Well, Lent is almost over and if you are one of those virtuous souls who have been abstaining for the past seven weeks now is the time to feast and savour the rewards of your fasting. Years ago there would be a surplus of eggs particularly as this is the time the hens go into overdrive and start to lay with gay abandon. They too are super excited that the winter is almost over; Eileen has hatched out a batch of chicks in the incubator just in time to thrill our grandchildren and visiting friends of all ages. They are the most photographed fluffy little chicks. Even Julia is busy baking Easter biscuits and Pamâ€™s making the Simnel cake, Emer has a batch of hot cross buns rising and Haulie is picking bundles of gorgeous pink Spring rhubarb.
Back to the kitchen for Easter Sunday lunch. I ordered a Spring lamb a few weeks ago; we butcher it ourselves and share it between the family. Spring lambs are born before Christmas and because they are milk fed the flesh is pale and sweet and particularly succulent. Iâ€™ve kept a couple of shoulders for family lunch on Easter Sunday. A roast leg is wonderful of course but I find the shoulder with just a little more fat even more delicious and juicy and it has the bonus of being a little less expensive than leg.
Spring lamb is so delicate that I am reluctant to add any extra flavours other than a generous sprinkling of flaky sea salt and some freshly cracked pepper. Cook it slowly at 160Â°C rather than 180Â°C; the skin will caramelise gently resulting in an unforgettable lunch. Iâ€™ll serve it with an old fashioned mint sauce made with the few sprigs of new seasonâ€™s mint that Iâ€™ve managed to tease out of the ground by covering it with a cloche for this exceptionally early Easter. If however youâ€™d rather do something more adventurous particularly if you have lamb rather than spring lamb score the skin and rub in a mixture of freshly roasted cumin and flaky sea salt for a Moroccan flavour. Alternatively, a spicy harissa would also do the trick, or a â€˜Baharatâ€™ spice rub from Green Saffron (www.greensaffron.com). The gutsier herbs survived our atrocious Winter very well, so if youâ€™d rather the taste of fresh herbs, tuck some little sprigs of rosemary or thyme into the skin at regular intervals and lay a sprig underneath to perfume the gravy and the joint as it roasts.
When Easter is late, we love to accompany Spring lamb with the first of the new potatoes and spring carrots but thereâ€™s no sign of either at present, so Iâ€™ll cook some purple sprouting broccoli and Rory Oâ€™ Connellâ€™s chard gratin and weâ€™ll have a feast and count our blessings. Weâ€™ve got an abundance of wild garlic at present so how about Wild Garlic soup, or if youâ€™d like to use some of your freshly laid eggs how about delicate little wild garlic custards with fingers of toast. Both can be made ahead.
For pud, Iâ€™ll definitely bake a rhubarb tart. I particularly love the traditional tart my mother always made that has become known as Cullohill Rhubarb tart made with a pastry Iâ€™ve given you the recipe for several times (appeared in the Examiner 5th March 2013)
So to ring the changes, here is a rhubarb meringue tart recipe I ate at Shaun Hillâ€™s restaurant The Walnut Tree in Abergavenny, Wales in September 2015 last year.
Remember rhubarb is very tart so this is a time when youâ€™ll need to be a little generous with the sugar but not too much because the meringue is also super sweetâ€¦.
Happy Easter to you all.
Broth is having its moment once again. Itâ€™s easy to make your own from bones and carcass. Itâ€™s a totally magical food, so full of nourishment and flavour and particularly important for those who have been laid low by a dose of flu or an interminable chesty cold. Meanwhile, seek out Rachel McCormackâ€™s Sonnyâ€™s Broth at Mahon Point Farmers Market on Thursday from 10am-2.00pm and Douglas on Saturday mornings 10.00am-2pm. Tel: 086 821 2741
Properly delicious broths to enjoy right there or to bring home to sip by the fire. Try the PhÅ BÃ², an aromatic beef bone broth with rice noodles and fresh Asian herbs or PhÅ GÃ spiced chicken broth also with rice, noodles and fresh Asian herbs â€“ soo good.
More Irresistible Cakes from Cakeface
Laura Mead and Rory Gannon met at the Ballymaloe Cookery School on a 12 week Certificate course in April 2010. They particularly love to bake and travelled together to France to work at Roger VergÃ© three Michelin star restaurant Moulin des Mougins in Cannes. From there it was on to the Savoy and Connaught hotels in London to hone their patisserie skills. Now they are back in Ireland and have started Cakeface Pastry in Piltown selling their super professional cakes and tarts that look as though they popped straight out of a French pastry shop window.
Tel: 086 601 7045
Slow Roasted Shoulder of Lamb with Cumin Seeds
Serves 8-10 approx.
A shoulder of lamb is much trickier to carve than a leg, but the flavour is so wonderfully sweet and juicy, itâ€™s certainly worth the struggle particularly at home where perfect slices of meat are not obligatory. I sometimes put this into the low oven of the Aga in the morning. By 7.30 in the evening, it is beautifully cooked â€“ how easy is that!
1 shoulder of lamb 3.3 â€“ 3.6kg(7-8lb) on the bone
2 tablespoons approx. cumin seeds
Salt and freshly ground pepper
600ml (1 pint) homemade lamb or chicken stock
1-2 teaspoon freshly roasted amdground cumin
Roux optional (see recipe)
Warm the cumin seeds slightly on a pan, crush them in a pestle and mortar. Score the skin of the meat in a diamond pattern with a sharp knife. Sprinkle the meat with salt and pepper and cumin and drizzle with olive oil, roast in a low oven 140C/275F/gas mark 1 in the usual way for 6 â€“ 7 hours â€“ this gives a delicious juicy succulent texture. Alternatively cook in a moderate oven 160Â°C/325Â°F/gas mark 3 for 3 – 3Â½ hours. The cumin seeds give a delicious flavour to the meat. Carve it into thick slices so that everybody gets some cumin. Serve with a light gravy to which a little freshly ground cumin has been added.
To make the gravy: Spoon the fat off the roasting tin. Add the stock into the remaining cooking juices. Boil for a few minutes, stirring and scraping the pan well, to dissolve the caramelised meat juices (I find a small whisk ideal for this). Add the freshly ground cumin. Allow to thicken with a very little roux if you like.
Taste and add salt and freshly ground pepper if necessary. Strain and serve the gravy separately in a gravy boat.
Serve with crusty roast potatoes.
4 ozs (110 g/1 stick) butter
4 ozs (110 g/scant 1 cup) flour
Melt the butter and cook the flour in it for 2 minutes on a low heat, stirring occasionally. Use as required. Roux can be stored in a cool place and used as required or it can be made up on the spot if preferred. It will keep at least a fortnight in a refrigerator.
Traditional mint sauce, made with tender young shoots of fresh mint, takes only minutes to make. For those who are expecting a bright green jelly, real mint sauce has a slightly dull colour and watery texture.
Makes about 175ml (6fl oz/3/4 cup)
Serves about 6
25g (1oz) fresh mint, finely chopped
1 tablespoon (1 American tablespoon + 1 teaspoon) sugar
110ml (4fl oz1/2 cup) boiling water
25ml (1fl oz/1/8 cup) white wine vinegar or freshly squeezed lemon juice
Put the freshly chopped mint and sugar into a sauce boat. Add the boiling water and vinegar or lemon juice. Allow to infuse for 5â€“10 minutes, before serving.
Gratin of Chard and GruyÃ©re
Big and leafy, looking like an exceptionally healthy leaf of spinach and with several colourful varieties, Chard is great. The most well-known variety with its thick white stalk and glossy leaves is sometimes called Swiss chard. The colourful members of the family are the red stemmed Ruby chard and the variety known as Bright Lights or Rainbow chard which has a range of multi coloured stems varying from white, yellow and orange to pink, purple and red. Generally, unless the leaves are tiny, the stalk is removed from the leaf and cooked separately. The cooked leaves and stalks can be served together or as individual dishes. The flavour of the leaf is similar to spinach, but somewhat stronger and earthier in flavour, though the two greens are pretty much interchangeable in any recipe. I like to cut out the stalks or stems from the leaves with a sharp knife to achieve a neat finish. This is another vegetable that needs to be well cooked and there is no flavour or texture advantage to having to chew it when eating it cooked. The tiniest leaves, no more than 8cm long and including the stems, colourful or otherwise sometimes end up in the salad bowl.
This recipe combines the vegetable with gruyere in a gratin and is finished with a crisp bread topping. This dish can be prepared ahead and reheated later. It will make a delicious vegetarian supper dish or to serve with a roast shoulder of lamb or a grilled lamb chop.
3 litres (5 1/4 pints/generous 6 cups) of water
3 teaspoons of salt
2 1/4lb (1kg) chard
30g (1 1/4oz/generous 1/4 stick) butter
30g (1 1/4oz/generous 1/4 cup) flour
300ml (10fl oz/1 1/4 cups) milk
100ml (3 1/2fl oz/scant 1/2 cup) cream
160g (GruyÃ©re cheese, coarsely grated
1 tablespoon (1 American tablespoon + 1 teaspoon) marjoram leaves
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
60g (2 1/2oz) coarse bread sour dough crumbs
3 tablespoons (4 American tablespoons) olive oil
Preheat oven to 200Â°C/400Â°F/Gas Mark 6.
Bring the water to a boil and add the salt. Remove the stalks from the chard with a sharp knife. Cut the stalks against the grain in 2cm (3/4 inch) pieces. Add the stalks to the boiling water and cook at a simmer for about 6 minutes or until nearly tender. Add the leaves to the pot and cook for a further 3 minutes until the leaves and the stalks are both cooked. Strain off all of the water and allow the chard to sit in the strainer to drain off the rest of the water.
Toss the bread crumbs in the olive oil and spread out on to a baking tray and place in the preheated oven for about 15 minutes or until toasted and golden. The crumbs tend to cook unevenly, so you will need to move them around on the tray a couple of times during the cooking. When ready, remove from the oven and reserve for later.
Melt the butter in a small saucepan, add the flour and stir to mix. Cook on a gentle heat for about 3 minutes to cook the flour. You have just made a roux and this mixture will thicken the sauce. Add the milk and cream and bring the mixture to a boil while whisking constantly. The sauce will by now have thickened. Turn the heat down low and allow the sauce to simmer for a further 2 minutes. Remove from the heat and season the sauce with salt and pepper. Add the drained chard to the sauce with 110g (4oz) of the grated gruyÃ©re and the chopped marjoram and mix gently but thoroughly. Taste again and correct seasoning.
Place the mixture in an ovenproof gratin dish and sprinkle on the remaining gruyere and finally the roasted bread crumbs.
The gratin can be put aside for later or reheated now in a moderate oven, 180Â°C/350Â°F/Gas Mark 4 for about 15 to 20 minutes until bubbling and golden. If you are reheating it from cold it will need 30 minutes.
Wild Garlic Soup with Pesto and Flowers
We use the broad leaves of ramps or ramsons for this delicious spring soup.
11/2 ozs (45g/generous 1/4 stick) butter
5 ozs (140g/1 cup) peeled and chopped potatoes
4 ozs (110g/1 cup) peeled and chopped onion
salt and freshly ground pepper
1 1/2 pint (900ml/3 3/4 cups) water or home-made chicken stock or vegetable stock
1/2 pint (300ml/1 1/4 cups) creamy milk
5 ozs (150g/3 cups) chopped wild garlic leaves
Garnish: Wild garlic flowers â€“ use the flowers of which flourish along the roadside.
Melt the butter in heavy bottomed saucepan, when it foams, add the potatoes and onions and toss them until well coated. Sprinkle with salt and freshly ground pepper. Cover and sweat on a gentle heat for 10 minutes.
Meanwhile chop the wild garlic leaves. When the vegetables are almost soft but not coloured add the stock and milk bring to the boil and cook until the potatoes and onions are fully cooked. Add the wild garlic and boil with the lid off for 3-4 minutes approx. until the wild garlic is cooked. Do not overcook or the soup will lose its fresh green colour. Puree the soup in a liquidiser or food processor. Taste and correct seasoning. Serve sprinkled with a few wild garlic flowers.
Rhubarb Meringue Tart
A lovely seasonal recipe from Shaun Hill who now has a restaurant called The Walnut Tree in Monmouthshire, Wales. www.thewalnuttreein.com
300g (11 oz) sweet shortcrust pastry
1 kg (2Â¼ lb) rhubarb, cut into 3cm lengths
3 egg yolks
120g (4 oz) sugar
2 tbsp. plain flour
3 egg whites
3 generous tablespoons caster sugar
Preheat the oven to 200ÂºC/400ÂºF/gas mark 6
Line a 26cm pastry case â€“ preferably with a pop up base â€“ with sweet pastry and bake blind.
The rhubarb goes in next. Then mix together the egg yolks, sugar and flour and spread this over the rhubarb.
Bake in a preheated oven for 10 minutes; this will start the rhubarb cooking.
Meanwhile, whisk the egg whites until stiff. As they stiffen, trickle in the caster sugar.
Take the tart from the oven and spread the meringue on top.
Reduce the heat to 180ÂºC/350ÂºF/gas mark 4 and return the tart to the oven. Bake for a further 25 minutes.
Note: The egg whites must be completely free of imperfections â€“ including yolk â€“ if they are to be successfully whisked. The bowl used must be dry and clean also. Donâ€™t add sugar too early; the whites should already form peaks before you start.