An exciting parcel arrived on my desk today, a present from a past student who wanted me to have a copy of her very first cook book – Abra Berens is the twenty eight Ballymaloe Cooking School student to write a best-selling cook book. It’s called Ruffage, published by Chronicle Books and has just been chosen by the New York Times as one of the Top 10 Books of 2019 – and that’s no mean feat….
Abra did a 12 Week Certificate Course here in 2006. She’s chef at Granor Farm in Three Oaks, Michigan and a co-founder of Bare Knuckle Farm. She’s making quite the impact and strives to connect people with their food both through dinners and progressive food policy, helping to further a food policy where farmers earn a living wage, protect our environment through agriculture and waste as little food as possible…..no doubt influenced by the zero waste policy we do our best to espouse here at the Ballymaloe Cooking School.
A year and half after she left here she took up residence in a forest valley between two cherry orchards on Bare Knuckle Farm in Michigan. She plunged all her savings into the project, worked from dawn till dusk, ate brilliantly but by the end of the first year was so ‘poor and cold’ that she decided to return to Chicago to get a job that paid “in green backs” rather than green leafy vegetables. There was lots of delicious food at the pie shop where she worked but soon she was craving the carrots that seemed to get sweeter with every passing frost, the tiny kale greens that still sprouted from the stalk and the almost obscenely orange-yolked eggs. “Farming changed the way I cook”.
I too, know that feeling, when you sow and tend a seed and wait patiently for it to grow into something to eat you will cook it carefully and lovingly and use every single scrap. You will want everyone to know that you grew it…Furthermore, it gives one a far greater respect and appreciation for those who grow nourishing and wholesome food all for us.
The format of Ruffage is also interesting. It’s not a vegetarian book but Abra has chosen vegetables as the principle ingredient and gives deeply knowledgable advise on how to select, store, prepare, cook and serve them using a variety of cooking techniques. She starts with a pantry section and some essential condiments. There are recipes for each vegetable and suggestions for 3 or 4 delicious variations, and many, many cooking methods, pan roasting, poaching, boiling, sautéing, grilling, oven roasting, braising, confit, frying, stuffed, marinated, baked, caramelized and of course raw.
Who knew, that there so many super exciting ways to serve vegetables, I love this book and plan to stock it in our Farm shop here at the Ballymaloe Cookery School. We don’t have much space so I’m super fussy about what I ask Toby to stock but this is a ‘keeper’.
Here are a few treats to whet your appetite……for the tempting variations you’ll need to order Abra’s book.
Abra Berens Beet-dressed pasta w/golden raisins and poppy seeds
Generally, I use a microwave to warm up my forgotten morning coffee and for little else. But there are other uses. The beets in this recipe will purée to a significantly smoother texture if they are warm. If you have prepared a load of beets earlier in the week and want to make this sauce, simply warm them up in the microwave with a splash of water. Alternatively, if you are cooking loads of beets, it’s smart to make the purée when they are warm out of the oven. It will store in the refrigerator for a week or in the freezer for a good long time.
This pasta salad also works as a cold salad, but often needs an extra pinch of salt, since the flavours will be muted when cold.
35 g golden raisins
Juice of ½ lemon (22 ml)
2 steam-roasted beets (455 g)
60 ml olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
455 g small pasta, bow ties, orecchiette, or penne
10 g poppy seeds
Soak the golden raisins in ½ cup (120 ml) hot water with a squeeze of lemon for 10 minutes or until they are plump. Strain the raisins, saving the water.
In a food processor, purée the beets with the olive oil, raisin water, and a good pinch of salt and pepper until very smooth. If you like dairy, toss in a glug of cream.
Boil the pasta in well-salted water and drain.
Toss the pasta with the beet purée (to warm and coat), soaked raisins, and poppy seeds. Transfer to serving platter or individual bowls. Drizzle with additional olive oil.
Seared duck breast w/brown sugar–vinegar cabbage, roasted potatoes, and herb salad
The richness of duck elevates the commonness of cabbage to fancy dinner status. That said, this dish would be perfectly at home with chicken, pork chops, or seared salmon. Note that if you don’t have the rendered duck fat in the pan, simply pan roast it with olive oil. Also note that if the skin softens while finishing the cabbage salad, simply kiss it in a hot pan or re-crisp under the broiler.
This brown sugar–vinegar sauce lives on my counter, close to the stove, ready to turn up the volume on anything I’m cooking that day. I love this dish because it combines a variety of textures and simultaneously blends rich, comforting flavours with a bright, acidic, herby lightness. I tend to use red cabbage for the colour, but any variety will work.
910 g (or 2 to 3 potatoes per person) Yukon gold or red-skinned potatoes, cut into wedges
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 (170 to 230 g) duck breasts, see Hot Tips
1 head (1.4 kg) red cabbage, cut into ribbons
120 ml brown sugar–vinegar sauce
½ bunch parsley (68 g), roughly chopped
10 sprigs chives, minced (optional)
1 sprig rosemary, minced (optional)
Heat the oven to 425°F (220°C).
Dress the potatoes with a glug of olive oil, a big pinch of salt, and several grinds of black pepper. Transfer to a baking sheet and roast until crispy on the outside and tender on the inside, about 35 minutes. Reserve, rewarming if necessary for the final steps.
Meanwhile, score the skin of the duck breast into either diamonds or slices, trying to avoid cutting the flesh, and season liberally with salt and pepper.
In a large, cold frying pan, place the duck breasts skin-side down and turn on a medium heat. As the heat builds in the frying pan, the fat will render through the cuts in the skin and crisp. Let it go longer than you might think you should. Cook until the skin is brown and crispy, and the meat medium rare, about 15 minutes. Flip the breasts for 4 minutes to cook in the fat. Remove the duck breasts from the pan and let rest for 7 to 10 minutes.
Increase the heat under the frying pan to high and add the cabbage with a pinch of salt to roast in the rendered duck fat. Allow to sizzle and lightly brown, about 7 minutes. Remove from the heat, add the brown sugar–vinegar sauce, and toss to coat well.
Toss the warm potatoes with the dressed cabbage and the parsley, chives, and rosemary (if using).
Place the duck breasts on a serving platter next to the potato-cabbage salad, and serve.
Matchstick salad: turnip, carrots, kohlrabi, w/lemon, Parmesan, and parsley
I like this salad to have similar shaped vegetables. It doesn’t have to be matchsticks; could be wedges or half-moons, or a mix. Bottom line: don’t let the knife work dissuade you from making the salad. As long as you get the vegetables into bite-size units, you’ll be good.
For the variations, you can use the same proportion of vegetables or stick with only turnip or rutabaga. The key is to have a nice dose of fat and brightness to balance the brassica flavour
1 bunch salad turnips (455 g), cut into matchsticks
3 medium turnips or 1 large rutabaga (455 g), ends trimmed, peeled, cut into matchsticks
4 carrots (various colours are nice) (455 g), cut into matchsticks
2 kohlrabi (455 g), ends trimmed, peeled, cut into matchsticks
1 or 2 apples (455 g), unpeeled, cut into matchsticks
2 lemons (90 ml), zest and juice
120 ml olive oil
Big pinch of salt
1 bunch parsley (34 g), roughly chopped
55 g Parmesan, shaved with a vegetable peeler or grater
Dress the vegetables and apples with the lemon zest and juice, olive oil, and salt. Toss all together, and let sit for 10 minutes to lightly marinate. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Add the parsley to the salad, garnish with the Parmesan shavings, and serve.
(All Recipes taken from Ruffage by Abra Berens, published by Chronicle Books. All photographs by to EE Berger)