Grow a few vegetables

My mother is a feisty septuagenarian. As mother of nine children, of whom I am the eldest, she has a decidedly pragmatic outlook on life. She comes from a generation who ‘got up and got on with it’, so she has little patience with people whingeing about everyday challenges.

Recently she was irritated by the endless complaints about the price of food – “Why don’t people stop whingeing and go back to being self-sufficient – grow a few vegetables, plant an apple tree, keep a few hens” – How right she is, yet several times recently I’ve been reminded that the old-fashioned attitude of ‘yerra ‘tis how the neighbours will reckon we can’t afford to buy it’ still prevails – well now isn’t it about time to let that one go and to rediscover the joys of planting a seed and watching it grow. The delight of growing your own was clearly demonstrated recently when one of our teachers Shermin came bouncing in to work scarcely able to contain herself with excitement , she was now harvesting strawberries, beetroot, broad beans, sugar snaps, onions, garlic and also has potatoes and leeks

She was almost overwhelmed by the thrill of having grown all of this herself in a little patch of ground. Then I discovered that Sue was also hooked, she has been growing lettuce, spring onions, spinach, broccoli, potatoes, cabbage, runner and broad beans and herbs. Emer is in her third year of growing raspberries, black gooseberries, courgettes, lettuce and spring onions. Rosalie had the first green gooseberries and also grows raspberries, tayberries and blackcurrants as well as lettuce, cabbage, purple sprouting broccoli, potatoes, tomatoes, cucumbers and herbs. Not to be outdone, Gail has cherry tomatoes growing in a window box

Toby and Penny have also started a vegetable garden and were beside themselves with excitement when they dug their first potatoes. We were so touched when they gave us a present of some of their precious first harvest.

Little Willow, our grand-daughter aged 3½ has already become hooked on planting seeds – she’s the ‘radish queen’ and regularly presents us with a bunch of her ‘spicy radishes’.

Penny also has a few hens which eat the scraps from the house and lay delicious eggs. I’m absolutely thrilled that so many young people have discovered how much fun it is to ‘grow your own’ and to be able to cook the results of your labours. By the way, there is an unprecedented demand for allotments in the UK. Apart from the satisfaction of actually growing some of your own vegetables and fruit there’s the rediscovery of the importance of freshness. This extra dimension comes as a big surprise when one is used to buying vegetables and fruit which are understandably days and sometimes weeks old before they reach the shelves. Many have travelled half way around the world causing unnecessary pollution .

Freshly harvested vegetables and fruit are often on the table within hours of being picked and are picked with vitamins, minerals and trace elements.

Is it my imagination, or do really fresh organic vegetables also cook faster? – I’d love to hear of readers’ observations.

Frittata with Oven-Roasted Tomatoes and Summer Herbs

Unlike their soft and creamy French cousin, these omelettes are cooked slowly over a very low heat – while you can be whipping up a delicious salad to accompany it! A frittata is cooked gently on both sides and served in wedges like a cake. Omit the tomato and you can have the basic recipe, flavoured with cheese and a generous sprinkling of herbs. As with an omelette, you will occasionally want to add some tasty morsels to ring the changes – perhaps spinach, ruby chard, calabrese, asparagus or smoked mackerel. The list is endless but be careful not to use the frittata as a dustbin – think about the combination of flavours before you empty your refrigerator!
Serves 4-6

450 g (1 lb) cherry tomatoes
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
8 large eggs, preferably free-range
1 tablespoon chopped parsley
2 teaspoons freshly chopped thyme leaves
1 tablespoon freshly chopped basil or marjoram
125 g (4½ oz) Gruyère cheese, freshly grated
40 g (1½ oz) Parmesan cheese, freshly grated
25 g (1 oz) butter
Extra virgin olive oil

You will need:
Non-stick frying pan – 7 ½ inch (19cm) bottom, a 9 inch (23cm) top rim

Green salad leaves

Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/regulo 4. 

Halve the tomatoes around the equator and season with salt and a little pepper. Arrange in a single layer in a non-stick roasting tin and roast for 10-15 minutes, or until almost soft and slightly crinkly. Allow to cool.

Preheat the grill.

Whisk the eggs in a bowl. Add the salt, pepper, herbs, tomatoes and cheese to the eggs. Melt the butter in a non-stick frying pan. When the butter starts to foam, tip in the egg mixture. Lower the heat to its minimum. Use a heat-diffuser mat and gently cook the eggs for 15 minutes, or until the underneath is set. The top should still be slightly runny. Pop the pan under the preheated grill, about 4 inches (10 cm) below the element, for 1 minute to set and barely brown the surface. Use a palette knife under the frittata to free it from the pan. Slide it on to a warm plate. Serve wedges with a green salad and a few olives, sprinkled with Parmesan and drizzled with the olive oil.

Risotto with Broad Beans, Peas, Green Asparagus and Sugar Snaps

Serves 8
225g (½ lb) broad beans
225g (½ lb) peas
115g (¼ lb) sugar snaps 
6 stalks green asparagus 
40g (1½ oz) butter
110g (4oz) onions chopped 
400g (14oz) Carnaroli, Vilano, Nano or Arboria rice 
1.7-2L (3-3½ pints) Homemade chicken stock 
80ml (3 fl oz) white wine 
25g (1oz) freshly grated Parmesan, Parmigiano Reggiano
salt and freshly ground pepper 

Bring 600ml (1 pint) water to the boil, add salt, the broad beans and cook for 2 or 3 minutes or until almost tender, drain and refresh in cold water. Slip the beans out of their shells. Meanwhile cook the sugar snaps again in boiling salted water until al dente, then cook the asparagus for just 4 or 5 minutes and finally the peas for 3 or 4 minutes. Do this while cooking the risotto if you can keep your eye on several pots at the same time.

To start the risotto, bring the chicken stock to the boil at the back of the cooker and keep at a low simmer. Melt 25g (1oz) of butter in a saucepan, add the finely chopped onion and cook over a medium heat until soft but not coloured, add the rice and a generous pinch of salt. Stir the rice over the heat for 2-3 minutes or until it turns translucent, then increase the heat and add the dry white wine. When the wine has evaporated, add a couple of ladles full of stock, stir and reduce the heat to medium, keep stirring and as soon as the liquid has been almost absorb, add another ladle full and so on, stirring all the time. After about 10 minutes, add the beans, peas, sugar snaps and continue to ladle in more stock as it is absorb. After about 5 minutes, taste the rice, it should be just cooked, stir in the remainder of the butter, freshly grated Parmesan and the asparagus sliced into 1¼ inch pieces at an angle. Add a little more stock if necessary, the risotto should be soft and loose. Taste and correct the seasoning. Serve immediately in hot bowls with more Parmesan to sprinkle over the top.

Cherry Tomatoes, Bocconini and Basil
Simple and delicious – great for a picnic.
Serves 4-6

450g (1lb) sweet ripe cherry tomatoes
225g (1/2lb) Bocconini or Buffalo mozzarella cut in quarters
Lots of fresh basil leaves
Maldon sea salt or Halen Mon and freshly ground pepper
Extra virgin olive oil

Combine the cherry tomatoes, Bocconini or Buffalo mozzarella in a bowl. Drizzle generously with extra virgin olive oil. Season with Halen Mon or Maldon sea salt, add lots of fresh basil leaves.

Zucchini fritters with yoghurt sauce

– from Bill’s Food by Bill Granger
Makes 18

500g (18oz) zucchini (courgettes), grated
½ teaspoon sea salt 
8 spring onions (scallions), chopped
125g (4½oz) feta, crumbled
35g (1¼oz) chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
15g (¾oz) chopped fresh mint
2 eggs, lightly beaten
60g (2½oz) plain flour
sea salt, extra to taste
freshly ground black pepper
60ml(2¼floz) olive oil, for shallow frying

To serve

Yoghurt sauce – see below
Lime wedges

Put the zucchini in a colander, sprinkle with the sea salt, toss lightly and set aside for 30 minutes. Squeeze out the excess water from the zucchini and pat dry with paper towels.

Put the zucchini, spring onion, feta, parsley, mint and eggs in a bowl and stir lightly to combine. Stir in the flour, salt and pepper.

Heat the oil in a non-stick frying pan over a medium to high heat. Drop tablespoons of batter into the hot oil, flattening gently with the back of a spoon. Cook for 2 minutes on each side, or until golden brown. Drain on paper towels and serve with yoghurt sauce and lime wedges. These fritters are also delicious with a Greek salad.

Yoghurt Sauce

1 garlic clove, finely minced

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
125g (4fl.oz) plain yoghurt
2 tablespoons lemon juice
sea salt
freshly ground black pepper

Put all the ingredients in a bowl and stir to combine.

Blackcurrant Fool
Serves 6 approx.

350g (12oz) fresh blackcurrants, frozen blackcurrants may be used
Stock syrup (see recipe)
Whipped cream

Cover the blackcurrants with stock syrup. Bring to the boil and cook until the fruit bursts about 4-5 minutes. Liquidize and sieve or puree the fruit and syrup and measure. When the puree has cooled, add up to equal quantity of softly whipped cream, according to taste. Serve with light shortbread biscuits.

Note: A little stiffly beaten egg white may be added to lighten the fool. The fool should not be very stiff, more like the texture of softly whipped cream. If it is too stiff stir in a little milk rather than more cream.

Alternative presentation, chose tall sundae glasses. Put 2 floz of blackcurrant puree into the base of the glass, top with a layer of softly whipped cream, another layer of blackcurrant puree and finally a little more cream. Drizzle a little thin puree over the top, serve chilled with shortbread biscuits.

Blackcurrant Ice Cream

Left over blackcurrant fool may be frozen – it makes a delicious ice cream. Serve with blackcurrant coulis made by thinning the blackcurrant puree with a little more water or stock syrup.
Stock Syrup
Makes 28 fl ozs (825 ml)

1 lb (450 g) sugar
1 pint (600 ml) water

To make the stock syrup: Dissolve the sugar in the water and bring to the boil. Boil for 2 minutes then allow it to cool. Store in the fridge until needed.
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Frosted Blackcurrant Parfait with Blackcurrant Coulis
Serves 10 approx

Pour the blackcurrant fool into a loaf tin lined with pure cling film. Cover and freeze. Serve cut in slices with blackcurrant coulis drizzled over the top.

Blackcurrant Coulis

8 ozs (225g) blackcurrants
1 cup stock syrup (see recipe above)
4-5 fl ozs (120-150ml) water* see below 

Pour the syrup over the blackcurrants and bring to the boil, cook for 3-5 minutes until the blackcurrants burst. Liquidise and sieve through a nylon sieve. * Allow to cool. Add 4-5 fl ozs (120-150ml) water.

Raspberry and Roseblossom Water Fool

Serves 8
Strawberries can also be substituted here.

1lb (450g) fresh raspberries
castor sugar
½ pint (300ml) softly whipped cream
¼ pint (150ml) natural yoghurt
1 -2 teaspoons rose blossom water
a few extra raspberries
Rose petals (organic)
Lady Finger (boudoir) biscuits, optional

Whizz the raspberries in a food processor with the sugar and rose blossom water. Sieve if the pips bother you – I usually do.

Fold in most of the cream and yoghurt. Taste and add a little more sugar, and cream or yoghurt if necessary. The texture should be soft, like barely whipped cream.

Serve in chilled glasses with a few fresh raspberries and rose petals scattered over the top with lady fingers (boudoir biscuits) – optional.

Strawberries with Lemon Sugar and Lavender Syrup

This recipe was given to me by one of my past pupils Doug Jeffords who made it at a cookery demonstration he did for the Herb Society of Santa Fe.
Serves 8

60g (2½oz) castor sugar
1 teaspoon freshly grated lemon peel (use a micro-plane or grater, not a zester)
110g (4oz) castor sugar
125ml(4fl.oz) water
2 tablespoons honey
2 teaspoons dried lavender blossoms
900g (2lb) strawberries, hulled and cut into quarters vertically

Crème fraiche or Mascarpone

Using a pestle, mash lemon peel into the 60g (2½oz) castor sugar until well blended. The lemon sugar is best made 1-3 days ahead. Store at room temperature in an air tight container.

Bring 110g(4oz) castor sugar and water to the boil in a heavy saucepan over medium to high heat, stirring until sugar dissolves. Reduce heat, add lavender and simmer until lavender flavour is developed, about 5 minutes, strain syrup into small glass bowl, cover and let stand at room temperature.

Place berries in a large glass bowl, pour syrup over berries and stir gently to coat.

Spoon berries and syrup into individual bowls. Add a dollop of mascarpone or crème fraiche, and sprinkle with lemon sugar.

Garnish with lemon balm or lemon verbena. 
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Hot Tips

Two new 2 recipe booklets to encourage use of Irish Speciality and Artisan Foods have recently been published by Estragon Press and supported by Bord Bia –

Irish Food Slow and Traditional by John & Sally McKenna and Irish Food Fast and Modern by Paul Flynn and Sally McKenna – both titles in The Irish Cookery Library are on sale in speciality food outlets, local delicatessens and wine shops nationwide at a cost of €3 each. 

Congratulations to our past pupil Thomasina Miers who won the BBC Masterchef 
Thomasina attended the 3 month Certificate Cookery Course in January 2002 – we are so proud of her.

The Midleton Food and Drink Festival returns on 3 & 4th September 2005 – with a mouth-watering line up of food exhibitors, sampling, tasting, food culture and entertainment - over 60 stalls of fresh food and drink, food demonstrations in the Park Hotel and on the street – ‘Feast of the East’ – a fusion of food, flavour and fun.

Foolproof food

Willow’s Spicy Radishes with Butter, Crusty Bread and Sea Salt

This is how I enjoy Willow’s spicy radishes – what could be simpler and more delicious!
Fresh Radishes complete with leaves
Butter pats 
Sea salt ( We use Maldon flakes) 

Crusty bread

Gently wash the radishes, trim the tail and the top of the leaves if they are large. Cut a chunk of butter into ½ inch cubes. If you have butter pats, soak them in cold water and then roll each cube into a butter ball, drop into a bowl of iced water. 

To serve. 

Put 7 or 8 chilled radishes on each plate, add 2 or 3 butter balls and a little mound of sea salt. 

Serve fresh crusty bread as an accompaniment.

About the author

Darina Allen
By Darina Allen


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