If youâ€™ve never taken the train from Dublin to Belfast, put it on your â€˜must doâ€™ list immediately, itâ€™s certainly one of the loveliest train journeys I have ever experienced, all along the North Dublin coast into Dundalk. The countryside was looking particularly beautiful â€“ with the fresh green growth of early summer and the whin (gorse) in full bloom.
I was on my way to Portaferry to attend a Slow Food dinner at The Narrows, a destination which has been saved from an advanced state of dereliction by a feisty girl called Celia Spouncer. To celebrate the awakening of The Narrows, Celia who is leader of Slow Food Northern Ireland organised a feast to highlight the extraordinary richness of local produce available on the Ards Peninsula and around Strangford Lough. It was a truly memorable evening and a taste of whatâ€™s happening on the Northern Ireland food scene. For many years our Northern Ireland friends looked on enviously at the range of farmhouse cheese and artisan foods available â€˜in the Southâ€™. The climate in the North was not conducive to this kind of enterprise until relatively recently but now there is a virtual explosion of new food enterprises and a renewed confidence in the future. Young entrepreneurs have responded and the results are very exciting indeed.
On our way to Portaferry we called in to see St Georgeâ€™s Market, recently short listed for the BBC Food and Farming awards, the buzz and energy is palpable, Saturday is the big day for food stalls. Then we swung by to see Mike Thompsonâ€™s dairy in Newtownards where he makes a raw milk blue cheese called Young Buck. The dairy is tiny with a series of curing rooms full of enticing looking mouldy cheese, Mike a self-professed â€˜dairy nerdâ€™, learned his craft in Welbeck School of Artisan Food and was of course inspired by Jo Schneider who makes the beautiful Stichelton cheese also on the estate.
At the Slow Food dinner later, Celia proudly presented a cheeseboard of Northern Ireland Farmhouse cheese for the very first time, it also included a delicious Kearney blue made by Paul McClean and a mild and creamy Leggygowan goat cheese made by Adam and Jason Kelly.
The canapÃ©s included local smoked salmon, sweet Strangford Lough crabs and Portavogie prawns from Something Fishy whose mobile fish shop we had passed on the roadside by Portavogie village earlier.
The Slow Food Northern Ireland supper also reflected the wild and foraged food of this beautiful area, Ardkeen Nettle and and Wild Garlic soup, Strangford Lough mussels and Rathlin Island kelp, I met Jane Somerville whose family live, fish sustainably and harvest the kelp on Rathlin Island the same time honoured way as their ancestors, itâ€™s a beautiful product which I also used in my cookery demonstration on St Georgeâ€™s Market next day. The beef came from Arthurâ€™s local butchers and veg from the country garden grocer in Portaferry.
Paula McIntyre the much loved chef and broadcaster, created a delicious pannacotta from Abernethyâ€™s buttermilk and paired it with new seasons rhubarb, shortbread and Glastry ice-cream. Guests practically licked their plates! Even the wine came from Winemark in Portaferry. The homemade breads which included local dillisk were made by David Semple and slathered with the beautiful Abernethyâ€™s hand made butter â€“ another contender for the BBC Food and Farming awards. It was a wonderfully convivial event where there was real excitement about the renaissance on the Northern Ireland artisan food scene. The word is spreading. In fact, the Radio 4 Food progamme did a 30 minute segment on â€˜Food in Northern Ireland: A Golden Eraâ€™ a few weeks ago, the word is out, watch this space.
Ardkeen Nettle and Wild Garlic Soup
4 sticks table celery
2 pt chicken stock or veg stock cubes and water
20 – 30 nettle tips
A small handful wild garlic leaves
Double cream to garnish
Sweat chopped onions in butter in a heavy based saucepan over low heat till soft and transparent.
Add sliced leek, celery, carrots and potatoes and close lid on pan. When hot add hot stock or cubes and boiling water. Simmer till cooked through.
Add nettle tips and wild garlic leaves.
Blend until fairly smooth with a hand blender or liquidiser and serve hot with a swirl of double cream.
Slow Food Northern Ireland Supper
Seabeet or sea spinach as its sometimes called grows grows wild along the sea shore â€“ its particularly fresh and lush at present. The texture is less tender than ordinary spinach so slice very thinly.
Seabeet leaves and stalks
Wash seabeet leaves and stalks then slice in 1cm ribbons. Toss together with french dressing to make the leaves glisten, just before eating.
4oz olive oil
1oz balsamic vinegar
1oz white wine vinegar
1oz brown sugar
1tsp Dijon and 1tsp whole grain mustard
salt and black pepper
Add vinegars to dry ingredients and mix well.
Slowly add olive oil whisking briskly till all combined.
12/5/2014 (17089) Slow Food Northern Ireland Supper
Â Kelp and Smoked Seafood Salad
My nephew Ivan Whelan used to serve this lovely salad at his restaurant, Grapefruit Moon, in Ballycotton. If you canâ€™t find kelp then try wakame, a Japanese seaweed that can be found in health-food shops. Serves 6â€“8
50g dried kelp or wakame
150g (5oz) Cold-smoked Salmon
150g (5oz) smoked eel, weighed after skinning and boning
50g (2oz) pickled ginger (gari)
60g (21â„2oz) pine nuts
3 tablespoons soy sauce
3 tablespoons sesame oil
11â„2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
salt and freshly ground pepper
1 tablespoon freshly chopped coriander
30 Smoked Mussels
Soak the seaweed in cold water for about 30 minutes to reconstitute. Drain very well in a colander and press out all the excess water. Put into a large mixing bowl.
Cut the smoked salmon and eel into small pieces and chop the ginger. Add these to the seaweed, along with the pine nuts, soy sauce, sesame oil and rice wine vinegar, coriander and salt and pepper to taste. Mix gently to avoid breaking up the fish. Serve stacked on a plate with smoked mussels dotted around.
02/09/2010 (CS) Forgotten Skills Book (14244)
Paula McIntyreâ€™s Shortbread made with Abernethyâ€™s Handmade Butter
Makes 34 â€“ 36 biscuits
100 g (3Â½ ozs) Abernethyâ€™s hand made butter
50 g (2 ozs) icing sugar
50 g (2 ozs) cornflour
100 g (3Â½ ozs) plain white flour
1 teaspoon lavender (optional)
Cream the butter well, add the icing sugar and continue to beat until light and fluffy. Stir in the cornflour and flour and bring together into a ball. Cover with cling film and allow to rest in the refrigerator for 15 minutes minimum.
Just before baking preheat the oven to 180Â°C/350Â°F/gas mark 4.
Roll the dough to a thickness of Â¼ inch (5 mm) stamp out the cookies. Paula used a 2 inch (5 cm) round cutter but it can be whatever size or shape you need.
Spread on a parchment lined baking tray. Cook for 10- 12 minutes approximately or until they are a very pale gold colour. Remove and cool on a wire rack. Serve dusted with icing sugar â€“ Paula sandwiched them together with raspberry jelly from Castlerock on the North Coast but they are delicious served just as they are.
Slow Food Northern Ireland Supper
A recent trip to Deelish Garden centre outside Skibbereen, yielded a couple of angelica and kaffir lime leaf plants. They also had cardoons (the hottest â€˜newâ€™ veg), lots of citrus, banana trees, a huge variety of herbs, watercress and a range of scented sweet geraniums as well as lots of choice plants, shrubs and trees for your non edible garden.
Deelish telephone 028 213 74 or www.deelish.ie
While youâ€™re down there pop into Glebe Gardens (telephone: 028 20232) and get inspired by their edible garden, then treat yourself in the chic cafÃ© closeby.
Recently I picked up a super little book â€“ A beginners guide to Ireland seashore. Itâ€™s a Sherkin Island Marine Station publication, lots of photos of seaweeds but no emphasis on the culinary aspects of the seashore finds â€“ none the less invaluable for foragers.
The Grow your Own Food Movement (at least some of) is really catching on all round the world, in towns, cities, on roof tops, window sills, balconies, apartment blocks so hope youâ€™ve all caught the bug and got planting even if itâ€™s just a packet of radish seeds or a few salad leaves. At least youâ€™ll know they havenâ€™t been sprayed or boosted with lots of artificial fertilisers plus youâ€™ll taste fresh once again and thatâ€™s a revelation in itself. For advice and tips see www.giyireland.com