart from really sensational bread, each has their own specialities and devotees.  We also visited the Hart Bageri owned by Richard Hart, originally Chad Robertson partner at Tartine (in California) and later head baker at NOMA.  His bread is legendary and he too had his specialities – a burnt basque cheesecake plus cardamom croissants and spandauer – a black sesame cookie to die for! 

And yet another gem, Hahnemann’s Køøken in Østerbro.  When I arrived Trine Hahnemann was teaching a French group from Brittany how to make a selection of Danish smorgasbord (see next weeks column) but then she showed me around her café, bakery and truly sensational selection of baked goods – cakes, pastries and breads, all made from 100% organic ingredients.

Thank you to all these generous bakers who shared their recipes with us all.  Let me know how you enjoy them…

Berliner

Puffy doughnuts without the hole in the centre – totally irresistible!

25g (1oz) fresh yeast

450g (1lb) baker’s or strong flour

40g (1 1/2oz) caster sugar

pinch of salt

75g (3oz) butter

1 organic egg, whisked

150–225ml (5 – 8fl oz) water at blood heat

Dissolve the yeast in a little of the tepid water. Sieve the flour, sugar and salt into a bowl. Rub in the butter and then add the whisked eggs. Add the yeast mixture and enough additional water to make a fairly soft dough. Cover and leave to rest for 10 minutes.

Turn out onto a floured board. Knead well, about 5–10 minutes, until the dough becomes firm and springy. It should bounce back when pressed with a finger.

Put into a deep Pyrex bowl, cover and leave to rise until it doubles in size. Punch down to knock out the air and redistribute the yeast back in contact with the dough. Knead well for 2–3 minutes. Leave to rest for a further 5 minutes.

Divide the basic yeast bun dough into 25g (1oz) pieces. Shape each piece into a ball and flatten.  Arrange on a floured tea-towel or tray, cover and leave to rise until doubled in size. Heat some good-quality sunflower oil in a deep-fryer to 160°C (315°F). Gently slip a few risen Berliners into the oil. Cook for about a minute on each side, turning them with a slotted spoon until they are evenly brown. Remove and drain on kitchen paper. Leave to cool slightly.

Toss in crunchy sugar and eat soon.

Alternatively, mix 110g (4oz) of caster sugar and 1 teaspoon of cinnamon in a wide, shallow bowl. Toss the doughnuts in the cinnamon sugar. Pipe vanilla pastry cream or rhubarb pastry cream into the centre through the side.  

Lille’s Cardamom Buns

Remonce, a Danish word for pastry filling  is basically a brown sugar and cardamom buttery filling that’s whipped, spread across sheets of croissant dough which is rolled up like a Swiss roll and portioned.  This dough can also be used for croissants and cinnamon buns.

Remonce

soft butter 500g (18oz)

brown sugar 225g (8oz)

caster sugar 225g (8oz)

salt 5g (scant 1/4oz)

cardamom (blitzed) 12g (1/2oz)

Put the soft butter into a bowl with the sugars, salt and ground cardamom.  Whip until light and soft. This makes 500g (18oz) of filling, it could be halved but keeps well and can also just be spread on some Brioche toast or eaten on its own! 

Bun Dough

Makes 25

flour 833g (1lb 13oz)

sugar 83g (3 1/4oz)

salt 16g (generous 1/2oz)

fresh yeast 33g (1 1/4oz)

soft butter 50g (2oz)

milk 500g (18oz)

water 366g (12 1/2oz)

500g block of square butter

There is no big secret with this dough either.  Put all the ingredients into a mixer (except from the extra 500g/18oz butter block).  Mix with a dough hook for 5-10 minutes on a low to medium speed to a smooth texture.  Wrap the dough and immediately transfer to the fridge.  Leave overnight.  The laminating begins the next day….

Roll the butter between two sheets of greaseproof paper to approx. 20cm x 20cm (8 x 8 inch) square. 

Flour the worktop and roll the risen dough into a square (approx. 40cm x 40cm/16 x 16 inch).  Place the square of butter into the centre of the dough and fold the dough over the butter. Press gently to seal the edges.

Next, make the first lamination….

Flour the worktop lightly, roll the dough into a rectangle. Brush off any excess flour and fold in 3 lengthwise. Give the dough a 90° turn, seal the open edges with a rolling pin. Re-roll the dough towards the open end into a rectangle. Fold in 3 once again. Cover tightly with greaseproof paper. Refrigerate for an hour. Then repeat this process, cover and refrigerate the dough overnight.

Next day, roll out into a long rectangle 30 x 12cm (12 x 5 inch), slatter with cardamom remonce (you won’t need it all), then roll it up to form a Swiss roll log shape. Portion into 100g (3 1/2oz) pieces.  Place the buns on a lined tray, cover lightly and prove until the layers have begun opening up a little, approx. 3-4 hours.

Bake at 210˚C/410˚F/Gas Mark 6 for 18-25 minutes until golden brown and crispy on the bottom.

Trine Hahnemann’s Traditional Strawberry Cake

This cake has got it all: marzipan, chocolate, cream, vanilla, and strawberries. It can be found in almost every bakery in Denmark. You can bake the marzipan base and keep it in the freezer; I like to bake 4 at the time. Then you can easily make this strawberry cake on a summer day.

Serves 10-12

125g (4 1/2oz) marzipan*, grated

125g (4 1/2oz) caster sugar

125g (4 1/2oz) soft butter, plus extra for greasing

3 eggs

40g (generous 1 1/2oz) plain flour or corn starch

Cream

1 pod of vanilla

200ml (7fl oz) single cream

2 egg yolks

3 tablespoons caster sugar

1 tablespoon corn flour

200ml (7fl oz) heavy cream

Chocolate Glaze

200g (7oz) dark chocolate

4 tablespoons heavy cream

Topping

500g (18oz) strawberries

2-3 tablespoons red currant jelly

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

Beat the grated marzipan with the sugar in a mixing bowl (you get the best result using an electric mixer), then add the butter and beat again until smooth. Add the eggs one at a time, beating between each addition, until the mixture is even and smooth, then fold in the flour or corn starch. Pour the dough into a buttered round baking tin 24 centimetre. Bake for 25 minutes. Remove from the oven and cool down.

Now melt the chocolate over steam, add the butter and mix well.

When the marzipan base is cooled down, spread the chocolate evenly over it.

When the chocolate has set on the marzipan base, it is time to make the cream.

For the cream, cut the vanilla pod in half lengthwaysand scrape out the seeds with the tip of a knife. Put the vanilla seeds with the single cream in a saucepan and heat until steaming hot. Meanwhile, whisk the egg yolks and sugar together in a mixing bowl until the mixture turns pale and fluffy, then whisk in the corn flour. Stir one-third of the hot cream into the egg mixture, then pour the egg mixture into the saucepan. Stir over a low heat until it starts to thicken. Remove from the heat and leave to cool.

When the cream filling is cold, whip the double cream until it forms stiff peaks and fold it in the cream.

Carefully rinse the strawberries in cold water, remove the little flower and cut in half, dry them carefully. Place the red currant jelly in a piping bag.

Whip the cream quite firm, fold into the cold custard, place on top of the chocolate 2 centimetres from the edge, form into a little pyramid shape. Cover it with the strawberries, place small dollops of jelly in between the strawberries, decorate with flowers. Serve right away or keep in refrigerator until ready to be served.

*real marzipan with 60% almonds

Tramore (Seagull Bakery and Mezze)

Despite the chronic staff shortages, exciting new restaurants and cafés are popping up all around the country.

Tramore is definitely one of the new (ish) hot spots.  A few weeks ago, we made a pilgrimage to the seaside town just a few miles from Waterford city to visit the Seagull Bakery established by Ballymaloe Cookery School alumni Sarah Richards in 2013.

Her natural sourdough breads and viennoiserie are exceptional and they have now expanded into another branch in Waterford from the original premises into a new purpose-built bakery with a stunning view over the Back Strand and sand dunes of Tramore Beach.

The artisan bakery movement is definitely one of the most exciting aspects of the new Irish food revolution.

I reckon any reasonable size town in Ireland could support an artisan bakery nowadays.

I hadn’t been to Tramore for over 30 years, but it has always had a very special place in my heart.  Growing up in the midlands of Co. Laois is about as far away from the sea as it’s possible to be in Ireland.  The highlight of our summer was an occasional day in Tramore.  Mummy would roast a chicken, make a couple of loaves of soda bread and pack a delicious picnic.  Then 7 or 8 of us plus the picnic, buckets, shovels and spades would pile into the old Ford Zephyr or Zodiac car.  My little brother Tom often lay on the back window ledge. We didn’t care how squished we were…we were going to the seaside for the day, you’d be arrested nowadays!

Apart from the bakery, we had a delicious lunch at Beach house restaurant, many little plates of deliciousness.  Add it to your Tramore list.

And then we wandered into Mezze, just up the hill from the Seagull bakery.  Well, how about that for a tantalising surprise, a café and shop packed with the sort of ingredients often difficult to source plus a Middle Eastern Take Out offering lots of vegetarian and vegan options as well as the occasional meat special.

I was intrigued…The young couple behind Mezze are Dvir Nusery from Israel and his Irish partner Nicola Crowley.  They met on the side of a glacier in New Zealand and although they couldn’t have come from more different backgrounds, different foods, religions, cultures and climates, their mutual love of food, travel and passion to share their experiences with others created a bond.  They moved to Israel but after eight years, quit their managerial office jobs in Tel Aviv, packed their bags and left for Ireland with their two kids.  It’s a long story through Festivals, Farmers’ Markets, Pop Up cookery classes, but just before the pandemic they opened their own ‘bricks and mortar’ place in their new hometown of Tramore.

When I wandered into Mezze, I met Dvir and Nicola who are serving the sort of delicious, irresistible, Middle Eastern food, passed from generation to generation in families – falafels, shawarma, salads, dips made for sharing…

They carefully source vegetables and meat locally from farmers and growers and high welfare meat producers.

When I asked about sharing a recipe, Nicola told me shyly that they had just written a book which would be published in June.  I’ve just got a copy – it’s called ‘Middle Eastern Food Made to Share’ and self-published by Mezze in Tramore, how cool and resourceful is that.

Here are a few tempting recipes to seek out in the book. It really is full of dishes you’ll want to share with family and friends.

Middle Eastern Lamb Kebabs from Mezze

Nicola and Dvir say ‘This is our go-to for barbecues.  We rarely have a barbecue where these kebabs don’t feature and they’re always well received!’.  You can swap out minced beef for lamb.

Makes 10 – 12 patties to serve 4 – 6

450g (1lb) minced lamb

1/2 onion, finely chopped

20g (3/4oz) fresh parsley, leaves and stalks finely chopped

20g (3/4oz) pine nuts (optional)

2 tablespoons extra virgin rapeseed oil

1 tablespoon baharat* (see end of recipe)

1 teaspoon ground fennel

1/2 tablespoon sea salt

To Serve

Tahini Sauce

Amba

pita bread

grilled vegetables or salad

Mix all the ingredients together and form into small patties.

Barbecue on a grill or fry on a griddle pan for 3-4 minutes on each side, until cooked through.

Serve with tahini sauce, amba or pita and grilled vegetables or salad.

Baharat Spice Blend from Mezze

Meaning ‘spice’ in Arabic.  Use to spice up Middle Eastern kebabs, stews…

1 1/2 tablespoons ground cumin

1 tablespoon ground cinnamon

2 teaspoons ground coriander

2 teaspoons ground black pepper

2 teaspoons ground nutmeg

1 teaspoon ground allspice

1 teaspoon ground cardamom

Mix all the spices together and store in a jar in a cool, dark place. 

Tahini Sauce from Mezze

Made from crushed sesame seeds, tahini, the paste used for this recipe is found in sweet and savoury foods in the Middle East.

Add this sauce to salads as a dressing, use it as a dipping sauce or sandwich spread or drizzle over chargrilled aubergines or homemade falafel.

150g (5oz) tahini

150ml (5fl oz) water

1/2 lemon, juiced

1 garlic clove, crushed

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

Whisk all the ingredients together until well combined, then pour into a squeezy bottle or jar.  This will keep in the fridge for up to a week. 

Tip: reduce the amount of water in the recipe if you want a thicker dip. 

Amba from Mezze

Delicious with kebabs.

Amba is widely used in Israel on falafel, sabich or shawarma.  Its roots are in India, with a curry flavour from the fenugreek, and is thought to have come to Israel with Iraqi jews.  This is best used to spice up a sauce or dish. 

2 tablespoons fenugreek

1 1/2 tablespoons ground turmeric

1 1/2 teaspoons lemon salt

1 teaspoon sea salt

1 teaspoon sumac

1 teaspoon mustard seeds

1 teaspoon amchoor (mango powder)

Grind all the ingredients together in a small food processor or with a pestle and mortar.  Mix the spice blend with a little water to form a pouring sauce. 

Chicken Shishlik (Shawarma Spiced Chicken Skewers) from Mezze

Ask your butcher to debone the leg and chop it into cubes for you to save you the trouble.  They don’t usually charge extra for this and it will work out cheaper and tastier than a chicken breast.

Serve 4

2 tablespoons extra virgin rapeseed oil

1 tablespoon shawarma spice blend *(see end of recipe)

1 teaspoon sea salt

4 deboned free-range chicken legs or 8 deboned thighs, cut into 2-3cm (3/4 – 1 1/4 inch) cubes

If you are using wooden skewers, soak them in water.  We like to use metal ones.

Mix the oil, shawarma spices and salt together in a large bowl.  Add the chicken pieces and toss to coat, then marinate for at least 1 hour in the fridge. 

Heat your barbecue or griddle pan.

Skewer the chicken pieces, leaving enough room on the bottom of the stick to hold it.  Grill on the hot barbeque or griddle pan for 6-8 minutes on each side, until golden brown and cooked through. 

Shawarma Spice Blend

1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin

1 teaspoon ground cardamom

1 teaspoon ground coriander

1 teaspoon ground turmeric

1 teaspoon paprika

1 teaspoon smoked paprika

1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

a pinch of ground nutmeg

Mix all the spices together and store in a jar in a cool, dark place. 

Persian Love Cakes from Mezze

The Persian Love Cake is thought to have been made for the Prince of Persia to make him fall in love with the baker.  The cake is gluten-free and dairy-free, so it can be enjoyed by many.  The cakes will keep for up to two weeks in an airtight container. 

Makes 12 mini loaf cakes or muffins or 1 x 20cm (8 inch) cake

50g (2oz) raw pistachios

200g (7oz) ground almonds

100g (3 1/2oz) caster sugar

2 teaspoons baking powder

2 teaspoons ground cardamom

200ml (7fl oz) sunflower or neutral rapeseed oil

4 free-range eggs

Syrup

1 lemon

75g (3oz) caster sugar

3 tablespoons rosewater

Icing (optional)

1 tablespoon lemon juice, reserved from the syrup

2 teaspoons rosewater

1/2 tablespoon cold water (or more if needed)

150g (5oz) icing sugar

To Decorate

rose petals

chopped pistachios

Make the syrup first and allow to cool before the cakes are baked.

Juice the lemon into a measuring jug or small saucepan and reserve 1 tablespoon of juice for the icing.  Top up the juice with water to make 100ml (3 1/2fl oz) of liquid.  In the saucepan, combine the juice mixture with the sugar and simmer gently for 5 minutes, stirring every now and then.  Take it off the heat, add the rosewater and allow to cool.

Preheat the oven to 160˚C/320˚F/Gas Mark 3.  Grease 12 mini loaf cake tins, a 12-hole muffin tin or 1 x 20cm (8 inch) cake tin with a little oil and line with non-stick baking paper if your tin tends to stick. 

Put the pistachios in a food processor and grind until they’re almost as fine as the ground almonds.  Don’t overdo it, though, or they’ll start to turn into a paste.  Add the ground almonds, sugar, baking powder, cardamom, oil and eggs and pulse until just combined into a batter.  Pour the cake batter into the tin(s) and bake in the oven for 20-22 minutes (or 30-35 minutes for a whole cake), until firm and golden brown. 

To make the icing, mix the reserved lemon juice with the rosewater and cold water.  Sift the icing sugar into a medium bowl and add the juice and rosewater mixture gradually, whisking until the icing is a thick pouring consistency.  Add more water or sifted icing sugar if needed. 

When the cake is baked, pierce it all over with a skewer and gently pour over the syrup.  Allow to cool a little, then remove from the tin(s) onto a cooling rack.  Place a tray under the cooling rack and once fully cooled, pour the icing over the top of the cakes, allowing it to drizzle down the sides.  Sprinkle with rose petals and chopped pistachios and serve. 

Limonana (Lemonade and Mint) from Mezze

This refreshing drink is found in cafés and bars all over Israel.  Sometimes it’s served as a drink or sometimes as a slushy.

100ml (3 1/2fl oz) lemon juice (approx. 3 lemons)

400ml (14fl oz) water

25g (1oz) fresh mint

lemon slices

ice

Sugar Syrup

100g (3 1/2oz) caster sugar

100ml (3 1/2fl oz) water

25g (1oz) fresh mint

Mix the sugar syrup ingredients together in a small saucepan and bring to the boil.  Reduce the heat and simmer for 5 minutes, until thickened.  Once cool, remove the cooked mint leaves.

Put the syrup into a litre jug and add all the remaining ingredients.  Taste and adjust the amount of lemon juice or sugar if necessary.

If you want to make a slushy, add the syrup and remaining ingredients, including the picked mint leaves, into a blender and blitz. 

Save Our Soils

A few evenings ago, I had a phone call from Mc Minville in Tennessee. On the other end of a crackly line was a girl called Anastasia Titko inviting me to support the Save Soil movement.

To my shame, I was unaware of this movement despite being passionate about the crucial importance of the soil and the increasing crises of diminishing fertility even here in Ireland for many years.

In our hectic lives, preoccupied with our own day to day activities, few of us give a moment’s thought to the soil, we perceive it as an inert substance below our feet rather than a living organism where zillions of life forms thrive – the biggest ecosystem on the planet and  few of us know anything about it.

A few startling statistics:

  • 52% of agricultural soil across the planet is degraded.
  • There has been an 80 to 90 % drop in nutrient levels in fruit & veg in the U.S. in the past two decades.  
  • Over here we are fortunate if the intensively produced crops contain 50 % of the vitamins, minerals and trace elements they did in the 1950’s.

To get the same volume of micronutrients we got in the 1950’s from one orange we now need to eat 7 or 8 (Seek out organic produce for maximum nutrients).

Over 2 billion people suffer from nutritional deficiencies worldwide.

Many of you will already be aware that food grown in rich fertile soil is significantly more complex, nutritious and delicious. The microbial life in the first 12-15 inches of topsoil is the basis of our existence. Once again, I quote Lady Eve Balfour – one of the founders of the Soil Association, ‘’The health of soil, plant, animal and man is one and indivisible’’

Every responsible scientist in the world is telling us that at best we have only 80 – 100 harvests left, that means approx. 40-50 years of rich agricultural soil left on the planet.

By 2045 we’ll be producing 40 % less food than we are producing now for a population of an estimated 9.3 billion people.

The consequences are unimaginable, the food shortages that could manifest in the next 25 years and even sooner because of the Ukrainian War – social unrest, a flood of food and climate refugees.  Once there are food shortages, civil wars will unfold across the world.

It’s difficult to imagine such a scenario as we travel through the lush green Irish countryside in June but those of us who have even seen photos of worn out, parched soil in middle America see the stark reality of what has happened through exploitation in many countries, Save the Soil movement would say most countries.

50 % of the topsoil has been lost in the last 100 years.

In the words of Franklin D. Roosevelt ‘The nation that destroys its soil, destroys itself’.

Sadhgura, the driving force behind the Save the Soil movement, is embarking on a 30’000 km lone motorbike journey through 34 countries to raise awareness, generate support and bring about a policy change to regenerate soil.

He will urge every government on the planet to enshrine soil regeneration in their national policy. We have inherited this vital resource from our ancestors, we must pass it on as living soil for the survival of future generations.

We know what to do…Let’s make it happen…

Readers who sowed seeds earlier in the year will now be experiencing the joy and satisfaction of harvesting some of your own fresh, chemical-free produce from your garden, raised beds, balconies or windowsills…Continue to enhance the fertility of the soil with compost and seaweed and if you can get it, well-rotted farmyard manure preferably from an organic farm.

We ourselves have an abundance of beautiful fresh produce at present.  If you’d like to taste some, come to our Farm Shop here at the Ballymaloe Cookery School or check the stalls at the Farmers Market in Midleton and Mahon Point.

Rory O’Connell’s Broth with Broad Bean Leaves and Mint

The object of the exercise here is a light yet flavoursome broth, spiked with the best greens each season has to offer.

The secret to success is in the late addition of the green or defining ingredients to the broth. There is a bit to do though, before that stage is reached. Dice the onion and potatoes neatly, remembering that they will be clearly visible in the finished broth and cook them very gently so that they do not collapse before the stock is added. The broth should never boil rapidly, just a gentle simmer and crucially the saucepan lid stays off once the greens go into the saucepan. Careful tasting to perfect the seasoning, will make an enormous difference to the finished broth.

Serves 4-6

175g (6oz) potatoes, peeled and cut into neat 1cm (1/2 inch) in dice

175g (6oz) onions, peeled and finely chopped

50g (2oz) butter

2 cloves of garlic, peeled crushed to a paste

1.2 litres (2 pints) chicken stock

600ml (1 pint) of broad bean leaves

300g (10oz) small broad beans, cooked and peeled

2 tablespoons small mint leaves

salt and pepper

Optional

Drizzle of olive oil

50g (2oz) grated Parmesan cheese

Melt the butter in a heavy saucepan and allow to foam. Add the potatoes, onions and garlic. Use a wooden spoon to coat in the butter and season with salt and pepper. Cover with a butter wrapper or greaseproof paper and with a tight-fitting lid. Cook on a very low heat to allow the vegetables to sweat gently until barely tender. This will take about 10 minutes. Don’t overcook and allow the diced potato to collapse. Add the stock, stir gently and bring to a simmer. Replace the saucepan lid and cook for a further 10 minutes. The broth should be barely bubbling. If it cooks too fast at this stage, the delicacy of flavour of the chicken stock will be lost. By now the potato and onion should be tender but still holding their shape. Taste and correct seasoning. This is the base and can be put aside until later.

To finish the soup, bring the base back to a simmer. Add the broad beans and leaves and allow the leaves to wilt and take on a melted consistency and the beans to warm through. Then add the chopped mint leaves and again watch the cooking time very carefully, two minutes should do it. Taste one last time to ensure the seasoning is spot on. Serve immediately just as it is or with a drizzle of olive oil and a nice sprinkling of grated Parmesan.

Pickled Beetroot and Onion Salad

A simple pickled beetroot that is a revelation when you taste it.

Serves 5-6

450g (1lb) cooked beetroot

200g (7oz) sugar

450ml (16fl oz) water

1 onion, peeled and thinly sliced (optional)

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.

David Tanis’s Cucumber with Feta, Mint and Sumac

New season’s Irish cucumbers are now in the shops.  The sumac can be found at Middle Eastern shops and is available in many supermarkets now.  It adds a pleasant sour flavour that lemon juice alone does not provide.  To keep the cucumber crisp, don’t dress them more than 30 minutes before serving.  

Serves 6

900g (2lbs) cucumbers, peeled

sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 garlic clove, grated

1 tablespoon lemon juice

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

110g (4oz) feta, cut into rough 1cm (1/2 inch) cubes

1 tablespoon sumac

2 tablespoons freshly chopped mint

2 tablespoons freshly chopped parsley

pinch of crushed red pepper flakes

1 tablespoon marjoram

Halve the cucumbers lengthwise and slice into 1cm (1/2 inch) pieces.  Season generously with salt and freshly ground black pepper.  Add garlic, lemon juice, extra virgin olive oil, feta and sumac and toss to coat.  Taste and adjust seasoning. 

Transfer to a serving platter.  Just before serving, sprinkle with fresh mint, parsley and crushed red pepper flakes, then dust with marjoram. 

Zucchini Parmigiana 

I love this Summer supper dish – a riff on Parmigiana di Melanzane.

Serves 6-8

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

110g (4oz) sliced onions

1 clove of garlic, crushed

900g (2lbs) very ripe tomatoes in Summer, or 2 tins (x 14oz) of tomatoes in Winter, but peel before using

salt, freshly ground pepper and sugar to taste

900g (2lbs) zucchini or courgettes (same thing, different name!)

flaky sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes or more if you fancy but don’t overdo it

1 tablespoon basil, chopped

110g (4oz) of grated Parmesan

1 x 25 x 30.5cm (10 x 12 inches) rectangular gratin dish

First make the tomato sauce.

Heat the oil in a stainless-steel sauté pan or casserole.  Add the sliced onions and garlic toss until coated, cover and sweat on a gentle heat until soft but not coloured – about 10 minutes. It is vital for the success of this dish that the onions are completely soft before the tomatoes are added.  Slice the peeled fresh tomatoes or chopped tinned tomatoes and add with all the juice to the onions.  Season with salt, freshly ground , sugar and red pepper flakes (tinned tomatoes need lots of sugar because of their high acidity).  Cover and cook for just 10-20 minutes more, or until the tomato softens, uncover and reduce a little.  Cook fresh tomatoes for a shorter time to preserve the lively fresh flavour. 

Preheat the oven to 230˚C/450˚F/Gas Mark 8.

Meanwhile, slice the zucchini lengthwise into 5 – 7mm (1/4 – 1/3 inch) strips.  Arrange them in a single layer on a couple of oiled baking trays.  Season with flaky sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, another drizzle of extra virgin olive oil.  Roast in the preheated oven for 10-12 minutes.

Add the freshly grated chopped basil to the tomato.  Taste and add a little sugar if necessary.

To assemble.

Spoon a quarter of the tomato sauce over the base of the gratin dish.

Arrange a third of the zucchini strips over the top.  Add more sauce, a quarter of the grated Parmesan.  Repeat with two more layers finishing with the last quarter of the grated Parmesan and any juices from the tray.  *Can be prepared ahead to this point.

Reduce the oven to 190˚C/375˚F/Gas Mark 5.

Pop in the gratin and cook for 25-30 minutes or until bubbling and golden.  Allow to sit for 5-10 minutes before serving with a green salad and lots of crusty bread to mop up the juices. 

Potatoes

Potatoes…what’s not to like…

A couple of weeks ago the World Potato Congress was held in Dublin hosted by the Irish Potato Federation. It was the first to be held in Ireland, despite our long, complicated and tragic relationship with the potato.

The startling news from the congress was the Irish government report that there had been a 25% drop in the consumption of potatoes in Ireland over the past 10 years. I’m saddened but not surprised…

It is of course, partly due to the growing popularity of other foods, pasta, grains, rice, couscous and the perception that potatoes are fattening.

However, good to remember that potatoes are, to quote a much-overused word, a Super Food, super nutritious, and super versatile. My personal veggie hero, definitely a desert island staple.

Don’t we all know that the humble spud can be cooked in a million different ways – boiled, sautéed, roast, steamed, fried, layered up in gratin, added to stews, tagines, casseroles…They can be dressed up or down, used to spin out other dishes. An intrinsic part of  vegetarian and vegan diets…full of goodness.

However not all potatoes are flavour packed so when you find varieties like Home Guard, British Queen, Sharp’s Express or Charlotte, snap them up.

They are all ‘earlies’ and so delicious that you just want to boil and eat them with lots of good butter and flaky sea salt…one of the highlights of the year for me is digging the first new potatoes and making a wish that we’ll all be as well this time next year.

Here on the farm at the cookery school, we grow a small quantity of organic blight resistant varieties including Premier, Solist, Alouette, Carolus, Agri and Vitabella.

Nonetheless, the perception that potatoes are a diet disrupter,a fiddle to prepare and take much longer to cook doesn’t help their popularity. I personally prefer to buy freshly dug potatoes and give them a quick scrub. Strange as it may seem, they will have much more flavour and keep better.

A few little tips.

For maximum flavour, boil them in their jackets, add plenty of salt to the water- this really soups up the taste…Sea water is even better.

Resist the temptation to soak them. Instead, if you want to get ahead for Roasties, (peel, save the peel to make the potato skin crisps).  Dry them well, toss in extra virgin oil, pop them into a bag in the fridge till needed. They won’t discolour and will keep their flavour, roasties are even better when cooked in duck fat, dripping or lard but I also love smashed potatoes, all crusty on the outside and squishy inside.

Great for a barbeque too.

I am also loving this potato crisp frittata, based on a recipe from Home Cooking with Ferran Adriá.  I have added some parsley and a little tarragon but the original without herbs is also delicious(annual marjoram would also be a tasty substitute).

We also love crispy potatoes with labneh and fresh herbs or just wedges with Aioli, a delicious and satisfying way to get kids to eat potatoes. A filling, wholesome, super chic- supper for just a few cents.

After all that, tell me what’s not to like about potatoes but do go out of your way to find organic or chemical free tubers, otherwise they may have been sprayed multiple times, and have had a dose of glyphosate as a desiccant just before harvesting…

Seek out a local grower on NeighbourFood or buy directly from a Farmers Market stall.

Potato Crisp Tortilla

You’re all going to love this simple tortilla.  Of course it’s delicious warm but also brilliant picnic food or for school or office lunch.  Serve little bites to nibble with drinks.

Serves 4

6 large eggs

75g (3oz) potato crisps

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

flaky sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, for serving

1 tablespoon parsley, chopped

1 teaspoon tarragon, chopped (or annual marjoram)

1 x 15cm (6 inch) pan

Whisk the egg really well.   Add salt and freshly ground black pepper and the chopped herbs. 

Heat the pan over a medium heat, add 1 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil and swirl around the pan.  Add the potato crisps, toss and allow to soak for a minute or two.  Pour in the egg mixture, loosen around the edge and allow to cook gently for 4-6 minutes.

Cover with a lid or an upside-down plate.  Gently flip the tortilla onto the plate.  Add another tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil to the pan, then slide the tortilla back into the pan, uncooked side downwards.  Continue to cook over the medium heat for 2 minutes, then slide the tortilla onto a warm plate and serve with a salad of organic leaves – delicious.

Good to know…double the quantity of ingredients and use a 25cm (10 inch) pan to serve 6 or 8 hungry guests.

Crispy Potatoes with Labneh and Soft Herbs

Another chic way to use up boiled potato.  The combination of crispy potato, soft creamy labneh and fresh herbs is mind blowing…yet inexpensive. 

Serves 4-6

900g (2lb) cooked boiled potatoes

450g (1lb) soft labneh (dripped natural yoghurt)

150ml (5fl oz) softly whipped cream

fresh herbs – sprigs of chervil, tarragon, flat parsley and chives

Peel and cut the potato into approximately 2.5cm (1 inch) square chunks.

Heat oil or beef dripping in a deep-fry to 200°C – cook the potatoes in batches until really crisp and golden. Drain on kitchen paper.

Fold the cream into the labneh and loosen with a few tablespoons of whey if too thick. It should be the consistency of softly whipped cream.

Serve the crisp potatoes immediately in wide bowls with a few dollops of labneh and a generous handful of soft fresh herb sprigs on top.

Note: New Potatoes do not need to be peeled

Potato Wedges with many riffs

These are my grandchildren’s favourite kind of roasties. They particularly love all the crusty skin and enjoy dipping them.

Serves 4-6

6 large preferably ‘old’ potatoes e.g. Golden Wonder or Kerr’s Pinks

olive oil or beef dripping (unless for vegetarians)-duck or goose fat are also delicious

sea salt

Preheat the oven to 230˚C/450˚F/Gas Mark 8.  

Scrub the potatoes well, cut into quarters lengthways or cut into thick rounds 2cm (3/4 inch) approx.   Put into a roasting tin, drizzle with olive oil and toss so they are barely coated with olive oil.   Roast in a preheated oven for 30-45 minutes depending on size. 

Sprinkle with sea salt and serve in a hot terracotta dish.

Cheesy Potato Wedges

When almost cooked, sprinkle 110-175g (4-6oz) grated Cheddar cheese or a mixture of Cheddar, Parmesan and Gruyère generously over the potatoes. Pop back into the hot oven or under a hot grill for 5 to 6 minutes until the cheese has melted.  Serve ASAP.

Rustic Roasties with Aioli (Garlic Mayo)

Add 2-3 crushed cloves of garlic and 2-3 teaspoons of chopped flat-leaf parsley to 225g (8oz) of homemade mayonnaise and season to taste and serve as a dip with freshly cooked wedges. 

Potato Wedges with Sweet Chilli Sauce and Sour Cream

When the roasties are crisp and golden.  Drain on absorbent kitchen paper.  Season with flaky sea salt.

Serve immediately in a deep bowl with a little bowl of sweet chilli sauce and sour cream on each plate.

Toby’s Smashed Potatoes

My son Toby also cooks these on the BBQ, the contrast of crisp edges and soft centre is irresistible.  Great as a side but also pretty irresistible to munch on as a snack.  Best made with freshly cooked potatoes but a brilliant way to revitalise leftover boiled potatoes.  I sometimes sprinkle the crunchy smashed potatoes with  chopped chives and a grating of Parmesan or Coolea cheese.

small to medium sized potatoes

extra virgin olive oil

flaky sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Optional – freshly chopped rosemary, thyme, smoked paprika, cumin, coriander…

Boil the freshly scrubbed potato in well salted boiling water until almost fully cooked.

Drain, allow to dry off for a couple of minutes.

Preheat the oven to 230˚C/450˚F/Gas Mark 8.

Brush a roasting tin or baking sheet with extra virgin olive oil.  Distribute the potatoes evenly in a single layer over the base.  Use a potato masher or a fork to crush each one to a height of about 1cm (1/2 inch) – we’re not talking neat, the more knobbly, the better. 

Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil, season with flaky sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.  They’ll be delicious roasted until golden, 20-25 minutes but of course one can also sprinkle with finely chopped rosemary, thyme leaves, smoked paprika, a few chilli flakes, freshly ground cumin or coriander…

Sprinkle with a few flakes of sea salt and serve. 

Cookbooks: Hot Fat and Breadsong

Two new cookbooks this week, one arrived on my desk by snail mail which I love.

I still greatly enjoy the excitement of opening my post and there it was, provocatively entitled Hot Fat.

The other, more whimsically named Breadsong was written by father and daughter duo Kitty and Al Tait.

On our recent UK adventure, I detoured over 100 miles to buy this book at source…and to get it signed by the indomitable Kitty…

It’s the story of the Orange Bakery in Watlington, reputedly England’s smallest town with a market building dating to the 15th century.

Watlington has a famous history that goes right back to the 6th century but this sleepy little town is more well-known nowadays for the tiny Orange Bakery on the High Street.

If you arrive before 10.30 a.m.  you will most likely see a queue snaking up along the street.

Arrive as we did by 11.10AM and you would be lucky to find anything to buy…We were fortunate to get one croissant, one cinnamon bun and half a loaf of porridge bread…and delicious they were…

I accidently came across the Orange Bakery on Instagram, loved the bread but was also intrigued by the story of this 14-year-old, red-haired baker…A bit of backstory – Kitty was bouncing with the joys of life until she became totally overwhelmed with anxiety and depression. She gradually withdrew from the world – every parent’s worst nightmare.

One thing led to another and after a few whirlwind months, Kitty and her Dad opened the tiny  Orange bakery which among other things helped to feed the local community during the pandemic.

Breadsong is an enchanting book, a cross between a cookbook that celebrates the magic of baking and a brave, intimate, courageous memoir which for me was ‘unputdownable’.

I quote – ‘‘If you told me at 14, when  I couldn’t even get out of bed with depression and anxiety that 3 years later, I would have written a book, I would never have believed you. But here it is –the story of the Orange Bakery. How I went from bed to bread and how my dad went from being a teacher to a baker. You reading it means everything to me’’ Kitty Tait.

Bread making worked its magic and for us it was a joy to meet Kitty and her Dad and their whole joyful team whom Watlington has taken to their hearts. I have invited them to come to Ballymaloe Cookery School to teach a bread class in the future so I will keep you posted…

This is the very best kind of book to get an enthusiastic amateur started because Kitty and Al learned from scratch, gradually honing and perfecting their bread making skills by constantly testing and retesting the recipes. 
They also take the mystery out of making your very own sourdough starter and share the magic of bread making…

Breadsong is published by Bloomsbury Publishingwww.bloomsbury.com

The other book Hot Fat is the second in a series of small books from Ireland’s newest publisher, 9 Bean Row Books.

This one is co-written by Russell Alford and Patrick Hanlon (fried-food aficionados) aka The GastroGays.

They are absolutely obsessed with anything that can be put in a deep fryer or a pot of dripping and aren’t we all…It’s a fantastic little book but in the words of Oscar Wilde‘ Everything in moderation including moderation’.

Sounds counter intuitive considering the devastating impact we know that too much greasy fried food has on our health and waistlines. But fried food doesn’t have to be greasy or unhealthy. So much better to cook your own hand cut potato chips in top quality oil or fat than opt for the easy alternative… A couple of potatoes will also make a ton of delicious crisps at a fraction of the cost… 

Russell and Patrick answer all the pertinent questions re types of frying fats, changing the oil, how to get the crispiest crust, best batter…

How about Ginger beer onion rings, black pudding scotch eggs, fish fillet burgers and a brilliant version of Ireland No. 1 favourite  takeaway, the Spice bag. It’s all there + donuts and deep-fried ice cream and much, much more besides in this deliciously irreverent but deadly serious little book that packs quite a punch. Love the funky design and Nicky Hooper’s illustrations also…

Hot Fat is published by Blasta Books – www.blastabooks.com

Tempura Oysters

From Hot Fat is published by Blasta Books
That shatteringly crisp tempura is truly something special when it comes to frying. The key here is using something carbonated and keeping it freezing cold, so we opt for sparkling water and keep it in the fridge for at least an hour before using.

*Yuzu is an East Asian citrus fruit that’s something like a cross between a lemon, a grapefruit and a mandarin. Stirring the juice into a standard mayonnaise adds a whole other dimension, especially good when paired with seafood.

Serves 4-6 as a snack

sunflower or vegetable oil, for deep-frying
40g (1 1/2oz) plain flour
40g (1 1/2oz) rice flour
40g (1 1/2oz) cornflour, plus 30g (1 1/4oz) extra for dredging
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt (the oysters have a natural salty-sweet flavour, so you don’t need much)
1/8 teaspoon ground white pepper
12 oysters, shucked and flesh patted dry
150ml (5fl oz) fridge-cold sparkling water

To Serve
lemon wedges
yuzu mayonnaise* (see intro)

Heat the oil in your deep-fryer to 180˚C/350˚F.

Whisk together the plain flour, rice flour and 40g (1 1/2oz) of cornflour in a mixing bowl with the salt and white pepper.

Put the simmering 30g (1 1/4oz) of cornflour in a small bowl and dredge the oyster meat through it to completely coat, shaking off the excess.

Whisk the cold sparkling water into the mixing bowl until just combined into a thin batter, like a crêpe batter. Don’t over mix the batter – in fact, some small lumps are positively encouraged. Working quickly, cover the oysters one by one in the batter, then place gently into the hot oil.

Cooking in batches of four or five oysters, fry for 60-90 seconds before lifting the basket to drain, then further draining on a wire rack set over a baking tray lined with kitchen paper.

Enjoy immediately with a squeeze of lemon juice or dipped into yuzu mayonnaise.

Korean Fried Chicken

From Hot Fat is published by Blasta Books
What makes Korean Fried Chicken different? A couple of things: crucially, a blend of flours and starches and it’s double fried, the combination of which results in a shatteringly crisp coating that is then smothered in a fiery, punchy, sticky, crimson-coloured sauce that still retains its crisp as you eat. Talk about finger-lickin’ good! This is next level – napkins at the ready.

Serves a greedy 2

6-8 boneless, skinless chicken thighs
300ml (10fl oz) buttermilk
2 teaspoons gochugaru or paprika
sunflower or vegetable oil, for deep-frying

Coating
60g (scant 2 1/2oz)plain flour
60g (scant 2 1/2oz) rice flour
60g (scant 2 1/2oz) potato starch or cornflour
1 teaspoon baking powder
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Sauce
4 tablespoons rice wine vinegar or Shaoxing rice wine
2 tablespoons gochujang
2 tablespoons sriracha
2 tablespoons tomato ketchup
2 tablespoons caster sugar
1 tablespoon sesame oil
1 tablespoon aekjeot or nam pla fish sauce
1 tablespoon gochugaru
1 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon butter

Garnish
sesame seeds
spring onions, sliced into thin lengths or at an angle
thinly sliced or chopped fresh red or green chilli

Cut each chicken thigh into two or three pieces to make bite-sized chunks and season with salt. Whisk the buttermilk and gochugaru or paprika together in a large bowl or baking dish. Submerge all the chicken in the buttermilk, cover and marinate in the fridge for a good 4-6 hours (leaving it overnight is fine too).

When it’s time to cook, remove the buttermilk-brined chicken from the fridge about 30 minutes before frying.

Heat the oil in your deep-fryer to 150˚C/300˚F.

Combine all the coating ingredients in one bowl. (If you’ve run out of baking powder, use 60g (scant 2 1/2oz) self-raising flour instead of the plain flour.

Working quickly and without shaking off too much of the buttermilk, dredge the chicken pieces in the flour mix, ensuring a generous and even coating. Working in batches, add each piece directly into the fryer and cook for about 5 minutes, until cooked through and light golden.  Remove from the fryer and set aside on a wire rack set over a baking tray lined with kitchen paper while you cook the rest of the chicken.

When all the pieces have had their first fry and have been drained, crank up the temperature of the oil to 190˚C/375˚F.

Meanwhile, put all the sauce ingredients in a saucepan set over a medium heat and bring to the boil, then drop down to the lowest heat setting and give it a stir every so often just to keep it warm and pourable.

Fry all the chicken for a second time for 90 seconds to 2 minutes, until it looks incredibly crisp and has darkened in colour. Depending on the size of your fryer basket, you may need to do this in two batches.

Place the chicken into a large heatproof bowl and pour over all the sauce, tossing to coat each piece. The chicken will soak up the sauce but still retain its crispness.

Plate up with a generous sprinkle of sesame seeds, sliced spring onions and fresh chilli on top. Alternatively, serve in a steamed bao or as a burger. Kimchi or some sharp pickles are the ideal supporting side act or you can go all out on the whole banchan experience of a table laden with small side dishes.

Corn Dogs

From Hot Fat is published by Blasta Books
A fairground favourite in the States, the corn dog consists of a hot dog speared on a stick, dipped in a thick cornmeal batter and fried until golden with a signature fluffy interior beneath its crisp jacket.

Makes 6 large or 12 small corn dogs

sunflower or vegetable oil, for deep-frying
120g (scant 4 1/2oz) fine cornmeal
80g (3 1/4oz) plain flour
1 large egg
175ml (6fl oz) buttermilk
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
1/2 teaspoon caster sugar
1/4 teaspoon paprika
1/4 teaspoon ground white pepper
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder (optional)
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
6-8 large skinny frankfurter-style sausages and 6-8 skewers
a small dish of cornflour (cornstarch), to coat

To Serve
ketchup
yellow mustard

Heat the oil in your deep-fryer to 180˚C/350˚F.

Prepare your batter by adding the cornmeal, flour, egg, buttermilk, salt, sugar, paprika, white pepper, garlic powder (if using) and baking soda into a mixing bowl and whisking vigorously to combine, then transfer to a tall glass, measuring jug or NutriBullet beaker, any of which provide the height that enables enviably easy dippage to completely coat the dogs.

Pat the dogs dry on kitchen paper. If making small corn dogs, cut each one in half to make two, but if making large ones, just keep them whole. Skewer each one with a wooden or bamboo skewer three-quarters of the way up through the centre, taking care not to veer off and tear through the side.

Put the cornflour in a wide, shallow dish or tray, then dredge each of the sausages through it, coating completely and shaking off any excess – this helps the cornmeal batter to stick. Set aside on a plate, ready for dipping.

When ready to dip and coat, holding the wooden skewer, submerge each sausage head-first into the batter, twisting gently to coax the batter to stick, then gently and slowly twisting as you pull the skewer up and out of the glass or jug to reveal a completely coated corn dog.

Working quickly, gently lower the battered corn dog head first into the hot oil (rather than into the fryer basket, which should already be submerged), hovering the top in the oil for a little bit to get it accustomed and then lowering it in. At this point, give the submerged basket a rigorous shake to ensure the corn dog doesn’t stick to the bottom.

Repeat this process as you fry in batches of two to four, depending on the size of your fryer, for 3-4 minutes in total. About two-thirds of the way through the cooking time, you may want to use tongs to turn the corn dogs gently to ensure they colour evenly.

When the corn dogs are an even golden colour, you’ll know they’re done, so lift them out one by one or together in the basket, drip-draining any excess oil. Allow to further drain and cool on a wire rack set over a baking tray lined with kitchen paper as you continue with the next ones.

Enjoy immediately with ketchup and yellow mustard, your choice of condiments or just as is.

Variation
If you’d prefer to make hush puppies (and please your vegetarian pals!), we suggest upping the quantity of both cornmeal and flour by 50g (2oz) each and stirring a small 200g (7oz) tin of sweet corn (drained) through the batter for extra texture. A very finely chopped spring onion wouldn’t go amiss in that mixture too for a little allium kick if you don’t mind the green speckles though these gorgeous blond bites. Drop generous tablespoons of the batter into the hot oil (at 180˚C/350˚F) and fry until lightly golden, turning once during frying.

Miracle Overnight White Loaf

From Breadsong published by Bloomsbury Publishing
This was the first bread recipe I learnt to bake, and how the simple ingredients transform into a loaf still feels like magic. All you need to make a loaf twice as fast as anything on the supermarket shelf, with a crunchy crust and pillowy crumb, is a casserole dish with a lid and an oven that can get up to 230˚C/450˚F/Gas Mark 8. If you make only a single recipe from this entire book, this one will probably give you the biggest thrill. It’s truly a miracle.

Makes 1 loaf

500g (18oz) strong white bread flour, plus extra for dusting
10g (scant 1/2oz) fine sea salt
3g (scant 1/8oz) instant dried yeast (1 teaspoon or slightly less than half a 7g (1/4oz) sachet)
330ml (11 1/4fl oz) lukewarm water

Sift the flour into a large mixing bowl and add the salt and yeast. Stir everything together using either a sturdy spoon or your hands. Bit by bit, gently mix in the lukewarm water until a shaggy dough forms. We call this the Scooby dough in homage to Scooby-Doo.

Place a damp tea towel over the rim of the bowl and leave in a cosy (draught-free) place to prove for 12-16 hours, overnight is best. Time transforms your scrappy, dull dough into a bubbly, live creature of its own.

Once your dough has risen and is bubbling away, tip it out onto a lightly floured work surface. Remember, it’s alive, so the greater respect you show the dough with gently handling, the more it will reward you and the better your loaf will come out. Gently shape the dough into a ball (a well-floured plastic dough scraper really helps here), making sure there is a light coating of flour all over.

Place the shaped dough on a sheet of parchment paper, cover with a damp tea towel and set aside in a warm, cosy place to rest for 1 hour.

Halfway through the resting time, preheat the oven to 230˚C/450˚F/Gas Mark 8 (or as high as it will go). Put a large cast-iron casserole dish with a lid and a heatproof handle into the hot oven for 30 minutes to heat up.

Once the casserole dish is good and hot, carefully take it out of the oven and lift off the lid. Uncover the dough and using the parchment paper, lift and then lower the dough into the heated casserole dish. Using a sharp knife, razor blade or scissors; score the top of the dough with slashes in any pattern you like – one long slash, a cross, a square or even a smiley face.

Pour a couple of tablespoons of water inside the casserole around the dough, replace the lid and put the dish back in the hot oven. Bake for 30 minutes with the lid on. Remove the lid to reveal your magnificent loaf and then continue to bake uncovered for a further 10 minutes to get a nice, golden crust or 15 minutes if you like your loaf a bit darker.

Place the loaf on a wire rack and leave to cool for at least 30 minutes. This is the hardest part, but it’s also the most important as the bread keeps cooking after you take it out of the oven.

*For variations on above, please refer to the book.

Vegan Nut Butter and Banana Cookies

From Breadsong published by Bloomsbury Publishing

Makes 15 cookies

125g (4 1/2oz) mashed banana (1 large banana or 2 small)
125g (4 1/2oz) crunchy peanut butter
125g (4 1/2oz) soft light brown sugar
125g (4 1/2oz) plain flour
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
80g (3 1/4oz) vegan dark chocolate chips (optional)
a pinch of coarse sea salt flakes

In a large mixing bowl, beat together the banana and peanut butter until creamy. You can use either a handheld electric mixer or the paddle attachment on a stand mixer. Stir in the sugar and mix again until all combined.

In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, bicarb, baking powder and salt. Add the dry ingredients to the banana-peanut butter mixture and mix well. Throw in the chocolate chips, if using. Gently roll the dough into a ball, cover in parchment paper and put it in the fridge to chill for 1 hour.

Preheat the oven to 190˚C/375˚F/Gas Mark 5 and line two baking trays with parchment paper.

Scoop the cookie dough into 15 even-sized balls and place at least 5cm (2 inch) apart in the baking trays. Using the tines of a fork, flatten each cookie by making a crisscross pattern on the top. Sprinkle over coarse sea salt flakes and bake in the hot oven for 10-15 minutes or until the edges go crispy but the middle is still gooey. Let cool for a few minutes then eat.

World Ocean Day 2022

World Ocean Day is on Wednesday the 8th of June 2022.

I am not fully clear if this is meant to be a celebration or a day of reflection to remind us of the chronic mess we humans have got ourselves into.

In our busy lives, most of us have taken the oceans for granted. We somehow haven’t understood that mankind depends on the health of the oceans for our very existence.

The oceans cover over 70% of the earth’s surface, provide 97% of the world’s water supply as well as 80% of the planet’s biodiversity. 

94% of the earth’s living species exist within the oceans and apparently much is yet to be discovered.

70 – 80% of the oxygen we breathe is produced by marine plants plus the oceans feed and provide livelihoods for billions of people.

The ocean plays a vital role in our climate. It’s the ocean currents that govern the world’s weather. For decades scientists and marine biologists have stressed that rapidly rising ocean temperatures are causing the ice to melt, altering coral reefs and coastal ecosystems, causing cold water habitats to shrink resulting in less plankton available for marine life.

Rising temperatures are putting low lying nations such as the Maldives in the Indian Ocean at immediate risk of disaster.

Enough statistics….

For centuries, the oceans have been used as a dumping ground for all manner of waste, sewage, plastic in its many forms, six pack rings, fishing nets, polystyrene…. which harm sea mammals, fish and seabirds who get entangled in it or feed it to their young mistaking it for food. 

Although the ocean is vast, it turns out it is more easily polluted and acidified than was originally thought.

Many of you will have read about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a vast floating dump, 15 times the size of Ireland in the Pacific Ocean. It contains over 100 million tonnes of plastic debris.

We have reached a tipping point…….

At last, scientists and governments of many countries are cooperating to limit overfishing and control pollution in a frantic effort to slow down global warming – hopefully it’s not too late.

Here in Ireland, a little progress has been made but there is still much to be done.  Year-round swimmers have given further impetus to the Clean Beach campaign and Blue Flags are much coveted.

So after all that, let’s go back into the kitchen to cook some delicious fish…

But where do we find information on sustainable fish, it’s much easier to get information on the health benefits. 

There are few things more delicious than a piece of spanking fresh fish simply cooked.  Freshness is everything.  Remember, fresh fish look bright and lively and DOESN’T smell fishy, stay alert when shopping, freshly landed (could be five days old) is altogether different to freshly caught. 

Forever and ever, fish has been referred to as ‘brain food’ and numerous studies confirm the health benefits of eating fresh fish at least once a week.

The omega-3 fat found in fish is now scientifically proven to be helpful in the treatment of depression, Alzheimer’s, dyslexia, dyspraxia and ADHD….

www.bim.ie

From the cook’s point of view, fish is the quintessential fast-food.  I am a big fan of crudo or thinly sliced raw fish but it must absolutely be fresh.  If that idea doesn’t ‘float your boat’, there are a million other super quick recipes to enjoy with your family and friends.

It’s really easy to overcook fish, remember the flesh just needs to change from translucent to opaque, a matter of two to three minutes if the fillet is thin like plaice, lemon sole or megrim. A little longer for a piece of hake or haddock.

It’s also worth knowing that sea vegetables are 10 to 20 times more nutritious than anything grown on land.

Sustainable fish in Irish water?

It is unbelievably difficult for the concerned public to get simple coherent information on what to buy and believe me – I’ve tried!  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.  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 be able to source it.

Try at least to ascertain that the fish you buy is caught in Irish waters so we are supporting the Irish fishing community who are experiencing unprecedented challenges.

Check out Sustainable Seafood Irelandwww.sustainableseafood.ie

SSI: office@sustainableseafood.ie

(01) 8472376

Yummy Fish Fingers with Garlic Mayo

The hake stocks are in good shape, fresh hake is a superb fish, sweet and flaky.

Serves 8

8 pieces fresh haddock, hake or pollock cut into fingers 11.5 x 3cm (4 1/2 x 1 1/4 inch) approximately

salt and freshly ground black pepper

white flour, seasoned well with salt, freshly ground and pepper and a

a little cayenne or smoked paprika (optional)

Egg Wash

2-3 beaten free-range, organic eggs and a little milk

panko or dried white breadcrumbs

To Serve

crunchy Little Gem lettuce leaves

Garlic Mayo

225g (8oz) homemade mayonnaise

Add 1-4 crushed garlic cloves (depending on size) to the egg yolks as you start to make the mayonnaise.  Add 2 teaspoons of chopped flat-leaf parsley at the end and season to taste. 

Heat the oil in a deep fry to 180˚C/350°F.

Season the fingers of fish with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Then, dip the fish, first into the well-seasoned flour and then into the beaten egg and finally coat evenly all over with the crumbs of your choice.  Pat gently to firm up…!

Heat some olive oil or clarified butter in a wide frying pan over a medium heat.

Cook the fish fingers until golden and crispy on the outside and cooked through into the centre. Drain on kitchen paper.  

I love to wrap them in crunchy Little Gem lettuce leaves, add a dollop of garlic mayo (aioli)/mayo of choice and enjoy. 

Smoked Mackerel Pâté, Potato Crisps and Dill or Fennel Sprigs and Flowers

A fun and delicious way to serve a fish pâté.

Cooked fresh salmon, smoked salmon, mullet, trout or herring can be substituted in the above recipe.

Serves 6-8

110g (4oz) undyed smoked mackerel or herring, free of skin and bone (we use Belvelly smoked mackerel –www.frankhederman.com )

50-75g (2-3oz) softened butter

1/4 teaspoon finely snipped fennel

freshly squeezed lemon juice

1/2-1 clove garlic, crushed to a paste

salt and freshly ground pepper

Homemade Potato Crisps (see Darina’s Letter 8th May 2022 – OFFAL)

Garnish

sprigs of dill or fennel and flowers

Next make the smoked mackerel pâté.

Whizz all the ingredients in a food processor. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper, taste, add freshly squeezed lemon juice and garlic. It should be well seasoned and soft. Cover and chill until needed.

To Serve

Put a generous tablespoon of smoked mackerel pâté on a small plate.  Cover the entire surface with homemade potato crisps.  Tuck tiny sprigs of dill (or fennel) in between the crisps and dill or fennel flowers.

Baja-Style Fish Tacos

All along the coast in Baja, California, the beach shacks offer fish tacos and there’s no reason you can’t enjoy them at home too. If you’d rather not have batter, you can just sprinkle the fish fillets with a mixture of salt and spices such as cumin, paprika and maybe some chilli powder before shallow frying.

Makes 10

10 portions of fresh fish – haddock, monkfish, brill, plaice, lemon sole, weighing about 125g (4 1/2oz) each

olive oil, for deep-frying

Chilli Beer Batter

225g (8oz) plain flour

2 teaspoons English mustard powder

2 teaspoons mild or hot chilli powder

1 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons granulated sugar

3 organic, free-range eggs

225ml (8fl oz) light beer or a mixture of beer and water

Chipotle Mayonnaise

225ml (8fl oz) homemade mayonnaise

1 1/2 tablespoons puréed chipotle chillies in adobo

juice of 1 lime

1 tablespoon chopped coriander

a pinch of salt

To Serve

10 corn tortillas

20 lettuce leaves

Guacamole (see recipe) or avocado slices

Tomato Salsa (see recipe)

a few sprigs of coriander

First make the chilli beer batter. Sift the flour into a bowl and add the mustard and chilli powders, salt and sugar. Make a well in the centre, crack in the eggs, then gradually add the beer, whisking all the time from the centre to the outside of the bowl in ever increasing concentric circles until all the flour is incorporated. Cover and leave to stand while you make the mayonnaise.

Mix the chilli in adobe, lime juice and coriander with the mayonnaise and season to taste.

Warm the corn tortillas either individually in a pan or better still wrap them in a parcel and heat at 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4 for 5–10 minutes.

Heat the oil in a deep-fat fryer to 190°C (375°F). Dip each fish fillet in the batter, then cook for 4–7 minutes until crisp and drain on kitchen paper. This will depend on the thickness of the fish. Alternatively, fry in a deep saucepan with 5 – 7.5cm (2 – 3 inch) depth of olive oil.

Put a little lettuce on one half of a warm tortilla, top with a chunk of crispy fish, some chipotle mayo, guacamole, tomato salsa and a sprig of coriander, fold over and enjoy!

Guacamole

Choose really ripe avocados for guacamole.

2 ripe avocados (organic if you can find it)

3-4 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons freshly chopped coriander or flat parsley

sea salt and freshly ground pepper

Scoop out the flesh from the avocado.  Mash with a fork or in a pestle and mortar, add lime juice, olive oil, chopped coriander, salt and freshly ground pepper to taste. Serve immediately.  Otherwise, cover the surface of the guacamole with a sheet of damp parchment paper to exclude the air.  Cover and keep cool until needed.

 A little finely diced chilli or tomato may be added to the guacamole.

Tomato and Coriander Salsa

In Season: Best in 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 a piece of sizzling fish to pan-grilled meat.

Serves 8-10

8 very ripe tomatoes, chopped

2 tablespoons red or white onion, chopped

2 cloves garlic, crushed

1-2 chillies, deseeded and finely chopped Jalapeno or Serrano

2-4 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.

Roast Fish in three delicious ways

An inspired way to cook either whole fillets or individual portions of fish, I’ve given three separate sauce suggestions here but even a simple dill butter makes roast fish into a feast. Needless to say, other ‘round’ fish, such as hake, haddock, ling or cod can be cooked in exactly the same way.  Pollock stocks are not in good shape at present. 

Serves about 20

1 whole wild fresh salmon or Mowi (organic farmed salmon)

butter or extra virgin oil, about 25g (1oz)/25ml (1fl oz) 

flaky sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Tomato and Dill Topping

4–8 tablespoons chopped dill

4–6 ripe tomatoes, deseeded and diced, sprinkled with a little flaky sea salt, freshly ground black pepper and sugar

110–225g (4-8oz) extra virgin olive oil

Preheat the oven to 250°C/500°F/Gas Mark 9.  

Descale the salmon, fillet and remove the pin bones. For the topping, mix the dill and diced seasoned tomato together with the extra virgin olive oil.

Line a baking tray with parchment paper. Put the fillets of fish on top. Season with salt and pepper. Spoon the dill and tomato oil over the surface. Roast for 8–10 minutes or until cooked and tender.

Serve in the tray or transfer the salmon onto one or two hot serving dishes. Sprinkle with a little fresh dill and dill flowers. Serve immediately with a salad of organic green leaves.

Roast Salmon with Teriyaki Sauce

To make the teriyaki sauce, put 100ml (3 1/2fl oz) light or dark soy sauce, 100ml (3 1/2fl oz) dry white wine, 2 large, thinly sliced garlic cloves, a 4cm (1 1/2 inch) piece of fresh ginger, peeled and thinly sliced, 2 tablespoons of wholegrain mustard and 2 tablespoons of soft brown sugar into a stainless-steel saucepan. Bring to the boil and simmer for 3–4 minutes. (Alternatively, spoon over the fish before putting it in the oven.) Roast the fish as above. Brush the fish generously with the teriyaki sauce, sprinkle with fresh coriander and serve.

Roast Salmon with Pul Biber

Prepare the salmon as above, drizzle with extra virgin olive oil. Sprinkle with pul biber and flaky sea salt. Roast as above. Serve with a good green salad.

Mussels with Tomato and ‘Nduja

Serves 4

2kgs (4 1/2lbs) mussels

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

50g (2oz) sliced onions

1 clove of garlic, crushed

450g (1lb) very ripe fresh tomatoes (peeled and chopped) or 1 x 400g (14oz) tin of tomatoes, chopped

salt, freshly ground pepper and sugar to taste

pinch of chilli flakes

1/2 – 1 teaspoon smoked paprika

175ml (6fl oz) rich cream

2-3 tablespoons parsley, coarsely chopped

Wash and check that the mussels are tightly shut.  Keep refrigerated.

Next, make the tomato base. 

Heat the oil in a stainless-steel sauté pan or casserole.  Add the sliced onions and garlic, toss until coated, cover and sweat on a gentle heat until soft but not coloured – about 10 minutes. It is vital for the success of this dish that the onions are completely soft before the tomatoes are added.  Add a pinch of chilli flakes and the smoked paprika.    Add the ripe tomatoes or the chopped tinned tomatoes with all the juice to the onions.  Season with salt, freshly ground pepper and sugar (tinned tomatoes need lots of sugar because of their high acidity).  Cover and cook for just 10-20 minutes more, or until the tomato softens, uncover and reduce a little.  Tinned tomatoes will need to be cooked for longer.  Add cream and allow to bubble for 3-4 minutes and taste for seasoning.

*The base can be prepared to this point.

Just before serving.  Bring the base back to the boil, add the mussels in their shells.  Cover, stir from time to time and cook on a medium heat until the shells open, 3-4 minutes approx.

Turn into warm bowls, scatter with coarsely chopped parsley and serve with lots of good sourdough to mop up the juices. 

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