ArchiveOctober 2004

Pumpkins

Every morning when I see the gardeners coming in with baskets of freshly picked vegetables and herbs, I feel thrice blessed. Beautiful salad leaves, zucchini blossoms, a myriad of little leaves, misuna, mibuna, texel greens, orach, rocket leaves, sorrel and a variety of edible flowers for delicious salads. We still have some broad beans, beetroot, several varieties of kale and rainbow chard. The heirloom tomatoes are tailing off now as are the cucumbers, still there’s lots to choose from. I’m a hopeless photographer but I often feel like grabbing my camera to record the bounty. Today the impulse was irresistible when I saw Eileen manoeuvring a wheelbarrow full of pumpkins and squash up from the greenhouse. A myriad of shapes and sizes – Little Gem and crookneck squash, hubbard, turks turban, acorn, delicata, butternut squash, several huge pumpkins, a few Jack o lanterns’ and a variety of gourds. They looked like a glorious ‘still life’, Eileen and Kay arranged them in clusters on the window sills, along the shelves and piled them into wonderful pyramids in the centre of the dining room and serving tables. They looked so stunning sitting on the crimson leaves of the Virginia creeper and the Actinidia Kolomikta.

The whole school looks as though it was decked out for a Thanksgiving celebration

Almost immediately the displays prompted the inevitable questions what’s the difference between a squash and a pumpkin, how do you cook them, how do they taste, which pumpkin is best for a particular recipe.

Well having consulted a number of sources I’m still not totally clear about what exactly constitutes a squash or a pumpkin. Of all the families of fruit and vegetables I’ve come to the conclusion that pumpkins and squashes must surely be the most confusing. Not only are there hundreds of varieties but some go by a multitude of names.

Roughly they seem to divide in to Summer squashes and pumpkins and marrows and winter squashes and pumpkins and edible gourds – botanically speaking they are all members of the cucurbitaceae family, which also includes cucumbers, melons and decorative gourds. The majority of the summer squash are native to Central America and Mexico, while many of the winter squash originated in the Argentine Andes. Squash grows in both bush and vine forms, both are easy to grow and a few plants will provide you with enough squash to share with all your family and friends.

The blossoms of all squash from courgettes onwards are edible and delicious. The golden petals look wonderfully exotic in green salads. For a really impressive first course stuff each blossom with a little soft goat cheese or Mozzarella and a dab of pesto and perhaps a morsel of sun blushed tomato. Twist the tops of the petals together to seal, dip in a light batter and fry quickly. Serve immediately while they are crisp and plump. 

Squash or zucchini blossoms are a favourite filling for quesadillas in Mexico, serve with salsa.

Its usually better to harvest the male blossoms (the females have the fruit on the end), but be sure to leave a few on the plant to ensure pollination. 

For optimum flavour don’t harvest winter squash until we’ve had a cold snap, as with swede turnips a touch of frost enhances their sugar content. Winter squash harvested unblemished will keep in a cool dark place, eg a garage or garden shed, for up to 6 months.

Nutrition – Somehow I’d always supposed that squash and pumpkins weren’t up to much nutritionally but on the contrary, apparently a study done at the University of California at Davis, found Winter squash to be among the most nutritious vegetables, rivalling cabbage, carrots, spinach and potatoes. They are a tasty source of complex carbohydrates and fibre and provide iron, niacin and potassium. The orange flesh is high in beta carotene, the source of Vitamin A, the more orange the flesh the higher the content. Don’t forget to dry the seeds, add them to breakfast cereals, breads or simply sprinkle them with sea salt and nibble to your hearts content. 

Best flavour Squash

Butternut squash - smooth pale tan skin, longish neck, excellent flavour and texture.

Acorn – named for its shape, dark green skin is most common but it also comes in shades of orange and cream.

Delicata – another of my favourites – green cream, yellow and orange stripes, try to find small ones – dry, sweet tasting flesh, great for baking and stuffing.

Hubbard – an old favourite, shaped a bit like a spinning top, pale green to bluey-grey, dull orange flesh, good for baking, roasting, soups or add chunks into Winter stews.

Spaghetti marrow – an oval shaped pale yellow squash with flesh that forms long spaghetti like strands when its cooked. Bake or boil, serve with a gutsy Bolognese type sauce, or a garlic and parsley butter.

Little Gem – a dark green/black tasty little squash the size of a cricket ball, mature in early August and can be stored till Christmas. The deep yellow flesh is moist and sweet. They can be boiled whole and eaten with butter and cinnamon. Very popular in South Africa.

Turks turban, easy to recognise, so beautiful you’ll be reluctant to cook this vividly coloured squash – its good but not quite as tasty as some of the other varieties.

Beef and Pumpkin Stew

Serves 6
1½ lb (700g) stewing beef
olive oil
8oz (225g) onion
8oz (225g) carrot
8oz (225g) pumpkin
8oz (225g) parsnip
salt and freshly ground pepper
½ pint (300ml) water or beef stock

Cut the meat into 1½ inch (4cm) chunks approx. Heat a little olive oil in a frying pan, toss the meat in the hot pan, transfer to a casserole, then toss the vegetables in the hot oil and add to the meat. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper, add ½ pint (300ml) water or beef stock, bring to the boil and simmer for 45 minutes – 1 hour.

Serve with fluffy mashed potato or colcannon

Granola

A toasted grain cereal.
Serves 20

12 ozs (340g) honey
8 fl ozs (225g) oil eg. sunflower or arachide
1 lb 1 oz (370g) oat flakes
7 ozs (200g) barley flakes
7 ozs (200g) wheat flakes
3½ ozs (100g) rye flakes
5 ozs (140g) seedless raisins or sultanas
4 ozs (110g) peanuts/hazelnuts, or cashew nuts split and roasted
1oz (25g) pumpkin seeds toasted
2¾ ozs (75g) wheatgerm and /or millet flakes
2 ozs (55g) chopped apricots and or chopped dates etc. are nice additions too

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 a moderate oven 180C/350F/regulo 4, for 20-30 minutes, turning frequently, making sure the edges don't burn. It should be just golden and toasted, not roasted!

Cool and 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.

Stuffed Courgette Blossoms with Goats Cheese, Pesto and Tomato Fondue

In the Summer we grow courgettes (zucchini) in both the Kitchen garden and the Green Houses they produce hundreds of canary yellow blossoms. The female flowers produce the fruit but we use the male flowers in our salads, as a container for sauces and in soups. They are also utterly delicious stuffed with a few melting morsels, then dipped in a light batter and deep fried until crisp and golden. 
Serves 6-8 

Batter (excellent for fish fillets also) 
140g (5ozs) plain flour 
1: tablespoons olive oil 
Water
1-12 egg whites
Sea salt 
Sunflower oil for deep frying 
12 - 16 courgette flowers approx.

Filling 
175g - 225g (6 - 8ozs) fresh Irish goat=s cheese (I use St Tola, Crogan or Ardsallagh, each wonderful but different) 
3-4 teaspoons Pesto 
3-4 tablespoons Tomato fondue 

First make the batter. Sieve the flour into a bowl, make a well in the centre, pour in the olive oil, stir and add enough water to make a batter about the consistency of thick cream. Allow to stand for at least 1 hour if you can. 

Just before cooking, whisk the egg whites to a stiff peak and fold into the batter. Add salt to taste.

Heat the oil in the deep fryer until very hot. Remove the >thorns= from the base of the courgette flowers and the stamens from the centre. Hold a courgette flower upright, open slightly and carefully. Put about 15g (2oz) goat=s cheese, 2 teaspoon pesto and 1 teaspoon of Tomato fondue into each. Twist the tip of the petals to seal. Dip in batter and drop into the hot oil. Fry on one side for about 2 minutes and then turn over. They=ll take about 4 minutes in total to become crisp and golden. 

Drain on kitchen paper and serve immediately - just as they are or with hot Tomato Sauce or a little extra Tomato fondue. 

Creamy Winter Squash Soup

– from James McNair’s Squash Cookbook, published by Chronicle Books, San Francisco
He usually prepares this soup with pumpkin, other winter squash such as ‘Buttercup’, ‘Butternut’, or ‘Hubbard’ can be used with excellent results.
Serves 6

To prepare an edible serving bowl, cut off and reserve the top of a large whole squash of the same type used to prepare the soup. With a spoon, scoop out the seeds and stringy portions, replace the top, and wrap the stem with foil to prevent it from burning. Place in a shallow pan containing about ½ inch of water and bake in a preheated oven 350F/180C/gas 4, until the pumpkin is tender but still holds its shape, about 1 hour.

4 tablesp. unsalted butter
1 cup (4 oz) chopped leek, white part only
½ cup (2oz) chopped shallot
1½ lbs (700g) pumpkin, or other winter squash, peeled, cleaned, and cut into 
½ inch chunks, or 3 cups pureed cooked pumpkin or other winter squash from about 1½ lbs (700g) raw squash.
1 quart homemade chicken stock or chicken broth
1 cup (8fl.ozs) heavy whipping cream or light cream
1 cup (8fl.ozs) freshly squeezed orange juice
½ teasp. ground ginger
salt
freshly ground white pepper
crème fraiche or sour cream
chopped toasted hazelnuts for garnish
minced orange zest for garnish

In a large heavy saucepan, melt the butter over medium-high heat. Add the leek and shallot and sauté until very tender and golden, about 8 minutes. Add the pumpkin or other squash and chicken stock or broth. Bring to a boil, cover, reduce heat to low, and simmer until the squash is tender, about 30 minutes. (If using pumpkin or other squash puree, simmer about 15 minutes.)

Working in batches, transfer to a food processor or blender and puree. Place in a clean saucepan, add the cream, orange juice, ginger and salt and pepper to taste. Place over medium heat, stirring frequently, until hot; do not boil. Carefully pour into baked pumpkin shell if desired (see above). Ladle into preheated bowls, add a dollop of crème fraiche or sour cream, and garnish with toasted hazelnuts and orange zest.

Note: To toast hazelnuts, place in a shallow pan in a 350F/180C/gas 4 oven, stirring frequently, until the nuts are golden under their skins. Transfer to a plate to cool. Rub nuts between fingertips to remove skins.

Foolproof Food

Wholemeal Bread with Pumpkin Seeds

Makes 1 loaf or 3 small loaves
400g (14 oz) stone ground wholemeal flour
55g (3oz) white flour, preferably unbleached
1 level teaspoon bread soda, sieved (Bicarbonate of Soda/Baking Soda)
1 teaspoon salt
25g (1oz) pumpkin seeds
1 teaspoon honey
1 egg, preferably free range
1 tablespoon arachide or sunflower oil, unscented
425ml (15fl oz) buttermilk or sourmilk approx. (put all the milk in)
extra pumpkin seeds to scatter on top

Loaf tin - 9 inches (23cm) x 5 inches (12.5cm) x 2 inches (5cm) 

Preheat oven to 2001C/4001F/regulo 6.

Put all the dry ingredients including the sieved bread soda into a large bowl, mix well. Whisk the egg, add the oil and honey most of the 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. Scatter some pumpkins seeds on top. 

Bake for 60 minutes approx, or until the bread is nice and crusty and sounds hollow when tapped. Cool on a wire rack.


Hot Tips

Muck and Merlot – Tom Doorley is one of Ireland’s best known commentators on food and wine. He has been at the forefront of the organic movement in Ireland, championing small producers. In his recent book Muck and Merlot, Tom shares his passions, his opinions, his curiosities, his grievances and the commonplace miracles of his life. Muck and Merlot, published by O’Brien Press, €19.95

Sweet and Simple – The fruit company Fyffes have recently launched a range of fresh fruit packs, sliced apple, sliced apple and grapes, and seedless grapes. Designed to appeal to busy people and concerned parents looking for a healthy addition to the school lunch box. Available nationwide €1 per pack. An idea for the ‘trick and treaters’ this Hallowe’en.

The popular and weekly tv programme ‘The Restaurant’ in which a celebrity prepares a three course meal for three well known food critics, is one of the nominees for Best Lifestyle Prgoramme.

Sarah Raven’s Garden and Cookery School in East Sussex – offers a huge variety of courses in gardening, keeping livestock, flower arranging, cooking – in a wonderful location – with guest chefs like Mary Berry, Antonio Carluccio, Monty Don – special courses running up to Christmas – festive flowers and wreaths, deck the house ……. For details contact 0845 050 4849 – email: school@thecuttinggarden.com   for a brochure. 

Stream Farm, Dallington, East Sussex is an ancient hall house in unspoilt acres of its own farmland – It’s a wonderful place to stay if you are in that part of the country and is very convenient if attending a course at Sarah Ravens. Contact Tam Lawson, tel 01435 830223. mobile 07710 482430 email:lawsontam@hotmail.com

The Borough Market

Every now and then I need to pop over to London for a meeting so I use it as an excuse to check out the food scene, perhaps catch a show or maybe visit an exhibition. This time I spent a happy few hours meandering through the Augustus and Gwen John exhibition at the Tate but neither love nor money could secure tickets for David Hall’s play ?? at the National Theatre on Saturday night. The whole run is booked out but it is occasionally possible to get returns if one is prepared to queue at the ticket booth in Leicester Square on the day.
Food lovers who find themselves in London on Saturday morning should don a pair of runners, grab a couple of stout shopping bags and head over the river at London Bridge for the Borough Market. Unless you want to beat your way through crowds, comparable to Patrick Street on Christmas Eve, you’ll need to drag yourself out of bed early. We got there at 11.15am by which time the market was thronged with eager, almost frenzied shoppers, tourists and two rival television crews. I bumped into several friends including a past student dressed in motorbike leathers who was on a mission to pick up a variety of offal for an offal feast he and his pals were cooking that night.

Stalls were piled high with vegetables, autumn fruit, wild mushrooms and fresh herbs. Jocular butchers vied to outsell each other with their selection of meat from rare breeds, organic, free-range, well hung and dry aged, Cured meats, salamis, dry-cured bacon, prosciutto….. At Brindisa, Serrano ham and Pata Negra were being sliced off the hoof. Two people worked unceasingly yet couldn’t keep up with the demand. We ordered and paid for 100g of Pata Negra and the sensational Spanish cured ham of the black pigs fattened on acorns in the woods of Aracena in Andalusia. We were told to come back in 30 minutes to collect it. I bought some pimento de padron, the little green peppers from Galicia which are almost impossible to come by outside Spain - fried in oil and sprinkled with coarse salt they are one of my favourite Spanish foods.

By now a queue of about 20 people had formed around the corner of the stall for the Chorizo sandwiches, a soft chewy bap split in half lengthwise was filled with a sizzling chorizo, some rocket leaves and a few pieces of piquillo pepper – an irresistible combination. Other stalls were groaning with farmhouse cheese, mouthwatering cakes and cookies and fresh fish. Oliver Beaujouan was over in London for the Selfridges promotion during 6-17 October, highlighting the best produce from South West Ireland, so he was selling his pickled sea weeds and sea weed tapenade to a rapturous public. His assistant sold Silke Cropp’s Corleggy and Drumlin cheeses. When I visited Selfridges to meet some of the Irish artisan producers Tristan Hugh- Jones was opening Irish oysters at the fish counter and Richard Corrigan, the hugely acclaimed Irish chef of Lindsay House was having no difficultly enticing people to taste Irish beef with a Bearnaise sauce made from Kerrygold butter, or an Irish seaweed tapenade.

After the market we stopped at the Monmouth Coffee Shop for a reviving cup of freshly ground Fair Trade coffee and some great bread and jam – seek it out, some of the very best coffee in London. Coffee lovers may also want to make a trip to the Algerian Coffee Shop in Old Compton Street. Around the corner – a mecca for cheese lovers - Randolf Hodgson’s Neal’s Yard Dairy has the best selection of British and Irish farmhouse cheese in superb condition in theses islands.
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We had lunch in Brindisa’s new tapas bar, the food was REALLY good, every morsel delicious. We fought over deep fried Monte Enebro cheese with orange blossom honey. Farmhouse Mahon with tomato marmalade and a chicory salad with 

Cabrales cheese and walnut vinaigrette. Other memorable meals were a breakfast at Baker and Spice in Denver Street (get there early, there was a queue at 9.30 on Sunday morning). Dinner at St Jean Fergus Hendersons’s simple almost Spartan restaurant in a converted Smithfield smoke house is a mecca for passionate meat eaters and offal fiends.

There is a now a St John Bread and Wine in Commercial St which boasts a full working bakery and a bistro style modern British menu. I also swung by Babes ‘n Burgers to check out the newest concept in kids food. Owners William and Sam Sarne and their contemporaries now have kids so they want to provide the kind of fast casual restaurant and healthy fast food that they want their kids to eat and really enjoy. They are attracting a new kind of fashionable punter who doesn’t care much about swanky table service but wants more than a mystery meat burger, preferably organic. There’s a nursery room at the back with low tables, easy wipe banquette seats and lots of toys and puzzles. Sam has plans for a Saturday club for dads who can chat and chill while the kids eat cruditees or chicken fingers coated in spelt flour; or great little organic burgers served with Maris Piper chips. Sticky fingers in Phillimore Gardens in Kensington, is another fun restaurant to check out if you are bringing the kids to London.

We also had a delicious dinner at Kensington Place, Rowley Leigh’s ever popular eatery on Kensington Church St. Starters and puds were best. If you are there at lunch time don’t miss Sally Clarke’s food shop and bakery across the road.

Both Rowley Leigh and Fergus Henderson have published cookbooks – see Hot Tips – here are some of their recipes.

Devilled Kidneys

 from ‘ Nose to Tail Eating’ by Fergus Henderson
Serves 2

6 lamb’s kidneys, suet and membrane removed and slit in half lengthwise, retaining the kidney shape
3 tbsp. plain flour
1 tsp. cayenne pepper
1 tsp dry English mustard
sea salt and pepper
a big knob of butter
Worcester sauce
A healthy splash of chicken stock
2 pieces of toast (white or brown, up to you, though – just an observation – white seems to sup up the juices better)

Nip out the white fatty gristle of the kidneys with a knife or scissors. Mix together the flour, cayenne pepper, mustard, and salt and pepper in a bowl.

Get a frying pan very hot, throw in a knob of butter, and as this melts roll your kidneys in your spiced flour, then shake them in a sieve to remove excess. Place them in a sizzling pan, cook for 2 minutes each side, add a hearty splash of Worcester sauce and the chicken stock, and let all the ingredients get to know each other. Remove the kidneys to your two waiting bits of toast, let the sauce reduce and emulsify in the pan (do not let it disappear) and pour over the kidneys and toast. 

Brined Pork Belly

 from ‘Nose to Tail Eating’ by Fergus Henderson
Serves 4

Brine – see recipe
2kg piece of pork belly, with skin and bones on
2 onions, peeled and chopped
a miniscule splash of olive oil
a pinch of coarse sea salt

Brine your pork belly for 3 days, rinse, then score the skin gently with a sharp knife, a Stanley knife is excellent for this purpose.

Place the onions on the base of a roasting tray (their purpose is, as well as flavour, to stop the belly sticking.) Lay the belly on top. Rub the skin with a little oil and then the salt. Place in a medium to hot oven for approximately 1½ - 2 hours, keep an eye on it so it does not burn. If you’re anxious that the skin is not crisping up, you start or finish the belly under the grill.

When cooked you should have crispy skin on top of soft and giving fatty flesh. Lift off the onions and serve.

Brine

Makes 4 litres
You can use this brine to preserve other meats, eg beef brisket or silverside or ox tongue.

400g caster sugar
600g sea salt
12 juniper berries
12 cloves 
12 black peppercorns
3 bay leaves
4 litres water

Bring all the brine ingredients together in a pot, and bring to the boil so the sugar and salt melt. Decant into a container and allow to cool. When cold add to your meat, and leave it in the brine for the number of days required for your recipe.

Griddled Scallops with Pea Puree and Mint Vinaigrette

 from
‘There’s no place like home by Rowley Leigh’.
Serves 2

2 spring onions
butter
the outside leaves of a lettuce
150g fresh shelled or frozen peas
1 bunch of mint
nutmeg
sugar
½ glass of white wine
75ml double cream
lemon juice
50ml cider vinegar or white wine vinegar
125ml sunflower oil
8 scallops, shucked, rinsed and cut in half if very large

Although you will not need so much mint vinaigrette, it is difficult to make in smaller quantity and keeps well in the fridge, to accompany some lamb chops on another occasion.

To make the puree, slice the spring onions and stew them in a little butter. Finely shred the lettuce leaves and add to the pan, then stir in the peas. Add three or four leaves of mint, a small pinch of nutmeg, a good pinch of sugar and some salt and pepper. Add the white wine and then stew, covered on a low heat for half an hour. When the peas are very tender and swollen, add the cream and simmer briskly to reduce, until it is in danger of catching on the sides of the pan. Remove from the heat and puree in a blender until very smooth. Sharpen the seasoning with a little squeeze of lemon and more salt and pepper if it needs it. Put the puree in a small saucepan and keep warm.

To make the vinaigrette, pick six or seven sprigs of mint, chop the leaves very roughly and put them in a blender. Add a teaspoon of sugar and a big pinch of salt. Bring the vinegar up to the boil and pour over the mint. Switch on the blender and add the oil in a steady trickle. Check the seasoning and adjust with lemon, salt and pepper if necessary.

To cook the scallops, salt them lightly, leave for ten minutes and then pat them dry with kitchen paper. Lightly brush them with a little sunflower oil. Get a heavy, dry frying pan or a griddle very hot and put the scallops on it one by one. Do not move them for a couple of minutes but let them brown well. Turn and cook for another two minutes, then remove. They should be just hot in the middle, but very moist.

To serve, arrange the scallops around a mound of the pea puree on each plate and drizzle the vinaigrette between them. Do not drown the scallops.

Tarte Tatin

There are tatins of everything under the sun these days, but this was the first and remains the best. A really heavy pan (preferably made or iron or copper), about 22-24cm in diameter, with straight or almost straight sides is pretty well essential for its successful execution. Cox’s are certainly the ideal apple, partly because they have the necessary acidity and depth of flavour to cope well with all that sugar and partly because they do not fall apart during cooking.
2 lemons
2kg Cox’s apples
125g unsalted butter, slightly softened
125g caster sugar
200g puff pastry

Squeeze the juice of the lemons and put it in a large pudding basin or similar shaped bowl with a couple of tablespoons of water. Peel and halve the apples, remove the cores with a teaspoon and roll the halves in the juice.

Smear the butter generously all over the base and sides of the cold pan. Sprinkle the sugar on top and give the pan a shake to ensure it is evenly distributed. Drain the apples of any lemon juice and arrange them, standing on their sides, in concentric circles, embedding them in the butter/sugar mix. Pack them in as tightly as you can, then put the pan on the fiercest heat you have.

While keeping a beady eye on pan, roll out the puff pastry into a disc about 2cm wider than the rim of the pan and leave it to rest on a sheet of greaseproof paper on a plate in the fridge. Watch the sides of the pan very closely. You are looking for a good, rich caramel colour to develop. Move the pan around on the heat to ensure the mixture caramelises evenly. It needs a certain courage to keep going in order to get a rich, deep toffee colour. This whole process can take ten to twenty minutes, depending on the pan and the strength of the flame. When it is done, transfer to a heatproof surface or a pot rest.

After five minutes or so, when the pan has cooled a little, drop the disc of pastry on to the apples and let the edges hang over the sides of the pan. Place the pan in an oven preheated to 220C/gas mark 7 and bake for fifteen minutes, or until the pastry is nicely risen.

Remove from the oven and leave to rest for a minute.

The moment of truth has arrived: place an inverted plate, slightly bigger than the pan, over the top. With one hand firmly in place over the plate, grip the handle equally firmly with your other hand and a cloth and, with a determined turn of the wrist, flip the pan over on to the plate. Lower the plate on to a surface, pause a moment and then lift off the pan. Behold, one hopes, a perfect golden circle of apples. If things are not as perfect as they might be, do not despair, but grab a palette knife and shape the apples into place. This might include a bit of scraping around in the pan, gathering up some residual bits of apple and caramel.

Serve warm with a bit of double cream.

Foolproof Food

Rowley Leigh’s Parsnip, Jerusalem artichoke, celeriac or swede mash.

All of these roots gain body and substance from the tolerant spud. Being low in starch, they also help to alleviate the glue problem.

Simply cook an equal amount of the root vegetable, cut the same size, with the potato. Although the roots will cook faster than the potato, they are more fibrous and need breaking down more to make a smooth mash. Drain extremely well and take care to dry the mixture thoroughly in the pan before adding the milk. Add a teaspoon of Dijon mustard to parsnip mash to give a sharper, stronger flavour of parsnip.

Hot Tips

Time Out London Eating and Drinking Guide – the brand new edition of this guide has just been published. With more than 1,200 reviews of the best restaurants, gastropubs, cafes and bars plus a new section covering party venues and entertainment, food and drink shops, cookery and wine courses, this is still the biggest and best guide to London eating and drinking you’ll find. Available from www.timeout.com/shop for £8.99 or £10.99 at good bookshops.

Monmouth Coffee Company, 27 Monmouth St, London WC2 Tel 020 7 836 5272
Algerian Coffee Store, 52 Old Compton St. London W1. Tel 020 7 437 2480
Neals Yard Dairy, 17 Short’s Garden, London WC2 Tel 020 7 379 7646
Brindisa, 3 Riverside Workshops, 28 Park St, London SE1. Tel 020 7 403 0282
Lindsay House, 21 Romilly Street, W1D 5AFl Tel 020 7 439 0450 www.lindsayhouse.co.uk 

St John, 26 John St, London EC1M 4AY Tel 020 7 251 0848 www.stjohnrestaurant.co.uk 

St John Bread & Wine, 94-96 Commercial St. London E1 Tel 020 7 247 8724 www.stjohnbreadandwine.com  

Kensington Place, 201 Kensington Church St. London W8 7LX Tel 020 7 727 3184 www.egami.co.uk 

Clarke’s, 124 Kensington Church St, London W8 4BH Tel 020 7 221 9225 www.sallyclarke.com 

Babes ‘n Burgers, 275 Portobello Road, London W11 Tel 020 7 727 4163

Sticky Fingers, 1A Phillimore Gardens, W8 7QB London, Tel 020 7 938 5338
www.stickyfingers.co.uk 

Books – Nose to Tail Eating by Fergus Henderson, published by Macmillan, London

No Place Like Home by Rowley Leigh published by Fourth Estate, London.

Birr Market – Special Halloween Market today 23rd October

I Love a Date

I’ve just read a fascinating article about dates, so much so that it has whetted my appetite in every sense of the word to make a pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia in search of the very best dates. Apparently date connoisseurs throughout Asia, Africa and the Middle East consider the Khalasah – pronounced Kha-lah-sah to be the quintessential date against which all others are judged. Known as Khlas in Saudi Arabia, the name loosely translates as quintessential in Arabic. Its home is in the kingdom’s eastern province, more specifically Hofuf the main city of the Al Hasa oasis. The very best growers, roughly 100 in number come from Al Mutairfi village and are considered to be the undisputed masters. The harvest starts in May and goes right through to October. 

I adore dates, the first I tasted came in the elongated timber box lined with a scalloped doyley edging. The shiny sticky dates covered with a disc of cellophane tasted strange but deliciously exotic to a six year old. My father had brought them home as a present for Mummy after one of his rare trips to Dublin – we all crowded around and were offered one to taste. My next encounter with dates was less exotic, at boarding school a block of dates still in its cellophane wrapper was unceremoniously placed on the table for tea every Thursday. At first we had no idea what we were supposed to do, then we simply ate them on white bread and butter – surprisingly delicious – I’ve always been fond of date sandwiches ever since – immeasurably better than sandwich spread which was Wednesday’s treat!

I’ve experimented with dates on and off in biscuits, bars, tarts and cakes, but it wasn’t until my first visit Morocco, that I tasted the plump succulent Medjool date – a revelation. I thought this rich chewy jumbo date must be the most delicious of all dates but now I read that it pales in comparison to the Khalasah.

The date palm Phoenix dactylera is thought to be the world’s oldest cultivated fruit. Fossil records reveal that the date palm was widely grown in the Mediterranean and in Mesopotamia as early as the Eocene Epoch some 50 million years ago. There are many written references, among them a AKKadran cunuform text from about 2500BC, which mentions the date palm as a cultivated tree. The date palm flourishes best between 15 & 35 degrees north, principally in the arid areas of North Africa, the Arabian peninsula, Souther Iraq where dates have been a staple food not only for humans but also for animals for thousands of years.

I remember watching a flock of sheep ambling onto the lawn of our hotel near Taroudant in Morocco to hoover up the windfall dates every day.

The Food and Agriculture Organisation of the UN estimate that there are approximately 600 different types of dates and 90 million date palms in the world, producing in excess of 3 million tons a year. 

Dates are dates are dates as far as most of us are concerned – not so in date growing countries where there are specific terms to describe different degrees of ripeness.

Khalah when the dates are almost fully grown, have started to ripen but are still fresh and crunchy. When the dates are partially ripe or fully ripe they are referred to as Rutab. Tamr yabis is the stage when the dates ripen on the tree and are left to dry – they are the least perishable of all the dates.

California also grows a considerable acreage of dates mostly Medjool and Deglet noor. The latter meaning ‘date of light’ or ‘translucent’, is medium sweet and has a sweet nutty aftertaste. I tasted some delicious ones last year when Mr Bell the charismatic Moroccan owner of the ethnic food stalls in Cork Market gave me a box for a present. He explained that during Ramadan, Muslims break the fast at sunset with a sip of water and a few dates. Finally if we are really to appreciate dates, we shouldn’t gobble them up as I’ve been known to do, instead one should let a date melt slowly in one’s mouth. At first there will be no taste, then as the date begins to warm the outer skin will become detached and slide off. Soon the soft flesh will begin to fill the mouth with flavours of honey caramel and sweet potatoes, toffee, … Try it, the texture will be a revelation, but apparently not a patch on the Khalasah – can’t wait to taste it.

Date and Walnut Cake

From The Ballymaloe Cookbook by Myrtle Allen
Makes approx. 10 slices

1 cup chopped dates
1 cup boiling water
½ teasp. breadsoda
1 cup sugar
2oz (50g) softened butter
1 beaten egg
1 teasp. vanilla essence
1½ cups flour
½ teasp baking powder
pinch of salt
1 cup chopped walnuts

Frosting

2½ tablesp brown sugar
5 tablesp cream
1 oz (25g) butter
⅓ cup approx. icing sugar

walnuts for decoration
Shallow tin 9 x 12 inches (23x30cm) or 2 smaller ones, greased.

Pour boiling water over the dates and add bread soda. Cream butter and sugar together and gradually beat in the egg, vanilla essence, flour, baking powder and salt. Finally add walnuts and combine with date mixture.
Bake at 375F/190C/regulo 5 for approx. 35 minutes. 

When cool ice with the frosting and decorate with walnuts.
To make the frosting: Put sugar, cream and butter in a saucepan and boil for 3 minutes. Add icing sugar and cool. Add a little more icing sugar if too liquid.

Rory O’Connell’s Date Tart

Serves 8
15 fresh dates, halved and pitted
7 egg yolks
3¼ oz (80g) castor sugar
700ml (1.25pints approx) pouring cream
½ vanilla pod, split lengthwise

Pastry
7¼ oz (205g) butter, chopped
1 oz (25g) castor sugar
1 tablespoon milk
10oz (275g) white flour

9 inch (23cm) flan tin with a removable base

For pastry, combine butter, sugar, and milk in a food processor and process until butter is in small pieces. Add flour and process until mixture just comes together in a ball. Gently knead pastry on a lightly floured surface to form a smooth ball. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 2 hours. Roll out pastry on a lightly floured surface and line a 9 inch flan tin with a removable base. Cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes. Place the tart shell on an oven tray, line with baking paper, fill with dried beans or rice and bake at 200C for 10 minutes. Remove paper and beans and bake a further 10 minutes, or until golden.

Place dates on pastry in two circles. Cream egg yolks and sugar until light and fluffy, then stir in cream and seeds from vanilla bean. Pour cream mixture into tart shell, to cover dates, then bake at 180C for about 30 minutes or until just set. Cool at room temperature before serving.

Lamb and Medjool Date Tagine, Herbed Couscous

Merrilees Parker gave me this recipe when she was guest chef here at the Cookery School.
Serves 6-8

2 tbsp paprika
1 tbsp each ground coriander and turmeric
2 tsp each ground cinnamon and cumin
2 tsp coarse ground black pepper
1.5kg/3lb 5oz lamb shoulder, well trimmed and cut into 4cm/11/2in chunks
4 garlic cloves, chopped
2.5cm/1in piece peeled root ginger, chopped
3 onions, roughly chopped
2 tbsp olive oil
600ml/1 pint tomato juice
600ml/1 pint lamb or chicken stock
2 tbsp clear honey
225g/8oz Medjool dates, cut in half and stones removed

For the Couscous
350g/12oz medium couscous
juice of 2 lemons
6 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
600ml/1 pint chicken stock
4 tbsp chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley and mint
Maldon sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Greek style yoghurt and fresh coriander leaves, to garnish

Mix together the paprika, coriander, turmeric, cinnamon, cumin and pepper in a large bowl, then tip half into a small bowl and set aside. Add the lamb to the large bowl and coat in the spices. Cover with clingfilm and chill overnight.

Preheat the oven to 325F/170C/Gas 3. Place the garlic, ginger and onions into a food processor and pulse until finely minced. Heat a large heavy-based casserole. Add half of the oil and brown off the marinated lamb in batches. Add the remaining oil to the pan and then add the onion mixture cook for a few minutes until softened but not coloured. Stir in the reserved spice mixture and cook for another minute or so until well combined.

Pour the tomato juice and stock into the pan and then add the honey, stirring to combine. Bring to the boil, cover and transfer to the oven. Cook for 1 hour, then stir in the dates and cook for another hour until the lamb is completely tender and and sauce has thickened and reduced. Season to taste.

To make the couscous; place it in a large bowl and add four tablespoons of the oil and the lemon juice. Mix well ensuring that all the grains are completely coated. Heat the stock in a small pan and season generously. Pour over the couscous and allow to sit in a warm place for 6-8 minutes until all the liquid has absorbed, stirring occasionally. To serve, stir in the remaining oil and the herbs into the couscous and arrange on plates with the tagine. Finally garnish with a dollop of the Greek yoghurt and coriander leaves.

Marzipan Dates

Makes 28
Use up your scraps of almond paste on these Marzipan Dates. 

28 fresh dates
4 ozs (110g) almond paste or marzipan (see recipe)
Castor sugar

Split one side of the date and remove the stone. Roll a little piece of marzipan into an oblong shape so that it will fit neatly into the opening. Smooth the top and roll the stuffed date in castor sugar. Repeat the procedure until all the dates and marzipan are used up. Serve as a petit four or as part of a selection of home-made sweets. 

Almond Paste
225g (8oz) ground almonds
225g (8oz) castor sugar
1 small egg
A tiny drop of pure almond essence
1 tablespoon Irish whiskey

Sieve the castor sugar and mix with the ground almonds. Beat the egg, add the whiskey and 1 drop of pure almond essence, then add to the other ingredients and mix to a stiff paste. (You may not need all of the egg). Sprinkle the work top with icing sugar, turn out the almond paste and work lightly until smooth.

Medjoul Dates with Pistachio

Dip the top of the stuffed date in finely chopped pistachio nuts.
Serve as above

Date pudding with cardamon toffee sauce

Serves 8-10
6 ozs (170g) dates, pitted and chopped
1 teasp. bread soda (bicarbonate of soda)
8 fl ozs (250ml) boiling water
2 tablesp. butter
6 ozs (170g) castor sugar
2 free range eggs
6 ozs (170g) self-raising flour
½ teasp. vanilla extract

Cardamon toffee sauce
4ozs (110g) butter
6ozs (175g) dark soft brown, Barbados sugar
4ozs (110g) granulated sugar
10ozs (275g) golden syrup
8fl.ozs (225ml) cream
½ teasp. vanilla extract
4 cardamon pods, crushed

7 inch (18cm) square cake tin, well buttered.

Mix the dates with the bread soda.
Pour water over dates and leave to stand.
Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy
Beat in the eggs one by one.
Gently fold in flour, stir in date mixture and vanilla, and pour into the prepared cake tin. Bake at 180C (*425F) for 25 minutes, then reduce the temperature to 160C (350-375F) for a further 10 minutes approx.

Meanwhile bring sauce ingredients to the boil and simmer for 5 minutes.
Cut pudding into squares and place on warm serving plates.
Discard cardamon pods, pour sauce over the pudding and serve.

Hot Tips

Slainte Handmade Health Cuisine, Clonakilty, Co Cork - specialising in Gluten/wheat free, Dairy free, Sugar and Yeast free products – a range of cakes , breads and quiches, using locally produced organic products where possible. Also special orders birthdays, Christmas and Halloween, gift baskets…. Tel 087-758 8846 slaintehandmade@yahoo.com  

Dunbrody Abbey Cookery School, Dunbrody, Campile, New Ross, Co Wexford
Tel 051-388933
Autumn Course programme now available theneptune@eircom.net  www.cookingireland.com  

Tullamore Country Fair – this Farmers and Producers Market is held every Saturday in Millennium Square in Tullamore, Co Offaly

Mullingar Market – moves to new location in Harbour Place shopping Centre, every other Sunday from 3rd October.

Foolproof food

Date and Banana with Yoghurt

Serves 4-6
4-5 bananas
8 ozs (225g) stoned dates, fresh or dried
½ pint (300ml) yoghurt
a little cream

Arrange alternate layers of thinly sliced bananas and halved dates in a serving bowl. Spoon a little cream and yoghurt all over and chill for a few hours before serving. The yoghurt will soak into the fruit and give it a soft slightly sticky texture – sublime!

The truffles were displayed like jewels!

Driving through Piedmont, the countryside in late October is gloriously Autumnal. This is Barolo and Barbaresco region, most of the grapes have already been picked and the leaves on the vines are turning a variety of orange and burnished red, rust and gold. The vineyards are interspersed with hazelnut groves – this is nougat, giandujotte and Nutella country.
Every bar and enoteca (wine bar) serves Torta di Nocciole. I’ve just eaten a delicious slice topped with zabione in a little café in Monteforte de Alba. The grumpy landlord refused to give me a plate of Vitello Tonnato – too late for lunch, so I succumbed to the temptation which I fear will be forever on my hips.
During the truffle season Tartufo are Piedmont’s greatest gastronomic treasure, aficionados come from all over the world during the truffle season to savour this earthy delicacy. This precious fungus looks like a knobbly potato and grows 4-6 inches below the ground in parasitical symbiosis with the roots of oak walnut, chestnut, hazelnut, and willow trees.

An old truffle hunter explained to me that the harder the wood of the tree the more intense the truffle’s perfume. Some are as tiny as marbles but in rare cases they can be as big as your fist. Two types are found in Italy, the Tuber melansporum – a black truffle with little flavour in season from November to March all over Italy. Tuber magnatum – the white truffle on the other hand is highly scented and exquisitely flavoured and excruciatingly expensive. We visited the truffle market in Alba held on Saturday morning from September through January. There were about twelve farmers in winceyette check shirts and dungarees each sitting on stools watching protectively over their little cache.
The truffles were displayed like jewels in covered cases and as one passed by the proud owner would lift the cover slightly to allow a tantalising waft of aroma to escape. I was longing to buy a truffle but wasn’t sure what to look out for or how to judge a really good one, particularly when my pitiful Italian made it impossible to ask the questions I so badly needed answers to. I watched the other truffle hunters going about their purchase, each one sniffed the truffles individually and then felt, so I gathered that apart from the aroma, it was important that the truffle was firm, not soft or spongy. Then I realised that there was a truffle inspector available to customers so I carefully made my purchase from a local farmer. I was mightily relieved when after much sniffing and feeling it was endorsed by the inspector.

I’ve always longed to link up with a farmer to go truffle hunting but the search involves much stealth and secrecy. Selectively bred pigs or more usually nowadays hounds, help their masters to find the truffles, sometimes several kilos, in an evening. This harvest is sold furtively by the gram in early morning markets, cash only, no cameras allowed, transactions conducted in a local dialect. Unscrupulous vendors have a myriad of ways to piece together a broken truffle or fill wormholes with clay to add extra weight. Consequently its better for the inexperienced buyer to head for markets in Alba or Asti.

Few cookbooks tell you what to do with a precious truffle if you should decide to purchase one. Use it soon. Its best shaved over an omelette or simply fried or scrambled eggs. Its also divine with fresh pasta, tossed in a simple sauce of cream and parmesan. At about €3 a gram you’re unlikely to have large quantities to worry about.
Chestnuts are another speciality of the Piedmont region, they are preserved in syrup and sold as marrons glacés, a local speciality despite its French name.
Grissini or bread sticks are another speciality of the area – up to a yard long, the best are hand rolled and slightly knobbly and bear little resemblance to the boring packaged commercial grissini.

This area is full of surprises, it wasn’t until we passed through the little village of Arboria that I realised that Piedmont is also an important rice growing region. The flat fields are flooded to grow Arboria, Canaroli and Vilano Nano rice for risottos. I’ve always loved the food in this region of Italy, less well known than Tuscany and for my palate much more varied.
We ate wonderful Bagna Cauda – raw seasonal vegetables dipped in a hot bath of olive oil, garlic and anchovies. I also adore Vitello Tonnato, wafer thin slices of roast veal with a tuna flavoured mayo. Almost every meal starts with a salumi course followed by an antipasto, Primo is the pasta course, perhaps plump agnolotti filled with chopped roast meat or tajarin, thin shoelace homemade egg pasta with various sauces. We also enjoyed potato gnocchi and of course Fonduta with shavings of truffle. Next comes the main course – Seconda. One mustn’t miss Bollito misto, a mixture of boiled meat including tongue, served with salsa verde or rossa.

Look out for Finanziana also – a stew of cocks combs, chicken livers, sweet breads and other exciting variety meats. Fritto misto turns out to be a huge platter of deep fried foods, lamb chops, chicken, zucchini and their blossom, aubergine, mushrooms, cauliflowers, fried cream and sometimes peaches and amaretto biscuits.
If you’ve got any room left you can tuck into Formaggio (local cheese), followed by Dolce (dessert). I always seek out Castelmagno, a terrifying looking, rare and pungent cow’s milk cheese with a cult following. Its certainly not for the faint hearted, there’s also Gorgonzola, Bra, Tom and many many others that live on in one’s memory.
Desserts are for me least memorable, I am still mystified by people’s attachment to Bonet -a trifle like pudding with chocolate, rum and amaretti, Pere al barola – pears slow cooked in the lovely Barola wine, can be delicious with a wobbly Pannacotta and one must taste a foamy zabaione at least once. Aer Lingus flies into Milan from Dublin daily, also Al Italia, and from Cork the direct service from Milan ran from April to the end of October twice weekly, so its easy to get to this area. My advice is to quickly head for Turin and then meander through the countryside, truly a food and wine lover’s paradise.

Fried Eggs with White Truffles from Piedmont

Truffles, a rare treat, have a natural affinity with eggs, this is a favourite way to enjoy them in Alba.
Serves 2

4 fresh free range eggs, preferably organic
extra virgin olive oil
1 small white truffle
salt and freshly ground pepper
crusty white bread

Heat a little oil in a frying pan, add the eggs (you’ll need to cook them in batches). Fry the eggs gently. When the white is set but the yolk still soft, transfer 2 eggs to a warm plate. Top with slivers of truffle.
Serve immediately and enjoy every mouthful.

Breadsticks – Grissini

Crusty breadsticks are all the rage now. The more rustic looking the better, great with soups, salads or just to nibble. Remember they will double in size, so roll very thinly.
Ballymaloe White Yeast Bread dough (see recipe)

Sea salt, chopped rosemary, crushed cumin seeds, sesame seeds, poppy seeds, ground black pepper, chilli flakes, grated Parmesan cheese…..
When the dough has been ‘knocked back’, preheat the oven to 220C/425F/gas mark 7. Sprinkle the work surface with coarse sea salt or chosen flavouring.
Pull off small pieces of dough, 15-25g (½-1oz). Roll into very thin, medium or fat breadsticks with your hands. Roll in chosen ‘sprinkle’ (you may need to brush lightly with cold water first). Place on a baking sheet. Repeat this process until all the dough has been used.
Bake in a preheated oven for 8-15 minutes depending on size until golden brown and crisp. Cool on a wire rack.
Note: Breadsticks are usually baked without a final rising but for a slightly, lighter result let the shaped dough rise for about 10 minutes before baking.
Wiggly Worm: Shape a very thin breadstick which has been rolled in finely grated Parmesan cheese into a wiggly worm. Serve with Kinoith Garden Salad.
Bread sticks wrapped in a slice of Parma or Serrano ham make a delicious nibble to serve with an aperitif.

Ballymaloe White Yeast Bread

This loaf is always served in a traditional plait shape in Ballymaloe but it can be shaped in many forms, from rolls to loaves or even in to animal shapes! It is a traditional white yeast bread and once you have mastered this basic techinique the sky is the limit.
Makes 2 x 1 lb (450g) loaves
20g (¾oz) fresh yeast
425ml (15 floz) water
30g (1oz) butter
2 teaspoons salt
15g ( ½ oz) sugar
675g (1½ lbs) strong white flour
Poppy seeds or Sesame seeds for topping – optional
2 x loaf tins 13 x 20cms 5” x 8” 

Sponge the yeast in 150ml (5fl oz) of tepid water, leave in a warm place for about five minutes.
In a large wide mixing bowl sieve the flour, salt and sugar. Rub in the butter, make a well in the centre.
Pour in the sponged yeast and most of the remaining lukewarm water. Mix to a loose dough adding the remaining liquid or a little extra flour if needed
Turn the dough onto a lightly floured work surface, cover and leave to relax for 5 minutes approximately. 

Then knead for about 10 minutes or until smooth, springy and elastic (if kneading in a food mixer with a dough hook, 5 minutes is usually long enough).
Put the dough in a large delph bowl. Cover the top tightly with cling film (yeast dough rises best in a warm moist atmosphere).
When the dough has more than doubled in size, 1½ - 2 hours, knock back and knead again for about 2 to 3 minutes. Leave to relax again for 10 minutes.
Shape the bread into loaves, plaits or rolls, transfer to a baking sheet and cover with a light tea towel. Allow to rise again in a warm place, until the shaped dough has again doubled in size. 

The bread is ready for baking when a small dent remains when the dough is pressed lightly with the finger. Brush with egg wash and sprinkle with poppy or sesame seeds if using them. Or dust lightly with flour for a rustic looking loaf.
Bake in a fully preheated hot oven, 230C/450F/regulo 9 for 25 - 35 minutes depending on size.

The bread should sound hollow when tapped underneath. Cool on a wire rack.
To make a plait-
Take half the quantity of white yeast dough after it has been ‘knocked back’, divide into three equal pieces. With both hands roll each one into a rope, thickness depends on how fat you want the plait. Then pinch the three ends together at the top, bring each outside strand into the center alternatively to form a plait, pinch the ends and tuck in neatly. Transfer onto a baking tray. Allow to double in size. Egg wash or dredge with flour.

Bagna Cauda

This is one of the great specialities of the Piedmont area in Northern Italy.
Serves 4-6

A variety of raw vegetables cut in bite sized pieces eg. peppers, cardoons, celery, carrots, cauliflower, broccoli, fennel
Globe artichoke heart and Jerusalem artichokes
boiled potatoes and beetroot
Lots of crusty bread
6 fl ozs (175ml) olive oil
5 cloves garlic, crushed
14 anchovy fillets, chopped
4 ozs (110g) butter

Heat the oil gently in a small pot, add the garlic and cook until soft but not brown. Add the anchovies and stir over a low heat until dissolved. Add in the butter and serve in the pot, keep warm on a spirit lamp or over a night light. Guests then dip in the vegetables in the Bagna Cauda and eat them immediately.

Torta di Nocciole (Hazelnut Pound Cake)

From ‘Celebrating Italy’ by Carol Field
This hazelnut pound cake is without doubt the dessert of Alba.
Makes 1 pound cake

150g (5oz) unsalted butter, room temperature
250g (9oz) castor sugar
3 eggs, separated, warm room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla essence
120g (4½ oz) hazelnuts, toasted, peeled and finely chopped
250g (9oz) plain flour
1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon baking powder
pinch salt

9 x 5 inch (23 x 12.5cm) loaf tin, lined with parchment paper.
Preheat the oven to 350F/180c/gas 4

Cream the butter and 225g (8oz) of sugar with a wooden spoon or with the whisk of an electric mixer at medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes by hand, or 3-5 minutes by mixer. Add the egg yolks, one at a time, beating thoroughly after each addition. Beat in the vanilla, then the hazelnuts. Sift the flour, baking powder, and salt together, then resift them over the batter and gently fold into the batter. In a separate bowl beat the egg whites until fluffy. Add the remaining 25g (1oz) of sugar, 1 tablespoon at a time, and continue beating until the mixture is glossy and holds peaks. Change to the paddle attachment on your mixer and on the lowest speed, stir the egg whites into the hazelnut mixture in 3 careful additions.
Pour the batter into the lined tin. Bake in the preheated oven until a skewer inserted in the centre comes out clean, 50-60 minutes.

Foolproof Food

Zabaione

This is possibly everyone’s favourite Italian dessert. Marsala is best in it but you can use a mixture of dark rum and sweet sherry instead.
Serves 4

4 egg yolks, preferably free range
4 tablesp. castor sugar
8 tablesp. Marsala
8 - 12 sponge fingers
1 bowl 4 pint (2.3L) capacity

Bring a saucepan of water to the boil. Separate the eggs, put the yolks into the bowl with the castor sugar and whisk for a few seconds until they fluff up. Sit the bowl into a saucepan of simmering water, add the Marsala whisking all the time and continue until the zabaglione is light and fluffy and has increased enormously in volume - about 5-8 minutes with an electric whisk or 15 minutes by hand. Pour at once into warm glasses, put each one on a plate and serve immediately with a few sponge fingers to dunk in the boozy fluff.
Zabaione is also delicious served with fresh summer berries

Hot Tips

Markets News –
Ahascragh Country Market in Co Galway – next market on 20th November 11-1 – will include tastings of Christmas goodies and orders may be placed on the day. Locally produced – Cakes, jams, relishes, vegetables, fruit, crafts and much more.
Birr, Co Offaly – next market also on 20th November.
Cahir Farmers Market – every Saturday 9- 1- the very best of locally produced foods.

Listowel Food Fair – will run from November 4-8th – now celebrating its tenth year the fair is still gathering momentum. Opening by Anne Cassin of RTE and featuring celebrity chef Neven Maguire. www.listowelfoodfair.com  email:listowelfoodfair@eircom.net  Tel. 068-23034.

Retail Foodshow 2004 - City West Dublin– November 7th.This is a one-stop market place which puts food producers and equipment/service suppliers face to face with their customers. Associated Craft Butchers of Ireland, Apollo Business Park, Dundrum Road, Dundrum, Dublin 14 Tel: 01-2961400 info@craftbutchers.ie

Soil Association Organic Food Awards

I’ve just returned from Bristol where I spent two days judging the Soil Association Organic Food Awards with a plethora of food writers and celebrity chefs including Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall, Giorgio Locatelli, Matthew Fort and Fiona Beckett.

This year there were over 1000 entries, 1 chomped my way through 20 chickens, 4 ducks, 12 pieces of roast loin of pork with crackling. Many were rare breeds with lip- smacking flavour. Others tasted sausages, cured meat, fruit and vegetables, cheese and yogurt and other dairy products, jams, preserves, wines and non-alcoholic drinks, baby foods, teas, coffee, chocolate, prepared foods….. Top chefs love to be involved with judging these awards. Top chef Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall said, ‘I’ve been a judge for five years now and its helped me discover some of the most delicious food. Even when I missed a year, I was sent some beef by the category winners to try for my book – it was absolutely stunning.’

This year’s awards also included Best School Dinners reflecting the campaigning work done by the Soil Association to improve the quality of school meals, 

The Organic Food Awards are all about rewarding and highlighting the best in organic food and drink. Special awards include the Organic Restaurant Award, Box Scheme of the Year, Best Local Food Initiative, and Producer of the Year.

Judging in all categories is by blind tasting. The judging panel for each category is informed of variety and constituent ingredients but is not made aware of brand or manufacturer details until the judging is complete. The judging coincides with the Bristol Soil Association Organic Food Festival on Bristol’s vibrant harbourside. The event is gathering momentum at an amazing pace – the first year there were 7,000 visitors, last year over 20,000 and this year numbers topped that.

Many people dismiss organic food as being too expensive so the theme of this year’s festival was “Eating fresh organic food on a budget”.

The festival was centred around indoor and outdoor organic markets with over 150 stalls offering a huge range of organic food and drink. This year there were two new additions to the festival – an Organic Health, Beauty and Textiles market offering everything from shampoo to shirts; and the Wild Harvest Pavilion which featured an array of foods gathered beyond the farm, such as line-caught fish, wild mushrooms and game. There was also an organic bar.

For my demonstration I chose a large organic free-range chicken which cost £13 ( €18 approx). My challenge was to produce four meals out of one chicken. I showed the audience how to joint and use every scrap, I used the carcass and giblets for stock, the chicken liver for pate to serve with a tomato salad on bruschetta, the chicken breast was butterflied, pan grilled and served with rustic roast potatoes and a bunch of vine-ripened cherry tomatoes.

The inner fillet was used for Thai Chicken and Galangal Soup. The legs were poached gently in Chicken Stock flavoured with vegetables and then sliced and made into a gratin of chicken with mushrooms and broccoli. The succulent thigh meat was used for a Thai Red Curry to serve with a big bowl of fluffy rice

I cut the tasty chicken skin into squares, spread out on a wire rack and cooked gently in a very low oven until the rendered out. It was irresistibly crisp and crunchy, great served with sweet chilli or plum sauce to dip or crumbled over a green salad.

The chicken wings were marinated in sweet chilli and soy sauce and sprinkled with toasted sesame seeds. 

I could have made a risotto from the chicken stock and served with with a Tuscan chicken liver sauce – gutsy and delicious laced with fresh sage., altogether 7 dishes from 1 chicken. 

Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall did a demonstration on using the cheaper and under-rated cuts of meat.

Fans of Hugh’s might like to know that he will be teaching a class at the Ballymaloe Cookery School on 22nd October 2005.

We have just compiled our new season’s schedule which has been posted on the website www.cookingisfun.ie 

Crispy Chicken Skin with Plum or Sweet Chilli Sauce

This recipe is only worth doing with a superb chicken. We use Dan Aherne’s free-range organic chickens from Castledermond that are sold at the Middleton Farmers’ Market
Skin from a free-range, organic chicken
Sea salt
Plum or Sweet Chilli Sauce

Cut the skin into pieces about 2 by 11/2 inch. The size is not crucial but if the pieces are reasonably even they will be more manageable to cook later. Preheat the oven to 50Oc. Spread the pieces of chicken skin upwards on a wire cooling rack. Put the rack on a baking tray. Cook long and slowly or until the skin is crisp and the fat has rendered out. Sprinkle with sea salt. Serve on individual plates with a little bowl of plum or sweet chilli sauce to dip

Red Thai Chicken Curry

6 boneless breasts cut into bite size pieces.
1 tablespoon Red Thai curry paste either from a jar or home made
1 can coconut milk or made up from powder, separated into thick and thin
6 kafir lime leaves, roughly torn
20 Basil leaves, torn
1 tablespoon Nam pla
Red chilli pepper, deseeded and finely sliced

Put the thick milk and curry paste into a heavy pan and fry until oil runs and the mixture smells cooked. Add the chicken pieces and fry for a few minutes. Add the rest of the milk, kafir leaves, torn basil leaves and Nam pla. Cook for a further 10-15 minutes. Add chilli and serve with extra chopped basil on top. 

Note: Stir fry shredded cabbage in oil and garlic for a few minutes. Pour over 1 tablespoon Nam pla and serve with Thai chicken curry.

Risotto with chicken Liver Sauce

The rice dishes of the Veneto region are famous. Rice was introduced there by the Arabs and many varieties of short-grain rice still grow in the marsh lands around the river Po.
In Venice, risotto is made almost liquid, its great quality is its immense versatility. The Veneto is richer in vegetables than any other area in Italy so all sorts of vegetables and combinations of vegetables are included in the dish as well as herbs, poultry, game, chicken livers or shellfish. There is even a risotto made with squid ink and another with pine kernels and raisins which is actually a legacy of the Arabs.
Serves 6

2-3 pints (1 - 1.3L) broth
or chicken stock
1 oz (30g) butter
1 onion, finely chopped
2 tablesp. olive oil
14 ozs (400g) Carnaroli or arboria rice
1 oz (30g) butter
2 ozs (55g) freshly grated Parmesan (Parmigiano Reggiano is best)
Sea salt

First bring the broth or stock to the boil, turn down the heat and keep it simmering. Melt the butter in a heavy bottomed saucepan with the oil, add the onion and sweat over a gentle heat for 4-5 minutes, until soft but not coloured. Add the rice and stir until well coated (so far the technique is the same as for a pilaff and this is where people become confused). Cook for a minute or so and then add 3 pint (150 ml/) of the simmering broth, stir continuously and as soon as the liquid is absorbed add another 3 pint (150 ml) of broth. Continue to cook, stirring continuously. The heat should be brisk, but on the other hand if its too hot the rice will be soft outside but still chewy inside. If its too slow, the rice will be gluey. Its difficult to know which is worse, so the trick is to regulate the heat so that the rice bubbles continuously. The risotto should take about 25-30 minutes to cook. 

When it is cooking for about 20 minutes, add the broth about 4 tablespoons at a time. I use a small ladle. Watch it very carefully from there on. The risotto is done when the rice is cooked but is still ever so slightly 'al dente'. It should be soft and creamy and quite loose, rather than thick. The moment you are happy with the texture, stir in the remaining butter and Parmesan cheese, taste and add more salt if necessary. Pour into a hot serving dish and fill the centre with Chicken Liver Sauce.

Risotto does not benefit from hanging around.

Marcella Hazan’s Chicken Liver Sauce

Serves 4
225g fresh chicken livers
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
30g (1oz) butter
55g (12oz) diced pancetta, or prosciutto ( I use unsmoked streaky bacon)
2 tablespoons chopped shallot or onion
quarter clove garlic, peeled and finely chopped
one and a half teaspoons of sage
110g (3lb) minced lean beef
6-8 twists freshly ground pepper
1 teaspoon concentrated tomato puree, dissolved in 4 tablespoons dry white vermouth

To serve
freshly grated Parmesan cheese (Parmigiano Reggiano is best)

Wash the chicken livers, trim off any fat or traces of green and cut them into 3 or 4 pieces. Dry thoroughly on kitchen paper.

Heat the oil in a small saucepan, add the diced streaky bacon and fry gently until it begins to crisp, then remove to a plate. Add the butter and saute the onions over a medium heat until transluscent, add the garlic, stir 2 or 3 times, add back in the bacon and the sage leaves, then add the minced meat, crumbling it with a fork, and cook until it has lost its red raw colour. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper, turn the heat up to medium high and add the chicken livers. Stir and cook until they have lost their raw colour, add the tomato puree and vermouth and cook for 8-10 minutes. Taste.
Delicious served with risotto, noodles or pasta eg pappardelle

Yoghurt with Apple Blossom, Honey and Toasted Hazelnuts 
We have just two beehives down at the end of the orchard. Some years if the weather is inclement we get very few sections but this year ‘my bees’ produced twice the ‘national average’, I was proud as punch. Although the orchard is five acres of mixed Worcester Permain, Bramley Seedling and Grenadier. I don’t suppose the honey is totally Apple Blossom but it must be predominantly so - in any case it tastes wonderful. In Autumn we’re fortunate to be able to gather our own Hazelnuts from the nut walk planted by Lydia Strangman at the beginning of the century.
Serves 1

About a tablespoon or toasted sweet tasting hazelnuts 
Best quality natural yoghurt 
Apple blossom honey or strongly flavoured local Irish honey - 2 tablespoons approx.

To toast hazelnuts: Preheat the oven to 200ºC/400ºF/regulo 6. Put the hazelnuts onto a baking tray and pop into the oven for 8-10 minutes until the skins loosen. Remove from the oven and as soon as they are cool enough to handle, rub off the thin papery skins (I usually put them into a tea towel, gather up the edges like a pouch, rub the towel against the nuts for a minute or so and ‘hey presto’ virtually all the skins come off in one go. If the nuts are still very pale, put them back into the oven for a few more minutes until pale golden and crisp. Slice thickly.

Just before serving spoon a generous portion of chilled natural yoghurt onto a cold plate, drizzle generously with really good honey and sprinkle with freshly sliced toasted hazelnuts. Eat immediately.


Foolproof Food

Casserole Roast Chicken with Autumn Herbs

Serves 4-6
1 chicken (3½ lbs (1.575kg) free range if possible
1 oz (30g) butter
4-6 teasp. chopped fresh herbs eg. Parsley, Thyme, Tarragon, Chervil, Chives, Marjoram
¼ pint (150ml) light cream
¼ pint (150ml) home-made chicken stock
*Roux, optional
1-2 tablespoons freshly chopped herbs
1 oval casserole
Remove the wish bone and keep for the stock.

Season the cavity of the chicken with salt and freshly ground pepper and stuff a sprig of tarragon inside. Chop the remaining tarragon and mix with two-thirds of the butter. Smear the remaining butter over the breast of the chicken, place breast side down in a casserole and allow it to brown over a gentle heat. Turn the chicken breast-side up and smear the tarragon butter over the breast and legs. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper. Cover the casserole and cook in a moderate oven for 13-12 hours.

(To test if the chicken is cooked, pierce the flesh between the breast and thigh. This is the last place to cook, so if there is no trace of pink here and if the juices are clear the chicken is certainly cooked.) Remove to a carving dish and allow to rest for 10-15 minutes before carving. 

Spoon the surplus fat from the juices, add a little freshly chopped tarragon, add in the cream and stock if using* boil up the sauce until it thickens slightly. Alternatively bring the liquid to the boil, whisk in just enough roux to thicken the sauce to a light coating consistency. Taste and correct seasoning.
Carve the chicken into 4 or 6 helpings, each person should have a portion of white and brown meat. Arrange on a serving dish, nap with the sauce and serve.
* Note: Some chickens yield less juice than others. If you need more sauce, add a little home made chicken stock with the cream. If the sauce is thickened with roux this dish can be reheated.
* This dish is also delicious without cream just made with chicken juices, stock and fresh herbs.

Hot Tips

Ummera Smoked Fish from Timoleague, Co Cork was respresented at the Organic Food awards – Tel 023-46644 for stockists
Dan Aherne sells free range organic chickens at Midleton Farmers Market every Saturday morning.
Forthcoming Slow Food events – Tastings in Temple Bar 2 October.
Fungus Foraging in Fingal – 10 October. www.slowfoodireland.com  
Venison Farm Direct – their stall is a familiar sight at several markets – this healthy low fat meat can be ordered from their website and confirmed by phone with credit card. Check out the website. www.venisonfarmdirect.ie   
Valvona & Crolla – this world renowned Edinburgh Italian delicatessen and wine merchant has won Britain’s most prestigious independent cheese retailing award - the Dairy Crest and Grocer magazine Best Independent Cheese retailer in the UK, in the same week as it celebrates its 70th anniversary. Only days before Valvona & Crolla was also voted the Scottish Wine Merchant of the Year. 19 Elm Row, Edinburgh, EH7 4AA Tel 0131 556 6066

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