- Beetroot – Three delicious vegetables in one.
- How to cook Beetroot
- Hot Beetroot with Cream and Parsley
- Beetroot Tops (Stalks and Leaves)
- Beet Stalks with Olive Oil and Mint
- Globe Artichokes with Melted Butter
- Melted Green Onions with Thyme Leaves
- Asparagus and Spring Onion Tart
- Rhubarb and Custard Meringue Tart
- Sweet Cicely
- Sweet Cicely Custard
The Hungry Gap is almost over, that’s the name gardeners traditionally gave to the 3 or 4 weeks between the end of the Winter vegetables – roots, kale and leeks and the beginning of the Summer bounty when there is little or no fresh produce available in gardens and virtually no greens on the supermarket shelves. Well, here at the Ballymaloe Cookery School, our Farm shop has been super busy for the past seven weeks since isolating regulations were introduced. People all over the country are discovering the seasonal treasures in their own parishes, local honey producers, farmhouse cheese makers, fish smokers, poultry and egg producers, charcuterie makers and artisans of all shapes and sizes.
We’re so fortunate to be in the midst of a 100 acre organic farm in East Cork with hens, pigs, cows, a micro diary which yields Jersey milk, home-made butter, buttermilk, yoghurt and thick rich cream everyday. A Bread Shed in a converted mega trailer and a Fermentation Palace in another repurposed trailer, but best of all from the food point of view is an acre block of greenhouses (a relic of a horticultural enterprise which operated right into the 1970’s ) which we now use as a protected garden. Although it’s not heated, the crops mature 2 or 3 weeks earlier than outdoor vegetables and herbs.
I feel elated when the first of the beetroot is ready to harvest. Three super delicious vegetables in one, the beets, stalks and leaves. Most people just think of pickled beetroot but the young beets are unbelievably delicious served as a hot vegetable particularly with a roast duck or a fish gratin. I pickle the stalks too. They cook in a minute or two, drizzle them with extra virgin olive oil and add a little shredded fresh mint for a feast. We add them to stews, fish dishes, on and on.. but certainly don’t waste a scrap.
We also have the first bunches of Spring onions and the new seasons Sturon onions are bigger than a golf ball by now with lots and lots of green leaf. I’ve been melting the sliced bulbs in extra virgin olive oil for 4 or 5 minutes on a gentle heat, then adding every scrap of the sliced greens, some thyme leaves… A gorgeous accompaniment to a main dish or add a good dollop of cream to make an unctuous sauce to accompany a steak. The green spears of asparagus continue to pop up in beds in the garden so do try this asparagus and spring onion tart sometime during the few short weeks when Irish asparagus is in season.
The pea pods are already forming lots of pea shoots and flowers so we’ll have those in a couple of weeks but guess what – we’ll have some new potatoes ready to harvest and sell this coming week. There’s something especially exciting about the first of the new potatoes, every year when we sit down to enjoy the first of the crop, we make a wish and I remember my parents annual refrain, “Please God, hope we’ll all be as well this time next year”, all the more poignant in the midst of this Covid 19 Pandemic.
We’ve also had the very first globe artichokes this week. Simply cooked, in boiling well salted water with a dash of vinegar. Then served with a little bowl of lemon butter to dip the base of each leaf in and to enjoy the heart in chunks.
We’ve had lots of rhubarb for weeks now, I eat it in some shape or form almost every day in a sweet or savoury recipe and as a compote for breakfast. A little stewed rhubarb makes a change from apple sauce and cuts the richness of pork deliciously.
We’ve got masses of rhubarb recipes, here’s another one that you might like to try.
Beetroot – Three delicious vegetables in one.
The new seasons beets are just ready to harvest. The beets are swelling everyday but one can eat them from when they are the size of a table tennis ball. We love them served hot as a vegetable when they are young and sweet but we use the stalks and leaves too. The leaves are delicious served fresh in a salad or wilted down like spinach. The stalks and leaves can be served together as in the Beetroot Tops recipe or the stalks can be blanched, refreshed and drained, then tossed in a little extra virgin olive oil and some freshly snipped herbs and serve warm or cold.
How to cook Beetroot
Leave 5cm (2 inch) of leaf stalks on top and the whole root on the beet. Hold it under a running tap and wash off the mud with the palms of your hands, so that you don’t damage the skin; otherwise the beetroot will bleed during cooking. Cover with cold water and add a little salt and sugar. Cover the pot, bring to the boil and simmer on top, or in an oven, for 15-20 minutes (in May/June when they are young) depending on size (they can take 1-2 hours in late Autumn and Winter when they are tough). Beetroot are usually cooked if the skin rubs off easily and if they dent when pressed with a finger. If in doubt test with a skewer or the tip of a knife. Use in chosen recipe.
Hot Beetroot with Cream and Parsley
675g (1 1/2 lbs) beetroot, cooked
15g (1/2oz) butter
salt and freshly ground pepper
a sprinkling of sugar
150-175ml (5-6fl ozs) cream
2 tablespoons of coarsely chopped parsley
Peel the freshly cooked beetroot, use rubber gloves for this operation if you are vain! Chop the beetroot flesh into cubes. Melt the butter in a sauté pan, add the beetroot toss, add the cream, allow to bubble for a few minutes. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper and sugar. Taste and add a little lemon juice if necessary. Scatter with fresh parsley and serve immediately.
Beetroot Tops (Stalks and Leaves)
Young beetroot tops are full of flavour and are often unnecessarily discarded; but if you grow your own beetroots, remember to cook the stalks as well. When the leaves are tiny they make a really worthwhile addition to the salad bowl, both in terms of nutrition and flavour. This isn’t worth doing unless you have lovely young leaves. When they become old and slightly wilted, feed them to the hens or add them to the compost.
450g (1lb) fresh beetroot tops
salt and freshly ground pepper
butter or olive oil
Keeping them separate, cut the beetroot stalks and leaves into rough 5cm (2in) pieces. First cook the stalks in boiling salted water (1.8 litres/3 pints water to 1 1⁄2 teaspoons salt) for 2-4 minutes or until tender. Then add the leaves and cook for a further 2–3 minutes. Drain, season and toss in a little butter or olive oil. Serve immediately.
Beet Stalks with Olive Oil and Mint
Prepare and cook the beet stalks as above, drain well. Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil and sprinkle with freshly chopped spearmint. A simple but truly delicious combination.
In season: May-early June
Here are three different basic methods of cooking beet greens.
900g (2lb) fresh beetroot leaves, with stalks removed (cook stalks separately)
salt, freshly ground pepper and a little freshly grated nutmeg
50-110g (2-4oz) butter
Method 1 (Wilted Method)
Wash the prepared beetroot leaves and drain. Melt a scrap of butter in a wide frying pan, toss in as many beetroot leaves as will fit easily, season with salt and freshly ground pepper. As soon as it wilts and becomes tender, strain off all the liquid, increase the heat and add some butter and freshly grated nutmeg. Serve immediately.
Method 2 (Buttered Beet Greens)
Wash the prepared beetroot leaves and drain. Put into a heavy saucepan on a very low heat, season and cover tightly. After a few minutes, stir and replace the lid. As soon as the leaves are cooked, about 5-8 minutes approx., strain off the copious amount of liquid that beetroot releases and press between two plates until almost dry. Chop or puree in a food processor if you like a smooth texture. Increase the heat, add butter, correct the seasoning and add a little freshly grated nutmeg to taste.
Method 3 (Buttered Beet Greens)
Cook the beet greens uncovered in a large saucepan of boiling salted water until soft, 4-5 minutes approx. Drain and press out all the water. Continue as in method 2. Method 3 produces fresher coloured leaves.
Beet Greens with Cream
Cook the beet greens by method 2 or 3, drain very well. Add 225-340ml (8-12fl oz) cream to the beetroot and bring to the boil, stir well and thicken with a little roux if desired, otherwise stir over the heat until the beetroot has absorbed most of the cream. Season with salt, pepper and freshly grated nutmeg to taste. Creamed beet greens may be cooked ahead of time and reheated.
Poached Eggs with Beet Greens
A classic dish and one of the most delicious combinations.
Serve freshly poached free-range organic eggs on top of creamed beet greens – one of our favourite lunch or supper dishes.
Globe Artichokes with Melted Butter
Whole Globe artichokes are quite fiddly to eat. First you pull off each leaf separately and dip in the sauce. Eventually you are rewarded for your patience when you come to the heart! Don’t forget to scrape off the tickly ‘choke’; then cut the heart into manageable pieces, sprinkle with a little sea salt before you dip it into the remainder of your sauce. Simply Delicious!
6 globe artichokes
1.1 litres (2pints) water
2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons approx. white wine vinegar
175g (6oz) butter
1-2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
Some restaurants do very complicated preparation but I merely trim the base just before cooking so the artichokes will sit steadily on the plate, rub the cut end with lemon juice or vinegar to prevent it from discolouring.
Have a large saucepan of boiling water ready, add 2 teaspoons of vinegar and 2 teaspoons of salt to every 2 pints of water, pop in the artichokes and bring the water back to the boil. Simmer steadily for about 25 minutes. After about 20 minutes you could try testing to see if they are done. I do this by tugging off one of the larger leaves at the base, it should come away easily, if it doesn’t continue to cook for another 5 – 10 minutes. Remove and drain upside down on a plate.
While they are cooking simply melt the butter and add lemon juice to taste.
Put each warm artichoke onto a hot serving plate, serve the sauce or melted butter in a little bowl beside it. Artichokes are eaten with your fingers, so you might like to provide a finger bowl. A spare plate to collect all the nibbled leaves will also be useful.
Melted Green Onions with Thyme Leaves
We so look forward to cooking the new season’s onions this way. They are sweet, mild and melting, delicious with all sorts of things, but particularly good with a well-hung sirloin or chump steak or a duck breast.
900g (2lbs) young green onions
3 – 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons thyme leaves
salt and freshly ground pepper
Peel and trim young green onions, leaving the root intact. Slice the white and green parts of the onions into rounds. Heat the extra virgin olive oil in a heavy-bottomed saucepan and toss the onions in it. Add the thyme leaves and season with salt and pepper. Cook over a low heat for about 15 minutes until soft. Season to taste and serve in a hot vegetable dish.
Asparagus and Spring Onion Tart
110g (4ozs) white flour
50g (2oz) butter
1 egg, preferably free-range
150g (5ozs) asparagus, trimmed and with ends peeled
15g (1/2oz) butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
250g (9ozs) onion, finely chopped (we use about half spring onion complete with green tops and half ordinary onion)
110g (4ozs) Irish Cheddar cheese, grated
3 eggs, preferably free-range
110ml (4fl ozs) 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.
Rhubarb and Custard Meringue Tart
300g (10oz) sweet shortcrust pastry, chilled made from:
200g (7oz) white flour
100g (3 1/2oz) butter
pinch of salt
1 egg yolk (keep white aside for meringue)
2-3 tablespoons cold water approx.
1 kg (2 1/4lb) red rhubarb, cut into 3cm (1 1/4 inch) lengths
3 egg yolks
120g (scant 4 1/2oz) sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons plain flour
3 egg whites
175g (6oz) caster sugar
1 x 26cm (10 1/2 inch) tin, preferably with a pop-up base
Preheat the oven to 200ºC/400°F/Gas Mark 6.
First make the pastry.
Sieve the flour with the salt, cut the butter into cubes and rub into the flour with the fingertips. Keep everything as cool as possible; if the fat is allowed to melt the finished pastry may be tough. When the mixture looks like coarse breadcrumbs, stop.
Whisk the egg yolk and add the water. Take a fork or knife, (whichever you feel most comfortable with) and add just enough liquid to bring the pastry together, then discard the fork and collect it into a ball with your hands, this way you can judge more
accurately if you need a few more drops of liquid. Although rather damp pastry is easier to handle and roll out, the resulting crust can be tough and may well shrink out of shape as the water evaporates in the oven. The drier and more difficult-to-handle pastry will give a crisper shorter crust.
Cover with cling film and chill for half an hour if possible, this will make it less elastic and easier to roll out. Roll out the pastry and line the tin. Line with greaseproof paper and fill with baking beans. Bake ‘blind’ for 20 minutes approx. until the pastry is three-quarters cooked, remove from the oven. Remove the baking beans, brush the base with beaten egg wash and place back in the oven for another 5 minutes.
Slice the rhubarb and spread over the pastry base.
Whisk together the egg yolks, sugar, vanilla extract and flour and spread over the rhubarb. Bake in a preheated oven for 10 minutes, this will start the rhubarb cooking.
Meanwhile, whisk the egg whites until fluffy. As they stiffen, trickle in the caster sugar and continue to whisk until stiff.
Remove the tart from the oven and pipe or spread the meringue on top.
Reduce the heat to 180ºC/350°F/Gas Mark 4, return to the oven. Bake for a further 25 minutes.
Cool on a wire rack and serve with softly whipped cream.
Wild and Free
Myrrhis odorata perennial
Sweet Cicely is also known as myrrh. I’ve had this old cottage-garden perennial ever since we designed and planted the formal herb garden in 1986. It’s a little treasure that re-emerges in spring with fern-like leaves and fluffy white flowers. The leaves have a slightly sweet, aniseed and slightly liquorice flavour and help to cut the acidity in fruit tarts. It is known as a ‘sugar saver’.
This is a trouble-free plant that certainly deserves to be better known.
The delicate lacy leaves are particularly pretty as a garnish for sweet dishes and are especially pretty when frosted with egg white and caster sugar.
In the kitchen
All parts of sweet cicely are edible, although we find the leaves the most
appealing. It’s one of the few herbs that can be used for garnishing sweet and some savoury dishes – both the flowers and the herbs can be used. Because the leaves have a sweet aniseedy flavour, one can add them to any poached fruit in quite large quantities to reduce the sugar needed. Jekka McVicar suggests combining with lemon balm to add a haunting flavour. We also love to crystallise the leaves to decorate cakes and desserts. Leaves can be snipped into salads, scrambled eggs and omelettes with a mixture of herbs. I’ve also tried rubbing the leaves on furniture as a polish, particularly for oak, but there are easier ways to polish your furniture. The fluffy white flowers are pretty scattered over summer fruit and salads. The stalks of sweet cicely can be used in ice cream to give an aniseedy flavour, similar to Pernod.
Sweet Cicely Custard
This basic sauce is usually flavoured with a vanilla pod but can be made with any number of other ingredients such as lemon or orange rind or mint. We love to infuse this custard with sweet cicely.
Makes 1 pint (600ml) approx.
1 pint (600ml) milk
1oz (25g) sweet cicely leaves and flower heads, crushed slightly
6 organic egg yolks
2ozs (50g) castor sugar
Put the sweet cicely into a saucepan with the milk. Bring almost to the boil.
Remove from the heat and leave to infuse for 10 minutes.
Whisk the egg yolks with the sugar until thick and light. Whisk in half the warm milk and then whisk the mixture back into the remaining milk. Cook over a very low heat, stirring constantly with a straight-ended wooden spoon, until the custard thickens slightly. Your finger should leave a clear trail when drawn across the back of the spoon.
Remove from the heat at once and strain into a cold bowl. Cool, cover and chill in a bowl of iced water. The custard can be kept for up to 2 days in the fridge.
Serve with poached rhubarb or rhubarb tart.