Hey guess what! Surprise, surprise butter is better for you than margarine or all those spreads, it’s all over the Examiner, Irish Times, Guardian, Telegraph, Times et al – how brilliant is that – 40 years later we discover that butter a totally natural product made from cream is better for us than margarine containing up to ten ingredients.
It’s even more bizarre than that, we’ve now discovered at long last that fat is good for us and that the low fat diets were in many cases detrimental to our health.
In a widely reported piece in the British Medical Journal, eminent cardiologist at Croyden University Hospital, Dr Aseem Malhotra argued that it was time to bust the myth of the role of saturated fat in heart disease. From his analysis of the independent evidence he has concluded that there is no argument to back up the theory that saturated fats from non-processed foods are detrimental to our health. He maintains that saturated fats have been ‘demonised’ ever since a landmark study in the 1970’s concluded that there was a correlation between the incidence of coronary heart disease and total cholesterol. An entire food industry has evolved and profited from this low fat mantra for almost four decades and the reality is low fat foods are often loaded with sugar and added salt, so according to Dr Malhotra it’s time for a paradigm shift,
“We are now learning that added sugar in food is driving the obesity epidemic plus the rise in diabetes and cardiovascular disease”
The relentless message that saturated fat must be avoided to reduce the risk of coronary heart disease has dominated public heath campaigns and dietary advice for almost 40 years. This recommendation clearly has not produced the desired result.
Dr Malhotra highlighted the fact that the amount of fat consumption in the US has decreased from 40 to 30% in the past 30 years yet obesity rates have rocketed. Questionable dietary advice has also led to the over medication of millions who have been prescribed statins to control their blood pressure and cholesterol levels. When, he argues, “adopting a Mediterranean diet after a heart attack is almost three times as effective in reducing mortality as taking a statin. Doctors need to embrace prevention as well as treatment”
Dr Malhotra argues that sugar rich foods are more likely to result in a heart attack via Metabolic syndrome – a cluster of symptoms including high blood pressure, diabetes and obesity (the plague of the 21st century.) Butter, full fat milk, cheese and even eggs (for a period) were demonised while oil based spreads and low fat products flew off the shelves. Many schools changed over to serving low fat products to their students and even questions on the Leaving Certificate paper suggested that margarine was more beneficial to your health than butter, a fact that incensed my niece in her recent exam.
Despite the paranoia around cholesterol levels a recent University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) study indicated that 75% of acute heart patients do not have ‘high cholesterol’
Sounds like it’s time to rethink the received wisdom and “bust the myth of the role of saturated fat in heart disease” This won’t be easy considering the huge vested interests in the low fat industry – wait for the backlash.
Professor Robert Lustig, Paediatric Endocrinologist at the University of San Francisco, commented “Food should confer wellness not illness and real food does just that, including saturated fat, but when saturated fat got mixed up with the high sugar added to processed food in the second half of the 20th century, it got a bad name. Which is worse the saturated fat or sugar? The American Heart Foundation has joined in the debate “Sugar many times over, plus added sugar causes all the diseases associated with metabolic syndrome instead of lowering serum cholesterol with statins, which is dubious at best, how about serving up real food?” They have a point.
Curly Kale Soup
The recent frost has sweetened the kale. One way to use it up is in this delicious soup. When I eat this, I feel like every mouthful is doing me good. Note that if this soup is to be reheated, just bring it to the boil and serve. Prolonged boiling spoils the colour and flavour of green soups.
50g (2oz) butter
140g (5oz) potatoes, peeled and diced (7mm/1/3in)
110g (4oz) onions, peeled and diced (7mm/1/3in)
salt and freshly ground pepper
1.2 litres (2 pints) chicken stock or vegetable stock
250g (9oz) curly kale leaves, stalks removed and chopped
50–125ml (2 – 4fl oz) cream or full-cream milk
Melt the butter in a heavy saucepan. When it foams, add the potatoes and onions and turn them in the butter until well-coated. Sprinkle with salt and freshly ground pepper. Cover and sweat on a gentle heat for 10 minutes. Add the stock and boil gently, covered, until the potatoes are soft. Add the kale and cook with the lid off, until the kale is cooked. Keep the lid off to retain the green colour. Do not overcook or the vegetables will lose both their fresh flavour and colour. Purée the soup in a liquidiser or food processor. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Add the cream or creamy milk just before serving.
Roast Pork with Crackling and Spiced Aubergines
You may need to order the joint ahead to ensure that the rind is still on – no rind – no crackling!
1 x 2.25kg (5 lbs) loin of organic free-range pork with the skin rind intact.
Maldon Sea salt
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Spiced Aubergines (see recipe)
Maldon sea salt
Score the skin at 1/4 inch (5mm) intervals running with the grain – let your butcher do this if possible because the skin, particularly of free range pork can be quite tough. This is to give you really good crackling and make it easier to carve later.
Preheat the oven to 190ºC/375ºF/regulo 5.
Sprinkle some salt over the rind and roast the joint on a wire rack in a roasting tin. Allow 30-35 minutes per 1lb (450g). Baste with the rendered pork fat every now and then.
Meanwhile cook the Spiced Aubergines.
Just before the end of cooking time remove the pork to another roasting tin. Return to the oven and increase the temperature to 230ºC/450ºF/regulo 8, to further crisp the crackling. When the joint is cooked the juices should run clear. Put the pork onto a hot carving dish and allow to rest for 10-15 minutes in a low oven before carving. Serve two slices of pork per person with some Spiced Aubergine and garnish with Rocket. Sprinkle a few grains of Maldon sea salt over the pork.
Rustic roast potatoes and a good green salad would also be great.
500g (1 lb 2 ozs) aubergines
lots of extra virgin olive oil
1 inch (2.5cm) cube of fresh ginger, peeled and coarsely chopped
6 large cloves of garlic, peeled and coarsely crushed
50ml (2 fl ozs) water
1 teaspoon whole fennel seeds
2 teaspoons whole cumin seeds
350g (3/4 lb) very ripe tomatoes, peeled and finely chopped or 1 x 400g (14ozs) tin tomatoes + 1 teaspoon sugar or honey to taste
1 tablespoon freshly ground coriander seeds
1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/3 teaspoon cayenne pepper (more if you like)
50g (2ozs) raisins
Cut the aubergine into 3/4 inch (2cm) thick slices. Heat a few tablespoons of extra virgin olive in a grill pan. When hot, add some aubergine slices and cook until golden and tender on both sides. Remove and drain on a wire rack over a baking sheet. Repeat with the remainder of the aubergines, adding more oil if necessary.
Put the ginger, garlic and water into a blender. Blend until fairly smooth.
Heat 3 tablespoons of oil in the frying pan. When hot, add the fennel and cumin seeds, (careful not to let them burn). Stir for just a few seconds then put in the chopped tomato, the ginger-garlic mixture, coriander, turmeric, cayenne, salt and sugar or honey. Simmer, stirring occasionally until the spice mixture thickens slightly, 5-6 minutes.
Add the fried aubergine slices and raisins, and coat gently with the spicy sauce. Cover the pan, turn the heat to very low and cook for another 3-4 minutes. Serve warm.
The spiced aubergine mixture is also good served cold or at room temperature as an accompaniment to hot or cold lamb or pork.
A big roasting tin of crusty roast potatoes always invokes a positive response. Everyone loves them. They are easy to achieve but I still get asked over and over for the secret of crunchy golden roasties. So here are my top tips:
Grow or seek out good-quality dry, floury potatoes such as Golden Wonders or Kerr’s Pinks. New potatoes do not produce good roast potatoes. For best results, peel the potatoes just before roasting. Resist the temptation to soak them in water, or understandably they will be soggy, due to the water they absorb. This has become common practice when people want to prepare ahead, not just for roasting, but also before boiling. After peeling, dry the potatoes meticulously with a tea-towel or kitchen paper. Otherwise, even when tossed in fat or oil, they will stick to the roasting tin. Consequently, when you turn them over as you will need to do halfway through the cooking, the crispy bit underneath will stick to the tin.
If you wish to prepare potatoes ahead, there are two options. Peel and dry each potato carefully, toss in extra virgin olive oil or fat of your choice, put into a bowl, cover and refrigerate. Alternatively, put into a plastic bag, twist the end, and refrigerate until needed. They will keep for 5 or 6 hours or overnight without discolouring.
Roast potatoes may be cooked in extra virgin olive oil, top-quality sunflower oil, duck fat, goose fat, pork fat (lard) or beef dripping. Each gives a delicious but different flavour. Depending on the flavour and texture you like, choose from the following cooking methods:
Toss the potatoes in the chosen fat and cook.
If you prefer a crunchier crust, put the peeled potatoes into a deep saucepan, cover with cold water, bring to the boil, simmer for 2–4 minutes only and drain. Dry each blanched potato and score the surface of each one with a fork. Then toss in the chosen oil or fat, season with salt and cook in a single layer in a heavy roasting pan in a preheated oven at 230ºC/450ºF/gas mark 8.
Drain the blanched potatoes, then put the saucepan with the potatoes inside over a medium heat, and shake the pot to dry the potatoes and fluff the blanched surface. Toss in your chosen oil or fat, season with salt and roast as above.
Note: some cooks, to create an even crunchier crust, like to toss the potatoes in a little flour seasoned with salt and freshly ground pepper and maybe a pinch of cayenne pepper or smoked paprika.
Yoghurt with Honey and Dates
unsweetened natural yoghurt, very cold
Medjool dates, fresh
fresh almonds or lightly toasted almonds
fresh mint leaves
For each person half-fill a pudding bowl or glass with yoghurt.
Stone dates and chop them roughly. Put a few on the top of each helping of yoghurt.
Spoon a good dollop of thick cream over the top, and then trickle over 1 teaspoon of runny honey.
Scatter a few almonds and a couple of shredded mint leaves on top.
The Bord Gáis Energy Irish Book Awards announced their shortlist in the Avonmore Cookbook of the year category. Kevin Dundon’s Modern Irish Food, Chapter One Ross Lewis, 30 Years at Ballymaloe Darina Allen, Rachel’s Everyday Kitchen Rachel Allen, The Nations Favourite Food, Neven Maguire, The Weekend Chef Catherine Fulvio. You can vote for your favourite at www.irishbookawards.ie
Seek out heritage Woodside Saddleback pork from Martin and Noreen Conroy if you really want a fantastic joint of juicy (chemical free) pork with crackling. It sells out early at Midleton Farmers Market on a Saturday or Mahon Point on a Thursday – 087 2767206.
Ballymaloe Cookery School 12 Week Certificate graduate Caroline Gray has opened the cutest Café Gray in Greystones in Co Wicklow – I haven’t managed to get there yet but I hear terrific reports. 087-1260206.
I’m often asked for recommendations for places to eat or stay in Dublin. The capital food scene is exploding at present but I’m set in my ways and No. 31 in Leeson Close is still my home from home in Dublin. Great breakfast, love the fluffy cheese omelette and the little bowl of porridge! www.number31.ie
Gillian Hegarty’s Tuesday Supper Club at Ballymaloe House
Tuesday 19th November – Gillian prepares and cooks a Tuscan Dinner and on Tuesday 26th November Sunil Ghai from Ananda Restaurant in Dublin will join Gillian in the kitchen. Set four course meal including aperitif for €45 – to book – 021 4652531.