The weather is so extraordinarily unpredictable that itâ€™s difficult to know what to cook – should we make a stew or a salad? When the sun shines thereâ€™s a desperation to maximise the opportunity so barbeques are being wheeled out and back into the garage with monotonous regularity.
Letâ€™s face it, we so need something to cheer us up. The positive response of the Irish football supporters despite defeat in the European Championship shows that as a nation we seem to be hard-wired to look on the bright side and make the very best of every challenging situation, no matter what.
The number of new micro businesses starting up all over the country are an example of the determination and the creativity that bubbles to the surface when we are forced to think outside the box. There are a myriad of opportunities in Irish food from artisan to manufacturing level, from farmers markets, farm shops, pop up restaurants to truck food.
Foraging is all the rage â€“ what a fun thing to do.
Dr Barbara Duff is doing sea shore foraging courses in Clonea Co Waterford (see Hot Tips)
Close to home here, Philip Dennhardtâ€™ s Saturday Pizzas at the Ballymaloe Cookery School is a favourite weekend treat for parents and kids of all ages who look forward to tasting the wood fired Pizza of the Week with toppings that reflect the season on the farm and in the gardens. Of course thereâ€™s always a classic margarita, marinara and peperoni withÂ homemade tomato sauce and a perky chilli oil for those who like to liven up their pizzaâ€“ open for just four hours every Saturday from 12:30 to 4:00pm.
The latest option on the fun East Cork dining scene is the â€˜pop-upâ€™ on Friday nights at the CafÃ© at the End of the Shop at Ballymaloe House. Dervilla Oâ€™Flynn takes over the kitchens and offers a short menu of little plates and a platter of hand carved Iberico at a fraction of the price of London restaurant.
The food comes as its ready, the atmosphere is easy and convivial, terrific wines and superb sherries by the glass â€“ I love it.
Pizzetta Bianca with Red Onions and Thyme Leaves
(makes 12 pizzetta)
Easy Pizza Dough
1 x 7g sachet fast action yeast
300ml (10floz) tepid water
500g (18oz) strong white flour, (we use Italian 00)
2 teaspoons salt
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 piece pizza dough
25g (1oz) grated block mozzarella
5g (Â¼ oz) grated Parmesan
Â½ thinly sliced red onion
enough thyme leaves to sprinkle over the top
thyme flowers if available
freshly ground black pepper
extra virgin olive oil
Put the flour, salt and fast action yeast with the olive oil and the tepid water into a bowl and mix into a dough. Rest for 3 or 4 minutes then form the dough into a roll. Knead the dough on a floured work surface until smooth and springy â€“ about 10 minutes. Put in a bowl and cover with oiled Clingfilm and leave to rise in a warm place for at least 30 minutes.Â Ideally it should double in size. Divide the dough into pieces. Roll each one into thin 20cm discs.
Top with chosen topping and cook.
If you want to use the dough later, arrange the balls of dough on a tray, cover with a damp cloth and keep in the fridge for up to 12 hours. Remember to take them out 30 minutes before youâ€™re ready to use them so they can come back to room temperature.
Preheat the oven to the highest temperature 250C/ gas mark 9 or better still 275C. Pizza will benefit from being placed directly on to a hot baking sheet or pizza stone within the pre-heated oven. Our pizzas cook in 4 or 5 minutes but yours may take about 6 or 8 minutes. At 250C/gas mark 9, yours will take about 6 â€“ 8 minutes.
Roll the pizza base into a 20cm round. Donâ€™t fuss too much about getting your pizzetta bases totally round. In fact itâ€™s much better if they are not; youâ€™ll get some lovely bubbling and occasional charring at the edges.
Sprinkle the cheeses over the top, top with some thinly sliced onion rings and a sprinkle thyme leaves. Use less rather than more topping â€“ if you use too much, the base wonâ€™t be crisp. It will take 4 â€“ 8 minutes depending on your oven. Grind on some pepper, drizzle a little olive oil and scatter some thyme flowers over the top and enjoy immediately.
Broad Bean, Blue Cheese, Parsley and Lemon PizzaÂ Â Â Â Â Â Â
150g (5oz) pizza dough (see recipe)
1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil
a pinch of Maldon sea salt
150ml (5fl oz)
20 blanched broad beans
8 sugar cubed sized pieces of blue cheese
big handful of grated mozzarella
1 teaspoon fresh parsley, finely chopped
1 lemon cut into wedges
Preheat the oven to 250ÂºC/475ÂºF/gas mark 9.
Roll out pizza dough to 25.5 cm (10 inch) disc.Â Sprinkle a little semolina all over the surface of the pizza paddle and put the pizza base on top.Â Drizzle the olive oil over the base of the pizza and sprinkle with a pinch of sea salt.Â Spread the fennel sauce over the pizza base.Â Gently place the toppings over the fennel sauce so that they are evenly distributed.Â Â Â Finally, sprinkle the Mozzarella over the top of the pizza.
Bake in the fully preheated oven for 10-12 minutes or until the base is crisp and the top is bubbly and golden. Scatter the chopped parsley over the pizza and serve immediately.
Place one wedge in the centre of the pizza for the guests to squeeze over the top to taste.
5 bulbs of fennel, thinly sliced
3 cloves of garlic, crushed
2 onions, thinly sliced
25ml (1fl oz) extra virgin olive oil
600ml (1 pint) water
salt and freshly ground black pepper
Heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a pan and sweat the onions and garlic together until soft.Â Add the sliced fennel, olive oil, water and season with salt and pepper. Cook for approximately 25 minutes or until soft.Â Blend until smooth.Â Check for seasoning and adjust if necessary.Â Store in a jar in the fridge.
Â Sicilian Roast Chicken Salad
You might want to serve this salad with a bowl of homemade mayonnaise and some crispy greens â€“ I particulary love Little Gem lettuce and rocket leaves.
Serves 6-8 people
1 xÂ 1.5kg (3lb 5oz) freshly roasted organic chicken
12 waxy freshly cooked potatoes, new if in season
a little olive oil
150ml (6fl oz) extra virgin olive oil
25ml (1fl oz) red wine vinegar
25ml (1fl oz) Balsamic vinegar
zest of 1/2 lemon
4 tablespoons sultanas or raisins
4 tablespoons pinenuts
3 tablespoons capers
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
a small fistfulof flat parsley sprigs
Preheat the oven to 180ÂºC/350Â°F/Gas Mark 4.
While the chicken is roasting, put the sultanas or raisins into a bowl, cover with boiling water and allow to plump up.Â Spread the pine kernels on the base of a dry frying pan, stir over a gentle heat until toasted on all sides.Â This will greatly enhance the flavour, allow to cool.
Peel and slice the potatoes while still warm. Whisk the extra virgin olive oil, red wine vinegar and Balsamic vinegar together.Â Add the finely grated lemon zest.Â Spoon some of this dressing evenly over the warm potato salad and toss gently
When the roast chicken is cooked, cool.Â Cut into chunky pieces (reserve the chicken carcass for stock).Â Arrange the pieces over the top of the salad, donâ€™t remove the crispy skin â€“ itâ€™s delicious.Â Sprinkle the drained sultanas, toasted pinenuts and drained capers over the top.Â Drizzle with a little more dressing.Â Season with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper and scatter with lots of flat parsley sprigs.Â Serve at room temperature with a green salad and a bowl of homemade mayonnaise.
A few broad beans or fresh peas, blanch them quickly in boiling salted water and add to the salad.
There have always been delicious ways of using up bread, particularly in the Asian, South American, Mediterranean and Middle Eastern countries. Sumac flakes give this Syrian bread salad a characteristic slightly sour taste. If you can’t get Sumac, the salad will still taste delicious but not so authentic.
2 stale pitta bread or 2-3 thick slices of stale sour dough or good country bread
a little bunch of rocket or purslane
2-3 teaspoons Sumac if available
1 mild sweet red pepper, optional
1/2 cucumber, coarsely chopped
4 ripe, vine-ripened tomatoes, cut into quarters and then into half crosswise
3 spring onions, sliced at an angle
2-3 tablespoonsÂ parsley, freshly chopped
2 tablespoons fresh coriander leaves
2-3 tablespoons fresh mint
3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic crushed
salt and freshly ground pepper, maybe even a pinch of sugar or a dash of Balsamic vinegar
If the bread isn’t stale toast the bread until crisp. Cut into uneven sized pieces. Chop the rocket or purslane coarsely. Cut the sweet red pepper into or rounds or dice. Put both into a salad bowl with the tomato, cucumbers and spring onions, herbs and bread. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper.
Whisk the dressing ingredients together. Spoon over the salad, toss gently, taste.
Allow the salad to sit for at least 30 minutes, better still an hour before serving, so the bread soaks up lots of yummy dressing and juice.
Ottolenghi Radish and Broad Bean Salad
A simple lunch dish, with the Tahini sauce and bread, it makes a modest meal in itself, without them, a colourful salad â€“ light refreshing and wholesome.
500g (1lb 2oz) shelled broad beans fresh or frozen
350g (12oz) small radishes
1/2 red onion
2 tablespoons finely chopped coriander
30g (1 1/4oz) preserved lemon, finely chopped
juice of 2 lemons
2 tablespoons chopped flat leaf parsley
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon ground cumin
200ml (7fl oz) Green tahini sauce
4 thick pita breads
salt and black pepper
Cook the broad beans in a pan of boiling salted water for 1 â€“ 2 minutes, depending on size. Drain through a large colander and rinse in plenty of cold water to refresh them. Remove the beans from their skins by gently squeezing each one with your finger tips.
Cut the radishes into 6 wedges each and mix with the broad beans, onion, coriander, preserved lemon, lemon juice, parsley, olive oil and cumin. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
To serve, pile a mound of salad in one corner of each serving plate, pour tahini sauce into a small bowl and stand it next to the salad. Set a pita bread next to them.
Salmon Pad Thai Noodle Salad
A yummy salad for the week.
375g (12oz) packet medium rice noodles
75g (3oz) peanuts, roasted and sprinkled with salt
4 tablespoons sunflower oil
1 large red or white onion, finely sliced
2 red chillies, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, crushed
Â½ teaspoon freshly grated ginger
300g (11oz) fresh salmon, Â½ inch cubes
3 tablespoons fish sauce
juice of 2 limes
3 tablespoons spring onions, sliced at an angle
40g (2oz) fresh coriander leaves
Put the rice noodles in a bowl, cover with boiling water, toss well and allow to soak for 5 minutes. Chop the roasted peanuts (10 minutes at 200Â°C/400Â°F/Gas mark 6) coarsely.
Heat 4 tablespoons of sunflower oil in a wok, add the onion, chopped chilli, garlic and ginger. Cook on a medium heat for 3-4 minutes, add the salmon and toss for 1 minute. Add 3 tablespoons of spring onions cut at an angle and toss. Add the fish sauce, lime juice and noodles, toss well. Add half the coriander, taste and correct seasoning if necessary.
Serve immediately with the remainder of the coriander and peanuts scattered over the top.
Seashore Tours â€“ often wondered whether you can eat the seaweed you find on the strand or how to identify the shellfish or sea urchins? Dr Barbara Duff a marine biologist is doing sea shore tours at Clonea Beach near Dungarvan in Co Waterford, she does an illustrated talk before- hand at Clonea Hotel â€“ contact tel: 087 4149949 â€“ www.seashoretours.com
Mulberry Gardens in Donnybrook offers dinner just three nights a week, 3 courses, two choices on each course, reflecting the season and the best of Irish artisan produce. Youâ€™ll need to book well ahead despite the recession â€“ that says it all – +353 (1) 2693300.
Pop-up Banquet â€“ one night only – in aid of Midleton Hospital and The Laura Lynn Foundation at the Granary Foodstore, Midleton on Friday 6th July 2012. Outdoor drinks reception starts at 7.45pm followed by a seven course, no choice, tasting menu, using local Irish ingredients. Vegetarians will be catered for. The price is â‚¬50, bring your own wine. Contact Jack Oâ€™Sullivan 021 4613366 to book.