Darina’s Saturday Letter

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Blessed are the cheesemakers….

Blessed are the cheesemakers!  Let’s all do our bit to support small Irish producers, many of whom are still experiencing real hardship.  The farmhouse cheese makers as just one example so let’s make a conscious effort to buy a piece or better still several pieces of Irish farmhouse cheese this weekend.  I’m fantastically proud of the range of handmade farmhouse cheeses we have here in Ireland.  Cow’s milk, goat’s milk, sheep’s milk and buffalo milk.   Toonsbridge and Macroom Mozzarella make tender milky cheese to rival the very best Italian Mozzarella. No wonder it’s so good, it’s made from the rich milk of the buffalos that range freely in the lovely mixed pastures of West Cork. 

Toby Simmonds and his team of Italian and Irish cheesemakers also make straw smoked scarmoza Caciocavallo,  Ricotta, Halloumi and Cultured Butter easily available from local Farmers Markets or online (www.toonsbridgedairy.com).  He’s recently opened a shop on South Great Georges Street in Dublin – how gutsy and deserving of support is that in the midst of Covid-19…

For many of the cheesemakers who were also supplying the service industry, the closure of the restaurants, hotels and cafés business meant the loss of over 75% of their business overnight, yet the cows kept milking and the cheese kept aging, needing to turned and matured to bring them to the peak of perfection, but how or where could they sell their produce.  They too had the heartbreak of laying off many of their skilled cheesemakers who were often neighbours from their own parish.

The reopening of the local Farmers Markets has been a significant help to some producers.  Local customers are flocking back while observing social distancing.  Look out for Jane Murphy’s Ardsallagh goat’s cheese in Midleton and Mahon Point.  You’ll find the beautiful Ballinrostig Gouda type cheese there too and a whole display of cheese to choose from at Christian and Fiona Burke’s stall.

A trip to the English Market in Cork will make your heart sing – bring an empty basket and fill it up. 

Over 60 beautiful farmhouse cheeses are made around the country and on the islands, a high proportion are made in Cork county.  We have soft, semi-soft, semi-hard and hard cheese to rival anything anywhere and I’m not saying that just because I’m an adopted Cork woman….

Siobhán Ni Ghairbhith makes the legendary St. Tola goat’s cheese from raw milk but she also makes pasteurised milk cheese for the multiples.  She employs 7 people on her farm on the edge of the Burren in Co. Clare. 

When lockdown was introduced overnight, every cheesemaker in the country scrambled to cope with the gallons and gallons of milk in peak season.  Siobhán set up an online artisan cheese box which also includes some other artisan products as did Gubbeen, Cashel Blue, Cooleeney and several others.  Siobhán is a multi-skilled cheesemaker so she decided to make less soft cheese which has a shorter shelf-life and more hard cheese which will continue to improve with age – look out for it later in the year.

Can you imagine how lovely it would be to get a hamper like that by courier or to send a present to a friend or care worker or as a comforting gift to absent family members.  There’s a list of Irish farmhouse cheesemakers on the Cáis site (www.irishcheese.ie). 

The reason why Irish cheeses are so good is the quality of the milk.  Here in Ireland we can grow grass like virtually nowhere else in the world so cows that are out on grass particularly in Summer produce beautiful milk that makes gorgeous cheese.  Irish farmhouse cheese have been awarded prizes in the World Cheese Awards many times.  As a sector, the artisans are incredibly resilient and resourceful.

These feisty cheesemakers up and down the country has led the food revolution and helped in no small way to change the image of Irish food both at home and abroad.  In 1984 when milk quotas has just been introduced, the late Veronica Steele, started to experiment in her kitchen on the Beara Penninsula.  She couldn’t bear to waste a drop of milk of her favourite – one horned cow named Brisket.  The end result was Milleens, the beautiful washed rind cheese that inspired several generations, mostly women, to make cheese.  Such a joy to see her son Quinlan continue to make superb cheese.  The second generation continues to build on their parents legacy at Durrus, Gubbeen, Cashel Blue…how fortunate are we to have access to many exceptional delicious cheeses, now more than ever is the time is to show our appreciation with our support.

RECIPES

Salad Caprese

This salad is only worth doing if you have access to tender buffalo mozzarella and gorgeous ripe tomatoes, fresh summer basil and super extra virgin olive oil.  The first Irish tomatoes are now in season.

Serves 4

2 balls buffalo mozzarella (we’ve two options in Ireland – Toonsbridge Dairy Buffalo Mozzarella (www.toonsbridgedairy.com)

and Macroom Buffalo Mozzarella (www.macroombuffalocheese.com)

4 very ripe ‘beef’ tomatoes or large tomatoes

fresh basil leaves

sea salt

freshly ground black pepper

extra virgin olive oil

Slice the buffalo mozzarella and tomatoes into rounds (or tear apart).  Arrange in overlapping slices on a white plate.  Tuck some basil leaves in between the slices.  Drizzle with really good extra virgin olive oil (I use Capezzana, Fontodi or Selvapiana).  Sprinkle with a few flakes of sea salt and freshly ground pepper to season – a simple feast when the ingredients are at the peak of perfection.

Irish Cheddar Cheese Croquettes

So many traditional Irish Cheddars to choose from, Hegarty’s, ˈ15 Fieldsˈ, Imokilly Cheddar, Coolattin Cheddar, Derg….

Everyone loves these cheese croquettes, crunchy on the outside, soft and melting in the centre.

Makes 25 – 30, depending on size

450ml (15fl oz) milk

few slices of carrot and onion

1 small bay leaf

sprig of thyme

4 parsley stalks

200g (7oz) Roux (see recipe)

2 egg yolks, preferably free range

225g (8oz) grated mature Irish Cheddar cheese

a pinch of cayenne

1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard

1 tablespoon freshly chopped chives (optional)

salt and freshly ground pepper

seasoned white flour, preferably unbleached

beaten egg

fine dried white breadcrumbs

Accompaniment

Ballymaloe Country Relish

Put the cold milk into a saucepan with the carrot, onion and herbs, bring slowly to the boil, simmer for 3-4 minutes, turn off the heat and allow to infuse for about 10 minutes if you have enough time.  Strain the flavourings, rinse them and add to a stock if you have one on the go.  Bring the milk back to the boil, whisk in the roux bit by bit; it will get very thick but persevere.  (The roux always seems like a lot too much but you need it all so don’t decide to use less).

Season with salt and freshly ground pepper.  Cook for 1-2 minutes on a gentle heat, then remove from the heat, stir in the egg yolks, cheese, pinch of cayenne, mustard and optional chives.  Taste and correct the seasoning.  Spread out on a wide plate to cool.

When the mixture is cold or at least cool enough to handle, shape into balls about the size of a golf ball or 25g (1oz) approx.  Roll first in seasoned flour, then in beaten

egg and then in fine breadcrumbs.  Chill until firm but bring back to room temperature before cooking otherwise they may burst.  Just before serving, heat a deep fryer to 170°C/325°F and cook the Cheese Croquettes until crisp and golden.  Drain on kitchen paper and serve hot with a green salad and perhaps some Ballymaloe Country Relish.

Roux

110g (4oz) butter

110g (4oz) flour

Melt the butter and cook the flour in it for 2 minutes on a low heat, stirring occasionally.  Use as required.  Roux can be stored in a cool place and used as required or it can be made up on the spot if preferred.  It will keep at least a fortnight in a refrigerator.

Note: Cooked Cheese Croquettes can be kept warm in an oven for up to 30 minutes. They can also be frozen and reheated in an oven.

Durrus, Potato and Rosemary Focaccia

Serves 10-12

1 x White Yeast Bread Dough (see recipe)

2 tablespoons chopped rosemary (or thyme leaves), optional

waxy potatoes, boiled until almost cooked, peeled and thinly sliced

175-225g (6-8oz) Durrus cheese

rosemary sprigs

extra virgin olive oil

salt and freshly ground pepper

28 x 40cm (11 x 16 inch) baking tray

Make the dough, knead well and allow to rise until well doubled in size.  “Knock back” and allow to rest for 4 or 5 minutes. 

Sprinkle the base of the rectangle baking tray with chopped rosemary or thyme.

Roll the dough into a rectangle.  Lay the dough on top of the baking tray.

Dimple with your fingertips.  Brush with extra virgin olive oil. 

Cover with thin slices of Durrus cheese.

Season the slices of potato well with salt and freshly ground pepper.  Arrange in overlapping slices over the dough and cheese. Sprinkle with rosemary and drizzle with extra virgin olive oil. 

Bake in a preheated oven 230ºC/450ºF/Gas Mark 8 for 20-25 minutes or until the base is crusty and the potatoes are beginning to crisp. 

Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil and eat warm.

Ballymaloe Cookery School White Yeast Bread

We use Doves Farm organic white bread flour, the water quantity may vary for other brands.  This bread can be baked in loaf tins or made into plaits or rolls.   

Makes 2 loaves

20g (3/4oz) yeast

20g (3/4oz) organic sugar

400g (14oz) warm water

700g (1 1/2lb) strong organic white flour

25g (1oz) butter

16g (1/2oz) pure dairy salt

2 x loaf tins 12.5cm (5 inch) x 20cm (8 inch)

Crumble the yeast into a bowl, add the sugar and 400g (14oz) of warm water (anything above 45C will kill yeast).  Mix and allow to stand for a couple of minutes.  Meanwhile, put the flour into a wide mixing bowl, add the salt, mix then rub in the butter until it resembles coarse breadcrumbs. 

Add all the liquid ingredients to the flour and mix to a dough with your hand.  Turn out onto a clean work surface (no flour). Cover with the upturned bowl and allow to rest for 5-10 minutes. 

Uncover, if it feels a little dry and tough, wet your hand, rub over the dough and knead by hand until silky and smooth – 10 minutes approximately.  Return to the bowl and cover with a tea-towel.  Allow to rise until double in size. 

Steak Sandwich with Piperonata, Cashel Blue Butter

Serves 4

4 x 50g (2oz) minute steak

salt and freshly ground pepper

extra virgin olive oil

4 x French bread (small baguette)

Lettuce

1/2 quantity Piperonata (see recipe)

Cashel or Crozier Blue Cheese butter (see recipe)

Accompaniment

Green salad and cherry tomatoes and rocket leaves or flat parsley 

Heat a pan grill until very hot.  Season the steak with salt and freshly ground pepper.  Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil.  Slap onto the hot grill pan, cook for 1-2 minutes on each side.

Meanwhile split the loaf along one side but keep attached on the other side.  Char grill the crumb side.  Spread the bottom with a little Cashel Blue butter.  Top with a few salad leaves, and the steak.  Add a few spoons of piperonata and finally a few slices of Cashel Blue butter.  Press down the top.  Pop onto a plate and serve immediately with some good green salad.  Repeat with the other baguettes.

Cashel or Crozier Blue Cheese Butter

Serves 8 – 10

110g (4oz) unsalted butter

50g (2oz) Cashel Blue cheese

1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

1 tablespoon chopped parsley, optional

Mix all the ingredients together in a bowl or better still, whizz in a food processor.  Form into a roll in tin foil or pure cling film, tighten the ends.  Chill or freeze until needed.

Piperonata

This is one of the indispensable trio of vegetable stews that we always reckon to have to hand. We use it not only as a vegetable but also as a topping for pizzas, as a sauce for pasta, grilled fish or meat and as a filling for omelettes and pancakes.

Serves 8-10

2 tablespoons olive oil

225g (8oz) onion, sliced

a clove of garlic, crushed

2 red peppers

2 green peppers

6 large tomatoes (dark red and very ripe) (use tinned if fresh are out of season)

salt, freshly ground pepper and sugar

a few leaves of fresh basil

Heat the olive oil in a casserole, add the onion and garlic, toss in the oil and allow to soften over a gentle heat in a covered casserole while the peppers are being prepared. Halve the peppers, remove the seeds carefully, cut into quarters and then cut the pepper flesh into 2-2 1/2cm (3/4 – 1 inch) squares.  Add to the onion and toss in the oil; replace the lid and continue to cook.

Meanwhile peel the tomatoes (scald in boiling water for 10 seconds, pour off the water and peel immediately). Slice the tomatoes and add to the casserole, season with salt, freshly ground pepper, sugar and a few leaves of fresh basil if available. Cook until the vegetables are just soft, 30 minutes approx.

Medjool Dates with Crozier Blue Cheese  

Makes 20

We were served this delicious little morsel with a Swedish Blue cheese at Wardshuset Ulla Winbladh beside Skansen in Stockholm.  It’s become a favourite little nibble with a drink.

Medjool dates

Ripe Crozier Blue Cheese or Dolcelatte

Split the dates lengthways and remove the stone. Arrange on a plate, top each half with a little nugget of cheese. Serve as a canapé or amuse guile

Wild and Free

Sea Purslane (Atriplex portulacoides)

Sea Purslane is at the peak of perfection along out coasts at present. It is a sprawling, clumpy perennial undershrub which spreads its way across the dry, upper reaches of salt-marshes mainly along East, West and South coasts. The leaves of sea purslane are a delicious, slightly salty nibble, with a crunchy texture; however they need to be washed in several changes of water to remove the sand completely. They bloom from July to October and it is rich in vitamin A, omega 3 fatty acids and is an antioxidant. Add to salads or make into a pesto, also delicious pickled.

World Microbiome Day

Today we celebrate World Microbiome Day, sounds a bit esoteric you might think but this is a subject that concerns each and every one of us uniquely. 

Microbes are frequently misunderstood by those of us in the non-scientific community.  Just like the word bacteria, it has nasty connotations and conjures up negative images.  Yet only a tiny percentage of bacteria and microbes are pathogenic, typically they do much more good than harm. 

Microbes are single celled organisms found everywhere…. They include bacteria, archaea, protozoa, fungi and viruses, Humans have co evolved with microbes on our planet for billions of years. The diversity of microbes within the gut are critically important to both our physical and mental health. 

One of the hottest areas of research in recent years has been on the gut biome.  The pioneering work of Professors Cryan and Dinan and their team at UCC has been globally recognised. Consequently the link between the health of our microbiota and our physical and mental health is well established.

It may come as a surprise to many to learn that the trillions of microbes in our gut weigh between one to two kilos, equivalent to the weight of an adult brain. The biochemical complexity of the microbes in the human gut is greater than that of the brain and there are about 100 times more genes in our gut microbiota than in our genes…. Yet up to relatively recently, the bacteria in the human intestine was thought to have little relevance in the medical world and scientists in this field tell me there is still much to learn and discover. 

But for us lay people, all we need to know is that it is super important for our physical and mental wellbeing to nourish our gut biome. 

So how do we do this?  We need to eat as wide a variety of fresh food.  The more biodiverse our diet, the healthier and more resilient we will be.  So we need to seek out real food that wakes up as many microbes in our intestines as possible. Each of the nutrients in food activate a different microbe….

So what foods apart from those already mentioned nourish our gut – fermented foods and drinks, kimchi, sauerkraut, miso, kombucha, kefir…. raw milk, preferably organic milk from a small herd of pasture fed cows, raw milk cheese too, particularly blue cheese….  Try to incorporate some wild and foraged foods into your diet for further diversity.  These foods still have the full complement of vitamins, minerals and trace elements unlike many processed foods which have been altered to produce the maximum yield for a minimum cost.

All fruit and vegetables contain much needed fibre which provide essential prebiotics and promote the growth of good gut bacteria.   Bananas too are high in fibre.  As ever do your best to buy organic, chemical-free food and avoid ultra-processed food.  Natural yoghurt (sugar-free) and milk kefir are packed with good bacteria,   Miso made from fermented soya beans plus barley and rice contains a wide range of essential bacteria and enzymes.  Natural fermented sourdough bread is another gut friendly food but source carefully.  Now that sourdough has become fashionable there’s lots of ‘faux sourdough’ around.  Almonds too are high in fibre, fatty acids and polyphenols – a treat for gut bacteria.  Extra virgin olive oil is my oil of choice, peas also get the thumbs up, look out for seasonal fresh peas in the Farmers Markets at present.  Blue Cheese is teeming with good bacteria and I also love those artisan farmhouse cheeses – don’t be afraid to eat the rind but not plastic coating……!

A growing body of research is also showing a clear link between the growing anxiety problems amongst teenagers and college students who often have a limited budget, limited cooking facilities and limited cooking skills which combined can result in a nutritionally deficient diet…

I’m clearly not a scientist but over the past 37 years since I co-founded the school with my brother Rory, I’ve observed the change in students health as they eat different foods every day over a 3-month period.  I’m not a doctor but the biodiverse diet of mostly organic food unquestionably impacts on their health and immune system.  This observation has now been confirmed by a study done in conjunction by UCC (Recipe for a Healthy Gut: Intake of Unpasteurised Milk Is Associated with Increased Lactobacillus Abundance in the Human Gut Microbiome)

For those of you who would like to learn more about this fundamentally important subject Professor Ted Dinan, John Cryan in UCC, Tim Spector (Professor of Genetic Epidemiology at King’s College London) and Glen Gibson (Professor of Food Microbiology, Head of Food Microbial Sciences at University of Reading) in UK, Emeran Mayer (Professor in the Departments of Medicine, Physiology and Psychiatry at the David Geffen School of Medicine in UCLA) in US and many others. Check out their research and their talks on YouTube.  Meanwhile, here are some recipes for foods to feed your gut and boost your immune system

Recommended reading…..

The Psychobiotic Revolution, Mood, food and the New Science of the Gut-Brain Connection by John F. Cryan and Ted Dinan.

World Microbiome Day, 27thJune 2020

Yoghurt with Honey and Toasted Hazelnuts

So simple and so good. Delicious for either dessert or breakfast. A favourite for years on Isaac’s Restaurant menu in Cork city.

best-quality thick, natural yogurt

strongly flavoured local honey

toasted hazelnuts, sliced

Serve a portion of chilled natural yogurt per person. Just before serving, drizzle generously with honey and sprinkle with hazelnuts.

Medjool Dates with Crozier Blue Cheese  

Makes 20

We were served this delicious little morsel with a Swedish Blue cheese at Wardshuset Ulla Winbladh beside Skansen in Stockholm.  It’s become a favourite little nibble with a drink.

Medjool dates

Ripe Crozier Blue Cheese or Dolcelatte

Split the dates lengthways and remove the stone. Arrange on a plate, top each half with a little nugget of cheese. Serve as a canapé or amuse guile.

A Salad of Crozier Blue Cheese with Chargrilled Pears and Spiced Candied Nuts

Crozier Blue is a ewes milk cheese made in Co. Tipperary but other mild blue cheese may also be used – Gorgonzola…..

Serves 8

A selection of salad leaves.  If possible it should include curly endive, dandelion and watercress. Bitter leaves are brilliant for the gut microbiome… 

Spice Candied Nuts

75g (3oz) sugar

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground coriander

a pinch of freshly ground star anise

100g (3 1/2oz) walnut halves

Dressing

2 tablespoons red wine vinegar

6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, we use Mani or extra virgin organic olive oil from Greece

salt and freshly ground pepper

3-4 ripe pears depending on size (Bartlet or Anjou)

ripe Crozier Blue or Cashel Blue Cheese

Garnish

chervil sprigs

Gently wash and carefully dry the lettuce.  Put into a bowl, cover and refrigerate. 

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

Spread the walnuts in a single layer on a baking tray and toast them for 4 or 5 minutes just until they smell rich and nutty. Meanwhile, mix the sugar with the spices.  Spread over the base of a frying pan in an even layer.  Scatter the walnut halves on top.  Cook over a medium heat until the sugar melts and stars to colour.  Carefully rotate the pan until the walnuts are completely coated with the amber coloured spicy caramel.  Turn out onto a silpat mat or silicone paper or an oil baking tray.  Allow to cool and harden.  (Store in an airtight container until later if necessary). 

Whisk all the ingredients together for the dressing, pour into a jam jar, cover and store until needed.

Heat a grill-pan on a high flame.  Peel, quarter and core the pears.  Toss in a little sunflower oil, grill on both sides and then on the rounded side.  

To Serve

Cut the cheese into cubes or small wedges.  Sprinkle the salad leaves with the dressing and toss gently until the leaves glisten.  Taste and add more seasoning if necessary. 

Divide the salad between the plates making a little mound in the centre.  Slice each chargrilled pear in half lengthwise and tuck 3 pieces in between the leaves.  Scatter with a few cubes of Crozier Blue and some spice candied walnuts.  Sprinkle with a few sprigs of chervil and serve. Bellingham Blue, Stilton or Gorgonzola cheese would also be delicious.

Pan-grilled Mackerel with Miso 

Serves 2

4 fillets of fresh mackerel

2 tablespoons white miso

1/2 tablespoon of runny honey

1 teaspoon of Asian sesame oil

1 teaspoon soy sauce

Accompaniment

salad of organic leaves

Whisk all the marinade ingredients together.  Coat each mackerel fillet and allow to absorb the flavour for 15-20 minutes. 

Heat a grill-pan over a medium heat.  Wipe excess marinade from the fish.  Drizzle with olive oil, cook skin side down for 2 minutes approximately, then flip over to cook the flesh side, continue to cook for a further 2-3 minutes depending on the thickness of the fish.  Serve immediately with a salad of organic leaves.

Note: Alternatively just roast on a baking tray in a preheated moderate oven 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4 for 5-6 minutes.

Salade Nicoise

In Provence there are many versions of this colourful salad, which makes a wonderful Summer lunch. Some include crisp red and green pepper and some omit the potato for a less substantial salad.

Serves 8 approx.

French dressing

50ml (2fl oz) wine vinegar

175ml (6fl oz) extra virgin olive oil

2 large cloves garlic, mashed

1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard

good pinch of salt and freshly ground pepper

1 tablespoon Parsley, chopped

1 tablespoon Basil or Annual Marjoram

Salad

8 medium sized new potatoes, (e.g. Pink Fir Apple) cooked but still warm

3-4 ripe tomatoes, peeled and quartered

110g (4oz) cooked French beans, topped and tailed and cut into 5cm (2 inch) lengths approx., blanched and refreshed

salt, freshly ground pepper and sugar

1 dessertspoon Chives

1 dessertspoon Parsley, chopped

1 dessertspoon Annual Marjoram or Thyme

1 crisp lettuce

3 hardboiled eggs, shelled and quartered

12 black olives

1 teaspoon capers, (optional)

1 tin anchovies and/or 1 tin tuna fish

8 tiny spring onions

Mix all the ingredients for the dressing together – it must be very well seasoned otherwise the salad will be bland.

Slice the new potatoes into 5mm (1/4 inch) thick slices and toss in some dressing while still warm. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper. Toss the tomatoes and beans in some more dressing, season with salt, pepper and sugar and sprinkle with some chopped herbs. 

Line a shallow bowl with lettuce leaves. Arrange the rest of the ingredients appetisingly on top of the potatoes, finishing off with olives, capers and chunks of tuna and/or the anchovies. Drizzle some more dressing over the top.  Sprinkle over the remainder of the herbs and the spring onions and serve.

Salad Nicoise with Pan-grilled or Barbequed Mackerel

Dry each fillet with kitchen paper.  Dip in well-seasoned flour.  Spread a little soft butter on the flesh side of each fillet as though you were meanly buttering a slice of bread.  Preheat a pan-grill or barbeque.  Cook the mackerel flesh side down for 2 or 3 minutes then turn over and cook on the other side until the skin is crispy and golden.  Serve one or two fillets of mackerel criss-crossed on top of each portion of salad nicoise.

Rachel’s Banana Bread

This is our newest banana bread, a really delicious version – thank you Rachel.

Makes 1 large loaf

450g (1lb) very ripe bananas (weighed out of skins)

175g (6oz) butter

175g (6oz) caster sugar

3 small eggs

225g (8oz) self-raising flour

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

75g (3oz) sultanas

40g (1 1/2oz) cherries, cut into quarters

25g (1oz) currants

20g (3/4oz) pecans, chopped

Loaf Tin 24 x 13.5 x 5cm (9 1/2 x 5 1/2 x 2 inch) loaf tin

OR 3 small tins – 14.6 x 7.5cm (5.75 x 3 inches) lined with greaseproof paper.

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

Peel the bananas then crush with a fork. Cream the butter until soft, add the sugar and beat until light and fluffy, then add the eggs alternately with the flour, baking powder and cinnamon. Fold in the crushed banana, dried fruit and chopped pecans.

Pour the mixture into the prepared tins. Bake in the preheated oven for approximately 1 1/2 hours. Cool slightly then turn on to a wire tray.

Wild & Free

Sorrel (Rumex perennial)

Sorrel may not be one of your must have plants initially, but once you’ve got your essentials underway, I urge you to consider this hardy herbaceous perennial. It will become a dependable, trouble-free plant to add a distinctive, zingy lemon flavour to salads, sauces and juices. It is widely used in French cuisine and takes its name from surelle, derived

from sur, meaning ‘sour’ in French. Its delightfully acid flavour was also enjoyed by the Romans, who used it to

impart a sharpness to food. Sorrel’s clean flavour flits across the tongue, a perfect antidote to hearty winter flavours.

Common sorrel looks like spinach but the ends of the leaves are always pointed. There are several types of wild sorrel, buckler leaf sorrel, and lambs tongue sorrel which grows like a weed all over West Cork and is really delicious…

Sorrel is rich in vitamins C, A, B6 and B1, and iron, magnesium, potassium and many beneficial organic compounds.  It also contains a high amount of oxalic acid, which gives it its distinctive, sharp taste. Oxalic acid can be a toxin when consumed in high quantities so don’t overdose on it. Those with certain medical conditions, such as gout, rheumatoid arthritis or kidney disease, are best advised to consume sorrel in small quantities.

Fathers Day…

Oops! Father’s Day has just crept up on us.  The build-up seems far less than to Mother’s Day on 22nd March.  How unfair is that to all the heroic and much loved Dad’s around the country.  Well tomorrow is your day DAD so let’s have an interactive celebration.

Somehow, even the most gastronomically challenged lads seem to have a rush of blood to the head when they spy a barbeque.  Even a gas grill ignites their zeal but cooking over ‘live fire’ really hits the spot and awakes our inner hunter gatherer!

Of course there are exceptions but for many it must be meat, thick succulent beef ribs, chops, a butterflied shoulder of lamb smothered in spices.  Well charred grilled onions are also irresistible and the new season’s onions are now available.  Thick potato slices, threaded on to skewers can be ready to cook.  I love to sprinkle them with garam masala or a favourite curry powder just as they come off the grill.

So my suggestion for a Father’s Day treat is to plan a BBQ, maybe invite just a few of Dad’s pals, in line with Government social distancing regulations.  Plan the menu, do the prep, make the sauces and a couple of salads.  Marinate the meat and fish, order a few bottles of summer wine and some craft beers.  Set the scene for Dad to have fun on Father’s Day – by the ways you’ll need to throw in the Wash Up as part of the treat.

So what to choose?  Order a 5cm (2 inch) thick well hung rib of beef, Hereford or Black Angus or Pol Angus, avoid the continental breeds – you are looking for beef from an animal that was fully grass fed and not finished on grain.  Talk to your local butcher and be prepared to pay more for something really special.  It’ll take some time to cook it, leave it to rest on the edge of the grill for 5-15 minutes.  Then cut the meat off the bone and into 5mm (1/4 inch) slices.   It’s so worth having a few sauces ready to slather over the juicy pink meat – a classic Béarnaise is my favourite (See Examiner Article 4th May 2014) and a great big bowl of salad.

Wire rack fish is the perfect technique for the BBQ.  No need for fancy kit, just lay the fish fillets between 2 wire racks and flip over during cooking. 

A spatchcock chicken with rosemary is another of my favourites – pheasant or guinea fowl can be given the same treatment.   

Spatchcock Chicken

A brilliant way to barbecue a whole chicken.  Split the chicken down the back bone and flatten, slather all over with extra virgin olive oil and sprinkle with gutsy herbs and a spice. 

Serves 6-8

1 whole free-range organic chicken

sea salt and freshly ground pepper

chopped rosemary or thyme leaves

extra virgin olive oil or butter

a few cloves of garlic

Insert a heavy chopping knife into the cavity of the chicken from the back end to the neck. Press down sharply to cut through the backbone. Alternatively place the chicken, breast side down on the chopping board, using poultry shears cut along the entire length of the backbone as close to the centre as you can manage.

Open the bird out as much as possible.  Slash each chicken leg two or three times with a sharp knife. Season with flaky sea salt and freshly ground pepper, sprinkle with chopped rosemary or thyme and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil.   Allow to marinate for at least an hour.

To Barbecue:

Lay skin side down on the barbecue grid – 7-8 inches from the heat source. Turn over after 8-10 minutes and continue to cook on the other side.

To oven cook:
Transfer to a roasting tin. Turn skin side upwards and tuck the whole garlic cloves underneath. Roast in a preheated oven 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4 for 40 minutes approximately. Check the colour of the juices between the thigh and the breast – they should run clean when the chicken is cooked.

Carve on a chopping board and serve hot with a good salad of organic leaves and a herb mayonnaise.

Lamb Chops with Chimichurri Sauce

Taken from Grow, Cook, Nourish by Darina Allen published by Kyle Books

Annual marjoram adds magic to your lamb chops.

Serves 8

8–16 lamb centre loin chops

extra virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons annual marjoram, chopped

flaky sea salt and freshly ground black

pepper

Chimichurri Sauce (see recipe)

rocket leaves, to serve

First make the Chimichurri sauce (see recipe).

Trim the chops of excess fat, score the back fat. Take a flat dish or dishes large enough to take the chops in a single layer, brush with oil and sprinkle with some of the marjoram. Season the chops on both sides with pepper, then place on top of the marjoram. Sprinkle some more marjoram on top and drizzle with oil. Leave to marinate for 1 hour or more.

Brush off any excess oil, season well with flaky sea salt. Pan-grill or grill on a grid 15cm (6 inch) from the hot coals of a hot barbecue for 10–15 minutes, depending on the thickness and degree of doneness required. Serve the chops with lots of fresh rocket and the chimichurri sauce.

Chimichurri Sauce

Chimichurri is the quintessential Argentinian gaucho sauce, but it may in fact be of Basque origin, because many from that region of Spain settled in Argentina in the nineteenth century. There are many local variations, but the essential ingredients are olive oil, parsley and marjoram or oregano. It’s great with beef or lamb, but also good with goat’s cheese.

Serves 8

Salt Water Brine

150ml (5fl oz) water

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon salt

1 medium sized garlic bulb, cloves separated, peeled and finely chopped

25g (1oz) flat-leaf parsley leaves, finely chopped

10g (1/2oz) marjoram leaves, finely chopped

1–2 teaspoons crushed chilli flakes

50ml (2fl oz) red wine vinegar

110ml (4fl oz) extra virgin olive oil

Bring the water to the boil in a small saucepan. Add the salt and stir to dissolve. Remove from heat and leave to cool.  (This is what is called salmuera brine in Argentina)

Put the garlic, parsley and marjoram into a bowl and add the chilli flakes. Whisk in the vinegar and oil. Then whisk in the salmuera brine to taste. Pour into a jar with a tight-fitting lid, cover and store in the fridge.

You can use chimichurri sauce as soon as it’s made, but ideally it should be made at least one day ahead to allow the flavours to develop. It will keep in the fridge for 2–3 weeks and is also great with steak.

Madhur Jaffrey’s Butterflied Leg of Lamb

Ask your local butcher to butterfly the leg of lamb for you – it’ll take a bit of time to make the marinade, a labour of love but so worth it.  Don’t be intimidated by the long list of ingredients, it’s just a question of adding to mix.

Serves 10 – 12

1 leg of lamb, butterflied -3.4 – 4kg (8-9lbs)

1 medium sized onion, coarsely chopped

1 piece of fresh ginger 7.5cm (3 inch) x 2.5cm (1 inch) long, peeled and coarsely chopped

7 cloves of garlic, peeled and coarsely chopped

175ml (6fl oz) freshly squeezed lemon juice

1 tablespoon ground coriander

1 tablespoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon garam masala (see recipe)

1 teaspoon ground turmeric

1/4 teaspoon ground mace

1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

225ml (8fl oz) olive oil

2 – 2 1/2 teaspoons salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

Garnish

spring onion and radishes

Ballymaloe Relish (optional)

Whizz the onion, ginger, garlic and 4 tablespoons of lemon juice in a food processor or liquidise for about a minute.  Put this paste into a bowl, add the rest of the ingredients and mix well.

Cut off all the fat and tissue from the meat and make lots of holes in it with the point of a knife, rub the paste well into the meat and make sure it goes into the holes.

Cover and refrigerate for 24 hours.

Turn it over several times during that period. Light the barbecue 15 minutes ahead if you are using natural charcoal otherwise 45 minutes or better still an hour before you start to cook. Lift the meat out of the marinade and drain for a few minutes. Sear on both sides first then raise the rack to the uppermost notch and cook for 20 minutes on each side. Brush frequently with the marinade until it’s all used up. The meat needs to cook for about 50 minutes in total and should be very dark on the outside but still pinkish inside.

To Serve

Slice into thin slices with a sharp knife. Serve immediately on a hot serving dish garnished with spring onions, radishes and flat parsley.  Add a bowl of yoghurt and fresh mint or a raita.  Ballymaloe Relish is a particularly delicious accompaniment.

Spicy Lamb Kebabs

Serves 10 – 12

The meat can be cut into 2.5cm (1 inch) cubes and marinated as above. Thread 5 or 6 on a skewer, grill for 8-10 minutes on a rack over hot coals.  Serve with a green salad.

Madhur Jaffrey’s Garam Masala

A brilliant spice, mix to use on lamb, beef, pork, chicken…  Commercial garam masala loses its aromatic flavour very quickly, so it’s far better to make your own kind.  Grind it in small quantities so that it is always fresh and used up quickly.

Makes about 3 tablespoons

1 tablespoon green cardamom seeds

1 x 5cm (2 inch) piece of cinnamon stick

1 teaspoon cumin seeds

1 teaspoon whole cloves

1 teaspoon black peppercorns

1/2 whole nutmeg

Put all the ingredients into a clean electric coffee grinder and whizz for about 30 seconds or until all the spices are finely ground.  Store in a dark place in a tiny screwtop jar and use up quickly.  Don’t forget to clean out the coffee grinder really well or your coffee will certainly perk you up!  Better still, if you use spices regularly, keep a grinder specially for that purpose.

Wire Rack Salmon with Dill Butter and Roast Tomatoes

Serves 10-20

Fish works brilliantly on the barbecue provided you put it in a ‘fish cage’ for ease of turning. However you can do a perfectly good job with a ‘Heath Robinson’ type solution using 2 wire cake racks.  Mackerel can be substituted for salmon in this recipe.

1 or 2 unskinned sides of wild fresh salmon

sea salt and freshly ground pepper

extra virgin olive oil or melted butter

Dill Butter

110-225g (4-8oz) butter

4-8 tablespoons of freshly chopped dill

10-20 cherry tomatoes on the vine

Sprinkle the salmon generously with sea salt up to an hour before cooking.

Light the grill or barbecue. Just before serving, lay the salmon fillets skin side down on the wire rack. Brush the flesh with oil or melted butter and sprinkle with freshly ground pepper. Put the other wire rack on top. Lay on the grid of the barbecue, 15-20cm (6-8 inch) from the heat, cook for 10-15 minutes on the skin side. Turn the entire cage over and continue to cook for 5-6 minutes or until just cooked through. – Time will depend on the thickness of the fish.

Meanwhile melt the butter in a saucepan on the edge of the grill, stir in the freshly chopped dill, spoon a little dill butter over the salmon and serve with roast cherry tomatoes on the vine.

Roast Cherry Tomatoes

Drizzle the truss of the tomatoes with extra virgin olive oil, season with salt and freshly ground pepper. Roast on the BBQ for 5 or 6 minutes until they are warm through and just beginning to burst.

Mussels in Tin Foil with Homemade Flat Parsley Mayonnaise

Serves 2

900g (2lb) mussels

tin foil

Homemade Parsley Mayonnaise (see Examiner Article 24th October 2019)

Parsley Mayonnaise

Add 2-3 tablespoons of chopped flat parsley to the basic homemade mayonnaise recipe.

Wash the mussels and check that each one is tightly shut.

Take 2 sheets of tin foil large enough to enclose the mussels.  Fold the edges over to make a well-sealed parcel.

Lay on the barbeque for 7-8 minutes or until the mussels pop open. 

Open the parcel but keep the sides upright so as not to lose any juices. 

Serve with lots of crusty bread and homemade parsley mayonnaise.

Cockles in Tin Foil

Substitute cockles for mussels in the recipe and proceed as above.

Chargrilled New Potato Skewers

If potatoes are large. Slice into 3/4inch thick slices and then thread onto the skewer.

Serves 4-6

900g (2lbs) small new potatoes

salt

4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, approximately

1 tablespoon rosemary, finely chopped

sea salt

metal skewer or pre-soaked bamboo skewers

Scrub the potatoes and cook in boiling salted water for 8-10 minutes depending on size (they should be almost cooked). (can be cooked ahead).

Cool, cut in half, toss in olive oil and sprinkle with finely chopped rosemary and sea salt.

Thread the potato halves onto the skewers. Cook potato halves over a barbeque until crisp and slightly charred on both sides. Alternatively roast in a hot oven 230ºC/450ºF/gas mark 8 for 10-15 minutes or until cooked and nicely brown – you may need to turn half way through.

Note: Cut larger potatoes into 2.5cm (1 inch) slices and thread horizontally onto the skewers.

Grilled Onion Rings

large onions

extra virgin olive oil

salt

skewers

Peel the onions, cut into large slices about 2cm (3/4 inch) deep around the ‘equator’. 

Thread a skewer through each slice to keep the rings together.  Drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with salt.

Cook slowly on the edge of the barbecue until golden brown on the outside and tender within.

Roast Bananas with Chocolate and Roasted Hazelnuts

Serves 6

6 organic Fair Trade ripe bananas

75-110g (3-4oz) top quality dark chocolate, chopped

50g (2oz) roasted hazelnuts or walnuts

crème fraîche or softly whipped cream

Cook the bananas on the barbecue until they are black on all sides.  Put onto a serving plate.  Split the skin on one side.  Sprinkle some chopped chocolate and roasted hazelnuts or walnuts over the top of the hot banana. Serve immediately with a blob of crème fraîche or softly whipped cream.

Other good things to serve with Roast Bananas:

  • Cinnamon sugar (Combine 110g (4oz) castor sugar and 1-2 teaspoons cinnamon).
  • A mixture of semi soaked raisins and chopped walnuts.
  • Toffee sauce and chopped pecans.

Wild & Free

Meadowsweet: Filipendula ulmaria

Sometimes, called mead wort is back in season.  It’s a perennial herb in the Rosaceae family that grows in damp places, meadows and sometimes along the roadside.  It flowers from early summer to early autumn.  We use it to flavour panna cotta, ice-cream and custard.  Traditionally it was infused into wine, beer, vinegars. The flowers can also be added to stewed fruit and jams, giving them a subtle almond flavour. It has many medicinal properties.  The whole plant is a traditional remedy for an acidic stomach.  The fresh root is often used in homeopathic preparations.   The dried flowers are used in potpourri.  Look out for it in your area from now until the middle of October. 

Gooseberry & Elderberry Season

Frothy white elderflower blossoms are the jewels of the hedgerow – they are the quintessential flavour of early summer.  They lend their haunting muscat flavour to many fruits but the combination of green gooseberry and elderflower is a marriage made in heaven.

As soon as I see the first flowers, I make a beeline for the gooseberry bushes in the fruit garden.  They will still be tart and green but as soon as they are the size of a marble, one can start to pick them.  I always have to go myself, because no one will believe me that they are ready to pick – not to enjoy fresh but to pile into pies and crumbles, tarts, compotes….always with a few elderflower blossoms to add that haunting muscat flavour.  We make fritters too and lots of elderflower champagne and cordial which keeps brilliantly to perk up a G&T and enliven cordials and add magic to a custard or simple sponge or Swiss roll.

Even with the Covid-19 travel restrictions, you should be able to find some elderflowers in your neighbourhood, both in urban and country lanes.  They flower prolifically from early May to the end of June – it’s one of our commonest hedgerow trees and the umbelliferous flowers are easy to identify.  They vary in size but can be as big as saucers, are made up of hundreds of tiny white flowers with a slightly musky aroma and unpleasant taste when fresh which disappears to a distinct muscat flavour when they are cooked.

Elderflower and berries have been used in folk medicine for over 4,000 years, it’s often referred to as the ‘medicine chest of country folk’.  Elderflower has several essential Vitamins including Vitamin A, B1, B2 and B3 complex and a little Vitamin C.  It’s also known for its anti-inflammatory and antibacterial and antioxidant properties.  All very important.  In early autumn the flowers turn into elderberries with a whole different set of nutrients.

But back to the kitchen…we’ve been loving this green gooseberry tart tatin with elderflower cream.  Green gooseberry and elderflower compote makes a super delicious accompaniment to vanilla ice-cream and of course panna cotta.  If you can’t find any gooseberries, there’s still lots of ways to use elderflowers.

Make a batch of elderflower champagne with your children, they’ll love the way it fizzes up within a few days.  It’ll be all the more exciting if you show them how to identify and gather the elderflowers themselves.  They’ll also love fritters and how about strawberry and elderflower ice-pops. 

Elderflower is also delicious with strawberries, try this simple combination with shredded mint, made in minutes and memorably delicious.  Elderflowers also freeze.  Try this elderflower gin or add a dash to a G&T, elderflower champagne.

Get picking, the season only lasts for about another month but the flavour is best early in the season…

Green Gooseberry ‘Tatin’ with Elderflower Cream

Serves 10-12

I’ve used a bit of poetic licence here when I use the word tatin, but everybody loves this upside down tart recipe which works well with all kinds of fruit, plums, peaches, apricots, greengages…  Of course this is best when the green gooseberries and elderflower are in season and fresh, but we’ve also made it very successfully with frozen gooseberries in winter.

Use organic ingredients where possible

175g (6oz) sugar

125ml (4 1/2fl oz) water

450g (1lb) fat green gooseberries

150g (5oz) soft butter

150g (5oz) castor sugar or 110g (4oz) castor sugar and 2 tablespoons elderflower cordial

200g (7oz) self-raising flour

3 eggs, free range and organic

To Serve

600ml (1 pint) softly whipped cream

4 tablespoon elderflower cordial

1 x 25.5cm (10 inch) sauté pan or a cast-iron frying pan.

Preheat oven to 160c/325F/Gas Mark 3

Top and tail the gooseberries.

Put the sugar and water into the sauté pan.   Stir over a medium heat until the sugar dissolves, then cook without stirring until the sugar caramelizes to a pale golden brown.  Remove from the heat.

Scatter the gooseberries in a single layer over the caramel.

Put the butter, sugar (and elderflower if using) and flour into the bowl of a food processor.  Whizz for a second or two, add the eggs and stop as soon as the mixture comes together.  Spoon over the gooseberries, spread gently in as even a layer as possible.

Bake in the preheated oven for approximately one hour.  The centre should be firm to the touch and the edges slightly shrunk from the sides of the pan.  Allow to rest in the pan for 4-5 minutes before turning out.  Serve with softly whipped elderflower cream or crème fraiche.

To make the elderflower cream, fold the elderflower cordial into the softly whipped cream to taste.

Green Gooseberry and Elderflower Compote

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

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

Serves 6-8

900g (2lbs) green gooseberries

2 or 3 elderflower heads

600ml (1 pint) cold water

400g (14oz) sugar

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

N.B.  The tart green gooseberries must actually burst otherwise the compote of fruit will be too bitter.

Elderflower Cream

Flavour whipped cream to taste with elderflower cordial.

Elderflower Champagne

This magical recipe transforms perfectly ordinary ingredients into a delicious sparkling drink. The children make it religiously every year and then share the bubbly with their friends.

2 heads of elderflowers

560g (1 1/4lb) sugar

2 tablespoons white wine vinegar

4.5L (8 pints) water

1 lemon

Remove the peel from the lemon with a swivel top peeler.  Pick the elderflowers in full bloom.  Put into a bowl with the lemon peel, lemon juice, sugar, vinegar and cold water.  Leave for 24 hours, then strain into strong screw top bottles.  Lay them on their sides in a cool place.  After 2 weeks it should be sparkling and ready to drink.  Despite the sparkle this drink is non-alcoholic.

Top Tip

The bottles need to be strong and well sealed, otherwise the Elderflower champagne will pop its cork.

Elderflower Fritters

These are very easy to make, very crispy and once you’ve tasted one, you won’t be able to stop! Serve them with the Gooseberry and Elderflower Compote, below. Serves 4

110g (4oz) plain flour

pinch of salt

1 organic egg

150ml (5fl oz) lukewarm water

8–12 elderflower heads

caster sugar

sunflower oil for frying

Sieve the flour and salt into a bowl. Make a well in the centre and drop in the egg. Using a whisk, bring in the flour gradually from the edges, slowly adding in the water at the same time. Heat the oil in a deep-fat fryer to 180°C/350°F. Hold the flowers by the stalks and dip into the batter (add a little more water or milk if the batter is too thick). Fry until golden brown in the hot oil. Drain on kitchen paper, toss in caster sugar and serve immediately with gooseberry and elderflower compote.

Fresh Strawberry and Elderflower Popsicle

Makes (500ml/18fl oz) or 6 x 75ml (3fl oz) popsicles

400g (14oz) fresh strawberries

lemon juice

150ml (5fl oz) stock syrup or 1/2 stock syrup and 1/2 elderflower cordial

Clean and hull the strawberries, put into a liquidiser or food processor and blend. Strain, taste and add lemon juice and stock syrup to taste.

Pour into 75ml (3fl oz) popsicle moulds and freeze for 3 – 4 hours or as long as it takes.  Dip the mould into hot water for 20-30 seconds.  Slide the popsicles out carefully.  Enjoy or wrap in parchment and freeze.

Stock Syrup

Makes 825ml (28fl oz)

350g (12oz) sugar

600ml (1 pint) water

To make the stock syrup: Dissolve the sugar in the water and bring to the boil.  Boil for 2 minutes then allow it to cool.  Store in the fridge until needed.

Strawberries and Elderflower with Mint

One of our favourite ways to eat strawberries and good way to perk up less than perfect berries.

Serves 8-10

900g (2lb) ripe strawberries

2-3 tablespoons elderflower cordial

freshly squeezed lemon juice of 1/2 – 1 lemon

2-3 tablespoons fresh mint leaves, torn or shredded

Cut the strawberries into quarters or slice into lengthwise.  Drizzle with elderflower cordial and freshly squeezed lemon juice. Scatter with torn mint leaves, toss gently, taste, adjust with a little more sugar or freshly squeezed lemon juice if necessary.  Serve alone or with softly whipped cream.

National Herb Week

Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme…..It’s so good to have something to distract us from the Covid 19 Pandemic, so this week prompted by National Herb Week now in its 6th year, which celebrates herbs and herbal medicine I’m going to focus on the culinary attributes of fresh herbs.

Fresh herbs add magic to our dishes and have always been a big part of my cooking. Each and every one has a unique aroma and have been part of the flavor of our food for as long as I can remember. But it wasn’t until I came to Ballymaloe in 1968 that I really discovered the enormous variety of fresh herbs.

At home in Cullohill, we always had lots of curly parsley in the garden for the Parsley sauce we loved, I seem to remember chives as well and some thyme. In Cathal Brugha Street hotel school in Dublin, I discovered sage and bay. Sage went into a traditional sage and onion stuffing for duck or goose and I seem to remember that bay leaves went into beef stock and could be dried…

However, it wasn’t until I came to Ballymaloe House in 1988 that I really discovered the magic of herbs. Inside the walled garden and in the greenhouse row after row of fresh herbs. At first, I couldn’t even identify many of them but soon I learned not only what they were but how to pick them at peak of perfection and how the flavor and often the shape changed at different stages and enhanced a dish.

French Tarragon perfumes a classic Béarnaise sauce to serve with a steak or a succulent roast beef. Gutsy rosemary to flavour blackcurrant jam, a slow roast shoulder of lamb or a robust stew. When it flowers in May we love to use the purply / blue blossoms as a garnish. Dill to make a sweet mustard mayo to accompany gravlax or smoked mackerel. The dill flowers provide little bursts of aniseed to fish soup and green salads.

In the early 1980’s, on my first trip to Italy for the first time I discovered basil. I didn’t love it at first but Italians seemed to find it indispensable. Famous Italian chef Marcella Hazan showed me how to make pesto and soon, I too was hooked, I brought home a packet of basil seeds and planted them in the greenhouse. Basil is an annual, native to the Mediterranean, it needs and loves the sun and is a heavy feeder. If you buy a plant, transplant it immediately into a big pot.  Keep it in a greenhouse or on your sunniest window sill and pinch off any flowers to encourage more growth. Nowadays, one can get most types of herbs in the supermarket, but they are a poor substitute for a little herb patch close to your kitchen door where you pop out at a moment’s notice and snip a little bunch to add to or scatter over your dishes. If you don’t already have a herb garden, why not start with a few perennials, once planted they will reemerge every year. Some, like sage, rosemary, thyme and bay are hardy and can be used year round. Others like fennel, chives, sweet cicely and lovage die down every winter but pop up again in Spring.

Annual marjoram, possibly my favourite herb of all time is just that, an annual, seeds must be sown every year, dill also plus coriander and chervil. Indispensable parsley will last for two years, it’s what gardeners refer to as a biannual. Each herb has its own medical as well as culinary flavour. Herb flowers too are edible, delicious and look beautiful scattered over salads or as a garnish.

Mint can be a thug, once planted it romps around your gardens but I can never have too much I throw fistfuls of it into all kinds of things, homemade lemonades, fruit salads and apple jelly.

Fresh coriander always provokes a strong reaction, it’s an acquired taste, few people like it initially but then become hooked. It’s an essential flavor in the food of the East, Middle East and South America so if you still feel you dislike it – keep trying otherwise you’ll miss out on all those delicious flavours.

Salad Caprese

This salad is only worth doing if you have access to gorgeous ripe tomatoes, good buffalo mozzarella, fresh summer basil and super extra virgin olive oil.  The first Irish tomatoes are now in season.

Serves 4

2 balls buffalo mozzarella (we’ve two options in Ireland – Toonsbridge Dairy Buffalo Mozzarella (www.toonsbridgedairy.com) and Macroom Buffalo Mozzarella (www.macroombuffalocheese.com)

4 very ripe beef tomatoes or large tomatoes

fresh basil leaves

sea salt

freshly ground black pepper

extra virgin olive oil

Slice the buffalo mozzarella and tomatoes into rounds.  Arrange in overlapping slices on a white plate.  Tuck some basil leaves in between the slices.  Drizzle with really good extra virgin olive oil.  Sprinkle with a few flakes of sea salt and freshly ground pepper to season – a simple feast when the ingredients are at the peak of perfection.

Potato, Onion and Lovage Soup

Taken from Irish Traditional Cooking by Darina Allen, published by Kyle Books

Lucy Madden from Hilton Park in Co. Monaghan, one of Ireland’s most charming country house hotels, made this delicious soup for me from the organically grown vegetables in her garden.

Serves 6

10–25g (1/2–1oz) butter

225g (8oz) onions, very thinly sliced

350g (12oz) potatoes, thinly sliced

salt and freshly ground pepper

1.2 litres (2 pints) good homemade chicken or vegetable stock

a large handful of lovage leaves

Garnish

lovage and parsley

Melt the butter in a heavy-bottomed saucepan on a low heat, add the onions and potatoes, season with salt and freshly ground pepper and sweat until soft but not coloured. Add the stock and boil for 5 minutes. Snip the lovage leaves into thin strips with scissors. Put 3 tablespoons into the soup and cook for a further 10 minutes. Serve with a sprinkling of snipped lovage and a little chopped fresh parsley.

Tabouleh

Fresh parsley is an excellent source of vitamin C to boost our immune system. Mint calms the stomach and aids digestion – just what’s needed at present.

This refreshing and highly nutritious Middle Eastern Salad can either be served as a starter or as a main dish. We serve lots of well-seasoned cucumber and tomato dice with the salad. I also love the addition of pomegranate seeds and a touch of chilli. Taste and add a little honey if it needs it.

Serves 6-12 served as a starter or a main course

110g (4oz) bulgar – cracked wheat

25-50g (1-2oz) freshly chopped parsley

25-50g (1-2oz) freshly chopped mint

freshly squeezed juice of 2 lemons or more if you need it

75ml (3fl oz) extra virgin olive oil

110 – 175t (4-6oz) spring onion, green and white parts, chopped

salt and freshly ground pepper

Garnish

6 very ripe firm new seasons Irish tomatoes/ a selection of red and yellow, pear shaped etc., would be great, diced and sprinkled with a little salt, pepper and sugar

1 firm crisp cucumber, cut into 1/4 inch (5mm) dice

small crisp lettuce leaves e.g. cos or iceberg

rocket leaves

black olives – optional

Soak the bulgar in cold water for about 30 minutes, drain and squeeze well to remove any excess water liquid. Stir in the olive oil and some of the freshly squeezed lemon juice, season with salt and freshly ground pepper, leave it aside to absorb the dressing while you chop the parsley, mint and spring onions.  Just before serving, mix the herbs with the bulgar, taste and add more lemon juice if necessary. It should taste fresh and lively.

To Serve

Arrange on a serving plate surrounded by rocket and salad leaves and little mounds of well-seasoned tomato and cucumber dice. Garnish with sprigs of flat parsley, a few black olives wouldn’t go a miss either if you enjoy them.

Baked Brill with Herb Butter and New Seasons Zucchini

This is a very simple ‘master recipe’ which can be used for any flat fish plaice, sole, brill, turbot, dabs, flounder and lemon sole or a noble turbot.   Depending on the size of the fish, it can a starter or a main course.  Because it is cooked with the skin on, it retains maximum flavour. Peel the skin off carefully before serving and anoint the fish with the fresh herb butter – simple but succulent.

Serves 4

1 – 2 Brill

Herb Butter

110g (4oz) butter

4 teaspoons mixed finely-chopped fresh parsley, chives, fennel, chervil and thyme leaves

salt and freshly ground pepper

Melted courgettes (see recipe)

Preheat the oven to 190°C/375°F/Gas Mark 5.

Turn the fish on its side and remove the head.  Wash the fish and clean the slit close to the head very thoroughly.  With a sharp knife, cut through the skin right round the fish, just where the ‘fringe’ meets the flesh.  Be careful to cut neatly and to cross the side cuts at the tail or it will be difficult to remove the skin later on.

Sprinkle the fish with salt and freshly-ground pepper and lay them in 1cm (1/2 inch) of water in a shallow baking tin.   Bake in a moderately hot oven for 20-30 minutes according to the size of the fish.  The water should have just evaporated as the fish is cooked.  Check to see whether the fish is cooked by lifting the flesh from the bone at the head; it should lift off the bone easily and be quite white with no trace of pink.

Meanwhile, melt the butter and stir in the freshly-chopped herbs.  Just before serving catch the skin down near the tail and pull it off gently (the skin will tear badly if not properly cut).  Lift the fish onto hot plates and spoon the herb butter over them.  Serve immediately with melted courgettes.

Melted Courgettes

Serves 4

1 lb (450g) courgettes, no larger than 5 inches (12.5cm)  in length

1 oz (30g) butter

A dash of olive oil

Salt and freshly ground pepper

Freshly chopped parsley, basil or marjoram

Top and tail the courgettes and cut them into 3 inch (5mm) slices. Melt the butter and add a dash of oil, toss in the courgettes and coat in the butter and oil. Cook until tender, 4-5 minutes approx. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper. Turn into a hot serving dish, sprinkle with chopped parsley and serve immediately.

Baked Cod, Haddock, Hake or Pollock with Cream and Bay Leaves

This recipe transforms even the dullest white fish into a feast. Be generous with the bay leaves, their perfume should distinctly permeate the sauce. Pollock is a good alternative fish. The fishing community need our support – make sure you are buying fresh Irish fish.

Serves 4–6 as a starter or main course

25g (1oz) butter

1 small onion, finely chopped

6 thick pieces of fresh round fish (allow approx. 110–175g (4–6oz) filleted fish per person)

salt and freshly ground pepper

4–5 fresh bay leaves

light cream (enough to cover the fish)

15g (1/2oz) roux approx.

Melt the butter in a sauté pan, just wide enough to take the fish in a single layer. Fry the onion gently for a few minutes until soft but not coloured. Put the fish in the pan and cook on both sides for 1 minute. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper. Add bay leaves. Cover with light cream and simmer with the lid on for 3–5 minutes, until the fish is cooked. Remove the fish to a serving dish. Bring the cooking liquid to the boil and lightly thicken with roux. Taste and correct the seasoning. Coat the fish with sauce and serve immediately. For a whole meal in one dish, pipe a ruff of fluffy mashed potato around the edge.

Note: This dish can be prepared ahead and reheated, and it also freezes well. Reheat in a moderate oven, 180ºC / 350ºF / Gas Mark 4, for anything from 10–30 minutes, depending on the size of the container.

Chocolate and Rosemary Mousse

Taken from Grow, Cook, Nourish by Darina Allen published by Kyle Books

Lovely Jane Grigson, the legendary British country writer, gave me this recipe, and from memory I think she got it from Franco Taruschio at the Walnut Tree restaurant in South Wales.  It sounds odd, but it is strangely addictive. 

Serves 8

225g (8oz) castor sugar

225ml (8fl oz) dry white wine

freshly squeezed juice of 1/2 lemon

600ml (1 pint) double cream

1 long branch of fresh rosemary, plus extra sprigs, to garnish

175g (6oz) dark chocolate (we use Valrhona or Lindt – 52% cocoa solids is fine), chopped

pouring cream, to serve

Mix the sugar, wine and lemon juice in a stainless steel saucepan and stir over a low heat until the sugar dissolves.  Add the cream, bring to the boil – the mixture will thicken somewhat.  Add the rosemary and chocolate.  Stir, return to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer very gently for 20 minutes.  It should be the consistency of thick cream.  Leave to cool, tasting occasionally to see if the rosemary flavour is intense enough. 

Pour through a sieve into eight ramekins or little shot glasses.  Cool, cover and chill until needed.

We serve it with Jersey pouring cream and a sprig of flowering rosemary.

WILD FOOD OF THE WEEK

Rose Petals (taken from Grow Cook Nourish p 616)

All roses are edible, but the ones I like to use best are the deliciously perfumed old roses and china roses. As with all edible flowers, avoid blossoms that have been sprayed. The flavour and fragrance depends on the variety, colour and soil conditions. The fragrance seems to be more pronounced in the darker varieties. Pure rosewater is the distilled essence of roses so it is not easy to make at home. Apart from providing aesthetic appeal, rose petals contribute to our overall wellbeing. Rose petals have been used in Chinese medicine since as far back as 3,000 BC. Adding some raw petals to your salad can help fight heart disease and cancer, and boiling them in water makes an effective remedy for sore throats. 

Camilla’s Strawberry and Rose Petal Jam

When my friend Camilla Plum comes to stay she wanders through the farm and gardens and greenhouse, picking and collecting fresh ingredients and cooks non-stop. Last summer, she filled her apron with rose petals from the old scented roses – she tossed them into a saucepan with some fresh strawberries and made this exquisite jam. We also made rose petal syrup and crystallised the petals to decorate desserts and cake. Use organic ingredients where possible

Makes 2–3 x 370G jars

450g (1lb) granulated sugar

1kg (2 1/4lb) strawberries

1 litre rose petals

freshly squeezed juice of 1 lemon

Preheat the oven to 110°C/225°F/Gas Mark 1/4.

Scatter the sugar over a baking tray and warm in the oven.

Put the strawberries in a wide stainless-steel saucepan and cook over a brisk heat

until the juices run and the fruit breaks down. Add the rose petals and hot sugar.

Stir to dissolve the sugar, bring back to the boil and continue to cook for 5–8 minutes until it reaches a set. Test for a set by putting about a teaspoon of jam on a cold plate, leaving it for a few minutes in a cool place. It should wrinkle when pressed with a finger. When at setting point, add the lemon juice and remove from the heat immediately. Pour into sterilised jars and store in a cool place for 3–4 months but enjoy sooner rather than later.

Foods to sustain us…

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

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

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

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

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

So what foods? 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

David Tanis’s Quick Scallion Kimchee

Serves 2-4

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

4 bunches scallions

2 teaspoons salt

4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced

3/4 tablespoon raw sugar or dark brown sugar

1 tablespoon grated ginger

23g Korean red pepper flakes

3/4 tablespoon toasted sesame oil

3/4 tablespoon toasted sesame seeds

3/4 tablespoon fish sauce

3/4 tablespoon rice vinegar

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

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

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

Beet Green Salad with Carrot, Apple and Candied Walnuts

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

Serves 6

225g (8oz) fresh young beet greens

225g (8oz) coarsely grated carrot

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

flaky salt and freshly ground pepper

18 walnuts halves

Caramel

200g (7oz) sugar

110ml (4fl oz) water

Dressing

2 good teaspoons pure Irish honey

1 tablespoon white wine vinegar

Garnish

Marigold petals and chive flowers if you have some

First candy the walnuts.

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

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

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

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

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

Serves 2

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

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

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

Country Rhubarb Cake 

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

Serves 8

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

pinch of salt

1/2 teaspoon bread soda (bicarbonate of soda)

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

75g (3oz) butter

1 organic, free-range egg, if possible

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

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

170–225g (6–8oz) granulated sugar

beaten organic, free-range egg, to glaze

softly whipped cream and soft brown sugar, to serve

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

25cm (10 inch) enamel or Pyrex pie plate

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

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

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

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

Wild Food of the Week

Gorse (Ulex europaeus)

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

Roger Philip’s Gorse Wine

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

Makes about 4.8 litres (8 pints)

2 litres (3 ½ pints) gorse flowers

About 1 teaspoon general purpose non-GM yeast

1 kg (2.2lbs) granulated sugar

Juice and zest of 2 organic lemons

Juice and zest of 2 organic oranges

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

Sustainability

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Basic Shanagarry Brown Soda Bread

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

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

400g (14ozs) stone ground wholemeal flour

75g (3ozs) white flour, preferably unbleached

1 teaspoon salt

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

1 egg, preferably free range

1 tablespoon sunflower oil, unscented

1 teaspoon honey or treacle

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

sunflower or sesame seeds (optional)

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

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

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

Note

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

Sri Lankan Beetroot Curry

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

Serves 4

2–3 tablespoons sunflower oil

3 garlic cloves, chopped

50g (2oz) red onion, chopped

5 curry leaves

1 1/2 teaspoons curry powder

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

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

cubes

10 fenugreek seeds

5 green chillies

225ml (8fl oz) coconut milk, whisked

sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

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

Little New Potatoes with Lovage Mayonnaise

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

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

20 freshly dug tiny new potatoes or larger ones, halved

Flaky sea salt and freshly cracked pepper

Lovage Mayonnaise

Makes 300ml (1⁄2 pint)

2 organic egg yolks

pinch of English mustard or 1⁄4 teaspoon French mustard

1⁄4 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons white wine vinegar

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

1 dessertspoon chopped lovage

Flaky sea salt

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

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

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

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

Elderflower Cake with Green Gooseberry Compote

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

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

350g (12 oz) soft butter

350g (12oz) caster sugar

4 eggs, preferably free range

350g (12oz) self-raising flour

Elderflower Syrup

2 heads of elderflower

50g (2oz) caster sugar

150ml (5fl oz) water

zest and juice of one unwaxed lemon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Green Gooseberry and Elderflower Compote

Serves 6-8

900g (2lb) green gooseberries

2 or 3 elderflower heads

600ml (1 pint) cold water

450g (1lb) sugar

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

Wild and Free

Elderflower – Sambucus nigra – perennial

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

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

The Hungry Gap

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Beetroot – Three delicious vegetables in one.

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

How to cook Beetroot

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

Hot Beetroot with Cream and Parsley

Serves 4-6

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

15g (1/2oz) butter

salt and freshly ground pepper

a sprinkling of sugar

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

2 tablespoons of coarsely chopped parsley

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

Beetroot Tops (Stalks and Leaves)

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

Serves 4

450g (1lb) fresh beetroot tops

salt and freshly ground pepper

butter or olive oil

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

Beet Stalks with Olive Oil and Mint

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

Beet Leaves

Serves 4-6

In season: May-early June

Here are three different basic methods of cooking beet greens.

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

salt, freshly ground pepper and a little freshly grated nutmeg

50-110g (2-4oz) butter

For preparation

Method 1 (Wilted Method)

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

Method 2 (Buttered Beet Greens)

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

Method 3 (Buttered Beet Greens)

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

Beet Greens with Cream

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

Poached Eggs with Beet Greens

A classic dish and one of the most delicious combinations.

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

Globe Artichokes with Melted Butter

Serves 6

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

6 globe artichokes

1.1 litres (2pints) water

2 teaspoons salt

2 teaspoons approx. white wine vinegar

Melted Butter

175g (6oz) butter

1-2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

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

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

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

To Serve

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

Melted Green Onions with Thyme Leaves

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

Serves 6-8

900g (2lbs) young green onions

3 – 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

2 teaspoons thyme leaves

salt and freshly ground pepper

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

Asparagus and Spring Onion Tart

Serves 6

Shortcrust Pastry

110g (4ozs) white flour

50g (2oz) butter

1 egg, preferably free-range

Filling

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

15g (1/2oz) butter

1 tablespoon olive oil

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

110g (4ozs) Irish Cheddar cheese, grated

3 eggs, preferably free-range

110ml (4fl ozs) cream

salt and freshly ground pepper

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

First make the shortcrust pastry. 

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

Next make the filling. 

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

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

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

Rhubarb and Custard Meringue Tart

Serves 8-10

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

200g (7oz) white flour

100g (3 1/2oz) butter

pinch of salt

1 egg yolk (keep white aside for meringue)

2-3 tablespoons cold water approx.

Filling

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

3 egg yolks

120g (scant 4 1/2oz) sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 tablespoons plain flour

Meringue

3 egg whites

175g (6oz) caster sugar

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

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

First make the pastry.

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

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

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

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

Slice the rhubarb and spread over the pastry base. 

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

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

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

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

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

Wild and Free

Sweet Cicely

Myrrhis odorata perennial

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

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

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

In the kitchen

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

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

Sweet Cicely Custard

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

Serves 6

Makes  1 pint (600ml)  approx.

1 pint (600ml) milk

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

6 organic egg yolks

2ozs (50g) castor sugar

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

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

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

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

Serve with poached rhubarb or rhubarb tart.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A few tips…

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dress your bed.

Put flowers on your kitchen table and beside your bed.

Count your blessings…

Light a candle…

It’s not the same lockdown for everyone…!

Ballymaloe Strawberry Muesli

Serves 6 – 8

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

6 tablespoons rolled oatmeal

8 tablespoons water

250g (8oz) fresh strawberries

2-4 teaspoons honey

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

Serve with pouring cream and soft brown sugar.

Granola

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

Serves 20

12oz (350g) honey or golden syrup

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

1lb 1oz (470g) oat flakes

7oz (200g) barley flakes

7oz (200g) wheat flakes

3 1/2oz (100g) rye flakes

5oz (150g) seedless raisins or sultanas

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

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

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

toasted sunflower or pumpkin seeds are also delicious

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

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

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

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

Serve with sliced banana, milk or yoghurt.

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

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

Serves 6 – 8

1.1Kg cod, hake, haddock or grey mullet fillets

2 bay leaves

15g butter

600ml whole milk

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

¼ teaspoon Dijon mustard

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

1 tablespoon chopped dill (optional)

Flaky sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the Pangrattato

50 – 75ml extra virgin olive oil

1 garlic clove, finely chopped

50g soft white breadcrumbs

Preheat the oven to 180°C/gas  mark 4

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

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

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

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

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

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

Coconut Curry Chicken and Rice

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

Serves 6 – 8

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

25g your favourite curry powder

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

150g onions, thinly sliced

2 garlic cloves, crushed

600ml coconut milk

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

1 teaspoon granulated sugar

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

Flaky sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

To Serve

1 lime cut into wedges

Chopped coriander, to serve

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

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

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

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

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

Myrtle’s Compote of Pears

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

Serves 6

6 ripe pears

1 lemon

110g sugar

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

Foraged Food – Wild and Free

Rock Samphire (Crithmum maritimum)

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

Rock Samphire with Melted Butter

Serve alone on toast or with fish dishes.

Serves 8 as an accompaniment

225g (8oz) samphire

freshly ground pepper

25–50g (1–2oz) butter

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

New Cookbooks I’m Enjoying…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shelburne Lodge Omelette with Gubbeen Chorizo

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

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

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

Makes 1 omelette

Generous knob of butter, for cooking

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

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

1 small cooked potato, diced

1 tsp snipped fresh thyme leaves, plus extra to garnish

3 eggs, seasoned and lightly beaten with a fork

2 tbsp cream

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


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

Prawn & Spinach Pastry with Mousseline Sauce

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

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

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

Prawn and Spinach Filling

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

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

500g fresh spinach

55g butter, melted


Noilly Prat Sauce Filling

Prawn poaching liquid

60g butter

30g plain white flour

140ml cream

4 tbsp Noilly Prat

Sea salt and cracked black pepper

8 sheets filo pastry

200g clarified butter, melted and cooled

Mousseline Sauce:

225g butter

2 egg yolks

2 tbsp cold water

1 tbsp fresh lemon juice

1 tbsp fresh whipped cream

Serving suggestions: A few sprigs of fennel, to garnish

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Rum & Walnut Tart with Rum Butterscotch Sauce


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

Serves 8

Pâté Sucrée:

125g plain white flour

55g butter, softened

55g icing sugar

Pinch of sea salt

1 egg

Rum Butterscotch Sauce:

30g butter

70g light brown sugar

70g golden syrup

90ml cream

45ml dark Jamaican rum

Walnut Filling:

300g walnuts, roughly chopped

150g caster sugar

120g butter, melted

150g honey

5 egg yolks

100ml cream

50ml dark Jamaican rum

Equipment: 23cm / 9in flan tin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Carbonara with Mint and Peas

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

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

Serves 4

1 large onion, very roughly chopped

2 garlic cloves

1 red or green chilli, roughly chopped

vegetable or rapeseed oil

200g (7oz) smoked bacon lardons

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

2 teaspoons salt, plus extra to season

4 eggs

400g (14oz) dried tagliatelle

a large handful of frozen peas

a small handful of mint leaves, torn if large

freshly ground black pepper

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

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

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

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

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

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

Taste and Flavour Fact

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

Paddington Pudding

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

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

Serves 6

6 croissants, halved lengthways

3 tablespoons unsalted butter

8 tablespoons orange marmalade

250g (9oz) vanilla custard

10 cardamom pods, cracked

4 tablespoons caster sugar

1 lemon, zest and juice

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

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

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

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

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

 Wild Food of the Week

Ground-elder (Aegopodium Podagraria)

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

Foragers Soup

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

Serves 6

50g (2ozs) butter

110g (4ozs) diced onion

150g (5 ozs) diced potatoes

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

600ml (1 pint) light chicken stock

600ml (1 pint) creamy milk

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

extra virgin olive oil

wild garlic flowers if available

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

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

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