We are in the midst of a real crisis in food production. Increasingly farmers and food producers are being paid well below an economic level for their produce and the general public seem totally unaware. Dairy farmers, encourage to increase their herd sizes and milk production are now getting 22 cents a litre from the farm – last time I checked it cost between 0.75c and 1.29 cents a litre in the supermarket. Where’s the fairness in that and what gives the rest of us the right to assume that cheap food at any cost is our right. The farmers and fishermen are caught in a helpless stranglehold in the battle between the multiples often having over borrowed to meet a promised demand. There are indeed many who cannot afford to spend any more than they do on their weekly food shopping but there are also many who knowing the situation would happily pay a little more if they were sure the money was going back to the food producer. I don’t know the answer – I wish I did but an answer we must find soon…….
I’m also amazed at the number of people who do not understand that ‘buy one get one free’ does not mean that the supermarket is providing the second item free, rather it is the producer who often has no option but to do so which further depresses their income even further.
At least, the conversation about food waste is gathering momentum. There are now many initiatives including Food Cloud, Bia Food, Stop Food Waste and Fruta Feia – Ugly Veg. In 2013 its founder Isabel Soares set up in Portugal an initiative to combat food waste by selling at bargain prices some of the perfectly edible fruit and vegetables that are not currently reaching the consumer for mere aesthetic reasons.
The project model works on a cooperative basis. Every week, Fruta Feia buy misshapen fruit and vegetables directly from the farmers who cannot sell them on the regular market because of EU regulations and supermarket demands for uniformity. They, then sell at half the regular price of perfect produce, so the farmers see a much higher % of their crop and the general public are only too happy to buy the produce that the supermarket consider ‘garbage’. At present there are over 3,000 people on a waiting list for the Fruta Feia box scheme. They have just been awarded a European Commission grant of €300,600 to roll the model right across Portugal. This is music to my ears. After years of being outraged by the wanton waste created by the notion that undersized or oversized ‘uglier’ fruit and vegetables were less saleable or nutritious or delicious.
There is another element I love about Fruta Feia, volunteers run workshops in primary schools to teach children about food waste and why they shouldn’t shun produce that looks less than perfect. Surprise, surprise, they find that children are very receptive to the message and think ugly fruits are funny and appealing….
This is timely at the start of the new growing season. We’ve been feasting on rhubarb over the past few weeks and I’ve just enjoyed the first of the seakale, asparagus and new potatoes. The latter were planted on December 22nd 2015 and are grown in the greenhouse. The new potato crop will be harvested out just in time to plant salad leaves.
I’m not a deeply religious person but each new year when I taste the first of these delicious crops, fresh from the farm and garden, I give thanks to the good Lord and Mother Nature for the earth’s bounty, but also to the farmers and food producers who work day in and day out to produce food to nourish and sustain us. They deserve to be appreciated and adequately paid for their efforts.
Northern Ireland Year of Food and Drink 2016
Food Northern Ireland and Taste of Ulster have put together a brilliant little handbook showcasing food producers, farmers, fishermen, breadmakers, fruit and vegetable growers, farmers markets…..it’s a revelation. http://www.nigoodfood.com/guides
Kerrygold Ballymaloe Literary Festival of Food and Wine
May 20th-22nd 2016
At this year’s Litfest, Canadian writer, Susan Musgrave, who has been described as everything from a standup comedian to an eco-feminist will be talking about her latest book and first cookbook, A Taste of Haida Gwaii in the Ballymaloe Cookery School on Sunday May 22nd. Susan has received several awards in different categories of writing, poetry, fiction, non-fiction, personal essay, children’s writing and for her work as an editor. She has published close to 30 books. She lives on Haida Gwaii and teaches poetry at the University of British Columbia.
Flavours of Burma
A trip to Burma, now known as Myanmar, was one of my most intriguing adventures of 2015. Burmese food is virtually unknown outside the country, but word of its unique multi-ethnic cuisine is spreading throughout the culinary world. Delicious salads, soups, dahls, curries, noodle and rice dishes with intriguing Thai, Indian and Chinese influences, reflecting its geographical location. When I came home, we cooked many of the Burmese recipes I’d tasted and learned in the restaurants, cafes and tea-shops of Yangon, Heho, Lake Inle, Mandalay, and Bagan to a hugely enthusiastic response.
On Friday May 27th , we’ll teach a Flavours of Burma course, and introduce you to the essential elements of Burmese cooking and provide a repertoire of recipes that can be reproduced with ingredients, readily available from your nearest Asian shop.
This course includes an optional slide show of my Burmese adventure. www.cookingisfun.ie
Asparagus and Spring Onion Tart
110g (4ozs/scant 1 cup) white flour
50g (2oz/1/2 stick) butter
1 egg, preferably free-range
150g (5ozs) asparagus, trimmed and with ends peeled
15g (1/2oz) butter
1 tablespoon (1 American tablespoon + 1 teaspoon) olive oil
250g (9ozs) onion, finely chopped (we use about half spring onion complete with green tops and half ordinary onion)
110g (4ozs/1 cup) Irish Cheddar cheese, grated
3 eggs, preferably free-range
110ml (4fl ozs/1/2 cup) cream
salt and freshly ground pepper
1 x 18cm (7 inch) quiche tin or 1 x 18cm (7 inch) flan ring
First make the shortcrust pastry.
Sieve the flour into a bowl and rub in the butter until the mixture resembles coarse breadcrumbs. Mix in the egg to bind the pastry. Add a little water if necessary, but don’t make the pastry too sticky. Chill for 15 minutes. Then roll out the pastry to line the quiche tin or flan ring to a thickness of 3mm (1/8 inch) approx. Line with greaseproof paper and fill to the top with dried beans and bake blind for approximately 20 minutes in a moderate oven, 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4. Remove the beans, egg wash the base and return to the oven for 1-2 minutes. This seals the pastry and helps to avoid a ‘soggy bottom’.
Next make the filling.
Melt the butter, add the olive oil and onions; sweat the onions with a good pinch of salt until soft but not coloured.
Cook the asparagus in boiling salted water until al dente, then drain. When it is cool enough to handle, cut into 1cm (1/2 inch) pieces.
Whisk the eggs in a bowl; add the cream, almost all the cheese, onion and the cooked asparagus. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper. Pour into the pastry case, sprinkle the remainder of the cheese on top and bake in a moderate oven 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4, for 40-45 minutes.
NOPI’ s Chargrilled Asparagus with Romesco Sauce and Apple Balsamic
1 kg asparagus, woody bases trimmed (800g)
40 ml balsamic vinegar
60 ml apple juice
1 teaspoon caster sugar
1 tablespoon olive oil
10 g flaked almonds, toasted
Coarse sea salt and black pepper
1 dried ancho chilli (10g), soaked in water for 30 minutes, drained, de-seeded and roughly chopped
40 g whole almonds
50 g crustless sourdough bread, cut into 3cm cubes
3 medium plum tomatoes, cut into 1½ cm wedges (200g)
1 tablespoon good quality sherry vinegar
25 ml olive oil
1 medium red chilli, de-seeded and roughly chopped
Place all the ingredients for the Romesco sauce in a small bowl, along with 1 teaspoon salt and a good grind of black pepper. Stir well, and then leave in the fridge to marinate for 4 hours or preferably overnight. Transfer to a food processor and blitz to form a paste. Place in a small pan and warm through just before serving.
Bring a medium saucepan of salted water to the boil and add the asparagus. Blanch for 1-2 minutes, until al dente, then strain and refresh under cold water. Set aside to dry.
Place the balsamic vinegar, apple juice and caster sugar in a small pan and place on a high heat. Cook for 4-5 minutes, until it has reduced by half and has a thick, sticky consistency.
Place a ridged griddled pan on a high heat. Toss the asparagus with the olive oil and 1 teaspoon of salt and put them on to the griddle pan. Chargrill for 2 minutes, turning halfway through so that both sides get scorched. Spread the Romesco sauce on individual plates and place the asparagus on top. Drizzle the balsamic reduction on top, sprinkle over the flaked almonds and serve.
NOPI, Yotam Ottolenghi and Ramael Scully
Asparagus with Poached Eggs and Hollandaise
Serves 2 lucky people, a last minute treat but so worth the wait.
10 spears of asparagus
2 beautiful fresh eggs
Hollandaise Sauce – (see recipe, p.00)
2 tablespoon of freshly grated Parmesan
Flaky sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
2 slices sourdough bread
First make the Hollandaise sauce; keep warm
Then prepare the asparagus.
Put on two saucepans of water, one for the asparagus, and the other to poach the eggs.
Heat a grill pan on a high heat to sear the bread. Cook the asparagus in 4cm (1½in) boiling salted water for 2-3 minutes, or until the tip of a knife will pierce the root end easily. Drain.
Meanwhile crack an egg into a cup, then slide the egg into the other pot of barely simmering water. Repeat with the second egg. Cook gently for 3-4 minutes, or until the egg whites are set and the yolk is still soft.
Meanwhile grill the bread on the hot pan.
Take two hot plates, slather the grilled bread with butter. Remove the eggs one at a time with a slotted spoon. Pop one on top of the bread, arrange five stalks of asparagus alongside and at an angle. Drizzle with Hollandaise and sprinkle with finely grated Parmesan and a few flakes of sea salt. Coarsely grind some black pepper on top, serve and enjoy ASAP.
Asparagus on Toast with Hollandaise Sauce
In season: late spring
This is a simple and gorgeous way to serve fresh Irish asparagus during its short season. We feast on it in every possible way for those precious weeks, roast, chargrilled, in soups, frittatas, quiches don’t forget to dip some freshly cooked spears in a soft boiled egg for a simple luxury. This was my father-in-law’s favourite way to eat Irish asparagus during its short season.
16-20 spears fresh green asparagus
Hollandaise sauce, (see recipe)
4 slices of homemade white yeast bread
sprigs of chervil
Hold each spear of asparagus over your index finger down near the root end, it will snap at the point where it begins to get tough. Some people like to peel the asparagus but we rarely do. Cook in about 2.5cm (1inch) of boiling salted water in an oval cast iron casserole. Cook for 4 or 8 minutes or until a knife tip will pierce the root end easily. Meanwhile make the toast, spread with butter and remove crusts. Place a piece of toast on a hot plate, put the asparagus on top and spoon a little Hollandaise sauce over. Garnish with a sprig of chervil and serve immediately.
Sea Kale on Toast
In season: late spring
Seakale is an exquisitely delicate vegetable much sought after vegetable in country house gardens in the 18th and 19th centuries. It is rarely if ever seen for sale in the shops but more adventurous garden centres now sell plants. It is relatively easy to grow, so is well worth cultivating. Replicas of the old seakale blanching pots with lids are now being reproduced, but a brick chimney liner covered by a slate works perfectly well. Even a black plastic bucket, though not aesthetically pleasing will suffice. Seakale thrives with a mulch of cinders.
Sow in spring and cover them with seakale pots or chimney liners and a slate to exclude the light in about November, then you will be rewarded with pale delicate shoots in early April. Seakale is perennial and visually it is altogether a beautiful plant with white flowers in summer and lots of bobbly seed heads in autumn.
Seakale is divine served with the first wild salmon or with some lobster or Dublin Bay prawns. One rarely has an abundance of seakale but one of our favourite ways to serve it at Ballymaloe is on toast with melted butter or hollandaise sauce.
600ml (1pint/2 1/2 cups) water
1 teaspoon salt
450g (1lb) seakale
55-85g (2-3oz/3/4 – 1 stick) butter
hollandaise sauce (see recipe) or melted butter
Wash the seakale gently and trim into manageable lengths – say 10cm (4inch) approx. Bring the water to a fast boil and add the salt. Add the seakale, cover and boil until tender – about 15 minutes. Just as soon as a knife will pierce the seakale easily, drain and serve on hot plates with a little hollandaise sauce or melted butter and lots of toast.
Seakale Tempura with Chervil Mayonnaise
Serves 6-8 as a starter
2 tablesp cornflour
250ml iced water
225g chervil mayonnaise
Mix the cornflour into the water. Put the flour into a bowl. Add the water gradually, stirring with chopsticks, it will be a bit lumpy at first but a will eventually be a light creamy texture. You may need to adjust the consistency by adding a drop more water or flour to get a thin even coating batter.
Heat the oil in a deep fry to 180C.
Trim the seakale and cut into pieces 10-11.5cm. Dip one piece into the batter and fry for a couple of minutes or until crisp but not brown. Taste for seasoning and adjust the batter if necessary. Continue to cook the rest, drain on kitchen paper.
Thin the mayonnaise with a little water to a dip-like consistency. Add lots of finely chopped chervil and a nice sprinkling of sea salt.
Serve the crisp tempura immediately with a little bowl of chervil mayonnaise.
I’ve become a huge fan of the sweet and intense flavour of roast rhubarb
900g (2lb) rhubarb
250-350g (9-12oz/generous 1 cup – 1 1/2 cups) sugar
Preheat the oven to 200˚C/400F/Gas Mark 6.
Slice the rhubarb into 2 1/2cm (1 inch) pieces and arrange in a single layer in a medium size oven proof dish. Scatter the sugar over the rhubarb and allow to macerate for 30 minutes. Roast in the oven for 20-30 minutes approximately depending on size, until the rhubarb is just tender.
Serve alone or with cream, ice-cream, panna cotta, labne……