Category Archives: Saturday Letter

Blue Fin Tuna

This week I tasted the most divine new fish, or at least it was new to me, Blue Fin Tuna. When Tim was shopping in the Cork Market he spotted a crowd of people clustered around O’Connell’s fish stall. The extra buzz of excitement was generated by the arrival of a truly magnificent Blue Fin Tuna.
It weighed 240kg and took several strong men to lift it onto the huge block. Irrepressible Cork chef Seamus O’Connell of Ivory Tower and Yumi Yuki bounded in to stake his claim to some of the catch for his new restaurant Pi. He and Denis O’Connell set about carving up the tuna and apparently broke three knives in the process. The fish which was landed at Union Hall was in immaculate condition. The Japanese according to Seamus, go crazy for Blue Fin Tuna for sushi and sashimi but there are lots of other ways to serve it also. Sprinkled simply with sea salt and freshly ground pepper and pan-grilled with a little dash of olive oil, it tastes sublime.
Whichever way you decide to serve it, beware of overcooking. Treat it like a fillet steak and cook it medium rare. It will continue to cook after it leaves the pan and will be moist and tender. If you overcook it you will wonder what all the fuss is about, it will be dry and dull. Blue fin tuna is juicier and more gorgeous than any other tuna I’ve tasted.
Pat O’Connell told me that they sold every scrap of the huge fish in one day. It is rare for them to get a blue fish but yellow fin tuna is more common and sells in the fish market amazingly well.
Pat told me that people have become astonishingly more adventurous in recent times. After years of trying to tempt people to taste what many considered to be poor man’s food or penitential fare, fish has suddenly become hip and cool. Its ironic that this new interest coincides with many of the common species becoming scarcer and consequently jolly expensive.
People are according to Pat ‘going mad’ for the many new species being landed. Black Scabbard, Swordfish and Grenadier are hugely popular. Louvar is landed occasionally at Castletownbere and is a divine fish with snow white flesh and a fabulous flaky texture. They can weigh about 20 kgs, the biggest swordfish they sold this year was 500 lbs in weight and is apparently hugely popular with Cork people.
Pi, Courthouse Chambers, Washington Street, Cork Tel. 021-4222858

Seared Tuna with Piperonata and Tapenade

The secret of cooking tuna is to undercook it like a rare steak otherwise it becomes dry and dull. The sweetness of Piperonata and the gutsy taste of Tapenade are great with it.
Serves 6
6 x 175g (6oz) pieces of tuna
2 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Piperonata (See recipe)
Tapenade (See recipe)
Garnish
6-8 leaves of flat parsley
First make the Piperonata and Tapenade.
Preheat the pan- grill. Brush the tuna with oil and season well with salt and freshly ground pepper. Sear the tuna on the hot grill pan, first in one direction and then the other. Cook on both sides for 2- 3 minutes. The centre should still be ‘pink’. Tuna is moist and juicy if served rare but becomes dry and dull if well cooked.
Meanwhile reheat the Piperonata if necessary, put a few tablespoons onto each plate, place a piece of sizzling tuna on top. Put a little Tapenade on top or dot irregularly around the edge of the Piperonata. Add a few sprigs of flat parsley or basil and serve immediately.

Tapenade

The strong gutsy flavour of Tapenade can be an acquired taste – however it becomes addictive and has become a “new basic”.
2 ozs (55g) anchovy fillets
3½ ozs (100g/½ cup) stoned black olives
1 tablespoon (1 American tablespoon + 1 teaspoon) capers
1 teaspoon mustard
1 teaspoon lemon juice
Freshly ground pepper
2-3 tablespoons (37ml/scant ¼ cup) olive oil
Whizz up the anchovy fillets (preferably in a food processor) with the stoned black olives, capers, mustard, lemon juice, and pepper.
Alternatively, use a pestle and mortar. Add the olive oil as you whisk and process to a course or smooth puree as you prefer.
Piperonata
Serves 8-10
1 onion, sliced
2 red peppers
2 green peppers
6 large tomatoes (dark red and very ripe)
2 tablespoons (2 American tablespoons + 2 teaspoons) olive oil
Salt, freshly ground pepper and sugar
A clove of garlic, crushed
A few leaves of fresh basil
Heat the olive oil in a casserole, add the garlic and cook for a few seconds, then add the sliced onion, toss in the oil and allow to soften over a gentle heat in a covered casserole while the peppers are being prepared. Halve the peppers, remove the seeds carefully, cut into quarters and then into strips across rather that lengthways. Add to the onion and toss in the oil; replace the lid and continue to cook.
Meanwhile peel the tomatoes (scald in boiling water for 10 seconds, pour off the water and peel immediately). Slice the tomatoes and add to the casserole, season with salt, freshly ground pepper, sugar and a few leaves of fresh basil if available. Cook until the vegetables are just soft, 30 minutes approx.

Grilled Tuna Nicoise

This recipe is from The ABC of AWT by Antony Worrall-Thompson published by Headline.
Serves 4
3 tablesp. balsamic vinegar
135ml (4½ fl.oz) extra virgin olive oil
2 tablesp. chopped parsley
2 tablesp. snipped chives
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
½ teasp. salt
½ teasp. ground black pepper
4 tuna steaks, 2.5cm (1 in) thick
2 Little Gem lettuce hearts
16 black olives in oil, halved
3 plum tomatoes, quartered
115g (4oz) extra fine French beans, topped
1 red onion, finely sliced
6 anchovy fillets, roughly chopped
8 cooked new potatoes, halved
3 hard-boiled eggs, quartered
8 basil leaves, ripped
Make a marinade for the tuna by whisking together the vinegar, 7 tablespoons of the olive oil, the parsley, chives, garlic, salt and pepper. Pour half of this over the tuna in a non-reactive bowl, and chill for 2-4 hours.
Heat a ridged griddle pan on the hob for 5 minutes. Drain the tuna. Cook the tuna steaks for between 1-3 minutes each side, depending on how rare you like your fish.
Toss together the lettuce, olives, tomato, beans (cooked for 4 minutes and refreshed in cold water), onion, anchovy and potato, and add the remaining marinade plus the remaining extra virgin olive oil. Toss to combine.
Arrange the salad on a platter; place the tuna on top and garnish with the hard-boiled eggs and ripped basil.

Japanese-style Tuna Brochettes

This recipe is from ‘Cook at Home with Peter Gordon’, published by Hodder & Stoughton.
This is a great way to eat fish on a picnic as the tuna stays delicious for up to 12 hours once cooked, so long as it’s kept cool. Swordfish works well too.
Serves 8
100ml (4 fl.ozs) light soy sauce
50ml (2 fl.ozs) sake or dry sherry
1 teaspoon freshly grated ginger
2 teasps. Demerara sugar
800g fresh tuna loin, sinews and skin removed, cut into 2cm cubes.
1 tube instant wasabi paste, to serve *
8 satay sticks
Mix together the soy sauce, sake, ginger and sugar until the sugar has dissolved. Then add the tuna and stir gently. Leave it to marinate in the fridge for at least 6 hours. Drain the marinade from the tuna and discard the liquid. Divide the fish into 8 equal amounts and skewer it on the satay sticks. Heat either a grill or a heavy pan and cook for just 45 seconds on 2 sides – you want the tuna to remain rare inside. Leave it to cool before putting it into your picnic container. Serve with a little wasabi, squeezed on at the last minute.
* Available from Asian shops or shops selling Asian ingredients.

The Hidden Cost Of Cheap Food

Every time I turn on the television and hear the supermarket moguls rolling off the latest set of bargains and boasting about the way they have slashed prices even further, my heart sinks. Far from being delighted by low prices, I think of the farmers and food producers who once more are being forced to produce food below its economic level by our unreasonable expectation that cheap food is our right. Cheap food is not our right and in reality the price of cheap food is far too high, both in health terms and in socio-economic terms. In fact when we refuse to pay producers a fair price for their produce we force them into an increasingly intolerable situation.
They are left with little option but to intensify further or go out of business altogether.
The result of this ever-increasing scenario is that we are all losers. The quality and flavour of the food drops because realistically whenever food is produced at the least cost, there are problems for man, beast and land.
Already we have seen the disastrous consequences of pushing animal and plant way beyond their natural limits for the past 20 years – BSE and stronger and stronger strains of salmonella, camphylobactor and E-coli. Where will it end?
Instead of relentlessly squeezing farmers and food producers, the government and supermarkets and all food departments ought to come together to educate the public about how real food is produced and why if it is to be wholesome and health-giving, it needs to cost a reasonable price.
Now there’s talk of a milk and bread war – cheaper bread doesn’t bear thinking about. How many of these wise boys in their suits in the supermarkets have any idea what a dairy farmer’s life is like, getting up at the crack of dawn to milk cows, rain, hail or snow and again at night, 365 days a year. Why shouldn’t these people expect to be paid a fair price for their milk, why should they have to subsidise our demand for cheap food? If we continue to make them work for virtually no return, who is to blame them when they decide to throw their hat at it. What then?- no milk and more and more people flocking into the already overcrowded cities.
Next time you pick up a ‘bargain’, think of the farmer and remember that the reality is that the more people we put out of business, the more it will cost us the taxpayers in the end.
Meanwhile, how about making your own bread. Soda breads are literally made in minutes.

White Soda Bread and Scones

Soda bread only takes 2 or 3 minutes to make and 20-30 minutes to bake. It is certainly another of my ‘great convertibles’. We have had the greatest fun experimenting with different variations and uses. It’s also great with olives, sun-dried tomatoes or caramelized onions added, so the possibilities are endless for the hitherto humble soda bread.
1 lb (450g/3¼ cups) white flour, preferably unbleached
1 level teaspoon/½ American teaspoon salt
1 level teaspoon/½ American teaspoon breadsoda
Sour milk or buttermilk to mix – 12-14 fl ozs (350-412 ml) approx.
First fully preheat your oven to 230ºC/450ºF/regulo 8.
Sieve the dry ingredients. Make a well in the centre. Pour most of the milk in at once. Using one hand, mix in the flour from the sides of the bowl, adding more milk if necessary. The dough should be softish, not too wet and sticky. When it all comes together, turn it out onto a well floured worked surface. WASH AND DRY YOUR HANDS. Tidy it up and flip over gently. Pat the dough into a round about 1½ inches (2.5cm) deep and cut a cross on it to let the fairies out! Let the cuts go over the sides of the bread to make sure of this. Bake in a hot oven, 230ºC/450ºF/regulo 8 for 15 minutes, then turn down the oven to 200ºC/400ºF/regulo 6 for 30 minutes or until cooked. If you are in doubt, tap the bottom of the bread: if it is cooked it will sound hollow.

White Soda Scones

Make the dough as above but flatten the dough into a round 1 inch (2.5cm) deep approx. Cut into scones. Cook for 20 minutes approx. in a hot oven (see above).
White Soda Bread with Herbs
Add 2 tablespoons (2 American tablespoon + 2 teaspoons) of freshly chopped herbs eg. rosemary or sage, thyme, chives, parsley, lemon balm to the dry ingredients and continue as above. Shape into a loaf or scones and bake as for soda bread.
Cheddar Cheese and Thyme Leaf Scones
Substitute thyme leaves for mixed herbs in above recipe.
Cheese Scones or Herb and Cheese Scones
4 ozs (110g/1 cup) grated mature Cheddar cheese
Egg wash
Make the White Soda bread or herb dough. Stamp into scones, brush the top of each one with egg wash and then dip into grated cheddar cheese, bake as for soda scones, or use to cover the top of a casserole or stew.
Rosemary and Olive Scones
Add 1½ tablespoons of chopped fresh rosemary and 2 tablespoons roughly chopped stoned black olives to the dry ingredients and proceed as in the master recipe.
Rosemary and Sundried Tomatoes
Add 1-2 tablespoons (1½ – 2½ tablespoons) of chopped rosemary, 2 tablespoons (2 American tablespoons + 2 teaspoons) of chopped sundried tomatoes to the flour and continue as in the basic recipe. Form into a loaf of bread or scones.

Olive Scones

Make a white soda bread dough with or without herbs. Flatten into a 1 inch square. Dot the top with whole olives. Brush generously with olive oil, sprinkle with sea salt, cut into square scones and bake as above.
Brown Soda Bread and Scones
560g/1lb/scant 4 cups brown wholemeal flour (preferably stone-ground)
560g/1lb/4 cups) plain white flour
2 rounded teaspoons (10g/2 American teaspoons) dairy salt
2 rounded teaspoons (10g/2 American teaspoons) bread soda (Bicarbonate of Soda/Baking Soda) sieved
860g/1 pints approx./3 cups sour milk or buttermilk
First preheat the oven to 230C/450F/regulo 8
Mix all the dry ingredients together in a large wide bowl, make a well in the centre and pour all of the sour milk or buttermilk. Using one hand, stir in a full circle starting in the centre of the bowl working towards the outside of the bowl until all the flour is incorporated. The dough should be soft but not too wet and sticky. When it all comes together, a matter of seconds, turn it out onto a well floured board. WASH AND DRY YOUR HANDS. Roll around gently with floury hands for a second, just enough to tidy it up. Flip over and flatten slightly to about 2 inches (5cm) approx. Sprinkle a little flour onto a baking sheet and place the loaf on top of the flour. Make with a deep cross and bake in a hot oven 230C/450F/regulo 8 after 15-20 minutes reduce the heat to 200C/400F/regulo 6 for approx. 20-25 minutes or until the bread is cooked (In some ovens it is necessary to turn the bread upside down on the baking sheet for 5-10 minutes before the end of baking) It will sound hollow when tapped. Cool on a wire rack.
Note: One could add 30g/1 oz/ cup fine oatmeal, 1 egg and 30g/1 oz/ stick) butter to the above to make a richer soda bread dough.

Brown Soda Scones

Make the dough as above. Form it into a round and flatten to 4cm/1½ inch thick approx. Stamp out into scones with a cutter, or cut with a knife. Bake for about 30 minutes in a hot oven (see above).
Note: Bread should always be cooked in a fully pre-heated oven, but ovens vary enormously so it is necessary to adjust the temperature accordingly.
If a lighter bread is preferred, use 675g (1½ lbs g) white flour and 450g (1lb) brown wholemeal flour.

Blueberries are the latest wonder food

Surprise, surprise – blueberries are the latest wonder food according to a recent press release from An Bord Glas.
Can you imagine the delight of the blueberry farmers in the Midlands when this was announced. A huge bonus in marketing terms, as we realise the importance of anti-oxidants in our diet to combat cancer. US medical studies have linked anthocyanins in blueberries (the pigment that makes the berries blue) to preventing cancer since they contain large amounts of these antioxidants. They are responsible for mopping up ‘free radicals’ in our body which can lead to cancer. The antioxidants in blueberries are also linked to slowing the effects of ageing such as joint and vascular disorders, loss of memory, skin wrinkling and varicose veins- just what I need!
Further studies have indicated that the high pectin content in blueberries can assist in reducing cholestrol in the bloodstream while the berries have also been found to be beneficial in treating and preventing urinary tract infections. Additional claimed health benefits include improving night vision, helping the eyes adjust to bright light and helping to reduce eye strain.
Fancy that – I didn’t need an excuse to eat blueberries, I’ve always loved them and have feasted on them every year during the short season when Irish blueberries are in the shops. The plump juicy blueberries that are now abundant are the cultivated relatives of the wild bilberries, herts or fraughans, as the intensively flavoured wild blueberries are called in different parts of the country.
They were traditionally picked on the first Sunday of August during Lughnasa and eaten mashed with sugar or in pies. In good years when they were particularly plentiful, they were even made into jams.
The tiny blue/black berries grow on scratchy little bushes and are quite a challenge to pick in the wild. They are sublime, just simply crushed and sprinkled with sugar and eaten with a blob of softly whipped cream, or spooned onto a sheet of tender sponge cake. They are also a delicious accompaniment to Carrigeen Moss pudding.
The season is short but the flavour is so intense that it is worth organising a family expedition to go blueberry picking on a hilltop near you.
Alternatively, look for Irish blueberries – they’ll be in the shops until early September so enjoy them while you can.

Autumn Fruit Salad

Serves 4-6
This recipe made in seconds makes a delicious fresh fruit salad. Use the best fruit you can find and dress it at the table just before you eat it.
4 ozs (110g/1 cup) Blackberries
4 ozs (110g/1 cup) Blueberries
4 ozs (110g/1 cup) Wild Strawberries (fraises du bois) or small strawberries
4 ozs (110g/ 1 cup) Raspberries
1 or 2 Peaches or Nectarines
Juice of 2-1 lemon
2 ozs (55g/scant 3 cup) sugar
Fresh mint leaves
Combine the berries and the sliced peaches or nectarines in a bowl and sprinkle with sugar and fresh lemon juice. Tear some fresh mint leaves into the fruit stir, taste and add more sugar or juice if necessary.
Serve immediately.

Blueberry Bread and Butter Pudding

Serves 6-8
We’ve been having fun ringing the changes with our Bread and Butter Pudding recipe. It is also delicious with apple and cinnamon or even mixed spice.
12 slices good-quality white bread, crusts removed
55g (2oz/½ stick) butter, preferably unsalted
450g (1 lb) blueberries
Sugar
450ml (16 fl oz/2 cups) cream
230ml (8 fl oz/1 cup) milk
4 large eggs, beaten lightly
1 teaspoon pure vanilla essence
175g (6oz/¾ cup) sugar
1 tablespoon (1 American tablespoon + 1 teaspoon) sugar for sprinkling on top of the pudding
Garnish:
Softly-whipped cream
1 x 8 inches (20.5cm) square pottery or china dish
Put the blueberries into a dish and sprinkle with sugar, leave to macerate for an hour.
Butter the bread and arrange 4 slices, buttered side down, in one layer in the buttered dish. Sprinkle the bread with half the blueberries, arrange another layer of bread, buttered side down, over the blueberries. Cover with the remaining bread, buttered side down.
In a bowl whisk together the cream, milk, eggs, vanilla essence and sugar. Pour the mixture through a fine sieve over the bread. Sprinkle the sugar over the top and let the mixture stand, covered loosely, for at least 1 hour or refrigerate overnight.
Bake in a bain-marie – the water should be half way up the sides of the baking dish. Bake the pudding in the middle of a preheated oven, 180C/350F/regulo 4, for 1 hour approx. or until the top is crisp and golden. Serve the pudding warm with some softly-whipped cream.

Blueberry Muffins – recipe courtesy of An Bord Glas

225g (8ozs) blueberries
225g (8ozs) self-raising flour
3 tablesp. sugar
½ teasp. salt
2 eggs
225ml (8fl.ozs) milk
50g (2ozs) melted then cooled butter
Preheat the oven to 190C/375F/regulo 5.
Grease 24 patty tins
Sprinkle blueberries with 2 tablesp. of the sugar and a little sifted flour.
Sieve together the remaining dry ingredients, add the eggs, milk and butter and mix to a stiff batter.
Mix in the blueberries and divide the mixture into the prepared patty tins. Bake for 30 minutes.

The Avoca Café, a legend in its short life time

The Avoca Café in Kilmacanogue has already become a legend in its short life time. It has evolved in just a few years from a mere 4 tables serving home-made soup and biscuits into one of Ireland’s best loved restaurants, serving over 1,000 people a day.
The Café was originally started to facilitate people who came to browse and shop at Avoca Handweavers. Now many of the afficionados who flock to the Café come first and foremost for the delicious food, fresh-tasting salads, seasonal soup, interesting main courses and yummy puds and cakes.
Everyone has their favourite Avoca recipe, some dishes simply can’t be taken off the menu, yet there’s lots of variety for the many who drop in on a regular basis. Executive Chef Leylie Hayes graduated from a 12 week Certificate Course here at the Ballymaloe Cookery School in 1987. She and her team manage to keep brilliantly consistent food which is so difficult to achieve.
The many Avoca fans, of which I am certainly one, are overjoyed to hear that Leylie and Hugo Arnold have collaborated to write the Avoca Café Cookbook – its stylish and terrific. Rush out and buy it – its full to the brim with recipes you’ll want to dash into the kitchen to try.
‘Avoca Café Cookbook’ published by Avoca Handweavers Ltd, Kilmacanogue, Co Wicklow, £17.99.
Here are some delicious recipes from the book.

Piperade Tartlets

Shortcrust pastry, made with 225g (8oz) plain flour, 150g (5oz) butter, ½ teasp. salt and 1-2 egg yolks.
4 tablesp. olive oil
1 onion, peeled, cut in half, then sliced into semi-circles
3 red and 3 yellow peppers, cut into strips
225g (8oz) goat’s cheese log, such as Saint Loup
4 beef or plum tomatoes, sliced
a large bunch of basil
Roll the pastry out and use to line four 10cm/4 inch loose-bottomed tartlet tins, then bake blind. To make the piperade, heat half the olive oil in a saucepan, add the onion and peppers and cook over a high heat for about 10 minutes, stirring. Turn the heat down and cook for about an hour, until the mixture resembles marmalade.
Slice the goat’s cheese and crumble it over the pastry bases. Spread the piperade over it, then arrange the tomatoes on top. Bake in an oven pre-heated to 200C/400F/gas mark 6 for about 20 minutes. Tear up the basil and mix with the remaining olive oil. Spread over the top of the tartlets and serve warm.

Lakeshore Pork

1.3kg (3lb) diced leg of pork, well trimmed (fillet is even better)
Seasoned flour: flour, salt, pepper, mustard powder and brown sugar
Olive oil
600ml (1 pint) apple juice
300ml (½ pint) chicken stock
300g Lakeshore mustard, or other wholegrain mustard
300ml (½ pint) cream
Toss the pork in the seasoned flour and then brown it in some olive oil in small batches. Place in a flameproof casserole dish and cover with the apple juice and stock. Add the mustard and bring it to the boil, then transfer to an oven preheated to 180C/350F/gas mark 4 for 40 minutes. Remove from the oven, stir in the cream and return to the oven for 10 minutes.
If the sauce is a little thin, remove the meat and keep warm. Put the casserole over a moderate heat and simmer until the sauce is reduced and thickened. Return the meat to the pan.

Banana Bread

225g (8oz) plain flour
1 teasp. salt
1 heaped teasp. baking powder
1 teasp. ground cinnamon
110g (4oz) caster sugar
1 egg, beaten
75g (3oz) butter, melted
a few drops of vanilla essence
65g (2½ oz) pecan nuts, chopped
4 medium-sized ripe bananas, mashed
Makes 1 loaf
Sift the flour, salt, baking powder and cinnamon into a bowl and stir in the sugar. Mix in the egg, butter and vanilla essence, but do not beat. Fold in the pecans and mashed bananas, using a fork. Again do not beat. Spoon into a lined 9x20cm (3½ inch x 8 inch) loaf tin and bake in an oven preheated to 180C/350F/gas mark 4 for 50-60 minutes, until the loaf is golden brown and springs back when prodded gently with your finger. Leave in the tin for 10 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack to cool.

Apple Streusel Biscuits

Makes 16-20
150g (5oz) plain flour
90g (3½ oz) icing sugar
150g (5oz) ground almonds
225g (8oz) unsalted butter, diced
6 tablesp. home-made lemon curd
a little caster sugar for dusting
For the streusel topping:
1 large red eating apple
90g (3½oz) unsalted butter, diced
190g (6½oz) plain flour, sifted
1 teasp. mixed spice
Sift the flour and icing sugar into a bowl and stir in the ground almonds. Rub in the butter until the mixture forms coarse crumbs, then work gently together to form a soft dough. Roll out to fit a 32 x 23cm/13 x 9 inch Swiss roll tin. Scoop the dough into the tin and press out to fit. Prick all over with a fork. Spoon the lemon curd on top and refrigerate while making the streusel topping.
Coarsely grate the apple and squeeze dry on kitchen paper. Put into a bowl with a little of the demerara sugar and mix to separate the strands. In a separate bowl, rub the butter into the flour until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. Mix in the spice, apple and the remaining sugar. Sprinkle evenly over the lemon curd, pressing down gently. Bake in an over preheated to 180C/350F/gas mark 4 for 45-50 minutes, until lightly browned. Leave to cool in the tin, then cut into bars. Dust with caster sugar.

Sophie Grigson’s Sunshine Food

Sophie Grigson, bubbly cook of the many earrings has a passion for the Mediterranean and not just the food, warmth and colour but also the home made drinks like Limoncello and Mint tea. In her newest book sunshine Food she captures the essence of holidays in the sun. Understandably Sophie’s ideal holiday spot is not the Cost de Sol. Asked to describe her perfect place, she searches out the ever diminishing number of small towns or villages off the beaten track, with perhaps a sandy beach, a small bar and an unpretentious restaurant frequented by the locals. “ Then absolutely critical, there must be ruins and local markets and narrow old streets to wander through”. The hotel or holiday house doesn’t have to be grand but certainly won’t be one of those concrete edifices that have mushroomed like some fungal disease all along the shores of the Mediterranean. Finally the food must be good honest gutsy food, not grand, but made with fresh local ingredients, cooked in the time honoured way without frills and fuss. It’s worth remembering that the Mediterranean is of course not just the south of France, Spain and Italy. There’s also Greece, Turkey, the Lebanon, Israel and North Africa , Egypt, Tunisia and on finally to Morocco. The sunny food of these countries is immensely seductive to us northerners and Sophie seems particularly fond of the robust flavours of Morocco, Sicily and Greece. Sophie Grigson’s Sunshine Food Published by BBC Cooks £20.00 Sterling

Joshua Goes Foraging

Our adorable little grandson Joshua is now eight months. He gurgles and chuckles all day long and has just started to crawl. We are all completely besotted and much time is spent baby worshipping.

Yesterday I took him out into the fruit garden to taste some ripe berries, he didn’t much like blackcurrants or redcurrants but he loved raspberries and fraises du bois – little wild strawberries. We had the best fun, we played a game – he held out his little dimpled hand while I put a raspberry on the top of each finger which he promptly polished off.
We only have a couple of rows of raspberries but across the road local farmer Patrick Walsh and his family grow a gorgeous selection of berries and some vegetables, much to the delight and gratitude of everyone around. Wouldn’t it be so wonderful if every village and town had at least one farm shop where local people could buy local food directly from source. There’s lots of room for big and small production, but this is yet another way that some farmers could perhaps increase their income and generate tremendous goodwill in their locality.
Then we as consumers need to show an appreciation by paying a fair price so they can produce the quality we demand. Sadly our assumption that ‘cheap food’ is our right, coupled with over-production, has been the cause of much of the problems of farming in recent times. We are quite simply forcing farmers to produce food, in many cases below its economic level. Consequently many farmers are either going out of business in despair or choosing the only other course open to them – to intensify production to reduce costs, often with a resulting loss of quality and flavour.
This very serious issue needs to be debated and tackled urgently before the exodus from the land goes any further.
Here are some of the delicious recipes we have been enjoying made from local raspberries.

 

A Jelly of Fresh Raspberries with Fresh Mint Cream

 


Makes 9-10 ramekins
1 lb (450g) fresh raspberries
Syrup
8 ozs (225g/generous1 cup) sugar
8 fl ozs (225ml/1 cup) water
4 sprigs fresh mint
1 dessertspoon (2 American teaspoons) Framboise
1 tablesp. (1 American tablesp. + 1 teasp.) lemon juice
3 rounded teasp. gelatine, 3 tablesp. water
Mint Cream
15 mint leaves approx.
1 tablesp. (1 American tablesp. + 1 teasp.) lemon juice
6 fl ozs (170ml/ ¾ cup) cream
Make a syrup by bringing sugar, water and mint leaves slowly to the boil. Simmer for a few minutes, allow to cool, add Framboise and lemon juice,
Meanwhile line the moulds with cling film.
Sponge the gelatine in two tablespoons of cold water in a small bowl or pint measure, then place the bowl in a pan of simmering water until gelatine completely dissolves. Remove the mint leaves from the syrup, then pour the syrup onto the gelatine and then add the raspberries. Fill into the lined moulds. Put into the fridge and leave to set for 3-4 hours.
Meanwhile make the mint cream. Crush the mint leaves in a pestle and mortar with the lemon juice, add the cream and stir, (the lemon juice will thicken the cream, if the cream becomes too thick add a little water.)
To assemble
Spread a little mint cream on a white plate, turn out a raspberry jelly and place in the centre. Place five mint leaves on the mint cream around the jelly. Decorate with a few perfect raspberries. Serve chilled.

 

Liz Grieve’s Raspberry & Almond Torte with Raspberry Compote

 


Liz, a past student of ours shared this delicious recipe with us.
Serves 8
5oz (135g/1¼ stick) softened butter
5oz (135g) castor sugar
5oz (135g) ground almonds
5oz (135g) self raising flour
1 egg, free range
8-12 ozs (225-350g) fresh raspberries (if using frozen drain well!)
Use 8-9 inch baking tin with detachable base, greased.
Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/gas mark 4
Cream the butter, beat in the castor sugar, stir in the ground almonds and flour. The mixture will be quite soft. Spread half of this mixture onto the base of the greased tin. Put a layer of raspberries on top and cover with the remaining mix. Bake for approximately 1 hour until firm and golden.
It is best served warm with softly whipped cream and Raspberry Compote. (see below).

 

Raspberry Compote

 


1 lb (450g) raspberries
6-8 ozs (175-225g) sugar
Cook raspberries gently for about 2-3 minutes and add sugar to taste.
Raspberry Ice cream
Serves 6
1 lb (450g) fresh raspberries
10 ozs (285g) sugar
5 fl ozs (150ml) water
1 teasp. gelatine
1 pint (600ml) whipped cream
Puree and sieve the raspberries. Dissolve the sugar in the water and boil for 2 minutes, sponge the gelatine in 1 tablespoon water and dissolve in a saucepan of simmering water. Blend raspberries, puree with the syrup add a little to the gelatine and then mix the two together. Fold in whipped cream and freeze.

 

Raspberry Buns

 


Raspberry Buns have a very special place in my heart because as far as I can remember they were the very first thing I learned how to make under the watchful eye of my Aunt Florence.
Makes 10
6 ozs (170g/generous 1 cup) plain white flour
pinch of salt
2 ozs (55g/½ stick) butter
2 ozs (55g) castor sugar
1 egg
a little milk
1 tablespoon (1 American tablespoon + 1 teaspoon) home-made raspberry jam
1 teaspoon baking powder
Preheat the oven to 200C/400F/gas mark 6
Sieve the flour and salt into a bowl. Rub the butter into the flour, add the sugar and baking powder. Whisk the egg and add a little milk. Mix with the dry ingredients to form a stiffish dough. Divide the dough into 10 equal portions and roll into balls using a little flour. Lay them on a greased tray and make a hole in the top of each with a floured thumb. Fill with a small quantity of raspberry jam and pinch the dough together again. flatten the buns slightly. Brush with a little egg wash and sprinkle with sugar. Bake in the good preheated oven for about 15 minutes. When the buns are ready they will crack on top and the jam will peep out, irresistible straight from the oven.

 

Raspberry & Loganberry Jam

 


Makes 3 x 1 lb (450g) pots
This recipe may also be used for loganberries or raspberries on their own. Reduce the sugar to 1¾ lb (785g/4 cups) for raspberry jam.
1 lb (450g/4 cups) raspberries
1 lb (450g/4 cups) loganberries
2 lbs (900g/4½ cups) white sugar
Wash, dry and sterilize the jars in a moderate oven 180C/350F/regulo 4 for 15 minutes. Heat the sugar in a moderate oven for 5-10 minutes.
Put the fruit into a wide stainless steel saucepan and cook for 3-4 minutes until the juice begins to run, then add the hot sugar and stir over a gentle heat until fully dissolved.
Increase the heat and boil steadily for 4-5 minutes, stirring frequently. Test for a set by putting about one teaspoon of jam on a cold plate, leave it for a few minutes in a cool place. It should wrinkle when pressed with a finger. Remove from the heat immediately. Skim and pour into sterilized jam jars. Cover immediately.

Joshua Goes Foraging

Our adorable little grandson Joshua is now eight months. He gurgles and chuckles all day long and has just started to crawl. We are all completely besotted and much time is spent baby worshipping.
Yesterday I took him out into the fruit garden to taste some ripe berries, he didn’t much like blackcurrants or redcurrants but he loved raspberries and fraises du bois – little wild strawberries. We had the best fun, we played a game – he held out his little dimpled hand while I put a raspberry on the top of each finger which he promptly polished off.
We only have a couple of rows of raspberries but across the road local farmer Patrick Walsh and his family grow a gorgeous selection of berries and some vegetables, much to the delight and gratitude of everyone around. Wouldn’t it be so wonderful if every village and town had at least one farm shop where local people could buy local food directly from source. There’s lots of room for big and small production, but this is yet another way that some farmers could perhaps increase their income and generate tremendous goodwill in their locality.
Then we as consumers need to show an appreciation by paying a fair price so they can produce the quality we demand. Sadly our assumption that ‘cheap food’ is our right, coupled with over-production, has been the cause of much of the problems of farming in recent times. We are quite simply forcing farmers to produce food, in many cases below its economic level. Consequently many farmers are either going out of business in despair or choosing the only other course open to them – to intensify production to reduce costs, often with a resulting loss of quality and flavour.
This very serious issue needs to be debated and tackled urgently before the exodus from the land goes any further.
Here are some of the delicious recipes we have been enjoying made from local raspberries.

A Jelly of Fresh Raspberries with Fresh Mint Cream

Makes 9-10 ramekins
1 lb (450g) fresh raspberries
Syrup
8 ozs (225g/generous1 cup) sugar
8 fl ozs (225ml/1 cup) water
4 sprigs fresh mint
1 dessertspoon (2 American teaspoons) Framboise
1 tablesp. (1 American tablesp. + 1 teasp.) lemon juice
3 rounded teasp. gelatine, 3 tablesp. water
Mint Cream
15 mint leaves approx.
1 tablesp. (1 American tablesp. + 1 teasp.) lemon juice
6 fl ozs (170ml/ ¾ cup) cream
Make a syrup by bringing sugar, water and mint leaves slowly to the boil. Simmer for a few minutes, allow to cool, add Framboise and lemon juice,
Meanwhile line the moulds with cling film.
Sponge the gelatine in two tablespoons of cold water in a small bowl or pint measure, then place the bowl in a pan of simmering water until gelatine completely dissolves. Remove the mint leaves from the syrup, then pour the syrup onto the gelatine and then add the raspberries. Fill into the lined moulds. Put into the fridge and leave to set for 3-4 hours.
Meanwhile make the mint cream. Crush the mint leaves in a pestle and mortar with the lemon juice, add the cream and stir, (the lemon juice will thicken the cream, if the cream becomes too thick add a little water.)
To assemble
Spread a little mint cream on a white plate, turn out a raspberry jelly and place in the centre. Place five mint leaves on the mint cream around the jelly. Decorate with a few perfect raspberries. Serve chilled.

Liz Grieve’s Raspberry & Almond Torte with Raspberry Compote

Liz, a past student of ours shared this delicious recipe with us.
Serves 8
5oz (135g/1¼ stick) softened butter
5oz (135g) castor sugar
5oz (135g) ground almonds
5oz (135g) self raising flour
1 egg, free range
8-12 ozs (225-350g) fresh raspberries (if using frozen drain well!)
Use 8-9 inch baking tin with detachable base, greased.
Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/gas mark 4
Cream the butter, beat in the castor sugar, stir in the ground almonds and flour. The mixture will be quite soft. Spread half of this mixture onto the base of the greased tin. Put a layer of raspberries on top and cover with the remaining mix. Bake for approximately 1 hour until firm and golden.
It is best served warm with softly whipped cream and Raspberry Compote. (see below).
Raspberry Compote
1 lb (450g) raspberries
6-8 ozs (175-225g) sugar
Cook raspberries gently for about 2-3 minutes and add sugar to taste.

Raspberry Ice cream

Serves 6
1 lb (450g) fresh raspberries
10 ozs (285g) sugar
5 fl ozs (150ml) water
1 teasp. gelatine
1 pint (600ml) whipped cream
Puree and sieve the raspberries. Dissolve the sugar in the water and boil for 2 minutes, sponge the gelatine in 1 tablespoon water and dissolve in a saucepan of simmering water. Blend raspberries, puree with the syrup add a little to the gelatine and then mix the two together. Fold in whipped cream and freeze.
Raspberry Buns
Raspberry Buns have a very special place in my heart because as far as I can remember they were the very first thing I learned how to make under the watchful eye of my Aunt Florence.
Makes 10
6 ozs (170g/generous 1 cup) plain white flour
pinch of salt
2 ozs (55g/½ stick) butter
2 ozs (55g) castor sugar
1 egg
a little milk
1 tablespoon (1 American tablespoon + 1 teaspoon) home-made raspberry jam
1 teaspoon baking powder
Preheat the oven to 200C/400F/gas mark 6
Sieve the flour and salt into a bowl. Rub the butter into the flour, add the sugar and baking powder. Whisk the egg and add a little milk. Mix with the dry ingredients to form a stiffish dough. Divide the dough into 10 equal portions and roll into balls using a little flour. Lay them on a greased tray and make a hole in the top of each with a floured thumb. Fill with a small quantity of raspberry jam and pinch the dough together again. flatten the buns slightly. Brush with a little egg wash and sprinkle with sugar. Bake in the good preheated oven for about 15 minutes. When the buns are ready they will crack on top and the jam will peep out, irresistible straight from the oven.

Raspberry & Loganberry Jam

Makes 3 x 1 lb (450g) pots
This recipe may also be used for loganberries or raspberries on their own. Reduce the sugar to 1¾ lb (785g/4 cups) for raspberry jam.
1 lb (450g/4 cups) raspberries
1 lb (450g/4 cups) loganberries
2 lbs (900g/4½ cups) white sugar
Wash, dry and sterilize the jars in a moderate oven 180C/350F/regulo 4 for 15 minutes. Heat the sugar in a moderate oven for 5-10 minutes.
Put the fruit into a wide stainless steel saucepan and cook for 3-4 minutes until the juice begins to run, then add the hot sugar and stir over a gentle heat until fully dissolved.
Increase the heat and boil steadily for 4-5 minutes, stirring frequently. Test for a set by putting about one teaspoon of jam on a cold plate, leave it for a few minutes in a cool place. It should wrinkle when pressed with a finger. Remove from the heat immediately. Skim and pour into sterilized jam jars. Cover immediately.

Cool Kids go Cooking!

School holidays at last – all over the country kids are rejoicing in their new found freedom, on the other hand many parents, particularly those in households where both parents are working, are wondering how on earth they will manage to cope and keep the children amused for the entire summer.
Well how about taking a brave step – let them into the kitchen, better still welcome them in.
Kids love to cook. Do you remember when you made your first fairy cakes or perhaps you’ve never baked a cake in your life but wish you could. Cooking is a life skill and children love it, you’ll be absolutely amazed at how fast they learn and how skilled and dextrous they become when they are given the opportunity to cook and handle kitchen equipment.
This week I’ve got an Introductory Course running here at the school, eight different nationalities ranging in age from 17-75 are learning basic cooking techniques and having so much fun. We can bring total beginners from ‘this is a wooden spoon’ to being able to give a dinner party in one week. It is one of our most popular courses and books up months in advance each year. Students range from barristers to bankers, farmers to foreign correspondents with an occasional actor and accountant thrown in.
Many of the older students particularly, regret that they never took time out to learn to cook and all wish they had the opportunity to soak up the basics when they were little.
Next week it’s a 2½ day course for Dads and Daughters, Mums and Sons, so if you feel like spending some quality time with your offspring and bonding over a Banoffi Pie well this could be your big chance. Earlier in the week Rick Bayless from Frontera Grill and Topolobampo in Chicago comes to Shanagarry to teach a Mexican food course. He’s a super star in the US, having been chosen as Chef of the Year in 1995. That will bring us to the end of our short course series until September.
But back to the kids in the kitchen. The following recipes come from Mary Contini’s new book entitled ‘Easy Peasy, Sweetie Pie’. I’m a big fan of this talented Scottish writer who has a passion for improving the diet of children in particular and making them realise that its fun to cook and ‘easy peasy’ to make simply delicious food.
‘Easy Peasy Sweetie Pie’ by Mary Contini is published by Ebury Press, London.

Grumpy Angel’s Breakfast

May says that a really yummy energy-packed breakfast will take away all the grumpies and make you into an angel!
You will need, any mixed fruits such as:

Strawberries, raspberries or blackberries or a slice of ripe melon
A kiwi fruit
An apple
Some grapes
A peach
6 tablespoons of Gree-style yoghurt
1 tablespoon of Crunchy Munchies (see next recipe)
Rinse any soft fruits or berries and throw away the stalks and any mouldy fruit. Put the fruit into the mixing bowl and squash it down with a fork.
If you want to, peel the skin off the fruit you are using. If not, just wash the skin well. Chop all the fruit into bite-sized pieces, cutting away any pips or seeds. Put it into the mixing bowl as you go. Prepare as much fruit as you like.
Add the yoghurt.
Sprinkle a tablespoon of Crunchy Munchies on top.

Crunchy Munchies

You will need 8 ingredients
100g of rolled oats
2 tablespoons of desiccated coconut
1 tablespoon of chopped hazelnuts
1 tablespoon of sunflower seeds
1 tablespoon of sesame seeds
1 tablespoon of runny honey
1 tablespoon of sunflower oil
2 tablespoons of sultanas

Grease a baking tray (at least 1cm deep) and have a mug of hot water standing by.
Turn on the oven to 200C/400F.gas mark 6.
Mix together the oats, coconut, hazelnuts, sunflower and sesame seeds in a large mixing bowl.
Dip the tablespoon into the mug of hot water and use this to measure out a tablespoon of runny honey. Pour it over the dressing.
Add the tablespoon of sunflower oil, mix everything together.
Spread the mixture roughly onto the greased baking tray and, using oven gloves, put the tray on the middle shelf of the oven. Set the timer for 20 minutes.
When the time is up, use your oven gloves to take the tray out of the oven. The mixture will be nicely toasted and chunky.
Tip it back into the mixing bowl and add the sultanas. Mix everything together. Leave to cool. Store the Crunchy Munchies in an airtight container. They are really good sprinkled over breakfast cereal, baked fruit or used in Grumpy Angel’s Breakfast.
You can make up Crunchy Munchies with any combination of nuts and dried fruits that you like. You will need to use the oats, honey and oil as a base. Try adding chopped dates, chopped dried apricots, or walnuts and pecans.

Chilly Banana

2 bananas
300g of frozen raspberries (not defrosted)
some cream, whipped if you like
2 small glasses.
Pop the raspberries into a liquidiser. Peel and chop the bananas. Add them too. Put the lid on and whisk for a few minutes. Using a spatula, scrape the mixture out of the liquidiser and divide it between the glasses, add a blob of cream before sharing.
You can make this with any frozen soft berries; maybe strawberries or blackberries or mixed soft fruits.

Flora’s Flop Flops
225g of self-raising flour
1 teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda
a pinch of salt
1 tablespoon of castor sugar
1 large egg
275ml of semi-skimmed milk

some butter for frying
Sift the flour into a large mixing bowl. Add the bicarbonate of soda, a pinch of slalt and the sugar and mix everything together.
Break the egg into a small bowl and beat it with a fork. Add it to the mixing bowl. Add the milk.
Use a balloon whisk to mix everything together to make a thick batter. Don’t worry about any lumps – keep mixing and they will disappear.
Cover the bowl with clingfilm and leave it for an hour or so.
Melt a small blob of butter in the frying pan over a medium heat. When it starts to sizzle, put 3 or 4 tablespoons of the thick batter into the frying pan, spaced well apart.
Turn down the heat and cook the Flop Flops for 3-4 minutes until lots of little bubbles appear on the surface and they start to brown underneath.
Slide a fish slice underneath and use a fork to help you carefully flip each one over. Cook them for another 2-3 minutes on the other side until they are golden brown.
Put the cooked Flip Flops on the warmed plate and cover them with a clean tea towel. Keep them in a warm place and cook the rest of the batter in the same way. There are very nice eaten still warm with butter and a big blob of jam.
You could also add 2 tablespoons of raisins or blueberries to the batter.

Connected to the Good Earth

Suddenly my potager vegetable garden is bursting with produce. The compost, well-rotted farmyard manure and seaweed have paid dividends, globe artichokes, beetroot, broad beans, sugar peas, spinach, radishes, lettuces, mustard greens, spring onions….

It’s a glorious time of the year, within a couple of weeks one goes from the ‘hungry gap’ between the end of the winter vegetables to an abundance of summer vegetables and salad leaves.
Evening after evening we go out into the vegetable garden and pick beautiful produce and feel blessed. I sit at the end of the kitchen table podding broad beans, stringing sugar peas, de-stalking spinach, trimming globe artichokes…. far from feeling rushed, I find that picking and preparing vegetables and fruit makes me relaxed and connected to the good earth and the reality of nature and the seasons.
One enjoys every mouthful even more if one plants the seed and watches it slowly grow into something delicious to eat. This gives you a quite different appreciation of food and a tremendous respect and admiration for gardeners and farmers who carefully grow lovely food for us all to enjoy.
Look out for fresh local produce in your shops and supermarkets, ask them to highlight localso you identify what comes from your own locality. It will be fresher and all the better for not having travelled hundreds of miles to and from a central distribution station.
For me it’s a joy to see huge bunches of local carrots and Ballycotton potatoes piled up outside Sean Walsh’s excellent village greengrocery in Castlemartyr. Another good spot to source local food are the Farmers’ Markets which are beginning to mushroom around the country at last. The Farmers Market in Midleton runs on Saturdays from 10am to 2pm. The Coal Quay Market in Cork City is from 9am to 1.30pm on Saturday, around County Cork there is Macroom on Tuesday from 10am to 3pm, Mitchelstown on Thursday from 8am to 3pm, Castletownbere on the first Thursday of the month from 9am to 1pm, Bantry on Friday from 9am to 3pm. In Kerry the market is in Kenmare on Wednesday mornings and Sneem on Tuesday.
Ennis is on Saturday morning and in Limerick they start early in the Milk Market at about 7.30am. Galway runs all day on Saturday as does the Temple Bar Market in Dublin – worth a detour!

 

Globe Artichokes with Melted Butter


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

Serves 6
6 globe artichokes
2 pints (1.1L/5 cups) water
2 teasp. salt
2 teaspoons approx. white wine vinegar

Melted Butter
6 ozs (170g/12 sticks) butter
Freshly squeezed juice of 3 lemon approx.

Some restaurants do very complicated preparation but I merely trim the base just before cooking so the artichokes will sit steadily on the plate, rub the cut end with lemon juice or vinegar to prevent it from discolouring.
Have a large saucepan of boiling water ready, add 2 teaspoons of vinegar and 2 teaspoons of salt to every 2 pints of water, pop in the artichokes and bring the water back to the boil. Simmer steadily for about 25 minutes. After about 20 minutes you could try testing to see if they are done. I do this by tugging off one of the larger leaves at the base, it should come away easily, if it doesn’t continue to cook for another 5 – 10 minutes. Remove and drain upside down on a plate.
While they are cooking simply melt the butter and add lemon juice to taste.

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

 

Glazed Carrots

 


For many people digging carrots straight from the garden won’t be an option, so at least buy fresh unwashed carrots and cook them by this method for maximum flavour.
Serves 4-6

1 lb (450g) unwashed carrots, Early Nantes and Autumn King have particularly good flavour
: oz (20g/scant 3 stick) butter
4 fl ozs (100ml/2 cup) cold water
pinch of salt
a good pinch of sugar

Garnish
freshly chopped parsley or fresh mint
Cut off the tops and tips, scrub and peel thinly if necessary. Cut into slices a inch (7mm) thick, either straight across or at an angle. Leave very young carrots whole. Put them in a saucepan with butter, water, salt and sugar. Bring to the boil, cover and cook over a gentle heat until tender, by which time the liquid should have all been absorbed into the carrots, but if not remove the lid and increase the heat until all the water has evaporated. Taste and correct the seasoning. Shake the saucepan so the carrots become coated with the buttery glaze. Serve in a hot vegetable dish sprinkled with chopped parsley or mint.

 

Broad Beans with Summer Savoury

 

Serves 8
Summer Savoury is a herb which has an extraordinary affinity with beans, it seems to make them taste more ‘beany’. If you don’t have it simply leave it out!

1 lb (450g) shelled Broad beans
3 pint (150ml/generous 2 cup) water
1 teasp. salt
sprig of summer savoury
1 oz (30g/3 stick) approx. butter
1-2 teasp. summer savory, freshly chopped
sea salt and freshly ground pepper

Bring the water to a rolling boil, add the sea salt, broad beans and a sprig of savoury. Continue to boil very fast for 3 to 4 minutes or until just cooked. Drain immediately. Melt a little butter in the saucepan, toss in the broad beans and season with freshly ground pepper. Taste, add some more savory and a little sea salt if necessary.The first tender new season broad beans may be podded at the table and eaten raw dipped first into best quality extra virgin olive oil and then sea salt, delicious with a tangy Irish farmhouse sheep’s cheese and warm crusty bread or ciabatta.

 

Buttered Spinach

 


Serves 4-6
Here are three different basic methods of cooking spinach – all of them a huge improvement on the watery mush that frozen spinach often unfortunately ends up as!
2 lbs (900g) fresh Spinach, with stalks removed
Salt, freshly ground pepper and a little freshly grated nutmeg
2-4 ozs (55-110g/2-1 stick) butter
Preparation

Method 1
Melt a scrap of butter in a wide frying pan, toss in as much spinach as will fit easily, season with salt and freshly ground pepper. As soon as the spinach wilts and becomes tender, strain off excess liquid, increase the heat and add some butter and freshly grated nutmeg. Serve immediately.
Method 2
Wash the spinach and drain. Put into a heavy saucepan on a very low heat, season and cover tightly. After a few minutes, stir and replace the lid. As soon as the spinach is cooked, about 5-8 minutes approx., strain off the copious amount of liquid that spinach releases and press until almost dry. Chop or puree in a food processor if you like a smooth texture. Increase the heat, add butter, correct the seasoning and add a little freshly grated nutmeg to taste.
Method 3
Cook the spinach uncovered in a large saucepan of boiling salted water until soft, 4-5 minutes approx. Drain and press out all the water. Continue as in method 2. Method 3 produces a brighter coloured spinach.
Creamed Spinach
Cook spinach either way and drain very well. Add 8-12 ozs (250-350ml/1-12 cups) cream to the spinach and bring to the boil, stir well and thicken with a little roux if desired, otherwise stir over the heat until the spinach has absorbed most of the cream. Season with salt, pepper and freshly grated nutmeg to taste. Creamed Spinach may be cooked ahead of time and reheated.
Oeufs Florentine
A classic and one of the most delicious combinations.
Serve freshly poached free range eggs on top of Creamed Spinach – one of our favourite lunch or supper dishes.

River Café Cook Book Green

Rose Gray and Ruth Rogers founded the phenomenally successful River Café Restaurant in London in 1987. Word spread quickly. People started arriving at their door. A woman from a local allotment began to bring her surplus sorrel in the early Spring. In April, a friend would pick stinging nettles by the bag-full from his farm in Hampshire. Other enthusiasts appeared with sea kale from the south coast beaches. Later in the year their builder exchanged the huge puffball mushrooms that grew near his house for bottles of Chianti Classico. When people realised that they were interested in fresh, unusual, wild produce, they wanted to participate.

In the introduction to their new book ‘River Café Cook Book Green’, Rose and Ruth explain how their passion for vegetables and fruit in season has been at the heart of the River Café since they first opened in 1987. Every day, outside the kitchen, they pick from their organic garden many varieties of basil, marjoram and mint, and interesting leaves such as purslane, cicoria, and treviso to use in their recipes. And the simple pleasure of all this, of fresh seasonal eating, is behind the River Café Cook Book Green, their third cookbook.
Like the others, it is heavily influenced by their love of Italy, their many visits over the years, and their growing appreciation of the glorious variety of Italian food. All the cooking starts in the market, the market reflects where you are, and the season around you. There is the joy in April when the first delicate broad beans arrive; that rich day in October when every stall is loaded with wild mushrooms gathered only that morning; the gentle sadness of biting into that last fresh cherry knowing that soon the brief season is over.
Over the years they have worked with their suppliers from the New Covent Garden, encouraging them to bring Italian market produce to London. Now lorries arrive laden with trevise from Verona, artichokes from Rome, borlotti beans from Puglia. These wonderful vegetables are slowly spreading throughout Britain and more and more greengrocers and supermarkets are selling them. Rose & Ruth suggest that if you have a garden you should experiment with growing your own. If not, try farmers’ markets, pick-your-own farms and organic box schemes. But above all develop a relationship with your greengrocer, urging him to supply interesting varieties.
They thought that the moment was ripe for a book of this kind, in which they have divided the year not simply into seasons but into months. They wanted to show how specific vegetables are used in specific months for specific recipes – romanesco artichokes for deep-frying whole, the violettas for slicing finely to be eaten raw in salads; how to choose different varieties of tomatoes – cherry vines for fresh pasta sauces, plums for slow-cooked ones and the huge yellow tomatoes for rubbing on to bruschetta. There are recipes using wild ingredients, stinging nettles, sorrel and thistles – for flavouring pastas or simply combining to make a delicious insalata di campo.
Their cooking has become increasingly focused on the garden and its produce. In the summer they make fresh pasta with olives and tomatoes and a risotto of summer squash; in October when the chestnuts appear they put them in soup with celeriac; in the winter they eat salads of puntarelle with anchovies and vin santo and for Christmas they make a cake with crystallised clementines; in Spring they make a raw artichoke pesto go with homemade tagliarini.
These are not complicated recipes, and their message is simple too; good cooking is about fresh seasonal ingredients, organic whenever possible, used thoughtfully. It is something the Italians have always known and they hope that with this book you will share their pleasure in rediscovering this simple truth.
Here are some recipes from River Café Cook Book Green by Rose Gray and Ruth Rogers, published by Ebury Press.

Summer Herb Salad – Insalata estiva di erbe

Serves 6

100g (3½ ozs) fresh herbs (to include basil, purple basil, mint, fennel herb and wild rocket)
200g (7ozs) fresh vegetable leaves (to include small spinach leaves, red and/or green purslane, orache, rocket, landcress and small leaves from the centre of young beetroot, chard and chicory plants)
juice of 2 lemons
extra virgin olive oil
Maldon salt and freshly ground black pepper
Wash and spin dry the herb and vegetable leaves.
Mix the lemon juice with four parts its volume of extra virgin olive oil. Season with salt and pepper and toss with the salad just seconds before serving.

 

Peach ice-cream Gelato alla pesca

Serves 10
2kg (scant 4½ lbs) ripe white peaches
1.75litres (generous 3 pints) double cream
450ml (16fl.ozs) milk
4 fresh vanilla pods, split lengthways
15 large, organic free-range egg yolks
caster sugar
juice of 1 lemon

In a large thick-bottomed saucepan, combine the cream and milk. Scrape the vanilla seeds out of the pods into the mixture, then add the pods. Heat until just below boiling point.
Beat the egg yolks and 350g sugar together slowly for 10 minutes until pale and thick. Pour a little of the warm cream into the egg yolks and stir, then add the yolks slowly to the bulk of the cream mixture. Cook gently over a low heat, stirring constantly. It is important to concentrate, as the mixture will curdle if it gets to boiling point. Remove just before it reaches this stage. Allow to cool completely.
Skin the peaches, then cut in half and remove the stones. Smash the peaches with a fork into a thick puree and sprinkle with 1 tablespoon sugar and the lemon juice. Add the peaches to the cream, stir and pour into an ice-cream machine to churn, or freeze in a suitable container.

 

Pea and Mint torte – sformato di piselli e menta

Serves 6
3 kg peas, (scant 7 lbs) podded
100g (3½ ozs) unsalted butter
200g (7ozs) Parmesan, freshly grated
250g (9 ozs) spring onions, finely chopped
2 tablesp fresh mint leaves
4 tablesp. fresh basil leaves
Maldon salt and freshly ground black pepper
300g (scant 11 ozs ) ricotta cheese
4 tablesp. double cream
4 large, organic free-range eggs
extra virgin olive oil

Preheat the oven to 190C (375F/gas 5). Butter a 25cm spring-release tin generously, then dust equally generously with grated Parmesan.
Melt the remaining butter in a medium saucepan, add the onion, and fry gently until soft. Add the peas, stir to combine, then add half the mint and basil and 150ml hot water. Season with salt, cover and cook for 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and allow to cool. Put half the pea mixture into a food processor with half the ricotta and half the cream. Blend to mix, quite briefly. Add the rest of the ricotta and cream and while blending, add the eggs, one at a time.
Remove the mixture from the food processor, and put into a large mixing bowl. Season with salt and pepper, and fold in the remaining peas, about 100g of the grated Parmesan and the rest of the herbs. Pour into the prepared tin, drizzle over a little olive oil and sprinkle with the remaining Parmesan. Bake in the preheated oven for 30-45 minutes. The sformato will rise and become crisp and brown on top. When it is firm in the centre and pulling away from the sides, it is cooked. Remove from the oven, rest for 5 minutes, then remove from the tin on to a large serving plate. Cut into wedges to serve, warm or at room temperature.