As the horsemeat scandal continues to gain momentum what amazes me more than anything is why we are surprised. How exactly do we explain the incredibly low price of many processed foods? For those of us who are farmers and food producers we know it cannot be done without resorting to deeply unsavoury practices. Furthermore, what is going on behind the scenes has been well known in food circles for a long time.
It is a global issue and unlikely to be the only area of scary adulteration that comes to light. All the more reason for the Government, The Department of Agriculture and the Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) to encourage and support artisan food producers in farmers markets, country markets, small shops, local butchers, abattoirs, fish mongers…
Over the past few weeks there has been much discussion among food producers who have ‘been put through the wringer’ or ‘constantly hassled’ as one woman put it.
Beef farmers are justifiably very, very angry. Could this be the time for farmers to take back control and start the co-ops all over again?
This whole affair which has resulted in a multimillion dollar recall is shining a bright and for some, deeply uncomfortable light on areas of a bewilderingly complex food chain that is very rarely scrutinised. Investigations have revealed an international criminal conspiracy and a tangled web where it would appear that rules and laws are constantly broken.
On the other hand, local food producers are known in their own area and their neighbours invariably know exactly how the food is produced and whether they operate to a high standard. Invariably they are passionate about quality and are acutely aware that their reputation and the success of their business depends on maintaining the highest standard.
“It’s easy to hassle the small people, let them prove to us that they are prepared to tackle the multinationals before they hassle me about labelling jam made from my own home-grown fruit and black berries from the ditches around me,” said another irate jam maker who was told under EU regulations that her jam needed to be labelled the same as the pots in the supermarket. Surely there needs to be a procedure to differentiate between these two very different production systems.
So it becomes more and more obvious that if we want food we can trust, we need to source as much as possible close to home from people we can trust, and where better to start than our own back yard.
In the midst of all this we can be justifiably proud of the FSAI who flagged up the problem in the first place and our Minister of Agriculture Simon Coveney who, despite the criticism levelled at him has dealt with a difficult situation in a carefully measured manner.
Meanwhile back to the kitchen for a weekend menu.
Watercress, Blood Orange and New Seasons Toonsbridge Mozzarella Salad
A few beautiful fresh ingredients put together simply to make an irresistible starter.
2 – 3 balls of fresh Toonsbridge Mozzarella
2 blood oranges
a bunch of fresh watercress
2 – 3 tablespoons Irish honey
a good drizzle of extra virgin olive oil
some coarsely ground black pepper
Just before serving, scatter a few watercress leaves over the base of each plate, slice or tear some mozzarella over the top. With a sharp knife remove the peel and pith from the blood oranges, cut into ¼ inch thick slices, tuck a few here and there in-between the watercress and mozzarella. Drizzle with honey and really good extra virgin olive oil. Finally add a little coarsely ground fresh black pepper and serve.
Braised Neck of Lamb with Wild Garlic Mash
Wild garlic is back in season so let’s feast on it for the next few weeks. Lamb neck or scrag end is ‘cheap and chips’ and really sweet and juicy.
6 half lamb necks (scrag ends) on the bone
extra virgin olive oil or trimmed lamb fat
4 medium onions, quartered
2 large carrots, cut in chunks
1/2 head celery, coarsely chopped
5 bay leaves
1 x 400g (14oz) tin of tomatoes, chopped or 1 lb (450g) very ripe tomatoes, peeled and chopped
8-10 cloves of garlic, peeled
4 sprigs of rosemary
500ml (18fl oz) lamb stock or water
62ml (2 1/2fl oz) white wine
Trim the excess fat off the necks. Cut into cubes, render out the liquid fat in a large sauté pan over a medium heat.
Season the lamb necks with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Remove the pieces of lamb fat from the pan and discard (alternatively you can use extra virgin olive oil). On a high heat seal the meat for a couple of minutes on all sides turning until nicely browned. Remove from the pan. Add the coarsely chopped root vegetables, to the pan and toss and cook for 2 – 3 minutes. Lay the lamb necks on top; add the herbs, white wine, chopped tomatoes, garlic and enough stock to come 2/3 of the way up the meat.
Bring to a simmer on top of the stove and then transfer into a preheated oven 250°C/500°F/Gas Mark 10, to start with and when it’s simmering gently, cover the lamb loosely with the lid or parchment paper. Reduce the heat to 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4 and cook until completely tender – 2 1/2 to 3 hours. The meat should be almost falling of the bones.
Cool and pop into the fridge until next day (alternatively skim off every bit of fat)
Remove and discard the solidified fat and warm through uncovered in a hot oven. Taste and correct seasoning before serving. Scatter with lots of chopped parsley.
Serve with Wild Garlic Mash (see recipe)
Wild Garlic Mash
2 lbs (900g) unpeeled potatoes, preferably Golden Wonders or Kerr’s Pinks
½ pint (300ml) creamy milk approx.
1 whole egg
1-2 ozs (30-55g) butter or extra virgin olive oil
6 tablespoon freshly chopped wild garlic leaves
Wild Garlic Flowers (Alium ursinum)
Scrub the potatoes well. Put them into a saucepan of cold water, add a good pinch of salt and bring to the boil. When the potatoes are about half cooked, 15 minutes approx. for ‘old’ potatoes, strain off two-thirds of the water, replace the lid on the saucepan, put on to a gentle heat and allow the potatoes to steam until they are fully cooked. Peel immediately by just pulling off the skins, so you have as little waste as possible, mash while hot (see below). (If you have a large quantity, put the potatoes into the bowl of a food mixer and beat with the spade).
While the potatoes are being peeled, bring about ½ pint (300ml) of milk to the boil. Add the egg into the hot mashed potatoes, and add enough boiling creamy milk to mix to a soft light consistency suitable for piping, add the freshly wild garlic and then beat in the butter or olive oil, the amount depending on how rich you like your potatoes. Taste and season with salt and freshly ground pepper. Scatter with wild garlic flowers.
Note: If the potatoes are not peeled and mashed while hot and if the boiling milk is not added immediately, the potato will be lumpy and gluey.
Rhubarb and Custard Tart
8 ozs (225g) plain flour
6 ozs (175g) butter
pinch of salt
1 dessertspoon icing sugar
a little beaten egg or egg yolk and water to bind
1lb (450g) or a little more rhubarb, cut into small pieces
6-8 tablespoons castor sugar
300ml (10fl oz) cream
2 large or 3 small eggs
2 tablespoons castor sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 x 12 inch (30.5cm) tart tin or 2 x 7 inch (18cm) tart tins
Make the shortcrust pastry in the usual way (see recipe). Line a tart tin (or tins), with a removable base and chill for 10 minutes. Line with paper and fill with dried beans and bake blind in a moderate oven 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4 for 15-20 minutes. Remove the paper and beans, paint the tart with a little egg wash and return to the oven for 3 or 4 minutes.
Arrange the cut rhubarb evenly inside the tart shell. Sprinkle with 6-8 tablespoons castor sugar.
Whisk the eggs well, with the 2 tablespoons sugar and vanilla extract, add the cream. Strain this mixture over the rhubarb and bake at 180C/350F/Gas Mark 4, for 35 minutes until the custard is set and the rhubarb is fully cooked. Serve warm with a bowl of whipped cream.
Sweet Shortcrust Pastry
This is almost the most versatile of all the pastries. Use at least 1 part butter to 2 parts flour. The higher the proportion of butter, the more delicious the pastry, but the more difficult it will be to handle.
Makes enough pastry to line a 23cm (9 inch) flan ring
175g (6oz) plain white flour
75g (3oz) butter
40g (1 1/2oz) caster sugar
1 large organic egg, whisked
Dice the butter and leave to soften at room temperature for 30 minutes.
Sift the flour onto a work surface and rub in the butter. Add the sugar. Make a well in the centre and break in the egg, adding a little water if necessary. Use your fingertips to rub in, pulling in more flour mixture from the outside as you work. Knead with the heel of your hand, making three turns. You should end up with a silky smooth ball of dough. Wrap in clingfilm and leave in the fridge for at least 1 hour before using. It will keep for a week in the fridge and also freezes well.
Neven Maguire, one of the nicest guys on the whole Irish food scene is coming to Trabolgan to do a cookery demonstration in aid of the Aghada GAA on Tuesday March 5th. Doors open at 8pm. Cheese and Wine reception, craft and artisan food producer stalls. Tickets €20 per person. Tel: 021 4661223 Day’s Spar, Whitegate, East Cork.
The Organic Centre Rossinver, Co Leitrim, Complete Organic Garden Day at the Organic Centre on Saturday 9th March will focus mainly on soil fertility management, composting, sowing in the polytunnel. The course costs €75.00 and starts at 10am to 4:00pm. Spring into the Garden incorporating the annual Potato Day is on Sunday 10th March from 11am to 5pm – there will be gardening demonstrations, walks and talks with lots of brilliant advice on sowing, soil preparation, seed choice…don’t miss the Langford Lissadell Potato Collection -that has over 150 distinct varieties – that will be on display. www.theorganiccentre.ie
Cooking for Baby – Natural and Wholesome Recipes half day course at Ballymaloe Cookery School Friday 8th March 2:00pm to 5:00pm. Learn the best ways of feeding your baby healthy food, Darina Allen who is a mother of four and grandmother of eight, is happy to pass on the tips and advice gleaned over years of feeding her healthy children and sturdy grandchildren totally without packets, cans or jars! – 021 4646785 – www.cookingisfun.ie