AuthorDarina Allen

Halloween Cooking Session for all the family…

Trick or Treat is one of the most exciting and fun celebrations of the entire year, I love how kids all over the all over the country spend hours in happy anticipation, plotting and planning their costumes, disguises, scary tricks and wizardry…Can’t bear how their enthusiasm will need to be dampened this year…Poor little dotes….Robbed of their innocent fun because of Covid 19 restrictions. I keep wondering what the kids make of all this, amazingly some seem to just take it in their stride, perhaps they think this is all normal. Others are super anxious depending on how much they overhear from adults, radio, TV…..hard to avoid it…

Well how about a Monster Halloween Cooking Session with spooky music and lots of ghost stories and games. We definitely have to have a barmbrack – soak the fruit in strong Barry’s tea a day or two before and don’t forget to hide the Halloween charms in the fruity batter. If you find a ring in your slice – you’ll be married within the year. The Stick – a bad sign, your partner will beat you. A Rag – bad news too, your destiny is for a life of poverty. A Coin – is a promise of riches. These can also be hidden in a big bowl of colcannon, a traditional Irish Halloween dish – a little needs to be left on the window sill to appease the fairies and chase away the spirits or you could also be in deep trouble.

As children we had a variety Halloween games. Apple bobbing was a favourite, many involved divination and being blindfolded, and then there was the Three Saucers, arranged in a line, one contained water, one clay and the third held a ring. I seem to remember being spun around three times while blindfolded, then reaching out with my hands to touch a saucer. Water meant you were about to embark on an overseas journey, clay meant you would soon go to your grave and yet again the ring indicated matrimony was nigh….but now for fun in the kitchen.

‘Dragons eggs’ are easy and fun to do. Hard boil eggs for 10 minutes, peel them and drop into beetroot pickle juice, they turn a scary purply colour. Any number of spooky, scary shapes and concoctions can be made with children of all ages from a meringue mixture, that we call Púca. How about making these willowy ghosts….Devil’s brains made of popcorn will also be a hit, as will this Cobweb Cake. Buy a giant pumpkin, preferably with a stumpy stem, the kids will have  hours of fun scooping out the seeds and flesh, seeds can be roasted and tossed in extra virgin olive oil and maybe a sprinkling of chilli flakes to nibble as a snack. The flesh can then be used to make a delicious pumpkin soup to serve in the pumpkin shell.

Maybe light a few bonfires in the garden and organise a spooky feast, have a safe and happy Halloween….

Wizard’s Soup in a Pumpkin Shell

Serves 6

1 cup onion, chopped

1 cup potato, chopped

3 cups of pumpkin, chopped

2 tsp thyme leaves, optional

5 cups of chicken or veg stock, or stock and milk mixed

Flaky sea salt and lots of freshly ground black pepper

A pinch of chilli flakes if you fancy

Roasted pumpkin seeds (see recipe)

Served in a hollowed out pumpkin

One can use water, chicken or vegetable stock and season simply with salt and freshly ground pepper.  Complementary fresh herbs or spices may also be added.

Choose a large pumpkin. Carefully remove the lid, preferably with the stump attached. First scoop out all the seeds and filaments. Separate the seeds and toast as below. Scoop out the flesh being careful not to damage the shell. Chop the flesh and use to make the pumpkin soup.

Melt the butter in a heavy bottomed saucepan. When it foams, add potatoes, onions and pumpkin and turn them until well coated. Sprinkle with salt and freshly ground pepper. Cover and sweat on a gentle heat for 10 minutes. Add the boiling stock. Boil until soft and liquidise. Do not overcook or the pumpkin will lose its flavour. Adjust seasoning. Pour the boiling soup in to the pumpkin shell. Cover with the lid and serve hot with some toasted pumpkin seeds on top.

Roasted Pumpkin Seeds

Roast pumpkin seeds with salt or sugar and add them to breakfast cereals, breads or simply nibble to your heart’s content. Alternatively, dry the seed and save for next year’s crop.

Pumpkin seeds

Sea salt

Preheat the oven to 120ºC/250ºF/gas mark 1⁄2.

Remove the seeds from the flesh and rinse under cold water. Lay a single layer on a baking tray and sprinkle with a generous amount of sea salt.

Dry roast in the oven for 30–40 minutes, by which time the seeds should be nice and crunchy.

Halloween Colcannon

Colcannon is another traditional mashed potato dish like Champ, but with kale or cabbage instead of spring onions. It was traditionally eaten at Halloween and shared with the fairies to keep evil spirits away. For another variation try mashed parsnips, a delightful addition.

Serves about 4-6

450g (1lb) Savoy, spring cabbage or kale (kale is the most traditional)

1.3kg (3lb) ‘old’ potatoes, e.g. Golden Wonders or Kerr’s Pinks

about 225ml (8fl oz) milk

salt and freshly ground pepper

50g (2oz) butter

Scrub the potatoes, put them in a saucepan of cold water, add a good pinch of salt and bring to the boil. When the potatoes are half-cooked after about 15 minutes, strain off two-thirds of the water, replace the lid on the saucepan and put onto a gentle heat, leaving the potatoes to steam until they are cooked.

Meanwhile, if using cabbage, remove the dark outer leaves, wash the remainder, cut it into quarters, remove the core and cut finely across the grain. Boil in a little boiling water or bacon cooking water until soft. Drain and season with salt, freshly ground pepper and a little butter.

When the potatoes are just cooked, put the milk and the finely chopped shallots into a saucepan and bring to the boil. Pull the peel off the potatoes and discard. Mash the potatoes quickly, while they are still warm, and beat in enough boiling milk to make a fluffy purée. (If you have a large quantity, put the potatoes in the bowl of a food mixer and beat with the spade.) Then stir in the cooked cabbage and taste for seasoning. For perfection, serve immediately in a hot dish with a lump of butter melting in the centre.

Colcannon may be prepared ahead up to this point and reheated later in a moderate oven 180ºC/350ºF/gas mark 4, for 20–25 minutes. Cover while reheating so it doesn’t get too crusty on top.

Dragon’s Eggs

Makes 8

Pickled Beetroot Juice (see recipe)

8 eggs, hard boiled

Homemade Mayo

Watercress

First cook the eggs. Bring a deep saucepan of water to the boil, lower the eggs carefully into the boiling water, ten minutes from the time the water returns to the boil will be adequate. Drop into a bowl of cold water and run under tap with completely cold water. Peel, fill into sterilized Kilner or preserving jars and cover with beetroot pickle juice (see below). Allow to macerate for 2-3 days before using.

Serve with mayonnaise on a bed of watercress.

Note: the beetroot pickle dyes the egg white a scary purple colour

Halloween Pickled Beetroot

Serves 5-6

1lb (450g) cooked beetroot (see below)

8oz (225g/1 cup) sugar

16fl oz (475ml/2 cups) water

1 onion, peeled and thinly sliced (optional)

8fl oz (225ml/1 cup) white wine vinegar

Dissolve the sugar in water, bringing it to the boil. Add the sliced onion and simmer for 3-4 minutes. Add the vinegar, pour over the peeled, sliced (diced or cut into wedges) beet and leave to cool.

Note: The onion can be omitted if desired.

Leave 2 inches (5cm) 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 1-2 hours depending on size. 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.

Dracula’s Cheesy Brains

Flavour popcorn with grated Parmesan or Cheddar, mustard and cayenne pepper, then shape into ‘brains’ and serve at Halloween as part of a spooky spread.

Enough for 12 ish

1 ½ tablespoons (2 American tablespoons) vegetable oil, plus extra for shaping.

125g (4 1/2 oz) popcorn

400g (14oz) finely grated Parmesan and Cheddar cheese

Few pinches cayenne pepper

Heat the oil in a large saucepan (or do in two batches). Tip in the popcorn, cover and shake the pan to coat the kernels. Cook over a medium heat until the corn stops to pop, about 4 – 5 minutes, shaking the pan every so often. Take off heat and sprinkle with a little salt.

Mix finely grated  Parmesan, Cheddar cheese and a pinch of cayenne pepper. Toss over the popcorn and mix well until completely coated.

These can be made a few hours before serving.

Spooky Meringue  Púcas

A Púca means ghost or spirit in Gaelic – primarily a creature of Celtic folklore, so easy and fun to make.

Serves 4-6

2 egg whites

110g (4oz/1/2 cup) castor sugar

You will need a piping bag with a plain ‘éclair nozzle’.

Beat whites until stiff but not yet dry.  Fold in half the sugar.  Beat again until the mixture will stand in a firm dry peak.  Fold the remaining sugar in carefully.  Fill into the piping bag.  Cover a couple of baking sheets with parchment paper.  Pipe a small blob of the meringue onto the paper pulling the piping bag upwards quickly to create a willowy point.     

Bake in a very low oven, 100ºC/200ºF/Gas Mark 1/4 for 4 hours approx.  Allow to cool completely.

Meanwhile, melt some chocolate and fill into a paper piping bag.  Decorate the meringues by piping little dots for eyes and a little oval for a scary mouth. Arrange on an appropriate plate, maybe on a bed of edible soil (see recipe below) with wood sorrel dotted here and there.

Serve with a bowl of softly whipped cream. 

Chocolate Soil… sounds scary but it tastes delicious

100g (3 1/2oz) caster sugar

2 tablespoons water

75g (3oz) dark chocolate chopped or grated into small chunks

In a saucepan on a medium to high heat place the sugar and water, give it a stir but try not get any water crystals on the side. The sugar will melt and start to boil and bubble. You want the mixture to reach to 135C. If you don’t have a thermometer the mixture will start to turn a golden brown.

At this stage you want to work fast and pour the chocolate mix into the pot while whisking. It will dry out and turn to soil almost immediately. Magic. Cool on a nonstick baking tray. It keeps for ages.

Scary Strawberry Ghosts

Another simple recipe to make with the kids for their Halloween feast.

Makes 20

20 Large strawberries

100g best quality white chocolate

100g dark chocolate

Lay a sheet of parchment paper on a tray. Put the white chocolate into a small pyrex bowl over a saucepan of cold water. Bring to the boil and turn off the heat immediately (the water should not touch the base of the bowl). Allow to site until the chocolate melts.

Catch each strawberry by the calyx and dip in the melted chocolate until the fruit is almost fully submerged. Allow to develop a drip at the base, then lay each on its side on the parchment paper.

Meanwhile melt some dark chocolate also. Fill into a parchment piping bag, decorate each strawberry with eyes and a smile or a frown – can be a happy, sad or scary face, all part of the fun….

Good to know: a toothpick dipped in the dark chocolate also works well to create the expressions. Enjoy!

Spider Web Cake

Lovely and delicious as it is, but even spookier if you top it with pucas and spiders…!

Serves 8

175g (6oz) soft butter

150g (5oz) castor sugar

3 eggs, preferably free range

175g (6oz) self-raising flour

Chocolate Icing

175g (6oz) icing sugar

50g (2oz) unsweetened cocoa powder

75g (3oz) butter

75ml (3fl oz) water

75g (3oz) caster sugar

Lemon Glacé Icing

110g (4oz) icing sugar

1-2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

1 x 20.5cm (8 inch) sandwich tin buttered and floured.  Line the base of the tin with parchment paper.

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

Put the soft butter, castor sugar, eggs and self-raising flour into the bowl of a food processor. Whizz for a few seconds to amalgamate and turn into the prepared tin – make a dip in the centre so it rises evenly. Bake in the preheated oven for 25-30 minutes approx. or until golden brown and well risen.

Cool in the tin for a few minutes, remove and cool on a wire rack.

Next make the chocolate icing.  Sieve the icing sugar and cocoa powder into a mixing bowl. Measure the butter, water and sugar into a saucepan. Set over a low heat and stir until the sugar has dissolved and the butter is melted. Bring just to the boil, then draw off the heat and pour at once into the sifted ingredients. Beat with a wooden spoon until the mixture is smooth and glossy. It will thicken as it cools.

For the lemon glace icing. Sieve the icing sugar into a bowl.   Add enough lemon juice to make a softish icing.

Pour the chocolate icing over the cake and allow to drip down over the side. Meanwhile, fill a paper piping bag with a fluid glace icing, fold over the top, snip off the point to make a writing pipe.

Quickly, pipe a continuous circle from the centre to the outside. Then use a cocktail stick to draw the icing inwards and outwards to create a spider’s web.

Decorate with spiders and púcas if available and serve on a Halloween plate or cake stand.

Yotam Ottolenghi’s latest book is full of Flavour…

Yotam Ottolenghi is a paradigm shifting force on the global food scene. His new book FLAVOUR is quite the revelation and I certainly don’t use that word lightly. Even though Yotam is not a vegetarian, he has been celebrating and singing the praises of vegetables for decades and is on a mission to present them in new and exciting ways.  He and his team have been testing, tasting and sharing the many recipes they have devised to ramp up and create new flavours that totally banish our concept of traditional vegetables.

Although his six restaurants all across London are not vegetarian, vegetables feature abundantly on the menus. He’s written and co-authored seven cookbooks thus far

Among them, PLENTY which was published in 2010, PLENTY MORE in 2014,  FLAVOUR is the most recent book in the series, Yotam teamed up with Ixta Belfarge who is equally obsessed with vegetables. Her journey to the world of food via Mexico City, Brazil, France, Tuscany and Australia was complex and varied, she even had a market stall in London for a spell and eventually got a job at Nopi, one of Yotam’s restaurants.

Her eclectic cooking is deeply engrained in the cultures she absorbed during her travel over the years.

The third contributor to this inspirational book was Ballymaloe Cookery School Alumni, Tara Wigley. She cooks and writes like an angel and also collaborated with Yotam’s business partner Sami Tamini on his recent book Falastin (see Examiner article 26th September 2020)

So why am I waxing lyrical about FLAVOUR – Well, for a start I’ve been cooking all of my adult life and a good part of my childhood, I live on an organic farm, I too love vegetables and I am fortunate to have access to beautiful freshly harvested produce throughout the year. Since 1983, I have taught thousands of students here at the Ballymaloe Cookery School since and thus far written nineteen cookbooks. Yet, Yotam and Ixta have introduced me to a myriad of new ways to add hitherto undreamt of flavours to our favourite vegetables. Cauliflower, celeriac, even carrots and cabbage will never be the same again.

How do they do it? – well you’ll need to buy the book to discover all the secrets but a few hints, Yotam and Ixta introduce us to a series of twenty essential ingredients to add extra oomph – I’ve got to add Guachong chilli paste to my larder! Furthermore to add extra magic they hone in on four processes, charring, browning, infusing and ageing and there’s more…

Pop into your local bookshop – FLAVOUR is published by Ebury Press. Treat yourself and maybe pick up an extra copy for a friend who loves to cook. Once again, here are a couple of recipes to illustrate how common vegetables and pulses can be utterly transformed.

Ottolenghi’s Cauliflower Roasted in Chilli Butter

Serves four

2 large whole cauliflowers, with leaves (1.9kg)

2 onions, peeled and cut into eighths

8 red chillies, whole with a vertical slit cut into them

1 lemon, cut into wedges, to serve

Salt

Chilli butter

120g unsalted butter, melted (or 120ml olive oil, if you want to keep it vegan)

110ml olive oil

1 ¼ tbsp. red bell pepper flakes

2 ½ tsp tomato paste

1 ¼ Urfa chilli flakes

90g rose harissa (adjust according to the brand you are using)

¾ tsp Aleppo chilli flakes (or 1/3 tsp regular chilli flakes)

3 garlic cloves, crushed

1 ½ tsp caster sugar

Trim the leaves at the top of each cauliflower, so that about 5cm of the actual cauliflower is exposed. Cut both cauliflowers into quarters lengthways, making sure the leaves remain attached at the base.

Fill a very large pan (large enough to fit all the cauliflower quarters) with well-salted water and bring to the boil. Once boiling, blanch the cauliflower quarters for 2 minutes, weighing them down with a lid a little smaller than the pan to ensure they stay submerged. Transfer to a colander to drain well. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius fan.

Mix all the ingredients for the chilli butter together in a small bowl with 1 teaspoon of salt. Place the cauliflower quarters, onions and chillies on a very large, parchment-lined baking tray and pour over the chilli butter. Carefully mix to make sure everything is very well coated (gloved hands are best for this). Arrange the cauliflower quarters so they are spaced apart as much as possible; one of the cut sides of each quarter should face down, so the leaves are exposed. Roast for 30 minutes, baste well, then turn the heat down to 170 degrees Celsius fan and continue to roast for another 35-40 minutes, basting twice, until the cauliflower is very well browned and the leaves are crispy.

Transfer everything to a platter, spooning over the remaining chilli butter and browned aromatics from the baking tray. Serve at once, with the lemon wedges alongside.

(From Flavour by Yotam Ottolenghi and Ixta Belfrage, published by Ebury Press)

Ottolenghi’s Curried Carrot Mash with Brown Butter

Serves four as a side dish or six as a dip

1-2 red chillies, finely sliced into rounds (deseeded for less heat)

1 ½ tbsp white wine vinegar

½ tsp caster sugar

800g carrots (that’s roughly 8), peeled and roughly chopped into 2cm pieces

2 tbsp olive oil

1 tsp medium curry powder

¼ tsp ground cinnamon

30g unsalted butter (or 2 tbsp olive oil)

5g fresh ginger, peeled and julienned

½ tsp nigella seeds

½ fennel seeds

½ tsp cumin seeds

½ tbsp lime juice

1 spring onion, trimmed and julienned (10g)

5g mint leaves, finely shredded

Salt

Put the chillies, vinegar and sugar into a small bowl with ¼ tsp of salt, massage together and set aside to pickle for at least 30 minutes.

Put the carrots into a steaming basket or colander, place on a high heat, cover with a lid and steam for about 25 minutes, or until you can cut through them easily with a knife. Put the carrots into the bowl of a food processor with the oil, curry powder, cinnamon and 1 teaspoon of salt, and blitz for about a minute until you get a semi-smooth mash (it should still have some texture and not be completely smooth).

While the carrots are steaming, put the butter, ginger and nigella, fennel and cumin seeds, with a generous pinch of salt, into a small saucepan on a medium heat. Gently cook for 3-5 minutes, stirring occasionally until the butter begins to foam and turn light brown and the seeds become fragrant. Set aside until ready to serve. You may need to gently melt the butter again when you’re plating, if it has set.

Spoon the mash on to a large platter, creating dips with the back of the spoon. Drizzle over the butter with the ginger and seeds, followed by the lime juice. Drain the pickled chillies well and scatter them over the mash. Finish with the spring onions and mint and serve warm.

(From Flavour by Yotam Ottolenghi and Ixta Belfrage, published by Ebury Press)

Ottolenghi’s Curry-Crusted Swede Steaks

2-3 swedes (1.8kg), peeled and cut widthways into 8 (total) 3cm-thick steaks

120g crème fraiche (or coconut yoghurt)

Salt

Fenugreek Marinade

1 ½ tbsp fenugreek seeds

6 small garlic cloves, peeled and roughly chopped (25g)

1 ½ tsp cayenne pepper

1 ½ tsp ground turmeric

2 tsp caster sugar

2 tbsp lime juice

75ml olive oil

Salad

3-4 ruby grapefruits (750g unpeeled weight)

1-2 banana shallots, finely sliced on a mandolin, if you have one, or by hand (70g)

2 red chillies, finely sliced into rounds

20g picked mint leaves

10g picked coriander leaves

2 tsp olive oil

2 limes : juice to get 1 tbsp, then cut into wedges to serves

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius fan.

For the marinade, put all the ingredients into a spice grinder or the small bowl of a processor with ¾ teaspoon of salt and blitz to a paste, scraping the sides as you go if necessary. Put 2 teaspoons of the marinade into a small serving bowl and set aside.

Put the remaining marinade into a large bowl with the swede steaks and mix well to coat all sides (this is easiest with gloved hands). Place the steaks, spaced apart, on a large, parchment-lined baking tray. Cover tightly with foil and roast for 1 hour and 20 minutes. Remove the foil, turn the oven to the grill setting, and grill for 3-4 minutes, until the swede is cooked through and the marinade has turned into a golden-brown crust.

When the swede is nearly cooked, prepare the salad. Cut the grapefruits into thin wedges by removing the skin and the white pith, then release the segments by cutting in between the white membrane, discarding any pips. Put the wedges into a large bowl, avoiding the juice (which can be kept for another use).

When you’re ready to serve, add all the remaining salad ingredients to the bowl with a generous pinch of salt and gently mix together.

Arrange the steaks and any marinade left on the tray on a large platter with the salad (or plate individually). Swirl the crème fraiche into the remaining marinade and serve alongside the steaks, with the lime wedges squeezed on top.

(From Flavour by Yotam Ottolenghi and Ixta Belfrage, published by Ebury Press)

Ottolenghi’s Whole Roasted Celeriac

1 large celeriac, hairy roots discarded (no need to peel) and scrubbed clean (900g)

60ml olive oil

Flaked sea salt

Preheat the oven to 170 degrees Celsius fan.

Pierce the celeriac with a fork all over about 40 times and place on a parchment-lined baking tray. Mix the oil and 1 ½ teaspoons of flaked salt, then rub the celeriac generously with the oil mixture. Roast for a minimum of 2 ¼ hours, or up to 2 ¾ hours, depending on the size of you celeriac, basting every 20 minutes or so, until the celeriac is deeply browned, soft all the way through and oozes a celeriac caramel.

Leave to rest for 15 minutes, then cut into either wedges or steaks brushing each cut side with the oil and caramel left on the tray (you may need to add a little more oil if there isn’t enough to coat the cut sides).

(From Flavour by Yotam Ottolenghi and Ixta Belfrage, published by Ebury Press)

Ottolenghi’s Celeriac Steaks with Café de Paris Sauce

Serves four as a main

2 whole roasted celeriac (double the master recipe), each cut widthways into 2 1/2 cm thick steaks

Flaked sea salt and black pepper

Café de Paris Sauce

110g unsalted butter, cut into 2cm cubes

1 small banana shallot, finely chopped (25g)

1 garlic clove, crushed

3 anchovy fillets in olive oil, drained and finely chopped (optional, but adjust seasoning if not using)

½ tsp medium curry powder

¼ tsp cayenne pepper

1 tbsp mustard seeds

1tbsp baby capers

2 tbsp chives, finely chopped

2 tbsp tarragon leaves, finely chopped

1 tbsp parsley, finely chopped

2 tsp thyme leaves

110ml single or whipping cream

2 tsp lemon juice

Put the first seven ingredients for the sauce and ¼ teaspoon of flaked salt into a small saucepan on a medium heat. Cook for about 6 minutes, swirling the pan until the shallots have softened and the butter has melted and become golden and caramelized. Add the capers, herbs and a very generous grind of pepper and continue to cook for 1 minute, then remove from the heat.

Turn the oven to its highest grill setting. Arrange the celeriac steaks, spaced apart, on a large parchment-lined baking tray big enough to fit the slices in a single layer. The steaks should have been brushed with their cooking oil and celeriac caramel by this point, but if not, brush with some olive oil and a little maple syrup or honey. Make sure there is not overhanging parchment that could burn. Grill the steaks on the top shelf of the oven, until they are golden-brown on top, 6-8 minutes. Turn the oven off, keeping the tray warm in the oven until you’re ready to serve.

Return the sauce to a medium heat and gently cook for a minute, then add the cream and lemon juice. Swirl for another 2 minutes or until warm, but don’t over mix it too much – you want the sauce to be split, not emulsified.

Pour the sauce on to a large platter with a lip and arrange the celeriac steaks on top (or plate individually with some sauce poured on top and the rest served alongside). Sprinkle the steaks with a little flaked salt and black pepper, and serve.

(From Flavour by Yotam Ottolenghi and Ixta Belfrage, published by Ebury Press)

Ottolenghi’s Hispi Cabbage with Nam Prik

Page 44

Serves six as a side

2 pointed cabbages (aka hispi or sweetheart cabbage), quartered, lengthways (1.6kg)

3 tbsp sunflower oil

5g coriander, finely chopped

1 lime, cut into wedges to serve

Flaked sea salt

Nam Prik

20g fresh galangal (or ginger, as a substitute), peeled and roughly chopped

1 small garlic clove, peeled

1 tbsp fish sauce (or light soy sauce)

1 ½ tsp Aleppo chilli flakes (or ¾ tsp regular chilli flakes)

1 tbsp shop-bought tamarind paste, or double if you’re extracting it yourself from pulp

1 ¼ tsp soft light brown sugar

50g cherry tomatoes

1 ½ tbsp lime juice

1 tsp sunflower oil

To make the nam prik, put the galangal and garlic into the small bowl of a food processor and blitz well. Add all the remaining ingredients and pulse until combined and finely chopped but not completely smooth. Transfer to a small bowl and set aside until ready to serve.

Toss the cabbage with the oil and 1 teaspoon of flaked salt. Place on a very hot barbeque or griddle pan and grill for 4-5 minutes on each side (i.e. 12-15 minutes in total), until the cabbage softens on the outside, while still retaining a crunch, and you get clear grill marks. Transfer to a platter. Add the coriander to the nam prik and spoon the mixture evenly over the cabbage pieces. Serve either warm or at room temperature, with the lime wedges alongside.

(From Flavour by Yotam Ottolenghi and Ixta Belfrage, published by Ebury Press)

How about some cake….

How about a delicious homemade cake to cheer us all up? I’ve just realised that it’s been several years since I actually wrote a column on cakes, so it’s high time to share some of my favourite sweet treats and new finds.

Who doesn’t love a slice of delicious cake and a cup of tea, even while we need to observe strict social distancing. Recently, I met a lady who confided that she had never made a cake in her entire life…..she had absolutely no idea where to start, it was a complete mystery to her.

She was over the moon with delight when she baked her very first cake while she as with us here at the Ballymaloe Cookery School for a class. We showed her just how easy it was to make a super delicious cake when you follow a good recipe. You can’t imagine how thrilled she was, lots of photos, beaming smiles and such a sense of achievement.

A few little tips to get started:

  1. A couple of spatulas and a wooden spoon.
  2. A wire rack to cool the cake when it comes out of the tin.
  3. A palette knife is useful for icing but not essential.
  4. Buy an accurate scales, baking is an exact science, so weigh all the ingredients meticulously
  5. The finest ingredients make the best cakes, use butter, fresh free range eggs and pure vanilla extract rather than essence which was never ‘next or near’ a vanilla pod in it’s life!

For memorable cakes use chocolate or unsweetened cocoa.

Being pernicity about the quality of the ingredients will really pay dividends and result in something really gorgeous. After all, if you go to the effort of making a cake, it might as well be super delicious!

  • Choose a really good recipe from a trusted source, sounds odd but sadly not all recipes are as carefully tested as they ought to be. Then inexperienced bakers blame themselves rather than the recipe and come to the conclusion that they can’t cook.
  • Equip yourself with some basic equipment and utensils:

A few good tins, a loaf tin 1lb (8x4x3 inches) or 2lb (6x4x3 inches), 2 x 7”or 8” round tins with pop up bases and maybe 19cm round for larger cakes.

  • A food mixer is an advantage but certainly not essential but it does make the job much easier.
  • Equally a food processor is worth the investment and means a cake can be made in mere minutes.
  • A piping bag and a couple of nozzles if you want to get creative.

These few items will get you started – you can add to your baking kit as you go along.

Here are a few tried and tested recipes for some of my favourite cakes and one new addition to our repertoire.

A Classic Coffee Cake with Carmalised Walnuts

This is a splendid recipe for an old-fashioned coffee cake – the sort Mummy made…We still make it regularly and everyone loves it. I’m a real purist about using extract rather than essence in the case of vanilla, but in this cake, I prefer to use coffee essence (which is actually mostly chicory) to real coffee. I’ve used a square tin here but one could use 2 round tins.

Serves 10–12

225g (8oz) soft butter

225g (8oz) caster sugar

4 organic or at least free range eggs

225g (8oz) plain white flour, preferably unbleached

1 teaspoon baking powder

scant 2 tablespoons Camp coffee essence

Coffee Butter Cream for filling

150g (6oz) butter

330g (12oz) icing sugar, sieved

5-6 teaspoons Camp coffee essence

Coffee Glace Icing

450g (1lb) icing sugar

scant 2 tablespoons Camp coffee essence

about 4 tablespoons boiling water

To Decorate

Caramelised Walnuts (see below) or toasted hazelnuts or chocolate covered coffee beans.

2 x 20cm (8in) round sandwich tins.

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

Line the base and sides of the tin with greaseproof or silicone paper. Brush the bottom and sides with melted butter and dust lightly with flour.

Beat the soft butter with a wooden spoon, add the caster sugar and beat until pale in colour and light in texture. Whisk the eggs. Add to the mixture, bit by bit, beating well between each addition.

Sieve the flour with the baking powder and stir gently into the cake mixture. Finally, add in the coffee essence and mix thoroughly.

Spoon the mixture evenly into the prepared tin and bake for 40-45 minutes. When the cake is cooked, the centre will be firm and springy and the edges will have shrunk from the sides of the tin. Leave to rest in the tin for a few minutes before turning out onto a wire rack. Remove the greaseproof paper from the base, then flip over so the top of the cake doesn’t get marked by the wire rack. Leave the cake to cool on the wire rack.

To make the coffee butter cream, whisk the butter with the sieved icing sugar and add the coffee essence. Continue to whisk until light and fluffy.

When cold, cut the cake in half lengthwise, then cut each half horizontally creating rectangular layers, 4 in total. Sandwich each sponge layer together with ½ of the coffee butter cream, forming a loaf shaped cake. Place half of the remaining  buttercream into a piping bag, fitted with a medium star shaped nozzle. Spread the sides and top of the cake thinly with the last of the butter cream and place into the fridge for 10-15 minutes to chill. This technique is called crumb coating.

Next make the Coffee Glace Icing. Sieve the icing sugar and put into a bowl. Add coffee essence and enough boiling water to make it the consistency of a thick cream (careful not to add too much water)

To Decorate:

Remove the cake from the fridge. Pour the glace icing evenly over the top of the cake, gently spreading it down the sides with a palette knife. Allow to set, 30 minutes (approx.). Decorate with piped rosettes of buttercream and garnish with the caramelized walnuts.

Caramelised Walnuts

100g (3 1/2oz) sugar

50ml (2fl oz) cold water

20 walnut halves

225ml (8fl oz) hot water

Dissolve the sugar in the cold water over a gentle heat.  Stir until all the sugar has dissolved, then remove the spoon and continue to simmer until the syrup caramelises to a chestnut colour.  Remove from the heat, dip the walnuts into the hot caramel, and coat each one completely using a fork. Remove to a silicone baking mat, or oiled cake tin, and allow to cool. Once all the walnuts have been coated, Pour the hot water into the saucepan and continue to cook until the caramel dissolves and the sauce is quite smooth. Reduce until it starts to thicken slightly.  Allow to get cold.  This sauce can be used for serving with ice-cream.

Chocolate and Almond Cake with Chocolate Curls

Claudia Roden, one of my favourite cooks and food writers, showed us how to make this delicious flourless cake when she came to the school for the inaugural Ballymaloe Litfest in 2013.   It’s her family’s favourite chocolate cake, not surprising.

Serves 10

150g (5oz) dark chocolate, we use 54%

3 tablespoons water

150g (5oz) unsalted butter, cut into pieces

4 large eggs, separated

100g (3 1/2oz) caster sugar

100g (3 1/2oz) ground almonds

1 teaspoon baking powder

4 tablespoons rum

Topping

100g (4oz) dark bitter chocolate, broken into pieces

100g (4oz) unsalted butter

Preheat the oven to 160°C/310°F/Gas Mark 3.

Line an 8 inch (20.5cm) in diameter spring-form cake tin, with parchment paper.

Heat the chocolate with the water in a Pyrex bowl or small pan that is sitting on top of a pan containing water over a low heat so that the top pan or bowl does not touch the boiling water (this is a double boiler), until almost melted.  Add the butter and let them both melt. 

In a bowl mix the egg yolks, sugar, ground almonds, baking powder and rum very well.  Add the melted chocolate and butter and mix vigorously.  Beat the egg whites until stiff with an electric mixer and fold them into the mixture.

Pour in the cake mixture and bake in an oven preheated to for about 35 – 40 minutes until firm.  Turn out when it is cool.

For the topping, melt the chocolate with the butter in a small bowl over boiling water, let them melt and mix well. Allow to cool until thick and spreadable. Pour over the cake, smoothing around the sides and top.

Chocolate Curls

Melt 5oz (150g) of chocolate in a pan over hot water and stir until smooth. Pour the chocolate onto a flat baking sheet, and tap the tin gently to spread.  Allow to cool. Once cool, using a cheese slice, or the blade of a chopping knife, pull the blade across the chocolate creating “curls” as you go. Use to garnish cakes, mousses or ice-cream

Decorate with chocolate curls and dredge with cocoa powder.

Whisked Sponge Cake with Autumn Berries and Rosewater Cream

Serves 8

4 organic eggs, or free range

110g (4oz) castor sugar

1 teaspoon of pure vanilla extract

110g (4oz) plain white flour

Filling

1-2 tablespoons of homemade raspberry jam

350g (12oz) fresh Autumn berries – raspberries, strawberries, blackberries, blueberries

225ml (8fl oz) double cream

1 tablespoons castor sugar approx. (optional)

1 tablespoon rose blossom water

mint, lemon balm or sweet cicely to decorate

castor sugar for sprinkling on top

2 x 20.5cm (8 inch) tins

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

Grease the tins carefully with melted butter, dust with flour, cut out a circle of greaseproof paper and fit it neatly onto the base of each tin.

Put the eggs, sugar and vanilla extract into a bowl and whisk until it is a pale and fluffy mousse.  When you lift the whisk, make a figure of 8 on top: it should hold its shape for several seconds.  Put the flour into a sieve and sift about one-third gently over the mousse; fold in the flour with a spatula or a long-handled metal spoon (not a wooden spoon) and then sieve in some more; repeat until all the flour is lightly folded in. Turn gently in the prepared tins and bake in the preheated oven, for 20 minutes approx., until cooked.  Turn out on a wire tray, peel off the greaseproof paper and allow to cool.

Once cool, whip the cream to soft peaks, add the castor sugar and rose blossom water. 

Spread the raspberry jam onto the base of each sponge cake. Pile the summer berries on top, and finally spread the cream over the fruit. Place the remaining sponge onto the cream and press gently. Sprinkle castor sugar over the top of cake.

Decorate with fresh mint or sweet cicely and additional summer fruit and a few rose petals if desired. Serve immediately.

Coconut Macaroon Cake

This cake has an irresistible crispy topping – the crumb is moist and rich with coconut and almonds, so needless to say, it will keep well, stored in an airtight tin.

Cake

8 ozs (225g) butter

8 ozs (225g) castor sugar

4 free-range and organic eggs and 1 egg yolk

8 ozs (225g) plain white flour

½ teasp. baking powder

1 oz (25g) ground almonds

1 oz (25g) desiccated coconut

¼ teasp. pure vanilla essence

Macaroon topping

1 egg white

3 ozs (85g) castor sugar

½ oz (15g) desiccated coconut

1 oz (25g) ground almonds

¼ teasp. pure vanilla essence

2-3 ozs (50-85g) flaked almonds

8 inch (20.5cm) tin with sides 2¾ inch (7cm) approx. high

Line the sides and base of the tin.  Preheat the oven to 350F/180C.gas mark 4.

Cream the butter, add the castor sugar and beat until light and fluffy.  Whisk the eggs and egg yolk and add gradually, beating well between each addition.  Add the vanilla essence.  Mix the dry ingredients well and stir in gently.  Turn into the prepared tin.

Next prepare the topping:

Whisk the egg white lightly and fold in the other ingredients.  Spread carefully over the cake mixture in the tin.   Sprinkle with flaked almonds and bake in a moderate oven for 40 mins approx.  Cool in the tin before putting on a wire rack.

Julija’s Lemon Cakes

Makes 6 small mini loaves or 2 pound loaves.

450 g self-raising flour

350 g caster sugar

zest of 4 lemons

6 eggs

200g (3 1/2oz) natural yoghurt

350 g butter, melted and cooled a little to room temperature

Icing 400g (7oz) icing sugar

juice of a lemon approximately

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

Line the tins with baking parchment.

Mix the flour, sugar, lemon zest together in a large mixing bowl.  Beat the eggs into the yoghurt gently, then tip this into the dry ingredients with the melted butter.  Mix together with a wooden spoon or whisk until lump-free, but gently. Divide into cake tins.  Bake in the preheated oven for 35 minutes minutes until a skewer inserted into the cakes comes out clean – the cakes will be quite pale on top still.  Cool for 5 minutes in the tin, then carefully lift onto a wire rack to finish cooling.

To make the icing.

Sift the icing sugar into a bowl and add enough freshly squeezed lemon juice to make a stiffish icing. 

Using a palette knife to spread, ice the lemon cake. Decorate with lemon candied peel or crystallised lemon julienne.

Alternative Icing

Lemon Butter Cream Icing

8oz (225g) soft butter

14oz (400g) icing sugar

1 tablespoon golden syrup

finely grated zest of 1 lemon

Cream the butter and gradually add the sieved icing sugar. Mix thoroughly and stir in the golden syrup and lemon zest using a palette knife to spread onto the cakes.

The Wonder of Oats

Virtually every food writer and journalist who stays at Ballymaloe House raves about the porridge that they serve for breakfast with a generous drizzle of Jersey cream and a sprinkling of soft brown Barbados sugar. It’s not just any old porridge – it’s Macroom oatmeal, lovingly kiln roasted and milled by Donal Creedon at Walton’s Mill, the last surviving stone mill in Ireland. The mill has been in the same family since the 1700’s. Donal, the great, great, great, great grandson of founder, Richard Walton, carefully and respectfully carries on the tradition.

The porridge is sold in the same distinctive red, white and yellow bags – which is somehow reassuring. The oats are gently toasted for up to two days on cast iron plates to give the oatmeal the distinctive toasted flavour we all love. October 10th is World Porridge Day, a good opportunity to remind ourselves of this inexpensive super food which comes to us in many variations – it’s basically one of the great convenience foods of the world.

Long gone are the days of gruel and watery porridge….. So if you are convinced oatmeal is just for breakfast – think again! The texture is deliciously chunky and packed with flavour. Steel cut or what many refer to as pinhead oatmeal, which takes considerably longer to cook.  Jumbo rolled oats and ‘speedie cook’ rolled oats, are also delicious. Oatmeal is not just for breakfast porridge, biscuits and granola. It’s also brilliant in savoury dishes such as savoury porridge with greens.

A past student Alex Hely-Hutchinson, opened a restaurant in London called 26 Grains. The 8 or 9 different types of porridge on their menu, both sweet and savoury have customers queuing every day. 26 Grains was probably inspired by GrØd the porridge paradise in Copenhagen, opened in 2011 in a basement on Jaegerborggade, at that time a distinctively dodgy street with appealingly low rent. Now there are several branches and a GrØd cookbook. They were pretty much ‘skint’ when they opened but manged to afford to buy some oats to make bowls of hot steaming porridge – the rest is history…a huge success story! The menu now includes other comforting food like risotto, dahl and congee and there are now branches all over Denmark.

Oatmeal has a long and fascinating history. It has been grown in Ireland since medieval times, our humid, wet climate suits it. There are many historical references and a wealth of archaeological evidence. Oats were used in gruel, porridges, flatbreads and by all accounts, a not very good beer! The straw and chaff were used in the manufacture of floor covering, baskets, hen roosts and bedding – but back to the kitchen.

To use that much overused term, they are definitely a ‘super food’. Oats are packed with protein, high in soluble fibre, which helps to lower cholesterol and you’ll have noticed that you don’t feel like reaching for a donut at eleven if you have a bowl of porridge for breakfast. Apart from the fibre content which is good for your gut and helps to prevent constipation, it is super filling and satisfying and boosts our energy levels. Oats also contain a wide range of nutrients, vitamin E, essential fatty acids and if you are to believe all the research, helps to prevent cardiovascular disease by lowering your bad LDL cholesterol without affecting the good cholesterol. The high fibre and complex carbs help to stabalize the blood sugar according to the American Cancer Society. The lignans In oats helps to reduce hormone related cancers. Up to relatively recently I was a Jersey cream and soft dark brown sugar devotee but I’ve become much more adventurous (led by my grandchildren and the Ballymaloe Cookery School students example). Think peanut butter and banana, walnuts, Blueberries and maple syrup or Honey, roast almonds, dates and almond butter (it’s all about what you sprinkle on top). Stewed apple or compote with cinnamon. I draw the line at white or dark chocolate chips but suspect that’s a generational thing.

Macroom Oatmeal Porridge

Serves 4

Virtually every morning in Winter I start my day with a bowl of porridge.  Search out Macroom stoneground oatmeal which has the most delicious toasted nutty flavour.  It comes in a lovely old-fashioned red and yellow pack which I hope they never change.

155g (5 1/2ozs) Macroom oatmeal

1.2 litres (2 pints) water

1 level teaspoon salt

Obligatory accompaniment!

Soft brown sugar

Bring 5 cups of water to the boil, sprinkle in the oatmeal, gradually stirring all the time.  Put on a low heat and stir until the water comes to the boil.

Cover and simmer for 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Add the salt and stir again.  Serve with single cream or milk and soft brown sugar melting over the top.

Left over porridge can be stored in a covered container in the fridge – it will reheat perfectly the next day.

Note

If the porridge is waiting, keep covered otherwise it will form a skin which is difficult to dissolve.

Savoury Porridge with Greens

Serves 1

1 clove garlic grated or crushed

Ginger – grated or crushed

Extra virgin olive oil

Fist of greens – kale, chard, spinach, bok choi, mustard or a mixture

A dash of tamari

Pinch chilli flakes – optional

Sesame seeds

Fried Egg – optional

First make the porridge.

Heat the oil in a pan. Add the grated garlic and ginger, stir for a couple of seconds, add the chopped or torn greens. Toss until they wilt, add a few chilli flakes, a dash of tamari (careful it is easy to make it too salty). Taste. Pile on top of the hot porridge. Sprinkle with sesame seeds and even a fried egg if you fancy it and enjoy!

Rachel Allen’s Chewy Seedy Oat and Apricot Bars

Makes about 36 squares

300g (10oz) porridge oats

100g (3 1/2oz) pumpkin or sunflower seeds, or a mixture of the two

50g (2oz) desiccated coconut

50g (2ozcup) plain flour

200g (7oz) butter

200g (7oz) golden syrup

150g (5ozup) soft brown sugar

150g (5oz) cranberries or dried apricots, chopped

125g (4 1/2oz) crunchy peanut butter

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 160°C/325°F/Gas Mark 3.

Line a 23 x 23cm (9 x 9 inch) square cake tin with non-stick baking parchment, leaving a little hanging over the edges for easy removal later.

Place the oats, seeds, coconut and flour in a large bowl and mix together.  Melt the butter and golden syrup together in a saucepan, then mix in the sugar, chopped apricots, peanut butter and vanilla extract.  Pour into the bowl of dry ingredients and mix until evenly combined.

Press this mixture into the prepared tin and bake in the oven for 30 – 40 minutes, or until golden and slightly firm.  Allow to cool in the tin, then remove, still in the paper, and cut into 36 small squares (or cut them depending on whatever size you want them to be).  Store in an air-tight container for up to 1 week.  These will also freeze well.

JR Ryall’s Oatmeal Biscuits

These are the delicious heart shaped oatmeal pastry biscuits that JR Ryall of Ballymaloe House Sweet Trolley fame serves for afternoon tea.
Makes 20-25 approximately

100g (4oz) butter

62g (2 1/2oz) caster sugar

150g (5oz) Flahavan’s porridge oats

50g (2oz) flour

Pinch baking powder

Pinch of salt

Extra caster sugar to sprinkle

Mix the dry ingredients together. Rub in the butter. Press the mixture together to form a dough. This dough is quite brittle and can be tricky to handle. Roll out to 3mm thick, cut into heart shapes and transfer to a lined baking tray. Egg wash each biscuit and sprinkle with caster sugar.

Bake in the preheated oven at 160°C/325°F/Gas Mark 3, for 15 minutes or until golden.

Cool on a wire rack and store in an airtight container.

Sue’s Oatmeal Bread


This recipe surprised me from the start. When Sue Cullinane, one of our great teachers at Ballymaloe told me about this simple bread made from oats, yoghurt and a couple of other ingredients I was not so sure. I was even less sure the first time I tried making it myself as I tipped the heavy dense dough into the tin. But hey presto, after 1 hour in the oven I realised I had a gorgeously nutty and nutritious loaf, not dissimilar to a great brown soda bread.

425g (15oz) rolled oats (not jumbo or pinhead)

3/4 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons bread soda, sifted

2 tablespoons mixed seeds

1 egg

500g (18oz) natural yoghurt

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

Line the base of a 900g (2lb) loaf tin with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, mix the oats, salt, sifted bread soda and the mixed seeds. Make a well in the centre.

Whisk the egg into the yoghurt. Pour the yoghurt and egg mixture into the dry ingredients and mix well. The dough is meant to be dry and sticky at this stage, so don’t worry.

Scoop the dough into the tin and bake for 50 minutes. Turn out of the loaf tin and bake for a further 10 minutes. Allow to cool on a wire rack.

Falastin – A Cookbook

Have you heard of Sami Tamimi? His name may not be all that familiar to you but he is the business partner of Yotam Ottolenghi. The pair are credited with introducing us all to Middle Eastern food and many ingredients that we were hitherto totally unfamiliar with – sumac, za’atar, Aleppo pepper, baharat, sumac, pomegranate molasses, tahini……

The story of how this Palestinian and Israeli met and became firm friends is intriguing, an inspiration to many. Food unites us all and despite the heart breaking political situation, their friendship has endured for over 20 years. They met in 1999 when Sami worked at Baker and Spice in London.

Sami and Yotam run three Ottolenghi branches in Notting Hill, Islington and Belgravia as well as Nopi and Rovi and have co-authored 2 books together, Ottolenghi in 2008 and Jerusalem in 2012.

Sami’s latest book is called Falastin which means Palestine in Arabic. The name is deeply symbolic and for Sami has many interwoven emotions.

Palestinian home cooks and cookbook writers tend to be women who pass the skills and recipes from on generation to another. Sami however lost his mother when he was seven – he spent much of his childhood being shooed out of the kitchen by his aunties and sisters.

For me it’s a fantastic book, it has instant appeal, packed with recipes I really want to dash into the kitchen to cook and share with friends.

Falastin is co-authored with Ballymaloe alumni Tara Wigley who also collaborated with Yotam on his book, Simple.

For Sami, Falastin is a deeply important book full of haunting memories of his mother’s delicious food and Palestine – as Tara wrote – ‘It’s a love letter to his country’. She has been part of the Ottolenghi family since 2010, she turned up on her bike, fresh from a 12 Week Certificate Course here at the Ballymaloe Cookery School.  She had arrived to us in April 2010 with her 18 month old twins and a great big Bosnian dog named Andy. Tara was leaving a decade in publishing, her dream was to combine her love of cooking and writing and it quickly became clear that at Ottolenghi she could have her cake and eat it!

After a few years collaborating with Yotam and Sami on recipe testing, writing and cooking, Tara focused exclusively on writing. She remains a passionate home cook and knows very well how to fill a table with a feast.

It was really hard to pick recipes but here is some to whet your appetite, for me this book comes highly recommended.

Sweet and Spicy Seeds and Nuts

Serves 4 as a snack

2 tbsp light soft brown sugar (20g)

2 tsp flaked sea salt

1 tbsp olive oil

1 tsp mild curry powder

¼ tsp ground turmeric

½ tsp Aleppo chilli flakes (or ¼ tsp regular chilli flakes)

180g raw unsalted cashews

2 tbsp sunflower seeds (20g)

2 tbsp pumpkin seeds (20g)

Preheat the oven to 160 degrees Celsius fan.

Put everything apart from the cashews and seeds into a small saucepan, along with 2 tablespoons of water. Bring to the boil on a medium heat. Stirring often, then add the nuts and seeds. Cook for another 3 minutes or so, stirring constantly until the nuts and seeds are coated in a sticky glaze.

Transfer to a parchment-lined baking tray, then, using a spatula, spread the nuts out so that they’re not stuck together. Bake for 14 minutes, stirring once halfway through, until golden. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool completely, then transfer to a bowl to serve or to a sealed container if making in advance.

(From Falastin by Sami Tamimi and Tara Wigley, published by Ebury Press)

Hummus

I’m just sharing one way but in Falastin Sami and Tara give two ways and lots of toppings.

Serves 6

250g dried chickpeas, soaked overnight in double their volume of water

1 tsp bicarbonate of soda

270g tahini

60ml lemon juice

4 garlic cloves, crushed

100ml ice-cold water

Salt

To make the hummus, drain the chickpeas and place them in a medium saucepan on a high heat. Add the bicarbonate of soda and cook for about 3 minutes, stirring constantly. Add 1½ litres of water and bring to the boil. Cook for about 30 minutes – timing can vary from 20-40 minutes depending on the freshness of the chickpeas – skimming off any foam that appears. The chickpeas are ready when they collapse easily when pressed between thumb and finger: almost but not quite mushy.

Drain the chickpeas and transfer them to a food processor. Process to form a stiff paste and then, with the machine still running, add the tahini, lemon juice, garlic and 1½ teaspoon of salt. Finally, slowly drizzle in the iced water and continue to process for another 5 minutes: this will feel like a long time but it is what is needed to get a very smooth and creamy paste. Transfer to a bowl and set aside at room temperature, until needed. If you are making it in advance then transfer to a sealed container and keep in the fridge. Remove it half an hour before serving, to bring it back to room temperature, and give it a good stir if a ‘skin’ has formed.

When ready to serve, spoon the hummus into individual shallow bowls, creating a slight hollow in the centre of each. Sprinkle with parsley, chilli and mint, if using and serve with a final drizzle of extra virgin olive oil.

(From Falastin by Sami Tamimi and Tara Wigley, published by Ebury Press)

Labneh Balls (Labneh Tabat)

Makes about 50og / 20 balls, to serve 10 as part of a larger spread

900g Greek-style yoghurt (or a combination of 450g goat’s yoghurt and 450g Greek-style yoghurt)

About 500ml olive oil

3 sprigs of thyme or oregano, or a mixture of both

1 ½ tbsp. chilli flakes (enough to coat 10 balls)

2 ½ tbsp. za’atar (enough to coat 10 balls)

Line a deep bowl with a piece of cheese cloth or muslin (a clean J-cloth is also fine, as an alternative) and set aside.

In a separate bowl, mix the yoghurt(s) with 1 teaspoon of salt. Pour into the cloth-lined bowl, then bring the edges of the cloth together and wrap tightly to form a bundle. Tie firmly with a piece of string. Hang the bundle over a bowl (or attached to the handle of a tall jug so that the bundle can hang free – and drip – inside the jug) and leave in the fridge for 24-36 hours, until much of the liquid is lost and the yoghurt is thick and fairly dry.

Another method is to put the bundle into a sieve placed over a bowl, with the weight of a plate, for example, or a couple of tins, sitting on top: this weight speeds up the draining process.

With lightly oiled hands, spoon a small amount – about 20g – of the labneh into the palm of one hand. Roll it around to shape it into a 3cm-wide ball, and transfer  it to a tray lined with a damp (but clean) J-cloth. Continue with the remaining labneh until all the balls are rolled. Transfer to the fridge for a couple of hours (or overnight) to firm up.

Half fill a jar (enough to fit all the rolled labneh: about 10cm wide and 12cm high) or airtight container with olive oil and drop in the balls. Top with more oil, if necessary – you want the balls to be completely covered with oil – and add the thyme or oregano. Seal the jar and store in the fridge.

When ready to coat – you can do this up to a day before serving – remove the jar from the fridge and bring to room temperature, so that the oil becomes unset. Life the balls out of the oil and roll them in the chilli flakes or za’atar: an easy way to do this is to spread your chosen coating on a plate, place a few balls at a time on top and shake the plate: the balls will be coated in seconds. If not eating at once, return them to the fridge on a plate (but not in the oil). Bring back to room temperature before serving: you don’t want them to be fridge-cold.

(From Falastin by Sami Tamimi and Tara Wigley, published by Ebury Press)

Chilled cucumber and tahini soup with spicy pumpkin seeds

Serves four

3 large cucumbers (1kg), peeled

65g tahini

2 tbsp olive oil, plus extra to serve

2 lemons: finely grate the zest to get 2 tsp, then juice to get 60ml

2 large garlic cloves, crushed

10g dill, roughly chopped, plus a few extra fronds to serve

¾ tsp Aleppo chilli flakes (or 1/3 tsp regular chilli flakes)

100g ice cubes

20g mint leaves

20g parsley, roughly chopped

Salt and black pepper

1 tomato, cut into ½ cm dice (80g), to serve

Spicy pumpkin seeds

3 tbsp olive oil

40g pumpkin seeds

1 tsp ground cumin

¼ tsp chilli flakes

Put all the ingredients for the spicy pumpkin seeds into a small sauté pan, along with 1/8 tsp of salt, and place on a medium heat. Cook for about 8 minutes, stirring frequently, until the seeds begin to colour lightly and pop. Transfer to a bowl (or to an airtight container if making a batch) and set aside to cool.

Cut off a roughly 80g chunk of cucumber and slice in half. Scoop out the seedy core (add this to the pile of cucumber to be blended), then finely chop the remainder into 1cm dice. Set this aside, to serve. Roughly chop the remaining cucumber into 2cm chunks and transfer to a free-standing blender (or a deep bowl if you are using a hand-held blender), along with the tahini, oil, lemon zest, lemon juice, garlic, dill, chilli flakes, ice cubes, half the mint, half the parsley, 1 teaspoon of salt and a good grind of black pepper. Blitz for about 2 minutes, until completely smooth, then keep in the fridge until ready to serve.

Divide the soup between four deep bowls and spoon the reserved cucumber and diced tomato on top. Shred the remaining mint and sprinkle this over each portion, along with the remaining parsley, any spare dill fronds, the spicy pumpkin seeds and a final drizzle of oil.

(From Falastin by Sami Tamimi and Tara Wigley, published by Ebury Press)

Chicken Musakhan

Serves four

1 chicken (about 1.7kg), divided into 4 pieces (1.4kg) or 1kg chicken supremes (between 4 and 6, depending on size), skin on, if you prefer

120ml olive oil, plus 2-3 tbsp extra, to finish

1 tbsp ground cumin

3 tbsp sumac

½ tsp ground cinnamon

½ tsp ground allspice

30g pine nuts

3 large red onions, thinly sliced 2-3mm thick (500g)

4 taboon breads or any flatbread (such as Arabic flatbread or naan bread) (330g)

5g parsley leaves, roughly chopped

Salt and black pepper

To serve

300g Greek-style yoghurt

1 lemon, quartered

Preheat the oven to 200°C fan oven.

Place the chicken in a large mixing bowl with 2 tablespoons of oil, 1 teaspoon of cumin, 1 ½ teaspoons of sumac, the cinnamon, allspice, 1 teaspoon of salt and a good grind of black pepper. Mix well to combine, then spread out on a parchment-lined baking tray. Roast until the chicken is cooked through. This will take about 30 minutes if starting with supremes and up to 45 minutes if starting with the whole chicken, quartered. Remove from the oven and set aside. Don’t discard any juices which have collected in the tray.

Meanwhile, put 2 tablespoons of oil into a large sauté pan, about 24cm, and place on a medium heat. Add the pine nuts and cook for about 2-3 minutes, stirring constantly, until the nuts are golden brown. Transfer to a bowl lined with kitchen paper (leaving the oil behind in the pan) and set aside. Add the remaining 60ml of oil to the pan, along with the onions and ¾ teaspoon of salt. Return to a medium heat for about 15 minutes, stirring from time to time, until the onions are completely soft and pale golden but not caramelised. Add 2 tablespoons of sumac, the remaining 2 teaspoons of cumin and a grind of black pepper and mix through, until the onions are completely coated. Remove from the heat and set aside.

When ready to assemble the dish, set the oven to a grill setting and slice or tear the bread into quarters or sixths. Place them under the grill for about 2-3 minutes to crisp up, then arrange them on a large platter. Top the bread with half the onions, followed by all the chicken and any chicken juices left in the tray. Either keep each piece of chicken as it is or else roughly shred it as you plate up, into two or three large chunks. Spoon the remaining onions over the top and sprinkle with the pine nuts, parsley, 1 ½ teaspoons of sumac and a final drizzle of olive oil. Serve at once, with the yoghurt and a wedge of lemon alongside.

(From Falastin by Sami Tamimi and Tara Wigley, published by Ebury Press)

Pulled lamb Shawarma sandwich

Serves eight

3 onions, 1 roughly chopped and the other 2 quartered (and peeled as always) into wedges

2 heads of garlic, 1 cut in half, horizontally, and 8 cloves from the second head roughly chopped

2 ½ cm piece of ginger, peeled and roughly chopped

20g parsley, roughly chopped

1 ½ tbsp ground cumin

1 ½ tbsp ground coriander

2 tsp smoked paprika

2 tsp ground turmeric

2 tsp ground cinnamon

¼ tsp ground cloves

3 tbsp cider vinegar

60ml olive oil

2-2.5kg lamb shoulder, bone in

700ml chicken stock

½ a lemon

Salt and black pepper

Sumac yoghurt

200g Greek-style yoghurt

60g tahini

1 ½ tbsp lemon juice

2 tsp sumac

To serve (any or all of the following)

2 plum tomatoes, thinly sliced (200g)

1 red onion, thinly sliced into rounds (120g)

10g picked parsley leaves

5g picked mint leaves

100g shatta

8 pita breads

First make the spice paste. Put the chopped onion into a food processor along with the chopped garlic and ginger. Pulse until finely minced, then add the parsley and spices. Pulse for about 10 seconds, until just combined. Scrape down the sides, then add the vinegar, oil, 2 ¼ teaspoons of salt and a generous grind of black pepper. Pulse to form a coarse paste, then transfer to a non-metallic food container large enough to hold the lamb

Pat the lamb dry and pierce liberally all over with a small, sharp knife. Add it to the spice paste and coat generously, so that all sides are covered. Cover with foil and leave to marinate, refrigerated, overnight.

Take the lamb out of the fridge about an hour before going into the oven: you want it to be more like room temperature rather than fridge-cold.

Preheat the oven to 140 degrees Celsius fan.

Put the remaining onions and head of garlic into the centre of a large roasting tray and pour over the chicken stock. Sit the lamb on top of the vegetables, cover tightly with foil and bake for 4 hours. Remove from the oven, discard the foil and bake for 90 minutes more, increasing the oven temperature to 160 degrees Celsius fan towards the last 30 minutes of cooking time. The lamb is ready when it is fork-tender and easily pulls away from the bone. Set aside to cool slightly, about 15 minutes, before using two forks to roughly shred the lamb directly in the pan, gathering as much of its juices as possible. Transfer the shredded lamb, onions, garlic cloves and any of the pan juices to a serving bowl. Squeeze over the lemon juice and set aside.

While the lamb is in the oven, prepare the sumac yoghurt. Put the yoghurt, tahini, lemon juice, 2 tablespoons of water, the sumac and ¼ teaspoon of salt into a bowl and whisk well to combine.

When ready to serve, lay out all the various condiments, along with the pita, to let everyone make up their own shawarma sandwich.

(From Falastin by Sami Tamimi and Tara Wigley, published by Ebury Press)

Shortbread Cookies

Makes about 35 cookies

200g ghee or clarified butter, at room temperature

80g icing sugar, sifted

370g plain flour, sifted

¾ tsp salt

1 ½ tsp orange blossom water

1 tsp rose water

12g unsalted pistachio kernels (enough for one to go on each cookie)

Put the ghee and icing sugar into the bowl of a free-standing mixer with the whisk attachment in place. Mix on a medium-high speed for about 4 minutes, until pale and fluffy. Replace the whisk with the paddle attachment. Add the flour, salt, orange blossom water and rose water and mix for another 3 minutes, until the dough is uniform and smooth. Using your hands, bring the dough together and shape into a ball. Place the dough in an airtight container and leave in the fridge for about an hour, to rest. You’ll need to remove it from the fridge 10 minutes before you want to roll it out so that it has some malleability.

Preheat the oven to 160 degree Celsius fan.

Pinch off a bit of the dough, about 20g, and roll it into a sausage: it should be about 10cm long and ½ inch thick. Bring both ends together, slightly overlapping them and pressing down where the two ends meet. Press a single pistachio into the dough where the ends join and place on a tray lined with baking parchment. Repeat with the remaining dough, spacing the rings 1cm apart on the tray. You’ll need two trays to fit them all. Bake for 15 minutes, until the cookies are cooked through but have not taken on too much colour. Remove from the oven and set aside until completely cool before serving.

(From Falastin by Sami Tamimi and Tara Wigley, published by Ebury Press)

Windfall Apples…

Storm Ellen and Storm Francis played “hell” with our apple crop. We didn’t have a particularly good crop anyway but much of our meagre harvest ended up as windfalls in the grass underneath the apple trees in the orchard. Some like Beauty of Bath were already ripe, many other varieties were not but still the strong winds managed to shake them off their branches. I collected as many as I could to make windfall jelly. 

These under-ripe fruit are perfect for apple jelly, don’t worry about the odd bruise or slug bite just cut them out. Wash the fruit but don’t bother to peel, save the stalks and seeds too, they all add to the end result.

To make the preserve… Just fill a large pot with the coarsely chopped fruit, cover with cold water.  Add other flavours if you fancy, a few fistfuls of blackberries, sloes, rowan berries, damsons or haws.  If you add  a mixture, it can be called Hedgerow jelly. Alternatively, simply add mint, chillies or a pinch of traditional cloves. This is a brilliant all-purpose recipe – ‘a-catch-all’ to use up a couple of fistfuls of autumn fruit and berries. I can add some ripe elderberries, and in a few weeks bletted medlars to make a delicious apple and medlar jelly to accompany game or a boiled leg of mutton.

We have also found that the strong pectin, rich apple juice works brilliantly as a natural gelling agent in both  strawberry and blackberry jam, both of which can be notoriously difficult to set. We plan to freeze it as an experiment to use in winter jams and jellies instead of jam sugar.

And who doesn’t love an apple tart – every family has their favourite pastry but this recipe for a buttery ‘break all the rules’ shortcrust pastry was passed on to me by my Mum. It’s not just our favourite but has become many other people’s ‘go to’ recipe for a tart or pie crust. Its made by the ‘creaming method’ so those of you who are convinced you have hot hands, there’s no need to worry – this one is a ‘keeper’ and it also freezes well.

The whole family will love this Autumn apple and blackberry pie, with cinnamon sugar  and I’ve also included the aristocrat of apple tarts, the French classic, Tarte Tatin. This is sometimes made with puff pastry but we also love this tender irresistible sour cream pastry – give it a try, it is made in minutes, see how you like it…

Apple charlotte is an almost forgotten pudding. I find it’s best made with Cox’s Orange Pippin apples and slices of good white yeast bread, soaked in melted butter – No wonder, it’s so delicious. I make it just once a year, but the memory of the texture of the crisp buttery bread and the sweetness of the Cox’s Apple puree lingers for months on end. And finally check out this simple recipe for apple fritters, another of my grandchildren’s favourites which they have nicknamed Scary Little Monsters because of the funny shapes the batter cooks into on the pan… sprinkle them with castor sugar and enjoy…. 

Windfall Apple Jelly and Variations

Making jellies is immensely rewarding. This is a brilliant master recipe that can be used for many combinations. A jelly bag is an advantage, but by no means essential. Years ago we strained the juice and pulp through an old cotton pillow and hung it on an upturned stool. A couple of thicknesses of muslin will also do the job. Place a stainless-steel or deep pottery bowl underneath to catch the juice. Tie with cotton string and hang from a sturdy cup-hook. If you can’t get enough windfall apples, use a mixture of crab apples, windfall and cooking apples, like Bramley’s Seedling, Grenadier or any other tart cooking apple.

Makes 2.7–3.2kg (6–7lb)

2.7kg (6lb) windfall apples of crab apples

2.7 litres (5 3⁄4 pints) water

2 organic lemons

425g (15oz) granulated sugar to every 600ml (1 pint) of juice

Wash the apples, cut into quarters, but do not remove either the peel or core. Windfalls may be used, but be sure to cut out the bruised parts. Put the apples into a large stainless-steel saucepan with the water and the thinly pared zest of the lemons and cook for about 30 minutes until reduced to a pulp.

Pour the pulp into a jelly bag and allow to drip until all the juice has been extracted, usually overnight. (The pulp can later go to the hens or compost. The jelly bag or muslin may be washed and reused over and over again.)

Measure the juice into a preserving pan and allow 425g (15oz) sugar to each 600ml (1 pint) of juice. Warm the sugar in a low oven. Squeeze the lemons, strain the juice and add to the pan. Bring to the boil and add the warm sugar. Stir over a gentle heat until the sugar is dissolved. Increase the heat and boil rapidly without stirring for about 8–10 minutes. Skim, test and pot immediately. Flavour with rose geranium, mint, sage or cloves as required (see below).

APPLE AND ELDERBERRY JELLY

Add a fistful or two of elderberries to the apple and continue as above. Up to half the volume of elderberries can be used (1/2 pint of elderberries works very well although it’s not essential to measure – it’s a good starting point). A sprig or two of mint or rose geranium or a cinnamon stick further enhances the flavour.

APPLE AND SLOE JELLY

Substitute sloes for elderberries in the above recipe. You want about the same quantity by weight of crab apples and sloes.

APPLE AND MINT JELLY

Follow the Windfall Apple Jelly recipe and add 3–4 sprigs of mint to the apples as they stew. Add 2–3 tablespoons (2 1/2 – 3 3/4 tablespoons) of finely chopped mint to the jelly just before it’s potted.

APPLE AND ROSEMARY JELLY

Add 2 sprigs of rosemary to the apples as they stew and put a tiny sprig into each pot. Serve with lamb.

APPLE AND ROSE GERANIUM JELLY

Add 8–10 leaves of rose geranium (pelagonium graveoleus) to the apples initially and 5 more when boiling to a set.

Autumn Apple and Blackberry Pie with Cinnamon Sugar

Serves 8 – 10

8 ozs (225 g) soft butter

8 ozs (225 g) caster sugar

4 eggs, preferably free range

11 oz (300 g) self-raising flour

2 good – size cooking apples (approx. 450g (1lb))

4 ozs blackberries

A generous dusting of cinnamon sugar

Cinnamon Sugar

110g (4oz) castor sugar

1 – 2 teaspoons of cinnamon

1 x 9 inch (23 cm) round tin.

Cream the butter and sugar until light, fluffy and pale in colour.  Add the eggs on at a time, beating well after each addition. Gently fold in sifted flour, mixing well.  Place mixture into the well greased tin.

Peel the cooking apples, slice thinly into ¼ inch (5 mm) slices and arrange slightly buried on top of the mixture.  Scatter the blackberries or incorporate as part of the pattern.

Place in a preheated fan oven 170ºC (325ºF/gas mark 3) for 25-30 minutes.  Bake until the cake and the apples are cooked. Sprinkle with cinnamon sugar.

Serve warm or at room temperature with a bowl of softly whipped cream.

Tarte Tatin

Serves 6-8

The ultimate french apple tart. The Tatin sisters ran a restaurant at Lamotte-Beuvron in Sologne at the beginning of the century.  They created this tart, some say accidentally, but however it came about it is a triumph – soft, buttery caramelised apples (or indeed you can also use pears) with crusty golden pastry underneath.  It is unquestionably my favourite French tart! One can buy a special copper tatin especially for this tart.  It takes considerable courage to cook the caramel dark enough but the end result is so worth the effort

1.24kg (2 3/4lb) approx. Golden Delicious, Cox’s Orange Pippin or Bramley Seedling cooking apples

175g (6oz) Sour Cream Pastry or puff pastry or rich Sweet Shortcrust Pastry (see recipe below)

110g (4oz) unsalted butter

210g (7 1/2oz) castor sugar *

a heavy 20.5cm (8inch) tatin mould or copper or stainless steel sauté pan with low sides

Preheat the oven to 220ºC/425ºF/Gas Mark 7 for puff pastry.  For shortcrust -180ºC/350ºF/Gas Mark 4.

First, roll out the pastry into a round slightly larger than the saucepan.  Prick it all over with a fork and chill until needed.

Peel, halve and core the apples.  Melt the butter in the saucepan, add the sugar and cook over a medium heat until it turns golden – fudge colour.  Put the apple halves in upright, packing them in very tightly side by side, careful not to burn your fingers.  Replace the pan on a low heat and cook until the sugar and juice are a dark caramel colour. Hold your nerve otherwise it will be too pale.  Put into a hot oven for approx. 15 minutes.

Cover the apples with the pastry and tuck in the edges.  Put the saucepan into the fully preheated oven until the pastry is cooked and the apples are soft-25-30 minutes approx. For puff pastry reduce the temperature to 200°C/400°F/gas 6 after 10 minutes.

Take out of the oven and rest for 5-10 minutes or longer if you like.  Put a plate over the top of the saucepan and flip the tart on to a serving plate.  (Watch out – this is a rather tricky operation because the hot caramel and juice can ooze out).  Reshape the tart if necessary and serve warm with softly whipped cream.

Sour Cream Short Crust Pastry

Makes 500g (18oz)

250g (9oz) plain white flour

25g (1oz) icing sugar

175g (6oz) butter

62ml (2 1/2fl oz up) sour cream

To make the pastry.

Put the flour and icing sugar into a large bowl.  Dice the butter and rub into the flour until it resembles coarse breadcrumbs.  Add enough sour cream to just bring it together.  Divide in two pieces, wrap, refrigerate and chill for at least 30 minutes before rolling out.  Use for tarts, pies or tarte tatin.

Apple Charlotte

This is the scrummiest, most wickedly rich apple pudding ever. A friend, Peter Lamb, make it as a special treat for me every now and then.

It’s also a brilliant way to use up bread and apples deliciously.

We make apple charlotte from old varieties of eating apples – my favourites are Ergemont, Russet, Charles Ross, Cox’s Orange Pippin or Pitmaston Pineapple. It’s sinfully rich but gorgeous.

Serves 4-6

1 kg (2 1/4lb) dessert apples

225g (8oz) clarified butter

175g (6oz) castor sugar

2 organic egg yolks

good quality white yeast bread

1 loaf tin – 13 x 20cm (5 x 8inch)

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

Peel and core the apples. Melt a little of the clarified butter in a stainless steel saucepan, chop the apples into cubes and add to the saucepan with a couple of tablespoons of water and the castor sugar. Cover and cook on a gentle heat until the apples break into a thick pulp. Beat in the egg yolks one by one – this helps to enrich and thicken the apple purée. Taste and add a little more sugar if necessary.

Melt the remaining clarified butter and use a little of this to brush the inside of the tin then dust it with caster sugar.  Cut the crusts off the bread and cut into strips about 4cm (1 1/2inches) wide and 13cm (5 inches) high and quickly brush them with the clarified butter.  Line the sides of the tin with butter-soaked bread. Cut another strip to fit tightly into the base of the tin. Brush it on both sides with butter and tuck it in tightly. Fill the centre with the apple pulp. Cut another strip of bread to fit the top. Brush with melted butter on both sides and fit it neatly to cover the purée.

Bake for 20 minutes then reduce the heat to180°C/350°F/gas mark 4 for another 15 minutes or until the bread is crisp and a rich golden colour.

 To serve

Run a knife around the edges in case the bread has stuck to the tin. Invert the apple charlotte onto a warm oval serving plate. It won’t look like a thing of beauty, it may collapse a bit, but it will taste wonderful. Serve with softly whipped cream.

Apple Fritters

Funny how one sometimes forgets a recipe; we hadn’t had these for ages, but I remembered them recently and they taste just as good as ever. As children we particularly loved fritters because they used to fry into funny shapes, which caused great hilarity. These can also be shallow-fried in a pan. You can add a teaspoon of cinnamon to the sugar to toss the apples in for extra flavour.

Serves 6–8

110g (4oz) plain white flour

pinch of salt

1 organic egg

150ml (5fl oz) milk

good-quality vegetable oil, for frying

450g (1lb) cooking apples (about 4), Bramley’s Seedling or Grenadier

225g (4oz) caster sugar or cinnamon sugar (see apple and blackberry pie recipe)

Sieve the flour and salt into a bowl. Make a well in the centre and drop in the egg. Use a whisk to bring in the flour gradually from the edges, slowly adding in the milk at the same time. Leave the batter in a cool place for about 1 hour.

Heat the oil in a deep-fryer to 190°C (375°F).

Peel and core the apples. Cut into rings, no thicker than 1cm (1⁄4 inch). Dip the rings into the batter and lift out with a skewer, allowing the surplus batter to drain off, then drop into hot fat, a few at a time. Fry until the batter is golden brown and the apple is tender.  Drain well on kitchen paper. Toss each fritter in caster sugar or cinnamon sugar. Serve immediately on hot plates with softly whipped cream.

Wild Foods – Crab Apple (Malus sylvestris)

Crab apples are wild apples that probably grew from seeds in an apple core that was tossed from the window of a car, they are in season at present and may be picked off the tree, but many grow quite high so they can be difficult to reach. However, the windfalls that lie on the ground are also worth collecting. Once the bruised bits are cut out and thrown into the compost bin, the remaining skin, pips and stalks are fine for making jellies.

Preserving the Summer Glut

I’ve been a bit like a broken record throughout this Covid 19 pandemic reminding readers on almost a weekly basis about the importance of really focussing on the quality of the food we are feeding ourselves and our families at this critical time.

Many of you have been actively seeking out local farmers markets and buying directly from the growers and food producers – building up a bond of trust. Others have signed up to an Organic box scheme where you receive a weekly box of beautiful seasonal vegetables, fruit and herbs fresh from the garden. Chock full of minerals, vitamins and trace elements to boost your energy, mood and immune systems. Those of you who like us embrace the concept of growing your own food have been enjoying the fruit of your labours and now fully understand the excitement, importance and frustrations of the ‘farm to fork’ concept and the heightened enjoyment of eating food you have personally grown and sown the seeds, watered, wed and harvested.

The pride and joy of sitting down to a plate of food where everything on your plate came from your garden or local producers known to you personally is tangible, you won’t want to waste a single morsel of this precious food….

Now it’s September and Summer 2020 has just whizzed by in a blur….Several of you have contacted me wondering what to do with the end of Summer glut of home grown fruit and vegetables.

Large courgettes, squishy ripe tomatoes, cucumbers and aubergines…..One lady who rang me from the UK actually had a glut of figs, I was deeply envious but having never been in that fortunate situation I was slightly at a loss to think of how to use up almost 100 ripe figs other than making jam and lots of figgy tart and puddings, but she lives alone and we’re not supposed to invite lots of friends around….. so what to do…..?

Figs dry brilliantly, but Rory suggested freezing them for Winter preserves. In the absence of hot sun, how about experimenting with slowly drying them in a fan oven or dehydrator – Any other ideas?

Chillies are easy, thread the stalks onto a piece of strong cotton thread to make a truss or ‘ristra’ as they call it in Italy.  Hang it on a hook in your pantry or loop them under your kitchen shelves. Either way they’ll look great as well as being easy to snip off when you need to add a bit of excitement to a dish.

Alternatively dig up your mature chilli plants, shake off the earth from the roots, pick off the leaves, hang it upside down in a well ventilated spot, turning every day or two until the chillies are dry. If you have a dehydrator they can be dried whole or in slices as can tomatoes and aubergines.

Dehydrators are not overly expensive – €50 – €200 depending on size and quality. For years I hesitated, reckoning that it would be a white elephant sitting in a corner of the kitchen used only sporadically. However, my dehydrator is in constant use. We dry a myriad of vegetables, fruit herbs and edible flowers.  Students also love to experiment with it. Don’t worry if you don’t have a dehydrator, a fan oven at the lowest setting also works brilliantly, just spread out whole or sliced items on wire or oven racks and turn regularly. Keep an eye on them and then store in airtight jars.

We have buckets of super ripe, end of season tomatoes and like those of you who have grown your own we can’t bear to waste a single one. We freeze lots whole, just as they are, for Winter stews, tagines and of course our all-time favourite tomato fondue (defrost in a sieve to remove the excess liquid, which can be used in soups).

The really soft squishy ones, bursting with flavour are cooked into puree to make tomato and basil soup for the Winter that will be reminiscent of Summer flavours. All soups and liquids are frozen in recycled one litre milk bottles and gallon cream containers. They stack neatly side by side and cost nothing.

Large courgettes don’t have much flavour but can be frozen grated or in cubes (tray freeze) and added to frittatas, tomato fondue or gutsy Winter stews with lots of rosemary, sage and thyme leaves to boost the flavour. As Summer changes to Autumn, basil will wither and fade, so preserve the best leaves in olive oil to add a taste of Summer to Winter dishes.

Aubergines are best made into this spiced aubergine mixture – can’t tell you how many times this delicious pickle has come to the rescue, gorgeous with lamb or pork, mozzarella or paired with an oozing burrata as a starter.

Keen gardeners won’t want to waste a morsel of their home grown produce. For more ideas – check out my Grow, Cook, Nourish book published in 2017 which has a How to use up a glut deliciously, suggestion for every fruit, vegetable and fresh herb.

Here’s a few suggestions to get you going:

Tomato Purée

Note: Tomato Purée is one of the very best ways of preserving the flavour of ripe summer tomatoes for Winter.  Use for soups, stews, casseroles etc.

2lbs (900g) very ripe tomatoes

1 small onion, chopped

1 teaspoon sugar

good pinch of salt 

a few twists of black pepper

Cut the tomatoes into quarters and put into a stainless steel saucepan with the onion, salt, freshly ground pepper and sugar. Cook, covered on a gentle heat until the tomatoes are soft (no water is needed). Put through the fine blade of the mouli-legume or a nylon sieve.

Allow to get cold, refrigerate or freeze.

Note: make tomato purée recipe x 2 for Tomato Soup

Confit of Tomatoes

This method concentrates the flavour of the tomatoes deliciously. The oil absorbs the flavour of the tomatoes and will, of course, enhance dressings and salads.  Serve on grilled bread, with pasta, mozzarella and fish.

Makes 3 x 370g (13oz) jars approximately

1.3kg (3lbs) ripe small or cherry tomatoes

5- 6 garlic cloves, slightly crushed

4-5 sprigs of fresh thyme

extra virgin olive oil, to cover

sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 160°C/325°F/Gas Mark 3.

Choose an ovenproof dish that will just fit the tomatoes in a single layer.  Remove the calyxes from the tomatoes and arrange them in the dish.  Tuck a few garlic cloves and the sprigs of thyme in here and there between the tomatoes.  Just cover with extra virgin olive oil and sprinkle with salt and freshly ground pepper.  Bake for 1 1/2 hours or until soft and tender.  Eat immediately or allow to cool.  Store in a sterilised jar covered in the oil and use within a week or so.

Eat immediately or leave to cool then store in a sterilised jar covered in the oil and use within a week or so.

Spiced Aubergine Pickle

This is a delicious way to preserve a glut of aubergines – serve with lamb or pork or just with cheese.

Makes 2kg (4 jars)

2kg aubergines, peeled and cut into thick julienne strips or chunks

4 tablespoons salt

1 litre white wine vinegar

2 tablespoons sugar

125ml  extra virgin olive oil

2 chilli peppers, seeded and finely chopped

50g chives, finely cut

2 tablespoons marjoram

4 garlic cloves, halved

Preserving jars

Put the aubergines in a colander, sprinkle with salt, toss them, and allow to degorge in a colander for 30 minutes.

Bring the vinegar and sugar to the boil in a large saucepan.   Add the aubergines and simmer for 5 minutes, careful not to overcook. Drain, reserving the pickling liquid.

Add the oil, chilli pepper, chives and marjoram to the aubergines, and toss well.  Fill the jars, making sure the aubergines are submerged in the cooking liquid.  Divide the garlic between the sterilized jars. If more juice is needed to cover the aubergines, add 1 to 2 tablespoons of the reserved pickling liquid.  Seal each jar tightly.  Store in a cool, dark place for 2-3 weeks before using.

Basil Oil

Basil may be used either to flavour the oil or the oil may be used to preserve the basil, depending on the quantity used. If using a large quantity of basil, you can preserve it in a jar with enough olive oil to completely cover it for up to three months. Basil oil may be used in salad dressings, vegetable stews, pasta sauces or many other instances.

extra virgin olive oil

fresh organic basil leaves

Ensure the basil leaves are clean and dry. Pour a little of the olive oil from the bottle and stuff at least 8–10 basil leaves into the bottle, or more if you like. The basil must be covered by at least 1cm (1⁄2in) of oil. Seal and store in a cold place. We sometimes fill bottles three quarters full and then chill them. When the oil solidifies somewhat, we top it up with another layer of oil. If the basil is not submerged in the oil, it will become mouldy in a relatively short period of time.

Cucumber Neapolitana

A terrifically versatile vegetable dish which may be made ahead and reheats well. It is also delicious served with rice or pasta.  It makes a great stuffing for tomatoes and is particularly good with Roast lamb.

Serves 6 approx.

1 Irish cucumber

½ oz (15g) butter

1 medium onion – 4 ozs (110g) approx., sliced

4 very ripe Irish tomatoes

Salt and freshly ground pepper

2½ flozs (63ml) cream

1 dessertspoon freshly chopped mint

Roux (optional) 

Melt the butter in a heavy bottomed saucepan, when it foams add the onion. Cover and sweat for 5 minutes approx. until soft but not coloured. 

Meanwhile, peel the cucumber cut into ½ inch (1cm) cubes; add to the onions, toss well and continue to cook while you scald the tomatoes with water for 10 seconds.  Peel the tomatoes and slice into the casserole, season with salt, freshly ground pepper and a pinch of sugar. Cover the casserole and cook for a few minutes until the cucumbers are tender and the tomatoes have softened, add the cream and bring back to the boil. Add the freshly chopped mint.  If the liquid is very thin, thicken it by carefully whisking in a little roux.  Cucumber Neapolitana keeps for several days and may be reheated.

How to Freeze Zucchini/Courgettes

When you are coping with a glut and have run out of meal slots to use them up it is really worth taking a little time to freeze the remainder of your harvest.

The courgettes can be frozen in nuggets or medallions or simply grated. For the latter, (no need to blanch) just grate the zucchini on the course side of a box grater, pack the shredded vegetable into small zip-lock freezer bags – say 8oz/225g in each. Flatten, press out all the air and seal. Label carefully with name, weight and date and freeze immediately. It will keep for the best part of a year but I prefer to use it within 5 or 6 months.

To defrost – take out of the freezer, allow to defrost then put into a sieve to squeeze out the extra liquid. Use for soup, casseroles or zucchini bread.

Courgette Medallions or Nuggets

Slice the zucchini in ½ inch rounds or ¾ inch dice.

Bring a large pot of water to a fast rolling boil, add the zucchini (not too many at a time). Bring the water back to the boil for just one minute. Scoop out the medallions or nuggets. Transfer to an ice bath to cool and then drain really well. Dry. Lay them out on a parchment paper covered baking sheet. Tray freeze for about 2 hours. Pack the frozen medallions or nuggets into freezer bags or boxes and refreeze immediately. They will keep for up to a year but best to use them up within 5/6 months.

Add the still frozen zucchini directly into stews or casseroles close to the end of the cooking time. Remember they will add some extra liquid to the dish so allow for that in your measurements.

Blackberry Season Again…

Gosh it’s difficult to switch off from the realities of Covid 19 coverage and the resulting anxiety but switch off we must while still complying with the HSE guidelines, otherwise the toll on our mental health can be devastating.

So this week, how about a blackberry picking expedition if it’s possible in your particular situation. Where I live in the country, many of the hedgerows are dripping with berries. Some have been battered by the recent rain and winds but there’s still an abundant crop. Local kids have been out foraging to make some pocket money, they arrive at the Cookery School with great big smiles and gallons brimming with ripe berries, we’re delighted to buy them to pop into the freezer for winter jams and preserves.

Blackberries are a virtual power house of nutrients. They are packed with essential nutrients and antioxidants, loads of vitamin C, magnesium, potassium, calcium and they’re a rich source of both soluble and insoluble fibre that many of us don’t have nearly enough of in our diets. So in other words they are good for our gut biome and for digestion and apparently also boost overall brain function.

Bring along with kids and show them how to choose the best berries and avoid the thorns. Make sure you check the berries before you pop them into your mouths – if the core is discoloured rather than pale and unblemished, it usually means that the little crawly beasties have got there first, so it’s best to discard those.

All berries freeze brilliantly provided they are perfectly dry when picked,  it’s best if you have space to tray freeze them,  then one can take out a couple of fistfuls of frozen berries to add to tarts, crumbles or a breakfast smoothie. A few small cartons close to the top of the freezer will come in handy to add to a sauce or gravy to partner a pheasant or a grouse later in the year.

Blackberries, with their low sugar content can be enjoyed by diabetics and because they are so brilliantly versatile one can enjoy them in both sweet and savoury dishes. I’ve got to start with blackberry, apple and sweet geranium crumble, everyone’s favourite family pud!

Blackberry and Apple and Sweet Geranium Cumble

Serves 6-8

Crumbles are comfort food, vary the fruit according to the season.

1 lbs (450 g) Bramley Seedling cooking apples

1/2 lb (225g) fresh or frozen blackberries

1 1/2-2 ozs (45-50g) sugar

1-2 tablespoons water

2 chopped sweet geranuium leaves (Pelargonium Graveolons) – optional

Crumble

4 ozs (110g) white flour, preferably unbleached

2 ozs (50g) cold butter

2 ozs (50g) castor sugar

1 oz (25g) chopped almonds or hazelnuts (optional)

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon (optional)

2 pint (1.1L) capacity pie dish

Peel the apples, cut into quarters, remove the core and cut into large cubes.

Turn into a pie dish. Sprinkle with sugar. Add the water. 

Rub the butter into the flour just until the mixture resembles coarse bread crumbs, add the sugar and cinnamon and chopped nuts if using. Sprinkle this mixture over the apple in the pie dish. Bake in a preheated moderate oven 180°C/350°F/regulo 4, for 30-45 minutes or until the topping is cooked and golden. Serve with whipped cream and soft brown sugar.  (optional – serve with Amaretto cream).

Blackberry and Lime Swirls

Believe me these are totally irresistible….

Makes 18-20 scones, using a 3 inch (71/2 cm) cutter

2lb (900g) plain white flour

6oz (175g) butter

pinch of salt

2oz (50g) castor sugar

3 heaped teaspoons baking powder

3 free-range eggs

16fl oz (450ml) approx. full cream milk to mix (not low fat milk)

Lime Butter

150g (5oz) butter

250g (9oz) pale brown sugar

2 teaspoons lime zest

egg wash

150g (5oz) blackberries

Lime Sugar

4oz (110g/1/2 cup) Demerara sugar mixed with 1 teaspoon lime zest for the top of scones

Preheat the oven 250ºC/475ºF/Gas Mark 9.

First make the Lime Butter.

Cream the butter, sugar and lime zest together and beat until light and fluffy.

Sieve the flour into a large wide bowl, add a pinch of salt, the baking powder and castor sugar.  Mix the dry ingredients with your hands, lift up to incorporate air and mix thoroughly.

Cut the butter into cubes, toss well in the flour and then with the tips of your fingers, rub in the butter until it resembles large flakes.  Make a well in the centre.  Whisk the eggs with the milk, pour all at once into the centre.  With the fingers of your ‘best hand’ outstretched and stiff, mix in a full circular movement from the centre to the outside of the bowl.  This takes just seconds and hey presto, the scone dough is made.  Sprinkle some flour on the work surface.  Turn out the dough onto the floured board.  Scrape the dough off your fingers and wash and dry your hands at this point.  Tidy around the edges, flip over and roll or pat gently into a rectangle about 3/4 inch (2cm) thick. 

Spread the soft lime butter over the dough, sprinkle the blackberries evenly over the butter, leaving an inch along one of the long sides without blackberries. Brush this piece with egg wash.

Roll the dough from the long side and seal with the egg wash. Cut into pieces, about 2 inches (5cm) thick.

Brush the tops (cut edge) with egg wash and dip in crunchy lime sugar. Arrange onto a baking sheet, fairly close together.

Bake in a preheated oven for 10-12 minutes or until golden brown on top.

Egg Wash

Whisk one egg thoroughly with about a dessertspoon of milk.  Egg wash adds colour during cooking.

Variation

Blackberry and Rose Geranium Scones

Substitute 3 tablespoons of finely chopped rose geranium for lime zest in the master recipe.  Add 2 tablespoons of finely chopped rose geranium to the Demerara sugar.

Rory O’Connell’s Smoked Black Pudding and Cheddar Cheese Croquettes with Bramley Apple and Blackberry Sauce

I use smoked black pudding from Hugh Maguire for this recipe. Hugh is known as “the Smoking Butcher” and his pudding is excellent.

Makes approximately 40 little croquettes

400g (14oz) potatoes

2 tablespoons ) cream

130g (4 1/2oz) smoked black pudding, very finely diced

100g (3 1/2oz) finely grated cheddar cheese

For coating the croquettes

seasoned plain flour

3 beaten eggs

150g (5oz) crust-less white breadcrumbs

sunflower oil, olive oil or beef dripping for deep frying

Place the potatoes in a saucepan and season with a pinch of salt. Bring to a boil and cover and simmer for ten minutes. Pour off all except 2cm (3/4 inch) of water, cover and replace on the heat to cook for a further 20 or so minutes until completely tender.

Immediately peel the skins off the potatoes – you want 300g (10oz) of peeled cooked potatoes. Place in a bowl and mash to a smooth fluff. Add the cream, black pudding, cheddar cheese and season with salt and pepper. Mix everything gently together. Chill the mixture until completely cold.

Roll the mixture into 15g (generous 1/2oz) balls. Place the flour, beaten eggs and breadcrumbs in separate bowls. Roll the balls in the flour first, followed by the beaten egg and finally the breadcrumbs. Place on a parchment paper lined tray and chill for 15 minutes.

Heat the frying fat of choice to 170°C/325°F.

Fry the croquettes a few at a time until well coloured and crisp. Drain on kitchen paper and keep warm in an oven heated to 100°C/210°F.

Serve the croquettes with bamboo skewers to hold and the apple and blackberry sauce on the side.

Bramley Apple and Blackberry Sauce

450g Bramley apples

2 tablespoons water

2 tablespoons sugar

100g (3 1/2oz) blackberries fresh or frozen

Peel, quarter and core the apples. Cut each quarter in half. Place in a small saucepan with the water and sugar. Cover tightly and cook on a very low heat. The apples will gradually collapse to a frothy snow. Add the blackberries and cook for a further 2 minutes. Stir lightly, taste and add a little more sugar if necessary.

Blackberry, Melon and Mint Salad

Serves 6

1 ripe Orgen and Cantaloupe melon

freshly squeezed lemon juice

sugar

2-3 tablespoons torn or shredded mint

225g – 350g (8-12oz) freshly picked blackberries

Cut the ripe melon in half and remove the seeds, cut into quarters, remove the peel and cut the flesh into 1 – 2cm (1/2 – 3/4 inch) dice.

Put into a bowl, sprinkle with sugar and the freshly squeezed juice of a lemon. Toss gently and taste.

The amount of sugar will depend on the sweetness of the melon.

Add the shredded mint and the blackberries and stir very gently to combine.  Serve chilled.

Wild Blackberry, Apple and Rose Geranium Jam

Blackberries are famously low in pectin, so the tart apples help it to set and add extra flavour. Go foraging for blackberries in the early autumn before they’re over-ripe. Cultivated blackberries tend to be sweeter so you may need to reduce the sugar.

Makes about 10 x 450g (1lb) jars

900g (2lb) cooking apples (Bramley, or Grenadier in season) or crab apples

2.25kg (5lb) blackberries

1.8kg (4lb) granulated sugar – since Ireland has gone over to cane sugar  which appears to be more intensely sweet we reduced the sugar to 1.6kg/3 1/2lb.  The intensity of sugar varies in different countries.

8 or more rose geranium leaves (Pelargonium graveolens)

Wash, peel, core and slice the apples. Stew them until soft in 225ml (8fl oz) of water in a stainless-steel saucepan, then beat to a pulp.

Pick over the blackberries and put into a wide, stainless-steel saucepan or preserving pan and cook until soft, stirring occasionally. Add the apple pulp and the heated sugar. Destalk and chop the geranium leaves and add. Stir over a gentle heat until the sugar is dissolved. Then bring to the boil and cook steadily for about 15 minutes. Skim the jam, test it for a set and pot into warm, spotlessly clean jars. Cover and store in a cool, dry place.

Peach and Blackberry Crostata

Alice Waters of Chez Panisse in Berkley in California shared this recipe with me when I visited the restaurant.

In Italy a crostata is something crusty.  We use the term for all the tarts we bake using our cornmeal dough recipe.

Makes one 11 inch tart.

1 pre-baked 30.5 (11 inch) cornmeal tart shell (see below)

3/4 tablespoon cornmeal

4 medium peaches (about 700g/1 1/2 lb in weight)

300g (10oz) blackberries

2 1/2 tablespoons sugar plus extra for sprinkling

300g (10 ozs) cornmeal dough, rolled into a 32.5cm (13 inch) circle and refrigerated

1 egg yolk

1 1/2 tablespoons milk

Preheat the oven to 200°C/400ºF/gas mark 6.

Sprinkle the bottom of the pre-baked tart shell with the cornmeal.  Peel, pit and slice the peaches.  Arrange the sliced peaches evenly in the tart shell.  Scatter the blackberries over the peaches.  Sprinkle the fruit with 2 1/2 tablespoons sugar.

Remove the circle of unbaked cornmeal dough from the refrigerator.  Peel off the top sheet of parchment paper and invert the dough onto the fruit.  Remove the other piece of parchment and let the dough settle over the fruit.  Gently seal the tart by pressing around the outside edge of the dough.

Make an egg wash by mixing the egg yolk and milk and brush the top of the tart with it.  Sprinkle with sugar (for extra crunch we use crystallized or raw sugar).  Bake in the top third of the oven for 45 to 50 minutes, until the top is golden brown.  Let cool for 10 minutes and serve warm with ice cream or crème fraîche.

Prebaked Tart Shell

We have been using this recipe for crisp dough for fruit tarts since it was published fifteen years ago by our friend Carol Field in her bible of Mediterranean pastry making, The Italian Baker.  It adds a pleasant crunch to peach and blackberry crostata, and we also like using it for double-crusted tarts filled with pears poached in white wine.

Makes 20 ozs of dough, enough for two 28cm (11 inch) open face tarts or one 28cm (11 inch) double crusted crostata.

150g (5oz/) unsalted butter, room temperature

175g (175g/6 ozs) sugar

3 egg yolks

175 g/6 ozs) plain flour

50 g (2oz) yellow cornmeal

3/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Cream the butter and sugar together in a large mixing bowl.  Add the egg yolks one at a time, mixing thoroughly after each addition.  Sift the flour, cornmeal and salt directly into the mixture.  Add the vanilla and stir until the dough is thoroughly mixed.  Divide the dough in half and gather it into 2 balls.  Wrap the balls in plastic, press them into disks, and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.

To roll out the dough, first cut four 35cm (14 inch) square pieces of parchment paper.  Dust a piece of the parchment paper with flour.  Take a disk of dough from the refrigerator, unwrap it and place on the floured paper.  Dust the top of the dough with flour and cover with another piece of parchment. Roll out the disk into a 32.5cm (13 inch) circle, about 3mm (1/8 inch) thick. If the dough starts to stick to the paper while you are rolling, peel back the paper, dust again with flour, and replace the paper.  Then flip the whole package over and repeat on the other side. If there is excess flour on the dough when you are done rolling, peel back the paper and brush it off. Chill the sheet of dough for at least a few minutes.  Roll out the other disk the same way.

To make an 11 inch tart, generously brush the bottom and sides of an 11 inch tart tin with melted butter (so your tart won’t stick to the pan). Remove 1 sheet of dough from the refrigerator and take off the top sheet of paper.  Invert the dough into the tart tin and peel off the other piece of paper.  Press the dough into the corners of the pan, pinching off any dough overhang.  Use the dough scraps to patch any cracks.  Let the tart shell rest in the freezer for 10 minutes before baking.

To prebake the shell, preheat the oven to 180°C/350Fgas mark 4 and transfer the tart shell directly from the freezer to the oven.  Bake for about 15 minutes, until it is slightly golden.  Halfway through baking, check the shell and pat down any bubbles that may have appeared.  Let cool before filling. 

School Lunches

Back to school – Wow what a stressful time, not just for parents and teachers but also for bus drivers, wardens, school supply shops… and then there’s the extra challenge of getting the kids and the rest of the family back into a pre Covid-19 routine – Early to bed, early to rise and the challenge of finding the words to address the inevitable anxiety and concerns that are preoccupying the little ones.

Hopefully we will all settle into a routine in the next few weeks and people’s worst fears of another lockdown won’t be realised.

Meanwhile lets be super positive, I’m going to concentrate on that all important lunch box which now even more than ever needs to be choc-a-bloc with nutrient dense foods to super charge our family’s immune system and boost our mood and energy levels.

At the best of times preparing daily lunchboxes takes imagination, never ending enthusiasm, time and energy…, Difficult to maintain day-in-day-out when you have a house full of children. The latter two are the scarcest of all. Older siblings may well want to prepare their own lunchboxes, but a bit of tactful guidance is usually needed, but not necessarily accepted!

Another consideration, apart from the food itself, is to try to reduce or eliminate plastic altogether. BPA and DEHP in plastic are leaching into our food. The food industry knows it, our governments know it, scientists know it, and they are becoming more and more alarmed. But many feel helpless to stem the never ending flow of toxins from plastic in its myriad of forms into every aspect of our lives, from the cradle to the care home.

Meanwhile the best we can do is to become super aware of its insidious presence and reduce it as far as possible, yet another thing to fuss about but let’s just do our best… wrap food in parchment paper or beeswax wraps.

A few little tips to help you make lunchbox choices; Think fresh, think seasonal – Mother Nature provides the nourishment we need through seasonal and wild foods.

At present, there is still an abundance of home-grown vegetables and fruit …..  tomatoes, cucumbers, beans, radishes, carrots and beets, all great in lunchboxes to nibble or dunk into a tasty dip. Such as hummus (it also provides zinc), a white bean puree or try this beetroot hummus which can be made in minutes with cooked beets.

Irish blueberries are also abundant at present, a little pot of berries are both an immune booster and a treat and an easy addition to the lunchbox. Many children’s palates seem to be more adventurous nowadays. They love spicy foods – a lentil daal with a flatbread is worth considering. It also works at room temperature and depending on the contents provides lots of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, as well as much needed protein. Include some nuts as well – almonds, hazelnuts, cashew nuts, peanuts and walnuts are an easy addition as are seeds- Include some flaxseeds, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds or maybe chia seeds added to a little pot of overnight muesli.

Don’t forget peanut butter, this perennial favourite is always tasty, delicious and nutritious. Choose a pure one, there are several Irish made nut butters that are worth seeking out.

When the weather begins to get chillier, a little flask of chunky homemade soup is a must. Tuck one or two little brown scones into the lunch box as well, slather them with good butter to feed their brains, and tuck in a little slice of cheese for protein, maybe add a hardboiled egg and some relish or a dollop of homemade mayo. An adventurous muncher may welcome a little pot of sea salt mixed with a few flakes of Aleppo pepper to sprinkle over a jammy egg. A few slices of cured meat or fish, Gubbeen salami sticks are a great favourite of my grandchildren. They keep well and just have to be popped into the lunchbox.

An individual frittata or a wedge of quiche will delight some kids and don’t forget a piece of fruit. Thank goodness for bananas, but Irish plums, pears and apples are in season at present.

After all that, just a couple of things to remember – try to eliminate ultra-processed foods completely. Make sure absolutely everything is chemical free. I know, I know, ironically these free-from foods are more expensive, but so are medicine and supplements and a visit to your overworked local GP. Invest in real food to boost your kids mood and immune system and help to protect them from colds, flus and viruses.

Oh and I almost forgot, include a little cookie, flapjack as an extra treat once or twice a week.

White Bean Hummus

Preparation Time:- 15 minutes

400 g tin white beans

2 tablespoons tahini

Juice of 1 lemon

1 pinch of paprika

1 pinch of ras el hanout

1 garlic clove

Salt and pepper

3-4 tablespoons water

Strain the beans and puree all the ingredients together in a blender. Taste and tweak the seasoning if necessary. Serve with flat bread or a few carrot dippers

Beetroot Hummus with Yoghurt and Za’atar

Another delicious dip on its own or with these additions… Good potato chips, chunks of apple or flat bread would be good to scoop this up….

Serves 6

900g (2lb) fresh medium beetroot – (500g (18oz) after cooking and peeling)

2 garlic cloves – crushed

1 small red chilli, deseeded and finely chopped

250g (9oz) Thick Greek style yoghurt

1 1/2 tablespoons date syrup

3 tablespoons olive oil, plus extra to finish the dish

1 tablespoon za’atar

salt

1 teaspoon honey (optional)

To Garnish

2 spring onions, thinly sliced at an angle

15g (3 /4oz) pistachio nuts, coarsely chopped

60g (2 1/2oz) soft goat’s cheese, crumbled

marigold petals, optional

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

Wash and cook the beetroot in boiling, well salted water until the skins rub off and a skewer can pierce the beetroot easily.  Alternatively, roast the beetroot on a roasting tin in the oven and cook, uncovered, until a knife slices easily into the centre, approximately 1 hour. Once they are cool enough to handle, peel and cut each into about 6 pieces. Allow to cool down.

Put the beetroot, garlic, chilli and yoghurt in a food processor bowl and blend to a smooth paste. Transfer to a large mixing bowl and stir in the date syrup, olive oil, za’atar and 1 teaspoon of salt. Taste and add more salt and honey if necessary.

Transfer to a wide bowl or serving plate.  Scatter the spring onion, coarsely chopped pistachios and cheese on top and finally drizzle with a little extra virgin olive oil. Serve at room temperature and sprinkle with marigold petals.

 

Hard boiled egg with flaky sea salt and Aleppo Pepper…

How to Hard Boil an Egg

Many people hard-boil eggs in a somewhat haphazard way. To avoid that black ring around the yolk (a sign of overcooking) you need to time them. Really fresh eggs are not ideal for hard-boiling because peeling their shells is a nightmare; the best eggs to use are a few days old. As with soft-boiled eggs, it’s important to use room-temperature eggs and they should be cooked in salted water; their shells are porous, so the flavour will benefit.

organic hen or duck eggs

Bring a small saucepan of water to the boil, gently slide in the eggs, bring the water back to the boil and simmer for 8–10 minutes according to your taste (12 minutes for duck eggs), according to your taste. Drain and then cover with cold water to stop the cooking.

Pop it into the lunch box with a little pot of flaky sea salt and some Aleppo Pepper… your child can peel the egg themselves and sprinkle a little seasoning over each half… 

Ham and Cheese Frittata

Serves 6-8

My eternal standby, perfect for all lunches….. make individual ones too , a perfect size to pop into a lunch box….

A frittata is an Italian omelette.  Unlike its soft and creamy French cousin, a frittata is cooked slowly over a very low heat during which time you can be whipping up a delicious salad to accompany it!  It is cooked on both sides and cut into wedges like a piece of cake.  This basic recipe, flavoured with grated cheese and a generous sprinkling of herbs.  Like the omelette, though, you may add almost anything that takes your fancy.  One could substitute grated mature cheddar but Gruyére and Parmesan give you more ‘bang for your buck’ and all sorts of tasty bits from the fridge, smoked salmon, mackerel, chorizo, bacon or ham……..

10 large eggs, preferably free range organic

1 teaspoon salt and lots of freshly ground black pepper

75g (3ozs) Gruyére cheese, grated

25g (1oz) Parmesan cheese, grated

225g diced cooked ham or bacon

2 tablespoons parsley, chopped

2 teaspoons thyme leaves

25g (1oz) butter

2 tablespoons basil or marjoram chopped

Non-stick pan – 22.5cm (10inch) frying pan

Whisk the eggs in a bowl, add the salt, freshly ground pepper, fresh herbs, diced ham and grated cheese into the eggs.  Melt the butter in a non-stick frying pan. When the butter starts to foam, tip in the eggs.  Turn down the heat, as low as it will go.  Leave the eggs to cook gently for 12 minutes on a heat diffuser mat, or until the underneath is set. The top should still be slightly runny.

Preheat a grill. Pop the pan under the grill for 1 minute to set but not brown the surface.  Alternatively after an initial 3 or 4 minutes on the stove one can transfer the pan to a preheated oven 170ºC/325ºF/gas mark 3 until just set 15-20 minutes.

Slide a palette knife under the frittata to free it from the pan. Slide onto a warm plate.

Perfect cut into slices and packed cold into lunch boxes and will last a few days in the fridge.

Mackerel Season

The word spreads like lightening around our local fishing village, “The mackerel are in”.

Hopefuls head for Ballycotton pier with rod and line.. full of anticipation.

You may be surprised to learn that the humble mackerel is my favourite sea fish – but it must be spanking fresh. In fishing villages, all around our coast, fishermen have a saying that “the sun should never set on a mackerel”. They well know that these fish develop a strong unappealing oily flavour as they age , so must be enjoyed super fresh. Fishing for mackerel evokes happy memories for many. A recent Instagram post evoked a deluge of nostalgic memories of catching mackerel with a hook and line and hauling four or five iridescent wriggling fish at a time over the side of the boat when the shoals of fish come into the bay. Sometimes the water thrashes with movement when the mackerel are chasing a shoal of sprats almost to the shore. One can virtually scoop the mackerel with your hands into a bucket – It’s a feast or a famine…  This phenomenon is regularly witnessed during Summer in Youghal Bay.

The secret to keeping fish fresh for longer is to gut them immediately, right there and then in the boat. Throw the entrails overboard for the squawking gulls who will be swooping around hoping for a treat .

A seasoned West Cork fisherman gave me another brilliant tip. He not only guts them but also chops off the head and tail as soon as they’ve been caught. They bleed and consequently will be stiff and spanking fresh the next day when kept overnight in the fridge. He also insisted that it was important, just to wash them in seawater rather than fresh water. All of this is of course in an ideal world where you are close to the sea. However it emphasises the point that mackerel, like all fish, wherever you source it are at their most delicious when fresh. It’s even more important with mackerel because of their high oil content. These inexpensive little fish are packed with Omega 3, Vit D and B6 and are a super source of protein, as well as potassium, zinc, cobalamin and magnesium.

They are also super versatile, they are gorgeous pan grilled but also delicious poached as well as roasted or tossed on the BBQ. Try this recipe with Bretonne sauce that Myrtle Allen shared with me years ago. They take just minutes to poach. We also love to warm smoke them in a biscuit tin over a gas jet. Again, lots of ‘bang for your buck’ in terms of flavour and fun.

For extra satisfaction, learn to fillet them yourself, you can just slide a sharp knife above the backbone from the tail towards the head, slice right through the pin bones or one can fillet them more meticulously. It takes a little practice but it is a skill well worth acquiring. Alternatively, ask your fishmonger to do it for you and watch carefully. Here are a few of my favourite mackerel recipes. All quick and easy for you to enjoy with your family and a few lucky friends.

Line Caught Mackerel with Lemon and Fennel Flower Mayo with Ashtanur

4 line super fresh caught mackerel

seasoned flour

small knob of butter

Lemon Mayo

3 tablespoons diced fresh fennel

Garnish

1 tablespoon fennel herb

fennel flowers

lemon wedges

Ashtanur Flat Bread (see recipe)

First make the dough, cover and rest (see recipe).

Gut and fillet the mackerel, sprinkle with salt, keep chilled.

Make the mayo, add the diced and chopped fennel.  Taste and correct the seasoning.   Keep aside.

Cook the bread (see recipe).

Just before serving.

Heat the grill pan over a medium heat. Dip the fish fillets in flour which has been seasoned with salt and freshly ground pepper. Shake off the excess flour and then spread a little butter with a knife on the flesh side, as though you were buttering a slice of bread rather meanly. When the grill is quite hot but not smoking, place the fish fillets butter side down on the grill; the fish should sizzle as soon as they touch the pan. Reduce the heat slightly and let them cook for 3 -4 minutes on that side before you turn them over. Continue to cook on the other side until crisp and golden.

Serve on hot plates with fennel mayo and a sprinkling of fennel flowers as well as a wedge of lemon

Ashtanur – Griddle Bread

This is the most basic and probably most ancient form of bread.  It has many names, ashtanur being the Jerusalem moniker and the one which sounds best to us, but in my grandmother Esther’s house it was called saloof.

You can make the dough in advance if you wish and keep it refrigerated to cold-prove until you are ready to bake.  Any bread that is left over can be wrapped in cling film or a plastic zip-lock bag for future heating and eating, or left to dry and become tasty crackers – an added bonus. 

Makes 6-7 flat breads

250g (9oz) strong flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

7g (1/4oz) fresh yeast or 1/2 teaspoon dried yeast

1/2 teaspoon honey (or sugar)

60ml (2 1/2fl oz) + about 60ml (2 1/2fl oz) warm water

1 tablespoon vegetable oil plus extra for rolling

Mix the flour and the salt in a big bowl. 

Dissolve the yeast and honey (or sugar) in the first 60ml (2 1/2fl oz) of warm water and set aside until it starts to foam.

Pour the foaming water-yeast mixture and the oil into the flour and mix, bringing it all together. Add as much of the additional water as you need to get a good even dough, then start kneading until it becomes supple and shiny. 

Drizzle with some extra oil on the top and cover the bowl with cling film and set aside until the dough doubles in volume, or place in the fridge for the next day.

Oil your workbench and turn the dough out.  Divide into six or seven balls of approximately 50g (2oz) each and roll them in the oil, making sure each one has a nice coating of it. Leave them on the counter for 10 minutes to rest.  Now is the time to set the griddle pan on the stove to heat up. 

Start stretching the dough balls. The best way is to oil your hands, then press the dough down to flatten and spread it with your hands until it is as thin as you can get it – you should almost see the work surface through it.

Lift the first stretched dough ball carefully and pop it on the hot griddle pan.  It will take about a minute or two to colour, then flip it, cook for 10 seconds and remove from the pan.  Put the next one on and repeat the process. 

Stack them while they are hot and wrap them in cling film to serve later the same day, freeze once cooled or eat immediately.

Warm Poached Mackerel with Bretonne Sauce

Serves 4 as a main course

 8 as a starter

Fresh mackerel gently poached and served warm with this simple sauce is an absolute feast without question one of my favourite foods.  . 

4 fresh mackerel

1.2 litres (40fl oz) water

1 teaspoon salt

Bretonne Sauce

75g (3ozs) butter, melted

1 eggs yolk, preferably free range

1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard (We use Maille Verte Aux Herbs)

1 tablespoon chopped herbs, a mixture of parsley, chervil, chives, tarragon and fennel, chopped (mixed)

Cut the heads off very fresh mackerel.  Gut and clean them but keep whole. 

Bring the water to the boil; add the salt and the mackerel.  Bring back to boiling point, and remove from the heat.  After about 5-8 minutes, check to see whether the fish are cooked.  The flesh should lift off the bone.  It will be tender and melting. 

Meanwhile make the sauce. 

Melt the butter and allow to boil.  Put the egg yolks into a bowl, add the mustard and the herbs, mix well.  Whisk the hot melted butter into the egg yolk mixture little by little so that the sauce emulsifies.  Keep warm, by placing the Pyrex bowl in a saucepan of hot but not boiling water. 

When the mackerel is cool enough to handle, remove to a plate.  Skin, lift the flesh carefully from the bones and arrange on a serving dish.  Coat with the sauce and serve while still warm with a good green salad and new potatoes.

Carpaccio of Mackerel with Ginger and Sesame Dressing

This dressing makes a lot and keeps well.  It is also delicious with noodles or pan-grilled fish.  It is only worth doing this dish if the mackerel is super fresh, less than 5 hours out of the sea.  Ruairi makes a large batch of the dressing and uses it with many fresh fish and for a seaweed salad. 

Super fresh mackerel filleted – 1 mackerel serves 2 as a starter

Ginger Sesame Dressing

600ml (1 pint) sesame oil

600ml (1 pint) sunflower oil

150ml (5fl oz) soya sauce

75g (3oz) garlic, microplaned

100g (3 1/2oz) ginger, microplaned

150g (5oz) sesame seeds toasted

Optional

spring onions, thinly sliced at an angle

coriander leaves

Fillet the spanking fresh mackerel and remove all the bones.  Slice each fillet into 1/8 inch thick slices, arrange in a circle on a chilled plate.  Spoon a little dressing over each portion.  Sprinkle with thinly sliced spring onions and coriander seeds.

How to Smoke Mackerel in a Simple Biscuit Tin Smoker

This is a simple Heath Robinson way to smoke small items of food. It may be frowned upon by serious smokers, but it is great for beginners because it gives such quick results.

mackerel fillets

salt

3-4 tablespoons sawdust

1 shallow biscuit tin with tight-fitting lid

1 wire cake rack to fit inside

Place the mackerel fillets on a non-reactive tray.  Sprinkle very lightly with salt.  Allow to sit for 30 minutes.  Remove the mackerel from the tray and dry really well with a clean tea-towel or kitchen paper.  Lay the mackerel fillets on a clean dry tray.  Allow to sit at room temperature for a further 30 minutes to ensure they are completely dry.  If the fish is not totally dry, the smoke will not adhere to the fish.

Sprinkle 3-4 tablespoons of sawdust on the base of the biscuit tin. Lay the fish or meat on the wire rack skin-side down, then cover the tin with the lid.

Place the tin on a gas jet or other heat source on a medium heat. The sawdust will start to smoulder and produce warm smoke that in turn both cooks and smokes the food. Reduce the heat to low. Mackerel will take about 6–10 minutes depending on size. Leave to rest before eating warm or at room temperature.

Alternatively, you could buy a simple smoking box from a fishing store or hot-smoke in a tightly covered wok over a gas jet in your own kitchen.

 

Mackerel with Cream and Dill

Serves 4 as a main course, 8 as a starter

Dill, which is an annual herb, is particularly good with mackerel.  One wouldn’t normally think of cream with an oily fish but this combination is surprisingly delicious and very fast to cook.

4 fresh mackerel

Salt and freshly ground pepper

¼ oz (8 g) butter

6 fl ozs (175 ml) cream

1½-2 tablespoons fresh dill, finely chopped

Gut the mackerel, fillet carefully, wash and dry well.  Season with salt and freshly ground pepper.  Melt the butter in a frying pan, fry the mackerel fillets flesh down until golden brown, turn over on to the skin side, add cream and freshly chopped dill.  Simmer gently for 3 or 4 minutes or until the mackerel is cooked, taste the sauce and serve immediately.

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