I’ve just been thanking the good Lord for the bounty of the earth; we’ve just had the first of the broad beans and new potatoes, such joy. Several of the grandchildren helped to pick the beans, until we chased them away because they were eating more than they were picking. They love extracting them out of the long green pods, no two are the same but all are furry inside with a different number of beans in each one. They are sweet and juicy and the grandchildren are right, the French and Italians love them raw with just a little olive oil and sea salt and a little salty ricotta. Like asparagus and virtually every other vegetable the quicker you can get them into the kitchen and onto the table the more super delicious they will be.
The asparagus has been slow and late and sluggish this year, as has virtually everything else, all the farmers have had a challenging year and for some it has been terrifying as the stark reality of the effects of climate change on our crops really hits home. The reality that we may have to perhaps drastically change what can be grown in this country is now a distinct possibility as we grapple with the fact that these weather patterns may now be the norm rather than the exception.
It has certainly made many of us more aware of how much we depend on Mother Nature. Food is not something that just appears on supermarket shelves, someone has to grow, care for and harvest it. Animals need to fed and looked after 24/7 and with the relentless pressure to deliver cheap food to the consumer at any cost, those who produce it are rarely paid a fair price for their efforts.
Waste is still a huge problem at many stages in the food chain. Those of us who are fortunate enough to be able to grow even a few radishes or spring onions for ourselves, know the effort that goes into it and won’t waste a scrap.
Here at the Ballymaloe Cookery School the students have the option to see our five Jersey cows being milked and to learn the skill. For many, it comes as a shock to realize that cows have to be milked twice a day every day, over weekends, bank holidays, Christmas day…
Blessed are the farmers, the fishermen, the cheese makers and all those who produce food that nourishes us. It’s time to sit down around the kitchen table once again and to give thanks and celebrate the new seasons produce and to make a wish that we’ll be as well this time next year (and not waste a scrap!)
Asparagus and Marjoram Frittata
8 eggs, preferably free-range (increase the eggs if your pan is bigger)
225g (8oz) thin asparagus
1 teaspoon salt and freshly ground pepper
55g (2oz) Parmesan, Parmigano Reggiano, freshly grated
25g (1oz) Parmesan and 25g (1oz) Gruyere
2-3 tablespoons chopped marjoram
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
non stick frying pan – 7½ inch (19cm) bottom, 9 inch (23cm) top rim
Preheat the oven to 160˚C/320˚F/mark 3. Bring about 1 inch of water to the boil in an oval casserole. Snap off the tough ends of the asparagus, add salt to the water and blanch the spears for 2 or 3 minutes. Drain. Slice the end of the spears evenly at an angle keep 1½ inches at the top intact. Save for later.
Whisk the eggs together into a bowl. Add the sliced asparagus, most of the grated Parmesan and chopped marjoram, reserving a little for the end. Season well with salt and freshly ground pepper.
Heat the extra virgin olive oil in the pan over a medium heat, add egg mixture, cook for 2 – 3 minutes. Then transfer to the oven and continue to cook until just set – about 12 minutes. Arrange the asparagus over the top. Sprinkle with the remaining Parmesan. Pop under a grill for a few minutes but make sure it is at least 5 inches from the element. It should be set but not brown. Serve immediately, cut into wedges and follow with a green salad.
Farro with Broadbeans, Peas, Asparagus and Rocket
250gms (9ozs) of cooked farro
4 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
freshly squeezed juice of one lemon
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
60gms (2 1/2ozs) of cooked broad beans (blanched and refreshed)
60gms (2 1/2ozs) of cooked peas
a fist of rocket leaves
8 x asparagus spears – quickly blanched
8 cherry tomatoes, cut in half
Put the farro, rocket leaves, peas, broad beans, asparagus and tomato halves into a bowl – dress with olive oil and lemon. Season with sea-salt and freshly ground black pepper and toss together lightly with your fingers.
Serve quickly while the flavours are fresh!
New Potatoes Cooked in Seawater
Of course one can cook new potatoes in well salted water but if you happen to be by the seaside, collect some seawater it will add immeasurably to the flavour.
2 lbs (900g) new potatoes e.g., Home Guard, British Queens (the variety we grow is Colleen)
2 pints (1.2 litres) seawater or 2 pints (1.2 litres) tap water plus 1 teaspoon salt
a sprig of seaweed if available
Bring the seawater to the boil. Scrub the potatoes. Add salt if using tap water and a sprig of seaweed to the water, and then add the potatoes. Cover the saucepan, bring back to the boil and cook for 15-25 minutes or until fully cooked depending on size.
Drain and serve immediately in a hot serving dish with good Irish butter.
It’s vitally important for flavour to add salt to the water when cooking potatoes.
Blackcurrant Leaf Sorbet
Blackcurrant leaves have tons of flavour, we also use them syrup for homemade lemonade.
We also use this recipe to make an elderflower sorbet – substitute 4 or 5 elderflower heads in full bloom.
2 large handfuls of young blackcurrant leaves
225g (8ozs) sugar
600ml (1 pint) cold water
juice of 3 lemons
1 egg white (optional)
Crush the blackcurrant leaves tightly in your hand, put into a stainless steel saucepan with the cold water and sugar. Stir to dissolve the sugar, bring slowly to the boil. Simmer for 2 or 3 minutes. Allow to cool completely. Add the juice of 3 freshly squeezed lemons.*
Strain and freeze for 20-25 minutes in an ice-cream maker or sorbetiere. Serve in chilled glasses or chilled white china bowls or on pretty plates lined with fresh blackcurrant leaves.
Note: If you do not have a sorbetiere, simply freeze the sorbet in a dish in the freezer, when it is semi-frozen, whisk until smooth and return to the freezer again. Whisk again when almost frozen and fold in one stiffly beaten egg white. Keep in the freezer until needed.
If you have access to a food processor. Freeze the sorbet completely in a tray, then break up and whizz for a few seconds in the processor, add 1 slightly beaten egg white, whizz and freeze again. Serve.
Newly re-opened Carewswood Garden Centre in Ladysbridge, East Cork has a terrific selection of scented geranium plants including pelargonium graveolens that we use to flavour syrups, sorbets and compotes. All are edible and each has its own individual taste. I was also tempted by their standard olive trees and a couple of kumquat plants and there is also a cute little café with enticing homemade cakes and scones – phone 021-2428494.
In just a few years Sushi has become a universal favourite. It gets the ‘thumbs up’ from cardiologists and nutritionists – not least because it is based mainly on fresh fish, seaweed, vegetables and rice, but it is also low in fat and high in minerals.
Sushi tastes great it’s healthy, nutritious and quick to prepare and great fun for home entertaining. Join the half-day course with Shermin Mustafa and Darina Allen on Wednesday 3rd July, 2013 at Ballymaloe Cookery School and you will learn how to make seven different types of sushi and can have optional hands-on practice plus the opportunity to taste all the sushi prepared during the course. Price: €125.00 – 021 4646785 to book.
Julian Castagna, of Castagna Wines, Beechworth, Victoria, Australia, will give a wine talk and wine tasting, in The Carrigaun Room of The GrainStore, at Ballymaloe House on Friday 21st June, at 7pm €10.00 – 021 4652531 or www.ballymaloe.ie