Letters from May 2000


A Cool start to a summer dinner

Sorbets and granitas are gorgeously refreshing and so easy to make.  One does need to think ahead a little but then the possibilities are endless – sorbets can literally be made from January to December and can of course be sweet or savoury.
A stroll through the fruit garden at the Cookery School this morning to check out the progress of the green gooseberries and elderflower was inspirational.    A little early for both of these,  but I suddenly spied the blackcurrant bushes now laden with clusters of tiny under-ripe fruit.  It’ll be at least 6 weeks before they are ready to pick but meanwhile the leaves can be used to make a delicious palate cleansing sorbet.
Peach leaves may also be used infuse custards and ice-creams with a haunting flavour and fragrance.
Sorbets can be made from all manner of flavours from tomato or carrot juice to Champagne, citrus fruit juice or even coffee.   One of my favourite after dinner teasers is an expresso granita which you can make without a sorbet machine, but of course one does need a freezer.  Serve it layered with whipped cream in little tiny glasses.
Sorbets can be served at several stages of the meal, depending on the flavour.  Fresh tastes like pink grapefruit and pomegranate, melon and lemon balm, or tomato and mint, make a light and lovely starter that simply flits across the tongue.  Champagne sorbet, or lemon verbena, or apple and Calvados, may be used as a palate cleaner after the main course in a multi-course meal, while strawberry, raspberry, loganberry, blackcurrant, or any of the summer fruits are gorgeous after dinner.
Blackcurrant leaf sorbet may be served at any stage of a meal, but hurry – blackcurrant leaves are best when they are young.

Blackcurrant leaf sorbet

We also use this recipe to make an elderflower sorbet – substitute 4 or 5  elderflower heads  in full bloom.
2 large handfuls of young blackcurrant leaves
8 ozs (225g /1 cup) sugar
1 pint (600ml /2½ cups) cold water
Juice of 3 lemons
1 egg white (optional)

Crush the blackcurrant leaves tightly in your hand, put into a stainless steel saucepan with the cold water and sugar.  Stir to dissolve the sugar, bring slowly to the boil. Simmer for 2 or 3 minutes. Allow to cool completely.  Add the juice of 3 freshly squeezed lemons.  Strain. 

Make the sorbet in one of the following ways.
1.         Pour into the drum of an ice-cream maker or sorbetiere and freeze for 20-25 minutes. Scoop out and serve immediately or store in a covered bowl in the freezer until needed.
2.         Pour the juice into a stainless steel or plastic container and put into the freezing compartment of a refrigerator. After about 4-5 hours when the sorbet is semi-frozen, remove from the freezer and whisk until smooth, then return to the freezer. Whisk again when almost frozen and fold in one stiffly-beaten egg white. Keep in the freezer until needed.
3.         If you have a food processor simply freeze the sorbet completely in a stainless steel or plastic bowl, then break into large pieces and whizz up in the food processor for a few seconds. Add one slightly beaten egg white, whizz again for another few seconds, then return to the bowl and freeze again until needed.Serve in chilled glasses or chilled white china bowls or on pretty plates lined with fresh blackcurrant leaves.

Pink Grapefruit Sorbet

Sorbets are usually at the end of a meal, but a grapefruit sorbet can be served at the beginning, in the middle, or at the end, so it is particularly versatile.
You may use ordinary yellow grapefruit, but this recipe is especially delicious if you can find pink grapefruit which are sweeter and have a pale pink juice.  Pink grapefruit look very like ordinary ones although they sometimes have a pink blush and are usually a bit more expensive.  They are at their best between November and February when the flesh is very pink inside.  If you are using ordinary grapefruit you will need to  increase the sugar to about 10 oz/300 g/1½ cups.
One and three- quarter pints/1 litre  pink grapefruit juice (10 grapefruit approx.)
8 ozs (225 g/generous 1 cup) castor sugar approx.
1 egg white (optional)

4 grapefruit cut into segments
8 chilled white side plates
Fresh mint leaves

Squeeze the juice from the grapefruit into a bowl and dissolve the sugar by stirring it into the juice.  Taste.
The juice should taste rather too sweet to drink, because it will lose some of its sweetness in the freezing.
Make the sorbet in one of the ways outlined in the previous recipe for Blackcurrant Leaf Sorbet
To Serve:  Chill the plates in a refrigerator or freezer.  Carefully segment the grapefruit by first cutting off all the peel and pith.  Then with a stainless steel knife remove each segment from the membrane.  Put 1 or 2 scoops of sorbet on each chilled plate, garnish with a few segments of pink grapefruit, put a little grapefruit juice over the segments and decorate with fresh mint leaves.


Pink Grapefruit and Pomegranate Sorbet

Fold 1-2 cups of Pomegranate seeds into the semi- frozen sorbet and continue to freeze.

Strawberry Sorbet with Fresh Strawberry Sauce
Italian ice creams and sorbets are legendary if I had to choose just one it would have to be strawberry.

Serves 6-8
2 lbs (900g/6 cups) very ripe strawberries
Juice of 2 lemon
Juice of 2 orange
2 lb (225g/1 generous cup) castor sugar
3 pint (150ml/generous 2 cup) water
Fresh mint leaves
A few sugared strawberries

Fresh Strawberry Sauce
14 ozs (400g/2 ¾ cups) strawberries
2 ozs (55g/2 cup) icing sugar
Lemon juice

Dissolve the sugar in the water, bring to the boil simmer for 5-6 minutes, leave to cool.  Purée the strawberries in a food  processor or blender, sieve. Add the orange and lemon juice to the cold syrup. Stir into the puree.  Freeze in a sorbetiere or a covered bowl in a freezer, (stir once or twice during the freezing to break up the crystals).
Meanwhile make the coulis, clean and hull the strawberries, add to the blender with sugar and blend.  Strain, taste and add lemon juice if necessary. Store in a fridge.

To Serve
Scoop out the sorbet into a pretty glass bowl and serve with a few sugared strawberries and fresh strawberry sauce. Decorate with fresh mint leaves.

The not so lonely lonely Planet 

Lonely Planet have done it again!  The people responsible for bringing us the brilliantly researched guides for the curious traveller have now won an extra special place in my heart.   Recently they have launched  a new series of World Food Guides for “people who live to eat, drink and travel”.  These plump little pocket size guides in full colour contain a map of the country which highlights the culinary hot spots.  There’s also a well-researched introduction to the country’s cuisine which always reflects a country’s history, character and identity.
There are chapters on staples and specialities, regional variations, home cooking and traditions and celebrating with food, which highlights the diversity which still thankfully exists.
So far they have published guides to Morocco, Mexico, Vietnam, Thailand, Italy and Spain, with others following.  The World Food Guide to Ireland will be published on 20th June, 2000.
Each book also has a guide to markets and shopping and a very strong section called ‘where to eat and drink’ which not only gives options in all the price ranges but also suggestions for Vegetarians and Vegans, Children, Street Food, picnics, banquets….
If you are clever you can plan your trip around local festivals by checking out the ‘Celebrating with Food’ section and then recreate some of the exotic recipes at home from the many scattered through the guides.
“Food is an integral part of the travel experience”, says Tony Wheeler, found of Lonely Planet.  “   “What you eat and drink, who you share it with and where, is the essence of discovering a new country”.
Written in Lonely Planet’s trademark entertaining and opinionated style, each World Food author is an authority on their country’s cuisine and culture.  Joe Cummings (World Food Thailand) is the author of Lonely Planet’s Thailand guides.  World Food Mexico includes an exclusive interview with Laura Esquivel, author of the best-selling Like Water for Chocolate.  Richard Sterling (World Food Vietnam and World Food Spain) has been recognised by the James Beard Foundation for his food writing and the Lowell Thomas Award for his travel literature.  Matthew Evans (WF Italy) is a qualified chef and was chosen as Australia’s best new food writer in 1999.
-         A perfect present for your hedonist friends.

Insalata Caprese from World Food Italy
This dish uses simple produce that you can buy at most alimentari.  You’ll need a sharp knife and plates.  If you don’t have plates, just put all the ingredients on really good white bread rolls. 

Serves 2 

2 large, fully ripe, vermillion-coloured tomatoes
100g (3½ ozs) mozzarella di bufala
5-6 leaves fresh basil
fine sea salt and freshly milled black pepper
drizzle extra virgin olive oil

Core the tomatoes and cut into thin wedges.  Slice the mozzarella as thinly as you can.
Arrange tomato and cheese slices, alternating between each, and slightly overlap them on the plate.  Tear the basil leaves and scatter over the top.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper, and drizzle generously with the olive oil.  Serve with crusty white bread, then eat with the gusto of the Neapolitans. 


Djej Msharmal (Chicken Tagine with Lemon and Olives) 

Serves 4
1½ kg (3 lb 5 ozs) chicken, cut into pieces (some may prefer to leave it whole)
2 chicken livers
1 teaspoon coarse salt
2 cloves garlic
1 small bunch coriander
1 large onion, peeled and grated
2 preserved lemons, peel only, rinsed and cut into strips  (see below)
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
¼ teaspoon powdered saffron threads
4 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons butter.

The day before cooking, pound the sea salt and garlic together to make a paste.  Rub the paste over the chicken and then rinse.
Combine the ginger, pulp of lemon and oil. Rub it over the chicken and leave to marinate in the fridge, covered, overnight.  (If you don’t have a fridge, just rub the salt and garlic paste into the chicken, rinse it, and place it in a pot with all the spices, herbs and onion.)
Place the chicken and livers in a pot with the onions, saffron and coriander and cover with water.  Bring to the boil and simmer for about an hour.  Remove and mash the livers, then return them to the sauce.
Add the preserved lemon peel and olives (which you may pit if you want) and let the chicken cook for a further 15 minutes or so.
Transfer the chicken to a serving platter and keep warm.  Reduce the sauce by boiling until it is a thick gravy.  Remove the coriander sprigs and pour the sauce over the chicken. Decorate with lemon peel and olives.

Preserving Lemons

Lemons are preserved in the Moroccan Spring when they are at their ripest and sweetest, and providing that the process is followed meticulously, they are quite easy to prepare.
The lemons should be washed thoroughly, and if the skins are thick, left to soak in water for up to three days.  Each lemon should be cut into quarters but not all the way through, so that the quarters remain joined at the base of the fruit.  Stuff salt into the interior and squeeze together.  Put them in a sterilised glass or terracotta jar and push down to release some of the juice.  Fill the jar with water so that all the lemons are covered and seal the jar.  They can be used after one month.
Don’t worry if the lemons develop a stringy white substance, its harmless.  Remove the lemons from the jar with a wooden spoon and rinse before cooking.  Usually only the rind is used, but some cooks like to use the pulp – removing the pips first – for extra flavour.
Some cooks – especially from the region around Safi – add cinnamon sticks, cloves and coriander seeds for a slightly different taste.

Lonely Planet World Food Guides published by Lonely Planet Publications Pty Ltd. A.C.N.  005 607 983,  192 Burwood Rd. Hawthorn, Victoria 3122, Australia.


The Fast Food Movement To Slow Food

The more frenzied all our lives become the more we fantasise about another age, an era before we became enslaved
by technology,  and martyrs to the mobile phone and instant gratification.  As everything,  from cars to computers to food,  becomes faster and faster, the sale of self-help manuals, videos, books and magazines on how to reduce stress and put some balance into our lives skyrockets.
The Slow Food Movement was started in Italy 15 years ago by a group of leftist intellectuals, as an antidote to the growing fast food trend.  The movement started as a result of Carlo Petrini’s outrage when he encountered the smell of mass produced French fries wafting from the first McDonalds in Piazza di Spagna in Rome.
What started as a single group of disenchanted Italians who were passionate about saving endangered foods, farmhouse cheeses, salamis, old seed varieties, has developed into a vibrant international movement with more than 100,000 members in 40 countries.
In Ireland there are three Convivia so far, one in Cork and two in Dublin.   On Palm Sunday 16th April, the West Cork Convivium held its second Slow Food Celebration of Taste at the West Cork Natural Cheese Farm.  The weather forecast was appalling, yet about 100 like-minded people made their way up the winding lane to Bill Hogan’s farm where the legendary Gabriel and Desmond Farmhouse Cheeses are made.
The sun shone all afternoon on the merry band of food producers and bon viveurs.  The gathering was like a Who’s Who of the artisanal food scene.  Many of the farmhouse cheesemakers were there with their cheeses, Durrus, Gubbeen, Coolea, Carrigaline.  JJ Walsh brought Dubliner cheese from Carbery and Breda Maher journeyed down from Tipperary with her Cooleeney Camembert.   Barra McFeely who used to make the Dunbarra cheese has now joined Superquinn to train their sales team and create an awareness of how to care for farmhouse cheeses, so their customers can taste them in optimum condition, (other shops and supermarkets please follow).
Jean Perry brought a salad of her organic leaves and fresh herbs from her garden at Glebe House in Baltimore, she also provided gorgeous crusty flower pot breads to eat with the cheese.  Adele’s and the Courtyard in Schull also supplied some delicious breads and Kalbos in Skibbereen brought some of their terrific Italian Breads.
William and Aisling O’Callaghan from Longueville House in Mallow brought along their homemade prosciutto for us all to taste.  Ingrid and Aloys Basler came all the way from Sligo with some of their organic pasta.
Fish smokers extraordinaire Frank Hederman, Anthony Cresswell from Ummera, and Sally Barnes from the Woodcock Smokery in Castletownshend were there. Sally brought along the first of her marinated tuna to gauge the consumer reaction.
Rosarie Byrne of West Cork Herb Farm brought some of the newest additions to her range of marinades, preserves, and sauces, including a delicious Mint and Apple jelly, she’s also very excited about a new experiment with Cranberry and Sweet Cicely.
Fran Frazer from Doneraile brought an amazing selection of their organically grown mushrooms – skiitake, oysters .
Rosemary and Declan Martin displayed a selection of their vegetables from Waterfall Farm.   Bob Allen, a local organic farmer was also there.
Even John and Elmary Desmond,  whose tiny restaurant Island Cottage on Heir Island is one of my favourite dining experiences were enticed away from their paradise for the afternoon.
Michael and Hazel Knox-Johnson from Inchadoney Lodge and Spa came and we chatted about their terrific facility with health orientated kitchen.   Also there were Marie and Billy O’Shea of Grove House in Schull, their family run guesthouse.
Tony and Alicia Chettle of Bunalun Organic Farms brought along their brand new baby girl Fern, to introduce her to the throng of hedonists.
Edward Twomey from Clonakilty who was single-handedly responsible for the revival of one of our most traditional foods, black pudding, was his usual mischievous, irrepressible self, always a delight to encounter.
The party took place indoors, outdoors, upstairs and downstairs,  Bill just threw his gates and doors open and delightedly welcomed the eager foodies.  Out in the yard, Fingal Ferguson, son of cheesemakers Tom and Giana, who make the much loved Gubbeen Cheese had set up a beautiful stall and was busy cooking slices of his delicious home cured smoked bacon.  If you long for a rasher like it used to be,  pick up the phone right now and contact Fingal at the Gubbeen Smokehouse, 028-28231, unquestionably one of the most exciting new developments on the Irish food scene.
Mary and Ivan Pawle brought along some terrific organic wines from the Mary Pawle wine list, and Bill’s friend Gabriel from Luxembourg gave us a taste of Luxembourg bubbly and Riesling,  and there was more.   Frank Krawczyk who lives just down the road from Bill Hogan brought a selection of his home cured salami and Westphalian ham.
The flavours of these artisanal foods were simply a joy, and as John McKenna said in his talk on the ‘Philosophy of Taste’  – each food in its own way reflected the personality and passion of its producer.
We had a wonderful convivial afternoon, the sun shone, the birds sang,  Liam and Geraldine Kenneally from Ballydehob played traditional music with Vinnie on the mandolin, while we ate, drank and were very merry.
If you would like to know more about the Slow Food Movement contact the Cork Convivium at gubbeen@eircom.net or send  a sae to Giana Ferguson, Gubbeen, Schull, Co Cork.
The website address of the International Slow Movement is www.slowfood.com or e-mail international@slowfood.com.


Coolea Cheese and Leek Fritters


Helene Willems cooked these little fritters over a camp stove in the open air at the Slow Food Convivium.  They smelled tantalising and tasted delicious.

Makes 25 approx. depending on size.
400g (14oz) leek, very thinly sliced
25g (1oz) butter
200g (7oz) flour
2 free-range eggs
250ml (scant 8 fl ozs) milk
200g (7oz) mature Coolea farmhouse cheese, freshly grated
salt and freshly ground pepper
chilli pepper
freshly grated nutmeg
Melt the butter, add the thinly sliced leeks, cover and sweat on a gentle heat until soft but not coloured, 5 minutes approx. Cool.
Put the flour into a bowl, make a well in the centre, add in the eggs, break up with a whisk.  Add the milk gradually, whisking all the time in a circular movement from the centre to the outside of the bowl.  Add the cooled leeks and the grated cheese.  Season with salt, freshly ground pepper, chilli pepper and nutmeg to taste.
Heat a frying pan, preferably non-stick, on a medium heat.  Drop a small spoonful of the batter onto the pan, allow to cook until golden on one side, flip over onto the other and cook for a minute or two more.  Taste and correct the seasoning if necessary.
Cook the remainder in the same way.  Serve hot on their own or with a little Tomato and Chilli Sauce or Tomato Fondue.



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Darina Allen
By Darina Allen


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