I’m in Spain, just an hour
north west of Seville and I’ve just had the most (for me) idyllic morning
wandering in a remote part of Andalucia through oak woods where the black
legged Iberian pigs snuffle to find the acorns that make the famous Jamon de
bellotta (cured ham) from this area so
sweet and exquisite. But today I’m picking wild plums directly from the
trees, there are two types, yellow mirabelles and small wine coloured fruit
that look like fat cherries, sweeter and not as tart as damsons but a similar
size. Sadly the wild figs and pomegranate aren’t quite ripe yet but the green
walnuts are just at the perfect stage for pickling.
We’re staying at Finca Buenvino
near Aracena, a pink washed, guest house, covered in wisteria and vines,
virtually hidden amongst the chestnut and cork oak trees on a hilltop in the
heart of the Sierra de Aracena.
Sam Chesterton and his
Scottish wife Jeannie came to Spain in the early seventies in search of an old
ruin to convert but eventually decided to build on this beautiful site close to
a spring of clear water, an immensely important factor in Spain.
Much of the building material
was old and traditional, local brick, terracotta tiles, metal grills, high
arched doors, a panelled dining room, an intriguing mix of Scottish country
house and Spanish villa with a relaxed country house feel.
Finca Buenvina has just five
bedrooms, the house can be taken as a unit complete with cook and cleaner or
one can just stay on as a guest and be pampered. There’s also the option of
several lovely self catering cottages in the woods complete with pool. It’s quite the find for those who are seeking
an alternative to Costa del Sol. Sam and Jeannie are the most genial of hosts.
Jeannie cooks the kind of food that I love to eat and now their son Charlie has
joined Jeannie in the kitchen.
The food scraps from the
kitchen get fed to the happy hens who scratch around under the trees so
beautiful eggs for the many Spanish egg dishes. Tapas before dinner were some
of the best I’ve tasted anywhere – quail egg with morcilla, Pimenton de Padron,
A little shaded corner to curl
up with a book or just snooze for a siesta in the afternoon and yet another
memorable dinner on a terrace as the sun sets with the swifts swooping and
Sam and Jeannie offer regular
cooking classes and one can book now to partake in the traditional metanza
early in the New Year, the next one is scheduled for around the first week in
February 2020. A fascinating experience where one can learn how to butcher and
preserve every scrap of the free range black pigs from the snout to the tail. Learn
how to cure jamon in sea salt, (Kg for every kilo of ham) and how to make a variety
of chorizo and salchichon, morcilla, zarappa, chistora and a myriad of other
porky treats. At the end there’s a party with a huge cauldron of guiso de
cerdo, a pork stew, serve with lots of beer and red wine and much merriment.
Here are some of the dishes we
enjoyed some of which come from The Buenvino Cookbook – Recipes from our
farmhouse in Spain published by…
Other places to eat in the
D’Caprichio in Los Marinos
Jesus Carrion Restaurante in
Visit Cinco Jotas in Jabujo
for a tour of the Jamon curing rooms to taste the very best Jamon that Spain
has to offer – understand why Pata Negra is so revered around the world.
Salmorejo with Hard-Boiled
Egg and Serrano
1 clove of garlic crushed
800g (1lb 7 1/2 oz) ripe red
tomatoes cut into quarters
50g (2oz) white bread, crust
removed and cut into cubes
6 tablespoons extra virgin
1 – 2 tablespoons red wine
vinegar, we use Forum
salt, pepper, and sugar
2 hard-boiled eggs, roughly
75g (3oz) strips of Serrano
ham cut into slivers
extra virgin olive oil
Shallow Terracotta Bowls
Place the garlic, tomatoes,
bread, olive oil and 1 tablespoon of vinegar into a food processor – season
with salt, pepper and sugar. Whizz until well blended but still slightly
Taste, you may need to add
more vinegar, depending on the sweetness of the tomatoes. Chill well. If the
mixture is too thick add a little water but not too much. Serve in chilled
shallow terracotta bowls with a couple of tablespoons of chopped hard boiled
egg and slivers of Serrano ham in the centre of each. Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil. Eat with
lots of fresh crusty bread.
Ajoblanco with Apple – Ajoblanca
de Almendras con Manzana
Many people are familiar with the tomato version of Gazpacho but this
white version comes from Cordoba and is very nutritious.
250g (9oz) blanched, peeled almonds
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
4 slices of stale white bread with the crusts removed
2 cloves of garlic
2-3 spoons white wine vinegar
2 apples (or 1 bunch white grapes, or 2 slices of melon)
Mash the garlic and salt in a mortar, gradually adding the almonds until
a smooth paste is attained. This can be
done much more easily in a food processor.
Soak the bread in water and mix into the paste along with the oil and
Mix everything thoroughly, then add 32fl oz (1 pint 12fl oz/4 cups) of
cold water. The soup should have a thick, smooth consistency. Add ice cubes if desired. The fruit should be added just before
serving. Apple or melon should be diced
and grapes should be whole.
The proportions of garlic, olive oil and vinegar are entirely a matter
of taste. This will keep for 2-3 days in
Papas Fritas (Potato Crisps)
potato crisps at home is definitely worthwhile – a few potatoes produce
a ton of
crisps and nothing you buy in any shop will be even half as delicious. A
mandolin is well worth buying for making chips – but mind your fingers!
grams pata negra de bellotta or Serrano ham, thin slivers
large, even-sized potatoes, Maris Piper, Aran Victory, Golden Wonder,
Kerr’s Pink, Santé
virgin olive oil or beef dripping for deep-fat frying
and peel the potatoes. For even-sized crisps, trim each potato with a
swivel-top peeler until smooth. Slice them very finely, preferably with a
mandolin. Soak in cold water to remove the excess starch (this will also
prevent them from discolouring or sticking together). Drain off the water and
dry very well.
In a deep-fat fryer, heat the oil or dripping to 180ºC. Drop in the dry
potato slices a few at a time and fry until golden and completely crisp. Drain
on kitchen paper and divide between four plates. Lay slivers of jamon on top of
crisps and serve immediately.
Sam’s Roast Quails
Choose a couple of quail
per person if they are very small. We get them plucked and gutted.
Rub the quail all over,
inside and out, with pinchito spice, salt and pepper; or if you cannot get it
grind up cumin, turmeric, salt, pepper and paprika to a fine powder.
Preheat the oven to
Place the quail in a
roasting tin, large enough to hold them all without crushing them together.
Pour round the bottom of the baking tray a quantity of good cold tea, enough to
keep the birds from drying out in a hot oven, roast for 20 to 30 minutes,
basting occasionally, until golden brown and cooked through. If you find the
quail are browning unevenly, move them around in the tin during
cooking. It’s ideal to have the breasts nicely browned, so that the skin
is crisp, but you don’t want them to dry out.
Serve with mashed potatoes
and a green salad, or fresh peas or beans from the garden.
Sam’s Turkish Eggs
Serves one for a delicious breakfast….
You will need 2
beautiful fresh eggs.
Fry the eggs in melted butter
until crisp at the edges, white should be just set but the yolks still soft
…. Sprinkle crumbled dried chillies over the egg, some cumin seed, flaky salt
and freshly ground pepper… Add a spoonful of rich natural yogurt and a
sprinkling of chopped parsley. Eat from the pan with crusty bread….
If you are
longing for a taste of simple Spanish food you’ll need to head away
from the main drag – off into the back streets and out into the
villages in the wooded hillside…
point of entry into Andalucía for many is certainly worth lingering in for a
couple of days. The Picasso Museum in the town of the artist’s birth
is definitely worth a gentle browse and Cathederal de la Encarnacion
is properly awe inspiring. Don’t miss the Centro Pompidou either and stroll
along the Pedregalejo seafront and eat the freshest fish in one of the many
breakfast, seek out crispy churros to dunk in a glass of hot
chocolate. They are a specialty in Malaga and a ‘must do’ for breakfast…
For tapas, Check
out Meson Iberico, on Calle San Lorenzo 27, it opens at 8.30pm. Book ahead of
else be ready to queue. Be there by 8.15pm… if you want to get a
seat at the counter or by the window ledge, you’ll need to sharpen
your elbows and make a dash as soon as the doors are opened such is the
enthusiasm of the regulars…but it’ll be worth it..
are traditional, made from superb ingredients and as a
result are memorably delicious. We enjoyed a plate of wafer
thin slivers of jamon Iberico from Cinco Jotas, perhaps the best pata
negra in all of Spain, made from the hams of the long
legged black Iberian pigs, reared in the dehesa oak forests and fattened on
acorns… You can’t imagine how the delicious flavour lingers in your
mouth – food for the gods. We also enjoyed tender whelks, octopus a
la Gallega sprinkled with paprika and flakes of sea salt. The tiny, briny sweet
clams were also memorable as were the crisp little tortilla aux Camorones
(shrimp fritters). Finally, there was a plate of the tiniest little broad
beans with two quails eggs and a few slivers of jamon melting over the
top. There were many other temptations but by then I was defeated but
Meson Iberico goes to the top of my Malaga list.
Next day, we
drove out into the countryside to Gaucín, one of the prettiest of the famous
Pueblos Blancos villages of Andalucia that hang precariously off the edge of
the wooded hillside like a stack of tumbling sugar cubes…. The drive over the
mountains from Malaga is spectacular and even more awe-inspiring from Gaucin
and even more so onto Ronda. This Moorish city is teeming with tourists but it
is definitely worth seeing the El Tajo Gorge under the Punta Nuevo (built in
1735). While you are there, pop into the Inglesia de Santa Maria church and
check out the Royal Cavelry Bull Ring, the earliest in Spain.
Gaucín, breakfast at Brena Verde was my favourite find in Guacín. Here, the
cheery cook sent plate after plate after plate of tortas fritta out of the
kitchen, irregular shaped squares of bubbly fried dough to enjoy drizzled with
local honey….simple and so delicious….we
loved them sent lots of compliments to the kitchen so the cheery cook invited me into the kitchen to watch her making the
frittas and shared the recipe. So fun to make, your children will love them
too, topped with their favourite morsels.
Guacin is about 45 minutes from the closest beach but we found several river
bathing places with pools of varying depth. The grandchildren spent hours
building dams, chasing dragonflies and watching little fish swimming around
them in the river. Can you imagine the joy….It brought memories flooding back
of swimming in the river Gaul outside the little village of Cullohill in Co
Laois when I was a child….
We stayed at Molina del
Carmen in Guacín, a former olive oil mill with some of the old machinery still
intact. It’s now a complex of five chic interlinking apartments that can be
rented individually or as a complex complete with a pool, perfect for a multi
generational family holiday. The views from the terraces are jaw dropping…
The rock of Gibraltar is clearly visible and Morocco a mere 35 mins ferry ride
away… The village has lots of cafes , pubs and artist studios and is less
than an hour from the closest sandy beach… you may even chance on a local
festival or Féria as we did with fiesty prancing horses, a greasy pole
competition to win a jamon and free community paella… a real and enchanting
glimpse of Spanish country life….
as a tapa
tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 cloves of
chilli, chopped (with seeds)
1 x 400g
(14ozs) tin of tomatoes, chopped
homemade tomato purée
freshly ground pepper and sugar
potatoes (e.g. golden wonder) peeled or unpeeled, which ever you prefer
tablespoons of olive oil in a sauté pan.
Add the chopped garlic and chilli and cook for 1-2 minutes. Add the chopped tinned tomatoes, tomato purée
and paprika. Season with salt, freshly
ground pepper and sugar. Simmer for 5-8
minutes or until slightly reduced.
heat 1 inch (2 1/2 cms) olive oil in a frying pan. Dice the potatoes into 1 inch (2 1/2 cm)
pieces. Dry on kitchen paper. Cook the potatoes in the hot oil until light
golden brown in colour and tender all the way through.
potatoes are cooking, liquidize the sauce and add the sherry vinegar. Return to the pan. When the potatoes are cooked, remove from the
oil and drain on kitchen paper. Season
lightly with some sea salt.
potatoes on a plate, drizzle with the sauce and a good dollop of aoili.
Tortillitas à la Patata
Sam and Jeannie Chesterton of Finca Buenvino in Andalucia,
recently introduced me to this little gem.
They are so easy to make and completely addictive – kids also love them
and they make the perfect little bites to nibble with a drink, preferably a
glass of Fino or Manzilla. This is
totally brilliant way to use up leftover boiled potatoes. The tortillitas are made in minutes and can
be served as part of every meal from breakfast to supper.
4 organic eggs
225g (8oz) cooked potatoes, cut into 5mm (1/4 inch) dice
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons finely chopped flat-leaf parsley and chives
extra virgin olive oil, for frying
Maldon sea salt, to serve
Aioli (see recipe)
Whisk the eggs in a bowl, add the diced potatoes, season with
salt and freshly ground pepper and add the herbs.
Heat about 5mm (1/4 inch) of oil in a frying pan on a high
heat, cook a teaspoonful of mixture and taste for seasoning. Correct if necessary.
Continue to cook the mini tortillas as needed, using a scant
dessertspoon of the mixture for each. Cook on one side for about 1-2 minutes,
flip over and continue to cook on the other side for a similar length of time,
or until slightly golden.
Drain on kitchen paper and sprinkle with a few flakes of sea
Serve hot, or at room temperature with a blob of Aioli (see
“Aioli” refers not only to the sauce made with garlic, egg
yolks and olive oil, but also to a complete dish where the sauce is served with
boned salt-cod, hard-boiled eggs, squid or snails and vegetables such as
carrots, potatoes, artichokes and green beans.
egg yolks, preferably free range
of English mustard or 1/4 teaspoon French mustard
dessertspoon white wine vinegar
(oil (sunflower, arachide or olive oil or a mixture) – We use 175ml (6fl oz) arachide oil and 50ml (2fl oz) olive oil, alternatively
cloves of garlic, depending on size
teaspoon saffron soaked in 2 teaspoons of hot water (optional)
the egg yolks into a bowl with the crushed garlic, mustard, salt and the white
wine vinegar (keep the whites to make meringues). Put the oil into a measure.
Take a whisk in one hand and the oil in the other and drip the oil onto the egg
yolks, drop by drop whisking at the same time. Within a minute you will notice
that the mixture is beginning to thicken. When this happens you can add the oil
a little faster, but don’t get too cheeky or it will suddenly curdle because
the egg yolks can only absorb the oil at a certain pace. Taste and add a little
more seasoning and vinegar if necessary.
the Mayonnaise curdles it will suddenly become quite thin, and if left sitting
the oil will start to float to the top of the sauce. If this happens you can
quite easily rectify the situation by putting another egg yolk or 1-2
tablespoons of boiling water into a clean bowl, then whisk in the curdled
Mayonnaise, a half teaspoon at a time until it emulsifies again. Finally add the saffron if using and taste
3-5 eggs depending on size (free range if possible)
Sieve the flour with the salt onto a piece of silicone
paper. Heat the water and butter in a
high-sided saucepan until the butter is melted. Bring to a fast rolling boil,
take from the heat. (Note: Prolonged boiling evaporates the
water and changes the proportions of the dough). Immediately the pan is taken from the heat,
add all the flour at once and beat vigorously with a wooden spoon for a few
seconds until the mixture is smooth and pulls away from the sides of the
saucepan to form a ball. Put the saucepan back on a low heat and stir for 30
seconds – 1 minute or until the mixture starts to furr the bottom of the
saucepan. Remove from the heat and cool for a few seconds.
Meanwhile set aside one egg, break it and whisk it in a
bowl. Add the remaining eggs into the
dough, one by one with a wooden spoon, beating thoroughly after each
addition. Make sure the dough comes back
to the same texture each time before you add another egg. When it will no
longer form a ball in the centre of the saucepan, add the beaten egg little by
little. Use just enough to make a mixture that is very shiny and just drops
reluctantly from the spoon in a sheet.
To make the Churros
Heat the oil in a deep fry to 180°C/350°F.
Mix the cinnamon with the caster sugar and pour
onto a flat plate.
Put a medium sized star shaped nozzle into a piping
bag. Fill with choux pastry.
When the oil is hot, pipe strips of choux pastry, 2
1/2 inches long approx, directly into the hot oil. They will puff up so
do just a few at a time. Cook until crisp and golden brown, drain on kitchen
Honey & Co Chefs, husband and wife team, Sarit Packer and
Itamar Srulovich are sitting contentedly at our kitchen table podding peas and
broad beans for supper. They’ve spent
the afternoon prepping for their guest chef course at the Ballymaloe Cookery
School. They live in Central London, run
two mega successful and much loved restaurants and a deli called Honey &
Smoke in Fitzrovia.
Each is jam packed with guests who absolutely love their homey
Middle Eastern food. There’s something
particularly welcoming, warm and comforting about Sarit & Itamar’s places and it’s the kind of food we love
to eat, who isn’t addicted to scooping up dollops of hummus or baba ganoush on ashtanur
flat bread or pitta. They both love cooking
and have since they were five. They originally
met in the kitchen of a posh Italian Restaurant in Israel but decided to
emigrate to London, where they worked in the Orrery, it’s worth knowing that Sarit
was pastry chef for Ottolenghi and executive head chef at Nopi, both
their third guest chef appearance at the Ballymaloe Cookery School, they love
coming to Ireland and their idea of heaven is being able to wander through the
farm and gardens, pick the leaves and petals for the salad, dig potatoes, snip
off the blossoms from the zucchini, licking their lips at the thought of how
they will prepare them. Real cooks are
endlessly excited by beautiful produce and exciting new flavours. They have searched the highways and byways of
the Middle East for the best spices, sumac, za’atar and best street food. Their enthusiasm is infectious, even
strangers sometimes share recipes with them – they endlessly try to recreate
the flavours of their childhood and home country. Honey Spice is like a tiny Aladdin’s Cave
with shelves packed with the best Middle Eastern ingredients, which I’ve
discovered I can now order online to
recreate their recipes from their three books.
Honey & Co, Honey & Co The Baking Book and the recently published Honey & Co At Home, which has already become many of their
devotees favourite. The format of Honey & Co At Home is different to
the two previous books and includes recipes, For Us Two, For Friends, For the
Weekend, For a Crowd…at the end of the book there’s an excellent section
entitled For the Kitchen, a sort of store cupboard section of spice mixes,
pickles, relishes & sauces. The book
is worth the price for this one chapter alone. Their harissa, ras el hanout and
tahini has certainly added zing to my dishes, I also love the pithy and the
& Itamar enchanted us for a whole day, and here are a few dishes they
cooked for us, the Ashtanur bread, a super
quick flat bread and so worth knowing about, kids also love to make and bake it
on a pan or outdoors.
pot chicken dish will definitely become a favourite, cracked wheat is easy to
find nowadays but if you can’t source it, use long grain rice.
worth checking out the Honey & Co podcast The Food Talks available on iTunes and Spotify to download and
several segments on Youtube where they are cooking favourite dishes in their inimitable
teaspoon sea salt or a generous pinch of table salt
teaspoon whole cumin seeds
Pre-heat your oven to 200°C/400°F/Gas Mark 6
or 180°C/350°/Gas Mark 4 (Fan)
I use a mixer to make these; the dough is
easy enough to make by hand, but it’s a little messy. Place the flour and
butter in a mixer bowl with a paddle attachment and combine to a crumb-like
Add half the egg and half the grated pecorino
or Parmesan, along with the ricotta, goat’s cheese, harissa paste and salt. Mix
together until everything forms a nice, soft, pliable dough.
Divide the dough into two pieces and roll
each one into a log about 20cm (8 inch) long. Brush each log all over with the
other half of the egg, which you set aside earlier.
Mix the remaining Pecorino or Parmesan and
the cumin seeds together, and sprinkle on the work surface. Roll the logs in
the cheese cumin mixture until coated all over. Place on a tray in the fridge
to rest for at least an hour, and up to 48 hours.
When you are ready to bake – best done just
before serving as these are great hot –Cut each log into about 10 slices, each
about 2cm (3/4 inch) thick, and lay them flat on a lined baking tray. Bake for
about 13-15 minutes, until the cheese becomes golden but the buns are still
soft. Remove from the oven and serve hot.
Kohlrabi, Orange and Chilli Salad
for 6-8 as a side of 4-6 as a starter
1 head of
juice of 1/2
1 red chilli
(blood oranges work beautifully here)
bunch of coriander
Orange Blossom Water
rice wine vinegar
fennel bulbs and remove the core. Lay them flat on a chopping board and slice
lengthways as thinly as you can. Place in a large bowl.
kohlrabi, cut into quarters and then cut into thin wafer-like slices (you can use
a peeler, or a mandolin if you own one). Add the kohlrabi slices to the fennel,
sprinkle with the salt and lemon juice, and mix.
Cut the red
chilli into thin rounds and add to the bowl. Peel the oranges, slice into
rounds and add these to the bowl too. Pick the coriander into sprigs and pop
them into ice cold water for 10-15 minutes. Drain and add them to the bowl just
the orange blossom water, vinegar and olive oil. Mix well and serve.
Ashtanur – Griddle Bread
Makes 6-7 flat breads
250g (9oz) strong flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
7g fresh yeast or 1/2 teaspoon
1/2 teaspoon honey (or sugar)
60ml (2 1/2fl oz) + about 60ml (2
1/2fl oz) warm water
1 tablespoon vegetable oil, plus
extra for oiling and rolling
Mix the flour
and salt in a big bowl. Dissolve the yeast and honey (or sugar) in the first
60ml of warm water and set aside until it starts to foam.
foaming water-yeast mixture and the oil into the flour and mix, bringing it all
together. Add as much of the additional water as you need to get a good even
dough, then start kneading until it becomes supple and shiny. Drizzle with some
extra oil on the top, cover the bowl with cling film and set aside until the
dough doubles in volume, or place in the fridge for the next day.
workbench and turn the dough out, Divide into six or seven balls of
approximately 50g (2oz) each and roll them in the oil, making sure each one has
a nice coating of it. Leave them on the counter for 10 minutes to rest. Now is the
time to set the griddle pan on the stove to heat up.
stretching the dough balls. The best bay is to oil your hands, then press the
dough down to flatten and spread it with your hands until it is as thin as you
can get it – you should almost see the work surface through it.
first stretched dough ball carefully and pop it on the hot griddle pan. It will
take about a minute or two to colour, then flip it, cook for 10 seconds and
remove from the pan. Put the next one on and repeat the process. Stack them
while they are hot and wrap them in cling film to serve later the same day,
freeze once cooled or eat immediately.
Chicken Braised in Spicy Matbucha and Cracked Wheat Pilaf
A gorgeous one pot dish…
1/4lb) chicken thighs
chilli, thinly sliced
quartered and very thinly sliced
1 long red
pepper, cut into thick rings
tomatoes cut into thick slices
tomatoes (any type will do, but a mix is nice)
bunch coriander, roughly chopped
1/2fl oz) water
coarse cracked wheat
Place the chicken thighs skin-side down in a
large saucepan or sauté pan and season with a teaspoon of the salt. Place on
the stove on a low heat and allow the fat from the skin to render out — it will
take about 15-20 minutes to crisp the skin. Then flip and cook for an extra
five minutes on the other side. Carefully lift the thighs on to a plate, leaving
all the fat that’s been produced in the pan. Keep the pan on the heat and add
the chopped chilli, lemon slices and garlic. Sauté until a strong aroma of
lemons comes from the pan — about three minutes.
Increase the heat to medium-high and add the
pepper rings. Sauté for another three minutes, stirring all the time, then add
the tomato slices. Season with the second teaspoon of salt and the sugar and
mix well. Cook for about five minutes or until the tomato slices start to fall
apart and create a sauce.
Return the chicken thighs to the pan, skin
side up. Add the whole cherry tomatoes and sprinkle the chopped coriander on
top. Add the water, reduce the heat to a minimum and cover. Simmer for 20
minutes, then remove the lid. Stir your dish a little to make sure it isn’t
catching on the bottom of the pan. Replace the lid, but this time don’t close
it entirely. Allow some steam to escape and simmer very slowly for another 15
You can eat the dish now if you wish, but the
best thing to do is to sprinkle the cracked wheat into the pot. Stir it a
little, bring back to the boil and return the lid to the pot. Set aside for 15
minutes (off the heat) and then serve.
Sumac and Vanilla Shortbread
240g (8 1/2oz) butter, at room temperature
120g (scant 4 1/2oz) icing sugar
360g (12 1/2oz) plain flour
1 vanilla pod, seeds scraped out
1⁄2 teaspoon flaky sea salt
For the coating
2 tablespoons sumac
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
Heat your oven to 190°C/375°F/Gas Mark 5
Use a food processor or an
electric mixer with a paddle attachment to work the butter, icing sugar, flour,
vanilla seeds and salt until the mixture just forms a ball of dough. It takes a
while to come together, so don’t lose faith.
Once it has formed, turn
the dough out onto the work surface. Divide into two pieces and shape each one
into a log – I prefer to make it rectangular but it is tasty in any shape.
Mix the sumac and sugar on
the work surface. Roll the log in the sumac-sugar to coat all over, then place
in the fridge to set for at least 1 hour (or freeze it until you want to bake
Line two baking trays with
baking paper. Use a sharp knife to cut each log into 12–14 slices and place
them flat on the trays.
Bake for 10–12 minutes
until light golden, then remove from the oven. Leave to cool on the tray before
Ireland became a member of the European Union in 1973, within
a short time a tidal wave of regulations swept over the country. Small
producers, butchers, bakers, cheesemakers were often asked to comply with
regulations far out of proportion to the risks involved and to spend more than
the business could afford. Many long established businesses ceased to exist and
many important enterprises were lost.
It was in this climate that the Europe wide Eurotoque
organisation was established, in 1986.
Myrtle Allen was a founder member and the instigator of the original Eurotoques
awards in 1996. She was a passionate supporter of local farmers, fishermen,
artisan producers cheesemakers, fish smokers, foragers….long before local
became a sexy word on the food scene.
The aim of Eurotoque was and still is to preserve Irish
culinary heritage by supporting traditional cooking methods and promoting
producers of local and seasonal artisan products. The members, chefs and cooks
of which I am proud to be one, are part of a nurturing community who pride
themselves in being custodians of Irish food culture and actively support local
artisan producers. This year’s Eurotoque Food Awards honoured dedicated food
producers, who make exceptionally good raw materials which enable the chefs to
create their magic. I was delighted that the awards were held in Virginia Park
Lodge, which gave me an excuse to visit, renowned Irish chef Richard
Corrigan’s, beautiful establishment on an 18th Century country
estate in the midst of acres of vegetable, fruit and herb gardens overlooking
the banks of Lough Ramor in Co Cavan.
The awards were presented by Richard Corrigan himself and
Caroline Hennessy under the grape vines in a tunnel in the ‘Gooseberry Garden’
with a back drop of the Lough and Leagh
Here are a list of the awards winners who were presented
under the categories Water, Craft Growers, Land, Farm, Dairy and Artisan
Water Connemara Seaweed Company
Craft Growers Ballyholey Farm, Glensallagh Gardens, Iona
Farm, Gorse Farm and An Garrai Glas,
Lunch cooked by Chef Eoin Corcoran and his team, was a
celebration of Irish produce. The winners were presented with a piece of
bespoke Fermoyle Pottery www.fermoylepottery.ie, each piece representing their award
category. This hand thrown and hand painted pottery was new to me and an
The award lunch dinner was refreshingly uncheffy, a delicious
lobster cocktail, sole with asparagus and the first broad beans of the season
and soft meringue with rhubarb. Richard’s chef, Eoin kindly sent the recipes to
share with our readers.
4 – 6
lobster (600g/1 1/4lb approx.)
head of crunchy lettuce
(7oz) homemade Mayonnaise
tablespoon Horseradish Cream Sauce
tablespoon homemade Ketchup
teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
a large pot of heavily salted (seawater) to a simmer and gently place in the
for 10 mins and immediately remove into ice cold water.
the tail and claws from the lobster.
the meat from the tail by firmly pressing a hand until the shell cracks
allowing easy removal. Crack the claws
and use a pick to remove any remaining lobster meat.
all ingredients for the cocktail sauce. Taste and tweak the seasoning if
and deseed the cucumber and slice into chunks.
the lettuce and cucumber in a serving dishe.
the lobster and place on top.
a generous mound of cocktail sauce to the side, serve with lemon wedges.
A bowl of
mashed potatoes flecked with green scallions with a blob of butter melting in
the centre, add the butter just before serving so it melts into the centre.
‘Comfort’ food at its best.
unpeeled ‘old’ potatoes e.g. Golden Wonders or Kerrs Pinks
chopped scallions (use the bulb and green stem) or 45g
1 – 2
tablespoons of dried seaweed – Dillisk or a mixture
(10-12fl oz) milk
freshly ground pepper
potatoes and boil them in their jackets.
finely the scallions and chopped chives and place them in a saucepan. Cover with cold milk and bring slowly to the
boil. Simmer for about 3-4 minutes, turn
off the heat and leave to infuse. Just as the milk is coming to the boil add
the pre-soaked dillisk, drained and cut into strips. Peel and mash the freshly
boiled potatoes and while hot, mix with the boiling milk and onions and
seaweed, beat in the butter. Season to
taste with salt and freshly ground pepper.
Serve in 1 large or 6 individual bowls with a knob of butter melting in
the centre. The mash may be put aside
and reheated later in a moderate oven, 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4. Cover with parchment paper while it reheats
so that it doesn’t get a skin and add the lump of butter just before serving.
Tomato Salad with Flowers, Za’atar and Freekeh
This is a pretty salad
with lots of edible flowers from the garden and the tomatoes are particularly
good. Freekeh is a Lebanese wheat. It’s picked while still under ripe and set
on fire to remove the husk, which smokes and toasts the grain.
100g (3 1/2oz) freekeh
extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon pomegranate
12 ripe cherry tomatoes
2 teaspoons za’atar
lots of edible flowers,
perhaps violas, rocket flowers, or borage (remove furry calyx from behind the
flower), chive or coriander blossom to hand in the summer
Put the freekeh into a
saucepan with cold water, bring to the boil and simmer for 4-6 minutes, depending
on the freekeh (some are broken grains, others whole). It should be soft but
still slightly chewy. Drain, season with salt and drizzle with extra virgin
olive oil and toss. Taste and correct
In a little bowl, whisk
the pomegranate molasses with 3 tablespoons (4 American tablespoons) extra
virgin olive oil to emulsify.
Cut the tomatoes into
wedges. Season with salt and a little extra virgin olive oil. Lay the tomatoes
on a plate, scatter with the freekeh, then sprinkle over the za’atar and edible
flowers. Finish the plate by drizzling with the pomegranate molasses
mixture. Taste and add a few more flakes
of sea salt if necessary.
Freekeh cooking times
vary quite dramatically depending on the type and age of the freekeh.
chop the chilli and mix with the rice flour, salt and freshly ground black
in the iced water to form a light batter.
before cooking, drain and dry the snails, dust with a little flour.
each snail with the batter and fry in very hot oil until crisp and golden.
serve, provide cocktails sticks and a bowl of garlic mayonnaise for dipping.
Ballyminane Brown Soda Bread
This is a more modern version of Soda
Bread, couldn’t be simpler, just mix and pour into a well-greased tin. This bread keeps very well for several days
and is also great toasted. If you can, source the flour from one of the
winners, Ballyminane Mill, based in Co Wexford and established in 1832, it is
the last working water-powered flour mill in Ireland www.ballyminanemills.com
Makes 1 loaf or 3 small loaves
400g (14ozs) Ballyminane stone ground
wholemeal flour or other flour of your choice
75g (3ozs) white flour, preferably
1 teaspoon salt
1 level teaspoon bread soda, sieved
(Bicarbonate of Soda/Baking Soda)
1 egg, preferably free range
1 tablespoon sunflower oil, unscented
1 teaspoon honey or treacle
425ml (15fl ozs) buttermilk or sourmilk approx.
sunflower or sesame seeds (optional)
Loaf tin 23×12.5x5cm (9x5x2in) OR 3 small loaf
tins 5.75 inches (14.6cm) x 3 inches (7.62cm)
Preheat oven to 200ºC/400ºF/Gas Mark
Put all the dry ingredients including
the sieved bread soda into a large bowl, mix well. Whisk the egg, add the oil
and honey and buttermilk. Make a well in the centre of the dry ingredients and
pour in all the liquid, mix well and add more buttermilk if necessary. The
mixture should be soft and slightly sloppy, pour into an oiled tin or tins –
using a butter knife, draw a slit down the middle. Sprinkle some sunflower or
sesame seeds on the top. Bake for 60 minutes approximately (45-50 minutes for
small loaf tins), or until the bread is nice and crusty and sounds hollow when
tapped. Cool on a wire rack.
The quantity of buttermilk can vary depending on
thickness. Add 1-2 tablespoons of cream
to low-fat buttermilk (optional).
Meringue Roulade with Roast Rhubarb,
Rosewater Cream and Crystallised Rose Petals
Serves 6 – 8
4 egg whites
225g (8oz) castor sugar
300ml (10floz) softly whipped cream
flavoured with 1-2 teaspoons rose water
Roast Rhubarb (see recipe)
sprigs of mint, lemon balm or sweet
Crystallised Rose Petals (see recipe)
Swiss roll tin 12 x 8 inch (30.5 x
20.5cm) or 13 x 9 inch (33 x 23cm) for a thinner roulade
Preheat the oven to 180ºC\350ºF\Gas
First make the Roast Rhubarb (see
Put the egg whites into a spotlessly
clean bowl of a food mixer. Break up
with the whisk and then add all the castor sugar together. Whisk at full speed until it holds a stiff
peak, 10 minutes approx.
Meanwhile, line a Swiss roll tin with
parchment paper, brush lightly with a non-scented oil (e.g. sunflower oil).
Spread the meringue gently over the
tin with a palette knife, it ought to be quite thick and bouncy. Bake in the
preheated oven for 15-20 minutes.
Put a sheet of parchment paper on the
work top and turn the roulade onto it.
Remove the base paper and allow to cool in the tin.
Spread the whipped cream and drained
roast rhubarb over the meringue, roll up from the wide end and carefully ease
onto a serving plate. Pipe 6 –8 rosettes along the top of the roulade, decorate
as you wish with crystallised rose petals and mint leaves. Serve, cut into slices about 2.5cm (1 inch)
Note: This roulade is also very good filled
with fresh raspberries, loganberries, sliced ripe peaches, nectarines, kiwi
fruit, bananas, or mango and passionfruit.
A dish of roasted fruit couldn’t be simpler – rhubarb, plums,
greengages, apricots, peaches, apples, pears.
Once again I love to add some freshly chopped herbs, e.g. rose geranium
or verbena to the sugar or the accompanying cream.
I’ve become a huge fan of the sweet and intense flavour of
1kg (2 1/4lb) red rhubarb
200-250g (7-9oz) sugar
Preheat the oven to 200˚C/Gas Mark 6.
Stainless steel or non-reactive ovenproof dish, 45cm x 30cm
(18 inch x 12 inch) (size depends slightly on the thickness of the rhubarb)
Trim the rhubarb stalks if necessary.
Slice the rhubarb into 2 1/2cm (1 inch) pieces and arrange in
a single layer in an oven proof dish.
Scatter the sugar over the rhubarb and allow to macerate for an hour or
more, until the juice starts to run. Cover loosely with a sheet of parchment
paper and roast in the pre-heated oven for 10-20 minutes depending on the
thickness of the stalks – until the rhubarb is just tender.
Serve alone or with ice-cream, panna cotta, labneh or thick
Good to know….uncover the rhubarb after 10
minutes for more caramelisation
A few weeks ago we flew from Cork Airport to Bristol, hired a
car and headed for Devon and Cornwall. I’d forgotten how beautiful the English
countryside can be, the abundance of wildflowers in the hedgerows and so many beautiful
mature trees. One can’t but draw comparison
to our Irish countryside, so often denuded of hedgerows and with so few mature
trees. Of course it depends on the area
in both countries but I’m becoming ever more alarmed at the wanton disregard
for the environment.
We had booked a few nights stay at Coombeshead Farm near
Lewannick, a ‘farm to fork’, guest house with just five bedrooms owned by chefs
Tom Adams and his partner April Bloomfield. We arrived tired and hungry and
felt instantly at home. The bedrooms are small by most hotel standards but
charmingly decorated with a homemade soap made from the lard of their own pigs,
a little decanter of mint vodka to sip and two pieces of homemade toffee to
share or argue over. The house is surrounded by organic gardens in a working
farm with vegetable and herb gardens and a flock of heritage chickens.
The farmhouse is in the midst of 66 acres of woodlands and
meadows grazed by sheep, there are beehives and a wood burning oven and a fire
pit. Curly haired Mangalitsa pigs romping and rooting around the fields
underneath the oak spinney behind the house. The bread is made in the ‘state of
the art’ bakery in the barn by Ben Glazer, beautiful dark crusty loaves of
natural sour dough that also make their way to some of the top restaurants in
The food is super delicious, we stayed for three nights and
looked forward to each and every meal with eager anticipation. The atmosphere feels
like a house party, comfy sofas, crackling fires – guests tend to congregate in
the kitchen around the stove. Breakfast each day was a simple feast, dark
crusty sourdough bread with homemade Guernsey butter, compote of seasonal fruit
-rhubarb, apple, gooseberry with elderflower, raw honey, homemade jams, granola,
bircher muesli, gut boosting water kefir, kombucha and gorgeous unctuous
yoghurt . A most fantastic slab of fine home cured streaky bacon and homemade
sausages from the happy rare breed Mangalitsa pigs with a soft flowing scramble
of their own eggs.
Lots of pickling, fermenting, curing and preserving. Small
plates of creative, flavourful real food. No silly foams, gels or skid marks on
Here these young people are really ‘walking the walk’, not
just ‘talking the talk’ as so many places do, skilled, accomplished earthy
organic food, locally sourced and seasonal.
The menus sang of the season and the produce picked at its
peak from the vegetable garden and hedgerows – zero miles food. I’m licking my
lips remembering some of the flavours still so vibrantly fresh in my mind
Country loaf and Guernsey butter, new seasons asparagus wrapped in crispy filo parcel,
Garlic scapes and Jack of the Hedge, Pickled ramson and cabbage terrine, curds
and nettle, Mangalitsa loin and turnip, hazelnut tart with fresh cream…..you’ll
just have to go there yourself to experience the magic!
200g (7oz) heritage
carrots chopped into irregular shapes
1/4oz) Cauliflower or broccoli, small florets
1 red onion,
cut into small wedges
peppers cut into 2.5cm (1 inch) pieces
1 head of
garlic, cut in half
sticks, peeled and sliced
900ml (1 1/2
pints) cider vinegar
1/4oz) castor sugar
oz) extra virgin olive oil
oz) organic rapeseed oil
2 sprigs of
Prepare the vegetables and put into a stainless steel saucepan
or Delph crock pot. Sprinkle with salt. Add enough water to cover and leave in
the fridge for 24 hours.
Drain the vegetables, rinse well and check for salinity, pat
Heat the sugar and water in a pan until just dissolved and transfer
to a large bowl. Add the herbs, peppercorns, chilli flakes, vinegar and oil
together. Add the vegetables and store in airtight containers for a minimum of
2 weeks until ready.
This pickle is perfect served with grilled meats,
Coombeshead Farm Bircher
This recipe is quite adaptable
depending on seasonality – the below is the base for quantities but for example
at the moment Coombeshead Farm are using semi dried rhubarb rather than prunes
as that is in season on the farm at the moment.
Serves 4 – 6
500g (18oz) rolled spelt/rye grains
(can be good quality barley oats or normal oats or even seeds such as sunflower
seeds and pumpkin seeds.
100g (3 ½ oz) pitted prunes or semi
dried fruit of choice cut into bite size pieces
750ml (1 ¼ pints)good quality apple
juice or red/white grape juice
Completely submerge the grains and prunes in
the juice by at least 3cm and leave for 24 hours minimum to allow the
phytic acid to break down.
Finish with toasted seeds or nuts.
Serve to your liking, perhaps some
farmhouse yoghurt, fresh seasonal fruits or berries and some local honey, a
Asparagus in Filo
Serves 12 (makes approximately 30)
12 sticks asparagus in season
12 sheets of filo pastry
175g (6oz) unsalted butter, melted
150g (5oz) Parmesan, finely grated
freshly ground pepper
Trim the ends of the asparagus. Put into a saucepan of boiling salted water,
just enough to cover, bring back to the boil and simmer until tender, 3-4
minutes depending on size. Remove from the heat, strain and allow to cool. Cut into 10-12.5cm (4-5 inches) pieces.
Alternatively, toss in a little extra virgin olive oil and
pan grill on a high heat for 3-4 minutes, they should retain a nice bite.
Heat the oven to 200°C/400°F/Gas Mark 6.
Lay a sheet of filo on the worktop, cut into four pieces,
brush with melted butter. Sprinkle it evenly with finely grated Parmesan,
season with salt and freshly ground pepper. Place the asparagus in the middle.
Tuck in the edges and roll up tightly. Arrange in a single layer on a baking
tray, brush with melted butter and refrigerate.
Sprinkle with a little Parmesan cheese before it goes into the oven.
Bake for 8-10 minutes until they are crisp and golden all
Serve piping hot, sprinkled with a little more Parmesan.
1.3 litres (2 1/4 pints) vodka
175oz (6oz) picked freshly picked mint leaves (no stalks)
150g (5oz) sugar
1.5 litre (2 1/2 pints) Kilner Jar
Put the mint leaves into a Kilner
jar. Add the sugar and cover with the
vodka. Seal the jar, invert every couple
of days to dissolve the sugar. Taste
after a week or two, best to drink sooner rather than later – delicious on its
own or with soda water or tonic and lots of ice.
This evening we had compote of gooseberries with elderflower
after supper with a few friends, a simple dessert, just stewed gooseberries
really but it blew everyone away. Most of our friends hadn’t tasted gooseberries
for years – They had virtually forgotten about them. The intense flavour sent
them into a spin of nostalgia many called them Goosegogs when they were children.
They reminisced about the gooseberry bushes in Granny’s garden, picking
gooseberries from the prickly bushes, top and tailing them around the kitchen
table for gooseberry jam, and the dire warnings not to eat them before they
were ripe or “you’d get a pain where you
never had a window”.
Wonderful how a
flavour brings memories flooding back, one mouthful and I was back in our
little vegetable garden in Cullohill, picking tart green berries into an enamel
bowl, so hard they sounded like stones against the side of the bowl.
Mummy usually made red gooseberry jam from the riper fruit,
but years later I discovered the magic of green gooseberry and elderflower jam
from Jane Grigson’s Good Things cookbook published in 1971.
She also introduced me to the magical combination of green
gooseberry and elderflower. Ever since, as soon as I see elderflower blossoms
in the hedgerows, I know it’s time to dash down the garden to rummage through
the prickly branches of the gooseberry bushes to pick the hard green bitter
marble sized berries.
It’s difficult to imagine that they are ready to eat but
believe me they make the best jams and compotes at this stage and also freeze
If you don’t have a gooseberry bush in your garden, dash out
and buy at least one now, better still three, at least one should be Careless,
Invicta is another delicious variety which
is somewhat resistant to mildew.
Unless you live close to a good Country or Farmers Market you
are not likely to find fresh gooseberries. Unlike strawberries and raspberries
which are available ad nauseam all year round, fresh gooseberries are rarely to
be found on a supermarket shelf.
We grow several varieties of gooseberries; some in bush form.
We train others as cordons or in a fan shape along a wall. The latter are a
brilliant discovery, so much easier to pick. Gooseberries are deciduous and the
fruit is high in Vitamin C.
Only today, I discovered the origin of the word gooseberry or
spíonán in Irish, apparently they were so named because they were used to make
a sauce for roast goose to cut the richness – Can you imagine how delicious
that combination would be?
When we were little, we always called gooseberries goosegogs.
Crumbles are the quintessential comfort food,
this is a brilliant master recipe, just vary the fruit according to the season.
45-55g soft dark brown sugar
1-2 tablespoon water
110g plain white flour, preferably unbleached
50g castor sugar
Elderflower Cream for serving (optional)
1.1L capacity pie dish
First stew the gooseberries gently with the
sugar and water in a covered casserole or stainless steel saucepan just until
the fruit bursts.
Then taste and add more sugar if necessary.
Turn into a pie dish. Allow to cool slightly while you make the crumble.
Rub the butter into the flour just until the
mixture resembles really coarse bread
crumbs, add the sugar. Sprinkle this mixture over the gooseberries in the
pie dish. Scatter the flaked almonds evenly over the top.
Bake in a preheated moderate oven 180C/350F/regulo
4, for 30-45 minutes or until the topping is cooked and golden. Serve with
cream flavoured with elderflower cordial or just softly whipped cream and soft
Gooseberry and Elderflower
Stew the gooseberries with white sugar, add 2
elderflower heads tied in muslin while stewing, remove elderflowers and proceed
on the Crumble
30g oatflakes or sliced hazelnuts or nibbed
almonds can be good added to the crumble.
Gooseberry Frangipane Tart
This is certainly one of the most impressive of the
French tarts, it is wonderful served warm but is also very good cold and it
keeps for several days.
450g (1lb) green gooseberries
Stock Syrup made with:
150ml (5floz) water
60g (2oz) sugar
Boil sugar and water until all the sugar is dissolved and
cool. Stock Syrup can be kept in the refrigerator until needed.
200g (7oz) flour
110g (4oz) cold butter
1 egg yolk, preferably free range and organic
3-4 tablespoons cold water
100g (31/2oz) butter
75g (3oz) castor sugar
1 egg, beaten
1 egg yolk, preferably free range
110g (4oz) whole blanched almonds, ground or 1/2ground almonds and 1/2 blanched and ground
25g (1oz) flour
25g (1oz) flaked almonds
Elderflower Cream (flavour softly whipped cream with
elderflower cordial to taste)
23cm (9inch) diameter flan ring or tart tin with a
First make the shortcrust pastry,
Sieve the flour and salt into a bowl, cut the butter
into cubes and rub into the flour with the fingertips. Keep everything as cool
as possible; if the fat is allowed to melt the finished pastry may be tough.
When the mixture looks like coarse breadcrumbs, stop. Whisk the egg yolk and
add the water.
Take a fork or knife (whichever you feel most
comfortable with) and add just enough liquid to bring the pastry together, then
discard the fork and collect the pastry into a ball with your hands. This way
you can judge more accurately if you need a few more drops of liquid. Although
slightly damp pastry is easier to handle and roll out, the resulting crust can
be tough and may well shrink out of shape as the water evaporates in the oven.
The drier and more difficult-to-handle pastry will give a crisper shorter
Cover the pastry with greaseproof paper and leave to
rest in the fridge for a minimum of 15 minutes or better still 30 minutes. This
will make the pastry much less elastic and easier to roll.
Meanwhile, top and tail the gooseberries, put into a
stainless steel saucepan, barely cover with stock syrup, bring to a boil and
simmer until the gooseberries just begin to burst. Cool.
Next make the frangipane.
Cream the butter, gradually beat in the sugar and
continue beating until the mixture is light and soft. Gradually add the egg and
egg yolk, beating well after each addition. Stir in the ground almonds and
flour. Spread the frangipane over the
top and sprinkle with flaked almonds.
Turn the oven up to 200°C/400°F/Gas Mark 6. Bake the
tart for 15 minutes. Turn down the oven heat to moderate 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4
and continue cooking for 15-20 minutes or until the fruit is tender and the
frangipane is set in the centre and nicely golden.
Serve with Elderflower Cream.
Green Gooseberry and Elderflower Jam
Makes 6 x 450g
growing a gooseberry bush just to make this jam alone.
gooseberries should be green and tart and hard as hail stones – as soon as the
elderflowers are in bloom in the hedgerows search for the gooseberries under
the prickly bushes or seek them out in your local greengrocer or Farmers
1/2lbs) tart green gooseberries
squeezed juice of 2 lemons plus enough water to measure 300ml (10fl oz) in
Top and tail
the gooseberries and put into a wide stainless steel saucepan or preserving pan
with the water and elderflowers tied in muslin. Simmer until the gooseberries
burst. Remove the elderflowers and add the warm sugar, stirring until it has
completely dissolved. Boil rapidly for about 10 minutes until setting point is
reached (220°F on a jam thermometer). Pour into hot clean jars, cover and store
in a dry airy cupboard.
This jam should be a fresh green colour, so be careful
not to overcook it.
Torched Mackerel with Green
4 large mackerel fillets, bones removed and
filleted in half
Salt for curing
Sprig of fennel for serving
Green Gooseberry Sauce
First make the Green Gooseberry sauce see
This simple sauce is so much more than the sum
of its parts, we love it with pan-grilled mackerel, goose, pork and other rich
fatty meats. Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall
suggests adding a tablespoon of chopped sage, I tried it recently and it was
If you are stuck for a pudding just fold in
some softly whipped cream and hey presto you have gooseberry fool.
275g (9 1/2oz) fresh green gooseberries
stock syrup to cover (see previous recipe) –
175ml (6fl oz) approximately
a knob of butter (optional)
Top and tail the gooseberries, put into a
stainless steel saucepan, barely cover with stock syrup, bring to the boil and
simmer until the fruit bursts.
Taste. Stir in a small knob of
butter if you like but it is very good without it.
Lay the mackerel fillets, skin side down on a
baking tray. Sprinkle lightly with salt and allow to sit and cure slightly for
Take the tray of salted mackerel and char with
skin with a blow torch. The heat will refract from the tray underneath,
allowing the fish to cook from both sides, leaving it slightly pink in the
middle. Alternatively, you can use a grill or a pan grill.
To serve, arrange the fish on hot plates with a
dollop of Green Gooseberry sauce and a sprig of fennel.
Ann Marie’s Gooseberry, Pistachio
and Coconut Cake
22cm (9 inch) diameter round cake
100g (3 1/2oz) sugar plus 20g
(3/4oz) for the topping
90g (3 1/4oz) light brown sugar
180g (6 1/4oz) ground almonds
30g (1 1/4oz) ground pistachio
45g (1 3/4oz) desiccated coconut
50g (2oz/1/2 cup) self-rising
a pinch of salt
1 tablespoon of Elderflower
150g (5oz) butter – melted
250g (9oz) gooseberries, halved
1oz pistachio nuts coarsely
Icing sugar to serve
Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas
Mark 4 (160C fan).
Lightly grease the cake tin with
Mix all the dry ingredients
together in a large bowl. Pour over the melted butter and mix in the
eggs, spoon the batter into the pre-greased tin and smooth down.
Drop the halved gooseberries onto
the batter and sprinkle the top of the cake with the remaining 20g (3/4oz)
of sugar. Bake in the centre of the oven for 30-35 minutes, then turn the
cake around and bake for a further 8-10 minutes until the cake between the
gooseberries goes all golden.
Allow the cake to cool in the
tin, as it needs time to settle, then gently remove by running a knife around
the edges. Covered well, it will keep in the fridge for up to a week (not
much chance of that happening), but for the best flavour, allow it to return to
room temperature before eating. To serve sprinkle with some coarsely chopped
pistachio nuts and dredge with a little icing sugar.
An exciting parcel arrived on my desk today, a present from a past
student who wanted me to have a copy of her very first cook book – Abra Berens
is the twenty eight Ballymaloe Cooking School student to write a
best-selling cook book. It’s called Ruffage, published by Chronicle Books and
has just been chosen by the New York Times as one of the Top 10 Books of 2019 –
and that’s no mean feat….
Abra did a 12 Week Certificate Course here in 2006. She’s chef at Granor
Farm in Three Oaks, Michigan and a co-founder of Bare Knuckle Farm. She’s
making quite the impact and strives to connect people with their food both
through dinners and progressive food policy, helping to further a food policy
where farmers earn a living wage, protect our environment through agriculture
and waste as little food as possible…..no doubt influenced by the zero waste
policy we do our best to espouse here at the Ballymaloe Cooking School.
A year and half after she left here she took up residence in a forest
valley between two cherry orchards on Bare Knuckle Farm in Michigan. She
plunged all her savings into the project, worked from dawn till dusk, ate
brilliantly but by the end of the first year was so ‘poor and cold’ that she
decided to return to Chicago to get a job that paid “in green backs” rather
than green leafy vegetables. There was lots of delicious food at the pie
shop where she worked but soon she was craving the carrots that seemed to get
sweeter with every passing frost, the tiny kale greens that still sprouted from
the stalk and the almost obscenely orange-yolked eggs. “Farming changed the way
I too, know that feeling, when you sow and tend a seed and wait
patiently for it to grow into something to eat you will cook it carefully and
lovingly and use every single scrap. You will want everyone to know that you
grew it…Furthermore, it gives one a far greater respect and appreciation for
those who grow nourishing and wholesome food all for us.
The format of Ruffage is also interesting. It’s not a vegetarian book
but Abra has chosen vegetables as the principle ingredient and gives deeply
knowledgable advise on how to select, store, prepare, cook and serve them using
a variety of cooking techniques. She starts with a pantry section and some
essential condiments. There are recipes for each vegetable and
suggestions for 3 or 4 delicious variations, and many, many cooking methods, pan
roasting, poaching, boiling, sautéing, grilling, oven roasting, braising,
confit, frying, stuffed, marinated, baked, caramelized and of course raw.
Who knew, that there so many super exciting ways to serve vegetables, I
love this book and plan to stock it in our Farm shop here at the Ballymaloe
Cookery School. We don’t have much space so I’m super fussy about what I ask
Toby to stock but this is a ‘keeper’.
Here are a few treats to whet your appetite……for the tempting variations
you’ll need to order Abra’s book.
Abra Berens Beet-dressed pasta
w/golden raisins and poppy seeds
Generally, I use a microwave to warm
up my forgotten morning coffee and for little else. But there are other uses.
The beets in this recipe will purée to a significantly smoother texture if they
are warm. If you have prepared a load of beets earlier in the week and want to
make this sauce, simply warm them up in the microwave with a splash of water.
Alternatively, if you are cooking loads of beets, it’s smart to make the purée
when they are warm out of the oven. It will store in the refrigerator for a
week or in the freezer for a good long time.
This pasta salad also works as a cold salad,
but often needs an extra pinch of salt, since the flavours will be muted when
35 g golden
Juice of ½ lemon
beets (455 g)
60 ml olive oil
Salt and freshly
ground black pepper
455 g small
pasta, bow ties, orecchiette, or penne
10 g poppy seeds
Soak the golden
raisins in ½ cup (120 ml) hot water with a squeeze of lemon for 10 minutes or
until they are plump. Strain the raisins, saving the water.
In a food
processor, purée the beets with the olive oil, raisin water, and a good pinch
of salt and pepper until very smooth. If you like dairy, toss in a glug of
Boil the pasta in
well-salted water and drain.
Toss the pasta with the beet purée (to warm and
coat), soaked raisins, and poppy seeds. Transfer to serving platter or individual
bowls. Drizzle with additional olive oil.
Seared duck breast w/brown sugar–vinegar
cabbage, roasted potatoes, and herb salad
The richness of duck elevates the commonness
of cabbage to fancy dinner status. That said, this dish would be perfectly at
home with chicken, pork chops, or seared salmon. Note that if you don’t have
the rendered duck fat in the pan, simply pan roast it with olive oil. Also note
that if the skin softens while finishing the cabbage salad, simply kiss it in a
hot pan or re-crisp under the broiler.
This brown sugar–vinegar sauce
lives on my counter, close to the stove, ready to turn up the volume on
anything I’m cooking that day. I love this dish because it combines a variety
of textures and simultaneously blends rich, comforting flavours with a bright,
acidic, herby lightness. I tend to use red cabbage for the colour, but any
variety will work.
910 g (or 2 to 3 potatoes per person) Yukon gold or red-skinned
potatoes, cut into wedges
Salt and freshly ground black
4 (170 to 230 g) duck breasts, see Hot Tips
1 head (1.4 kg) red cabbage, cut into ribbons
120 ml brown sugar–vinegar
½ bunch parsley (68 g), roughly chopped
10 sprigs chives, minced (optional)
1 sprig rosemary, minced
Heat the oven to 425°F (220°C).
Dress the potatoes with a glug of olive oil, a big pinch of
salt, and several grinds of black pepper. Transfer to a baking sheet and roast
until crispy on the outside and tender on the inside, about 35 minutes.
Reserve, rewarming if necessary for the final steps.
Meanwhile, score the skin of the duck breast into either diamonds or
slices, trying to avoid cutting the flesh, and season liberally with salt and
In a large, cold frying pan, place the duck breasts skin-side down and
turn on a medium heat. As the heat builds in the frying pan, the fat will
render through the cuts in the skin and crisp. Let it go longer than you might
think you should. Cook until the skin is brown and crispy, and the meat medium
rare, about 15 minutes. Flip the breasts for 4 minutes to cook in the fat.
Remove the duck breasts from the pan and let rest for 7 to 10 minutes.
Increase the heat under the frying pan to high and add the cabbage with
a pinch of salt to roast in the rendered duck fat. Allow to sizzle and lightly
brown, about 7 minutes. Remove from the heat, add the brown sugar–vinegar
sauce, and toss to coat well.
Toss the warm potatoes with the dressed cabbage and the parsley,
chives, and rosemary (if using).
Place the duck breasts on a
serving platter next to the potato-cabbage salad, and serve.
Matchstick salad: turnip, carrots, kohlrabi,
w/lemon, Parmesan, and parsley
I like this salad to have similar shaped
vegetables. It doesn’t have to be matchsticks; could be wedges or half-moons, or a mix.
Bottom line: don’t let the knife work dissuade you from making the salad. As
long as you get the vegetables into bite-size units, you’ll be good.
For the variations, you can
use the same proportion of vegetables or stick with only turnip or rutabaga.
The key is to have a nice dose of fat and brightness to balance the brassica
1 bunch salad turnips (455 g), cut into matchsticks
3 medium turnips or 1 large rutabaga (455 g), ends trimmed, peeled, cut
4 carrots (various colours are
nice) (455 g), cut into matchsticks
2 kohlrabi (455 g), ends trimmed, peeled, cut into matchsticks
1 or 2 apples (455 g), unpeeled, cut into matchsticks
2 lemons (90 ml), zest and juice
120 ml olive oil
Big pinch of salt
1 bunch parsley (34 g), roughly chopped
55 g Parmesan, shaved with a
vegetable peeler or grater
Dress the vegetables and
apples with the lemon zest and juice, olive oil, and salt. Toss all together,
and let sit for 10 minutes to lightly marinate. Taste and adjust the seasoning.
Add the parsley to the salad, garnish with the Parmesan shavings, and serve.
(All Recipes taken from Ruffage by Abra
Berens, published by Chronicle Books. All photographs by to EE Berger)
Claire Ptak – baker to the
Royals, as one of our current 12 Week students put it, shared her magicwith us
at the Ballymaloe Cookery School recently. Claire, who loves to bake, started
her career at Chez Panisse in Berkley in California, baking delicious, simple
pastries, cookies and galettes with beautiful ingredients. Beautiful butter,
beautiful fresh eggs, beautiful, seasonal fresh currants, cherries and organic flowers and herbs to embellish the
In 2005, she moved to London
and set up a stall in Broadway Market in Hackney selling cupcakes. There was a
queue from the very first day for Claire’s beautiful but sometimes not picture
perfect looking creations.
Somehow, people’s gut feeling
told them that this was real and much more likely to taste delicious than the
perfect looking fondant iced confections so prevalent nowadays.
Violet Café and Bakery was
started and word spread fast. Both royalty and celebrities snuck in or sent
along quietly for a goodie box of Claire’s treats from Violet Café, Claire
never divulged their names or very personal cravings.
Her style is Anglo-American –
her scones are long triangles with sugar tops and many delicious additions
peach, raspberry, white chocolate…
Her buttery ‘biscuits’ which
we would call scones are made with lots of sour cream and occasionally butter,
are split in half and sold as breakfast ‘biscuits’ with bacon, egg and hot
Among the celebrities we now
know who were her fans, was a fellow American girl with style, called Megan
Markle which lead to Claire being asked to make ‘the wedding cake’ for Harry
and Megan’s wedding. When the story broke, Claire was suddenly catapulted onto
the international stage – her Instagram followers went from 69,000 to 205,000
in a few days.
There are now plans to open a
second Violet Café next year and all because of cake….
Claire is passionate about the
importance of using quality ingredients for baking delicious cakes, breads and
pastries. She told us about a fast emerging trend for ‘seasonal cakes’. The
wedding cake was an Amalfi lemon and elderflower perfumed cake because the
wedding was in the midst of the elderflower season in May.
I love the idea of cakes
reflecting the seasons, so easy as we come into the summer with an abundance of
summer fruit, berries and currants around the corner. Claire also used lots of
spelt, sorghum, kamut, rice and rye, khorasan flour and soft cane sugars for
her cakes and has many gluten free and accidentally vegan confections –
something for everyone to enjoy.
The chocolate devil’s food
cake was the vehicle to show us how to ice the cake with frothy American butter
icing and decorate it with organic, fresh flowers in the nonchalant Violet way,
a stunning creation for a celebration. The rhubarb, strawberry and sweet cicely
pie was perfect for a family meal, sweet cicely is a herb worth growing, it’s
perennial so it comes back year after year, it’s fern like leaves have a sweet,
slightly anise flavor so one can reduce the amount of sugar used to sweeten the
rhubarb. The tart is still delicious without it or Claire loves to use a little
fresh tarragon if that’s available. The sesame and tahini cookies were a
terrific find – mixed in minutes and cooked to a soft, chewy texture, they are
destined to become one of our staples here at the Ballymaloe Cookery School and
have the bonus of being gluten free.
The honey shortcakes were
fragile and tender but so delicious, Claire pairs them with a fresh apricot and
chamomile compote and a dollop of whipped cream but I can imagine enjoying them
with berries and cream or just a gorgeous homemade jam or Amalfi lemon curd.
Terrific response to Vera’s
column on 11th May so here’s another recipe from Vera’s wish list – Light, tender and delicious,
this carrot cake is lovely for afternoon tea, not quite as worthy as any of the
traditional carrot cake recipes.
Carrot and Cardamom Cake
tender and delicious, this carrot cake is lovely for afternoon tea, but has
also been much enjoyed for dessert. It
will also keep really well for a week or more in an airtight tin.
(2fl.oz) vegetable oil (we use sunflower oil)
(5oz) plain white flour
teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
teaspoon ground cardamom (seeds about 10 pods)
large eggs, preferably organic and free range
(3½oz) castor sugar
(2¼oz) soft brown sugar
(2fl.oz) natural yogurt
(6oz) finely grated carrot (1 large or 2 medium carrots approx.)
(8oz) icing sugar
tablesp freshly squeezed lemon juice
rose petals (optional)
(1oz) pistachio nuts (optional)
(8in) round spring-form cake tin
the oven to 180C/350F/gas mark 4.
the tin with oil and pop a round of parchment paper in the base.
the flour, bicarbonate of soda, cardamom and salt into a bowl. Whisk the eggs, sugars, yogurt and oil
together until smooth. Gently mix the
egg mixture into the dry ingredients, add the carrots and pour the mixture into
the tin. Bake for 40 minutes, or until
a skewer comes clean. Turn out onto a
wire rack and allow to cool completely while you make the icing.
the icing sugar into a bowl, add enough sieved freshly squeezed lemon juice to
make a thickish icing. Pour onto the top
of the cold cake. Spread quickly with a palette knife so it begins to dribble
down over the sides of the cake.
Sprinkle the surface with dried rose petals and coarsely chopped pistachio
nuts if available.
Ptak’s Apricot, Camomile and Honey
makes 4 large shortcakes
For the compote
makes 1 jar
1kg just-ripe apricots, halved and pitted
½ vanilla pod
1 tbsp dried camomile flowers
½ cinnamon stick
150g caster sugar
Add all the ingredients into a large bowl and toss.
Macerate for one hour to dissolve the sugar and draw the juices out of the
Turn out into a heavy saucepan or jam pot, cover with
a lid. Cook over a low heat for 15 minutes, or until the apricots break down a
Let the mixture cool slightly before transferring to
an airtight container.
280g plain flour
1 tbsp baking powder
2 tbsp caster sugar, plus 50g more for sprinkling
½ tsp fine sea salt
100g unsalted butter, cold and cut into 1cm cubes
200g single cream
¼ batch apricot compote (from above)
300g double cream, gently whipped
A drizzle of honey
Heat the oven to 190C/375F/170Fan/gas mark 5. Line a
baking tray with baking parchment.
In a food processor, combine the dry ingredients. Add
the cold butter, blitzing until it resembles a coarse meal texture (or do this
by hand with a pastry cutter).
Quickly add the cream, mixing until it just comes
together. Be careful not to overmix.
Turn out on to a lightly floured surface, and pat into
a cube shape. Rest for 10 minutes.
Once rested, roll to a 2cm thickness, then cut into
hexagons, using a 7cm hexagon cutter. Sprinkle with caster sugar. Rest for 10
minutes, then bake for 15-20 minutes until springy and golden at the edges.
To assemble, cut the shortcakes in half, spoon over
the compote and a dollop of whipped cream, then drizzle with honey.
6 ozs (170g) butter
6 ozs (170g) castor sugar
1.5 teaspoon of vanilla extract
3 eggs, preferably free range
6 ozs (170g) self raising flour
Red and yellow food colouring
Lemon zest (optional)
½ teaspoon rosewater (optional)
150g apricot jam
Icing sugar, for rolling
500g golden marzipan (almond paste, see recipe)
Preheat the oven to 170°C/335°F/gas mark 3½. Butter and line a 25cm x 30cm battenberg tin.
Beat together the butter and sugar until fluffy.
Divide the mixture between two bowls, and dye each with different food
colouring. The amount to use varies greatly depending on the quality of your
colouring. Start with a small amount and go from there until you have the
desired colour intensity.
Beat the eggs together with the vanilla in separate
bowl. Divide this between the yellow and pink mixtures. If using, add lemon zest
to the yellow mixture and rosewater to the pink mixture, beating to combine.
Sift the flour twice. Divide the flour between the
bowls and fold it into the mixtures.
Spread the mixture into the prepared tin or tins
accordingly. Bake for 40-50 minutes or until the cakes spring back to the
touch. Remove from the oven and allow them to cool in the tin(s).
Remove the cakes from the tin. If you’re using a
battenberg tin, simply remove the four pieces and trim, if needed, to make four
even bars. If you’re using two loaf tins, slice each slab in half lengthways
and trim likewise to make four neat bars.
Heat the apricot jam in a small pan. Brush all the
long sides of the cake pieces with jam, then press them together in a
Lightly dust a work surface with
the icing sugar. Roll the block of marzipan out and trim to 25cm x 30cm. With a
clean, dry pastry brush, dust away as much icing sugar from the marzipan as you
can. Then check for the smoothest side (it may be the underneath side) and have
that facing down.
Brush the top of the marzipan with melted apricot jam. Place the block
of cake on the left-hand side of the marzipan and roll to the right until it is
encased. Rest for 30 minutes for the jam to set and glue it all together, then
slice and serve. This keeps well in a tin for up to a week.
(1lb) castor sugar
(1lb) ground almonds
drop of pure almond extract
tablespoons Irish whiskey
the castor sugar and mix with the ground almonds. Beat the eggs, add the
whiskey and 1 drop of pure almond extract, then add to the other
ingredients and mix to a stiff paste. (You may not need all the egg). Sprinkle
the work top with icing sugar, turn out the almond paste and work lightly until
Ptak’s Chocolate Devils Food Cake with
220g plain flour
100g cocoa powder
1 tsp fine sea salt
2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1tsp baking powder
450g caster sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
or plain yoghurt
100g vegetable oil
225g hot water
Preheat the oven to 160°C/140°C(fan)/gas mark 3.
Butter and line a 23cm (9 inch) cake tin with paper.
Measure the dry ingredients, including the caster
sugar, into a large mixing bowl and
whisk with a balloon whisk to distribute the salt, bicarbonate of soda and
baking powder evenly throughout the other dry ingredients.
In another bowl, whisk together the wet ingredients
(except for the hot water). Once they are well mixed together, slowly whisk in
the hot water.
Make a well in the centre of the dry ingredients and
pour in half of the wet mixture. Starting in the middle of the bowl, whisk in a
clockwise, circular motion. Resist the temptation to switch direction or you’ll
end up with lumps of dry ingredients. Gradually add the remaining wet
ingredients until you have a smooth, liquid batter.
Pour the batter into your tin right away and bake for
40 – 50 minutes until the top is springy to the touch and an inserted skewer
comes out clean.
Remove the cake from its tin by running a small paring
knife along the inside of the tin to release the cake. Or, if you have used a
loose bottom tin, set the base of the tin on top of a tin of tomatoes, or
similar, and gently push the sides of the cake tin down. Wash and dry your cake
tin well, then line with cling film with plenty lapping over the sides and set
Using a serrated bread knife (the longest one you
have), score a horizontal line half of the way up the side of the cake and then
slowly cut the cake into three layers.
Slide the bottom layer of sponge into the lined cake
tin. Pipe a border of icing around the edges of the sponge, and then fill the
center with a little more icing. Add the next layer of cake and continue to ice
as before. Top with the remaining sponge, then pull up the sides of cling film
and wrap up the cake tightly. You may want to cover with another layer of cling
film to ensure it’s airtight. Place in the fridge and chill for at least 2
hours or overnight. Leave any remaining icing at room temperature.
If you have left the cake to chill overnight, you may
want to re-whip the icing. The icing will naturally deflate ever so slightly
and benefits from a second whipping.
Once you have taken the cake out of the fridge remove
it from its tin, set on a cake stand and peel off the cling film. Use a palette
knife to ice the sides and top of the cake. Scatter flowers over the top, and
(Tip: the cake batter can
hold in the fridge for days and can be used for cupcakes)
100g whole milk
1 tbsp violet syrup
190g unsalted butter, softened
750g icing sugar very well sieved (divide into 3 x
1 tsp fresh lemon juice
Measure out the whole milk into a bowl and stir in the
In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat the butter and
250g of the icing sugar until smooth. Gradually add the milk mixture, scraping
the bottom of the bowl as needed, this is an important step. Add another 250g of icing sugar and mix on a
low speed for at least 3 minutes (set your timer). Add the lemon juice, if
required, adding the remaining icing sugar and beat on medium- high for 3
Ptak’s Sesame Halva Cookies
100g tahini paste
125g unsalted butter, softened
125g golden caster sugar
½ tsp fine sea salt
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
250g rice flour
¾ tsp baking powder
¼ tsp bicarbonate of soda (bread soda)
200g halva, broken into pieces
150g white chocolate, broken into pieces
2 tablespoon sesame seeds, for topping
1 teaspoon of flaky sea salt for topping
Preheat the oven to 180°C/160°Fan/350F/gas mark 4.
Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.
In a large mixing bowl, cream together the tahini,
butter and sugar until fluffy. Add the salt and vanilla extract, and then beat
in the egg. Add the flour, baking powder and bicarbonate of soda (bread soda)
Add the halva and white chocolate pieces, and mix
these through the dough. Using an ice-cream scoop, portion on to your prepared
trays and sprinkle with sesame seeds and sea salt. Bake in the oven for 15‑18 minutes.
(Tip: These can be made as
far as placing the mixture on the baking tray and frozen (uncooked) and then
removed and cooked from frozen when needed)
Ptak’s Slab Pie
560g plain flour, sifted
2 tsp fine sea salt
340g unsalted butter, cold
8 tablespoons iced water
4 tablespoons cream, for brushing
4 tablespoons caster sugar, for sprinkling
500g rhubarb cut into 1cm pieces
600g strawberries (quartered)
½ teaspoon salt
1 vanilla bean, scraped for vanilla beans
Zest and juice of 1 lemon
150g light, soft brown sugar
50g castor sugar
5 tablespoons cornflour
20g Sweet Cicely chopped
Whisk together the flour and salt. Add half the
butter. Combine well using a cutting motion. Add the second half of the butter
and rub in until your mix forms roughly pea-sized pieces.
Sprinkle over the iced water (holding back the ice)
and toss it through the mix as you go. The dough should start to become raggedy
and eventually, when all the water is added, it will come together into a ball.
Divide the ball in half, wrapping each piece in cling film. Flatten them into
squares and rest in the fridge for at least 20 minutes or up to 24 hours – any
longer than this, put it in the freezer.
Next make your fruit filling. Mix all the ingredients
together well and set aside.
Preheat the oven to 190°CFan. Butter, flour and line
with parchment paper the base a baking sheet that measures 23 x 33cm.
Roll out one square of pastry on a lightly floured
surface to roughly 28 x 38cm, pastry needs to be larger than the tin. Press the
pastry down into the prepared sheet, then chill in the fridge while you roll
out the other piece. The second pastry sheet (which will form the top of the
pie) can be rolled out to 23 x 33cm.
Remove the chilled pastry and carefully fill it with
the fillingmixture. It can come
right up to about 2mm shy of the top of the tin but don’t let it overflow. Roll
the top layer of pastry over the pie. Brush the pastry with cream. Fold or roll
over the excess pastry and pinch to seal. Use a knife to pierce the top of the
pie a few times. Put in your freezer or fridge for 20 minutes.
Brush the edge of the pie with the cream and sprinkle
with caster sugar. Place some parchment paper underneath to catch the drips,
and bake for about 25 minutes. Reduce the heat to 160°CFan/180°C/350F/gas mark
4 for another 35-45 minutes or until golden and the bubbles of filling coming
through are thick. Cool for at least 3 hours before slicing.
It came as quite a surprise to many to discover that one of
the several ‘hats’ I wear is Honorary Council General for Sri Lanka to Ireland…
The 3,000 plus Sri Lankan community in Ireland are of course aware
but it wasn’t until the tragic events in late April when I attended mass in the
St Mary’s Pro Cathedral, celebrated by Archbishop Martin for the victims of the
massacre that my connection became more public.
I accepted the honorary role in November 2017 on the
invitation of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe…. who visited Ireland and
Ballymaloe Cookery School over Christmas period in 2015.
I’ve visited Sri Lanka many times, an astoundingly beautiful
country, lush, green and fertile with delicious food and warm and friendly
people who have endured many years of
turbulence but had recently become accustomed to a more peaceful era.
Sri Lankan tea is some of the finest in the world. I’ve
visited the tea plantations and seen at first hand the care and dedication that
is involved, from the hand picking of the ‘tips’ of the Camellia Sinensis, tea
bush to the drying, withering, grading….
It is important that the Sri Lankan tea industry remains
glyphosate free at a time when there is a growing concern worldwide among
scientists and the general public about the toxic effects of pesticides.
Cinnamon is another top quality Sri Lankan ingredient that
few other countries can equal.
True cinnamon is native to the lush tropical forests of southern
Sri Lanka. The gentle coastal hills are especially suited to the growth of
cinnamon. Wars have been fought over this spice. In 1505 the Portuguese sailed
to that part of the world in search of cinnamon so they could cut out the Arab
middlemen. In those days it was gathered from wild trees but when the Dutch
succeeded the Portuguese the first plantations were sown and cinnamon has been
flourishing ever since.
On my last trip to Sri Lanka I wanted to see the process of
cinnamon production for myself so I visited Mirissa Hills, a working cinnamon
Estate with 360 degree views over Weligama Bay. Thilak the general manager,
showed us around the estate which grows both cinnamon and galangal and
explained the whole process. On our way to the plantation we passed the little
temple to Pathini, The Buddhist God of cinnamon. The air was filled with the
scent of cinnamon.
The cinnamon is still harvested and peeled in the same time
honoured way by the skilled Salagama caste. It cannot be mechanised and the
process has survived virtually unchanged since ancient times.
The cinnamon peelers go into the fields early in the morning.
They choose twigs about 5 feet long and about 1 ½ inches thick – straighter are easier to peel. Shoots or leaves are trimmed with a sharp
curved machete. The skill has been passed down from generation to generation
over the centuries. The peelers sit cross legged on hessian sacks on the floor
in the peeling shed with their bundle of cinnamon sticks by their side. They
need just three tools, a curved peeler, a brass rod and a small sharp knife
called a kokaththa.
First the outer dark leathery layer is shaved off; this is
returned to the cinnamon fields for compost.
When the peelers have several layers of precious inner bark they
carefully layer them inside each other, over lapping to create a four foot
These are carefully laid on strings of coconut coir hanging
beneath the tin roof. It takes eight days, away from sunlight for them to curl
and dry. They will then be rolled tightly, and allowed to dry for a further ten
days. The cinnamon ‘quills’ are then tied into large bundles to sell in the
market where they will be precisely cut into the cinnamon sticks we know.
Real cinnamon is known to be a natural ‘cholesterol buster’,
unlike it’s inferior and cheaper relation cassia, which is often passed off as
How to know the difference….true cinnamon comes from the thin
pliable bark of the Cinnamomum Verum trees. This cinnamon is softer, flakier
and paler than cassia which too has it’s place but the flavour is more acrid
than sweet, gentle and aromatic. This is the Sri Lankan cinnamon, which I use
at Ballymaloe Cookery School, perfumes for
both sweet and savoury dishes.
Hard quills or ‘bark like’ pieces are more likely to be
cassia so save those for vegetarian curries if you don’t have true cinnamon.
Always try to buy cinnamon whole and grind it yourself, ready ground cinnamon
is regularly cut with the less expensive cassia. So it’s darker in colour and
has a more aggressive flavour. I’ve had many questions about Sri Lankan food,
is it similar to Indian food, hotter, spicier…..? In fact it is a wonderful
melange of Indian, Indonesian and Dutch flavours reflecting the countries
history as a spice producer and trading post over several centuries.
In this column I will introduce you to some of my favourite
Sri Lankan dishes.
Sri Lankan Beetroot
2-3 tablespoons sunflower oil
3 cloves garlic, chopped
50g (1¾oz) red onion, chopped
5 Curry leaves
8cm (3inch) piece of cinnamon stick
500g (1lb 2oz) beetroot, peeled and cut into 4cm (1½in) cubes
1½ teaspoon untoasted curry powder
10 fenugreek seeds
5 green chillies
225ml (8fl.oz) coconut milk, whisked
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Put oil in a deep frying pan over a medium heat, add the
chopped garlic, onion, curry leaves, curry powder and cinnamon to the pan, stir
and cook for 2 minutes. Then add the
beetroot, stir and add the fenugreek seeds,
chillies and some salt. Bring to
the boil, add the coconut milk, and continue to cook for about 20 minutes or
until the beetroot is tender. Season to
Sri Lankan Carrots with
Shallots and Green Chilli
Shallots add extra sweetness to this simple spiced carrot dish
which can be fully prepared ahead and gently heated later.
2 tablespoons sunflower or olive oil
60g shallots peeled and chopped
450g medium carrots peeled and cut into 2cm dice
½ green chilli, deseeded and chopped
1 teaspoon freshly ground cumin
1 teaspoon freshly ground coriander
½ teaspoon freshly ground fennel seeds
1/8 teaspoon turmeric
½ teaspoon salt
Freshly ground pepper (a few grinds)
175ml coconut milk, from a well-shaken can.
Put the oil into a heavy, low sided pan and set over a medium
heat. When the oil is hot, add the shallots and green chilli. Stir and fry for
about 2 minutes or until the shallots have softened a bit. Add the carrots,
cumin, coriander, fennel, cayenne pepper, turmeric, salt and pepper and
continue to fry, stirring at the same time, on a medium heat for about 2 – 3
minutes. Add the coconut milk and bring to a simmer. Cover, reduce the heat to
low, and simmer very gently for 15- 20 minutes. Taste and correct seasoning.
Shredded Chicken and Toasted
500g (18 oz) shredded free range chicken
3 tablespoons finely shaved coconut flesh
6 spring onions, finely sliced
2 red chilli
1 cucumber, peeled and julienned
3 tablespoons mint leaves, shredded
2 tablespoons coriander leaves
3 finely sliced shallots
5 kaffir lime leaves, very finely shredded
6 shallots fried
100ml (3½ fl oz) coconut cream
2 tablespoons fish sauce
2 tablespoons palm sugar
3tablespoons lime juice
1 red chili, thinly sliced
2 kaffir lime leaves, thinly chopped
For the dressing, mix all the ingredients together except the fried shallots.
Adjust the seasoning to taste with more fish sauce or lime juice accordingly.
Salad, mix together all the ingredients with some of the dressing, pile in a
bundle on the plate then sprinkle the fried shallots and some more coconut
shavings. Finish with a drizzle of the dressing and serve immediately.
For cinnamon scones, just roll out the dough to 1 inch
(2.5cm) thick and stamp or cut into scones and dip the egg – washed tops in
Makes 18-20 scones, using a 3 inch (71/2 cm) cutter
2lb (900g) plain white flour
6oz (175g) butter
pinch of salt
2oz (50g) castor sugar
3 heaped teaspoons baking powder
3 free-range eggs
16fl oz (450ml) approx. full cream milk to mix (not low fat milk)
Egg Wash (see recipe)
2oz (50g) granulated or Demerara sugar mixed with 1 teaspoon
ground cinnamon for the top of scones
150g (5oz) butter
250g (9oz) pale brown sugar
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
Preheat the oven 250ºC/475ºF/Gas Mark 9.
First make the Cinnamon
Cream the butter, sugar and cinnamon together and beat until
light and fluffy.
Sieve the flour into a large wide bowl, add a pinch of salt,
the baking powder and castor sugar. Mix
the dry ingredients with your hands, lift up to incorporate air and mix
Cut the butter into cubes, toss well in the flour and then
with the tips of your fingers, rub in the butter until it resembles large
flakes. Make a well in the centre. Whisk the eggs with the milk, pour all at
once into the centre. With the fingers
of your ‘best
hand’ outstretched and stiff, mix in a full circular movement
from the centre to the outside of the bowl.
This takes just seconds and hey presto, the scone dough is made. Sprinkle some flour on the work surface. Turn out the dough onto the floured
board. Scrape the dough off your fingers
and wash and dry your hands at this point.
Tidy around the edges, flip over and roll or pat gently into a rectangle
about 3/4 inch (2cm) thick.
Spread the soft cinnamon butter over the surface. Roll up
lengthwise and cut into pieces about 2 inches (5cm) thick.
Brush the tops with egg wash (see below) and dip the tops
only in cinnamon sugar. Put onto a
baking sheet fairly close together.
Bake in a preheated oven for 10-12 minutes or until golden
brown on top.
Whisk one eggthoroughly with about a dessertspoon of milk. This is brushed over the scones to help them
brown in the oven.
Ahilya Iced Tea
2 litres (3 1/2 pints) of water
2 small pieces cinnamon or cassia slivers
2 black cardamom
230g (8 1/4oz) granulated sugar
2 English breakfast tea bags
juice of 7 limes (200ml/7fl oz approx.)
In a saucepan, bring the water to the boil with the spices,
sugar and tea bags. Remove the tea
bags. Simmer for 5 minutes. Cool, add
the juice of 7 limes or less depending on size.
This iced tea can last for 5 days. Serve chilled with 2 mint
leaves in each glass of iced tea.
225-300ml (8-10fl oz)
base sugar syrup
2 teaspoons orange blossom water
4 springs of fresh mint
1 orange, cut in thin slices, skin and all
Bring the water to a boil in a pan, add the tea bags and stir around. Turn off
the heat and leave to steep for 15 minutes.
Remove the tea bags, add the
sugar syrup and blossom water and stir to mix. Decant into a bottle or jug and
push in the mint sprig and orange slices. Place in the fridge to cool entirely.
Serve with loads of ice.
Pimp your tea – crush some fresh
mint leaves at the bottom of a lowball glass, add a shot or two of rum, top up
with ice and iced tea and lots of ice.
200g (7oz) sugar
200ml (7fl oz) water
1 tablespoon glucose or
Mix everything together in a
small pan and bring to the boil over a high heat, then reduce the heat and
simmer for 2 minutes. Leave to cool, then transfer to a clean bottle or
other container and store in your fridge for up to a week.
Cinnamon Meringue with Plums and Cream
If the plums are ripe and juicy there’s no need
to poach them, just stone and dice.
2 egg whites, preferably free range
110g (4oz) icing sugar
1/2 scant teaspoon of powdered cinnamon
300ml (10fl oz) whipped cream
225g (8oz) poached plums, drained (see recipe)
little sprigs of mint or lemon balm
Preheat the oven to 150°C/300°F/Gas Mark 2.
Check that the bowl is dry, spotlessly clean
and free from grease.
Mark 2 x 7 inch (19cm) circles on silicone paper or a
prepared baking sheet. Put
the egg whites into a spotlessly clean and dry bowl. Add all the icing sugar
except 2 tablespoons (2 American tablespoons + 2 teaspoons). Whisk until the
mixture stands in firm dry peaks. It may take 5-8 minutes. Sieve the cinnamon
and the remaining icing sugar together and fold in carefully.
Divide the mixture between the two circles and
spread evenly with a palette knife. Bake
immediately in the preheated oven for 45 minutes or until set and crisp. Allow to cool.
For this recipe poach the plums for 20 mins
approximately. Allow to get cold, then
drain (save the syrup for a plum jelly or use as a base for ‘plumade’. (Note:
half the poached plum recipe will be adequate (see recipe below).
Sandwich the meringues together with the
drained poached plums and whipped cream, reserving a little fruit and cream for
decoration. Decorate with rosettes of
whipped cream. Garnish with little
sprigs of mint or lemon balm.
The meringue discs will keep for several weeks
in a tin.
the plums whole, they’ll taste better but quite apart from that you’ll have the
fun of playing – He loves me – he loves me not!
You could just fix it by making sure you take an uneven number! Greengages are delicious cooked in this way
(16fl oz) cold water
(2lbs) fresh Plums, Victoria, Opal or those dark Italian plums that come into
the shops in Autumn
the sugar and water into a saucepan, bring slowly to the boil. Tip in the plums
and poach, cover the saucepan and simmer very gently until they are about to
but not quiet beginning to burst. Turn
into a bowl, serve warm with a blob of softly whipped cream. Divine!
poached plums keep very well in the fridge and are delicious for breakfast
without the cream!
Note: If plums are
sweet use less sugar in syrup
This is a more modern
version of barmbrack, now commonly called a ‘tea brack’ because the dried fruit
is soaked in tea overnight to plump it up (rather than boiled as in the recipes
above). This little gem of a recipe is much easier to make at home than the
Halloween Barmbrack (see recipe).
Even though it is a very
rich bread, in Ireland it is traditionally served sliced and buttered.
Yields about 12 slices (eat the crusts, too!)
110g (4oz) sultanas
110g (4oz) raisins
110g (4oz) currants
50g (2oz) natural glace
cherries, halved or quartered
300ml (10fl oz) hot tea
1 organic egg, whisked
175g (6oz) soft brown sugar
225g (8oz) self-raising
1 level teaspoon mixed spice
50g (2oz) homemade candied
peel (see recipe)
450g (1lb) loaf tin – 12.5 x
20cm (5 x 8in) OR 3 small loaf tins 15 x 7.5cm (6 x 3in)
Put the dried fruit and cherries into a bowl. Cover
with hot tea and leave to plump up overnight.
line the loaf tin with silicone paper.
Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/gas mark 4.
Add the whisked egg, soft brown sugar, flour and mixed
spice to the fruit and tea mixture. Stir well. Put the mixture into the lined
Cook in for about 1 1/2hours or until a skewer comes
Monday next, May 20th, is World Bee Day, so a whole column
this week on honey, nature’s most delicious, interesting and bio diverse
Honey has long been prized for its medicinal properties, now backed up
by modern medicine and a growing body of scientific research. I’m a big honey aficionado….
Ancient Ireland was known as the Land of Milk and Honey and coincidently
the name Ballymaloe means the Townland of Sweet Honey. The anglicized version
of the Irish Baile Meal Luadh – meal means honey and luadh
means soft or sweet. These names entered into the language over 2,000 years ago
and would always have reflected a particular attribute of that place. So
Ballymaloe must have been well known for the quality of the honey from surrounding
Here at Ballymaloe Cookery School we have some hives in the pear and
apple orchard looked after by our local bee keeper… beautiful honey…
Both honey and bees are utterly intriguing, the colour, flavour and
aroma of honey reflects the flora from which the bees collect the nectar.
Heather honey tastes and smells quite different from mixed flower or apple
blossom, ivy, rapeseed…..
Honeys from further afield have their own distinctive taste. Lavender
honey captures the aromatic essence of the lavender plant as does chestnut,
orange or acacia blossom. Honey from pine forests which I also love, tends to
be more resinous and a deeper amber colour.
The New Zealanders did a brilliant marketing job on Manuka honey when
they discovered that is was most effective in killing antibiotic resistant
infections such as MRSA. But it’s not the only honey with these and many other
healing attributes. Raw honey is increasingly being used to treat, difficult to
heal, wounds and burns. Other studies have shown its efficacy as a cough
Raw honey is the term used for honey that has not been heat treated to
extract the honey from the combs. It still has its full complement of antioxidants,
enzymes and antibacterial properties. It looks paler in colour, and sets almost
solid in the jar. Here in Ireland we have an astonishingly wide range of
honeys. Check out the local bee keeper/s in your parish. I seem to favour honey
from small local producers. Talk to the beekeeper, hear the story, each honey
will taste different and contain the antibodies and enzymes of the area, which
help to counteract eczema and hay fever. Look out for city bee keepers too. The
Dublin Honey Project is intriguing as is Belfast Bees; there are similar
projects in London, Paris, New York, Sydney ….
How about keeping bees yourself? It’s really thrilling to have your own
honey. It’ll be slightly different every year depending on what the bees are
feeding on and the prevailing weather. If the idea of doing the bee keeping
yourself doesn’t appeal, contact your local bee keeper, they are often
delighted to have few more hives. Particularly in an organic garden or on a
rooftop in an urban or rural area where there are little or no pesticides….
Scientists are now convinced that neonicotinoids have been damaging vital bee
colonies and have a dramatic impact on eco systems that support food production
and wild life.
The EU banned the use of neonicotinoids in 2018 after a major report
from EFSA concluded that the widespread use of these chemicals is in part
responsible for the plummeting number of pollinators, vital for global food
production – they pollinate ¾ of all crops. Finally, governments appear to be listening
to their citizens concerns, so hopefully the bee numbers will begin to
recover. Nature given half a chance has an amazing ability to heal and
Honey is not
only brilliant lathered on toast, I regularly add a spoonful to savoury dishes,
dressings and salads to balance acidity and add a sweet- sour element. Chefs
are caramelizing honey to add a bitter note to some desserts….Have several
types in your pantry, so you can experiment with different characteristics. We
love to have a whole honey comb for our guests at breakfast and if you’re
crafty you can make a candle from the left over wax….
Here are a
few suggestions for some of my favourites…
A toasted grain cereal
12oz (350g) honey
8fl oz (225g) oil e.g. sunflower
1lb 1oz (470g) jumbo organic oat
7oz (200g) organic barley flakes
7oz (200g) organic wheat flakes
3 1/2oz (100g) organic rye flakes
5oz (150g) seedless raisins or
5oz (150g) peanuts/hazelnuts, or
cashew nuts split and roasted
2 3/4oz (70g) wheatgerm and /or
2oz (50g) chopped apricots, (chopped
dates are nice too)
toasted sunflower or pumpkin seeds
are also delicious
Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/Gas
Mix oil and honey together in a
saucepan, heat just enough to melt the honey.
Mix well into the mixed flakes. Spread thinly on two baking sheets.
Bake in the preheated oven for 20-30
minutes, turning frequently, making sure the edges don’t burn. It should be
just golden and toasted, not roasted!
Allow to get cold. Mix in the raisins or sultanas, roasted nuts,
toasted seeds, chopped dates, apricots and wheatgerm. Store in a screw top jar or a plastic box,
keeps for 1-2 weeks.
Serve with sliced banana, milk or
Salad of Ardsallagh Goats Cheese with Rocket
Leaves and Local Honey
Such a simple combination but surprisingly delicious.
4 handfuls rocket leaves
2 soft Ardsallagh Goats cheeses
1 tablespoon best quality local honey
maldon sea salt
coarsely ground black pepper
Divide the rocket leaves between 4 large plates or 1 large
flat serving plate. Slice or dice the
goat’s cheese and sprinkle on rocket leaves.
With a teaspoon, drizzle the honey over the rocket and cheese in a grid
pattern. Drizzle the salads with olive
oil and a squeeze of lemon juice.
Finally, season with sea salt and black pepper and serve.
Kinoith Garden Salad with Mustard and
herb and vegetable gardens beside the Ballymaloe Cookery School are bursting
with a myriad of lettuce and salad leaves and edible flowers. The gardens are
open to the public every day except Sundays.
selection of fresh lettuces and salad leaves:
sorrel leaves or buckler leaf sorrel
or Hyssop flowers
Nasturtium leaves and flowers
or wild garlic flowers
leaves eg. lemon balm, mint, flat parsley, golden marjoram, annual marjoram,
tiny sprigs of dill, tarragon or mint.
Pea Shoots or Broad Bean tips
Chard & Beetroot leaves
Mustard and Honey Dressing
extra virgin olive oil
white wine vinegar
and freshly ground pepper
heaped teaspoons wholegrain honey mustard
cloves garlic crushed
make the dressing: Mix all the ingredients together and whisk well before use.
and dry the lettuce and salad leaves. If
large, tear into bite sized bits. Put in a deep salad bowl, add the herb sprigs
and edible flowers. Toss, cover and
chill in a refrigerator until needed.
Just before serving toss the salad in just enough dressing to make the
leaves glisten, save the remainder of the dressing for another day.
Salad of Beetroot with Raspberries, Honey and
beetroot, peeled and very thinly sliced on a mandolin
16 small mint
Maldon sea salt
sliced beetroot between 4 white plates.
Cut some of the
raspberries in half lengthways and some in cross section slices, and scatter
over the beets. Season with salt and freshly cracked black pepper.
salads evenly with a drizzle of honey, a squeeze of lemon juice and a drizzle
of olive oil. Sprinkle on the tiny tender mint leaves and serve.
place a few teaspoons of thick yoghurt or labne on the salad when assembling.
If the mint
leaves are a bit coarse as they sometimes are in late Summer, remove the spine,
roll and slice into a chiffonade instead.
Moroccan Chicken Tagine with Tomatoes and Honey
wonderful Moroccan dish, which Claudia Roden gave us, derives its special
flavour from the tomatoes in which it cooks ( there are mountains of them which
reduce to a thick sauce ) and from the honey which comes in at the end.
1 free-range chicken
tablespoons butter or oil
freshly ground pepper
garlic , crushed
¼ teaspoon ginger
of saffron (optional )
1 ½ kg ( 3lb ) very ripe tomatoes , skinned and
cut into pieces or 3 tins x 14ozs
tablespoons honey (with a good perfume like Hymettus )
For the garnish
50g ( 2oz
) blanched almonds ( optional)
tablespoon sesame seeds
considered more elegant to cook and serve the chicken whole but more sensible
to cut it into pieces . Claudia prefers to cut it into quarters as this ensures
that the flesh is impregnated with the sauce at all times .
pieces in a large pot with the butter or oil, salt, pepper onion, garlic and
spices , and the tomatoes Cook gently , covered, stirring and turning the
chicken over frequently until it is so tender that it can be easily pulled off
the chicken and reduce the tomato sauce further to a thick cream
which sizzles in the separated
fat. Stir often and take care that the bottom does not stick or burn when the
tomatoes begin to caramelize. Then stir in the honey and put the chicken back
to heat it through.
Fry the almonds in oil or
toast them and toast the sesame seeds in a dry frying pan or under the grill.
Serve the chicken hot covered
with the sauce and garnish with almonds and sesame seeds.
Rachel’s Date and Almond Honey Cake
fantastically dense, moist cake has echoes of sticky toffee pudding. It
contains no refined sugar, all the sweetness coming from the honey and dates,
while the wholemeal flour imparts its lovely nutty flavour.
(3oz) chopped dates
(7oz) butter, softened, plus extra for greasing
(7oz) honey, plus 2 tablespoons for drizzling
(3 1/2oz) ground almonds
(4 1/2oz/generous 1 cup) wholemeal flour
1/2 teaspoons baking powder
(1oz) flaked almonds
(8 inch) diameter cake tin with 6cm (2 1/2 inch) sides
the oven to 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4, then butter the sides of the cake tin and
line the base with a disc of baking parchment.
the tin on a baking sheet, as some butter may seep out during cooking if you
are using a spring-form cake tin.
the dates in a saucepan and pour in 50ml (2fl oz) of water. Set over a high
heat and cook for 2–3 minutes or until soft, then remove from the heat and set
the butter and the 200g (7oz) of honey until soft in a large bowl or in an
electric food mixer. Whisk the eggs together in a small bowl for a few seconds
until just mixed, then gradually add them to the creamed butter and honey
mixture, beating all the time.
in the cooked dates, along with any remaining cooking liquid, followed by the
ground almonds, then add the flour and baking powder and fold in gently to
incorporate. Tip the mixture into the prepared tin, smoothing the surface gently
with a palette knife, then scatter the flaked almonds evenly over the top.
in the oven and bake for 45–50 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the
centre of the cake comes out clean. It will be quite dark-looking, but don’t
worry – the cake will be perfectly moist inside.
from the oven and allow to cool in the tin for 10 minutes. Loosen the sides
using a small, sharp knife and carefully remove the cake from the tin before
transferring to a cake stand or plate.
a skewer to pierce a few holes in the top of the cake, then drizzle over the 2
tablespoons (2 1/2 American tablespoons) of honey and allow to cool before
cutting into slices to serve.