ArchiveNovember 15, 2008

Terra Madre – Italy

Terra Madre – Mother Earth

I’m just back from the Terra Madre conference in Italy. This Slow Food event, held in Italy every two years is quite simply a life changing experience. There is nothing else like it in the world. This year over 7000 people participated in the Terra Madre from 153 countries, over a three day period from 23rd – 27th October. 4073 farmers, breeders, fishermen and artisan producers, 727 cooks, 299 university professors and food scientists and researchers, over 1000 students and 213 musicians gathered together.
It runs in conjunction with Salone del Gusto the biggest artisan and specialist food fair in the world.
There was over 80 delegates representing Ireland, including our Minister for Food and Horticulture Trevor Sergent and Aidan Cotter the CEO of Bord Bia. The Irish Ambassador to Italy Sean O hUiginn came from Rome to attend the Terra Madre (meaning Mother Earth) events. 

This year the Slow Food network was greatly enhanced by the involvement of over 1200 young people from the Slow Food Youth Movement. I was blown away by these young food activists from all over the world who are involved in hundreds of inspirational projects in their own communities. From Slow Food on Campus programs to seed saving, School Gardens Networks to healthy canteens. In Germany they have a Slow Food Mobile which travels from school to school teaching children the important life skills of how to cook and grow vegetables.

Improving the quality of food in schools, hospitals and company canteens was a key issue at both Terra Madre and Salon del Gusto meetings this year.
The importance of healing with food was highlighted in examples provided by the Alice Hospital in Darmstadt in Germany and the Asti Hospital in Italy.
Canadian High School teacher Paul Finkelstein told us about the unique project at his school which now has two canteens. Students work with Paul to prepare up to 300 meals a day based on fresh seasonal locally sourced ingredients.
“This is a generational tool of change, by students learning to cook, we hope their parents will also be connected with good food and that grandparents will be motivated to bring back tradition.”

The Slow Presedia products from around the world were a revelation.  These traditional and artisan products from countries all over the globe were endangered for a variety of reasons, some economic, others relate to stringent hygiene regulations that fail to appreciate the value of traditional production systems where food has been produced in a time honoured way for centuries.

In an era of increasing homogenisation these foods are doubly welcome. Old varieties of seeds, nuts, berries, rare breeds of animal and fowl… Siwa dates from western Egyptian desert. Speckled black and white Chaam chickens with huge red cock’s combs from Northern France and Germany, exquisite hand-picked Jiloca saffron from the Teruel Province in Spain. People queued to taste de Branza de Burduf – pink bark wrapped sheep cheese from Transylvania. Cheese in a sheepskin sack from Herzegovina also drew a crowd; it was tangy, crumbly and delicious.

The farmers of Napo Province in Ecuador brought their cocoa beans and told us their story as did the indigenous tribe who grow Brazil nuts on their Tando Plateau in Bolivia. I spoke to one friendly smiling farmer and fisherman after the other, so grateful to Slow Food and Terra Madre for highlighting their product and creating the Terra Madre network where they can meet and share and learn how to overcome challenges and find new markets. There was much much more it was truly a life changing experience.
Taglierini al Profumo di Limone
Fresh Noodles with Lemon

Serves 6

This recipe was given to me by Mimmo Baldi, the chef owner of Il Vescovino in Panzano. His restaurant overlooking many of the best vine-yards in Chianti serves some of the most inspired food I have tasted in Italy – certainly worth the detour.

7ozs (200g) fresh or dried taglierini (thin noodles)
5fl ozs (150ml) very fresh cream
2 fresh lemons
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
a knob of butter

Scrub the lemons gently to remove any wax, then grate the lemon zest on the finest part of the stainless steel grater, add it to the cream, cover the bowl and leave to infuse in the fridge for 5 – 6 hours.

Cook the pasta in plenty of boiling salted water until al dente, drain well and put into a hot pasta dish, adding the cream and lemon mixture. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper, add a knob of butter and toss well. Serve instantly. This sauce should not be thick.

Risotto with Marcella Hazan’s Ragu

Serves 6

1.1 litre (2 pints) chicken or vegetable stock

25g (1oz) butter
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 large shallot or little onion finely chopped
400g (14oz) Arborio, Carnaroli or Vilano Nano rice
200ml (7fl oz) dry white wine
Salt and freshly ground pepper
100g (3 1/2oz) butter cut in cubes
50g (2oz) freshly grated Parmesan cheese, Parmigiana Reggiano plus more for sprinkling at table

First make the Ragu (see recipe below)

First bring the stock to the boil, then keep at a gentle simmer on the side of the stove or on a medium heat.  Meanwhile melt 25g (1oz) butter in a sauté pan with a tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil, add the finely chopped shallot or onion, stir and sweat for 3-4 minutes.  In another saucepan, bring the chicken stock to the boil and then adjust the heat so it stays at a gentle simmer.  Add the rice to the onions, stir for a minute or two, then add the dry white wine and continue to cook until the wine is almost fully absorbed.  Season well with salt and freshly ground pepper. 
Then begin to add ladlefuls of simmering stock, stirring all the time and making sure that the last addition has been almost absorbed before adding the next. 
After about 12 minutes when the rice is beginning to soften, add any desired additions and cook for a few minutes more.  See below for Good Things to Add to a Risotto.  When you are happy that it is just right, soft and wavy, stir in the remaining butter and Parmesan.  Taste – it should be exquisite.  Correct the seasoning if necessary.  Serve immediately in warm bowls with a dollop of ragu on top an extra sprinkling of Parmesan.

Marcella Hazan’s Ragu

I’ve been told that if you want to make your way to an Italian man’s heart it is essential to be able to make a good ragu.
It is a wonderfully versatile sauce – the classic bolognese sauce for Tagliatelle alla Bolognese, indispensable for lasagne, and also delicious with polenta and gnocchi.  I have been making Marcella Hazan’s version for many years from her Classic Italian Cookbook (a book you would do well to seek out).  It is the most delicious and concentrated one I know.  Marcella says it should be cooked for several hours at the merest simmer but I find you get a very good result with 1-1 1/2 hours cooking on a diffuser mat.  Ragu can be made ahead and freezes very well.

Serves 6

1 1/2 ozs (45g) butter
2 tablespoons finely chopped onion
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons finely chopped celery
2 tablespoons finely chopped carrot
12 ozs minced lean beef, preferably chuck or neck
1/2 pint (300ml) dry white wine
4 fl ozs (120ml) milk
one-eight teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
1 x 14 oz (400g) tin Italian tomatoes, roughly chopped with their own juice.
Small casserole

In Italy they sometimes use an earthenware pot for making ragu, but I find that a heavy enamelled cast-iron casserole with high sides works very well. Heat the butter with the oil and sauté the onion briefly over medium heat until just translucent. Add the celery and carrot and cook gently for 2 minutes. Next add the minced beef, crumbling it in the pot with a fork. Add salt to taste, stir, and cook only until the meat has lost its raw red colour (Marcella says that if it browns it will lose its delicacy.
Add the wine; turn the heat up to medium high, and cook, stirring occasionally, until all the wine has evaporated.  Turn the heat down to medium, add in the milk and the freshly grated nutmeg, and cook until the milk has evaporated, stirring every now and then. Next add the chopped tomatoes and stir well. When the tomatoes have started to bubble, turn the heat down to the very lowest so that the sauce cooks at the gentlest simmer – just an occasional bubble. I use a heat diffuser mat for this.
Cook uncovered for a minimum of 1 1/2 hours (better still 2 or even 3), depending on how concentrated you like it, stirring occasionally. If it reduces too much add a little water and continue to cook. When it is finally cooked, taste and correct seasoning. Because of the length of time involved in cooking this, I feel it would be worthwhile to make at least twice the recipe.

Tuscan Plum Tart

Serves 10 – 12
We ate this gorgeous tart in a little restaurant, near Castellini in Chianti. I managed to extract the recipe by a mixture of much sincere flattery and gentle persuasion, a wow for an autumn party and so easy to make.

225g (8oz) sugar
150ml (5fl ozs) water

450g (1lb) plums

5 1/2oz (150g) soft butter
6oz (175g) sugar
3 eggs, free-range and organic
7oz (200g) self-raising flour

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

Preheat oven to 160°C/325°F/gas mark 3.

Put the sugar and water into the pan.  Stir over a medium heat until the sugar dissolves, then cook without stirring until the sugar caramelises to a rich golden brown.

Meanwhile halve and stone the plums, arrange cut side down in a single layer over the caramel.

Put the butter, sugar 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 plums and 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 crème fraiche or softly whipped cream.
Fool Proof Food

The area of Piedmont and Turin in Italy is famous for its chocolate and hazelnuts. I always look forward to having a Bicerim when I arrive but this year I discovered Coffee Sabaudo a new treat at Gertosio one of the legendary cafes in Via Lagrange.

Spread some chocolate around the inside of a tall wide glass; add a shot of double espresso. Top with whipped cream and sprinkle generously with chopped toasted hazelnuts. So divine, you can’t imagine – worth flying to Turin especially to taste despite what it did to my waistline!

Thrifty Tip

June Bennett gave me this tip for saving left over lemon segments or slices. Just pop them into a plastic bag or chill box.
Freeze and use to both chill and flavour gin and tonic or other aperitifs.

Hot Tips

County Choice Fruit Clinic

Every Saturday during November there is a ‘Fruit Clinic’ from 11.00am to 4.00pm at the Country Choice Shop on where you can go and discuss anything under the sun about raisins, sultanas and currants. For people baking their first Christmas cake take your list for the best guidance and advice about exact quantities of fruit to make the perfect cake. Country choice has the widest selection of dried and glace fruits in Ireland.

Irish Food Company Scoops International Award

Innovative Irish food company, Cully & Sully, has become the first Irish company ever to win the overall award at the prestigious Sial d’Or world finals in Paris.

Cully & Sully not only won the chilled non-dairy category for their soup range at these finals, and are the first Irish company to do this, but in addition they were presented with the overall global Sial D’Or award, beating off competition from over 30 countries around the world. 


Minister Sargent To Officially Open Howth Castle Cookery School

The Kitchen in the Castle Cookery School is opening to the public on November 22, 2008. The cookery school is situated in the recently renovated Georgian kitchen in Howth Castle, the family home of the St. Lawrence family for over eight hundred years. Christine and Edwina St Lawrence, co-founders of the school, both hold a lifelong passion for food. Edwina St Lawrence gained her formal food training at the famous Le Cordon Bleu School in London.


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