ArchiveMay 2020

Foods to sustain us…

Covid-19 has galvanised our minds in so many areas.  Being forced to press the ‘Pause Button’ gave many of us the opportunity to re-evaluate our ‘Grab, Gobble and Go’ lifestyle. Comforting food and sitting down together around the kitchen table has taken on a whole new importance… 

The ‘penny’ seems to have really dropped about the value of investing time and energy in sourcing and cooking yummy nourishing meals to boost our immune systems.  During ‘lockdown’, meal times at home are eagerly looked forward to, punctuating the day with delicious comforting food to cheer us up and lift our spirits.

I’m loving the explosion of activity and interest in cooking and baking.  So many parents have not only discovered the joy of cooking a meal themselves but also the excitement and entertainment value of cooking with the kids – boys and girls of virtually every age are making and baking and growing and sowing….

There are many delicious stories of people dropping little gift packages of soups, stews, crusty loaves and all kinds of sweet treats to the gates of neighbours and friends to cheer them up and to the homeless and the front line workers.  Nothing like a ‘care package’ to remind someone that they are remembered and loved and don’t you too feel the joy of sharing?.

We’ve been getting endless recipe requests and lots of queries about foods to boost the immune system during these challenging times.  There’s no quick fix, genetics, age and exercise also play their part as does our interaction with our environment, other people and animals.  Social distancing, although essential in a crisis, to create a more sterile environment can weaken our immune system, a growing concern for many microbiologists at present.

So what foods? 

Invest your money in chemical free organic food and focus on sourcing real food not ‘edible food like substances’.  Garlic has remarkably good antibacterial properties. Vitamin C rich foods like red peppers, you may be surprised to hear have three times more Vitamin C than citrus as well as being a brilliant source of beta carotene (11 times more than green peppers).

Leafy green vegetables have been in short supply over the past few weeks but the new season’s spinach is just ready to pick.  Thanks to Popeye, we all know about iron but spinach is also rich in Vitamin C and E plus flavonoids and carotenoids and is believed to not only boost the immune system but fight cancers too.

Kefir, kombucha, kimchi and sauerkraut are powerhouses of goodness.  Here’s a delicious quick spring onion kimchi, I’ve been loving making it with the new seasons spring onions from the greenhouses. 

In my article a couple of weeks ago, I was telling you about the many good things about young beets, a three in one vegetable but I want to tell you something else, I’ve just learned that the fresh juicy beet leaves are even more nutritious than the beets themselves so don’t waste a scrap.  Here’s a beet leaf salad we’ve been enjoying. 

I also wanted to share a couple of my favourite recipes.  Risotto is a perennial standby in my kitchen, made with organic chicken stock and a vehicle for all kinds of delicious seasonal additions.  Wild garlic is almost over now but young nettle or spinach leaves and sorrel all add extra oomph.  It would be difficult to think of a more comforting versatile and universally loved recipe – definitely one for your repertoire of favourite standbys. 

This recipes for Country  Rhubarb Cake ranks high among my favourite recipes for this time of the year.  This recipe is exactly the one taught to me by my mother more years ago than I like to remember, I haven’t changed any details and every time I make them, I’m transported back to our kitchen in the little village of Cullohill in Co. Laois and I can see Mum in one of her handmade flowery aprons taking the cake out of the oven to delight us when we rushed in from school wondering what would be todays treat – once again a special recipe triggering happy memories. 

And a final thought.  Twelve weeks ago, concerns about food security seemed a million miles away, something that just, might happen in other countries but not in the least relevant to us.  However, for those who queued and trawled the supermarket shelves for flour, fresh yeast, bread soda and baking powder in recent weeks, it now feels like a very relevant issue…

Being ‘locked down’ for several months has given us new insights and more empathy and compassion for others.  We’ve got a taste of how it must feel to be a refugee or asylum seeker, confined and restricted, not being able to work and often not being able to cook or properly socialise with their families.

Issues like climate change, ‘zero waste’ and single-use plastic have become more urgent.  We had become a heedless just ‘Chuck It’ society.  When I was little, not long after the end of the war, one of the biggest crimes one could commit was to waste food. It’s still deep in my DNA, I often get teased because I’m so reluctant to throw away any food.  I’m a ‘lover of leftovers’ and am surprised when people who love food don’t see any problem throwing out tasty morsels that can be the base of another delicious meal.  The Covid-19 experience has forced a rethink in many areas of our lives and it’s no bad thing.  Lockdown has been difficult for everyone and tragic for many, so let’s look for crumbs of comfort and cook together and count our blessings.   

David Tanis’s Quick Scallion Kimchee

Serves 2-4

We’ve got lots and lots of beautiful spring onions at present so I’ve been loving this recipe.  â€˜â€™Although the classic long-fermented cabbage-based kimchee is fairly easy to make, it does take time. This version with scallions is ridiculously simple and ready in a day or two. I learned how to make it from my friend Russell, a Los Angeles–born cook whose Korean mother made it throughout his childhood. Russell serves it to accompany perfectly steamed rice and simple grilled fish, a lovely combination. I like it chopped and stirred into a bowl of brothy ramen-style noodles, or tucked into a ham sandwich’’. 

4 bunches scallions

2 teaspoons salt

4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced

3/4 tablespoon raw sugar or dark brown sugar

1 tablespoon grated ginger

23g Korean red pepper flakes

3/4 tablespoon toasted sesame oil

3/4 tablespoon toasted sesame seeds

3/4 tablespoon fish sauce

3/4 tablespoon rice vinegar

Trim the scallions and cut into 7.5cm (3 inch) lengths. Put them in a glass or ceramic bowl, sprinkle with the salt, and let stand for 10 minutes.

Mix together the garlic, sugar, ginger, red pepper flakes, sesame oil, sesame seeds, fish sauce, and rice vinegar. Add to the scallions and toss well to coat.

Lay a plate over the bowl and leave in a warm place (at least 21°C/70°F) for 24 hours. Or, for a stronger-tasting kimchee, let ripen for up to 72 hours. It will keep for a month, refrigerated.

Beet Green Salad with Carrot, Apple and Candied Walnuts

If you don’t have beet greens, this salad is also delicious with the new seasons spinach.

Serves 6

225g (8oz) fresh young beet greens

225g (8oz) coarsely grated carrot

300g (10oz) coarsely grated dessert apple, e.g. Cox’s Orange Pippin if available

flaky salt and freshly ground pepper

18 walnuts halves


200g (7oz) sugar

110ml (4fl oz) water


2 good teaspoons pure Irish honey

1 tablespoon white wine vinegar


Marigold petals and chive flowers if you have some

First candy the walnuts.

Put the sugar and water into a heavy saucepan.  Stir to dissolve the sugar then cook uncovered without stirring until the syrup caramelised to a chestnut colour.  If sugar crystals form during cooking, brush down the sides of the pan with a wet brush, but do not stir.   Coat the walnuts in hot caramel.  Allow to harden on an oiled Swiss roll tin, in a dry place.  Careful they don’t stick together.

Dissolve the honey in the wine vinegar.  Slice the beet greens and put into a wide bowl.  Add the coarsely grated carrot and apple, mix together and toss in the sweet and sour dressing.  Taste and add a bit more honey or vinegar as required, depending on the sweetness of the apples.

Divide the salad between six plates or bowls, scatter with candied walnuts.  I’ve been sprinkling the salad with a few Marigold petals and chive flowers if available.

Nettle and Sorrel Risotto inspired by a Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall recipe.

Sorrel is a wonderfully sharp, lemony leaf that complements the earthiness of nettles beautifully. You can buy it in some greengrocers, but it’s very easy to grow, and of course you can forage for it. We have both field sorrel and Butler Leaf Sorrel here on our farm in East Cork but Lamb’s Tongue Sorrel grows abundantly in West Cork.  There’s no need to be too precise about the amount, use what you can get.

Serves 2

25 young nettle tops
900ml (1 1/2 pints) vegetable (or chicken) stock, well-flavoured
30g butter, plus extra to dot on top
175g (6oz) onion, peeled and finely chopped
175g (6oz) risotto rice, such as Arborio, Carnaroli, Vilano Nano
sorrel leaves – up to half the quantity of nettles – finely shredded
sea salt and freshly ground pepper
50g (2oz) finely Parmesan or Coolea or other strong hard cheese, plus extra to serve

Rinse the nettles in the cold water, discard the tough stalks. Bring a large pan of well-salted water to a boil. Blanch and refresh for a couple of minutes, then drain. When cool enough to handle, squeeze the nettles to extract as much water as possible and chop finely.

Bring the stock to the boil and keep warm over a low heat. Melt the butter over a medium heat in a heavy saucepan.  Add the chopped onion and sweat for 6 to 8 minutes, until soft and translucent but not coloured. Add the rice, stir to coat all the grains, add a third of the hot stock and bring to a gentle simmer stirring all the time until the stock has been absorbed.  Then add the chopped nettles, keep adding stock a ladleful at a time.  Continue to cook and stir until the rice is al dente (you may not need all the stock) – about 20 minutes in all.  It should be a creamy texture. Stir in the sorrel, and season to taste. Add a little butter to the risotto and sprinkle on the cheese.  Serve straight away, with more grated cheese on the table.

Country Rhubarb Cake 

This traditional rhubarb cake, based on an enriched bread dough, was made all over Ireland and is a treasured memory from my childhood. It would have originally been baked in the bastible or ‘baker’ over the open fire. My mother, who taught me this recipe, varied the filling with the seasons – first rhubarb, then gooseberries, later in the autumn, apples and plums.

Serves 8

350g (12oz) plain flour, plus extra for dusting

pinch of salt

1/2 teaspoon bread soda (bicarbonate of soda)

50g (2oz) caster sugar, plus extra for sprinkling

75g (3oz) butter

1 organic, free-range egg, if possible

165ml (5 1/2fl oz) milk, buttermilk or sour milk

680g (1 1/2lb) rhubarb, finely chopped

170–225g (6–8oz) granulated sugar

beaten organic, free-range egg, to glaze

softly whipped cream and soft brown sugar, to serve

Preheat the oven to 180ºC/350ºF/Gas Mark 4

25cm (10 inch) enamel or Pyrex pie plate

Sieve the flour, salt, bread soda and caster sugar into a bowl and rub in the butter. Whisk the egg and mix with the milk, buttermilk or sour milk. Make a well in the centre of the dry ingredients. Pour in most of the liquid and mix to a soft dough, add the remaining liquid if necessary.

Sprinkle a little flour on the work surface. Turn out the soft dough and pat gently into a round. Divide into two pieces: one should be slightly larger than the other; keep the larger one for the lid.

Dip your fingers in flour. Roll out the smaller piece of pastry to fit the enamel or Pyrex pie plate. Scatter the rhubarb all over the base and sprinkle with the granulated sugar. Brush the edges of the pastry with beaten egg. Roll out the other piece of dough until it is exactly the size to cover the plate, lift it on and press the edges gently to seal them. Don’t worry if you have to patch the soft dough.  Make a hole in the centre for the steam to escape. Brush again with beaten egg and sprinkle with a very small amount of caster sugar.

Bake for 45 minutes – 1 hour or until the rhubarb is soft and the crust is golden. Leave it to sit for 15–20 minutes before serving so that the juice can soak into the crust. Sprinkle with caster sugar. Serve still warm, with a bowl of softly whipped cream and some moist, brown sugar.

Wild Food of the Week

Gorse (Ulex europaeus)

When to pick: flowers in profusion in early Summer but you’ll find some blooms almost all year round. As the old saying goes ‘When the gorse is out of bloom, kissing’s out of fashion!’ The ubiquity of gorse – or furze as it is called in Ireland – around the Irish landscape, meant that is was once widely used as fuel, as fodder, hurleys and walking sticks, for harrowing, for cleaning chimneys, to fuel bakers’ ovens and limekilns. We love a few blossoms added to salad, steeped in boiling water for tea or dropped into a whiskey glass for a fragrant tipple. Look for the spiky bushes growing near the sea, with yellow flowers that stay in bloom nearly all year. Wear gloves to harvest the flowers, as the thorns can be very sharp.

Roger Philip’s Gorse Wine

We love this recipe – it makes a fragrant, slightly effervescent, very refreshing summer drink. It comes from Roger Philip’s Wild Food – a book no serious forager should be without.  

Makes about 4.8 litres (8 pints)

2 litres (3 ½ pints) gorse flowers

About 1 teaspoon general purpose non-GM yeast

1 kg (2.2lbs) granulated sugar

Juice and zest of 2 organic lemons

Juice and zest of 2 organic oranges

Pick nice fresh flowers that have come out fully. Activate the yeast by stirring into a little tepid water. Simmer the flowers in 4.5 litres (1 gallon) water for 15 minutes then dissolve the sugar, pour into a bucket and add citrus juice and zest. Allow to cool to blood heat, add the yeast and let it stand with a cloth over it. After 3 days, strain off the solids and pour into a fermentation jar, fit an airlock and allow it to ferment until it is finished. Rack off into a clean jar, making it up to the full amount with cold boiled water. Leave for a month and then filter, or leave until completely clear then bottle in sterlised bottles.


The focus of this weekend’s Examiner supplement is Sustainability – What could be more timely? But for many of us the word sustainability is confusing and has many interpretations. A loose definition of Sustainable Agriculture might be – farming in sustainable ways which meet societies present food requirements without damaging the environment or compromising the ability for current or future generations to meet their needs.

The past few weeks have amongst many other things, given us a badly needed opportunity to press the Pause Button in our busy lives. I suppose it must be my imagination that Spring and early Summer 2020 was the most beautiful ever. The birds are singing their little hearts out to cheer us up….everything on the farm and in the gardens is green, vibrant and blossoming. Mother Nature seems to be compensating for our misery and despair and reminding us that, given half a chance, she will provide abundance for us. Even in this short time, changes in human behaviour have benefitted the planet – Quieter skies, clearer water, cleaner air, healthier nature, bird and insect populations increasing….

We can’t stay in ‘lockdown’ forever but we now know that we can make massive, rapid changes when we adapt the ways we work and live. When this terrible pandemic is over, we have a chance to change our behavior to offer a secure future, and survivable temperatures to our children and grandchildren, and we MUST. For years now we have heard and largely ignored the scientists and climatologists predictions. We could scarcely comprehend the scale of the threat to the planet and future generations….even if we could absorb the seriousness of the situation, many felt helpless –  It was virtually impossible to believe that Governments and vested interests would ‘step up to the plate’ to implement the changes that needed to be made. Nothing but the Covid 19 enforced change could have achieved so much in such a short time. The pandemic should not have come as such a surprise, something of this magnitude was predicted over and over again, not least by Nostradamus, in Aboriginal Lore and by scientists, yet many Governments failed to listen and prepare.

As the planet became more and more polluted, causing almost irreversible climate change, extreme weather conditions – floods, tornados, cyclones, hurricanes…. We were too distracted and growth obsessed at any price to notice. Food became increasingly less nourishing, compromising our health and immune systems so we are less and less able to survive the increasing number of viruses that are challenging our systems.

I know I’m like a broken record but surely it must now be beyond obvious that there is an urgent need to re-imbed practical cooking and other life skills, including growing food into the national and secondary school curriculum.  No Irish child, boy or girl, must ever again be awarded a Leaving Certificate without being able to prove they can cook for themselves. Otherwise, we are undeniably, failing in our duty of care to our young people, as many helpless 20, 30 and 40 year olds have realised to their cost in the past couple of months.

So how do we practice sustainability in our everyday lives? Once we start to think that way there are a myriad of opportunities. We can make a huge contribution in the way we choose to spend our food euro. Think about each and every item we put into our shopping baskets – really focus on supporting local producers and small businesses as much as possible. Let’s ask ourselves a few basic questions –  Is it in season, does it’s production damage the environment, is it properly nourishing, are the producers being paid a fair price, how about animal welfare,  packaging….After all that am I buying more than I need? Let’s work towards zero waste in every aspect of our lives?

Start to grow some of our own food, even if it’s just a few salad leaves on a windowsill – you can’t imagine the joy and satisfaction…Realize that it’s worth paying a little more for chemical free food – after all it’s surely better to be proactive and invest in our food as medicine rather than paying for meds and food supplements – let’s be proactive. Make your own bread, few things, give more satisfaction. Here’s another super simple recipe that you and your family will enjoy making and eating together.

Basic Shanagarry Brown Soda Bread

This is a more modern version of Soda Bread, couldn’t be simpler, just mix and pour into a well-greased tin.  This bread keeps very well for several days and is also great toasted.

Makes 1 loaf or 3 small loaves (see below for tin sizes)

400g (14ozs) stone ground wholemeal flour

75g (3ozs) white flour, preferably unbleached

1 teaspoon salt

1 level teaspoon bread soda, sieved (Bicarbonate of Soda/Baking Soda)

1 egg, preferably free range

1 tablespoon sunflower oil, unscented

1 teaspoon honey or treacle

425ml (15fl ozs) buttermilk or sourmilk approx.

sunflower or sesame seeds (optional)

Loaf tin 23×12.5x5cm (9x5x2in) OR 3 small loaf tins 5.75 inches (14.6cm) x 3 inches (7.62cm)

Preheat oven to 200ºC / 400ºF / Gas Mark 6.

Put all the dry ingredients including the sieved bread soda into a large bowl, mix well. Whisk the egg, add the oil and honey and buttermilk. Make a well in the centre of the dry ingredients and pour in all the liquid, mix well and add more buttermilk if necessary. The mixture should be soft and slightly sloppy, pour into an oiled tin or tins – using a butter knife, draw a slit down the middle. Sprinkle some sunflower or sesame seeds on the top. Bake for 60 minutes approximately (45-50 minutes for small loaf tins), or until the bread is nice and crusty and sounds hollow when tapped. Cool on a wire rack.


The quantity of buttermilk can vary depending on thickness.  Add 1-2 tablespoons of cream to low-fat buttermilk (optional).

Sri Lankan Beetroot Curry

We love Sri Lankan vegetable curries and their clever use of spices and delicious flavours. Serve as an accompaniment as part of a curry feast or as a dish alone with a salad.

Serves 4

2–3 tablespoons sunflower oil

3 garlic cloves, chopped

50g (2oz) red onion, chopped

5 curry leaves

1 1/2 teaspoons curry powder

8cm (3 1/4 inch) piece of cinnamon stick

500g (18oz) beetroot, peeled and cut into 4cm


10 fenugreek seeds

5 green chillies

225ml (8fl oz) coconut milk, whisked

sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Heat oil in a deep frying pan over a medium heat, add the garlic, onion, curry leaves, curry powder and cinnamon to the pan, stir and cook for 2 minutes.  Then add the beetroot, stir and add the fenugreek seeds, chillies and some salt. Bring to the boil, add the coconut milk and continue to cook for about 20 minutes until the beetroot is tender. Season to taste.

Little New Potatoes with Lovage Mayonnaise

Loveage is a perennial herb with a distinct celery flavor, look out for it in the garden centers when they open it’s a really good thing to have in your garden. We use it in lots of different ways but its particularly delicious added to potato soup or as a flavouring for mayo.

Serves 4-8 depending on whether to be served as a snack, canapé or starter

20 freshly dug tiny new potatoes or larger ones, halved

Flaky sea salt and freshly cracked pepper

Lovage Mayonnaise

Makes 300ml (1⁄2 pint)

2 organic egg yolks

pinch of English mustard or 1⁄4 teaspoon French mustard

1⁄4 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons white wine vinegar

225ml (8fl oz) oil (sunflower or olive oil or a mixture) – we use 175ml (6fl oz) sunflower oil and 50ml (2fl oz) olive oil

1 dessertspoon chopped lovage

Flaky sea salt

First make the lovage mayonnaise. Put the egg yolks into a bowl with the mustard, salt and white wine vinegar. Put the oil into a measure. Take a whisk in one hand and the oil in the other and drip the oil onto the egg yolks, drop by drop, whisking at the same time. Within a minute you will notice that the mixture is beginning to thicken. When this happens you can add the oil a little faster, but don’t get too cheeky or it will suddenly curdle because the egg yolks can only absorb the oil at a certain rate. Taste and add a little more seasoning and vinegar if necessary. Stir in the finely chopped lovage, taste and add more if necessary.

If the mayonnaise curdles, it will suddenly become quite thin, and if left sitting the oil will start to float to the top of the sauce. If this happens you can quite easily rectify the situation by putting another egg yolk or 1–2 tablespoons of boiling water into a clean bowl and whisking in the curdled mayonnaise, a half-teaspoon at a time until it emulsifies again.

Next scrub the potatoes well.  Cook  the potatoes in boiling salted water until just tender, about 10 minutes depending on size. Drain.

Serve warm with a little dollop of mayonnaise on top of each or of each half. Sprinkle with a few flakes of sea salt.

Elderflower Cake with Green Gooseberry Compote

When I’m driving through country lanes in late May or early June, suddenly I spy the elderflower coming into bloom.  Then I know its time to go and search on gooseberry bushes for the hard, green fruit, far too under-ripe at that stage to eat raw, but wonderful cooked in tarts or fools or in this delicious Compote.

Elderflowers have an extraordinary affinity with green gooseberries and by a happy arrangement of nature they are both in season at the same time.

350g (12 oz) soft butter

350g (12oz) caster sugar

4 eggs, preferably free range

350g (12oz) self-raising flour

Elderflower Syrup

2 heads of elderflower

50g (2oz) caster sugar

150ml (5fl oz) water

zest and juice of one unwaxed lemon

We used a round tin with slightly sloping sides –  4cm (1 1/2 inch) deep, bottom diameter 21.5cm (8 1/2 inch), 24cm (9 1/2 inch) across top,  well greased, but a regular 23cm (9 inch) round cake tin will be fine.

Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas Mark 4.

Put the butter, caster sugar, eggs and self-raising flour into a food processor. Whizz for a few seconds to amalgamate. Spread evenly in the well buttered tin. Bake in the preheated oven for 1 hour approx. or until golden brown and well risen.

Meanwhile make the syrup.  Put the sugar and water into a saucepan over a medium heat.  Stir until the sugar dissolves, add the elderflowers, bring to the boil for 5 minutes, remove from the heat and add the lemon zest and juice.  Leave aside to cool.  Strain.

As soon as the cake is cooked, pour all the syrup over the top, leave to cool. (see note at end of recipe)

Remove the cake from the tin and serve with Green Gooseberry and Elderflower Compote and softly whipped cream for dessert.  

A slice of the cake on its own with a cup of tea is also delicious.

Note: If you are serving the cake on its own, only pour half the syrup over it.

Green Gooseberry and Elderflower Compote

Serves 6-8

900g (2lb) green gooseberries

2 or 3 elderflower heads

600ml (1 pint) cold water

450g (1lb) sugar

First top and tail the gooseberries. Tie 2 or 3 elderflower heads in a little square of muslin, put in a stainless steel or enamelled saucepan, add the sugar and cover with cold water. Bring slowly to the boil and continue to boil for 2 minutes. Add the gooseberries and simmer just until the fruit bursts. Allow to get cold. Serve in a pretty bowl and decorate with fresh elderflowers.

Wild and Free

Elderflower – Sambucus nigra – perennial

Joy of joys – elderflowers are back in season. Those of us who live in the Countryside often have elder trees in abundance but this plant grows everywhere and anywhere, in towns, villages, parks, and even a little twig stuck in the ground will root with relative ease. From late Spring to early Summer it produces white fluffy blossoms which turn into elder berries in the Autumn. The leaves, stalks and roots are toxic but although the elder flowers have a musty sort of scent their flavour is magically transformed during cooking to a haunting muscat flavour. We use them in a myriad of different ways in the kitchen. Ederflowers  have a particular affinity with green gooseberries which are in season at the same time.

Good for you – Elder flower is a diuretic, laxative, antiseptic and also has antiviral properties. The flowers are known for their high antioxidant content and vitamin C – important for boosting your immune system.

The Hungry Gap

The Hungry Gap is almost over, that’s the name gardeners traditionally gave to the 3 or 4 weeks between the end of the Winter vegetables – roots, kale and leeks and the beginning of the Summer bounty when there is little or no fresh produce available in gardens and virtually no greens on the supermarket shelves. Well, here at the Ballymaloe Cookery School, our Farm shop has been super busy for the past seven weeks since isolating regulations were introduced. People all over the country are discovering the seasonal treasures in their own parishes, local honey producers, farmhouse cheese makers, fish smokers, poultry and egg producers, charcuterie makers and artisans of all shapes and sizes.

We’re so fortunate to be in the midst of a 100 acre organic farm in East Cork with hens, pigs, cows, a micro diary which yields Jersey milk, home-made butter, buttermilk, yoghurt and thick rich cream everyday. A Bread Shed in a converted mega trailer and a Fermentation Palace in another repurposed trailer, but best of all from the food point of view is an acre block of greenhouses (a relic of a horticultural enterprise which operated right into the 1970’s ) which we now use as a protected garden. Although it’s not heated, the crops mature 2 or 3 weeks earlier than outdoor vegetables and herbs.

I feel elated when the first of the beetroot is ready to harvest. Three super delicious vegetables in one, the beets, stalks and leaves. Most people just think of pickled beetroot but the young beets are unbelievably delicious served as a hot vegetable particularly with a roast duck or a fish gratin. I pickle the stalks too. They cook in a minute or two, drizzle them with extra virgin olive oil and add a little shredded fresh mint for a feast. We add them to stews, fish dishes, on and on.. but certainly don’t waste a scrap.

We also have the first bunches of Spring onions and the new seasons Sturon onions are bigger than a golf ball by now with lots and lots of green leaf. I’ve been melting the sliced bulbs in extra virgin olive oil for 4 or 5 minutes on a gentle heat, then adding every scrap of the sliced greens, some thyme leaves… A gorgeous accompaniment to a main dish or add a good dollop of cream to make an unctuous sauce to accompany a steak. The green spears of asparagus continue to pop up in beds in the garden so do try this asparagus and spring onion tart sometime during the few short weeks when Irish asparagus is in season.   

The pea pods are already forming lots of pea shoots and flowers so we’ll have those in a couple of weeks but guess what – we’ll have some new potatoes ready to harvest and sell this coming week. There’s something especially exciting about the first of the new potatoes, every year when we sit down to enjoy the first of the crop, we make a wish and I remember my parents annual refrain, “Please God, hope we’ll all be as well this time next year”, all the more poignant in the midst of this Covid 19 Pandemic.

We’ve also had the very first globe artichokes this week. Simply cooked, in boiling well salted water with a dash of vinegar. Then served with a little bowl of lemon butter to dip the base of each leaf in and to enjoy the heart in chunks.

We’ve had lots of rhubarb for weeks now,  I eat it in some shape or form almost every day in a sweet or savoury recipe and as a compote for breakfast. A little stewed rhubarb makes a change from apple sauce and cuts the richness of pork deliciously.

We’ve got masses of rhubarb recipes, here’s another one that you might like to try.

Beetroot – Three delicious vegetables in one.

The new seasons beets are just ready to harvest.  The beets are swelling everyday but one can eat them from when they are the size of a table tennis ball.  We love them served hot as a vegetable when they are young and sweet but we use the stalks and leaves too.  The leaves are delicious served fresh in a salad or wilted down like spinach.  The stalks and leaves can be served together as in the Beetroot Tops recipe or the stalks can be blanched, refreshed and drained, then  tossed in a little extra virgin olive oil and some freshly snipped herbs and serve warm or cold.

How to cook Beetroot

Leave 5cm (2 inch) of leaf stalks on top and the whole root on the beet. Hold it under a running tap and wash off the mud with the palms of your hands, so that you don’t damage the skin; otherwise the beetroot will bleed during cooking. Cover with cold water and add a little salt and sugar. Cover the pot, bring to the boil and simmer on top, or in an oven, for 15-20 minutes (in May/June when they are young) depending on size (they can take 1-2 hours in late Autumn and Winter when they are tough). Beetroot are usually cooked if the skin rubs off easily and if they dent when pressed with a finger.  If in doubt test with a skewer or the tip of a knife.  Use in chosen recipe.

Hot Beetroot with Cream and Parsley

Serves 4-6

675g (1 1/2 lbs) beetroot, cooked

15g (1/2oz) butter

salt and freshly ground pepper

a sprinkling of sugar

150-175ml (5-6fl ozs) cream

2 tablespoons of coarsely chopped parsley

Peel the freshly cooked beetroot, use rubber gloves for this operation if you are vain!  Chop the beetroot flesh into cubes.  Melt the butter in a sauté pan, add the beetroot toss, add the cream, allow to bubble for a few minutes.  Season with salt and freshly ground pepper and sugar.  Taste and add a little lemon juice if necessary. Scatter with fresh parsley and serve immediately. 

Beetroot Tops (Stalks and Leaves)

Young beetroot tops are full of flavour and are often unnecessarily discarded; but if you grow your own beetroots, remember to cook the stalks as well. When the leaves are tiny they make a really worthwhile addition to the salad bowl, both in terms of nutrition and flavour. This isn’t worth doing unless you have lovely young leaves. When they become old and slightly wilted, feed them to the hens or add them to the compost.

Serves 4

450g (1lb) fresh beetroot tops

salt and freshly ground pepper

butter or olive oil

Keeping them separate, cut the beetroot stalks and leaves into rough 5cm (2in) pieces. First cook the stalks in boiling salted water (1.8 litres/3 pints water to 1 1⁄2 teaspoons salt) for 2-4 minutes or until tender. Then add the leaves and cook for a further 2–3 minutes. Drain, season and toss in a little butter or olive oil. Serve immediately.

Beet Stalks with Olive Oil and Mint

Prepare and cook the beet stalks as above, drain well. Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil and sprinkle with freshly chopped spearmint. A simple but truly delicious combination.

Beet Leaves

Serves 4-6

In season: May-early June

Here are three different basic methods of cooking beet greens.

900g (2lb) fresh beetroot leaves, with stalks removed (cook stalks separately)

salt, freshly ground pepper and a little freshly grated nutmeg

50-110g (2-4oz) butter

For preparation

Method 1 (Wilted Method)

Wash the prepared beetroot leaves and drain. Melt a scrap of butter in a wide frying pan, toss in as many beetroot leaves as will fit easily, season with salt and freshly ground pepper.  As soon as it wilts and becomes tender, strain off all the liquid, increase the heat and add some butter and freshly grated nutmeg.  Serve immediately.

Method 2 (Buttered Beet Greens)

Wash the prepared beetroot leaves and drain.  Put into a heavy saucepan on a very low heat, season and cover tightly. After a few minutes, stir and replace the lid. As soon as the leaves are cooked, about 5-8 minutes approx., strain off the copious amount of liquid that beetroot releases and press between two plates until almost dry. Chop or puree in a food processor if you like a smooth texture. Increase the heat, add butter, correct the seasoning and add a little freshly grated nutmeg to taste.

Method 3 (Buttered Beet Greens)

Cook the beet greens uncovered in a large saucepan of boiling salted water until soft, 4-5 minutes approx.  Drain and press out all the water. Continue as in method 2.  Method 3 produces fresher coloured leaves.

Beet Greens with Cream

Cook the beet greens by method 2 or 3, drain very well.  Add 225-340ml (8-12fl oz) cream to the beetroot and bring to the boil, stir well and thicken with a little roux if desired, otherwise stir over the heat until the beetroot has absorbed most of the cream.  Season with salt, pepper and freshly grated nutmeg to taste.  Creamed beet greens may be cooked ahead of time and reheated.

Poached Eggs with Beet Greens

A classic dish and one of the most delicious combinations.

Serve freshly poached free-range organic eggs on top of creamed beet greens – one of our favourite lunch or supper dishes.

Globe Artichokes with Melted Butter

Serves 6

Whole Globe artichokes are quite fiddly to eat. First you pull off each leaf separately and dip in the sauce. Eventually you are rewarded for your patience when you come to the heart! Don’t forget to scrape off the tickly ‘choke’; then cut the heart into manageable pieces, sprinkle with a little sea salt before you dip it into the remainder of your sauce.  Simply Delicious!

6 globe artichokes

1.1 litres (2pints) water

2 teaspoons salt

2 teaspoons approx. white wine vinegar

Melted Butter

175g (6oz) butter

1-2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

Some restaurants do very complicated preparation but I merely trim the base just before cooking so the artichokes will sit steadily on the plate, rub the cut end with lemon juice or vinegar to prevent it from discolouring. 

Have a large saucepan of boiling water ready, add 2 teaspoons of vinegar and 2 teaspoons of salt to every 2 pints of water, pop in the artichokes and bring the water back to the boil. Simmer steadily for about 25 minutes. After about 20 minutes you could try testing to see if they are done.  I do this by tugging off one of the larger leaves at the base, it should come away easily, if it doesn’t continue to cook for another 5 – 10 minutes. Remove and drain upside down on a plate.

While they are cooking simply melt the butter and add lemon juice to taste.

To Serve

Put each warm artichoke onto a hot serving plate, serve the sauce or melted butter in a little bowl beside it.  Artichokes are eaten with your fingers, so you might like to provide a finger bowl. A spare plate to collect all the nibbled leaves will also be useful.

Melted Green Onions with Thyme Leaves

We so look forward to cooking the new season’s onions this way.  They are sweet, mild and melting, delicious with all sorts of things, but particularly good with a well-hung sirloin or chump steak or a duck breast.

Serves 6-8

900g (2lbs) young green onions

3 – 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

2 teaspoons thyme leaves

salt and freshly ground pepper

Peel and trim young green onions, leaving the root intact. Slice the white and green parts of the onions into rounds.   Heat the extra virgin olive oil in a heavy-bottomed saucepan and toss the onions in it.  Add the thyme leaves and season with salt and pepper.  Cook over a low heat for about 15 minutes until soft.  Season to taste and serve in a hot vegetable dish.

Asparagus and Spring Onion Tart

Serves 6

Shortcrust Pastry

110g (4ozs) white flour

50g (2oz) butter

1 egg, preferably free-range


150g (5ozs) asparagus, trimmed and with ends peeled

15g (1/2oz) butter

1 tablespoon olive oil

250g (9ozs) onion, finely chopped (we use about half spring onion complete with green tops and half ordinary onion)

110g (4ozs) Irish Cheddar cheese, grated

3 eggs, preferably free-range

110ml (4fl ozs) cream

salt and freshly ground pepper

1 x 18cm (7 inch) quiche tin or 1 x 18cm (7 inch) flan ring

First make the shortcrust pastry. 

Sieve the flour into a bowl and rub in the butter until the mixture resembles coarse breadcrumbs.  Mix in the egg to bind the pastry.  Add a little water if necessary, but don’t make the pastry too sticky.  Chill for 15 minutes. Then roll out the pastry to line the quiche tin or flan ring to a thickness of 3mm (1/8 inch) approx.  Line with greaseproof paper and fill to the top with dried beans and bake blind for approximately 20 minutes in a moderate oven, 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4.  Remove the beans, egg wash the base and return to the oven for 1-2 minutes. This seals the pastry and helps to avoid a ‘soggy bottom’.

Next make the filling. 

Melt the butter, add the olive oil and onions; sweat the onions with a good pinch of salt until soft but not coloured. 

Cook the asparagus in boiling salted water until al dente, then drain.  When it is cool enough to handle, cut into 1cm (1/2 inch) pieces. 

Whisk the eggs in a bowl; add the cream, almost all the cheese, onion and the cooked asparagus.  Season with salt and freshly ground pepper.  Pour into the pastry case, sprinkle the remainder of the cheese on top and bake in a moderate oven 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4, for 40-45 minutes.

Rhubarb and Custard Meringue Tart

Serves 8-10

300g (10oz) sweet shortcrust pastry, chilled made from:

200g (7oz) white flour

100g (3 1/2oz) butter

pinch of salt

1 egg yolk (keep white aside for meringue)

2-3 tablespoons cold water approx.


1 kg (2 1/4lb) red rhubarb, cut into 3cm (1 1/4 inch) lengths

3 egg yolks

120g (scant 4 1/2oz) sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 tablespoons plain flour


3 egg whites

175g (6oz) caster sugar

1 x 26cm (10 1/2 inch) tin, preferably with a pop-up base

Preheat the oven to 200ºC/400°F/Gas Mark 6.

First make the pastry.

Sieve the flour with the salt, cut the butter into cubes and rub into the flour with the fingertips. Keep everything as cool as possible; if the fat is allowed to melt the finished pastry may be tough. When the mixture looks like coarse breadcrumbs, stop.

Whisk the egg yolk and add the water. Take a fork or knife, (whichever you feel most comfortable with) and add just enough liquid to bring the pastry together, then discard the fork and collect it into a ball with your hands, this way you can judge more

accurately if you need a few more drops of liquid. Although rather damp pastry is easier to handle and roll out, the resulting crust can be tough and may well shrink out of shape as the water evaporates in the oven. The drier and more difficult-to-handle pastry will give a crisper shorter crust.

Cover with cling film and chill for half an hour if possible, this will make it less elastic and easier to roll out.  Roll out the pastry and line the tin.  Line with greaseproof paper and fill with baking beans.  Bake ‘blind’ for 20 minutes approx. until the pastry is three-quarters cooked, remove from the oven. Remove the baking beans, brush the base with beaten egg wash and place back in the oven for another 5 minutes.

Slice the rhubarb and spread over the pastry base. 

Whisk together the egg yolks, sugar, vanilla extract and flour and spread over the rhubarb.  Bake in a preheated oven for 10 minutes, this will start the rhubarb cooking.

Meanwhile, whisk the egg whites until fluffy.  As they stiffen, trickle in the caster sugar and continue to whisk until stiff.

Remove the tart from the oven and pipe or spread the meringue on top.

Reduce the heat to 180ºC/350°F/Gas Mark 4, return to the oven.    Bake for a further 25 minutes. 

Cool on a wire rack and serve with softly whipped cream.

Wild and Free

Sweet Cicely

Myrrhis odorata perennial

Sweet Cicely is also known as myrrh. I’ve had this old cottage-garden perennial ever since we designed and planted the formal herb garden in 1986. It’s a little treasure that re-emerges in spring with fern-like leaves and fluffy white flowers. The leaves have a slightly sweet, aniseed and slightly liquorice flavour and help to cut the acidity in fruit tarts. It is known as a ‘sugar saver’.

This is a trouble-free plant that certainly deserves to be better known.

The delicate lacy leaves are particularly pretty as a garnish for sweet dishes and are especially pretty when frosted with egg white and caster sugar.

In the kitchen

All parts of sweet cicely are edible, although we find the leaves the most

appealing. It’s one of the few herbs that can be used for garnishing sweet and some savoury dishes – both the flowers and the herbs can be used. Because the leaves have a sweet aniseedy flavour, one can add them to any poached fruit in quite large quantities to reduce the sugar needed. Jekka McVicar suggests combining with lemon balm to add a haunting flavour. We also love to crystallise the leaves to decorate cakes and desserts. Leaves can be snipped into salads, scrambled eggs and omelettes with a mixture of herbs. I’ve also tried rubbing the leaves on furniture as a polish, particularly for oak, but there are easier ways to polish your furniture. The fluffy white flowers are pretty scattered over summer fruit and salads. The stalks of sweet cicely can be used in ice cream to give an aniseedy flavour, similar to Pernod.

Sweet Cicely Custard

This basic sauce is usually flavoured with a vanilla pod but can be made with any number of other ingredients such as lemon or orange rind or mint.  We love to infuse this custard with sweet cicely.

Serves 6

Makes  1 pint (600ml)  approx.

1 pint (600ml) milk

1oz (25g) sweet cicely leaves and flower heads, crushed slightly

6 organic egg yolks

2ozs (50g) castor sugar

Put the sweet cicely into a saucepan with the  milk.  Bring almost to the boil.

Remove from the heat and leave to infuse for 10 minutes.

Whisk the egg yolks with the sugar until thick and light. Whisk in half the warm milk and then whisk the mixture back into the remaining milk. Cook over a very low heat,  stirring constantly with a straight-ended wooden spoon, until the custard thickens slightly.  Your finger should leave a clear trail when drawn across the back of the spoon.

Remove from the heat at once and strain into a cold bowl.  Cool, cover and chill in a bowl of iced water.  The custard can be kept for up to 2 days in the fridge.

Serve with poached rhubarb or rhubarb tart.

I’ve just seen the most hilarious little video….

I’ve just seen the most hilarious little video on the internet, a tearful ‘Glamour girl’ in despair is talking straight to camera.  She’s suddenly realised that ‘Men are no longer going to be interested in the women with the fake nails because we don’t have them anymore, the eye lash extensions – we can’t get them, I’m gonna run out of make-up soon…Men are going to want a woman who can catch a chicken and take the feathers off of it, or gut a fish or churn some butter or bake a loaf of bread…Can’t do any of it….

2020 is your year Farm Girls, 2020 is for you – Don’t know what I’m going to do…’end of quote.

I’m not sure if it’s ‘for real’ or a clever ‘send-up’ – it certainly has a ring of truth to it. 

Hasn’t this Covid-19 pandemic been quite the leveller, doesn’t matter how rich you are or how many houses you own in the Caribbean, your private jet is grounded, your house maid and cook can’t come to work.  You’ve got to figure out how to work the Hoover yourself and somehow produce 21 meals a week, a nightmare for many….

Academic skills alone aren’t much use in this situation and have left many of us woefully ill equipped to cope during this unexpected crisis which let’s face it was bound to come sooner or later – unfortunately this is unlikely to be a once off… 

So let’s not waste the lessons we’ve learned from this crisis, vitally important to look at how we educate our young people.  Hopefully we’ll see practical cooking embedded in the national curriculum, when we reach the ‘new’ normal.

Meanwhile, it’s a question of survival.  The penny has certainly dropped with many people that nourishing ourselves and our families must be a priority to boost our immune system and help to keep us strong and healthy.  How fortunate that this hugely challenging pandemic is happening in Spring when some at least can get out into the fresh air, sunlight and start to sow seeds to grow some of our own organic food.

A few tips…

Start the day with a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice (preferably organic, OK it’s more expensive but so are meds), it only takes a minute to make and is loaded with Vitamin C.

Porridge is unquestionably the best breakfast cereal, no need to buy any of those sugary cereals, here are a couple of simple recipes for you to make big jars of your own breakfast cereal.  Everyone seems to go on about how breakfast is the most important meal of the day but apparently that ‘fact’ was dreamed up by Kellogg’s when they first launched cornflakes in 1906. 

Many of us only feel like a cup of tea or coffee in the morning, particularly if one eats supper late in the evening.

Unless we are working physically, we seem to need far less food when we are on ‘lockdown’.  If at all possible, it’s good to eat early so one can get a little walk in before bed and hopefully sleep well.  Comforting, one-pot dishes served family-style are easy to make and save on the washing up – often a contentious issue….Good to eliminate as many potential squabble points as possible.

Meanwhile, a couple of little thoughts that have a feel-good factor during Covid-19.

Get out of the house for a 30-minute walk, it’s a mood changer.

Dress your bed.

Put flowers on your kitchen table and beside your bed.

Count your blessings…

Light a candle…

It’s not the same lockdown for everyone…!

Ballymaloe Strawberry Muesli

Serves 6 – 8

The new seasons Irish strawberries have just become available. This is a huge favourite with all our family and friends – its such a good recipe to know about because its made in minutes and so good. We vary the fruit through the seasons – strawberries, raspberries, loganberries, blueberries and grated Cox’s Orange Pippin apples or Ergemont Russet in the Autumn. The nutrients are more bio available to the body if the oats are soaked overnight.

6 tablespoons rolled oatmeal

8 tablespoons water

250g (8oz) fresh strawberries

2-4 teaspoons honey

Soak the oatmeal in the water for 8-10 minutes or better still on the previous evening.  Meanwhile, mash the strawberries roughly with a fork and mix with the oatmeal.  Sweeten to taste with honey, a couple of teaspoons are usually enough but it depends on how sweet the strawberries are.

Serve with pouring cream and soft brown sugar.


Granola is a toasted breakfast cereal, it’s super easy to make in a large batch and will keep fresh for several weeks in a Kilner jar. You can add all types of dried fruit and nuts to the basic recipe and top it with all manner of good things to make it even more nutritious and energy boosting. Try to use organic, chemical free grains, dried fruit and nuts.

Serves 20

12oz (350g) honey or golden syrup

8fl oz (225g) oil e.g. sunflower

1lb 1oz (470g) oat flakes

7oz (200g) barley flakes

7oz (200g) wheat flakes

3 1/2oz (100g) rye flakes

5oz (150g) seedless raisins or sultanas

5oz (150g) peanuts/hazelnuts, or cashew nuts split and roasted

2 3/4oz (70g/1 cup) wheatgerm and /or millet flakes

2oz (50g) chopped apricots, 1/2 cup chopped dates etc. are nice too

toasted sunflower or pumpkin seeds are also delicious

Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4.

Mix oil and honey together in a saucepan, heat just enough to melt the honey.  Mix well into the mixed flakes. Spread thinly on two baking sheets.

Bake in the preheated oven for 20-30 minutes, turning frequently, making sure the edges don’t burn. It should be just golden and toasted, not roasted!

Allow to get cold.  Mix in the raisins or sultanas, roasted nuts, toasted seeds, chopped dates, apricots and wheatgerm.  Store in a screw top jar or a plastic box, keeps for 1-2 weeks.

Serve with sliced banana, milk or yoghurt.

Cod, Hake or Haddock with Dill and Pangrattato – From One Pot Feeds All published by Kyle Publishing

A brilliantly useful master recipe which we use for almost any round fish, such as cod, Pollock, ling, haddock or grey mullet.  This perfect one-pot dish can be cooked ahead and reheated – just make sure there’s lots of cheese sauce, otherwise it’ll be dry and uninteresting instead of juicy and unctuous. Mussels, shrimps, periwinkles or prawns can be added to make for a more elaborate and expensive version. Buttered leeks, piperonata, sautéed mushrooms or tomato fondue are other options – simply put a tablespoon or two either on top of the fish or underneath it in the dish.

Serves 6 – 8

1.1Kg cod, hake, haddock or grey mullet fillets

2 bay leaves

15g butter

600ml whole milk

Approx. 50g roux (made by blending 25g softened butter with 25g plain flour in a small bowl)

¼ teaspoon Dijon mustard

150 – 175g grated Cheddar cheese or 75g grated Parmesan cheese

1 tablespoon chopped dill (optional)

Flaky sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the Pangrattato

50 – 75ml extra virgin olive oil

1 garlic clove, finely chopped

50g soft white breadcrumbs

Preheat the oven to 180°C/gas  mark 4

To make the pangrattato, combine all the ingredients in a little bowl and set aside.

Skin the fish and cut it into 6 or 8 portions. Season with salt and pepper.

Place the bay leaves in a lightly buttered sauté pan or gratin dish and lay the pieces of fish on top. Cover with the milk and bring slowly to the boil. Simmer for 4 – 5 minutes or until the fish changes from translucent to opaque. Remove the fish with a slotted spoon to a plate and set aside.

Bring the milk back to the boil and whisk in the roux to thicken the sauce to a light coating consistency. Stir in the mustard and two-thirds of the grated cheese, and season to taste with salt and pepper. Add the dill, if using.

Return the fish to the pan and sprinkle the remaining cheese over the top, followed by the pangrattato.

Cook in the oven for 15 – 20 minutes or until the fish is heated through and the top is golden brown and crisp. Serve with a salad of organic leaves.

Coconut Curry Chicken and Rice

A quickie that can be put together in a few minutes using your favourite curry powder. For the purpose of this one-pot book, we experimented by adding the rice to the curry close the end of cooking. It works brilliantly and is super delicious.

Serves 6 – 8

900g organic, free range chicken breast or thigh meat, cut into 1cm cubes

25g your favourite curry powder

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

150g onions, thinly sliced

2 garlic cloves, crushed

600ml coconut milk

1 x 400g tin of plum tomatoes, diced and their juice

1 teaspoon granulated sugar

300g basmati rice, soaked for 15 – 30 minutes in cold water and drained

Flaky sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

To Serve

1 lime cut into wedges

Chopped coriander, to serve

4 – 6 spring onions, sliced on the diagonal to garnish

Season the chicken with salt and pepper. Mix together the curry powder and oil in a small bowl. Heat a large saucepan, approx. 25cm in diameter and 10cm deep, over a medium heat, add the curry oil mixture and stir for a  minute or two. Add the onions and garlic and cook gently for 3 minutes until they start to colour.

Add the chicken chunks and toss lightly to coat them with the curry oil mixture. Reduce the heat, cover with a lid and simmer for 3 – 4 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Pour in the coconut milk, add the diced tomatoes and their juice and season with salt, freshly ground black pepper and sugar. Bring to the boil, stirring, and then cover the pan with a lid and simmer gently until the chicken is cooked. Chicken breast should take 5 – 6 minutes; thigh meat will take a little longer, about 10 – 15 minutes. Sprinkle in the rice 6 – 8 minutes before the end of cooking. Remove the pan from the heat and set aside for 7 minutes, tightly covered with the lid, to allow the rice to swell.

To serve, squeeze over some lime juice to taste and sprinkle with fresh coriander and lots of spring onion. Accompany with a bowl of organic salad leaves.

Myrtle’s Compote of Pears

This is a superb recipe – a one pot compote with an intense flavour – which keeps brilliantly in a fridge for a week or more.

Serves 6

6 ripe pears

1 lemon

110g sugar

Halve, peel thinly and core carefully, keeping a good shape.  Put them in a pan which will just fit them nicely.  Add the sugar, a few thin strips of lemon rind and the juice of the lemon.  Cover with a well-fitting lid and cook gently until soft 20-30 minutes.  Cool and serve alone or with softly whipped cream.

Foraged Food – Wild and Free

Rock Samphire (Crithmum maritimum)

Rock samphire grows in little cracks between the rocks by the sea. Years ago, it was much sought after and gathered annually on the higher cliffs, along with gulls’ eggs. We pick it at several local beaches from April to June, before it flowers, after which the flavour becomes petrol-like, bitter and nasty. Never uproot the plants, snip off little fronds with a scissors … 

Rock Samphire with Melted Butter

Serve alone on toast or with fish dishes.

Serves 8 as an accompaniment

225g (8oz) samphire

freshly ground pepper

25–50g (1–2oz) butter

Put the samphire into a saucepan of boiling water, bring back to the boil and simmer for about 3–4 minutes or until tender. Drain off the water (refresh in cold water if serving later), season with freshly ground pepper and toss in butter – no salt because samphire has a natural salty tang.

New Cookbooks I’m Enjoying…

There are some people who can rattle off a book in a few weeks.  For most of us, it takes months, often years to write a cookbook and in some cases the end result is the culmination of a lifetime’s experience and experimentation.

There’s a delicious, Phew moment when you send the manuscript in to your publisher and then there is the anticipation of the publishing date, the subsequent launch, media coverage and book signings but what if the important launch date coincided with the Covid-19 pandemic and subsequent lock-down.

Well, that’s been the experience of several well-known food writers plus others who have written their very first tome.  I’m particularly thinking of Ryan Riley, whose first book ‘Life Kitchen’ was published on the 5th March 2020 and is dedicated to the memory of his mother Krista who died in 2013 from lung cancer.  Ryan was just 18 years old, his life changed immeasurably as he watched her bravely battle through the final months of her illness.  Among the many heart-breaking challenges his mother had to cope with,  he noticed that the ongoing chemotherapy and radiotherapy adversely affected her sense of taste.  Many foods tasted different, Kirsta lost her ability to enjoy food which she had always loved at a time when she most needed the nourishment and comfort.  Ryan’s subsequent story is a fascinating journey from winning £28,000 from an initial £20 in a ‘once off’ foray into a casino with a friend, to setting up a Food Stall in Camden, a spell in publishing and eventually cookery writing and food styling.  He was determined to honour his mother’s memory in some way and became fascinated by the foods that appealed to cancer patient’s tastebuds.  He joined up with Professor Barry Smith, founder of the Centre for Study of the Senses at the University of London.  He was also greatly encouraged by Nigella Lawson and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall who encouraged him to do his first ever class at River Cottage.  Several years and several hundred free Pop-Up classes later, Ryan has established his cooking school in Mowbray Lodge in Sunderland, his home city.

‘Life Kitchen’ is full of recipes, layered with umami flavours that have appealed to the many cancer survivors with whom he works.

Maura O’Connell Foley is another first-time author and her beautifully produced and self-published book, My ‘Wild Atlantic Kitchen’ is the culmination of Maura’s life in food.  She comes from a long line of spirited and entrepreneurial women, known to be ‘great cooks’.  Her mother was a professional cake maker in Frasers Tea and Cake Shop on Haverstock Hill in Hampstead and opened a Tea Shop in Kenmare on her return to Ireland in 1950.  Later Maura cooked alongside her mother in the Purple Heather Tea and Cake Shop, opened the Lime Tree in 1963 and later Pakies on Henry Street.  More recently she bought Shelburne Lodge – which was lovingly restored to a registered guest house.  Maura was also an early member of Euro-toques, and travelled widely to add to her knowledge.  She kept her finger on the pulse of the global food scene. ‘Stáges’ in top restaurants and insights from the many international visitors for whom her multi-award winning restaurant and guest-house are a ‘must visit’ on a trip to Kenmare.

The introduction in ‘My Wild Atlantic Kitchen’ is intriguing, worth the price of the book alone – but the collection of classic recipes are also gems.  Beautiful stylish, delicious and the kind of food that one returns for over and over again.  Maura is much loved and respected as a hugely influential presence on the Irish food scene with her own quintessential style. This comes from a life in food and a love of the beautiful Irish produce from the local farmers, fishermen and artisan producers whom she has supported and showcased on her menu for decades before it became fashionable.  This book is a ‘keeper’ that you’ll return to over and over again. 

Both are available online but try to order from your local bookshop who also need your support more than ever.

Shelburne Lodge Omelette with Gubbeen Chorizo

(From My Wild Atlantic Kitchen, self-published by Maura Foley. Book Design by Eamonn O’Sullivan. Photography by Maria Bell & Lynda Kenny)

I have been serving omelettes since the 1960s and know a good omelette pan is crucial; if you can get a heavy iron omelette pan, they are the best. Fresh organic farm eggs at room temperature seasoned with sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper are another essential. The eggs must not be overmixed, just lightly beaten, and although cream has not been used in my omelettes in the past, I definitely do so now.

For this omelette we use Gubbeen chorizo, which has a distinct and refined flavour. The chorizo is locally produced by Fingal Ferguson in Schull of the Ferguson family famed for their Gubbeen Cheese.

Makes 1 omelette

Generous knob of butter, for cooking

1 tbsp Gubbeen chorizo or good quality chorizo, cut thickly and diced

Few leaves of wild garlic (when in season), plus an extra leaf and the flower to garnish or 1 small garlic clove, finely chopped

1 small cooked potato, diced

1 tsp snipped fresh thyme leaves, plus extra to garnish

3 eggs, seasoned and lightly beaten with a fork

2 tbsp cream

In a heavy-based omelette pan or medium frying pan, melt the butter over a medium heat. Add the chorizo, potato, garlic leaves or garlic and half the thyme leaves and sauté gently for a few minutes until the chorizo starts to crisp. Gently mix the cream into the lightly beaten eggs. Pour the egg mixture into the pan and allow to set and start to coagulate. With a wooden spoon, gently move the cooked outer parts of the omelette into the centre; continue doing this until all the egg is cooked, being careful not to stir too much (the gentler you are, the lighter the finished omelette will be). Sprinkle the remaining thyme leaves over the centre and gently fold the omelette in half in the pan.

Serve immediately, garnishing with garlic leaves and flowers if available or a few fresh thyme leaves.

Prawn & Spinach Pastry with Mousseline Sauce

(From My Wild Atlantic Kitchen, self-published by Maura Foley. Book Design by Eamonn O’Sullivan. Photography by Maria Bell & Lynda Kenny)

The North Atlantic prawns (also known as langoustines or Dublin Bay prawns) are deliciously succulent and the beauty of these prawns is their sweetness. These pastries could never go off my menu! The succulent prawns are the essential ingredient. Aim for the best quality ingredients, it truly makes all the difference. If you can’t source these prawns, you can use mussels instead, and if doing so, add garlic to your wilted spinach. The mousseline sauce is a hollandaise sauce with whipped cream folded in and makes the hollandaise sauce less dense. I use a swift method for my hollandaise, which I learned in the early 1980s from Sonia Stevenson, the first female chef to be awarded a Michelin Star in Britain in 1974. The butter must be hot and foaming, initially added slowly to the food processor.

Makes 8 pastries if using Theo’s Filo Pastry . Number will vary depending on size of sheets.

Prawn and Spinach Filling

285ml of cold water with just a pinch of sea salt

500g fresh or freshly frozen Atlantic Prawns (langoustines), already shelled

500g fresh spinach

55g butter, melted

Noilly Prat Sauce Filling

Prawn poaching liquid

60g butter

30g plain white flour

140ml cream

4 tbsp Noilly Prat

Sea salt and cracked black pepper

8 sheets filo pastry

200g clarified butter, melted and cooled

Mousseline Sauce:

225g butter

2 egg yolks

2 tbsp cold water

1 tbsp fresh lemon juice

1 tbsp fresh whipped cream

Serving suggestions: A few sprigs of fennel, to garnish

Preheat the oven to fan 200°C / fan 400°F/ gas mark 7 with a baking tray inside.

To make the prawn and spinach filling, bring the water to the boil with a pinch of salt in a wide saucepan. Add the prawns and turn off the heat immediately, leaving them to rest in the poaching liquid for 2 minutes or until just cooked. Transfer the prawns to a plate, cover and allow to cool. Reserve the poaching liquid for the Noilly Prat Sauce.
Bring another saucepan of water with a pinch of salt to the boil, plunge in the spinach and stir for 30 seconds or until bright green. Drain and refresh in ice-cold water. Once cold, squeeze out the liquid

from the spinach and toss in the melted butter with sea salt and cracked black pepper to taste.

To make the Noilly Prat Sauce filling, return the prawn poaching liquid to the heat and reduce by two-thirds. In another saucepan, melt the butter over a low heat, then stir in the flour for 3-4 minutes to make a roux. Gradually stir in the reduced poaching liquid, cream and Noilly Prat to a smooth sauce. Season with sea salt and cracked black pepper to taste.
To prepare the pastries, have the melted butter and filo pastry at hand, keeping the pastry well covered in clingfilm. Further cover with a damp tea towel to prevent it from crumbling, but do not allow the tea

towel to touch the pastry directly.
Lay out one sheet of filo and brush with butter, ensuring the sheet is entirely coated with butter right out to the edges.

Lay a second sheet carefully on top for a double layer and brush with butter. Using a sharp knife, cut the pastry lengthways down the centre and then again across to quarter the pastry, which will give you two good sized parcels. Take a heaped spoonful of spinach and place in the centre of the pastry, with a heaped teaspoon of the Noilly Prat sauce on top. Add 3-4 prawns followed by another teaspoon of the Noilly Prat sauce. Fold the long part first from the bottom over the filling.
Brush with butter again, then fold down from the top part. Butter, then fold under the outer sides and butter. Repeat with the remaining filo and filling to make eight parcels in total.

Place the folded filo parcels on the preheated oven tray and bake for about 12-15 minutes or until golden all over.
Baking time will depend on your oven.

To make the mousseline sauce, make the hollandaise egg base by melting the butter in a small saucepan until it starts to boil then remove from the heat. Meanwhile, place the water and yolks in a food processor and blend until pale and fluffy. Very gradually start to pour the hot foaming butter via the funnel into the processor, keeping the motor running, until it starts to emulsify. You can then add the

remaining butter more swiftly while still hot. Add the lemon juice via the funnel and blend. Transfer the mixture into the saucepan

used to melt the butter and fold in the freshly whipped cream.

Serve the pastries with the mousseline sauce and a sprig of fennel to garnish.

Rum & Walnut Tart with Rum Butterscotch Sauce

The recipe has been adapted from one of my favourite cookbooks, Memories of Gascony by Pierre Koffmann. The butterscotch is a very versatile sauce and is delicious with the addition of sea salt. Use calvados or brandy instead of the dark rum if serving with apple-based desserts.

Serves 8

Pâté Sucrée:

125g plain white flour

55g butter, softened

55g icing sugar

Pinch of sea salt

1 egg

Rum Butterscotch Sauce:

30g butter

70g light brown sugar

70g golden syrup

90ml cream

45ml dark Jamaican rum

Walnut Filling:

300g walnuts, roughly chopped

150g caster sugar

120g butter, melted

150g honey

5 egg yolks

100ml cream

50ml dark Jamaican rum

Equipment: 23cm / 9in flan tin

For the pâté sucrée, add the flour, butter, sugar and salt to a food processor and blend to a fine crumb. Use a fork to lightly beat the egg and then add to the food processor and pulse to bring the pastry together. Wrap in clingfilm and chill for 1 hour in the fridge.

To  make the butterscotch sauce, place the butter, sugar and golden syrup in a saucepan over a medium heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar.

Continue to cook to a smooth and shiny syrup. Carefully add the cream (as it will splutter) and stir to combine. Bring to a gentle bubble then simmer for 3 minutes. Add the rum and remove from the heat.

Preheat the oven to fan 160°C / fan 325°F / gas mark 4.

Roll out the pastry to 2-3mm / 0.1in thick and use to line a 23cm / 9in flan tin. Chill for at least 30 minutes in the fridge.

To make the walnut filling, gently mix together the walnuts, sugar, butter, honey, egg yolks, cream and rum in a large bowl. Pour the mixture into the prepared pastry and bake in oven for 50-60 minutes or until golden brown and set with a slight wobble.

Allow to set for at least 1 hour before serving with the butterscotch sauce and if desired some vanilla ice-cream.

Carbonara with Mint and Peas

Life Kitchen by Ryan Riley (Bloomsbury Publishing, £20). Photography by Clare Winfield.

We’ve been teaching this recipe at Life Kitchen since our very first class. Pancetta, parmesan and peas bring that sought-after umami hit, while mint leaves and chilli wake up the senses. And, of course, tagliatelle offers comfort that is so inherent in every bowl of lovely pasta. If you don’t eat meat, crab (another provider of umami) is a worthy substitute.

Serves 4

1 large onion, very roughly chopped

2 garlic cloves

1 red or green chilli, roughly chopped

vegetable or rapeseed oil

200g (7oz) smoked bacon lardons

100g (3 1/2oz) parmesan, grated, plus extra to serve

2 teaspoons salt, plus extra to season

4 eggs

400g (14oz) dried tagliatelle

a large handful of frozen peas

a small handful of mint leaves, torn if large

freshly ground black pepper

Pulse the onion, garlic and chilli in a food processor to finely chop. (Or, finely chop by hand.)

Place a frying pan on a medium–low heat and add a glug of oil. When hot, add the chopped mixture and the lardons and season with salt. Cover with a lid (or use foil) and sweat on a low heat for 20–30 minutes, removing the lid to stir occasionally, until the onions have melted to a golden paste.

Meanwhile, beat together the grated parmesan and the eggs in a bowl and season with salt and pepper.

Bring a pan of water to the boil, add the 2 teaspoons of salt and cook the tagliatelle according to the packet instructions. Two minutes before the end of the cooking time, take 2 ladlefuls of the cooking water and stir it in to the parmesan and egg mixture.

Then, add the frozen peas to the pan with the pasta. When the pasta is cooked, drain it with the peas and tip everything back into the pan.

Add the parmesan and egg mixture and the onion and bacon mixture to the pasta and peas and stir – the sauce will take 2–3 minutes to heat through; just keep stirring and it will turn glossy and coat the pasta. Transfer to a serving dish and scatter over the mint leaves and extra parmesan.

Taste and Flavour Fact

Carbonara is a classic pasta dish, involving several sources of umami and many different textures. The addition of cooling mint, a trigeminal stimulant, offers piquancy, making this version of carbonara especially good for those with a diminished sense of smell.

Paddington Pudding

Life Kitchen by Ryan Riley (Bloomsbury Publishing, £20).

The Life Kitchen classes have touch me so much about my guests’ favourite things to eat when living with cancer.  Something that comes up a lot is marmalade.  This is my marmalade-y take on a bread-and-butter pudding.

Serves 6

6 croissants, halved lengthways

3 tablespoons unsalted butter

8 tablespoons orange marmalade

250g (9oz) vanilla custard

10 cardamom pods, cracked

4 tablespoons caster sugar

1 lemon, zest and juice

Heat the oven to 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4.

Open the halved croissants and butter the bottom halves, then slather on the marmalade.  Replace the tops and tuck the croissants into an ovenproof dish so that they fit snugly. 

Place a saucepan on a medium heat, add the custard and cracked cardamom pods and bring to a gentle boil to help the flavour to infuse.  Remove the pan from the heat and leave the custard to cool slightly, then pour it through a sieve over the croissants, discarding the cardamom pods.

Bake the pudding on the middle shelf of the oven for 30 minutes, until the top is browned.

Mix together the sugar and the lemon zest and juice and sprinkle the mixture over the pudding.  Return the pudding to the oven for 5 minutes to glaze, then serve.

 Wild Food of the Week

Ground-elder (Aegopodium Podagraria)

This pernicious ‘weed’ grows with vigour and enthusiasm in damp, shady places throughout the British Isles. The good news for all of us, including me, is you can eat it and enjoy it all the more because it is such a pest in so many gardens. Ground-elder is best harvested in Spring before it flowers: the young leaves can be added to the green salad bowl and are also delicious cooked like spinach and tossed in butter or extra virgin olive oil. We also make a delicious Forager’s soup with it (see recipe). Herbalists like John Evelyn and Nicholas Culpeper Wrote of its ability to cure gout and sciatica, hence one of its popular names, ‘goutweed’, or ‘bishop’s goutweed’.

Foragers Soup

 Throughout the seasons one can gather wild greens on a walk in the countryside – foraging soon becomes addictive.  Many greens are edible and some are immensely nutritious.  Arm yourself with a good well-illustrated guide and be sure to identify carefully and if in doubt – don’t risk it until you are quite confident.  Don’t overdo the very bitter herbs like dandelion. 

Serves 6

50g (2ozs) butter

110g (4ozs) diced onion

150g (5 ozs) diced potatoes

250g (9ozs) chopped greens – alexanders, nettles, wild sorrel, a few young dandelions, wild garlic, borage leaves, wild rocket, ground elder, beech leaves, chickweed, watercress

600ml (1 pint) light chicken stock

600ml (1 pint) creamy milk

75g (3ozs) chorizo or lardons of streaky bacon

extra virgin olive oil

wild garlic flowers if available

Melt the butter in a heavy bottomed saucepan. When it foams, add potatoes and onions and turn them until well coated. Sprinkle with salt and freshly ground pepper. Cover and sweat on a gentle heat for 10 minutes. When the vegetables are almost soft but not coloured add the hot stock and boiling milk.  Bring back to the boil and cook until the potatoes and onions are fully cooked. Add the greens and boil with the lid off for 2-3 minutes approx. until the greens are just cooked. Do not overcook or the soup will lose its fresh green colour. Purée the soup in a liquidiser. Taste and correct seasoning.

Heat a little oil in a frying pan.  Add the diced chorizo or lardons of streaky bacon, cook over a medium heat until the fat starts to run and the bacon is crisp.  Drain on kitchen paper.  Sprinkle over the soup as you serve.  Use the chorizo oil to drizzle over the soup also and scatter a few wild garlic flowers over the top if available.

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