Local is now the sexiest word in food from California to Stuttgart, Matakana to Macroom. Attitudes have come a wonderful full circle from when I was a child growing up in a country village in Ireland. At that stage in the late fifties and early sixties, local was looked on as second rate. A few surplus fresh eggs sold by a farmerâ€™s wife to the local shop would be sold for less than the battery equivalents which were just coming on stream, same with currant cake or an apple tart.
Even though it didnâ€™t seem right it was the way it was. Not so in Italy as I discovered on my first trip to the Rialto Market in Venice in the early eighties. Many of the stalls had two lots of certain fruits and vegetables. In each case the one labelled nostrana or nostrale always seems to be more highly prized and expensive. My grasp of the language was non-existent. Eventually an impatient stallholder explained that nostrale was not a place (-twit!) it meant the produce had come from the lagoon area – it was local hence it was fresher and better, so of course it was more expensive. Oops â€“ for me this was a eureka moment. I loved the Italians for valuing local, artisan and craft and it gave me the courage to follow my convictions.
And how the food scene in Ireland has changed within a few years. Recently I attended the launch of two splendid books both celebrating local producers â€“ the farmers, fishermen and artisan producers of County Cork who have helped to change the dull and stodgy image of Irish food both at home and abroad. This group of producers who are passionate about quality (first and foremost) have created the raw materials that enable restaurants and cooks and chefs to produce real food. Both authors Denis Cotter and Dianne Curtin are Slow Food members and live the ethos in their everyday life. Denis has already established an international reputation for his earlier books The CafÃ© Paradiso Cookbook and Paradiso Seasons and for the vegetarian food at the now legendary CafÃ© Paradiso in Cork city.
At the packed launch of his new book â€˜Wild Garlic, Gooseberries and meâ€™, he spoke in evocative terms of his obsession with vegetables, his passionate pursuit of quality and his good fortune connecting with producers like Ultan Walsh the grower who provides much of the local produce for CafÃ© Paradiso. â€¦. To finish this book which has been bubbling around in his head for some time now he locked himself away in Don and Joy Larkcomâ€™s garden house for several peaceful weeks. The vegetables he chose to write about are not listed in alphabetical order nor arranged in a pattern that reflects the seasons of a year. Instead, they are grouped according to shared characteristics, whether that be their colouring, as in the opening chapter â€˜Itâ€™s a green thingâ€™, or their habitat as in both â€˜Wild pickingsâ€™ and â€˜Growing in the darkâ€™.
No other book on vegetables in my library is so beautifully written or so connected to the good earth and so thought provoking. The recipes as ever are intriguing and original, but even if you never cook as single thing out of this book (which would be a crying shame), its worth buying for Denisâ€™s beautiful prose – youâ€™ll never think of vegetables in the same way again!
The book is movingly dedicated to his father whose guiding presence Denis said he felt very strongly as he went back to his roots as he wrote this book.
Dianne Curtinâ€™s book â€˜The Creatorsâ€™ celebrates the work of farmers, fishermen, and artisan producers of County Cork who have helped secure Irelandâ€™s reputation as a gourmet destination. Excellent quality fresh produce, fine artisan specialities, and traditional delicacies unique to Ireland are only achieved as a result of the dedication and patience of the passionate people who bring them to our tables. All share a passion to attain the best possible culinary results. Dianneâ€™s book is divided into three main chapter: From Land and Field; From the Waters; Special Delicacies. Each chapter contains profiles of the food producers as well
â€˜Wild Garlic, Gooseberries and meâ€™ by Denis Cotter, published by Collins.
â€˜The Creators â€“ individuals of Irish foodâ€™ by Dianne Curin, published by Atrium.
Chard with Couscous, Raisins, Pine Nuts and Lemon Oil
From Wild Garlic, Gooseberries and me by Denis Cotter
This can be a side dish or a simple meal. Or make it the centre of a mezze or tapas-style meal with some marinated feta, olives, fresh tomato salad, roasted sweet potatoes and the like. A chilli kick from the Moroccan harissa sauce, served on the side, would be fun too.
85g (3oz) golden raisins
300g (10 Â½ oz) couscous
280ml (9 Â½ fl oz) warm vegetable stock
1kg (2 Â¼ lb) chard, including stalks
1 medium red onion halved and thinly sliced
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp fennel seeds
1 tsp turmeric
2 tbsp pine nuts, lightly tossed
Salt and pepper
For The Lemon Oil
finely grated zest and juice 1 lemon
200ml (7fl oz) olive oil
Soak the raisins in just enough water to cover them for 10 minutes. Place the couscous in a large bowl, pour over the warm vegetable stock and stir once. Leave for 15 minutes before fluffing up the couscous with a fork. Separate the chard leaves and stalks. Slice the stalks across about 5mm ( Â¼ in) thick. Cook the leaves in boiling water for 5 minutes, until soft, then drain, cool under the cold running water, drain again and chop coarsely.
Heat some olive oil in a large pan and cook the chard stalks, onion and garlic for 5 minutes over a medium heat. Add the spices and cook for a few minutes more, then stir in the chard leaves, pine nuts raisins with their soaking liquid. Add a little extra stock or water to keep the dish quite moist, then stir in the couscous and turn off the heat. Season with salt and pepper.
Whisk or blend the lemon zest and juice and the olive oil together. Mix two tablespoons into the couscous, and then serve immediately. Divide the couscous between four warmed serving plates, sprinkle some more lemon oil over the top and put the rest of the oil on the table in a jug or bottle for people to help themselves.
Fresh Tagliolini with Shredded Brussels sprouts,
Sage and Pine Nuts
From Wild Garlic, Gooseberries and me by Denis Cotter
250g (9oz) Brussels sprouts
2 tbsp olive oil
150g (5 Â½ oz) shallots thinly sliced
12 fresh sage leaves, sliced
4 canned tomatoes, finely chopped
finely grated zest of 1 orange
1 tbsp pine nuts, lightly toasted
salt and pepper
450g (1lb) fresh tagliolini or other pasta
50g (2oz) butter
50g (2oz) Desmond Parmesan or other hard cheese, finely grated
Quarter the sprouts, cut out the core and separate the leaves. In a wide pan, heat the olive oil and cook the sprouts, shallots, sage and garlic over a medium heat for 2 minutes. Add the tomatoes, orange zest and pine nuts and season with salt and pepper. Simmer for 2 minutes more.
At the same time, bring a large saucepan of water to the boil, add the tagliolini and cook for 2 â€“ 3 minutes until just tender. Drain well.
Add the butter, cheese and cooked pasta to the sprouts and mix well. Serve immediately.
West Cork Cheese Fondue
From The Creators by Dianne Curtin
Best enjoyed with a handful of close friends who donâ€™t mind getting the dribbles down their chins! Gabriel or Desmond cheeses, or a mixture of both, work well in this recipe.
1 clove garlic, peeled and halved
300ml (Â½ pint) dry white wine
450g (1lb) rinded weight of Desmond or Gabriel cheese, or half and half, grated
1 tablesp. cornflour
1-2 tablesp Kirsch (optional)
Freshly ground black pepper
Cubes of crusty bread, steamed asparagus tips, broccoli and cauliflower florets and sautÃ©ed whole button mushrooms to serve.
Rub fondue pot with cut sides of garlic. Add wine and heat gently to almost bubbling. Turn down heat. Gradually add cheese, with cornflour, stirring to melt. Continue like this until all cheese is added, stirring until smooth. Add Kirsch and season with freshly ground black pepper. Serve in the pot with a heap of crusty bread cubes, steamed asparagus tips, broccoli and cauliflower florets and sautÃ©ed mushrooms for each guest to dip in on the end of a fork. Get everyone to take a turn stirring the fondue while eating.
Fresh Mussels with Chilli and Coconut
From The Creators by Dianne Curtin
This recipe uses the Far Eastern flavourings of fresh chilli, Thai Green curry paste and coconut milk to give a fabulous kick of spice. Serve with some fragrant, boiled Jasmine rice, which you can stir into the bowls of spiced sauce after eating the mussels and slurp up from a spoon.
1kg fresh tightly closed mussels
2 tbsp sunflower oil
1 onion, peeled and finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
1 small red chilli, seeded and finely chopped
1 tbsp Thai green curry paste
150ml (Â¼ pt) fish stock
150ml (Â¼ pt) coconut milk
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Squeeze of lemon juice
1 tbsp coriander leaves, roughly torn
Prepare, clean and de-beard the mussels in the usual way. It is essential that they are all absolutely fresh and tightly closed.
Once the mussels are ready to cook, set to one side. Heat oil in a deep saucepan and add onion, garlic and chilli. Cook gently until softened. Stir in Thai green curry paste. Cook for another minute. Add fish stock and bring to bubbling. Simmer for a few minutes. Add cleaned mussels, cover with a lid and simmer until all shells have opened. Stir once or twice during cooking. Pick out and discard any mussels that do not open. Stir in coconut milk and bring back to bubbling for a minute. Season and add lemon juice and coriander. Ladle mussels and their sauce into warmed bowls and serve with Jasmine rice.
The Chocolate Show â€“Dublinâ€™s first ever Chocolate Show will take place at the RDS in Ballsbridge on 29th February, 1st and 2nd March 2008. This 3 day event will be the first annual celebration of the finest chocolate the country and the world has to offer. It will include the first Irish Chocolate Awards competition. The Show will be open to the public and will also have a dedicated trade only time. For further information or to book exhibition space contact Olivia Oâ€™Reilly on 01-2407203 or Olivia.firstname.lastname@example.org or check out www.chocolateshow.ie
Transition Town Kinsale (TTK)
Is a voluntary, community based venture supported by the Town Council. It is actively working towards finding community solutions to climate change and diminishing energy supplies. Ireland currently imports a large proportion of its food, which will make it very vulnerable to increasing energy costs in the future, as food will become significantly more expensive unless sourced locally â€“ food miles are just one of the issues considered by TTK â€“ www.transitiontowns.org/Kinsale
Irelandâ€™s Blue Book
2008 edition recently launched â€“ Irelandâ€™s Blue Book is an exclusive listing of luxury Irish accommodation in Irish Country House Hotels, Manor Houses, Castles and Gourmet Restaurants, whose qualities combine charm, style, character and individuality.
New entry this year is Ballyvolane House in Castlelyons, Co Cork, home to the Green family, Ballyvolane has been welcoming guests for over two decades. Visit www.irelandsbluebook.com â€“ Blue book can be bought at major bookstores and tourist board offices and is free of charge through their head office and member properties
as inspirational and practical recipes and cookery tips to make the most of the featured products and ingredients.