Cooking ‘from scratch’ is the hottest food term in the restaurant world in the US, the UK and among the greater food cognegentsia around the world at present. Add seasonal, local and artisan and you are right on the button.
Imagine that, talk about things coming full circle. Chefs are boasting about cooking everything ‘from scratch’ for their menus, doing in-house butchery, making house-cured bacon and charcuterie, homemade tomato ketchup, pickles, relishes…
My son-in-law just back from Portland Oregon tells me that there are over 400 food trucks and 40 artisan breweries in a city with a population of less than 600,000. The micro-distillery movement has also taken off. Chefs are infusing alcohol with wild foraged herbs, berries and fruit and using them in cool house cocktails.
A whole counter-culture to Fast Food is gaining momentum – a virtual revolution at grassroots level and not just among young chefs and cooks, it’s a whole generation of educated young and not so young people who are on a mission to find the best tasting naturally produced food with a story. Provenance is important to them. They want to know the variety, the breed, the feed… They are flocking back to butchers shops learning about meat cuts, dry aging hanging and pasture-raised. New butcher shops are opening, butchery classes are oversubscribed. They are really enjoying learning how to cook and grow and pickle and forage.
It is beyond cool to be part of this scene, to be able to do all these things and to rediscover lost or almost forgotten skills which were certainly not part of the last generation’s experience. On trips to the US, during the past decade, I have also become increasingly aware of the young agrarians in the US, and the Greenhorns movement – a growing band of passionate, energetic young farmers and ‘wannabe’ farmers whose voice is growing louder and more persistent.
Many of the top chefs have vegetable and herb gardens and are growing at least some fresh produce on the roof or balcony or in a variety of containers – they are desperate to source really fresh organic produce for their menus. Of course it also adds to the story. Several chefs including April Bloomfield are buying farms upstate New York in order to have a trustworthy supply of fresh home produced food – it’s unlikely to be cheaper but it provides ingredients with impeccable provenance and a great story.
There’s a deep craving and a growing market for this kind of food and this kind of story. Food you can trust, from small production systems. Interestingly, there’s a growing realisation that food from small production is distinctly different from intensively produced food and chefs are highlighting this on their menu. At Noma in Copenhagen, Rene Redzepi tells us that the butter comes from a herd of just five goats on a small farm in Sweden. I suppose I could boast that our Jersey butter comes from a herd of just three cows!
When people know the story they understand why they need to pay a little more but they must be able taste a difference otherwise why would you?
April Bloomfield shared these delicious recipes from her brilliant cookery book A Girl and Her Pig, published by Canongate Books.
April Bloomfield’s Sausage Stuffed Onions
4 medium red onions (about 225g each) peeled, stem ends trimmed but left intact
About 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Maldon or other flaky sea salt
1 head garlic
Small handful thyme sprigs, plus 1 teaspoon leaves
125g homemade sausage (see recipe)
Or shop bought, removed from casing if necessary
225ml double cream
Preheat the oven to 200ºC/400ºF/gas 6. Put the onions in a medium casserole or other ovenproof pot with a lid. Drizzle some olive oil into your hand and rub it on the onions. You’ll probably end up using about 2 tablespoons. Grab some salt and crush it between your fingers as you sprinkle it all over each onion, turning the onions to make sure the salt adheres to all sides. Put them in the pot.
Tear off the outermost layers of peel from the garlic head so the cloves are exposed. Put it in the middle of the onions and drizzle on a little olive oil. Scatter the thyme sprigs over the onions, and pour 75ml water around the onions and garlic. Cover the pot and put it in the oven. Cook just until the onions are lightly browned and soft enough that you can insert a knife into the centre with barely any resistance, 50 minutes to 1 hour, depending on the size of your onions. Let them sit, covered, on the top of the stove until they’re cool enough to handle, so they get even softer (leave the oven on.)
Carefully transfer the onions to a plate or cutting board, leaving the liquid behind in the pot. Use a small spoon to scoop out a few layers of the insides of each onion and stuff each one with about 2 tablespoons of the sausage. Add the scooped-out onion bits to a 30cm ovenproof pan or small baking dish. (when you add the cream and water, the liquid should come a little less than half way up the sides of the onions.) Squeeze the soft flesh of the garlic cloves into the pan and add the thyme leaves, cream and 225ml water and 1 teaspoon salt. Bring the mixture to a full boil, add the stuffed onions, sausage side up, and baste them with the liquid for a minute or so.
Pop the pan into the oven, uncovered, and cook, basting the onions every ten minutes or so, until the sauce is thick but not gloopy, about 40 minutes. Taste the sauce and add a little more salt, if you’d like. Bring the pan to the table, spoon a little of the sauce over the top of each onion and dig in.
April Bloomfield’s Simple Sausage
This is a simple recipe, using a loose sausage mix, which you can form into patties (for a lovely breakfast sausage, just leave out the fennel and chillies) and brown in a pan. Or try tossing browned chunks with orecchiette and broccoli rabe (also called rapini), or use it to make
Sausage-Stuffed Onions (see recipe). makes 1.1kg
675g boneless pork shoulder, cut into 2.5cm pieces
450g pork backfat, cut into 2.5cm pieces
2 tablespoons sea salt
½ nutmeg, grated
2 teaspoons fennel seeds, ground
10 dried pequin chillies, crumbled, or pinches of red pepper flakes
Meat mincer or meat mincing attachment of a stand mixer
Combine the shoulder and pork backfat in a large mixing bowl and toss well.
Cover the bowl with Clingfilm and pop it in the freezer until the edges of the meat get crunchy, about 1 hour.
Use a meat mincer (or the mincing attachment of a stand mixer) to mince the mixture coarsely into a bowl. Add the salt, nutmeg, fennel, and chillies, then mix with your hands, folding over and pushing down on the mixture, for a minute or two. You’re trying to
get the fat and meat and seasoning evenly distributed, but you’re also mixing it so it gets a bit sticky. This will help the sausage stay firm and hold together.
If you’d like, make a little patty and fry it up to test the seasoning. You can add a bit more fennel, nutmeg, chilli, and/or salt, if you’d like. Use it straightaway, or cover with Clingfilm and keep it in the fridge for 2 to 3 days or the freezer for up to a month.
April Bloomfield’s Jerusalem Artichoke Smash
Jerusalem Artichokes have a slightly sweet flavour and a nutty aroma. For this recipe, smash them, rather than mash them, keeping them pretty chunky and adding just a bit of cream, so you don’t mask their flavour. Consider Jerusalem Artichokes any time you’re thinking of serving mashed potatoes.
900g Jerusalem artichokes
2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon Maldon or another flaky sea salt
2 tablespoons double cream
Freshly ground black pepper
A five-fingered pinch of parsley leaves
Fill a big bowl with cold water. Peel the Jerusalem artichokes as best you can. They’re a bit knobby, so it’ll take some time, but it’s worth it. It’s okay if you can’t get every last bit of skin. As you peel each one, drop it in the water to prevent browning. Once you’ve peeled all the artichokes, drain them and chop them into rough 2.5cm pieces. Add the pieces to a medium pot that has a lid, along with the olive oil, the salt, and 50ml water. Give a good stir, cover the pot, and set it over medium-high heat. Cook at a steady simmer, stirring once in a while, until the chunks are just barely crunchy, about 25 minutes.
Take the pot off the heat. Stir and smash the chunks a bit with a sturdy whisk or spoon, then add the cream and stir and smash to incorporate it. Keep stirring and smashing until you have a rough mash, some of it smooth and creamy and some of the chokes in medium and small chunks. Add a few twists of black pepper and a sprinkle of parsley. Serve piping hot.
April Bloomfield’s Rhubarb Fool with Cardamom Cream and Pistachios
The rhubarb’s earthy flavour and sharp tartness balance the floral cardamom whipped cream. Layer the fool in small clear jars, so you can see the pink and white, pink and white. Well chilled, it’s wonderfully refreshing. And not too sweet.
For the Cardamom Cream
6 green cardamom pods
3 tablespoons caster sugar
225ml crème frâiche
225ml double cream
For the Rhubarb
550g rhubarb (about 3 fat stalks), topped and tailed, then sliced crosswise into 4cm pieces
50g caster sugar
100ml dry white wine, such as Sauvignon Blanc
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
2½ teaspoons rose water
To serve the fool
75g shelled salted roasted pistachios
Pistachio Brandy Snaps for scooping
Make the cardamom cream: Use the flat of your knife to smash the cardamom pods one by one. Discard the greenish husks. Pound the cardamom seeds to a powder in a mortar, then add the sugar and pound briefly.
Put the creme fraiche and double cream in a large mixing bowl and stir in the
sugar mixture. Cover the bowl with clingfilm and refrigerate it while you cook the rhubarb.
Make the rhubarb: Toss together the rhubarb and sugar in a bowl. Put the
mixture in a medium pot and add the white wine. Use a knife to scrape the seeds
from the vanilla bean into the pot; discard the pod. Set the pot over medium-low
heat, bring to a very gentle simmer, and cook, tenderly stirring occasionally, until the liquid is a little creamy and the rhubarb is very tender but the pieces are still more or less intact, about 15 minutes. Set aside to cool. (To cool it quickly, scrape the mixture into another bowl, set it over a larger bowl filled with ice, and stir gently.) Once the rhubarb is completely cool, stir in the rose water.
Make the fool: Use a whisk or handheld electric mixer to whip the cream mixture until it’s fluffy and full, with semi-stiff peaks. Grab four approximately 225g serving containers or one large bowl for a family-style presentation. It’s nice if they’re clear, so you can see the layers. Spoon some of the rhubarb mixture into the bottom of each glass (or into the large bowl), top with a layer of cream, and sprinkle on some pistachios. Keep layering this way until you’ve used everything up, making sure you finish with a layer of rhubarb.
Cover and pop into the fridge until well chilled, at least 1 hour.
Calling all Food Writers. At last, an invaluable insight into a food editors mind…How to Write About Food – the Top 50 Writing Bloopers to Cross an Editors Desk – straight from the horse’s mouth – one of Ireland’s longest standing restaurant critics and editor – Ross Golden-Bannon.
Ross has written a handy short eBook that covers the top fifty issues, mistakes and problems which have crossed his desk over the previous twelve years.
You’ll also find top-tips on style, logic, legal issues and syntax as well as some examples of the profoundly stupid. Available on Kindle, Amazon and www.howtowriteaboutfood.com for $3.68. If you do not own a palm book or Kindle you can download eBook reader apps and software onto your desktop and read it there.
If you have dreams of opening your own teashop or café you might consider attending the week long Start Your Own Café or Teashop practical cookery and business course at Ballymaloe Cookery School. The course starts on Monday 8th April to Friday 12th April, 2013 and costs €895.00 for the week. See www.cookingisfun.ie or phone 021 4646785 for more details.
Date for the diary…Galway Food Festival – 28th March – 1st April 2013