The Abundance of Winter

A few weeks ago we picked the last of this year’s home grown tomatoes for the Farmers Market – they had gradually become less sweet as the weather turned more autumnal, but customers were distinctly crestfallen when they came to an end. 

Now its time to relish and enjoy the bounty of Autumn and Winter. Understandably in an age when everything is available in supermarkets year round, many people are confused about what exactly is in season.

Autumn and Winter bring an abundance of local root vegetables and brassicas. Citrus fruit and pomegranates come from warmer climes. Many types of game are now in season including wild duck, and the pheasant season opened on the first of November. When you are writing your shopping list, it is really worth zoning in on what’s in season. Produce will be fresher and usually less expensive. Even better it may well be local or at least Irish, so you have the extra bonus of the feel good factor of keeping the money in our own community.

The brassicas are particularly good at present – I am a huge fan of kale, curly kale, asparagus kale, red Russian kale and the elegant black Tuscan kale called Cavalo Nero. This family is bursting with goodness and has recently gained widespread attention due to the health-promoting, sulphur-containing phytonutrients. According to ongoing research these phytonutrients appear to have a role in preventing cancer. As well as that, kale is an excellent source of Vitamins K, A and C, and also contains copper, calcium and potassium as well as other trace elements, the highest of all the brassica family.

We eat kale raw in green salads, add it chopped to soups and cook it in lots of boiling salted water as a vegetable. 

Jerusalem artichokes are a wonder food, you are unlikely to find them in supermarkets, but may well find them in your local Farmers Market (several stalls in Midleton and Mahon Point had them recently.) They will be available until the end of January or February and are particularly delicious roast and served with game – pheasant, duck, partridge or venison. They also make great soups and gratins. They contain a high percentage of inulin, so are particularly brilliant for those who have recently been on a course of antibiotics. Inulin naturally replaces the good bacteria in our systems faster than any other food. The only disadvantage is that they are maddeningly knobbly and require considerable patience to peel. Just enjoy the process! Turn on the soothing strains of Lyric FM, grab a cup of coffee and a high stool and a peeler, and think of how delicious the end result will be.

Even amateur gardeners can grow a fine crop for next year, just pop a few into the ground about 6 inches deep and 12 inches apart in a place where you don’t mind them spreading. They grow effortlessly so you will have baskets full next year.

Pomegranates, (sometimes known as wine apples), also in season now, certainly don’t grow in this climate, they need the heat of the Mediterranean, but you never know with the dramatic global warming, who knows we may see them growing in Shanagarry before too long. Meanwhile we have to accept airmiles. They too have been shown to dramatically reduce cholesterol, so eat one a day or juice them as you would an orange. The jewel like seeds are also delicious sprinkled over starters or green salads, add to lamb or pheasant stews, or a dish of cous cous. They also embellish fruit salad or a simple bowl of natural yogurt.

Get the children involved, ask them to draw name cards with seasonal fruit or vegetables and produce a prize or give them pride of place on the table.

Kale and Parsley Pesto

Serves 12-16 approx.
1 lb (450g) fresh Kale
1 clove garlic crushed
2 teasp. sea salt
3-5 flozs (75ml) extra virgin olive oil
2 tablesp. parsley, optional

Strip the kale from the stalks and wash well. Put all the ingredients in a food processor and whizz to a thick paste. This can be made ahead and stored in a covered jar in the fridge for several days.

If you prefer a mellower flavour, blanch the kale in boiling salted water for 3 or 4 minutes, refresh and drain well and proceed as above.
Serve on freshly cooked crostini – see recipe

May be served as a starter, main course or as part of a buffet.
3-5, â…“ inch thick slices of really good quality French baguette per person. Cut the bread diagonally rather than just into rounds.
Not long before serving, saute the crostini. Put a 5mm (1/4inch) of olive oil in a pan and heat until very hot. Cook the crostini a few at a time, turn as soon as they are golden, drain on kitchen paper. Arrange your chosen topping, garnish and serve a.s.a.p.

Cavolo Nero Soup

– from River Café Easy by Rose Grey and Ruth Rogers*
see Hot Tips

500g (18oz) Cavolo Nero 
4 garlic cloves
2 red onions
4 carrots
1 celery head
1 dried chilli
400g (14oz) tin Borlotti beans
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
½ teasp. Fennel seeds
1 x 200g (7oz) tin tomatoes
500ml (18fl.oz) chicken stock
¼ sourdough loaf

Peel the garlic, onion and carrots. Roughly chop 3 garlic cloves, the onion, pale celery heart and carrots. Crumble the chilli. Drain and rinse the beans.

Heat 3 tablesp. olive oil in a thick-bottomed pan, add the onion, celery and carrot and cook gently until soft. Add the fennel seed, chilli and garlic and stir, then add the tomatoes, chopping them as they cook. Season, and simmer for 15 minute, stirring occasionally. Add the beans and stock, and cook for another 15 minutes.

Discard the stalks from the Cavolo nero and boil the leaves in boiling salted water for 5 minutes, drain and chop. Keep 4 tablesp. of the water. Add the water and cavolo to the soup. Stir and season.

Cut the bread into 1.5cm slices. Toast on both sides, then rub with the remaining garlic and drizzle with olive oil. Break up the toast and divide between the soup bowls. Spoon over the soup and serve with more olive oil.

Rose and Ruth say that all bean soups are made more delicious with a generous addition of the spicy-flavoured newly pressed olive oil poured over each serving. Tuscan olive oil is pressed at the end of October, which is also when the frosty weather starts and cavolo nero is ready to be picked.

Curly Kale with Olive Oil and Garlic

From Cook by Thomasina Miers
Serves 4-6

3 tablesp olive oil
1 large head of curly kale, stem discarded, leaves rinsed and roughly chopped
3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced on the diagonal
1 fresh red chilli, seeded and chopped (optional)
Juice of ½ lemon
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan or wok until really hot, and add the kale (it makes a great sizzling noise). Give it a good stir and add the garlic and chilli, if you like a bit of a kick. Stir fry for 7-8 minutes, taking care not to burn the garlic, then season with salt and pepper, and sprinkle over the lemon juice. Then eat up your greens.

Jerusalem Artichoke Soup with Crispy Croutons

Jerusalem artichokes are a sadly neglected winter vegetable. They look like knobbly potatoes and are a nuisance to peel, but if they are very fresh you can sometimes get away with just giving them a good scrub. Not only are they a smashing vegetable but they are also delicious in soups and gratins. They are a real gem from the gardeners point of view because the foliage grows into a hedge and provides shelter and cover for both compost heaps and pheasants!
Serves 8-10 

55g (2oz) butter
560g (13 lb) onions, peeled and chopped
225g (½ lb) potatoes, peeled and chopped
1.15kg (22 lb) artichokes, peeled and chopped
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1.1L (2 pints) light chicken stock
600ml (1 pint) creamy milk approx.

Freshly chopped parsley
Crisp, golden croutons

Melt the butter in a heavy bottomed saucepan, add the onions, potatoes and artichokes. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper, cover and sweat gently for 10 minutes approx. Add the stock and cook until the vegetables are soft. Liquidise and return to the heat. Thin to the required flavour and consistency with creamy milk, and adjust the seasoning.

Serve in soup bowls or in a soup tureen. Garnish with chopped parsley and crisp, golden croutons.
Note: This soup may need more stock depending on thickness required. 

Braised Jerusalem Artichokes

Jerusalem artichokes are a perennial winter vegetable; once you plant them, they usually re-emerge every year and even spread if you are not careful. The flavour is particular good with game, beef or shellfish.
Serves 4

1 ½ lbs (675g) Jerusalem artichokes 
1 oz (30g) butter
1 dessertsp. water
Salt and freshly-ground pepper
Chopped parsley

Peel the artichokes thinly and slice ¼ inch (5mm) thick. Melt the butter in a cast-iron casserole, toss the artichokes and season with salt and freshly-ground pepper. Add water and cover with a paper lid (to keep in the steam) and the saucepan lid. Cook on a low heat or put in a moderate oven, 180°C/350°F/regulo 4, until the artichokes are soft but still keep their shape, 15-20 minutes approx. (Toss every now and then during cooking.)
Serve sprinkled with chopped parsley.

* If cooking on the stove top rather than the oven turn off the heat after 10 minutes approx. - the artichokes will continue to cook in the heat & will hold their shape. 

Chicken Salad with Pomegranate, Pine nuts and Raisins

Use up left over morsels of chicken (or turkey) in a delicious way.
Serves 8

700-900g (11/2-2lbs) freshly roast chicken 
1 pomegranate
75-110g (3-3 1/2oz) fresh pine nuts, pecans or walnuts
a selection of salad leaves including watercress, frisée and rocket leaves
lots of fresh mint leaves
50g (2oz) raisins, Lexia if possible

6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil or walnut oil
2 tablespoons, best quality white wine vinegar
1-2 teaspoons honey
1/2 teaspoon wholegrain mustard
salt and freshly ground pepper

If the chicken has been refrigerated, bring back to room temperature. 
Whisk all the ingredients for the dressing together. Cut the pomegranate in half and flick the seeds into a bowl - careful not to include any of the astringent pith.

Roast or toast the pine nuts, walnuts or pecans briefly, chop coarsely. Just before serving, sprinkle a little of the dressing over the salad and mint leaves in a deep bowl. Toss gently. There should be just enough dressing to make the leaves glisten. Taste. Add a little dressing to the pomegranate seeds, toss and taste, correct seasoning if necessary. Slice the chicken into chunky pieces. Sprinkle a little dressing over and toss gently. Combine the ingredients. Divide pleasingly between 8 large white plates. Sprinkle with toasted pine kernels roughly chopped pecans or walnuts. Serve immediately with crusty bread.

Pheasant, guinea fowl or free-range turkey would also be delicious, a few green grapes also make a good addition. A combination of walnut and sunflower oil may be substituted for olive oil in the dressing.

Foolproof Food

Agen Stuffed Prunes with Rosewater Cream

This ancient Arab Recipe from the Middle East will change your opinion of prunes - a pretty and delicious dish. Claudia Roden originally introduced me to this recipe when she taught at the school many years ago – we are very excited that she will be coming back to teach a one day course on Jewish Food on 30th August next year.
Serves 6

450g (1 lb) Agen prunes, pitted 
Same number of fresh walnut halves
150ml (¼ pint) each water and red wine or more or 300ml (½ pint) water
300ml (½ pint) cream 
2 tablespoons castor sugar
1 tablespoon rose blossom water
A few chopped walnuts
Rose petals - optional

We’ve experimented with taking out the stones from both soaked and dry prunes, unsoaked worked best. Use a small knife to cut out the stones and then stuff each with half a walnut. Arrange in a single layer in a saute pan. Cover with a mixture of wine and water. Put the lid on the pan and simmer for about 30 minutes. Add more liquid if they become a little dry. They should be plump and soft. Lift them gently onto a serving plate in a single layer and let them cool. . 

Whip the cream to soft peaks, add the castor sugar and rose blossom water. Spoon blobs over the prunes and chill well. Just before serving sprinkle with rose petals and a few chopped walnuts. 
Just before serving, scatter a few chopped walnuts over each blob of cream, sprinkle with rose petals and serve well chilled.
This dessert tastes even better next day. 

Cooks Book

 Verdura- Vegetables Italian Style by Viana la Place published by Grub Street.  

Buy this Book from Amazon

Since its first publication in 1991 Viana La Place’s Verdura has become a much loved classic. Its 300 irresistible recipes represent the best of the Italian approach to vegetable preparation. The vegetables that she explores run from the familiar – artichokes, aubergines, radicchio – to the more exotic. Desserts are also included. 

Little Devil Olive Oil – Olio al Diavolino
How about this for a Christmas pressie for a foodie friend.

Makes 475ml/16 fl.oz

This is spicy olive oil at its finest. The raw oil is infused with the burning quality of chillies without using any heat. It looks lovely, a deep greenish gold, but it is very hot. Stir in a few drops just before serving to liven up the flavour of a soup or pasta.

475ml (16fl.oz) extra-virgin olive oil
Small handful of dried red chillies, crushed
Select a jar large enough to contain the olive oil. Pour in the oil and add the chillies. Cover the jar and let rest for 1 month, or until the oil is very spicy.

Hot Tips

Rose Gray and Ruth Rogers new paperback series –
Just launched by Ebury Press the River Café Pocket books at £8.99 – delicious recipes from the London’s acclaimed River Café – Pasta&Ravioli, Salads&Vegetables, Fish&Shellfish, Puddings, Cakes&Ice Creams. 

Gubbeen Venison Salami
Just tasted some of Fingal Ferguson’s Gubbeen Venison Salami – very good stuff and very moreish – a perfect standby for nibbling and entertaining or indeed present giving over Christmas.

Bandon Christmas Farmer’s Market on Saturday 16th December
There will be lots of tastings of seasonal produce including home made Christmas Puddings, mulled apple juice, a special oyster bar serving half a dozen freshly opened Roaring Water Bay Oysters with Tabasco and lemon juice, gourmet gift hampers, Martin Carey's award winning spiced beef and fresh duck from Ballydehob, free range turkeys from Beechwood Farm Kinsale and lots of other lovely stuff too! A raffle for a fresh turkey sponsored by Martin Carey, Carols from the children of Lauragh N.S and Santa and Mrs Claus will be coming too! With goodies for the children!

About the author

Darina Allen
By Darina Allen


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