Coming up to Christmas lots of newly published cookbooks arrived on my desk. There were so many that I simply couldnâ€™t manage to mull over each one. Now that Iâ€™ve had a bit more time to digest the various tomes Iâ€™d like to pass on my thoughts. There were several treasures, including one I had been eagerly awaiting, TheÂ Irish Seaweed Kitchen by Dr. Prannie Rhatigan. Even though I was brought up in the midlands about as far away from the sea as one can be in Ireland I was always aware of the power-house of nutrition that grew around our coast. Unlike me, Prannie lived on the West Coast of Ireland where the rhythm of the tides and the love of the sea provided a back drop to every day life. As children their father took them harvesting seaweed and sea vegetables. Once the first frosts had sweetened the sleabhac (nori or sloke) which was usually after Christmas the cycle began. By St Patrickâ€™s Day the egg wrack and black wrack had been put into large barrels to ferment with horse manure, and later on nettles and comfrey, to provide nutrient rich feeds for the organic vegetables and herb garden. The potatoes and peas had to be in by St. Patrickâ€™s Day or were not on target in the garden. As the days lengthened, the first carragÃn and alaria were harvested for kitchen use and the winter supply dried and stored.
Summer days brought duileasc and the second flush of carragÃn came ready from harvest. Other delicacies like sea lettuce, pepper duileasc, bladderwrack and channeled wrack each came ready in their own time, sometime between spring and the end of autumn. So began a lifetimeâ€™s fascination with seaweed and their medical properties. Latterly Prannieâ€™s medical training dictated that she work from a science base. Research originally based on anecdotal evidence is building fast; seaweed can lower blood pressure and lipids and is known to boost the immune system. Prannieâ€™s minutely researched book will help even the novice to identify and harvest sustainability, as well as advice and recipes on how to incorporate â€˜the most nutritious form of vegetable on the planetâ€™ into your diet. The guide to the medicinal properties, culinary uses and health benefits is invaluable.
Simon Hopkinson is one of the finest and most highly respected UK food writers of our time. He has a large and loyal following. I too am a devoted fan. Known to food lovers for many years as founder chef of Bibendumâ€™s in London, since he relinquished his post to concentrate on his writing in 1995 he has produced several gems including â€˜Roast chicken and other storiesâ€™, â€˜Second Helpings of Roast Chickenâ€™ and â€˜Week in, Week outâ€™. In his latest book â€˜The Vegetarian Optionâ€™- published by Quadrille – he focuses entirely on cooking mouth watering recipes without meat or fish. The net result is as inspiring as we have come to expect from Hoppy, as he is known to friends.
How many more books can possibly be written on Italian food? Iâ€™d hazard a guess that the body of work must run into several thousand by now. The fresh sunny flavours have enduring appeal whether you live in Kiltimagh or Santa FÃ¨. Marcella Hazan and The River CafÃ© cookbooks are my most frequently thumbed volumes but a new voice emerged before Christmas with high praise on the back jacket from Georgio Locatelli, Matthew Fort and Anna Del Conte; herself a favourite of mine. The book is called â€˜Easy Tasty Italianâ€™ and is written by Laura Santtini, published by Quadrille who wants to â€˜add some magic to your every day foodâ€™. Itâ€™s quite unlike other books on Italian cooking Iâ€™ve come across. Itâ€™s witty, quirky, yet earthy and practical with a scholarly undertone. Definitely worth considering adding to your cook book shelf.
Laura Santtiniâ€™s Roasted Lamb with Tomato and Pecorino
800g lean lamb shoulder on bone, cut into large 8cm pieces
3-4 large potatoes, cut into chunks for roasting
400g ripe tomatoes, deseeded and chopped
1 tbsp fennel seeds
2 red onions
1 celery stalk, sliced
3 garlic cloves
Handful of chopped fresh oregano
Salt flakes and freshly ground black pepper
60g pecorino cheese, finely grated
150ml olive oil
Juice and a piece of zest from 2 lemons
Handful of chopped fresh mint, to serve
Preheat the oven to 180Â° C/ gas mark 4. Place all ingredients, except the cheese, oil, lemons and mint, flat in a large roasting pan. Generously douse in olive oil and lemon juice, season with salt and pepper and mix well together with your hands. Sprinkle with pecorino cheese and splash with oil. Bake in oven for about 1 hour 20 minutes. During cooking you can baste with a splash of wine (red or white) and or a splash of stock. If the meat looks as if it is burning at any time, cover with foil.Serve sprinkled with the mint. VARIATION 2 or 3 chopped anchovies and or a handful of black olives can be added for flavour.
Prannie Rhatiganâ€™s Duileasc Champ
Seaweed used: Duileasc
675g (1 Â½ lb) baby potatoes, scrubbed and lightly peeled
salt, 1 teaspoon
45ml (1 Â½ fl oz) double cream
4 tablespoons white wine
juice of Â¼ lemons
2 tablespoons duileasc, finely chopped
In a large saucepan, cook the potatoes in well-salted boiling water for 15-20 minutes, or until tender. Drain well and return to pan with double cream, white wine and lemon juice. Gently crush each potato against the side of the pan with the back of a fork. Add the duileasc and season to taste. For a quick and easy seaweed mash, add 1 Â½ tablespoons of crushed duileasc to regular mashed potatoes; a great combination to any fish dish.
Prannie Rhatiganâ€™s Prawns with Land and Sea Spaghetti
Seaweed used: Sea vegetables, sea spaghetti
20-30g dry weight spaghetti or approximately 250g if using fresh
250g (9oz) organic spaghetti
1-2 tablespoons grape seed oil
2 shallots or 1 small onion, peeled and chopped finely
1 red chili, deseeded and chopped
500g (1 lb 2 oz) jumbo peeled cooked prawns de-shelled, fully thawed if from frozen and very well dried
1 teaspoon Thai 7 spice for stir-fry
25g (1oz) flat leaf parsley
25g (1oz) coriander, leaves and stems, chopped
A dash of oyster sauce
1 handful mixed sea vegetables, soaked in hot water to barely cover for 2-3 minutes
Extra coriander and parsley to garnish
Cook the sea spaghetti in a pot with plenty seasoned water for 15 minutes or until al dente. Cook the spaghetti in a separate pot of seasoned water for 10-12 minutes or until al dente. Heat the oil in frying pan over moderate heat, and sweat off onions and garlic. Add chili and cook for 1 minute. Add the prawns, seasoning, herbs, oyster sauce and salt to taste. Stir until the ingredients are heated through and well mixed, about 2-3 minutes. Drain the spaghetti and sea spaghetti and place in a warmed serving dish. Add the contents of the frying pan, spices, seasoning, mixed sea vegetables and their hot soaking water. Stir gently to mix, check seasoning and serve on warm plates sprinkled with chopped coriander and parsley.
Cooks Tip: 600g (1lb 5 Â½ oz) of prawns serves 5 adults and small garden peas can be added as an extra vegetable portion. Cut down/omit chili if cooking for children.
Simon Hopkinsonâ€™s Cheese-crusted fried Parsnip Strips with Romesco Sauce
350g parsnips, peeled
Oil for deep-or shallow-frying (a neutral-flavoured oil, such as sunflower or groundnut)
40g white breadcrumbs made from semi-stale bread
75g parmesan, freshly grated
Â¼ tsp cayenne pepper
1 large egg, beaten
Flour for coating
For the Romesco sauce
40 g skinned almonds
4 tbsp olive oil
1 large garlic clove, peeled and chopped
1 small dried chili
75g oven-dried tomatoes from a jar, drained
75g piquillo peppers from a jar, drained
1 tbsp sherry vinegar
1 tbsp hot water
For the romesco sauce, gently fry the almonds in 1 tsp of the olive oil until golden. Allow to cool, then tip them into a food processor and add the garlic, chili, tomatoes, peppers, vinegar and hot water. Grind to a nubbly puree and then add salt to taste. Adjust the quantity of vinegar if you wish for a sharper flavour.
Cut the parsnips into finger lengths, about 6cm long, and steam until only just tender, then set aside to cool on a plate.
Mix the breadcrumbs with the cheese, cayenne and salt in a shallow dish. Have the beaten egg ready in a similar dish, and the flour in another one. To coat the parsnips, first dip the strips in flour, then in the egg and finally turn them through the breadcrumb/cheese mixture.
To fry parsnips strips, either use a deep-fat fryer or a deep frying pan containing a 2cm depth of oil. Heat the oil to 170Â°C in the deep-fryer or, if using the frying pan method, until a small cube of bread turns golden in a minute or so.
Fry the parsnips in the hot oil in batches until crisp and golden, then briefly drain on kitchen paper. Serve at once, with the sauce alongside.
Simon Hopkinsonâ€™s Swede and Potato Cakes With Black Pepper and Cream Sauce
1tsp Maldon salt
2 tsp agar flakes
1 large egg yolk
1 tbsp freshly grated parmesan
1 tsp chopped spring onion
Flour for coating
Olive oil for frying
For the sauce
250 ml double cream
2 tsp black peppercorns, cracked or coarsely crushed
Salt, to taste
2 tsp smooth Dijon mustard
To garnish (optional)
Preheat oven to 160Âº C/ gas mark 3. Peel the swede and potatoes and cut them into chunks. Melt the butter in a lidded, roomy pot over a low heat and add the swede, potatoes and salt. Stir together and gently cook for about 5 minutes; more then anything else, this is to coat the vegetables with butter and to get the pot hot. Put on the lid, transfer to oven and cook for about 45 minutes to 1 hour until the vegetables are tender.
Now return the pot to a very low heat on top of the stove and stir the vegetables around to try and rid them of extra moisture; it does not matter if they colour very slightly, or if they break a little, either. Mash the vegetables coarsely (an old fashioned manual masher is best, here) and, if uncertain about wetness, now is the time to sprinkle over the agar flakes and mix them in. Tip into a bowl and allow to cool completely before mixing in the egg yolk, Parmesan and spring onion. Spread on a flat tray and put in the fridge to firm up.
Meanwhile make the simple sauce. Whisk all the ingredients together in a small pan and bring to a simmer. Cook until slightly thickened and pour into a hot jug or sauceboat.
Form the swede and potato mash into 8 small cakes and roll in flour to coat all over. Heat a little olive oil in a frying pan and gently fry the swede and potato cakes on both sides until golden; drain on kitchen paper.
Serve and garnish with sprightly sprigs of chilled watercress, if desired, handing the sauce around separately.
* The addition of agar flakes is an option here, to help firm up a mixture that can veer towards wetness. However, if you can achieve a thorough drying out of the cooked vegetables, agar flakes should not be necessary.
Fool Proof Food
Simon Hopkinsonâ€™s Onion and Blood Orange Salad with Olive Oil
4 blood oranges
1 or 2 small sweet white onions peeled
extra virgin olive oil
freshly ground black pepper
Cut the tops and bottoms off the oranges ans using a small, very sharp knife, further slice off the skins of the oranges cutting close to the flesh and removing all traces of pith. Slice thinly (removing any pips) and arrange neatly, slightly overlapping on a beautiful plate.
Thinly slice the onions and lay on top of the oranges. Spoon enough olive oil onto the assembly to suit you, and then grind over some pepper. Eat it all on its own, and with someone you like very much.
New Seniors Lunch at O’Connells in Ballsbridge – January 18th to March 18th – Monday to Thursday. Sit between noon and 1.00pm and select from aÂ multi-choice Menu of The Day. One course â‚¬7.50; Two Courses â‚¬ 9.50; Three Courses â‚¬11.50. All prices include a Pot of Tea or Coffee. Tel 01 66 55 940 Email email@example.com
The Farmers Markets are back in full swing around the country after the Christmas break. Look out for the wonderful winter vegetables like Jerusalem artichokes and kale at Midleton Farmers Market. You can also buy game in season, home cured bacon and local cheese. Join the queue for a steaming cup of freshly ground coffees or hot chocolate from Oâ€™Connaill Chocolate stall.
www.midletonfarmersmarkets.com Make the most of the winter evenings by planning your vegetable and herb patch for the coming year. This is the time to order seeds and sprout a few potatoes on your windowsill to plant before St Patrickâ€™s Day. Sounds exotic believe me its not, youâ€™ll never taste a better spud. If you donâ€™t know where to begin why not start a GIY (Grow it Yourself) Ireland Group in your area. This will take the â€˜Iâ€™ out of Grow it Yourself when neighbours and friends help each other and share both knowledge, seedlings and produce. Check out http://www.giyireland.com/home.php where you can network with other growers. Get off to an easy start by getting Patrick Beausang to install a raised vegetable bed in your garden made from heavy larch beams – that are not chemically treated. He fills the beds with good quality top soil from Ladysbridge ready for planting. Telephone 0878372928.