Easter Celebration of Spring

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I love Easter Sunday lunch, it feels like a celebration of Spring. I’ve just got a beautiful bit of young Spring lamb from my butcher, a once a year treat – sweet, succulent and juicy. Spring lambs are born before Christmas and are at their best at 3-4 months old weighing approximately 9-10kgs. You may need to order ahead from your butcher to be sure of lamb like this. It has quite a different flavour and texture to the hogget we’ve been enjoying up to recently. Spring lamb needs very little embellishment, just a few flakes of sea salt rubbed into the skin before roasting.

We’ve been using the first of the new season’s rhubarb for the past few weeks. I’d eat it for breakfast lunch and dinner, I can’t get enough of it after the winter, it’s like a craving.

For starter it’ll be new season asparagus on toast with Hollandaise Sauce. This is the earliest I have seen fresh asparagus on sale – usually we have to wait until the end of April or beginning of May to savour the first tender spears. This year Tim York (086 8593996), who grows asparagus in West Cork near Roaring Water Bay, harvested the first of his outdoor asparagus at the end of March – spooky or what – yet another example of accelerated global warming. I’m not complaining – I know one can get imported asparagus almost year round but nothing compares to the exquisite flavour of fresh asparagus.

We usually have a rhubarb tart for pudding on Easter Sunday after the feast of roast lamb and mint sauce. This year I thought I’d ring the changes and try Alison Henderson’s delicious Rhubarb Meringue Tart, served at the Ballymaloe Shop Café.

It’s also traditional to have something eggy on Easter Sunday so here’s a recipe for a delicious frittata. I’ll pile wild garlic and watercress on top and sprinkle with wild garlic flowers for a taste of April. A few little frosted primrose fairy cakes would be adorable for tea. Other spring flowers like violets and jasmine can also be frosted. All you need is a little patience and a paint brush.

Have fun and a very happy Easter to all our readers.

 

 

 

Asparagus on Toast with Hollandaise Sauce

Serves 4

 

In season: late spring

 

This is a simple and gorgeous way to serve fresh Irish asparagus during its short season. We feast on it in every possible way for those precious weeks, roast, chargrilled, in soups, frittatas; quiches don’t forget to dip some freshly cooked spears in a soft boiled egg for a simple luxury. This was my father-in-law’s favourite way to eat Irish asparagus during its short season.

 

16-20 spears fresh green asparagus

Hollandaise sauce, (see recipe)

4 slices of homemade white yeast bread

Butter

 

Garnish

sprigs of chervil

 

Hold each spear of asparagus over your index finger down near the root end, it will snap at the point where it begins to get tough. Some people like to peel the asparagus but we rarely do. Cook in about 2.5cm (1inch) of boiling salted water in an oval cast iron casserole. Cook for 4 or 8 minutes or until a knife tip will pierce the root end easily. Meanwhile make the toast, spread with butter and remove crusts. Place a piece of toast on a hot plate, put the asparagus on top and spoon a little Hollandaise sauce over. Garnish with a sprig of chervil and serve immediately.

 

 

Hollandaise Sauce

Serves 4-6, depending on what it is to be served with

Hollandaise is the mother of all the warm emulsion sauces. The version we use here is easy to make and quite delicious with fish. Like Mayonnaise it takes less than 5 minutes to make and transforms any fish into a feast. Once the sauce is made it must be kept warm: the temperature should not go above 70-80C/180F or the sauce will curdle. A thermos flask can provide a simple solution on a small scale, otherwise put the Hollandaise Sauce into a delph or plastic bowl in a saucepan of hot but not simmering water. Hollandaise Sauce cannot be reheated absolutely successfully so it’s best to make just the quantity you need. If however you have a little left over, use it to enrich other sauces or mashed potato.

2 egg yolks, preferably free-range and organic

125 g (5ozs) butter cut into dice

1 dessertspoon) cold water

1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice, approx.

Put the egg yolks in a heavy stainless saucepan on a low heat or in a bowl over hot water. Add water and whisk thoroughly. Add the butter bit by bit, whisking all the time. As soon as one piece melts, add the next piece. The mixture will gradually thicken, but if it shows signs of becoming too thick or slightly scrambling, remove from the heat immediately and add a little cold water if necessary. Do not leave the pan or stop whisking until the sauce is made. Finally add the lemon juice to taste. If the sauce is slow to thicken it may be because you are excessively cautious and the heat is too low. Increase the heat slightly and continue to whisk until the sauce thickens to coating consistency.

It is important to remember that if you are making Hollandaise Sauce in a saucepan directly over the heat, it should be possible to put your hand on the side of the saucepan at any stage. If the saucepan feels too hot for your hand it is also too hot for the sauce.

Another good tip if you are making Hollandaise Sauce for the first time is to keep a bowl of cold water close by so you can plunge the bottom of the saucepan into it if becomes too hot.

Keep the sauce warm until service either in a Pyrex bowl over hot but not simmering water (do not have gas jet on). A thermos flask is also a good option.

 

 

Frittata with Wild Garlic and Watercress

 

Serves 6-8

 

A frittata is an Italian omelette. Unlike its soft and creamy French cousin, a frittata is cooked slowly over a very low heat during which time you can be whipping up a delicious salad to accompany it! It is cooked on both sides and cut into wedges like a piece of cake. This basic recipe, flavoured with grated cheese and a generous sprinkling of herbs. Like the omelette, though, you may add almost anything that takes your fancy. Pile some wild garlic leaves and watercress leaves on top for a taste of spring.

 

10 large eggs, preferably free range organic

1 teaspoon salt and lots of freshly ground black pepper

75g (3ozs) Gruyére cheese, grated

25g (1oz) Parmesan cheese, grated

2 tablespoons) parsley, chopped

2 teaspoons thyme leaves

25g (1oz) butter

2 tablespoons basil or marjoram chopped

 

Non-stick pan – 22.5cm (10inch) frying pan

 

Whisk the eggs in a bowl, add the salt, freshly ground pepper, fresh herbs, grated cheese into the eggs. Melt the butter in a non-stick frying pan. When the butter starts to foam, tip in the eggs. Turn down the heat, as low as it will go. Leave the eggs to cook gently for 12 minutes on a heat diffuser mat, or until the underneath is set. The top should still be slightly runny.

 

Preheat a grill. Pop the pan under the grill for 1 minute to set but not brown the surface.

 

Slide a palette knife under the frittata to free it from the pan. Slide onto a warm plate.

Serve cut in wedges, arrange some rocket leaves on top of the frittata and top with a blob of tomato and coriander salsa or alternatively you can serve with a good green salad and perhaps a tomato salad.

 

Roast Spring Lamb with Roast Spring Onions & Mint Sauce

 

Serves 6-8

1 leg of Spring lamb – about 2.7kgs

sea salt and freshly ground pepper

Gravy

1 pint (600ml) lamb or chicken stock

a little roux (see recipe)

salt and freshly ground pepper

mint sauce (see recipe)

Remove the aitch bone from the top of the leg of lamb or ask your butcher to do it for you. This makes it so much easier to carve later, then saw off the knuckle from the end of the leg. Season the skin with salt and freshly ground pepper. Transfer into a roasting tin.

Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/regulo 4. Roast for 1-1 1/4 hours approx. for rare, 1 1/4 -1 1/2 hours for medium and 1 1/2-1 3/4 hours for well done, depending on size. When the lamb is cooked to your taste, remove the joint to a hot carving dish. Rest the lamb in a low oven at 50-100°C for 10 minutes before carving.

Meanwhile make the gravy. Degrease the meat juices in the roasting tin (* see note), add the stock. Bring to the boil and whisk in a little roux, just enough to thicken slightly. Taste and allow to bubble until the flavour is rich enough. Correct the seasoning and serve hot with the lamb, roast spring vegetables and lots of crusty roast potatoes.

 

Mint Sauce

Traditional Mint Sauce made with tender young shoots of fresh mint takes only minutes to make. It’s the perfect accompaniment to Spring lamb but for those who are expecting a bright green jelly, the slightly dull colour and watery texture comes as a surprise. That’s how it is meant to be, try it.

Makes 175ml/6 fl ozs approx.

25g (1oz) finely chopped fresh mint

2 tablespoons sugar

110ml (4fl oz) boiling water

25ml (1fl oz) white wine vinegar or freshly squeezed lemon juice

Put the sugar and freshly-chopped mint into a sauce boat. Add the boiling water and vinegar or lemon juice. Allow to infuse for 5-10 minutes before serving.

Roux

4oz (110g) butter

4oz (110g) flour

Melt the butter and cook the flour in it for 2 minutes on a low heat, stirring occasionally. Use as required. Roux can be stored in a cool place and used as required or it can be made up on the spot if preferred. It will keep at least a fortnight in a refrigerator.

How Do I Degrease the Juices?

The gravy should be made in the roasting tin because that is where the flavour is. Usually there is not a great deal of juice in the roasting pan, there will be some caramelised meat juices and lamb fat. This is precious because it is the basis of the gravy. Tilt the roasting tin so the fat collects in one corner. Spoon off as much fat as possible. Then pour icy cold stock into the roasting tin, this will cause the last few globules of fat to solidify so they can be quickly skimmed off the top with a perforated spoon. Then continue to make gravy as in the recipe.

Ballymaloe Shop Café’s Rhubarb Meringue Tart

Alison Henderson who cooks so many delicious confections shared this delicious recipe with us.

Filling

500g (18oz) trimmed weight Irish Rhubarb, cut into 2cm chunks

25g (1oz) butter

150g (5oz) caster sugar

2 tablespoons plain flour

2 dessertspoons corn flour

juice of ½ orange

2 large free range organic eggs

Meringue Topping

2 large egg whites

110g (4oz) caster sugar and extra for sprinkling

Method

Put rhubarb into a large sauté into large sauté pan with orange juice and heat gently to take the rawness out of the rhubarb – 4 – 5 minutes

Melt the butter in another pot off the heat, add 5 oz sugar and whisk in the egg yolks and flour – mix to a ‘roux’ type consistency

Strain the rhubarb reserving the juices. Toss rhubarb gently in corn flour and then place in a tart tin.

Add a little rhubarb juice to the butter, sugar, flour mix and then spoon this over the rhubarb.

Bake at 170°C 325°F, mark 3, for 25 minutes or until set

Make meringue, whisk egg whites in clean bowl until soft peaks form, gradually add 2oz of caster sugar, continuing to whisk until shiny. Gently fold in the remaining 2oz of castor sugar with a metal spoon. Spread the meringue on top- of the still hot rhubarb; sprinkle a little sugar on top and bake for a further 15 minutes at 170°C 325°F, mark 3. Allow to cool slightly before removing from tin.

Primrose Fairy Cakes

Makes 12

150g (5ozs) butter (at room temperature)

150g (5ozs) caster sugar

150g (5ozs) self-raising flour

2 large free range eggs

2 tablespoons milk

1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract.

Icing

icing sugar

freshly squeezed lemon juice

crystallised primroses (see recipe)

1 muffin tray lined with 12 muffin cases.

Preheat oven to Gas Mark 5.

Put all ingredients except milk into a Magimix, whizz until smooth. Scrape down sides of Magimix, then add milk and whizz again.

Divide mixture between cases in muffin tin.

Bake in preheated oven for 15 –20 mins or until risen and golden. Cool on a wire rack. Meanwhile make the icing by mixing the sieved icing sugar with enough freshly squeezed lemon juice to attain the required consistency. Use a palette knife ice each bun and decorate with a single crystallised primrose. Enjoy!

Crystallised Primroses or Violets

The art of crystallising flowers simply takes patience and a meticulous nature – the sort of job that drives some people around the bend but others adore, if it appeals to you, the work will be well rewarded, they look and taste divine.

freshly picked primroses or sweet smelling violets

egg white

castor sugar

a child’s paint brush

bakewell paper

The caster sugar ought to be absolutely dry, so for extra protection, sieve and dry out on a Swiss roll tin in a low oven, 140°C/275°F/regulo 1 for approx. 30 minutes. Break the egg white slightly with a fork; it doesn’t need to be fluffy. Using a child’s paint brush, brush the egg white very carefully and sparingly over each petal and into every crevice. Then gently pour some caster sugar over the violet so that every part is coated with a thin sugary coating. Arrange the flower carefully on a bakewell paper lined tray, continue with the other violets. Allow to dry overnight in a warm dry place close to the aga or over a radiator. If properly crystallised these flowers will keep for months. We store them in a pottery jar or in a tin box interleaved with kitchen paper.

Thrifty tip

In these challenging times why not enjoy a spot of foraging. Great fun and supplements out diet with free food. Buy a good book to guide you – for example ‘Wild Food’ by Roger Philips – ISBN 0 330 28069 3.

Alexanders Smyrnium Olusatrum are in season at present, the stalks are delicious simply boiled and tossed in butter. (see Food From the Wild)

Food from the Wild

Cooked Alexanders

Serves 4-6

700g (1 1/2lb) Alexander stalks (cut close to the ground for maximum length)

1.2 litres (2 pints) water

3 teaspoons salt

butter or extra virgin olive oil

freshly ground pepper

Cut the stems into 4-5 cms (1 1/2 – 2 inches) lengths and peel off the thin outer skin as you would rhubarb. Cook in boiling salted water for 6-8 minutes or until a knife will pierce a stem easily. Drain well, then toss in a little melted butter or extra-virgin olive oil and lots of freshly ground pepper.

Hot Tips

Easter Apple Trees

 

Instead of an Easter Egg, one of our teachers Florrie Cullinane gave each of her children an apple tree to plant – a huge success – they got plenty of Easter Eggs from other people.

Slow Food Clare – A Date for Your Diary

The Burren Slow Food Festival is from Friday 15th to Sunday 17th May in Lisdoonvarna this year. Clodagh McKenna will demonstrate her delicious recipes and Diane Curtin will cook yummy food for teenagers. Enda Conneely from Fisherman’s Cottage, Inishere, of the Aran Islands is keeping the Irish language alive by doing a cookery demonstration in Irish. Local food café, barbeques, traditional music, films, dance…For more information 065 6850027

 

slowfoodclare@gmail.comKackar Mountains Eco Trekking Holiday

Cheese Making, bird spotting, and dancing are all part of a seven day trek around the rugged Kackar region in Northeast Turkey, once part of the Georgian Kingdom. The trek is scheduled for mid June through wild flower valleys and over high passes at altitudes of 2, 700 meters. Particular attention is given to supporting local enterprise, sourcing the best local food along the way. For more information visit

 

http://www.misssushi.com/?page_id=74 or phone 085 1655575

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Darina Allen
By Darina Allen

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