We badly need a reason to celebrate, so let’s join the revellers and merrymakers all over the world and really enjoy Saint Patricks Day.
Once again, I’ll be in New York helping to spread the good news message about the Irish food scene. I’ll whet their appetite for sweet Irish lamb and grass fed beef. For farmhouse cheese and fat prawns from Dingle or Ballycotton Bay, for nettle soup and Irish stew and bacon and spring cabbage with lots of parsley sauce. I’ll tell them about the new seasons rhubarb and the tarts and pies you can make from it and last but not least I’ll tell them about the new generation of artisans and food producers, farmhouse cheese makers, fish smokers and charcuterie makers who have changed the image of fresh food and the growing number of chefs who serve our local food proudly.
Saint Patricks Day is Ireland’s annual opportunity to get the world to focus on Ireland. Let’s hope that now that we have a new government the mood will be more optimistic, the beginning of a bright new era in the history of Ireland.
And it’s spring; my spirits are definitely lifted by the drifts of snow drops and early daffodils. I’ve just found the first little violets and primroses, so I couldn’t resist crystallising some to put on the top of my St Patricks Day cake.
I love Irish bacon and cabbage with lots of parsley sauce and a few floury potatoes. Look out for the Golden Wonders or Kerrs Pinks they taste so much more wonderful than the ‘well known brand’ serve them with a pat of Irish butter melting into the centre and some sea salt– don’t worry it won’t do a bit of harm. Generations of Irish have thrived on it.
There are a growing number of artisan pig producers who are dry curing bacon in the traditional way, old fashioned breeds like Gloucester Old Spot, Saddleback, Red Duroc or Tamworth. The bacon will be fatter (don’t be put off by that) it will taste wonderful and remember one needs a little fat to absorb all the nutrients from the lean meat.
For a special occasion I like to use a piece of loin but collar or streaky are much less expensive and equally delicious. We all want to buy Irish particularly at present but check the labelling carefully both in the supermarkets and butcher shop. The origin is often in tiny lettering and now some of the bigger establishments can get their own plant number which is even more misleading, so is the brand Slí Eile – the Quality Way – which sounds Irish but in fact comes from Holland.
So gather family and friends around and have a celebratory Saint Patricks Day lunch and toast the future of Ireland.
A few suggestions for great bacon – there are many more…
Whole Ballycotton Prawns in the Shell with Homemade Mayonnaise
I sometimes serve this as a starter at a dinner party. They are so easy to prepare and fun for people to eat. You’ll need to provide claw crackers and finger bowls so guests can enjoy every single scrap from the tail up to the claws. Serve with homemade mayonnaise made with finest extra virgin olive oil. If you want to ring the changes, flavour the mayonnaise with saffron, chervil, dill or fennel. Make sure to ask for prawns that haven’t been dipped in sodium metabisulphite Our fresh prawns taste better than anything I’ve tasted anywhere in the world, they are an expensive treat but so worth it for a special celebration.
24 large whole very fresh Dublin Bay prawns
4 tablespoons homemade mayonnaise
wild watercress leaves
4 lemon segments
Cook the whole prawns as in recipe.
Put 6 cooked, whole prawns on each plate. Spoon a tablespoon of homemade mayonnaise into a little bowl or oyster shell on the side of the plate and pop a segment of lemon on the plate, too.
Garnish with a few sprigs of fresh wild watercress. Serve with fresh crusty brown soda bread and Irish butter.
Irish Nettle Soup
The new seasons nettles are fresh and young and perfect for soup. Use plastic gloves to gather them!
45g (1 1⁄2 oz) butter
110g (4oz) onions, chopped
150g (5oz) potatoes, peeled and chopped
salt and freshly ground pepper
1 litre (1 3⁄4 pints) chicken stock
150g (5oz) young nettles, washed and chopped
150ml (5fl oz) full-cream milk
Melt the butter in a heavy saucepan. When it foams, add the chopped onion and potato, toss them in the butter until well coated. Sprinkle with salt and freshly ground pepper. Cover with a paper lid (to trap the steam) and the saucepan lid, and
sweat over a gentle heat for 10 minutes, or until the vegetables are soft but not coloured. Discard the paper lid, add the stock and boil until the vegetables are just cooked, add the nettle leaves and simmer uncovered for just a few minutes. Do
not overcook or the vegetables will lose their flavour. Add the milk and liquidise. Taste and correct seasoning if necessary. Serve hot.
Traditional Irish Bacon, Cabbage and Parsley Sauce
Ireland’s national dish of bacon and cabbage is often a sorry disappointment nowadays, partly because it is so difficult to get good-quality bacon with a decent bit of fat on it. Traditionally, the cabbage was always cooked in the bacon water. People could only hang one pot over the fire at a time, so when the bacon was almost cooked, they added the cabbage for the last half hour or 45 minutes of cooking. The bacon water gives a salty, unforgettable flavour, which many people, including me, still hanker for. You will need to order the loin well in advance, especially with rind on.
about 2.25kg (5lb) loin, collar or streaky bacon, either smoked or unsmoked with the rind on and a nice covering of fat
1 Savoy or 2 spring cabbages
50g (2oz) butter
freshly ground pepper
Cover the bacon in cold water in a large pot and bring slowly to the boil. If the bacon is very salty there will be a white froth on top of the water, in which case it is preferable to discard the water and start again. It may be necessary to change the water several times, depending on how salty the bacon is. Finally, cover with hot water and the lid of the pot and simmer until almost cooked, allowing 20 minutes for every 2.2kg (1lb). Meanwhile, trim the outer leaves of the cabbage and cut it into quarters, removing the core. Discard the core and outer leaves. Slice the cabbage across the grain into thin shreds. If necessary, wash it quickly in cold water. About 20 minutes before the end of cooking the bacon, add the shredded cabbage to the water in which the bacon is boiling. Stir, cover and continue to boil gently until both the cabbage and bacon are cooked – about 13⁄4 hours. Take the bacon out and remove the rind if you like. Strain the cabbage and discard the water (or, if it’s not too salty, save it for soup). Add a lump of butter to the cabbage. Season with lots of ground pepper; it’s unlikely to need more salt, but add some if necessary. Serve the bacon with the cabbage, parsley sauce and floury potatoes
600ml (1 pint) full-cream milk
a few parsley stalks
sprig of thyme
a few slices of carrot (optional)
a few slices of onion (optional)
salt and freshly ground pepper
50g (2oz) roux
about 50g (2oz) curly parsley, freshly chopped
Put the cold milk into a saucepan and add the herbs and vegetables (if using). Bring the mixture to simmering point, season and simmer for 4–5 minutes. Strain the milk, bring it back to the boil and whisk in the roux until the sauce is a light coating consistency. Season again with salt and freshly ground pepper. Add the chopped parsley and simmer on a very low heat for 4–5 minutes. Taste and correct the seasoning.
St Patricks Day Cake
12 ozs (350g) butter
12 ozs (350g) castor sugar
grated zest of 1 lemon
6 eggs, organic and preferably free range
12 ozs (350g self-raising flour
24ozs (680g) icing sugar
4 – 5 fl ozs (100 – 126ml) water
crystallised flowers (see recipe)
2 x 25.5cm (10 inch) cake tins
Preheat the oven to 190ºC/375ºF/regulo 5.
Grease the cake tins with a little melted butter, put a round of greaseproof paper on the bottom of the tins and dust with flour.
Cream the butter; add the castor sugar and the lemon zest. Beat until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs one at a time, each time with a tablespoon of flour. Beat very well, then fold in the remaining flour.
Divide the mixture evenly between the two tins. Bake for 35 -40 minutes or until the cakes are well risen, golden and feel spongy to the finger tips.
Allow the cakes to cool for a few minutes in the tins and then turn out on to a wire rack to cool completely.
Split the cakes in half with a sharp serrated knife. Spread lemon curd (see recipe) over the base of one cake, top with the other, sandwiching the bases together
Sieve the icing sugar into a bowl; add enough boiling water to mix to a fairly stiff coating consistency. The icing should hold a trail when dropped from a spoon but gradually find its own level.
Decorate the iced cake with crystallised primroses and/or violets (see recipe) or even fondant shamrocks.
Crystallised Primroses and 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 which others adore. If it appeals to you, the work will be well rewarded, as they look and taste divine and are perfect to embellish a celebration cake.
Properly done, they will last for months. We store ours in a pottery jar or a tin box interleaved with silicone paper.
We also crystallize lots of leaves as well as flowers so one can make attractive arrangements. Use fairly strong textured leaves – e.g. mint, lemon balm, lemon verbena, sweet cicely, wild strawberry, rose geranium, salad burnet or marguerite daisy leaves. Smaller flowers are more attractive when crystallized eg. primroses, violets, apple blossom, violas, rose petals….and of course they must be edible!
freshly picked, primroses and sweet-smelling violets
a child’s unused paint brush
Your caster sugar needs to be absolutely dry, so for extra protection, sieve it onto a Swiss roll tin and place in the oven at 110°C /225°F /Mark ¼ for about 30 minutes. Break up the egg white slightly with a fork, but don’t beat it much; it doesn’t need to be fluffy. Using a clean paintbrush, 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 greaseproof paper-lined tray, and continue with the remaining flowers. Allow to dry overnight in a warm dry place (say close to the Aga, over a radiator or in the airing cupboard).
Fool Proof Food
Homemade Lemon Curd
Tangy delicious lemon curd can be made in a twinkling, smear it over a sponge or onto fresh bread, buttery scones or meringues. It is best eaten within a fortnight.
Makes 2 x 200ml (7floz) jars
2 ozs (50g) butter
4 ozs (110g) caster sugar
grated zest and juice of 2 lemons
2 organic eggs and 1 organic egg yolk whisked (keep white aside for meringue)
Melt the butter on a very low heat. Add the caster sugar, lemon zest and juice and then add the whisked eggs. Stir carefully over a gentle heat with a straight ended wooden spatula until the mixture coats the back it. Remove from the heat and pour into a bowl or sterilized jar (it will thicken further as it cools.)
Cover when cold and refrigerate.
Paul Street Pop Up Market – in the paved plaza with the backdrop of one of the oldest churches in Cork – is a sun trap, perfect for sitting on the wall or if you are lucky enough to grab one of the six tables to eat a really good pizza from Johnny O’Mahony’s Pompeii Pizza – piping hot out of the wood fired oven or Wok N Roll’s tiger prawns in a Thai dipping sauce from Pat O’Leary and Jim Ryan (Jim opened the first Thai Restaurant in Cork in 1994). Or if its something spicier you’re after, one of Arun Kappil’s delicious curries from his Green Saffron stall or a Mexican burrito from Brian Casey’s Ole Salsa and for dessert Mark Price – The Crepe Man – makes the best crepes in Cork The market is open from 10.30am to 5.30pm every Friday & Saturday – phone 0872592129.
Saint Patricks Day Market – there will be a full food market with a dizzying array of mouth watering stalls to choose from on the Board Walk, Grand Parade in Cork city from 11am to 5.00pm.
Grow your own potatoes – chit your seed potatoes now (stand them in egg tray in a cool, light, frost free position, so the side of the potato with most eyes ‘looks’ up towards the light and shoots develop) Try to get your seed potatoes in the ground by Saint Patricks day if the soil is not too wet, my favourite early variety is Home Guard. Use lots of manure or seaweed with the potatoes when planting, early varieties are good to grow organically because you tend to get a decent crop before the blight comes.
Q & A with Joy Larkcom – GIY (Grow it Yourself) patron, author and veteran vegetable grower who has spent over 40 years encouraging people to grow their own, to be adventurous about what they grow and not to be put off by having a tiny plot. 7pm Tuesday, 15th March – Crawford Art Gallery, Admission €5.00. This is one of a series of events as part of GIY Week, 12th to the 19th of March, more information at www.giyireland.com, or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Food Blog of the Week – www.thelondonfoodie.co.uk