I’ve got a whole stack of cookbooks on my desk to review, some since before Christmas when almost every post brought another title – so many it wasn’t possible to reach them all.
There were several that I was particularly taken with, one was the Lettercollum Cookbook. Author Karen Austin’s story is a particularly intriguing one; she was on her way to Australia, one Christmas when she met Con McLoughlin who brought her to West Cork. She’s not the first and certainly won’t be the last to be totally seduced by the landscape and the people – and the sun shone for the entire week. She and Con got together with a few friends to buy a dilapidated Victorian house with 12 acres of land in 1983. They planned to lead the ‘good life’, get away from pollution and traffic jams and try their hand at sustainable living – on her own admission, they had lots of grand plans and no experience, quite a combo.
Years of hard work and lots of fun ensued but it didn’t pay the bills so they decided to open a hostel at Lettercollum House, word quickly spread of the delicious organic food made from fresh vegetables and fruit from their garden. After a couple of years they upgraded to a guesthouse but big houses are like sponges they soak up money – there’s almost always something that requires urgent attention and then one has to start all over again. What to do?
In July 2004 they launched the Lettercollum Kitchen Project in the town of Clonakilty, which has become an institution – they cook their beautiful produce in the kitchen behind the shop. They satisfy their yearning to travel by taking groups to France and Spain to cook. The Lettercollum Cookbook is a collection of the beautifully simple recipes that Karen has developed over the years.
Karen has travelled from Bali to Cadaqués, Tripoli to Timoleague and brought inspiration for new flavours and ingredients back to West Cork. Her recipes are a blend of Irish cooking with a sprinkling of the exotic.
Fodors have named her “master of the vegetarian and ethnic repertory”. There’s a little fish in there too and a hint of chorizo. The book was published by Onstream and many of the beautiful photographs are by Arna Rún Rúnarsdóttir.
Fish in Pakora Batter with Spicy Wedges
4 x 150g fresh white fish
4 heaped tbsp gram flour
(or plain white flour)
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder
1-2 red chillies, finely chopped
1 dssp crushed coriander seeds
or 1 tsp garam masala
Small bottle or can chilled beer
Vegetable/sunflower/rapeseed oil for frying
Spicy Potato Wedges
16-20 baby potatoes
2 tbsp olive oil
½ tsp chilli flakes
Preheat the oven to 180C (350F) Gas Mark 4.
First, make the spicy potato wedges. Wash the potatoes and cut into quarters – no need to peel. Put into a bowl and toss with the olive oil. Sprinkle with the paprika and chilli flakes and toss again. Season with a little salt.
Tip onto an oven tray, keeping in a single layer. Bake for 15 minutes, then give the tray a shake and bake for a further 15 minutes or until lightly crisp.
Cut the fish into 2cm pieces.
Sieve the gram flour into a bowl together with the salt and baking powder, chilli and spice. Regular flour may be used, but gram gives and interesting batter and means the recipe can be gluten-free.
Slowly whisk in some beer until you get a thick pouring batter. The batter should fall off the spoon in a thick stream. If it falls off in lumps, thin it with a little more beer. If it’s too runny, just sieve in a little more flour.
Carefully heat the oil in a wok, deep-fat fryer or saucepan. Test it’s hot enough by dropping a cube of bread, piece of onion or other vegetable into the oil. When it comes back quickly to the surface it’s ready.
Season the fish with a little salt and drop into the batter, mixing around to cover the fish completely. Carefully lower each piece into the hot oil, cooking no more than 5 or 6 pieces at a time, otherwise the oil temperature will fluctuate too much and the batter will cook unevenly. Turn the pieces after a minute or two, and when nicely browned remove and drain on kitchen paper.
Eat immediately with a serving of spicy wedges.
Suquet de Peix (Catalan Fish Stew)
2 red peppers
4 cloves garlic
6 waxy potatoes
4 large tomatoes or 1 x 400g tin tomatoes
1/3 glass brandy or 1 glass white wine
750ml fish stock
500g mussels or clams
600g monkfish or 800g hake on the bone
salt and pepper
1 slice white bread
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
small bunch parsley
For the picada, remove the crusts from the bread and cut into 1cm cubes. Heat a little olive oil in a pan and fry the bread until golden. Put the almonds into a bowl and cover with boiling water for a few minutes, then refresh with cold water. The skins of the almonds should now slip off. Put the fried bread, almonds and garlic into a food processor and buzz to a fine crumb (or mash together with a mortar and pestle). Slowly pour in enough olive oil to make a loose paste. Season with a little salt. Chop the parsley and stir in.
Peel and chop the onions. De-seed and chop the peppers into about 2cm dice. Peel and finely chop the garlic. Peel and cut the potatoes into 3cm chunks.
In a large pot cook the onions and peppers in a little olive oil until soft. Add the chopped garlic and cook on medium heat for a couple of minutes. Add the potatoes and cook for 5 minutes. Chop or grate the tomatoes on the coarse side of a grater, and add to the pot. Cook gently until the tomatoes break down.
Add the brandy or wine, followed by the fish stock. Continue cooking until the potatoes are tender. Season with salt and pepper. Leave to one side.
Clean the mussels and remove the beards. Discard any that are damaged or open. Skin the monkfish and cut into medallions about 1cm thick or cut the hake into four steaks – ideally your fishmonger will do this for you.
Put the stew back on the heat and stir in 1 tablespoon of the picada. Add the monkfish and then scatter over the mussels. (If you are using hake, cook for a couple of minutes before adding the mussels.) When the stew returns to the boil, turn it down. As soon as the mussels open, remove from the heat. Adjust the seasoning and serve with the remaining picada in a bowl on the side.
Falafel Burgers with Tahini and Lemon Sauce
200g dried chickpeas
1 x 400g can chickpeas,
1 large onion
3-4 cloves garlic
1 tsp salt
1 tbsp ground cumin
large handful coriander, chopped
large handful parsley, chopped
2-3 tbsp gram or plain flour
Tahini and Lemon Sauce
3 tbsp light tahini
1-2 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
juice 1 lemon
For the tahini sauce, put the tahini, garlic and lemon juice into a small bowl and mix together. It will become very thick. Thin with enough water to make a thick pouring sauce. Season to taste with a little salt.
Soak the dried chickpeas in cold water overnight. The next day, drain them and put them, uncooked, into a food processor and blitz until finely ground.
Drain the can of chickpeas and rinse them under the tap.
Peel and finely chop the onion and garlic.
Heat a small frying pan, add a little olive oil and fry the onions for 2-3 minutes then stir in the chopped garlic and fry for 1 minute longer.
Tip the onions and garlic into the ground chickpeas in the food processor together with the canned chickpeas, salt, ground cumin and chopped herbs.
Blitz everything until fairly smooth. Tip into a bowl and sieve in 2 tbsp of the gram flour and mix well. We use gram flour as it is gluten-free, but any flour will work.
Heat a large frying pan and pour in enough oil to cover the bottom. Wet your hands and form the mix into small burgers – not too thick – and slip them into the pan. If the mix is too wet to stay together, add a little more gram flour and try again. Flip them over and fry on the other side.
We serve these at home in toasted pitta bread with shredded lettuce and tomato at the bottom, a burger or two on top, drizzled with the tahini sauce.
Kale, Gorgonzola and Pumpkin Tart
500g pumpkin or butternut squash
1/2 tsp chilli flakes
1-2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 tsp fennel seeds
150g Gorgonzola, Crozier or Cashel Blue cheese
4 large eggs
salt and black pepper
1 pre-baked 26-28cm tart shell
Pre-heat the oven to180c (350F), Gas Mark 4.
Peel the pumpkin or squash and chop into 3cm pieces. Toss in a little olive oil with some salt and black pepper. Tip into a roasting tray and bake for 30 minutes, until the pumpkin is tender but not charred.
Wash the kale and strip out the tough stems by pulling the leaf up from the stem – it will come away easily. Chop the leaf into ribbons.
Heat a frying pan, add enough olive oil to just cover the bottom and add the chilli flakes, garlic and fennel seeds.
Cook gently for a couple of minutes, taking care not to burn the garlic, then add the chopped kale. Stir everything together and cook over a medium heat for 4-5 minutes, until the kale has wilted and softened.
Put the cooled, roasted pumpkin pieces into the tart shell and tuck in the kale around it. Crumble the cheese on top.
Crack the eggs into a bowl, then whisk in the cream and milk. Season with 1 level tsp salt and ¼ tsp pepper. Pour the mix over the vegetables in the tart shell. Fill as much as you can without it coming over the edge.
It’s important that the mix doesn’t spill because it will make the pastry soggy.
Bake for 20-25 minutes, until the filling is golden and set.
The Food Festival Season has started in earnest, The Taste the Wild Atlantic Way Street Food Festival and All Ireland Chowder Cook Off takes place in Kinsale today. The Dublin Bay Prawn Festival on 24-26 April is not to be missed ether. Don’t forget to check out www.litfest.ie for the Kerrygold Ballymaloe Literary Festival of Food and Wine on May 15th to 18th. We just got word that Joanna Blythman, author of “Swallow This” is coming and will speak on her new book with John McKenna and she will also join the panel discussion “How We Feed The Most Vulnerable” with Patrick Holden, Christian Puglisi, Rebecca Sullivan and Michael Kelly on Sunday 17 May at 11.30am
The Happy Pear Café in Greystones is owned by a happy pair of twins called David and Stephen Flynn. After ten years their fans range from young parents to pensioners, ladies-who-lunch to teens-on-the-run, Electric Picnickers to Hollywood stars.
They’ve always wowed their clientele on great vegetarian food and now they’ve shared their secrets in “The Happy Pear” Cookbook published by Penguin. Fresh and gorgeous tasting food, bursting with goodness.
At Ballymaloe Cookery School our short course season is in full swing. Coming up, Everyday Day Kitchens with Rachel Allen 27-29 April and Small Plate Ideas 24 April. Yummy comforting food to enjoy with your family every day or a selection of small plates to nibble and relish with a glass of wine. See www.cookingisfun.ie