For vegetable gardeners this is the season of both delight and frustration. Delight at the abundance in the garden and frustration at not being able to use it all quickly enough. Visitors get given baskets of beautiful fresh produce.
In Spring it’s so easy to get carried away. It’s tempting to sow a whole packet of lettuce seed forgetting they will all develop into soft frilly or crunchy heads at exactly the same time. There’s a limit to how many salads one can eat no matter how delicious they are yet when you lovingly grow vegetables and fruit its heartbreaking to see even a little go to waste, so here are some delicious ways to use up the surplus.
Wilted lettuce with lots of fresh herbs is a really yummy way to use up a glut. Simply wash, dry and roughly slice the lettuce – you’ll need 4 reasonable size heads for 4 people because like spinach it dissolves in the cooking. Minutes before you are ready to eat, just heat a few tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil in a wok or frying pan over a high flame, toss in the shredded lettuce. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper and continue to toss over the highest heat. The lettuce will exude lots of liquid, keep tossing for 2 or 3 minutes, add 3 or 4 tablespoons of freshly chopped herbs e.g. mint, tarragon. Taste and correct the seasoning and serve in a hot dish.
You can also ring the changes in many delicious ways – a good pinch of chilli flakes in the olive oil adds plenty of excitement. Freshly roasted and crushed of coriander seeds and a fistful of flat parsley is also delicious. The latter also makes a luxurious puree if there is more than can be reasonably used. Parsley pesto is also good, and parsley and potato soup is another favourite.
Remember that all herbs and vegetables are at their best for eating before they go to seed. They become coarse in texture and bitter in flavour as they put their energy into ensuring the continuation of the species.
As a gardener it’s fun to allow a few plants to flower and run to seed, they change shape, elongate and look wonderfully dramatic in the garden. The reality is it’s devilishly difficult to predict how much to grow. As a gardener we need to come to terms with the fact that there is always likely to be a little more than we can comfortably use or share with friends. The great thing is not to fuss but to look on a glut as an opportunity to bulk up the compost heap which will enrich the fertility of the soil to grow even better vegetables next year – so there’s really no need to feel any quiet pangs.
Beans of all shapes and sizes can of course be frozen. They’re best blanched and refreshed first which is horribly time consuming and fills one with resentment on sunny Summer days. Why not allow the beans to mature, the seeds will enlarge and fill the pods. They can be eaten as shell beans in the Autumn. Alternatively allow the beans to dry and then shell and store them for Winter stews and casseroles – a delectable source of guilt-free protein. Later in the Autumn I’ll provide some delicious recipes to utilise dried beans and pulses.
Pickled Beetroot and Onion Salad
1 lb (450g) cooked beetroot (see above)
8 ozs (225g) sugar
16 fl ozs (475ml) water
1 onion, peeled and thinly sliced (optional)
8 fl ozs (250ml) white wine vinegar
Dissolve the sugar in water, bringing it to the boil. Add the sliced onion and simmer for 3-4 minutes. Add the vinegar, pour over the peeled sliced beet and leave to cool.
Note: The onion can be omitted if desired.
Roast Beetroot with Ardsallagh Goat Cheese and Balsamic Vinegar
6-12 baby beetroot, a mixture of red, golden and Clioggia would be wonderful
Maldon Sea Salt
Freshly cracked pepper
Extra Virgin olive oil
170g (6oz) goat cheese -Ardsallagh or St. Tola
Rocket and beetroot leaves
Wild garlic leaves if available
Preheat the oven to 230°C/450°F/regulo 8
Wrap the beetroot in aluminium foil and roast in the oven until soft and cooked through – 30mins to an hour depending on size.
Rub off the skins of the beetroot, keep whole or cut into quarters. Toss in extra virgin olive oil.
Scatter a few rocket and tiny beetroot leaves on each serving plate. Arrange a selection of warm beetroot on top. Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil and Balsamic vinegar. Put a dessert spoonful of goat cheese beside the beetroot. Sprinkle with Sea Salt and freshly ground pepper. Garnish with tiny beet greens or wild garlic flowers and serve.
- from Good Housekeeping Complete Book of Home Preserving
3kg (6lb) mixed marrow, cucumber, beans, small onions and cauliflower (prepared weight- see method)
375g (12oz) salt
275g (9oz) granulated sugar
15ml (1 level tablesp.) mustard powder
7.5ml (1½ level teasp.) ground ginger
2 garlic cloves, skinned and crushed
1.5 L (2½ pints) distilled vinegar
50g (2oz) plain flour
30ml (2 level tablesp.) turmeric
Seed the marrow and finely dice the marrow and cucumber. Top, tail and slice the beans, skin and halve the onions and break the cauliflower into small florets. Layer the vegetables in a large bowl, sprinkling each layer with salt. Ad 3.6 litres (6 pints) water, cover and leave for 24 hours.
The next day, remove the vegetables and rinse and drain them well. Blend the sugar, mustard, ginger and garlic with 1 litre (2 pints) of the vinegar in a large pan. Add the vegetables, bring to the boil and simmer for 20 minutes until the vegetables are cooked but still crisp. Blend the flour and turmeric with the remaining vinegar and stir into the cooked vegetables. Bring to the boil and cook for 2 minutes. Spoon into pre-heated jars and cover immediately with airtight and vinegar-proof tops.
Lettuce and Mint Soup
Serves 6 approx.
Fresh mint is more fragrant in Summer than in Winter, so it may be necessary to use more towards the end of the season. Use the outside lettuce leaves for soup and the tender inside for green salads, great if all your lettuce comes together in the garden. It can be frozen for use later.
55g (2oz) butter
140g (5oz) peeled, diced onions
170g (6oz) peeled, diced potatoes
1 teaspoon salt approx.
Freshly ground pepper
170g (6oz) chopped lettuce leaves - stalks removed
900ml-1.2L (12-2 pint) homemade chicken stock or vegetable stock
2 teaspoons freshly chopped mint
1 tablespoon cream (optional)
55g (2oz) softly whipped cream
2 teaspoons of chopped mint
Melt the butter in a heavy saucepan. When it foams add potatoes and onions and turn them until well coated. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Cover and sweat on a gentle heat for 10 minutes. Add the stock and bring to the boil and cook until the potatoes and onions are soft. Meanwhile remove the stalks from the lettuce, chop finely, add the lettuce and boil with the lid off for about 4-5 minutes, until the lettuce is cooked. Do not overcook or the soup will lose its fresh green colour. Add the mint and cream if using, liquidise.
Serve in warm bowls garnished with a blob of whipped cream and a little freshly chopped mint.
Tip: Freshly chopped dill is also great with lettuce.
Note: Tomato Puree is one of the very best ways of preserving the flavour of ripe summer tomatoes for Winter however whole tomatoes also freeze brilliantly if you have room in your freezing cabinet. Use for soups, stews, casseroles etc.
2 lbs (900g) very ripe tomatoes
1 small onion, chopped
1 teaspoon sugar
Good pinch of salt
A few twists of black pepper
Cut the tomatoes into quarters and put into a stainless steel saucepan with the onion, salt, freshly ground pepper and sugar. Cook on a gentle heat until the tomatoes are soft (no water is needed). Put through the fine blade of the mouli-legume or a nylon sieve.
Allow to get cold, refrigerate or freeze.
Tomato fondue is one of our great convertibles, it has a number of uses, we serve it as a vegetable or a sauce for pasta, filling for omelettes, topping for pizza.
Serves 6 approximately
115g (4ozs) sliced onions
1 clove of garlic, crushed
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
900g (2lbs) very ripe tomatoes in Summer, or 2½ tins (x 14oz) of tomatoes in Winter, but peel before using
Salt, freshly ground pepper and sugar to taste
1 tablespoon of any of the following;
freshly chopped mint, thyme, parsley, lemon balm, marjoram or torn basil
Heat the oil in a non-reactive saucepan. Add the sliced onions and garlic toss until coated, cover and sweat on a gentle heat until soft but not coloured. It is vital for the success of this dish that the onions are completely soft before the tomatoes are added. Slice the fresh tomatoes or tinned and add with all the juice to the onions. Season with salt, freshly ground pepper and sugar (tinned tomatoes need lots of sugar because of their high acidity). Add a generous sprinkling of herbs. Cook uncovered for just 10-20 minutes more, or until the tomato softens. Cook fresh tomatoes for a shorter time to preserve the lively fresh flavour. Tinned tomatoes need to be cooked for longer depending on whether one wants to use the fondue as a vegetable, sauce or filling. Note: A few drops of Balsamic vinegar at the end of cooking greatly enhances the flavour.
Tomato Fondue with Chilli
Add 1 - 2 chopped fresh chilli to the onions when sweating.
Tomato Fondue with Kabanossi
Add 1 – 2 sliced Kabanossi to the tomato fondue five minutes before the end of cooking, great with pasta.
Home made Pesto takes minutes to make and tastes a million times better than most of what you buy. The problem is getting enough basil. If you have difficulty, use parsley, a mixture of parsley and mint or parsley and coriander - different but still delicious.
Serve with pasta, goat cheese, tomato and mozzerella.
4ozs(115g) fresh basil leaves
6 – 8 fl ozs (175 - 250ml) extra virgin olive oil
1oz(25g) fresh pine kernels (taste when you buy to make sure they are not rancid)
2 large cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
2ozs(55g) freshly grated Parmesan cheese (Parmigiana Reggiano is best)
Salt to taste
Whizz the basil with the olive oil, pine kernels and garlic in a food processor or pound in a pestle and mortar. Remove to a bowl and fold in the finely grated Parmesan cheese. Taste and season.
Pesto keeps for weeks, covered with a layer of olive oil in a jar in the fridge. It also freezes well but for best results don't add the grated Parmesan until it has defrosted. Freeze in small jars for convenience.
Mint and Parsley Pesto
Substitute 2 ozs (55g) fresh mint and 2 ozs (55g) parsley for the basil in the above recipe.
Pea, Bean and Courgette Soup
This soup is made according to our basic soup formula 1,3,5, - 1 cup onion, 1 cup potato, 3 cups of any vegetable of your choice (which season) and 5 cups stock, so other delicious combinations can be used depending on what you have in your garden, larder or fridge.
12-2 ozs (45-55g) butter
6 ozs (170g) potatoes, chopped
5 ozs (140g) onions, peeled and diced
Salt and freshly ground pepper
2 pints (1.1L) stock, chicken or vegetable
4 ozs (110g) French beans, chopped
5 ozs (140g) courgettes, chopped, cut into 3 inch (5mm) dice
5 ozs (140g) peas
Creamy milk, optional
Melt the butter in a heavy saucepan, when it foams, add potatoes and onions and turn them until well coated in butter. Sprinkle with salt and freshly ground pepper. Cover and sweat on a gentle heat for 10 minutes. Add the stock, bring to the boil, and cook until the potatoes are soft. Add the French beans, cook for 5 minutes, then add the courgettes, cook for a further 5 minutes, lastly add the peas and cook for no more than 2 minutes, (keep the lid off the pot while the green vegetables are cooking to preserve the colour).
Liquidise, until smooth. Taste and adjust the seasoning. If necessary, the soup can be thinned to the desired consistency by adding a little creamy milk, extra stock or even water.
Note: If reheating a green soup remember to keep the lid off, just bring to the boil and serve immediately, prolonged simmering will spoil the fresh colour and flavour.
Red Currant Jelly
Red currant jelly is a very delicious and versatile product to have in your larder. It has a myriad of uses. It can be used like a jam on bread or scones, or served as an accompaniment to roast lamb, bacon or ham. It is also good with some rough pâtés and game, and is invaluable as a glaze for red fruit tarts.
This recipe is a particular favourite of mine, not only because it's fast to make and results in delicious intensely flavoured jelly, but because one can use the left over pulp to make a fruit tart, so one gets double value from the red currants. Unlike most other fruit jelly, no water is needed in this recipe.
We’ve used frozen fruits for this recipe also, stir over the heat until the sugar dissolves, proceeds as below.
Makes 3 x 1 lb (450g) jars
2 lbs (900g) red currants
2 lbs (900g) granulated sugar
Remove the strings from the red currants either by hand or with a fork. Put the red currants and sugar into a wide stainless steel saucepan and stir continuously until they come to the boil. Boil for exactly 8 minutes, stirring only if they appear to be sticking to the bottom. Skim carefully.
Turn into a nylon sieve and allow to drip through, do not push the pulp through or the jelly will be cloudy. You can stir in gently once or twice just to free the bottom of the sieve of pulp.
Pour the jelly into sterilised pots immediately. Red currants are very high in pectin so the jelly will begin to set just as soon as it begins to cool.
How to cook Beetroot
Leave 2 inch (5cm) of leaf stalks on top and the whole root on the beet. Hold it under a running tap and wash off the mud with the palms of your hands, so that you don't damage the skin; otherwise the beetroot will bleed during cooking. Cover with cold water and add a little salt and sugar. Cover the pot, bring to the boil and simmer on top, or in an oven, for 1-2 hours depending on size. Beetroot are usually cooked if the skin rubs off easily and if they dent when pressed with a finger. If in doubt test with a skewer or the tip of a knife.
Keelings Peppers –
Keelings the long established family vegetable, fruit, salads and flowers firm in North Co Dublin have opened a new pepper facility which will create 50 jobs and will be a major source of Irish peppers during the spring, summer and autumn, giving Irish consumers the choice of buying Irish grown peppers which will be on the shelves within a day of harvesting. Up to this year 95% of peppers were imported.
Peppers are an excellent form of Vitamin C when eaten raw. Red and yellow peppers contain almost as much Vitamin C as oranges. Peppers are high in antioxidants which are associated with the prevention of cardiovascular disorders, cataracts and cancers.
AstroPuppees ‘Sugar Beat’
Singer-songwriter-producer Kelley Ryan’s fourth album ‘Sugar Beat’ will be released on 26th August and to celebrate the release Kelley will do a live gig at the Blackbird in Ballycotton on Friday September 2nd at 9pm. Kelley fell in love with Ireland and particularly with ‘The People’s Republic of Cork’ during her time attending the 3 month Cookery Course at the Ballymaloe Cookery School some years ago. In addition to the cookery classes she found time to compose songs for the first AstroPuppees album as well as play at local pubs. She now divides her time between Co Cork and Los Angeles and is as much at home in the kitchen as the recording studio.
Foods Matter is a monthly subscription magazine which supports anyone on a restricted diet – food allertics, coeliacs, diabetics, IBS sufferers, depressives, children with ADHD hyperactivity disorder ….. it reviews new products, devises ‘everything free’ recipes, reports on research, runs a help line – for more information or a free copy of Foods Matter call 00 44 20 7722 2866 and speak to Laura or Michelle or check in www.foodsmatter.com
Bravo to Fields Supermarket in Skibbereen for highlighting local produce in their vegetable section, other local supermarkets and shops please follow.