New Year Resolutions

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Wonder how many of your New Year resolutions you’ve managed to keep so far – I’ve been hopeless about lots of things but this year I am determined to encourage as many people as I possibly can to grow some of their own food. Join the now worldwide renaissance in urban as well as rural farming and gardening.

It’s extraordinary what’s going on, particularly in the US where many people are further down the road of desperation than we are.
There’s a grass roots revolution, people are growing up walls, down walls, in window boxes, hanging baskets, on roofs, balconies, even on fire escapes although that’s not encouraged for obvious reasons. The ‘Grow Food not Lawns’ Movement attracts more devotees all the time.

Here in Ireland, allotments are in peak demand and the sales of polytunnels have skyrocketed. Once you’ve planted a few seeds and waited for the plants to grow into something delicious to eat – life changes. We appreciate the work of the growers and gardeners so much more plus one has the reassurance that the herbs, vegetables and fruit haven’t been sprayed with a cocktail of pesticides.

So if you haven’t already, got the bug, don’t worry, it’s not too late for this year – you’ve got several weeks to cogitate. Maybe get together with a few pals who live close by and make a plan. Each agree to grow 5 or 6 vegetables and then share. My best Top Tip is don’t be over ambitious, start small but you could be preparing the soil now. Put a layer of compost and maybe some powdered seaweed on top of the ground and let it sit until the weather warms up. The soil temperature needs to be 7°C before you sow seeds, otherwise they won’t germinate.

Well this is a cooking column but as we all know good nourishing food starts (whether its veg or meat) in rich fertile soil….but you could even start with a seed tray on your window sill, I live in the middle of a farm and I feel so blessed to have space to grow and produce quite a lot of our own food and it’s surprising how much is in the garden still in the depths of winter. All the gutsy hardy perennial herbs, rosemary, thyme, sage are thriving and ever more exciting the new seasons chives are already well above the ground, much earlier than usual – one of the bonus’s of climate change.

We also have lots of leeks, a few Brussels sprouts, masses of knobbly Jerusalem artichokes, parsnips, kale, chard…. Our carrots are finished but we have lots of cabbage that would never make it onto a supermarket shelf . A few slugs have discovered them but some careful washing in salted water sorts that out and they are sweet and delicious after a few nights frost. As are the black radishes, celeriac and swede…..turnips which are having their moment. Can you imagine the humble swede is becoming cool and swede chips are featuring on lots of menus.

Well that long list is certainly enough to rustle up lots of tasty meals either vegetarian or vegan and to serve as an accompanying dish to meat or fish. Think I’ll start with this Leek Framiche, like a quiche but super delicious.

Hot Tips
Date for the Diary:-
Pop up Dinner with our Winter 12 Week Certificate students on Saturday March 11th 2017. Welcome Aperitif at 6.30pm; three course dinner at 7pm. Tickets are €40 for Slow Food members, €45 non Slow Food members. Further details in a few weeks’ time.

Cooking for Baby and Toddlers: Natural and Wholesome Food
Everyone wants to feed their baby nourishing and wholesome food. Yet it’s difficult to know how and when to start offering solids. Many of us lack the confidence to make our own baby food Darina Allen is happy to pass on the tips and advice gleaned over years of feeding children and grandchildren totally without packets, cans or jars! An invaluable half-day course covers everything – choosing the ingredients, recipes, preparation tips, menus, storage, health and nutrition – the lot. Not only will it save you a small fortune but also it will be infinitely better for your baby. You’ll soon discover that making your own, nourishing baby food is quick, easy and surprisingly good fun. Also, by giving your baby lots of variety you’ll ensure that as they grow up they don’t become fussy eaters. This course is subsidised by the Ballymaloe Cookery. If you need to bring a child minder with you they are very welcome to take a walk around our gardens free of charge while you are attending the course.
Friday March 3rd 2017 at 2.30pm. www.cookingisfun.ie

Leek Flamiche

There are many variations on this theme, some have no cheese, others no bacon. Similar leek tarts and pies are made in Belgium, France and many parts of the UK, including Wales and Cornwall. One can use the filling to make into a gorgeous pie with pastry underneath and on top, or just on top. Either way it is delicious.

Serves 6-8
A pre-baked 22.5cm tart shell (see p.00) made with 225g shortcrust pastry –
Made with 175g flour
75g butter
1 egg yolk and a little water

450g white part of leeks, sliced in 1cm thick rings
50g butter
Salt and freshly ground pepper
2 eggs or 1 large egg and one egg yolk
300ml cream

100g rindless streaky raw bacon or cooked ham cut into lardons
75g Gruyère cheese, grated

22.5cm tart tin with removable base.
Preheat the oven to 180C/gas mark 4

Melt the butter in a heavy saucepan over a gentle heat. When it foams, add the sliced leeks. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper, toss, cover and cook gently until soft and tender but not coloured, about 10 minutes. Drain if necessary and allow to cool. Cut the bacon or bacon or ham into 5mm lardons. Heat a little extra virgin olive oil in a frying pan over a medium heat, add bacon and cook for 5-6 minutes or until slightly golden and cooked through. No need to re cook ham.
Meanwhile whisk the eggs and cream together, stir in the cooled leeks and ham or bacon and most of the grated cheese. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper.
Spoon into the pre-baked tart shell, sprinkle the remainder of the grated cheese on top and bake in the pre-heated oven for 35-40 minutes or until just set in the centre and golden on top. Remove from the tin and cool on a wire rack.
Serve warm.

Salad of Jerusalem Artichokes with Smoked Almonds and Preserved Lemon Dressing

Everyone loves this combination but if you’d rather have cooked artichokes, roast them in slices before combining the salad.

Serves 4

Salad
4 good handfuls of perky bitter lettuce leaves
2 small Jerusalem artichokes, scrubbed clean
a little freshly squeezed lemon juice
110g (4oz) of smoked almonds, rough chopped *(see note at end of recipe)
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Dressing
3 tablespoons (4 American tablespoons) extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon (1 American tablespoon + 1 teaspoon) white wine vinegar
2 teaspoons honey or agave syrup
a good pinch of sea salt
1/2 preserved lemon, seeds removed and finely chopped (see last week’s column)

Whisk all the ingredients for the dressing together, add the preserved lemon.

Wash and dry the salad leaves.

Next, use a mandolin to slice the artichokes paper thin – otherwise slice with a very sharp knife. Squeeze a little lemon juice over the artichokes to prevent them from discolouring whilst also adding some flavour.

Put the salad leaves into a bowl, add the artichoke slices and roughly chopped almonds. Pour over enough of the dressing and toss to coat the leaves. Taste and correct seasoning with salt and pepper if necessary. Serve immediately.

Note
* To Smoke Almonds
We hot smoke a lot of different ingredients in a biscuit tin over a gas jet. Just scatter 2 heaped tablespoons of apple wood chips on the bottom of the tin. Put a rack on top. Place the almond on top of the wire rack. Pop on top of the gas on a high heat until the wood chips start to smoke and cover the box. Lower the heat and smoke for 4 minutes. Turn off the heat and continue to smoke for a further 1 minute.

Jerusalem Artichoke Soup with Chorizo Crumbs

Serves 8-10

Jerusalem artichokes were a sadly neglected winter vegetable, but many people have discovered them in recent years. We love the flavour and of course they are brilliantly nutritious – packed with inulin. They look like knobbly potatoes and are a nuisance to peel, but if they are very fresh you can sometimes get away with just giving them a good scrub. Not only are they a smashing vegetable but they are also delicious in soups and gratins. They are a real gem from the gardeners point of view because the foliage grows into a hedge and provides shelter and cover for both compost heaps and pheasants!

50g (2oz) butter
560g (1 1/4 lb) onions, peeled and chopped
1.15kg (2 1/2 lbs) Jerusalem artichokes, scrubbed, peeled and chopped
salt and freshly ground pepper
1.1L (2 pints) light chicken stock
600ml (1 pint) creamy milk approx.

Chorizo Crumbs

Makes 175g (6oz)

4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
125g (4 1/2oz) chorizo, peeled and cut into 1/4 inch dice
100g (3 1/2oz) coarse breadcrumbs

First make the chorizo crumbs. Put the oil into a cool pan, add the diced chorizo. Toss on a low heat until the oil starts to run and the chorizo begins to crisp. Careful it’s easy to burn the chorizo, drain through a metal sieve, save the oil and return to the pan.

Increase the heat, add coarse breadcrumbs and toss in the chorizo oil until crisp and golden. Drain and add to the chorizo. (You’ll have more than you need but they’ll keep in a covered box in your fridge and are great to sprinkle over gratins, stews, etc)

Next make the soup. Melt the butter in a heavy bottomed saucepan, add the onions and artichokes. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper, cover and sweat gently for 10 minutes approx. Add the stock and cook until the vegetables are soft. Liquidise and return to the heat. Thin to the required flavour and consistency with creamy milk, and adjust the seasoning.

Serve in soup bowls or in a soup tureen. Scatter with a spoonful of chorizo crumbs.

Note
This soup may need more stock depending on thickness required.

Gillian Hegarty’s Chickpea, Swiss Chard and Tomato Stew

Gillian Hegarty, originally of Ballymaloe House originally brought this recipe from Rose Grey and Ruth Rogers from the River Café. Perfect for a winter evening.

Serves 6 – 8

175g (6oz) dried chickpeas, soaked overnight
1 large garlic clove, peeled
6 tablespoons olive oil
1 red onion, peeled and sliced
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 carrots, peeled and cut into small pieces
900g (2lb) Swiss chard leaves, washed and large stems removed (set aside to use in the recipe)
1 head of celery outer stalks removed peeled and diced finely
salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 dried chillies, crumbled
3 cloves of garlic peeled and chopped
2 teaspoons of fresh picked thyme leaves
225ml (8fl oz) white wine
2 tablespoons tomato sauce
3 handfuls flat leaf parsley chopped
extra virgin olive oil

Drain the chickpeas and place in a saucepan with water to cover, add the garlic, and 1 tablespoon (1 American tablespoon + 1 teaspoon) of olive oil. Bring to the boil, and then simmer for 45 minutes or until tender. Keep in their liquid until ready to use. Blanch the chard leaves and chop coarsely. Chop the chard stalks into half inch pieces.

Heat the remaining olive oil in a large pan over medium heat, add the onion and fry for a minute then season with salt and pepper. Put the lid on and cook for a further 20 minutes stirring frequently until they have completely collapsed.

Add the carrot, chard stalks and celery cook slowly for 15 minutes or until the carrots are tender. Season with salt, pepper and chilli. Add the garlic and thyme leaves. Cook for a further 5mins with the lid off. Pour in the wine and reduce almost completely. Add the tomato sauce and reduce until very thick. Add the chickpeas and mix. Season and cook for 10 minutes.

Add the chopped chard leaves at the very end to retain the colour and freshness.

Chop the parsley just before you are about to serve, Stir into the chickpeas, Drizzle with about 3 tablespoons (4 American tablespoons) of extra virgin olive oil.

Salad of Shaved Cauliflower and Brussels Sprouts with Red Onion, Raisins and Parmesan

This is a refreshing salad that can be served as a light starter or as part of a selection of salads. It goes particularly well with cold ham or cured meats such as salamis and chorizos. I also like it with spiced beef or coarse terrines.

Serves 6 – 8

50g (2oz) raisins soaked on boiling water for 1 hour
1 small cauliflower
12 Brussels sprouts peeled
225g (8oz) red onion
50g (2oz) roasted, peeled and chopped hazelnuts
2-4 tablespoons of olive oil
8 tablespoons Caesar Dressing (see recipe)
50g (2oz) grated parmesan
salt and pepper
2 tablespoons of pomegranate seeds optional

Trim the outside leaves and tough stalk off the cauliflower and break it into florets. Slice the cauliflower florets thinly, 1/2cm (1/4 inch), by hand or with a mandolin and place in a large bowl. Slice the peeled red onion and sprouts even more thinly and add to the cauliflower. Add in the drained raisins. Dress the salad with half of the olive oil and the Caesar dressing and toss thoroughly but gently. Add in 3/4 of the grated parmesan and mix again. Taste and correct seasoning add salt and pepper as necessary. Spread out in a large shallow bowl or plate and sprinkle on the hazelnuts and pomegranate seeds if using.

A final drizzle of oil and the remaining parmesan sprinkled over the salad and it is ready to serve. The salad can sit for an hour before serving.

Caesar Dressing

2 egg yolks, preferably free-range
2 tablespoons (2 American tablespoons + 2 teaspoons) lemon juice, freshly squeezed
1 x 2oz (50g) tin anchovies
1 clove garlic, crushed
a generous pinch of English mustard powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2-1 tablespoon Worcester sauce
1/2-1 tablespoon Tabasco sauce
6fl oz (175ml) sunflower oil
2fl oz (50ml) extra virgin olive oil
2fl oz (50ml) cold water

I make it in a food processor but it can also be made very quickly by hand. Drain the anchovies and crush lightly with a fork. Put into a bowl with the egg yolks, add the garlic, lemon juice, mustard powder, salt, Worcester and Tabasco sauce. Whisk all the ingredients together. As you whisk, add the oils slowly at first, then a little faster as the emulsion forms. Finally whisk in the water to make a spreadable consistency. Taste and correct the seasoning: this dressing should be highly flavoured.

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Darina Allen
By Darina Allen

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