Darina’s Saturday Letter

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Tomatoes…

The garden is absolutely bursting with beautiful fresh produce at present, summer vegetables, berries, currants, edible flowers….. scarcely enough meal slots to get around to using it all.

This week I’m just going to focus on tomatoes. . . A delicious reward for all the seed sowing, watering, pruning and harvesting.

We used to be commercial tomato growers, my father-in-law, Ivan Allen built his first glasshouse in Shanagarry in the late 1920’s but nowadays we only grow small quantities but many varieties.  Lots and lots of cherry tomatoes because they tend to be more productive than the larger tomatoes, super easy to grow and deliciously sweet when allowed to ripen on the vine.

We grow both red and yellow varieties; Sun-Gold is a relatively new hybrid, bred for its tangy sweet flavour. It ripens to a golden orange colour and tends to split when really ripe but that doesn’t bother me.

We also grow over 25 different varieties of heirloom or heritage tomatoes. The seeds for these open pollinated, non-hybrid cultivars were carefully passed on from one dedicated seed saver to another at a time when many of these tomatoes were not considered worth growing because they had a shorter shelf life, a lower yield and didn’t fit the supermarket criteria for a uniform product.

Commercial tomatoes were picked off the plant under-ripe and became progressively less flavourful, particularly during winter months. Consumers moaned and surprisingly the plant breeders and supermarkets listened….first we got vine-ripened tomatoes which were supposedly better and certainly more expensive but rarely more flavourful.

Next, there were varieties that were grown ‘for flavour’ no less, which begs the question, what exactly were they grown for previously?  Well, we all know the answer – profit of course, all part of the relentless commodification of food, absolutely nothing to do with nourishment, nutrient density or flavour.

Back to the heirloom tomatoes – there are literally hundreds of different varieties of every size, shape and colour.  Some are round, others pear shaped, elongated, heart shaped, pleated…..Some plants produce only 3 or 4  tomatoes weighing up to a kilo each, others like the wild Argentinian are smaller than a marble but produce 20 or 30 intensely sweet, teeny weeny, super cute fruit on each truss. We love them and so do the grandchildren who eat them like smarties.  We just have the red variety this year but there’s also a yellow version called Gold-Rush currant that gets good press to put on next year’s list.

Each tomato variety has an intriguing story but best of all, each tastes different, many are super juicy, some are tart, others have complex bittersweet flavours, not just the one dimensional sweetness that some of the newer varieties now have.

I first came across some of these heritage tomatoes at the San Francisco Farmers Market in California over 20 years ago, strange looking tomatoes bursting with flavour, bizarre shapes, intriguing names…The word quickly spread and customers craving flavour flocked to buy them.  Soon they were on the supermarket shelves, grown commercially but sadly, a shadow of the originals and once again much more expensive.

Reality is, if we want tomatoes bursting with sunny flavour, we need to grow our own or buy from home gardeners, Farmers Markets or from local shops.

Some of my favourite varieties are Oxheart (a red or yellow meaty tomato), Brandy Wine, Black Krim, Cherokee Purple, Green Zebra (a juicy green fleshed tomato), Yellow Pear (bright yellow and pear shaped), Dancing with the Smurfs (an amazing slightly tart purple, blue tomato that develops a red tinge when completely ripe.  Speckled Roman, a beautiful elongated tiger striped tomato and Burpee Delight, Black Russian, Orange Bourgoin, Tigerella, all super delicious.

But a word of caution, just because they are heirloom tomatoes doesn’t necessarily mean they will taste great.  Choose tomatoes that smell intensely tomatoey and feel heavy for their size, that means they will be deliciously juicy.

A few recipes to celebrate your delicious harvest…

Gazpacho

We love to make this cold soup in the Summer with the vine ripened tomatoes in the greenhouses that are bursting with flavour – serve as a starter or as a refreshing drink for picnics.

Serves 4-6

700g (1 1/2lb) very ripe tomatoes, peeled and finely chopped

3 thick slices good quality stale bread, crusts removed and chopped

2-3 cloves garlic, crushed

425ml (15fl oz pint) fresh tomato juice

2 roast and peeled red peppers

110g (4oz) onion, peeled and chopped

1 medium cucumber, chopped

4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons homemade mayonnaise optional

1 tablespoon red wine vinegar

1 teaspoon salt

freshly ground black pepper and sugar

Garnish

2 red peppers, deseeded and finely diced

1 small cucumber, finely diced

4 very ripe tomatoes, finely diced

4 slices bread made into tiny croutons and fried in olive oil

2 tablespoons diced black olives or small whole olives

1 small onion, diced

salt and freshly ground pepper

1 tablespoon freshly chopped mint

Put the tomatoes, chopped bread, crushed garlic, tomato juice, roasted red pepper, chopped onion, cucumber, olive oil and mayonnaise into a food processor or blender. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper and sugar. Whizz until smooth. Dilute with water and chill, taste and correct the seasoning.

Serve the garnish in separate bowls. Guests help themselves, the soup should be thick with garnish. Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil, on a very hot day and add an ice cube or two if you wish.

Heirloom Tomato Salad with Basil, Olive Oil and Runny Honey

The Ballymaloe Cookery School stall at the Midleton Farmers’ Market has a unique selection of organic heirloom tomatoes from the greenhouses in all shapes and sizes. Red, yellow, black, striped, round, pear shaped and oval. They make a divine tomato salad and are wonderful with fresh buffalo mozzarella or ricotta and lots of fresh basil.

Serves 4

8 very ripe heirloom tomatoes

Flaky salt and freshly ground pepper

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1–2 tablespoons lemon juice

2 teaspoons runny honey

2 teaspoons fresh basil leaves, torn

Cut the tomatoes into haphazard shapes. Sprinkle with flaky salt and freshly ground pepper. Mix the oil, lemon juice and honey together. Add the basil leaves, pour the mixture over the tomatoes and toss gently. Taste and correct the seasoning if necessary. A little freshly squeezed lemon juice enhances the flavour in a very delicious way. Serve immediately with fresh baked crusty bread.

 Heirloom Tomato and Ricotta Tart

This gorgeous tart was inspired by a photo on the cover of Delicious magazine last year.  The ricotta and pecorino filling is uncooked so assemble close to the time of eating.  Best made in late summer or early autumn when the tomatoes are exquisitely sweet.  We use the delicious buffalo ricotta made in West Cork.

Serves 8

170g (6 oz) of Savoury Short Crust Pastry

Filling

250g (9oz) buffalo ricotta

100g (3 1/2oz) Pecorino, grated on a microplane

2 tablespoons double cream

extra virgin olive oil

1 tablespoon honey

2 tablespoons basil, mint or thyme and marjoram or a mixture

lemon zest of half an organic lemon

flaky sea salt

1/4 teaspoon cracked black pepper

650g (1lb 6oz) mixed heritage and cherry tomatoes – we used striped zebra (green), red and yellow cherry tomatoes

basil leaves

First make the pastry. Cover, chill and line a tart tin

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

Bake the tart base blind for about 25 minutes in a moderate oven or until pale and golden, remove the beans and paper.

Brush the prebaked tart shell with a little beaten egg and pop back into the oven for 5-10 minutes or until almost cooked. Cool.

Meanwhile put the ricotta into a bowl, add the pecorino, double cream, extra virgin olive oil, honey, freshly chopped herbs, grated lemon zest, flaky sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper.

Mix gently, taste and correct the seasoning.

Taste a little dollop with a slice of tomato, correct the seasoning if necessary, you may need a little more honey.

Not long before serving spoon the ricotta filling into the fully cooked pastry case, slice the tomatoes thinly, arrange the bigger ones, including green zebra on top of the ricotta first. Then add a mixture of the smaller cherry ones cut in half lengthways and crosswise to cover the whole surface. 

Season with flaky sea salt, freshly cracked black pepper, a little drizzle of remaining honey, (about a half teaspoon)  and lots of thyme, marjoram leaves and some little basil leaves.

Serve soon.

 Chettinad Tomato Rice

I first tasted this dish at The Bangala in Karakudi in South India – delicious on its own or as an accompaniment to a piece of pan grilled fish or chicken breast.

Serves 12

100g (3 1/2oz) ghee or clarified butter

100g (3 1/2oz) vegetable oil

2 pieces (2 inches) cinnamon sticks

4 pods of green cardamom

2 bay leaves

2 onions, peeled and finely chopped

1-2 green chillies, split in half

3 large ripe tomatoes (300g/10oz), blanched, peeled and finely chopped (like a thick purée)

500g (18oz) Basmati rice, soaked for 15 – 30 minutes

900ml (1.6 pints) water or chicken stock

225ml (8fl oz) coconut milk

1/2 teaspoon of turmeric

1 1/2 teaspoons salt to taste, needs plenty

Heat a deep saucepan. Add the oil and ghee or clarified butter.

Add the cinnamon, cardamom and bay leaves.

Add the chopped onion and green chillies. Sauté until all the ingredients turn a pale golden colour. Add the raw tomatoes. Stir for 3-4 minutes. Add soaked and drained rice, chicken stock or water, coconut milk, salt and turmeric.  Bring to the boil. Cover with a lid. Cook on gentle heat until the rice is cooked and all the liquid is absorbed, 10 minutes approximately.

Remove from the heat. Keep pan covered until serving.

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.

A walk on the wild side….

Foraging for wild foods with my little basket on my arm is definitely up there with my favourite pastimes. I’ve been sharing my enthusiasm ever since we offered the first foraging course here at the Ballymaloe Cookery School over 20 years ago in the Autumn of 1998. I’d just come back from Vancouver Island where I met Sinclair Phillips at Sooke Harbour House. He introduced me to their ‘in house’ forager who collected the wild foods and seaweeds to incorporate into every course on the Sooke Harbour House menu, Sinclair even dived for the scallops. I was intrigued and realised that what I had been doing as a child, collecting watercress, berries, nuts and field mushrooms in Autumn, had an exciting name…

Now we schedule 3 or 4 Foraging courses every year, one in every season and they are invariably oversubscribed – An introduction to gathering wild and free food can be life changing…where others see weeds and wildflowers I see dinner…

For many identifying and gathering food in the wild is really a ‘forgotten skill’ but one well worth acquiring. All these foods have either medicinal or culinary uses and often both. A very high percentage of the plants around us are edible, some of course are not so it’s best to err on the side of caution as you add to your knowledge.

It’s good to know that these wild foods still have their full compliment of vitamins, minerals and trace elements, up to 20 times more than the ultra-processed food on which so many depend nowadays.

Foraging is often just associated with Autumn when there is an abundance of fruit nuts and berries, free for the gathering but every season produces it’s treasures even in the depths of Winter when we feast on bittercress, sorrel, alexanders….

Spring brings primroses, wild garlic, hawthorn, sweet cicily, sea kale… Early Summer ground elder, purslane salad burnett, elderflowers ….in fact the Elderflowers have only just finished and those that remain on the trees are turning into elderberries which we’ll harvest in the Autumn to make syrups and jellies. We’ll dry some to add to scones, muffins or sauces to accompany game dishes.

On our recent Summer Foraging course we found over 50 different greens in the grounds of the Ballymaloe Cookery School and all along the seashore at Shanagarry strand and at Ballyandreen.

Often the perception is that one needs to go somewhere special to forage, along country lanes or into the woods, hedgerows and hillsides but in fact one can find wild foods everywhere and anywhere – in towns, villages and city parks. Avoid areas that may have been sprayed with pesticides or herbicides or where people regularly walk their dogs.

Once you begin to think foraging, one becomes much more aware of the wild foods around us in nature. Dandelions, nettles, hogweed….

In Summer many of the plants are flowering so pick the edible flowers to scatter over salads, cakes or to decorate ‘wee buns’.

Bring a gaggle of children with you, they love foraging. You’ll be astonished how knowledgeable and adventurous they become in a short time. In recent years, foraging has become super cool for top chefs and cooks, the revolution was led by Rene Redzepi and his team a Noma in Copenhagen but nowadays you need to look no further than your local area… Pilgrim’s in Rosscarbary, The Mews in Baltimore, The Chestnut in Ballydehob, Ichigo Ichie in Cork and of course Ballymaloe House where Mytle Allen was incorporating wild foods into her menu since she opened her country house as a restaurant in 1964.

The next Foraging Course here at the Ballymaloe Cookery School will be on Saturday, 28th September. To book go to www.cookingisfun.ie

Meanwhile, take a basket or pop a little  bag in your pocket any time you go for a walk and gather some rich pickings to incorporate into your menu for optimum health – A walk in the country will never be the same again….

Foragers Soup

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

Serves 6

50g (2ozs) butter

110g (4ozs) diced onion

150g (5 ozs) diced potatoes

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

600ml (1 pint) light chicken stock

600ml (1 pint) creamy milk

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

extra virgin olive oil

wild garlic flowers if available

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

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

New Potatoes with Dillisk Butter

This seaweed butter is a delicious accompaniment to floury potatoes, otherwise enjoy them with lots of good Irish butter.

Serves 4-5

2lbs (900g) new potatoes e.g., Home Guard, British Queens (the variety we grow is Colleen)

2 pints (1.2 litres) seawater or 2 pints (1.2 litres) tap water plus 1 teaspoon salt

a sprig of seaweed if available

Bring the seawater to the boil. Scrub the potatoes. Add salt if using tap water and a sprig of seaweed to the water, and then add the potatoes. Cover the saucepan, bring back to the boil and cook for 15-25 minutes or until fully cooked depending on size.

Drain and serve immediately in a hot serving dish with dillisk butter.

Note

It’s vitally important for flavour to add salt to the water when cooking potatoes.

Dillisk Butter

110g (4oz) butter

1-2 tablespoons of chopped dillisk

This seaweed butter is a delicious accompaniment to floury potatoes, otherwise enjoy them with lots of good Irish butter.

Foragers Salad

We use a mixture of foraged leaves for this salad.  You are unlikely to have all of these so just add what you can find to a bowl of lettuces and salad leaves.  This salad can be a best for pan grilled, fish, meat or some foraged cockles or mussels.

In early Spring, we add some young beech and ground elder leaves.

A selection of wild leaves in season such as:

Dandelion leaves

wild garlic

wild watercress

bittercress

chickweed

wild sorrel (buckler leaf or lamb’s tongue)

salad burnet

buckler leaf sorrel

pennywort (also known as bread and butter, walker’s friend and navelwort)

sweet cicely

red orach

Dressing

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil or cold pressed organic rapeseed oil

1 tablespoon apple balsamic vinegar

1/2 teaspoon honey

sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Allow a handful of wild leaves per person. Wash them carefully in cold water and dry them in a salad spinner. Keep chilled until ready to use.

To make the dressing, whisk the oil, vinegar and honey together.  Season to taste.

Toss the dried leaves in just enough of the dressing to make them glisten. Taste a leaf to check that the seasoning is correct.

Serve immediately.

Note

For maximum flavour pick the leaves when young.

Meadow Sweet Panna Cotta

Panna cotta (‘cooked cream’), normally, is a somewhat bland vehicle for fruit or sauce. Here we infuse meadow sweat leaves and flowers but fig leaves are also delicious. This recipe comes from Yotam Ottolenghi, something of a charlatan, who prefers to make without cream at all, replacing it with yoghurt – both for a lightness of taste, and reduction of guilt.

Serves 4

3 sheets gelatine (2.5g each – ‘standard’ size)

400ml (14fl oz) whole milk

1 vanilla pod, split

25g (1oz) meadow sweet flowers or fresh fig leaves

100g (3 1/2oz) caster sugar

150ml (5fl oz) double cream (or 200g/7oz Greek yoghurt)

Bloom the gelatine in cold water.

Bring the milk to a boil with the vanilla pod, and take it straight off the heat. Allow it to cool to about 70oC/158˚F, then add the meadow sweat flowers or fig leaves if using. Keep it around 60-70 oC/140-158˚F (put over a low flame briefly if it cools below) for 5-15 minutes, and taste to judge when the infusion is correct (too long and it starts to taste bitter, too short and it will be bland).

When you’re happy, strain the milk and, while still hot, add the sugar and the bloomed gelatine. Stir to dissolve. At room temperature, stir in the cream or yoghurt and portion into glasses or moulds.

Serve turned out onto little plates, just as they are or with some summer berries, wild strawberries would delicious.

Crystallized Flowers

Flowers and leaves crystallized with sugar will keep for months, although they may lose their initial vibrant colour. This is what we call a high-stool job – definitely a labour of love and not something suited to an impatient, Type A personality. The end result is both beautiful and rewarding and many family and staff wedding cakes have been embellished with crystallized flowers over the years.

Flowers and leaves must be edible and are all worth doing.

Smaller flowers are more attractive when crystallized e.g. primroses, violets, apple blossom, viola’s, rose petals….We crystallize lots of leaves as well as flowers so one can make attractive arrangements.  Use fairly strong textured leaves – e.g. mint, lemon balm, sweet cicily, wild strawberry, salad burnet or marguerite daisy leaves.

The caster sugar must be absolutely dry, one could dry it in a low oven for about 30 minutes approx. Break up the egg white slightly in a little bowl with a fork. Using a child’s paintbrush, paint the egg white very carefully over each petal and into every crevice. Pour the caster sugar over the flower with a teaspoon. Arrange the crystallized flowers carefully on silicone paper so that they retain a good shape. Leave to dry overnight in a warm, dry place such as close to an Aga, over a radiator or in an airing cupboard. When properly crystallized, these flowers will last for months, even years, provided they are kept dry. We store them in a pottery jar or a tin box with an airtight lid.

Finco Buenvino Spain

I’m in Spain, just an hour north west of Seville and I’ve just had the most (for me) idyllic morning wandering in a remote part of Andalucia through oak woods where the black legged Iberian pigs snuffle to find the acorns that make the famous Jamon de bellotta (cured ham) from this area so  sweet and exquisite. But today I’m picking wild plums directly from the trees, there are two types, yellow mirabelles and small wine coloured fruit that look like fat cherries, sweeter and not as tart as damsons but a similar size. Sadly the wild figs and pomegranate aren’t quite ripe yet but the green walnuts are just at the perfect stage for pickling.

We’re staying at Finca Buenvino near Aracena, a pink washed, guest house, covered in wisteria and vines, virtually hidden amongst the chestnut and cork oak trees on a hilltop in the heart of the Sierra de Aracena.

Sam Chesterton and his Scottish wife Jeannie came to Spain in the early seventies in search of an old ruin to convert but eventually decided to build on this beautiful site close to a spring of clear water, an immensely important factor in Spain.

Much of the building material was old and traditional, local brick, terracotta tiles, metal grills, high arched doors, a panelled dining room, an intriguing mix of Scottish country house and Spanish villa with a relaxed country house feel.

Finca Buenvina has just five bedrooms, the house can be taken as a unit complete with cook and cleaner or one can just stay on as a guest and be pampered. There’s also the option of several lovely self catering cottages in the woods complete with pool.  It’s quite the find for those who are seeking an alternative to Costa del Sol. Sam and Jeannie are the most genial of hosts. Jeannie cooks the kind of food that I love to eat and now their son Charlie has joined Jeannie in the kitchen.

The food scraps from the kitchen get fed to the happy hens who scratch around under the trees so beautiful eggs for the many Spanish egg dishes. Tapas before dinner were some of the best I’ve tasted anywhere – quail egg with morcilla, Pimenton de Padron, tortillitas.…

A little shaded corner to curl up with a book or just snooze for a siesta in the afternoon and yet another memorable dinner on a terrace as the sun sets with the swifts swooping and whistling overhead.

Sam and Jeannie offer regular cooking classes and one can book now to partake in the traditional metanza early in the New Year, the next one is scheduled for around the first week in February 2020. A fascinating experience where one can learn how to butcher and preserve every scrap of the free range black pigs from the snout to the tail. Learn how to cure jamon in sea salt, (Kg for every kilo of ham) and how to make a variety of chorizo and salchichon, morcilla, zarappa, chistora and a myriad of other porky treats. At the end there’s a party with a huge cauldron of guiso de cerdo, a pork stew, serve with lots of beer and red wine and much merriment.

Wannabe writers can join a Writers Retreat – details for all of these options are on http://www.fincabuenvino.com/

Here are some of the dishes we enjoyed some of which come from The Buenvino Cookbook – Recipes from our farmhouse in Spain published by…

Other places to eat in the area:

D’Caprichio in Los Marinos

Jesus Carrion Restaurante in Aracena

Visit Cinco Jotas in Jabujo for a tour of the Jamon curing rooms to taste the very best Jamon that Spain has to offer – understand why Pata Negra is so revered around the world.

Salmorejo with Hard-Boiled Egg and Serrano

Serves 6

1 clove of garlic crushed

800g (1lb 7 1/2 oz) ripe red tomatoes cut into quarters

50g (2oz) white bread, crust removed and cut into cubes

6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 – 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar, we use Forum

salt, pepper, and sugar

To Serve

2 hard-boiled eggs, roughly chopped

75g (3oz) strips of Serrano ham cut into slivers

extra virgin olive oil

flat parsley

Shallow Terracotta Bowls

Place the garlic, tomatoes, bread, olive oil and 1 tablespoon of vinegar into a food processor – season with salt, pepper and sugar. Whizz until well blended but still slightly coarse.

Taste, you may need to add more vinegar, depending on the sweetness of the tomatoes. Chill well. If the mixture is too thick add a little water but not too much. Serve in chilled shallow terracotta bowls with a couple of tablespoons of chopped hard boiled egg and slivers of Serrano ham in the centre of each.  Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil. Eat with lots of fresh crusty bread.

Ajoblanco with Apple – Ajoblanca de Almendras con Manzana

Also called Gazpacho Blanco

Many people are familiar with the tomato version of Gazpacho but this white version comes from Cordoba and is very nutritious.

Serves 4-6

250g (9oz) blanched, peeled almonds

4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

4 slices of stale white bread with the crusts removed

2 cloves of garlic

salt

2-3 spoons white wine vinegar

2 apples (or 1 bunch white grapes, or 2 slices of melon)

Mash the garlic and salt in a mortar, gradually adding the almonds until a smooth paste is attained.  This can be done much more easily in a food processor.  Soak the bread in water and mix into the paste along with the oil and vinegar.

Mix everything thoroughly, then add 32fl oz (1 pint 12fl oz/4 cups) of cold water. The soup should have a thick, smooth consistency.   Add ice cubes if desired.  The fruit should be added just before serving.  Apple or melon should be diced and grapes should be whole.

The proportions of garlic, olive oil and vinegar are entirely a matter of taste.  This will keep for 2-3 days in the fridge.

Papas Fritas (Potato Crisps) with Jamon

Making potato crisps at home is definitely worthwhile – a few potatoes produce

a ton of crisps and nothing you buy in any shop will be even half as delicious. A mandolin is well worth buying for making chips – but mind your fingers!  

Serves 4

125 grams pata negra de bellotta or Serrano ham, thin slivers
4-6  large, even-sized potatoes, Maris Piper, Aran Victory, Golden Wonder, Kerr’s Pink, Santé

extra virgin olive oil or beef dripping for deep-fat frying

salt

Scrub, wash and peel the potatoes. For even-sized crisps, trim each potato with a swivel-top peeler until smooth. Slice them very finely, preferably with a mandolin. Soak in cold water to remove the excess starch (this will also prevent them from discolouring or sticking together). Drain off the water and dry very well.

In a deep-fat fryer, heat the oil or dripping to 180ºC. Drop in the dry potato slices a few at a time and fry until golden and completely crisp. Drain on kitchen paper and divide between four plates. Lay slivers of jamon on top of the hot crisps and serve immediately.

Sam’s Roast Quails

Choose a couple of quail per person if they are very small. We get them plucked and gutted.

Rub the quail all over, inside and out, with pinchito spice, salt and pepper; or if you cannot get it grind up cumin, turmeric, salt, pepper and paprika to a fine powder. 

Preheat the oven to 200ºC/gas 6. 

Place the quail in a roasting tin, large enough to hold them all without crushing them together. Pour round the bottom of the baking tray a quantity of good cold tea, enough to keep the birds from drying out in a hot oven, roast for 20 to 30 minutes, basting occasionally, until golden brown and cooked through. If you find the quail are browning unevenly, move them around in the tin during cooking. It’s ideal to have the breasts nicely browned, so that the skin is crisp, but you don’t want them to dry out.

Serve with mashed potatoes and a green salad, or fresh peas or beans from the garden.

Sam’s Turkish Eggs

Serves one for a delicious breakfast….

You will need 2 beautiful fresh eggs.

Fry the eggs in melted butter until crisp at the edges, white should be just set but the yolks still soft …. Sprinkle crumbled dried chillies over the egg, some cumin seed, flaky salt and freshly ground pepper… Add a spoonful of rich natural yogurt and a sprinkling of chopped parsley. Eat from the pan with crusty bread….

A few days in Spain…

A few days in Spain…

If you are longing for a taste of simple Spanish food you’ll need to head away from the main drag – off into the back streets and out into the villages in the wooded hillside…

Malaga, the point of entry into Andalucía for many is certainly worth lingering in for a couple of days. The Picasso Museum in the town of the artist’s birth is definitely worth a gentle browse and Cathederal de la Encarnacion is properly awe inspiring. Don’t miss the Centro Pompidou either and stroll along the Pedregalejo seafront and eat the freshest fish in one of the many chiringuitos.

For breakfast, seek out crispy churros to dunk in a glass of hot chocolate. They are a specialty in Malaga and a ‘must do’ for breakfast…

For tapas, Check out Meson Iberico, on Calle San Lorenzo 27, it opens at 8.30pm. Book ahead of else be ready to queue. Be there by 8.15pm… if you want to get a seat at the counter or by the window ledge, you’ll need to sharpen your elbows and make a dash as soon as the doors are opened such is the enthusiasm of the regulars…but it’ll be worth it..

The tapas are traditional, made from superb ingredients and as a result are memorably delicious. We enjoyed a plate of wafer thin slivers of jamon Iberico from Cinco Jotas, perhaps the best pata negra in all of Spain, made from the hams of the long legged black Iberian pigs, reared in the dehesa oak forests and fattened on acorns… You can’t imagine how the delicious flavour lingers in your mouth – food for the gods. We also enjoyed tender whelks, octopus a la Gallega sprinkled with paprika and flakes of sea salt. The tiny, briny sweet clams were also memorable as were the crisp little tortilla aux Camorones (shrimp fritters). Finally, there was a plate of the tiniest little broad beans with two quails eggs and a few slivers of jamon melting over the top. There were many other temptations but by then I was defeated but Meson Iberico goes to the top of my Malaga list.

Next day, we drove out into the countryside to Gaucín, one of the prettiest of the famous Pueblos Blancos villages of Andalucia that hang precariously off the edge of the wooded hillside like a stack of tumbling sugar cubes…. The drive over the mountains from Malaga is spectacular and even more awe-inspiring from Gaucin and even more so onto Ronda. This Moorish city is teeming with tourists but it is definitely worth seeing the El Tajo Gorge under the Punta Nuevo (built in 1735). While you are there, pop into the Inglesia de Santa Maria church and check out the Royal Cavelry Bull Ring, the earliest in Spain.

Back in Gaucín, breakfast at Brena Verde was my favourite find in Guacín. Here, the cheery cook sent plate after plate after plate of tortas fritta out of the kitchen, irregular shaped squares of bubbly fried dough to enjoy drizzled with local honey….simple and so delicious….we  loved them sent lots of compliments to the kitchen so the cheery cook invited me into the kitchen to watch her making the frittas and shared the recipe. So fun to make, your children will love them too, topped with their favourite morsels.

Sleepy Guacin is about 45 minutes from the closest beach but we found several river bathing places with pools of varying depth. The grandchildren spent hours building dams, chasing dragonflies and watching little fish swimming around them in the river. Can you imagine the joy….It brought memories flooding back of swimming in the river Gaul outside the little village of Cullohill in Co Laois when I was a child….

We stayed at Molina del Carmen in Guacín, a former olive oil mill with some of the old machinery still intact. It’s now a complex of five chic interlinking apartments that can be rented individually or as a complex complete with a pool, perfect for a multi generational family holiday. The views from the terraces are jaw dropping… The rock of Gibraltar is clearly visible and Morocco a mere 35 mins ferry ride away… The village has lots of cafes , pubs and artist studios and is less than an hour from the closest sandy beach… you may even chance on a local festival or Féria as we did with fiesty prancing horses, a greasy pole competition to win a jamon and free community paella… a real and enchanting glimpse of Spanish country life…. 

Papas Bravas

Serves 10-12 as a tapa

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

2 cloves of garlic, chopped

1 red chilli, chopped (with seeds)

1 x 400g (14ozs) tin of tomatoes, chopped

1 tablespoon homemade tomato purée

2 teaspoons paprika

salt, freshly ground pepper and sugar

extra virgin olive oil

2lbs (900g) potatoes (e.g. golden wonder) peeled or unpeeled, which ever you prefer

1 tablespoon sherry vinegar

sea salt

To Serve

aoili (see recipe)

Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a sauté pan.  Add the chopped garlic and chilli and cook for 1-2 minutes.  Add the chopped tinned tomatoes, tomato purée and paprika.  Season with salt, freshly ground pepper and sugar.  Simmer for 5-8 minutes or until slightly reduced.

Meanwhile, heat 1 inch (2 1/2 cms) olive oil in a frying pan.  Dice the potatoes into 1 inch (2 1/2 cm) pieces.  Dry on kitchen paper.  Cook the potatoes in the hot oil until light golden brown in colour and tender all the way through. 

While the potatoes are cooking, liquidize the sauce and add the sherry vinegar.  Return to the pan.  When the potatoes are cooked, remove from the oil and drain on kitchen paper.  Season lightly with some sea salt.

Heat the sauce, taste.

Serve the potatoes on a plate, drizzle with the sauce and a good dollop of aoili.

Tortillitas à la Patata

Sam and Jeannie Chesterton of Finca Buenvino in Andalucia, recently introduced me to this little gem.  They are so easy to make and completely addictive – kids also love them and they make the perfect little bites to nibble with a drink, preferably a glass of Fino or Manzilla.  This is totally brilliant way to use up leftover boiled potatoes.  The tortillitas are made in minutes and can be served as part of every meal from breakfast to supper. 

Makes 26

4 organic eggs

225g (8oz) cooked potatoes, cut into 5mm (1/4 inch) dice

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

3 tablespoons finely chopped flat-leaf parsley and chives

extra virgin olive oil, for frying

Maldon sea salt, to serve

Aioli (see recipe)

Whisk the eggs in a bowl, add the diced potatoes, season with salt and freshly ground pepper and add the herbs.

Heat about 5mm (1/4 inch) of oil in a frying pan on a high heat, cook a teaspoonful of mixture and taste for seasoning.  Correct if necessary.  

Continue to cook the mini tortillas as needed, using a scant dessertspoon of the mixture for each. Cook on one side for about 1-2 minutes, flip over and continue to cook on the other side for a similar length of time, or until slightly golden.

Drain on kitchen paper and sprinkle with a few flakes of sea salt.

Serve hot, or at room temperature with a blob of Aioli (see recipe).

Saffron Aioli

“Aioli” refers not only to the sauce made with garlic, egg yolks and olive oil, but also to a complete dish where the sauce is served with boned salt-cod, hard-boiled eggs, squid or snails and vegetables such as carrots, potatoes, artichokes and green beans.

2 egg yolks, preferably free range

1/4 teaspoon salt

pinch of English mustard or 1/4 teaspoon French mustard

1 dessertspoon white wine vinegar

225ml (oil (sunflower, arachide or olive oil or a mixture) – We use 175ml (6fl oz) arachide oil and 50ml (2fl oz) olive oil, alternatively use 7/1

1-4 cloves of garlic, depending on size

1/4 teaspoon saffron soaked in 2 teaspoons of hot water (optional)

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

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

Churros with Cinnamon Sugar and Hot Chocolate

Makes 25 approx.

choux pastry (see recipe)

225g (8oz) caster sugar

2-4 teaspoons freshly ground cinnamon

sunflower oil for deep-frying

Hot Chocolate for dipping

Make choux pastry below

Choux Pastry

150g (5oz) strong flour (Baker’s)

pinch of salt

225ml (8floz) water

100g (3 1/2 oz) butter, cut into 1cm (1/2 inch) cubes

3-5 eggs depending on size (free range if possible)

Sieve the flour with the salt onto a piece of silicone paper.  Heat the water and butter in a high-sided saucepan until the butter is melted. Bring to a fast rolling boil, take from the heat.  (Note: Prolonged boiling evaporates the water and changes the proportions of the dough).  Immediately the pan is taken from the heat, add all the flour at once and beat vigorously with a wooden spoon for a few seconds until the mixture is smooth and pulls away from the sides of the saucepan to form a ball. Put the saucepan back on a low heat and stir for 30 seconds – 1 minute or until the mixture starts to furr the bottom of the saucepan. Remove from the heat and cool for a few seconds.

Meanwhile set aside one egg, break it and whisk it in a bowl.  Add the remaining eggs into the dough, one by one with a wooden spoon, beating thoroughly after each addition.  Make sure the dough comes back to the same texture each time before you add another egg. When it will no longer form a ball in the centre of the saucepan, add the beaten egg little by little. Use just enough to make a mixture that is very shiny and just drops reluctantly from the spoon in a sheet. 

 To make the Churros

Heat the oil in a deep fry to 180°C/350°F.

Mix the cinnamon with the caster sugar and pour onto a flat plate.

Put a medium sized star shaped nozzle into a piping bag. Fill with choux pastry.

When the oil is hot, pipe strips of choux pastry, 2 1/2 inches long approx, directly into the hot oil.  They will puff up so do just a few at a time. Cook until crisp and golden brown, drain on kitchen paper.

Toss in cinnamon sugar and dunk in hot chocolate!

Honey & Co

Honey & Co Chefs, husband and wife team, Sarit Packer and Itamar Srulovich are sitting contentedly at our kitchen table podding peas and broad beans for supper.  They’ve spent the afternoon prepping for their guest chef course at the Ballymaloe Cookery School.  They live in Central London, run two mega successful and much loved restaurants and a deli called Honey & Smoke in Fitzrovia.

Each is jam packed with guests who absolutely love their homey Middle Eastern food.  There’s something particularly welcoming, warm and comforting about Sarit & Itamar’s places and it’s the kind of food we love to eat, who isn’t addicted to scooping up dollops of hummus or baba ganoush on ashtanur flat bread or pitta.  They both love cooking and have since they were five.  They originally met in the kitchen of a posh Italian Restaurant in Israel but decided to emigrate to London, where they worked in the Orrery, it’s worth knowing that Sarit was pastry chef for Ottolenghi and executive head chef at Nopi, both sensational restaurants.

This is their third guest chef appearance at the Ballymaloe Cookery School, they love coming to Ireland and their idea of heaven is being able to wander through the farm and gardens, pick the leaves and petals for the salad, dig potatoes, snip off the blossoms from the zucchini, licking their lips at the thought of how they will prepare them.  Real cooks are endlessly excited by beautiful produce and exciting new flavours.  They have searched the highways and byways of the Middle East for the best spices, sumac, za’atar and best street food.  Their enthusiasm is infectious, even strangers sometimes share recipes with them – they endlessly try to recreate the flavours of their childhood and home country.  Honey Spice is like a tiny Aladdin’s Cave with shelves packed with the best Middle Eastern ingredients, which I’ve discovered I can now order online to recreate their recipes from their three books.

Honey & Co, Honey & Co The Baking Book and the recently published Honey & Co At Home, which has already become many of their devotees favourite.  The format of Honey & Co At Home is different to the two previous books and includes recipes, For Us Two, For Friends, For the Weekend, For a Crowd…at the end of the book there’s an excellent section entitled For the Kitchen, a sort of store cupboard section of spice mixes, pickles, relishes & sauces.  The book is worth the price for this one chapter alone. Their harissa, ras el hanout and tahini has certainly added zing to my dishes, I also love the pithy and the self-deprecating writing.

Sarit & Itamar enchanted us for a whole day, and here are a few dishes they cooked for us, the Ashtanur bread, a super quick flat bread and so worth knowing about, kids also love to make and bake it on a pan or outdoors.

The one pot chicken dish will definitely become a favourite, cracked wheat is easy to find nowadays but if you can’t source it, use long grain rice.

It’s also worth checking out the Honey & Co podcast The Food Talks available on iTunes and Spotify to download and several segments on Youtube where they are cooking favourite dishes in their inimitable way.

Honey & Co www.honeyandco.co.uk

25 Warren St., Fitzrovia, London, W1T 5LZ Tel: 2073886175

Honey & Spice

52 Warren St., Kings Cross, London W1T 5NJ Tel: 2073886175

Honey & Smoke

216 Great Portland Street, London W1W5QW Tel: 2073886175

Harissa and Goat’s Cheese Buns

Makes about 20

175g (6oz) self-raising flour

100g (3 1/2oz) butter (at room temperature), diced

1 egg, lightly whisked and divided into 2 small bowls

60g (2 1/4oz) finely grated Pecorino or Parmesan, divided into 2 small bowls

125g (4 1/2oz) ricotta

125g (4 1/2oz) soft, young, rindless goat’s cheese

30g (1oz/2 tablespoons) rose harissa paste

1 teaspoon sea salt or a generous pinch of table salt

1 teaspoon whole cumin seeds

Pre-heat your oven to 200°C/400°F/Gas Mark 6 or 180°C/350°/Gas Mark 4 (Fan)

I use a mixer to make these; the dough is easy enough to make by hand, but it’s a little messy. Place the flour and butter in a mixer bowl with a paddle attachment and combine to a crumb-like consistency.

Add half the egg and half the grated pecorino or Parmesan, along with the ricotta, goat’s cheese, harissa paste and salt. Mix together until everything forms a nice, soft, pliable dough.

Divide the dough into two pieces and roll each one into a log about 20cm (8 inch) long. Brush each log all over with the other half of the egg, which you set aside earlier.

Mix the remaining Pecorino or Parmesan and the cumin seeds together, and sprinkle on the work surface. Roll the logs in the cheese cumin mixture until coated all over. Place on a tray in the fridge to rest for at least an hour, and up to 48 hours.

When you are ready to bake – best done just before serving as these are great hot –Cut each log into about 10 slices, each about 2cm (3/4 inch) thick, and lay them flat on a lined baking tray. Bake for about 13-15 minutes, until the cheese becomes golden but the buns are still soft. Remove from the oven and serve hot.

Fennel, Kohlrabi, Orange and Chilli Salad

Makes enough for 6-8 as a side of 4-6 as a starter

2 fennel bulbs

1 head of kohlrabi

1/2 teaspoon salt

juice of 1/2 lemon

1 red chilli

3 oranges (blood oranges work beautifully here)

1 small bunch of coriander

1 teaspoon Orange Blossom Water

1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar

2 tablespoons olive oil

Halve the fennel bulbs and remove the core. Lay them flat on a chopping board and slice lengthways as thinly as you can. Place in a large bowl.

Peel the kohlrabi, cut into quarters and then cut into thin wafer-like slices (you can use a peeler, or a mandolin if you own one). Add the kohlrabi slices to the fennel, sprinkle with the salt and lemon juice, and mix.

Cut the red chilli into thin rounds and add to the bowl. Peel the oranges, slice into rounds and add these to the bowl too. Pick the coriander into sprigs and pop them into ice cold water for 10-15 minutes. Drain and add them to the bowl just before serving.

Dress with the orange blossom water, vinegar and olive oil. Mix well and serve.

Ashtanur – Griddle Bread

Makes 6-7 flat breads

250g (9oz) strong flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

7g 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 oiling and rolling

Mix the flour and salt in a big bowl. Dissolve the yeast and honey (or sugar) in the first 60ml 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, 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 bay 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.


Chicken Braised in Spicy Matbucha and Cracked Wheat Pilaf

A gorgeous one pot dish…

Serves 3-4

1kg (2 1/4lb) chicken thighs

2 teaspoons salt

1 red chilli, thinly sliced

1/2 lemon, quartered and very thinly sliced

2 garlic cloves, sliced

1 long red pepper, cut into thick rings

3 plum tomatoes cut into thick slices

1/2 teaspoon sugar

20 cherry tomatoes (any type will do, but a mix is nice)

1 small bunch coriander, roughly chopped

125ml (4 1/2fl oz) water

200g (7oz) coarse cracked wheat

Place the chicken thighs skin-side down in a large saucepan or sauté pan and season with a teaspoon of the salt. Place on the stove on a low heat and allow the fat from the skin to render out — it will take about 15-20 minutes to crisp the skin. Then flip and cook for an extra five minutes on the other side. Carefully lift the thighs on to a plate, leaving all the fat that’s been produced in the pan. Keep the pan on the heat and add the chopped chilli, lemon slices and garlic. Sauté until a strong aroma of lemons comes from the pan — about three minutes.

Increase the heat to medium-high and add the pepper rings. Sauté for another three minutes, stirring all the time, then add the tomato slices. Season with the second teaspoon of salt and the sugar and mix well. Cook for about five minutes or until the tomato slices start to fall apart and create a sauce.

Return the chicken thighs to the pan, skin side up. Add the whole cherry tomatoes and sprinkle the chopped coriander on top. Add the water, reduce the heat to a minimum and cover. Simmer for 20 minutes, then remove the lid. Stir your dish a little to make sure it isn’t catching on the bottom of the pan. Replace the lid, but this time don’t close it entirely. Allow some steam to escape and simmer very slowly for another 15 minutes.

You can eat the dish now if you wish, but the best thing to do is to sprinkle the cracked wheat into the pot. Stir it a little, bring back to the boil and return the lid to the pot. Set aside for 15 minutes (off the heat) and then serve.

Sumac and Vanilla Shortbread

240g (8 1/2oz) butter, at room temperature

120g (scant 4 1/2oz) icing sugar

360g (12 1/2oz) plain flour

1 vanilla pod, seeds scraped out

1⁄2 teaspoon flaky sea salt

For the coating

2 tablespoons sumac

2 tablespoons granulated sugar

Heat your oven to 190°C/375°F/Gas Mark 5 (170°C/325°Fan)

Use a food processor or an electric mixer with a paddle attachment to work the butter, icing sugar, flour, vanilla seeds and salt until the mixture just forms a ball of dough. It takes a while to come together, so don’t lose faith.

Once it has formed, turn the dough out onto the work surface. Divide into two pieces and shape each one into a log – I prefer to make it rectangular but it is tasty in any shape.

Mix the sumac and sugar on the work surface. Roll the log in the sumac-sugar to coat all over, then place in the fridge to set for at least 1 hour (or freeze it until you want to bake them)

Line two baking trays with baking paper. Use a sharp knife to cut each log into 12–14 slices and place them flat on the trays.

Bake for 10–12 minutes until light golden, then remove from the oven. Leave to cool on the tray before eating.

Eurotoques Awards 2019

Ireland became a member of the European Union in 1973, within a short time a tidal wave of regulations swept over the country. Small producers, butchers, bakers, cheesemakers were often asked to comply with regulations far out of proportion to the risks involved and to spend more than the business could afford. Many long established businesses ceased to exist and many important enterprises were lost.

It was in this climate that the Europe wide Eurotoque organisation was  established, in 1986. Myrtle Allen was a founder member and the instigator of the original Eurotoques awards in 1996. She was a passionate supporter of local farmers, fishermen, artisan producers cheesemakers, fish smokers, foragers….long before local became a sexy word on the food scene.

The aim of Eurotoque was and still is to preserve Irish culinary heritage by supporting traditional cooking methods and promoting producers of local and seasonal artisan products. The members, chefs and cooks of which I am proud to be one, are part of a nurturing community who pride themselves in being custodians of Irish food culture and actively support local artisan producers. This year’s Eurotoque Food Awards honoured dedicated food producers, who make exceptionally good raw materials which enable the chefs to create their magic. I was delighted that the awards were held in Virginia Park Lodge, which gave me an excuse to visit, renowned Irish chef Richard Corrigan’s, beautiful establishment on an 18th Century country estate in the midst of acres of vegetable, fruit and herb gardens overlooking the banks of Lough Ramor in Co Cavan.

The awards were presented by Richard Corrigan himself and Caroline Hennessy under the grape vines in a tunnel in the ‘Gooseberry Garden’ with a back  drop of the Lough and Leagh mountains.

Here are a list of the awards winners who were presented under the categories Water, Craft Growers, Land, Farm, Dairy and Artisan Produce.

Water Connemara Seaweed Company

Craft Growers Ballyholey Farm, Glensallagh Gardens, Iona Farm, Gorse Farm and An Garrai Glas,

Dairy The Village Dairy,

Land Bumblebee Flower Farm

Artisan Produce went to Ballyminane Mill.

For more information on all the winners go to www.euro-toques.ie

Lunch cooked by Chef Eoin Corcoran and his team, was a celebration of Irish produce. The winners were presented with a piece of bespoke Fermoyle Pottery www.fermoylepottery.ie, each piece representing their award category. This hand thrown and hand painted pottery was new to me and an exciting discovery.

The award lunch dinner was refreshingly uncheffy, a delicious lobster cocktail, sole with asparagus and the first broad beans of the season and soft meringue with rhubarb. Richard’s chef, Eoin kindly sent the recipes to share with our readers.

Richard Corrigan’s Lobster Cocktail

Serves 4 – 6

1 lobster (600g/1 1/4lb approx.)

1 head of crunchy lettuce

1 cucumber

1 lemon

Cocktail Sauce

200g (7oz) homemade Mayonnaise

1 tablespoon Horseradish Cream Sauce

1 tablespoon homemade Ketchup

1 tablespoon sherry

1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

1/2 teaspoon tabasco

To Serve

lemon wedges

Bring a large pot of heavily salted (seawater) to a simmer and gently place in the lobster.

Simmer for 10 mins and immediately remove into ice cold water.

Remove the tail and claws from the lobster.

Extract the meat from the tail by firmly pressing a hand until the shell cracks allowing easy removal.  Crack the claws and use a pick to remove any remaining lobster meat.

Mix all ingredients for the cocktail sauce. Taste and tweak the seasoning if necessary.

Shred the lettuce. 

Peel and deseed the cucumber and slice into chunks.

To Serve

Assemble the lettuce and cucumber in a serving dishe.

Slice the lobster and place on top.

Spoon a generous mound of cocktail sauce to the side, serve with lemon wedges.

Dillisk Champ

Serves 4-6

A bowl of mashed potatoes flecked with green scallions with a blob of butter melting in the centre, add the butter just before serving so it melts into the centre. ‘Comfort’ food at its best.

1.5kg (3lb) unpeeled ‘old’ potatoes e.g. Golden Wonders or Kerrs Pinks

110g (4oz) chopped scallions (use the bulb and green stem) or 45g

chopped chives

1 – 2 tablespoons of dried seaweed – Dillisk or a mixture

350ml (10-12fl oz) milk

50-110g (2-4oz) butter

salt and freshly ground pepper

Scrub the potatoes and boil them in their jackets.

Chop finely the scallions and chopped chives and place them in a saucepan.  Cover with cold milk and bring slowly to the boil.  Simmer for about 3-4 minutes, turn off the heat and leave to infuse. Just as the milk is coming to the boil add the pre-soaked dillisk, drained and cut into strips. Peel and mash the freshly boiled potatoes and while hot, mix with the boiling milk and onions and seaweed, beat in the butter.  Season to taste with salt and freshly ground pepper.  Serve in 1 large or 6 individual bowls with a knob of butter melting in the centre.  The mash may be put aside and reheated later in a moderate oven, 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4.  Cover with parchment paper while it reheats so that it doesn’t get a skin and add the lump of butter just before serving.

Tomato Salad with Flowers, Za’atar and Freekeh

This is a pretty salad with lots of edible flowers from the garden and the tomatoes are particularly good. Freekeh is a Lebanese wheat. It’s picked while still under ripe and set on fire to remove the husk, which smokes and toasts the grain.

Serves 4

100g (3 1/2oz) freekeh

sea salt

extra virgin olive oil

1 tablespoon pomegranate molasses

12 ripe cherry tomatoes

2 teaspoons za’atar

lots of edible flowers, perhaps violas, rocket flowers, or borage (remove furry calyx from behind the flower), chive or coriander blossom to hand in the summer

Put the freekeh into a saucepan with cold water, bring to the boil and simmer for 4-6 minutes, depending on the freekeh (some are broken grains, others whole). It should be soft but still slightly chewy. Drain, season with salt and drizzle with extra virgin olive oil and toss.  Taste and correct the seasoning.

In a little bowl, whisk the pomegranate molasses with 3 tablespoons (4 American tablespoons) extra virgin olive oil to emulsify.

Cut the tomatoes into wedges. Season with salt and a little extra virgin olive oil. Lay the tomatoes on a plate, scatter with the freekeh, then sprinkle over the za’atar and edible flowers. Finish the plate by drizzling with the pomegranate molasses mixture.  Taste and add a few more flakes of sea salt if necessary.

Note

Freekeh cooking times vary quite dramatically depending on the type and age of the freekeh.

Crispy Irish Snails with Garlic Mayo

Gaelic Escargot in Co Carlow are Ireland’s first snail farm, check them out on www.gaelicescargot.com

250 Pre cooked snails

100g Rice flour + a little for dusting the snails

 2 red chilli

1 tsp crushed black peppercorns

1 tsp salt

2 tsp iced water or more if needed

Heat a pan or deep fat fryer of oil to 180˚C.

Finely chop the chilli and mix with the rice flour, salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Whisk in the iced water to form a light batter.

Just before cooking, drain and dry the snails, dust with a little flour.

Coat each snail with the batter and fry in very hot oil until crisp and golden.

To serve, provide cocktails sticks and a bowl of garlic mayonnaise for dipping.

Ballyminane Brown Soda Bread

This is a more modern version of Soda Bread, couldn’t be simpler, just mix and pour into a well-greased tin.  This bread keeps very well for several days and is also great toasted. If you can, source the flour from one of the winners, Ballyminane Mill, based in Co Wexford and established in 1832, it is the last working water-powered flour mill in Ireland www.ballyminanemills.com

Makes 1 loaf or 3 small loaves

400g (14ozs) Ballyminane stone ground wholemeal flour or other flour of your choice

75g (3ozs) white flour, preferably unbleached

1 teaspoon salt

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

1 egg, preferably free range

1 tablespoon  sunflower oil, unscented

1 teaspoon honey or treacle

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

sunflower or sesame seeds (optional)

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

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

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

Note

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

Meringue Roulade with Roast Rhubarb, Rosewater Cream and Crystallised Rose Petals

Serves 6 – 8

4 egg whites

225g (8oz) castor sugar

Filling

300ml (10floz) softly whipped cream flavoured with 1-2 teaspoons rose water

Roast Rhubarb (see recipe)

Garnish

sprigs of mint, lemon balm or sweet cicely

Accompaniment

Crystallised Rose Petals (see recipe)

Swiss roll tin 12 x 8 inch (30.5 x 20.5cm) or 13 x 9 inch (33 x 23cm) for a thinner roulade

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

First make the Roast Rhubarb (see recipe).

Put the egg whites into a spotlessly clean bowl of a food mixer.  Break up with the whisk and then add all the castor sugar together.  Whisk at full speed until it holds a stiff peak, 10 minutes approx.

Meanwhile, line a Swiss roll tin with parchment paper, brush lightly with a non-scented oil (e.g. sunflower oil).

Spread the meringue gently over the tin with a palette knife, it ought to be quite thick and bouncy. Bake in the preheated oven for 15-20 minutes. 

Put a sheet of parchment paper on the work top and turn the roulade onto it.  Remove the base paper and allow to cool in the tin.

To Assemble

Spread the whipped cream and drained roast rhubarb over the meringue, roll up from the wide end and carefully ease onto a serving plate. Pipe 6 –8 rosettes along the top of the roulade, decorate as you wish with crystallised rose petals and mint leaves.  Serve, cut into slices about 2.5cm (1 inch) thick.

Note:  This roulade is also very good filled with fresh raspberries, loganberries, sliced ripe peaches, nectarines, kiwi fruit, bananas, or mango and passionfruit.

Roast Rhubarb

A dish of roasted fruit couldn’t be simpler – rhubarb, plums, greengages, apricots, peaches, apples, pears.  Once again I love to add some freshly chopped herbs, e.g. rose geranium or verbena to the sugar or the accompanying cream.  

I’ve become a huge fan of the sweet and intense flavour of roast rhubarb

Serves 6

1kg (2 1/4lb) red rhubarb

200-250g (7-9oz) sugar

Preheat the oven to 200˚C/Gas Mark 6.

Stainless steel or non-reactive ovenproof dish, 45cm x 30cm (18 inch x 12 inch) (size depends slightly on the thickness of the rhubarb)

Trim the rhubarb stalks if necessary.

Slice the rhubarb into 2 1/2cm (1 inch) pieces and arrange in a single layer in an oven proof dish.  Scatter the sugar over the rhubarb and allow to macerate for an hour or more, until the juice starts to run. Cover loosely with a sheet of parchment paper and roast in the pre-heated oven for 10-20 minutes depending on the thickness of the stalks – until the rhubarb is just tender. 

Serve alone or with ice-cream, panna cotta, labneh or thick Jersey cream……

Good to know….uncover the rhubarb after 10 minutes for more caramelisation

Coombeshead Farm

A few weeks ago we flew from Cork Airport to Bristol, hired a car and headed for Devon and Cornwall. I’d forgotten how beautiful the English countryside can be, the abundance of wildflowers in the hedgerows and so many beautiful mature trees.  One can’t but draw comparison to our Irish countryside, so often denuded of hedgerows and with so few mature trees.  Of course it depends on the area in both countries but I’m becoming ever more alarmed at the wanton disregard for the environment.

We had booked a few nights stay at Coombeshead Farm near Lewannick, a ‘farm to fork’, guest house with just five bedrooms owned by chefs Tom Adams and his partner April Bloomfield. We arrived tired and hungry and felt instantly at home. The bedrooms are small by most hotel standards but charmingly decorated with a homemade soap made from the lard of their own pigs, a little decanter of mint vodka to sip and two pieces of homemade toffee to share or argue over. The house is surrounded by organic gardens in a working farm with vegetable and herb gardens and a flock of heritage chickens.

The farmhouse is in the midst of 66 acres of woodlands and meadows grazed by sheep, there are beehives and a wood burning oven and a fire pit. Curly haired Mangalitsa pigs romping and rooting around the fields underneath the oak spinney behind the house. The bread is made in the ‘state of the art’ bakery in the barn by Ben Glazer, beautiful dark crusty loaves of natural sour dough that also make their way to some of the top restaurants in London.

The food is super delicious, we stayed for three nights and looked forward to each and every meal with eager anticipation. The atmosphere feels like a house party, comfy sofas, crackling fires – guests tend to congregate in the kitchen around the stove. Breakfast each day was a simple feast, dark crusty sourdough bread with homemade Guernsey butter, compote of seasonal fruit -rhubarb, apple, gooseberry with elderflower, raw honey, homemade jams, granola, bircher muesli, gut boosting water kefir, kombucha and gorgeous unctuous yoghurt . A most fantastic slab of fine home cured streaky bacon and homemade sausages from the happy rare breed Mangalitsa pigs with a soft flowing scramble of their own eggs.

Lots of pickling, fermenting, curing and preserving. Small plates of creative, flavourful real food. No silly foams, gels or skid marks on plates.

Here these young people are really ‘walking the walk’, not just ‘talking the talk’ as so many places do, skilled, accomplished earthy organic food, locally sourced and seasonal.

The menus sang of the season and the produce picked at its peak from the vegetable garden and hedgerows – zero miles food. I’m licking my lips remembering some of the flavours still so vibrantly fresh in my mind Country loaf and Guernsey butter, new seasons asparagus wrapped in crispy filo parcel, Garlic scapes and Jack of the Hedge, Pickled ramson and cabbage terrine, curds and nettle, Mangalitsa loin and turnip, hazelnut tart with fresh cream…..you’ll just have to go there yourself to experience the magic!

Coombeshead Farm, Lewannick, Cornwall

www.coombesheadfarm.co.uk  

Coombeshead Farm Giardiniera

110g (4oz) salt

200g (7oz) heritage carrots chopped into irregular shapes

230g (8 1/4oz) Cauliflower or broccoli, small florets

200g (7oz) radishes, halved

1 red onion, cut into small wedges

10 frigitelli peppers halved

2 red peppers cut into 2.5cm (1 inch) pieces

1 head of garlic, cut in half

2 celery sticks, peeled and sliced

400ml (14fl oz) water

900ml (1 1/2 pints) cider vinegar

30g (1 1/4oz) castor sugar

110ml (4fl oz) extra virgin olive oil

110ml (4fl oz) organic rapeseed oil

10g (1/3oz) dried oregano

3g chilli flakes

2 sprigs of fresh thyme

10g (1/3oz) black peppercorns

Prepare the vegetables and put into a stainless steel saucepan or Delph crock pot. Sprinkle with salt. Add enough water to cover and leave in the fridge for 24 hours.

Drain the vegetables, rinse well and check for salinity, pat dry.

Heat the sugar and water in a pan until just dissolved and transfer to a large bowl. Add the herbs, peppercorns, chilli flakes, vinegar and oil together. Add the vegetables and store in airtight containers for a minimum of 2 weeks until ready.

This pickle is perfect served with grilled meats, charcuterie, cheeses….

Coombeshead Farm Bircher Muesli

This recipe is quite adaptable depending on seasonality – the below is the base for quantities but for example at the moment Coombeshead Farm are using semi dried rhubarb rather than prunes as that is in season on the farm at the moment.

Serves 4 – 6

500g (18oz) rolled spelt/rye grains (can be good quality barley oats or normal oats or even seeds such as sunflower seeds and pumpkin seeds.

100g (3 ½ oz) pitted prunes or semi dried fruit of choice cut into bite size pieces

750ml (1 ¼ pints)good quality apple juice or red/white grape juice 

  • Completely submerge the grains and prunes in the juice by at least 3cm and leave for 24 hours minimum to allow the phytic acid to break down.
  • Finish with toasted seeds or nuts.

Serve to your liking, perhaps some farmhouse yoghurt, fresh seasonal fruits or berries and some local honey, a perfect breakfast.

Asparagus in Filo

Serves 12 (makes approximately 30)

12 sticks asparagus in season

12 sheets of filo pastry

175g (6oz) unsalted butter, melted

150g (5oz) Parmesan, finely grated

sea salt

freshly ground pepper

Trim the ends of the asparagus.  Put into a saucepan of boiling salted water, just enough to cover, bring back to the boil and simmer until tender, 3-4 minutes depending on size. Remove from the heat, strain and allow to cool.  Cut into 10-12.5cm (4-5 inches) pieces.

Alternatively, toss in a little extra virgin olive oil and pan grill on a high heat for 3-4 minutes, they should retain a nice bite.

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

Lay a sheet of filo on the worktop, cut into four pieces, brush with melted butter. Sprinkle it evenly with finely grated Parmesan, season with salt and freshly ground pepper. Place the asparagus in the middle. Tuck in the edges and roll up tightly. Arrange in a single layer on a baking tray, brush with melted butter and refrigerate.  Sprinkle with a little Parmesan cheese before it goes into the oven.

Bake for 8-10 minutes until they are crisp and golden all over.

Serve piping hot, sprinkled with a little more Parmesan.

Mint Vodka

1.3 litres (2 1/4 pints) vodka

175oz (6oz) picked freshly picked mint leaves (no stalks)

150g (5oz) sugar

1.5 litre (2 1/2 pints) Kilner Jar

Put the mint leaves into a Kilner jar.  Add the sugar and cover with the vodka.  Seal the jar, invert every couple of days to dissolve the sugar.  Taste after a week or two, best to drink sooner rather than later – delicious on its own or with soda water or tonic and lots of ice. 

Gooseberries…the forgotten fruit

This evening we had compote of gooseberries with elderflower after supper with a few friends, a simple dessert, just stewed gooseberries really but it blew everyone away. Most of our friends hadn’t tasted gooseberries for years – They had virtually forgotten about them. The intense flavour sent them into a spin of nostalgia many called them Goosegogs when they were children. They reminisced about the gooseberry bushes in Granny’s garden, picking gooseberries from the prickly bushes, top and tailing them around the kitchen table for gooseberry jam, and the dire warnings not to eat them before they were ripe or “you’d get a pain where you never had a window”.

Wonderful how  a flavour brings memories flooding back, one mouthful and I was back in our little vegetable garden in Cullohill, picking tart green berries into an enamel bowl, so hard they sounded like stones against the side of the bowl.

Mummy usually made red gooseberry jam from the riper fruit, but years later I discovered the magic of green gooseberry and elderflower jam from Jane Grigson’s Good Things cookbook published in 1971.

She also introduced me to the magical combination of green gooseberry and elderflower. Ever since, as soon as I see elderflower blossoms in the hedgerows, I know it’s time to dash down the garden to rummage through the prickly branches of the gooseberry bushes to pick the hard green bitter marble sized berries.

It’s difficult to imagine that they are ready to eat but believe me they make the best jams and compotes at this stage and also freeze brilliantly.

If you don’t have a gooseberry bush in your garden, dash out and buy at least one now, better still three, at least one should be Careless, Invicta  is another delicious variety which is somewhat resistant to mildew.

Unless you live close to a good Country or Farmers Market you are not likely to find fresh gooseberries. Unlike strawberries and raspberries which are available ad nauseam all year round, fresh gooseberries are rarely to be found on a supermarket shelf.

We grow several varieties of gooseberries; some in bush form. We train others as cordons or in a fan shape along a wall. The latter are a brilliant discovery, so much easier to pick. Gooseberries are deciduous and the fruit is high in Vitamin C.

Only today, I discovered the origin of the word gooseberry or spíonán in Irish, apparently they were so named because they were used to make a sauce for roast goose to cut the richness – Can you imagine how delicious that combination would be?

www.cookingisfun.ie

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Green Goosegog Crumble

Serves 6-8

When we were little,  we always called gooseberries goosegogs. 

Crumbles are the quintessential comfort food, this is a brilliant master recipe, just vary the fruit according to the season.

675g  green gooseberries

45-55g soft dark brown sugar

1-2 tablespoon water

Crumble

110g plain white flour, preferably unbleached

50g butter

50g castor sugar

Elderflower Cream for serving (optional)

1.1L capacity pie dish

First stew the gooseberries gently with the sugar and water in a covered casserole or stainless steel saucepan just until the fruit bursts.

Then taste and add more sugar if necessary. Turn into a pie dish. Allow to cool slightly while you make the crumble.

Rub the butter into the flour just until the mixture resembles really coarse bread crumbs, add the sugar. Sprinkle this mixture over the gooseberries in the pie dish. Scatter the flaked almonds evenly over the top.

Bake in a preheated moderate oven 180C/350F/regulo 4, for 30-45 minutes or until the topping is cooked and golden. Serve with cream flavoured with elderflower cordial or just softly whipped cream and soft brown sugar

Variation: Gooseberry and Elderflower

Stew the gooseberries with white sugar, add 2 elderflower heads tied in muslin while stewing, remove elderflowers and proceed as above.

Variations on the Crumble

30g oatflakes or sliced hazelnuts or nibbed almonds can be good added to the crumble.

Gooseberry Frangipane Tart

This is certainly one of the most impressive of the French tarts, it is wonderful served warm but is also very good cold and it keeps for several days.

Serves 8-10

450g (1lb) green gooseberries

Stock Syrup made with:

150ml (5floz) water

60g (2oz) sugar

Boil sugar and water until all the sugar is dissolved and cool. Stock Syrup can be kept in the refrigerator until needed.

Shortcrust Pastry

200g (7oz) flour

110g (4oz) cold butter

1 egg yolk, preferably free range and organic

3-4 tablespoons cold water

Frangipane

100g (31/2oz) butter

75g (3oz) castor sugar

1 egg, beaten

1 egg yolk, preferably free range

110g (4oz) whole blanched almonds, ground or 1/2ground almonds and 1/2 blanched and ground

25g (1oz) flour

To Finish

25g (1oz) flaked almonds

To Serve

Elderflower Cream (flavour softly whipped cream with elderflower cordial to taste)

23cm (9inch) diameter flan ring or tart tin with a removable base

First make the shortcrust pastry,

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

Take a fork or knife (whichever you feel most comfortable with) and add just enough liquid to bring the pastry together, then discard the fork and collect the pastry into a ball with your hands. This way you can judge more accurately if you need a few more drops of liquid. Although slightly damp pastry is easier to handle and roll out, the resulting crust can be tough and may well shrink out of shape as the water evaporates in the oven. The drier and more difficult-to-handle pastry will give a crisper shorter crust.

Cover the pastry with greaseproof paper and leave to rest in the fridge for a minimum of 15 minutes or better still 30 minutes. This will make the pastry much less elastic and easier to roll.

Meanwhile, top and tail the gooseberries, put into a stainless steel saucepan, barely cover with stock syrup, bring to a boil and simmer until the gooseberries just begin to burst.  Cool. 

Next make the frangipane.

Cream the butter, gradually beat in the sugar and continue beating until the mixture is light and soft. Gradually add the egg and egg yolk, beating well after each addition. Stir in the ground almonds and flour.  Spread the frangipane over the top and sprinkle with flaked almonds.

Turn the oven up to 200°C/400°F/Gas Mark 6. Bake the tart for 15 minutes. Turn down the oven heat to moderate 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4 and continue cooking for 15-20 minutes or until the fruit is tender and the frangipane is set in the centre and nicely golden.

Serve with Elderflower Cream.

Green Gooseberry and Elderflower Jam

Makes 6 x 450g (1lb) pots

It’s worth growing a gooseberry bush just to make this jam alone.

The gooseberries should be green and tart and hard as hail stones – as soon as the elderflowers are in bloom in the hedgerows search for the gooseberries under the prickly bushes or seek them out in your local greengrocer or Farmers Market.

1.6kg (3 1/2lbs) tart green gooseberries

freshly squeezed juice of 2 lemons plus enough water to measure 300ml (10fl oz) in total

5-6 elderflower heads

900g (2lbs) sugar

Top and tail the gooseberries and put into a wide stainless steel saucepan or preserving pan with the water and elderflowers tied in muslin. Simmer until the gooseberries burst. Remove the elderflowers and add the warm sugar, stirring until it has completely dissolved. Boil rapidly for about 10 minutes until setting point is reached (220°F on a jam thermometer). Pour into hot clean jars, cover and store in a dry airy cupboard.

This jam should be a fresh green colour, so be careful not to overcook it.

Torched Mackerel with Green Gooseberry Sauce

Serves 4

4 large mackerel fillets, bones removed and filleted in half

Salt for curing

Sprig of fennel for serving

Green Gooseberry Sauce

Equipment: Blowtorch

First make the Green Gooseberry sauce see below.

This simple sauce is so much more than the sum of its parts, we love it with pan-grilled mackerel, goose, pork and other rich fatty meats.  Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall suggests adding a tablespoon of chopped sage, I tried it recently and it was very good.

If you are stuck for a pudding just fold in some softly whipped cream and hey presto you have gooseberry fool.

275g (9 1/2oz) fresh green gooseberries

stock syrup to cover (see previous recipe) – 175ml (6fl oz) approximately

a knob of butter (optional)

Top and tail the gooseberries, put into a stainless steel saucepan, barely cover with stock syrup, bring to the boil and simmer until the fruit bursts.  Taste.  Stir in a small knob of butter if you like but it is very good without it.

Lay the mackerel fillets, skin side down on a baking tray. Sprinkle lightly with salt and allow to sit and cure slightly for 15 minutes.

Take the tray of salted mackerel and char with skin with a blow torch. The heat will refract from the tray underneath, allowing the fish to cook from both sides, leaving it slightly pink in the middle. Alternatively, you can use a grill or a pan grill.

To serve, arrange the fish on hot plates with a dollop of Green Gooseberry sauce and a sprig of fennel.

Ann Marie’s Gooseberry, Pistachio and Coconut Cake

Makes a 22cm (9 inch) diameter round cake

100g (3 1/2oz) sugar plus 20g (3/4oz) for the topping

90g (3 1/4oz) light brown sugar

180g (6 1/4oz) ground almonds

30g (1 1/4oz) ground pistachio

45g (1 3/4oz) desiccated coconut

50g (2oz/1/2 cup) self-rising flour

a pinch of salt

1 tablespoon of Elderflower cordial (optional)

150g (5oz) butter – melted

3 eggs 

250g (9oz) gooseberries, halved

1oz pistachio nuts coarsely chopped

Icing sugar to serve

Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas Mark 4 (160C fan).

Lightly grease the cake tin with butter.

Mix all the dry ingredients together in a large bowl.  Pour over the melted butter and mix in the eggs, spoon the batter into the pre-greased tin and smooth down. 

Drop the halved gooseberries onto the batter and sprinkle the top of the cake with the remaining 20g (3/4oz) of sugar.  Bake in the centre of the oven for 30-35 minutes, then turn the cake around and bake for a further 8-10 minutes until the cake between the gooseberries goes all golden.

Allow the cake to cool in the tin, as it needs time to settle, then gently remove by running a knife around the edges.  Covered well, it will keep in the fridge for up to a week (not much chance of that happening), but for the best flavour, allow it to return to room temperature before eating. To serve sprinkle with some coarsely chopped pistachio nuts and dredge with a little icing sugar.

Ruffage by Abra Berens

An exciting parcel arrived on my desk today, a present from a past student who wanted me to have a copy of her very first cook book – Abra Berens is the twenty eight Ballymaloe Cooking School student to write a best-selling cook book. It’s called Ruffage, published by Chronicle Books and has just been chosen by the New York Times as one of the Top 10 Books of 2019 – and that’s no mean feat….

Abra did a 12 Week Certificate Course here in 2006. She’s chef at Granor Farm in Three Oaks, Michigan and a co-founder of Bare Knuckle Farm. She’s making quite the impact and strives to connect people with their food both through dinners and progressive food policy, helping to further a food policy where farmers earn a living wage, protect our environment through agriculture and waste as little food as possible…..no doubt influenced by the zero waste policy we do our best to espouse here at the Ballymaloe Cooking School.

A year and half after she left here she took up residence in a forest valley between two cherry orchards on Bare Knuckle Farm in Michigan. She plunged all her savings into the project, worked from dawn till dusk, ate brilliantly but by the end of the first year was so ‘poor and cold’ that she decided to return to Chicago to get a job that paid “in green backs” rather than green leafy vegetables. There was lots of delicious food at the pie shop where she worked but soon she was craving the carrots that seemed to get sweeter with every passing frost, the tiny kale greens that still sprouted from the stalk and the almost obscenely orange-yolked eggs. “Farming changed the way I cook”.

I too, know that feeling, when you sow and tend a seed and wait patiently for it to grow into something to eat you will cook it carefully and lovingly and use every single scrap. You will want everyone to know that you grew it…Furthermore, it gives one a far greater respect and appreciation for those who grow nourishing and wholesome food all for us.

The format of Ruffage is also interesting. It’s not a vegetarian book but Abra has chosen vegetables as the principle ingredient and gives deeply knowledgable advise on how to select, store, prepare, cook and serve them using a variety of cooking techniques. She starts with a pantry section and some essential condiments.  There are recipes for each vegetable and suggestions for 3 or 4 delicious variations, and many, many cooking methods, pan roasting, poaching, boiling, sautéing, grilling, oven roasting, braising, confit, frying, stuffed, marinated, baked, caramelized and of course raw.

Who knew, that there so many super exciting ways to serve vegetables, I love this book and plan to stock it in our Farm shop here at the Ballymaloe Cookery School. We don’t have much space so I’m super fussy about what I ask Toby to stock but this is a ‘keeper’.

Here are a few treats to whet your appetite……for the tempting variations you’ll need to order Abra’s book.

Abra Berens Beet-dressed pasta w/golden raisins and poppy seeds

Generally, I use a microwave to warm up my forgotten morning coffee and for little else. But there are other uses. The beets in this recipe will purée to a significantly smoother texture if they are warm. If you have prepared a load of beets earlier in the week and want to make this sauce, simply warm them up in the micro­wave with a splash of water. Alternatively, if you are cooking loads of beets, it’s smart to make the purée when they are warm out of the oven. It will store in the refrigerator for a week or in the freezer for a good long time.

This pasta salad also works as a cold salad, but often needs an extra pinch of salt, since the flavours will be muted when cold.

35 g golden raisins

Juice of ½ lemon (22 ml)

2 steam-roasted beets (455 g)

60 ml olive oil

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Cream (optional)

455 g small pasta, bow ties, orecchiette, or penne

10 g poppy seeds

Soak the golden raisins in ½ cup (120 ml) hot water with a squeeze of lemon for 10 minutes or until they are plump. Strain the raisins, saving the water.

In a food processor, purée the beets with the olive oil, raisin water, and a good pinch of salt and pepper until very smooth. If you like dairy, toss in a glug of cream.

Boil the pasta in well-salted water and drain.

Toss the pasta with the beet purée (to warm and coat), soaked raisins, and poppy seeds. Transfer to serving platter or individ­ual bowls. Drizzle with additional olive oil.

Seared duck breast w/brown sugar–vinegar cabbage, roasted potatoes, and herb salad

The richness of duck elevates the commonness of cabbage to fancy dinner status. That said, this dish would be perfectly at home with chicken, pork chops, or seared salmon. Note that if you don’t have the rendered duck fat in the pan, simply pan roast it with olive oil. Also note that if the skin softens while finishing the cabbage salad, simply kiss it in a hot pan or re-crisp under the broiler.

This brown sugar–vinegar sauce lives on my counter, close to the stove, ready to turn up the volume on anything I’m cooking that day. I love this dish because it combines a variety of tex­tures and simultaneously blends rich, comforting flavours with a bright, acidic, herby lightness. I tend to use red cabbage for the colour, but any variety will work.

910 g (or 2 to 3 potatoes per person) Yukon gold or red-skinned potatoes, cut into wedges

Olive oil

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

4 (170 to 230 g) duck breasts, see Hot Tips

1 head (1.4 kg) red cabbage, cut into ribbons

120 ml brown sugar–vinegar sauce

½ bunch parsley (68 g), roughly chopped

10 sprigs chives, minced (optional)

1 sprig rosemary, minced (optional)

Heat the oven to 425°F (220°C).

Dress the potatoes with a glug of olive oil, a big pinch of salt, and several grinds of black pepper. Transfer to a baking sheet and roast until crispy on the outside and tender on the inside, about 35 minutes. Reserve, rewarming if necessary for the final steps.

Meanwhile, score the skin of the duck breast into either diamonds or slices, trying to avoid cutting the flesh, and season liberally with salt and pepper.

In a large, cold frying pan, place the duck breasts skin-side down and turn on a medium heat. As the heat builds in the frying pan, the fat will render through the cuts in the skin and crisp. Let it go longer than you might think you should. Cook until the skin is brown and crispy, and the meat medium rare, about 15 minutes. Flip the breasts for 4 minutes to cook in the fat. Remove the duck breasts from the pan and let rest for 7 to 10 minutes.

Increase the heat under the frying pan to high and add the cabbage with a pinch of salt to roast in the rendered duck fat. Allow to sizzle and lightly brown, about 7 minutes. Remove from the heat, add the brown sugar–vinegar sauce, and toss to coat well.

Toss the warm potatoes with the dressed cabbage and the parsley, chives, and rosemary (if using).

Place the duck breasts on a serving platter next to the potato-cabbage salad, and serve.

Matchstick salad: turnip, carrots, kohlrabi, w/lemon, Parmesan, and parsley

I like this salad to have similar shaped vegetables. It doesn’t have to be matchsticks; could be wedges or half-moons, or a mix. Bottom line: don’t let the knife work dissuade you from making the salad. As long as you get the vegetables into bite-size units, you’ll be good.

For the variations, you can use the same proportion of vegetables or stick with only turnip or rutabaga. The key is to have a nice dose of fat and brightness to balance the brassica flavour

1 bunch salad turnips (455 g), cut into matchsticks

3 medium turnips or 1 large rutabaga (455 g), ends trimmed, peeled, cut into matchsticks

4 carrots (various colours are nice) (455 g), cut into matchsticks

2 kohlrabi (455 g), ends trimmed, peeled, cut into matchsticks

1 or 2 apples (455 g), unpeeled, cut into matchsticks

2 lemons (90 ml), zest and juice

120 ml olive oil

Big pinch of salt

1 bunch parsley (34 g), roughly chopped

55 g Parmesan, shaved with a vegetable peeler or grater

Dress the vegetables and apples with the lemon zest and juice, olive oil, and salt. Toss all together, and let sit for 10 minutes to lightly marinate. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Add the parsley to the salad, garnish with the Parmesan shavings, and serve.

(All Recipes taken from Ruffage by Abra Berens, published  by Chronicle Books. All photographs by to EE Berger)

Claire Ptak

Claire Ptak – baker to the Royals, as one of our current 12 Week students put it, shared her magic with us at the Ballymaloe Cookery School recently. Claire, who loves to bake, started her career at Chez Panisse in Berkley in California, baking delicious, simple pastries, cookies and galettes with beautiful ingredients. Beautiful butter, beautiful fresh eggs, beautiful, seasonal fresh currants, cherries and  organic flowers and herbs to embellish the cakes.

In 2005, she moved to London and set up a stall in Broadway Market in Hackney selling cupcakes. There was a queue from the very first day for Claire’s beautiful but sometimes not picture perfect looking creations.

Somehow, people’s gut feeling told them that this was real and much more likely to taste delicious than the perfect looking fondant iced confections so prevalent nowadays.

Violet Café and Bakery was started and word spread fast. Both royalty and celebrities snuck in or sent along quietly for a goodie box of Claire’s treats from Violet Café, Claire never divulged their names or very personal cravings.

Her style is Anglo-American – her scones are long triangles with sugar tops and many delicious additions peach, raspberry, white chocolate…

Her buttery ‘biscuits’ which we would call scones are made with lots of sour cream and occasionally butter, are split in half and sold as breakfast ‘biscuits’ with bacon, egg and hot sauce inside.

Among the celebrities we now know who were her fans, was a fellow American girl with style, called Megan Markle which lead to Claire being asked to make ‘the wedding cake’ for Harry and Megan’s wedding. When the story broke, Claire was suddenly catapulted onto the international stage – her Instagram followers went from 69,000 to 205,000 in a few days.

There are now plans to open a second Violet Café next year and all because of cake….

Claire is passionate about the importance of using quality ingredients for baking delicious cakes, breads and pastries. She told us about a fast emerging trend for ‘seasonal cakes’. The wedding cake was an Amalfi lemon and elderflower perfumed cake because the wedding was in the midst of the elderflower season in May.

I love the idea of cakes reflecting the seasons, so easy as we come into the summer with an abundance of summer fruit, berries and currants around the corner. Claire also used lots of spelt, sorghum, kamut, rice and rye, khorasan flour and soft cane sugars for her cakes and has many gluten free and accidentally vegan confections – something for everyone to enjoy.

The chocolate devil’s food cake was the vehicle to show us how to ice the cake with frothy American butter icing and decorate it with organic, fresh flowers in the nonchalant Violet way, a stunning creation for a celebration. The rhubarb, strawberry and sweet cicely pie was perfect for a family meal, sweet cicely is a herb worth growing, it’s perennial so it comes back year after year, it’s fern like leaves have a sweet, slightly anise flavor so one can reduce the amount of sugar used to sweeten the rhubarb. The tart is still delicious without it or Claire loves to use a little fresh tarragon if that’s available. The sesame and tahini cookies were a terrific find – mixed in minutes and cooked to a soft, chewy texture, they are destined to become one of our staples here at the Ballymaloe Cookery School and have the bonus of being gluten free.

The honey shortcakes were fragile and tender but so delicious, Claire pairs them with a fresh apricot and chamomile compote and a dollop of whipped cream but I can imagine enjoying them with berries and cream or just a gorgeous homemade jam or Amalfi lemon curd.

Terrific response to Vera’s column on 11th May so here’s another recipe from Vera’s wish list – Light, tender and delicious, this carrot cake is lovely for afternoon tea, not quite as worthy as any of the traditional carrot cake recipes.

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Carrot and Cardamom Cake

Serves 8-10

Light, tender and delicious, this carrot cake is lovely for afternoon tea, but has also been much enjoyed for dessert.   It will also keep really well for a week or more in an airtight tin.

50ml (2fl.oz) vegetable oil (we use sunflower oil)

150g (5oz) plain white flour

1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda

½ teaspoon ground cardamom (seeds about 10 pods)

2 large eggs, preferably organic and free range

100g (3½oz) castor sugar

55g (2¼oz) soft brown sugar

50ml (2fl.oz) natural yogurt

175g (6oz) finely grated carrot (1 large or 2 medium carrots approx.)

Icing

225g (8oz) icing sugar

2 tablesp freshly squeezed lemon juice

Dried rose petals (optional)

25g (1oz) pistachio nuts (optional)

20.5cm (8in) round spring-form cake tin

Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/gas mark 4.

Brush the tin with oil and pop a round of parchment paper in the base.

Put the flour, bicarbonate of soda, cardamom and salt into a bowl.  Whisk the eggs, sugars, yogurt and oil together until smooth.  Gently mix the egg mixture into the dry ingredients, add the carrots and pour the mixture into the tin.   Bake for 40 minutes, or until a skewer comes clean.  Turn out onto a wire rack and allow to cool completely while you make the icing.

Sieve the icing sugar into a bowl, add enough sieved freshly squeezed lemon juice to make a thickish icing.  Pour onto the top of the cold cake. Spread quickly with a palette knife so it begins to dribble down over the sides of the cake.  Sprinkle the surface with dried rose petals and coarsely chopped pistachio nuts if available.

Claire Ptak’s Apricot, Camomile and Honey Shortcakes

makes 4 large shortcakes

For the compote

makes 1 jar

1kg just-ripe apricots, halved and pitted

½ vanilla pod

1 tbsp dried camomile flowers

½ cinnamon stick

150g caster sugar

Add all the ingredients into a large bowl and toss. Macerate for one hour to dissolve the sugar and draw the juices out of the fruit.

Turn out into a heavy saucepan or jam pot, cover with a lid. Cook over a low heat for 15 minutes, or until the apricots break down a bit.

Let the mixture cool slightly before transferring to an airtight container.

For the shortcakes

280g plain flour

1 tbsp baking powder

2 tbsp caster sugar, plus 50g more for sprinkling

½ tsp fine sea salt

100g unsalted butter, cold and cut into 1cm cubes

200g single cream

To serve

¼ batch apricot compote (from above)

300g double cream, gently whipped

A drizzle of honey

Heat the oven to 190C/375F/170Fan/gas mark 5. Line a baking tray with baking parchment.

In a food processor, combine the dry ingredients. Add the cold butter, blitzing until it resembles a coarse meal texture (or do this by hand with a pastry cutter).

Quickly add the cream, mixing until it just comes together. Be careful not to overmix.

Turn out on to a lightly floured surface, and pat into a cube shape. Rest for 10 minutes.

Once rested, roll to a 2cm thickness, then cut into hexagons, using a 7cm hexagon cutter. Sprinkle with caster sugar. Rest for 10 minutes, then bake for 15-20 minutes until springy and golden at the edges.

To assemble, cut the shortcakes in half, spoon over the compote and a dollop of whipped cream, then drizzle with honey.

Claire Ptak’s Battenburg

Serves 8 

6 ozs (170g) butter

6 ozs (170g) castor sugar

1.5 teaspoon of vanilla extract

3 eggs, preferably free range

6 ozs (170g) self raising flour

Red and yellow food colouring

Lemon zest (optional)

½ teaspoon rosewater (optional)

150g apricot jam

Icing sugar, for rolling

500g golden marzipan (almond paste, see recipe)

Preheat the oven to 170°C/335°F/gas mark 3½. Butter and line a 25cm x 30cm battenberg tin.

Beat together the butter and sugar until fluffy. Divide the mixture between two bowls, and dye each with different food colouring. The amount to use varies greatly depending on the quality of your colouring. Start with a small amount and go from there until you have the desired colour intensity.

Beat the eggs together with the vanilla in separate bowl. Divide this between the yellow and pink mixtures. If using, add lemon zest to the yellow mixture and rosewater to the pink mixture, beating to combine.

Sift the flour twice. Divide the flour between the bowls and fold it into the mixtures.

Spread the mixture into the prepared tin or tins accordingly. Bake for 40-50 minutes or until the cakes spring back to the touch. Remove from the oven and allow them to cool in the tin(s).

Remove the cakes from the tin. If you’re using a battenberg tin, simply remove the four pieces and trim, if needed, to make four even bars. If you’re using two loaf tins, slice each slab in half lengthways and trim likewise to make four neat bars.

Heat the apricot jam in a small pan. Brush all the long sides of the cake pieces with jam, then press them together in a checkerboard fashion.


Lightly dust a work surface with the icing sugar. Roll the block of marzipan out and trim to 25cm x 30cm. With a clean, dry pastry brush, dust away as much icing sugar from the marzipan as you can. Then check for the smoothest side (it may be the underneath side) and have that facing down.

Brush the top of the marzipan with melted apricot jam. Place the block of cake on the left-hand side of the marzipan and roll to the right until it is encased. Rest for 30 minutes for the jam to set and glue it all together, then slice and serve. This keeps well in a tin for up to a week.

Almond Paste

450g (1lb) castor sugar

450g (1lb) ground almonds

2 small eggs

a drop of pure almond extract

2 tablespoons Irish whiskey

Sieve the castor sugar and mix with the ground almonds. Beat the eggs, add the whiskey and 1 drop of pure almond extract, then add to the other ingredients and mix to a stiff paste. (You may not need all the egg). Sprinkle the work top with icing sugar, turn out the almond paste and work lightly until smooth.

Claire Ptak’s Chocolate Devils Food Cake with Violet Icing

 Serves 12

220g plain flour

100g cocoa powder

1 tsp fine sea salt

2 tsp bicarbonate of soda

1tsp baking powder

450g caster sugar

2 eggs

1 tsp vanilla extract

200g  buttermilk or plain yoghurt

100g vegetable oil

225g hot water

Preheat the oven to 160°C/140°C(fan)/gas mark 3. Butter and line a 23cm (9 inch) cake tin with paper.

Measure the dry ingredients, including the caster sugar, into a  large mixing bowl and whisk with a balloon whisk to distribute the salt, bicarbonate of soda and baking powder evenly throughout the other dry ingredients.

In another bowl, whisk together the wet ingredients (except for the hot water). Once they are well mixed together, slowly whisk in the hot water.

Make a well in the centre of the dry ingredients and pour in half of the wet mixture. Starting in the middle of the bowl, whisk in a clockwise, circular motion. Resist the temptation to switch direction or you’ll end up with lumps of dry ingredients. Gradually add the remaining wet ingredients until you have a smooth, liquid batter.

Pour the batter into your tin right away and bake for 40 – 50 minutes until the top is springy to the touch and an inserted skewer comes out clean.

Remove the cake from its tin by running a small paring knife along the inside of the tin to release the cake. Or, if you have used a loose bottom tin, set the base of the tin on top of a tin of tomatoes, or similar, and gently push the sides of the cake tin down. Wash and dry your cake tin well, then line with cling film with plenty lapping over the sides and set aside.

Using a serrated bread knife (the longest one you have), score a horizontal line half of the way up the side of the cake and then slowly cut the cake into three layers.

Slide the bottom layer of sponge into the lined cake tin. Pipe a border of icing around the edges of the sponge, and then fill the center with a little more icing. Add the next layer of cake and continue to ice as before. Top with the remaining sponge, then pull up the sides of cling film and wrap up the cake tightly. You may want to cover with another layer of cling film to ensure it’s airtight. Place in the fridge and chill for at least 2 hours or overnight. Leave any remaining icing at room temperature.

If you have left the cake to chill overnight, you may want to re-whip the icing. The icing will naturally deflate ever so slightly and benefits from a second whipping.

Once you have taken the cake out of the fridge remove it from its tin, set on a cake stand and peel off the cling film. Use a palette knife to ice the sides and top of the cake. Scatter flowers over the top, and serve.

(Tip: the cake batter can hold in the fridge for days and can be used for cupcakes)

Violet Icing

100g whole milk

1 tbsp violet syrup

190g unsalted butter, softened

750g icing sugar very well sieved (divide into 3 x 250g portions)

1 tsp fresh lemon juice

Measure out the whole milk into a bowl and stir in the violet syrup.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat the butter and 250g of the icing sugar until smooth. Gradually add the milk mixture, scraping the bottom of the bowl as needed, this is an important step.  Add another 250g of icing sugar and mix on a low speed for at least 3 minutes (set your timer). Add the lemon juice, if required, adding the remaining icing sugar and beat on medium- high for 3 minutes.

Claire Ptak’s Sesame Halva Cookies

Makes 15

100g tahini paste

125g unsalted butter, softened

125g golden caster sugar

½ tsp fine sea salt

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

1 egg

250g rice flour

¾ tsp baking powder

¼ tsp bicarbonate of soda (bread soda)

200g halva, broken into pieces

150g white chocolate, broken into pieces

2 tablespoon sesame seeds, for topping

1 teaspoon of flaky sea salt for topping

Preheat the oven to 180°C/160°Fan/350F/gas mark 4. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.

In a large mixing bowl, cream together the tahini, butter and sugar until fluffy. Add the salt and vanilla extract, and then beat in the egg. Add the flour, baking powder and bicarbonate of soda (bread soda)

Add the halva and white chocolate pieces, and mix these through the dough. Using an ice-cream scoop, portion on to your prepared trays and sprinkle with sesame seeds and sea salt. Bake in the oven for 15‑18 minutes.

(Tip: These can be made as far as placing the mixture on the baking tray and frozen (uncooked) and then removed and cooked from frozen when needed)

Claire Ptak’s Slab Pie

serves 12

560g plain flour, sifted

2 tsp fine sea salt

340g unsalted butter, cold

8 tablespoons iced water

4 tablespoons cream, for brushing

4 tablespoons caster sugar, for sprinkling

For the filling:

500g rhubarb cut into 1cm pieces

600g strawberries (quartered)

½ teaspoon salt

1 vanilla bean, scraped for vanilla beans

Zest and juice of 1 lemon

150g light, soft brown sugar

50g castor sugar

5 tablespoons cornflour

20g Sweet Cicely chopped

Whisk together the flour and salt. Add half the butter. Combine well using a cutting motion. Add the second half of the butter and rub in until your mix forms roughly pea-sized pieces.

Sprinkle over the iced water (holding back the ice) and toss it through the mix as you go. The dough should start to become raggedy and eventually, when all the water is added, it will come together into a ball. Divide the ball in half, wrapping each piece in cling film. Flatten them into squares and rest in the fridge for at least 20 minutes or up to 24 hours – any longer than this, put it in the freezer.

Next make your fruit filling. Mix all the ingredients together well and set aside.

Preheat the oven to 190°CFan. Butter, flour and line with parchment paper the base a baking sheet that measures 23 x 33cm.

Roll out one square of pastry on a lightly floured surface to roughly 28 x 38cm, pastry needs to be larger than the tin. Press the pastry down into the prepared sheet, then chill in the fridge while you roll out the other piece. The second pastry sheet (which will form the top of the pie) can be rolled out to 23 x 33cm.

Remove the chilled pastry and carefully fill it with the fillingmixture. It can come right up to about 2mm shy of the top of the tin but don’t let it overflow. Roll the top layer of pastry over the pie. Brush the pastry with cream. Fold or roll over the excess pastry and pinch to seal. Use a knife to pierce the top of the pie a few times. Put in your freezer or fridge for 20 minutes.

Brush the edge of the pie with the cream and sprinkle with caster sugar. Place some parchment paper underneath to catch the drips, and bake for about 25 minutes. Reduce the heat to 160°CFan/180°C/350F/gas mark 4 for another 35-45 minutes or until golden and the bubbles of filling coming through are thick. Cool for at least 3 hours before slicing.

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