Connected to the Good Earth

Suddenly my potager vegetable garden is bursting with produce. The compost, well-rotted farmyard manure and seaweed have paid dividends, globe artichokes, beetroot, broad beans, sugar peas, spinach, radishes, lettuces, mustard greens, spring onions….

It’s a glorious time of the year, within a couple of weeks one goes from the ‘hungry gap’ between the end of the winter vegetables to an abundance of summer vegetables and salad leaves.
Evening after evening we go out into the vegetable garden and pick beautiful produce and feel blessed. I sit at the end of the kitchen table podding broad beans, stringing sugar peas, de-stalking spinach, trimming globe artichokes…. far from feeling rushed, I find that picking and preparing vegetables and fruit makes me relaxed and connected to the good earth and the reality of nature and the seasons.
One enjoys every mouthful even more if one plants the seed and watches it slowly grow into something delicious to eat. This gives you a quite different appreciation of food and a tremendous respect and admiration for gardeners and farmers who carefully grow lovely food for us all to enjoy.
Look out for fresh local produce in your shops and supermarkets, ask them to highlight localso you identify what comes from your own locality. It will be fresher and all the better for not having travelled hundreds of miles to and from a central distribution station.
For me it’s a joy to see huge bunches of local carrots and Ballycotton potatoes piled up outside Sean Walsh’s excellent village greengrocery in Castlemartyr. Another good spot to source local food are the Farmers’ Markets which are beginning to mushroom around the country at last. The Farmers Market in Midleton runs on Saturdays from 10am to 2pm. The Coal Quay Market in Cork City is from 9am to 1.30pm on Saturday, around County Cork there is Macroom on Tuesday from 10am to 3pm, Mitchelstown on Thursday from 8am to 3pm, Castletownbere on the first Thursday of the month from 9am to 1pm, Bantry on Friday from 9am to 3pm. In Kerry the market is in Kenmare on Wednesday mornings and Sneem on Tuesday.
Ennis is on Saturday morning and in Limerick they start early in the Milk Market at about 7.30am. Galway runs all day on Saturday as does the Temple Bar Market in Dublin – worth a detour!

 

Globe Artichokes with Melted Butter


Whole Globe artichokes are quite fiddly to eat. First you pull off each leaf separately and dip in the sauce. Eventually you are rewarded for your patience when you come to the heart! Don’t forget to scrape off the tickly ‘choke’; then cut the heart into manageable pieces, sprinkle with a little sea salt before you dip it into the remainder of your sauce. Simply Delicious!

Serves 6
6 globe artichokes
2 pints (1.1L/5 cups) water
2 teasp. salt
2 teaspoons approx. white wine vinegar

Melted Butter
6 ozs (170g/12 sticks) butter
Freshly squeezed juice of 3 lemon approx.

Some restaurants do very complicated preparation but I merely trim the base just before cooking so the artichokes will sit steadily on the plate, rub the cut end with lemon juice or vinegar to prevent it from discolouring.
Have a large saucepan of boiling water ready, add 2 teaspoons of vinegar and 2 teaspoons of salt to every 2 pints of water, pop in the artichokes and bring the water back to the boil. Simmer steadily for about 25 minutes. After about 20 minutes you could try testing to see if they are done. I do this by tugging off one of the larger leaves at the base, it should come away easily, if it doesn’t continue to cook for another 5 – 10 minutes. Remove and drain upside down on a plate.
While they are cooking simply melt the butter and add lemon juice to taste.

To Serve
Put each warm artichoke onto a hot serving plate, serve the sauce or melted butter in a little bowl beside it. Artichokes are eaten with your fingers, so you might like to provide a finger bowl. A spare plate to collect all the nibbled leaves will also be useful.
Globe artichokes are also delicious served with Hollandaise Sauce

 

Glazed Carrots

 


For many people digging carrots straight from the garden won’t be an option, so at least buy fresh unwashed carrots and cook them by this method for maximum flavour.
Serves 4-6

1 lb (450g) unwashed carrots, Early Nantes and Autumn King have particularly good flavour
: oz (20g/scant 3 stick) butter
4 fl ozs (100ml/2 cup) cold water
pinch of salt
a good pinch of sugar

Garnish
freshly chopped parsley or fresh mint
Cut off the tops and tips, scrub and peel thinly if necessary. Cut into slices a inch (7mm) thick, either straight across or at an angle. Leave very young carrots whole. Put them in a saucepan with butter, water, salt and sugar. Bring to the boil, cover and cook over a gentle heat until tender, by which time the liquid should have all been absorbed into the carrots, but if not remove the lid and increase the heat until all the water has evaporated. Taste and correct the seasoning. Shake the saucepan so the carrots become coated with the buttery glaze. Serve in a hot vegetable dish sprinkled with chopped parsley or mint.

 

Broad Beans with Summer Savoury

 

Serves 8
Summer Savoury is a herb which has an extraordinary affinity with beans, it seems to make them taste more ‘beany’. If you don’t have it simply leave it out!

1 lb (450g) shelled Broad beans
3 pint (150ml/generous 2 cup) water
1 teasp. salt
sprig of summer savoury
1 oz (30g/3 stick) approx. butter
1-2 teasp. summer savory, freshly chopped
sea salt and freshly ground pepper

Bring the water to a rolling boil, add the sea salt, broad beans and a sprig of savoury. Continue to boil very fast for 3 to 4 minutes or until just cooked. Drain immediately. Melt a little butter in the saucepan, toss in the broad beans and season with freshly ground pepper. Taste, add some more savory and a little sea salt if necessary.The first tender new season broad beans may be podded at the table and eaten raw dipped first into best quality extra virgin olive oil and then sea salt, delicious with a tangy Irish farmhouse sheep’s cheese and warm crusty bread or ciabatta.

 

Buttered Spinach

 


Serves 4-6
Here are three different basic methods of cooking spinach – all of them a huge improvement on the watery mush that frozen spinach often unfortunately ends up as!
2 lbs (900g) fresh Spinach, with stalks removed
Salt, freshly ground pepper and a little freshly grated nutmeg
2-4 ozs (55-110g/2-1 stick) butter
Preparation

Method 1
Melt a scrap of butter in a wide frying pan, toss in as much spinach as will fit easily, season with salt and freshly ground pepper. As soon as the spinach wilts and becomes tender, strain off excess liquid, increase the heat and add some butter and freshly grated nutmeg. Serve immediately.
Method 2
Wash the spinach and drain. Put into a heavy saucepan on a very low heat, season and cover tightly. After a few minutes, stir and replace the lid. As soon as the spinach is cooked, about 5-8 minutes approx., strain off the copious amount of liquid that spinach releases and press until almost dry. Chop or puree in a food processor if you like a smooth texture. Increase the heat, add butter, correct the seasoning and add a little freshly grated nutmeg to taste.
Method 3
Cook the spinach uncovered in a large saucepan of boiling salted water until soft, 4-5 minutes approx. Drain and press out all the water. Continue as in method 2. Method 3 produces a brighter coloured spinach.
Creamed Spinach
Cook spinach either way and drain very well. Add 8-12 ozs (250-350ml/1-12 cups) cream to the spinach and bring to the boil, stir well and thicken with a little roux if desired, otherwise stir over the heat until the spinach has absorbed most of the cream. Season with salt, pepper and freshly grated nutmeg to taste. Creamed Spinach may be cooked ahead of time and reheated.
Oeufs Florentine
A classic and one of the most delicious combinations.
Serve freshly poached free range eggs on top of Creamed Spinach – one of our favourite lunch or supper dishes.