ArchiveMay 2021

Picnics

What gorgeous weather for a picnic…well at least it’s heavenly here, blue skies and the sun’s shining.  Sod’s law will probably dictate that it’s lashing rain as you read this…but there’s optimism in the air so grab your picnic basket and head for the countryside…

I come from a long line of picnickers, those who know me will be well aware that there’s always a picnic basket in the boot of the car plus a ‘Granny trolley’ (not sure if that’s what you call one of those roll-along deep shopping bags).  In case I need to schlep my picnic over rough terrain to reach the perfect spot – a sheltered nook along the seashore, in a woodland, on a river bank or beside a lake or babbling brook…

I also keep an old frying pan, some firelighters, a little pack of kindling, a box of matches and some newspaper so I can build a little fire on a circle of stones (where appropriate) to cook a few sausages.  Good breakfast sausages take on a whole new dimension of flavour when cooked and eaten outdoors.

So what to pack into your picnic basket.  My picnics are often super simple, a loaf of good soda or sourdough bread and Jersey butter….a few ripe cherry tomatoes, a bunch of radishes, perhaps a smoked duck or chicken breast or maybe some smoked mackerel or salmon to slice into thin slivers – all brilliant pantry standbys.  The Gravlax recipe I gave on the 1st May 2021 is also a brilliant picnic food, we’ve been having fun experimenting with a beetroot and dill version which is moist and succulent as well as gorgeous to look at when sliced into thin beetroot tinged slices.  Bring a little pot of sweet dill mayonnaise to drizzle over the top and enjoy it with a brown yeast or rye bread. 

It’s hard to beat a freshly roast chicken.  Time it to come out of the oven just before you leave so it’s still juicy and gorgeous when you unpack your picnic.  A bowl of homemade mayonnaise with a little tarragon snipped in would complete the simple feast and of course a jar of Ballymaloe Relish.  Another favourite is a piece of glazed freshly cooked loin of bacon with a sugary glaze spiked with cloves.  A picnic can be super simple, I love to have some artisan salami or chorizo, canned mackerel or sardines too…  For bang for your buck, it’s hard to beat a couple of ripe avocados sprinkled with flaky sea salt, what could be easier…

Pop in some fruit, maybe ripe cherries or a punnet or two of Irish strawberries.  We love to dip them in a little mound of castor sugar and then into a little pot of whipped cream – simple, delicious and super easy.  Bring a chilled ripe watermelon in a cold box and cut it into wedges– instant deliciousness and of course an oozy cheese and crackers.

For a less spontaneous picnic, one can make a creamy quiche or some empanadas, a crunchy filo pie and a seasonal fruittart. 

Don’t forget Myrtle Allen’s chest of sandwiches which takes a little time to prepare but always gets a brilliant reaction and is pretty much a complete picnic in a loaf.  Bring along a bottle of chilled rosé and maybe some homemade lemonade, elderflower fizz and some artisan beer.

Here are a few suggestions….

Myrtle Allen’s Picnic Chest of Sandwiches

Serves 8 approx.

1 x 900g (2lbs) pan loaf

50g (2oz) approx. butter

a long sharp knife with a pointed top

a serrated bread knife

Sandwich fillings might include:

scrambled egg and chives

gravlax with sweet mustard sauce

roasted pepper, Mozzarella and pesto

mature Cheddar cheese with Ballymaloe Country Relish and cucumber pickle

roast chicken with red pepper mayonnaise and sunflower sprouts

tomato, buffalo Mozzarella, tapenade and basil leaves…..

Garnish: salad leaves, watercress, flat parsley, cherry tomatoes, spring onions

Insert the knife at the side just over the bottom crust, just inside the back of the loaf. Push it through until it reaches but does not go through the crust on the far side. Without making the cut any bigger through which the knife was inserted, work the knife in a fan shape as far forward as possible, then pull it out. Do the same from the opposite corner at the other end of the loaf. The bread should now be cut away from the bottom crust inside without a noticeable mark on the exterior of the loaf.

Next cut through the top of the loaf to make a lid, carefully leaving one long side uncut, as a hinge.

Finally, with the lid open, cut the bread away from the sides. Ease it carefully, it should turn out in a solid brick or a round, leaving an empty case behind.

Cut it into slices, long horizontal ones, square vertical ones or rounds, depending on the shape of the loaf. Carefully stack them, butter them and fill them with your chosen filling or fillings in the order in which they were cut. Don’t forget to season each sandwich. Press the sandwiches together firmly and fill them back, still in order into the loaf.

For a picnic.

Close the top of the case and wrap it up, it will gape slightly because of the extra bulk of delicious filling. The sandwiches will keep very fresh.  Add some crisp lettuce and watercress leaves, small ripe tomatoes, spring onions etc. to look like a little hamper overflowing with fruit and vegetables.


Cheddar Cheese Focaccia Sandwich

This soda bread focaccia can be whipped up in 2-3 minutesand it takes just 20-30 minutes to bake.  It is best eaten on the day it is made but is still perfectly edible next day and is also very good toasted.  Here we bake it flat with a bubbly Cheddar cheese topping.

Cheddar Cheese Focaccia (see recipe)

Filling

slices of chorizo or salami of your choice

hard-boiled eggs

homemade mayonnaise, sweet chilli sauce

rocket leaves

First make the bread (see recipe).

To Assemble

Cut the bread in squares and split or hinge. Butter or drizzle with extra virgin oil, top with slices of chorizo, hard-boiled eggs, mayonnaise, sweet chilli sauce and rocket leaves or another filling of your choice.

Cheddar Cheese Focaccia

450g (1lb) plain white flour, preferably unbleached

1 level teaspoon salt

1 level teaspoon bread soda (Bicarbonate of Soda/Baking Soda)

sour milk or buttermilk to mix – 400ml (14fl oz) approx.

110-175g (4-6oz) Irish mature Cheddar cheese

1 rectangular tin with deep sides 31 x 21cm (12 x 8 1/4 inch)

First fully preheat your oven to 230˚C/450˚F/Gas Mark 8.

Sieve all the dry ingredients.   Make a well in the centre.  Pour all of the milk in at once.  Using one hand, mix in the flour from the sides of the bowl. The dough should be softish, not too wet and sticky.  When it all comes together, turn it out onto a floured board.  Tidy it up, flip over and roll the dough into a rectangle, approx. 31 x 23cm (12 x 9 inches).   Brush the tin with extra virgin olive oil. Press the dough gently into the tin. Scatter the grated cheese evenly over the top.

Bake in a hot oven for 5 minutes, then turn down the oven to 200˚C/400˚F/Gas Mark 6 for about 20-25 minutes or until just cooked. The cheese should be bubbly and golden on top.

A little sprinkling of sliced spring onions would be delicious over the top.


Heirloom Tomato and Ricotta Tart

How about this gorgeous tart for your picnic.  It was originally inspired by a photo on the cover of Delicious magazine. The ricotta and pecorino filling is uncooked, so be sure to assemble the tart close to the time of eating.  Choose really ripe tomatoes.  I use the delicious buffalo ricotta made in West Cork for this dish.

Serves 8

For the Pastry

150g (5oz) plain white flour

75g (3oz) cold butter

a little water, to bind

1 beaten organic, free-range egg, to seal

For the filling

250g (9oz) buffalo ricotta

100g (3 1/2oz) pecorino cheese, grated

2 tablespoons double cream

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

1 tablespoon honey

2 tablespoons chopped basil, thyme and marjoram, plus extra leaves to garnish

zest of 1/2 organic lemon

flaky sea salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper

650g (1 1/2lbs) mixed ripe heritage and cherry tomatoes, including striped zebra (green), red and yellow cherry tomatoes, if available

First make the pastry. All the ingredients should be cold. Sift the flour into a large bowl. Cut the butter into cubes. Toss the cubes into the flour and then proceed to lift up a few cubes of butter at the time in each hand. Using your thumbs, rub the cubes of butter across the middle three fingers, towards the index fingers.

Allow the flakes of floured butter to drop back into the bowl, then pick up some more and continue until all the butter is rubbed in. As you rub in the butter, hold your hands well above the bowl and run your fingers through the flour to incorporate as much air as possible to keep the mixture cool. This whole process should only take a minute or two – careful not to rub the butter in too much, or the pastry will be heavy. The pieces should resemble lumpy breadcrumbs. If you are in doubt, shake the bowl and any larger pieces will come to the top. Add salt if using unsalted butter.

Using a fork, toss and stir the pastry as you add just enough water to bind, 2–3 tablespoons should do the trick. If you are in doubt, discard the fork and collect up the pastry with your hand as you will be able to judge more easily by feel if it needs a little more water. Careful not to make the pastry too wet or it will shrink in the oven. If the pastry is too dry, it will be difficult to roll out.

When the pastry has come together, turn it out onto the work surface and flatten it into an approx. 30cm round. Cover with greaseproof paper and, if possible, set aside in the fridge to rest for at least 15 minutes to allow the gluten to relax. The pastry will then be less likely to shrink in the oven.

Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°C/Gas Mark 4.

Roll out the pastry to a circle approx. 25cm (10 inch) in diameter. Lift the pastry over a 23cm (9 inch) greased tart tin and press down gently around the sides. Trim around the edges with a sharp knife and prick the base gently with a fork. Line with baking parchment and fill with baking beans.

Transfer the pastry case to the oven and bake ‘blind’ for about 25 minutes until pale and golden. Remove the baking beans and paper. Brush the part-baked pastry case all over with a little beaten egg and pop it back into the oven for 5–10 minutes until pale golden brown all over. Set aside to cool.

To make the filling, combine the ricotta and pecorino in a bowl. Add the double cream, extra virgin olive oil, honey, herbs, lemon zest, salt and pepper. Mix gently together. Taste a little dollop of the filling with a slice of tomato and correct the seasoning, if necessary. It might need a little more honey.

Slice the larger tomatoes and cut the smaller cherry ones in half lengthways or crossways, as you prefer.

Not long before serving, spoon the ricotta filling into the cooked pastry case and arrange the tomatoes on top. I like to arrange the sliced, bigger ones, including the green zebra over the base and top with the smaller cherry tomatoes. Season with salt, pepper, a little drizzle of honey (about 1/2 teaspoon) and lots of thyme and marjoram leaves. Garnish with a few little basil leaves and serve soon.

From ‘One Pot Feeds All’ by Darina Allen, published by Kyle Books


Spanakopita

Greek Spinach and Cheese Pie

Spanakopita can also be made in individual ‘snails’, but this delicious flaky version comes in a sauté pan.  This version is good for a picnic feast as it serves 12–15 people.  You can halve the recipe if you’re serving smaller numbers.

Serves 12-15

150g (5oz) butter

900g (2lbs) leeks, sliced and washed really well

6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

500g (18oz) onions, finely chopped

8 spring onions (both white and green parts), finely sliced

900g (2lbs) fresh spinach, weighed after the stalks have been removed, washed really well

6 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley

6 tablespoons chopped dill

350g (12oz) feta cheese, crumbled

125g (4 1/2oz) Parmesan cheese, grated

4 organic, free-range eggs, beaten

9 sheets of filo pastry, 30 x 43cm (12 x 17 inch) (about one packet)

15g (1/2oz) melted butter, for brushing

egg wash, made by beating 1 organic, free-range egg with 2–3 tablespoons whole milk

flaky sea salt, freshly ground black pepper and nutmeg

Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4.

Melt the butter in a 26cm (10 inch) ovenproof sauté pan and cook the sliced leeks with 2–3 tablespoons of water for 4–5 minutes until tender (older leeks may take slightly longer). Scoop the leeks out of the pan and set aside on a plate while you cook the spinach.

Heat the olive oil in the sauté pan, add the onions and spring onions, and sweat over a low heat for 3–4 minutes, covered, until soft but not coloured. Increase the heat to medium, add the spinach and toss well to coat it in the oil.  Season with salt, pepper and nutmeg.  Add the chopped parsley and dill, and continue to cook for 4–5 minutes, stirring, until the spinach has wilted.  Turn out the spinach mixture into a colander and set aside to drain and cool.

Combine the crumbled feta and 100g (3 1/2oz) of the grated Parmesan in a medium bowl and beat in the egg.  Add the well-drained spinach and the leeks and season to taste.

Brushing each sheet of filo with melted butter as you go, layer up the pastry in the base of the sauté pan or roasting dish so that it comes up the sides, leaving enough pastry hanging over the sides to fold over and encase the filling.

Spread the filling evenly over the pastry and bring up the sides of the filo to enclose the filling.  Score the top of the pie into a diamond or square pattern and brush all over with the egg wash.  Sprinkle the surface with the remaining 25g (1oz) grated Parmesan.

Put the sauté pan onto a gas jet at medium, cook for 3-4 minutes or until the pan heats and the base starts to brown.  Transfer to the oven and bake for about 45 minutes until puffed up and golden.

Serve, cut into wedges, while still warm and fluffy.

From ‘One Pot Feeds All’ by Darina Allen, published by Kyle Books

JR Ryall’s Dundee Cake

This cake is famous – we all love it.  JR Ryle, head pastry chef at Ballymaloe House is also an avid picnicker and always includes this in his basket.

Makes 1 x 18cm (7 inch) round cake or 900g (2lbs) loaf

225g (8oz) softened butter

225g (8oz) caster sugar

grated rind of 1 large orange

4 eggs

225g (8oz) plain flour, sifted

50g (2oz) ground almonds

25g (1oz) mixed candied peel

100g (4oz) currants

100g (4oz) sultanas

100g (4oz) raisins

50g (2oz) glacé cherries, quartered

40-50 split blanched and peeled almonds

Preheat the oven to 150°C/300°F/Gas Mark 2 and line an 18cm (7 inch) round tin or a 900g (2lbs) loaf tin.

Cream butter and sugar until smooth and light.  Beat the eggs.  Add in three stages alternating with a tablespoon of the flour between each addition. Beat thoroughly.  Mix ground almonds, dried fruit and orange rind before folding into the mixture.  Fold in the remaining flour carefully.  Turn the mixture into the prepared tin and arrange the split almonds over the entire top.

Bake in the preheated oven for 2 1/2 – 3 hours until a skewer comes out clean. Remove from the oven and allow 10 minutes before turning onto a wire rack to cool.

Herb Week

Prompted by National Herb Week, this week’s column is all about my beloved herbs – not just parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme… I’ll encourage you to be extra adventurous – experiment with less familiar herbs. I’m loving the bright celery flavour of the new season’s lovage that’s popping up in the Ballymaloe Cookery School Herb Garden. It’s a leafy perennial that grows about 5 feet tall and comes back every year. The tender young growth is particularly delicious in salads and in soups but we also enjoy this under-appreciated herb in scrambled eggs, omelettes and potato and tomato salads with lots of slivered spring onions and parsley.

Fresh herbs can literally transform the flavour of dishes and just like spices, herbs have many different flavours depending on how they are used. Whether they are added at the beginning of the cooking process, in the middle, at the end or scattered in sprigs over the final presentation.

Some, like rosemary and thyme oxidise and discolour within minutes of being chopped, sage is similar. You’ll also have noticed that the fresh young growth is milder than the robust flavour of the evergreen perennials so use accordingly.

The blue, nectar rich flowers of rosemary, thyme and sage attract bees in spring and early summer and also provide flowers and leaves for an aromatic posy on your kitchen table. All of these herbs have medicinal as well as culinary uses. Rosemary is a powerful anti-inflammatory, a rich source of antioxidants, boosts the immune system and helps to improve memory.

So how about a simple glass of rosemary tea every day, just pour boiling water over a generous sprig of rosemary, allow it to infuse for 3 or 4 minutes and enjoy.

Sage too has similar properties, the latter is another underused herb but I fry copious quantities of young leaves to scatter over fried eggs, pasta or a risotto. They’re addictive and have you tried the Tuscan snack Salvia Fritti or Sage and Anchovy Fritters.  Talk about addictive, there never seems to be enough… the perfect nibble with a glass of crisp dry white Soave or a fino.

As ever I am encouraging you to grow your own herbs, close to your kitchen door so you can pop out on a whim to snip a few leaves (and flowers) to add magic to what might otherwise be a totally mundane dish.

Urbanites can grow lots on a window sill, in large pots or in galvanised buckets.

Check out your local garden centre or seek out passionate small growers at Farmer’s Markets to find unusual varieties of familiar herbs. For example, there are numerous forms of mint – apple mint, strawberry mint, pineapple mint, ginger mint, liquorice mint, chocolate mint, Moroccan mint…but spearmint and peppermint are probably the most useful. Apparently there are over 600 varieties on the planet.

There are also numerous sages, the purple and variegated are also easy to source but at least have common sage. Lemon balm is another perennial ‘must have’ and the variegated version, with its green and cream leaves is also worth looking out for.

But back to Herb Week, now in its 15th year, it was created in 2006 to celebrate the nutritional and medicinal value of herbs.  Check out the web for further information.

This year, parsley is the herb of the year – well doesn’t this versatile favourite deserve to be celebrated. I grow both curly and flat parsley and use it in copious quantities. No one should have to buy parsley and one can never have too much. It is a biennial (lasts 2 seasons) and bet you didn’t know that it has more Vitamin C than an orange. Just pick a couple of outside stalks off the plant at a time.  Flat parsley seems to be more fashionable now but both are equally delicious. Use all of the stalk too and at the end of the second year harvest the root, you’ll be blown away by the flavour, use in stews, salads, parsley pesto or the stock pot.

I’m not sure where to start with recipes, there are so many but here are a few of my current favourites – Sage and Anchovy Fritters, Melon in Lovage Syrup, Syrian Mint Lemonade, Parsley Pesto, Chimichurri, Parsley, Red Onion, Pomegranate and Sumac Salad.

Melon in Lovage Syrup

A beautiful ripe melon needs little embellishment, but even a mediocre melon is greatly enhanced by the haunting flavour of borage syrup.

Serves 4

1 ripe melon

2 tablespoons shredded mint leaves

Lovage Syrup (see recipe)

Slice or cube the ripe melon.   Put into a large bowl. Drizzle with the lovage syrup.  Toss gently and leave to marinate in the fridge for an hour or so.

Toss the melon with the shredded mint leaves.

Divide among four chilled plates and serve immediately.

Lovage Syrup

Makes 350ml (12fl oz)

175g (6oz) sugar

225ml (8fl oz) water

25g (1oz) lovage leaves

Put the sugar and water into a saucepan, add the lovage leaves.  Bring to the boil, stirring until the sugar dissolves.    Allow to infuse for an hour or two.  Taste.

Strain the syrup, discard the lovage leaves.  Store in a glass bottle in the fridge.   It will keep for several months.

Fresh Mint Lemonade

(Syrian Laymoun bi-na na – Fresh Lemon Juice with Mint)

Freshly squeezed juices were widely available, lots of orange and pomegranate of course, but we particularly enjoyed this refreshing lemon and mint drink.

Serves 6

juice of 6 lemons

300ml Stock Syrup (see recipe)

2 fistfuls of fresh mint leaves

300ml (10fl oz) cold water

Squeeze the lemons, pour the juice into a liquidiser.  Add the syrup (see below), fresh mint leaves and cold water. Whizz until mint is fine and the drink is frothy. Pour into a tall glass with lots of ice, drink through a straw while still fresh.

Stock Syrup

Makes 825ml (scant 1 1/2 pints approx.)

350g (12oz) sugar

600ml (1 pint) water

Dissolve the sugar in the water and bring to the boil.  Boil for 2 minutes then allow it to cool.  Store in the fridge until needed.

Parsley Pesto

Serve with pasta, over goat cheese or halloumi or drizzle over salads.

Makes 2 x 150ml (7fl oz) jars

50g (2oz) flat parsley leaves (no stalks)

2 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed

35g (scant 1 1/2oz) cashew nuts

200ml (7fl oz) extra virgin olive oil

50g (2oz) freshly grated Parmesan

salt

Chop the cashew nuts finely first.  Then put all the ingredients except the Parmesan, oil and salt into the food-processor.  Whizz for a second or two, add the oil gradually.  Add the Parmesan, whizz for another couple of seconds and a little salt.  Taste and correct seasoning.

Chimichurri Sauce

Chimichurri sauce is a hot perky sauce from Argentina.  Great with a pan-grilled steak, drizzle over a fried egg, vegetable pizza or pasta – have fun!

Makes 225-250ml (8-9fl oz) approx.

50g (2oz) flat parsley leaves

4 large cloves garlic peeled and crushed

2 tablespoons water

100ml (3 1/2fl oz) extra virgin olive oil or sunflower oil

50ml (2floz) red wine vinegar

1 red onion, finely chopped

1/2 chilli seeded and chopped or 1/4 teaspoon chilli flakes

salt

Chop the parsley finely with the garlic and water. (Alternatively, whizz in a food-processor, scraping down the sides of the bowl until well pulsed). Transfer to a bowl. Whisk in the oil and vinegar gradually. Add the red onion, chilli and salt. Taste and add more seasoning if necessary.

Parsley, Red Onion, Pomegranate and Sumac Salad

Keep this gorgeous fresh tasting recipe up your sleeve for when you have a glut of flat parsley.

Serves 4-6

4 handfuls of flat parsley leaves

175g (6oz) red onion, thinly sliced

2 teaspoons of sugar

a tiny pinch of flaky sea salt

1 tablespoon Forum white or red wine vinegar

Dressing

3 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil

1 tablespoon Forum white or red wine vinegar

1 teaspoon of pomegranate molasses

1 teaspoon of sumac

seeds from 1/2 pomegranate

Put the thinly sliced onion rings into a small bowl with the sugar, a tiny pinch of salt and vinegar. Allow to macerate for 30 minutes. Add the extra virgin olive oil, vinegar and pomegranate molasses and toss to mix evenly.

Put the parsley into a serving bowl. Add the pickled onions, sprinkle with sumac and toss well but gently. Sprinkle with pomegranate seeds. Taste and tweak the seasoning if necessary. Serve soon as a starter or with pan-grilled lamb chops.

Salvia Fritti – Sage and Anchovy Fritters

I always used to associate these delectable fritters with Tuscany where I first tasted them but I’ve also enjoyed them in Sicily.

Makes 20

40 large young sage leaves

20 finest-quality anchovy fillets

lemon wedges

Light batter

200g (7oz) plain white flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 egg

150ml (5fl oz) soda water

First, make the batter. Sieve the flour and baking powder into a bowl. Make a well in the centre and add the lightly beaten egg. Gradually whisk in the soda water, working from the centre to the outside of the bowl to make a smooth batter. Cover and allow to rest for an hour.

Heat the oil, preferably pomace olive oil in a deep fryer to 280°C (alternatively, use a frying pan with 6cm-7cm (2 1/2 – 3 inch) of oil).

Meanwhile, dip a sage leaf in the batter and shake off the excess. Lay an anchovy fillet or half if they’re too long, on top and press on another sage leaf to make a little sandwich. Dip the sandwiches, one at a time into the batter, shake off the excess. Cook in batches in the hot oil, turning once or twice – a minute should be sufficient. Drain on kitchen paper and serve immediately with a lemon wedge.

Irish Food Writers Guild Awards

Can you imagine the excitement when you open a letter – rare enough these days. Who can this be from? At least it doesn’t have a ‘window’ so hopefully it’s not another bill – WOW…. Guess what, we’ve won an Irish Food Writers Guild Award…!

Variations on this conversation happened in six different food producers’ kitchens recently. It was such a boost to the winners who have battled to stay afloat in unprecedented times.

Kristin Jensen, chair of the Irish Food Writers’ Guild (IFWG) remarked that the choice of winners reflected the times we are in.  During Covid – there has been a newfound appreciation for the simple pleasures in life.

Irish spuds topped with a generous knob of creamy, hand-rolled butter and served with traditional spiced beef are the makings of a fine feast and the cornerstone of many an Irish meal.  The kind of produce we take for granted in Ireland, these oft-considered store cupboard ‘basics’ have each been singled out for a 2021 Irish Food Award, and for good reason. 


That gives you a clue as to the winner’s identity.
Tom Durcan’s spiced beef was one of three awards to go to Co. Cork. Tom’s Spiced Beef can be found not just at his stall in the English Market but also in stores and restaurants nationwide, including Dublin’s Chapter One restaurant, where chef-proprietor and fellow Cork man, Ross Lewis is an enthusiastic champion of the tender, sweet-savoury delicacy.

www.tomdurcanmeats.ie


Irish staples such as spuds and butter are also award winners. 

Abernethy Butter from Co. Down also impressed the judges.  The award recipients haven’t the slightest clue that they have been secretly nominated by a Guild or several Guild members until they get notice.  Allison and her husband, Will Abernethy, are custodians of a near-lost tradition of handmade butter which they revived around ten years ago and have grown it with a variety of flavours as well as handmade fudge and lemon curd. A unique dairy product, there isn’t any other comparable commercial butter in Ireland in terms of process, their small-batch, slow-churned, hand-rolled butter shaped with wooden pats is made using Draynes Farm grass-fed, single-herd superb quality cream. Top chefs both here in Ireland and the UK frequently list Abernethy Butter on menus as a star ingredient in their dishes. Check out a slew of stockists and their walls covered with prestigious awards.
www.abernethybutter.com


And next the spuds.
Ballymakenny Farm Irish Heritage and speciality potatoes have developed a cult-like following in Ireland over the past few years for good reason, and despite the challenges of 2020 they continue to be the spuds everyone wants on their plates. Maria and David Flynn started out growing the usual potatoes for supermarket retail until Maria, unenthused by what they were doing, decided to literally inject a bit of colour into their farming by trying out the ‘purple spuds’ they have become best known for.
www.ballymakennyfarm.com

The Irish Drink Award went to Kinsale Mead – Wild Red Mead – Merlot Barrel aged, which was established by Kate and Denis Dempsey in 2017 – Ireland’s first commercial meadery for over 200 years. In 2020, Kate and Denis, inspired by the legends of Ireland’s Wild Geese, wanted to explore the potential of their mead further by ageing it in French wine barrels for twelve months. The IFWG Award is for their Wild Red Mead – Merlot Barrel Aged, a three-year-old fermented off-dry mead flavoured with tart Irish blackberry and juicy cherry, then aged for twelve months in Bordeaux wine casks. 2020 was a challenging year for the duo as direct sales were impacted, meadery tours were limited and tastings, food festivals and other promotional opportunities all ceased due to COVID-19 restrictions. They responded by creating virtual Online Mead Talk & Taste Zooms comprising tastings and intriguing insights into the history of mead in Ireland and the importance of mead in Irish food culture, held in high esteem and value.
www.kinsalemeadco.ie

The Outstanding Organisation Award went to NeighbourFood, the ‘virtual farmer’s market’, started in Cork in 2018 by Jack Crotty (Ballymaloe Cookery School Alumni) and Martin Poucher.
NeighbourFood has helped immeasurably to brighten people’s lives during the pandemic but also to save the livelihood of countless food producers, artisan bakers, cake makers, fish mongers, vegetable and herb growers, dairy farmers, cheese makers, brewers…who supply more than 65 locations in Ireland and 20 in the UK
Suppliers know in advance what is required of them, so there is no waste. Minimal packaging is used – another win for the environment. NeighbourFood has become an essential service and resource for growers and producers whose livelihoods were threatened as a result of the shrinking of the hospitality industry.
www.neighbourfood.ie

Ballymore Organics Porridge, Stoneground Flour and Semolina Loaf

The Environmental Award went to Ballymore Organics, a Co. Kildare producer for their outstanding organic porridge oats, stoneground flour and semolina.

Makes 1 loaf or 3 small loaves

350g (12oz) stone ground wholemeal flour

75g (3oz) white flour, preferably unbleached

50g (2oz) semolina

25g (1oz) oatmeal (use half for sprinkling on top of the loaf before it goes into the oven)

1 teaspoon salt

1 level teaspoon bread soda, sieved (Bicarbonate of Soda/Baking Soda)

1 egg, preferably free range

1 tablespoon sunflower oil, unscented

1 teaspoon honey or treacle

425ml (15fl oz) buttermilk or sour milk approx.

Loaf tin 23 x 12.5 x 5cm (9 x 5 x 2 inch) OR 3 small loaf tins 14.6cm x 7.5cm (5.75 x 3 inch) 

Preheat the oven to 200ºC/400ºF/Gas Mark 6.

Put all the dry ingredients including the sieved bread soda into a large bowl, mix well. Whisk the egg, add the oil and honey and buttermilk. Make a well in the centre of the dry ingredients and pour in all the liquid, mix well and add more buttermilk if necessary. The mixture should be soft and slightly sloppy, pour into an oiled tin or tins – using a butter knife, draw a slit down the middle. Sprinkle some sunflower or sesame seeds on the top. Bake for 60 minutes approximately (45-50 minutes for small loaf tins), or until the bread is nice and crusty and sounds hollow when tapped. Cool on a wire rack.

Rory O’Connell’s Radishes with Smoked Eel Butter

Delicious served as a little nibble before dinner.

Serves 4-6 as a starter

Smoked Eel Butter

100g (3 1/2oz) smoked eel

50g (2oz) Abernethy’s butter 

a few drops of lemon juice

sea salt and freshly ground pepper

To Serve

16-24 chilled radishes with leaves attached

Blend the eel and butter in a food processor until just blended. Season with a few drops of lemon juice, a little pepper and if necessary a little salt.

Place the butter in a bowl and serve alongside the radishes sprinkled with a little sea salt.

If plating the dish individually, spread a little of the butter on each plate and simply but artfully lay the radishes alongside with a sprinkling of sea salt.  Serve immediately.

Tom Durcan’s Spiced Beef with Avocado and Roast Hazelnut Salsa

Avocado and Roast Hazelnut Salsa

1 ripe avocado, halved, stone removed, peeled and diced into neat scant 1 cm dice

3 tablespoons of hazelnuts, roasted, skinned and coarsely chopped

3 tablespoons of hazelnut or olive oil

1 tablespoon of chopped flat parsley

Maldon sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Mix the ingredients for the avocado and hazelnut garnish. Taste and correct seasoning. This mixture will sit quite happily in your fridge for an hour as the oil coating the avocado will prevent it from discolouring.

Purple Potato, Pickled Beetroot, Red Onion and Scallion Salad

Purple potatoes cook pretty much the same as any other potatoes.  They can be boiled, mashed, roasted, made into soups…they also make delicious potato crisps, wedges and chips.  They always create a frisson of surprise and excitement when served and like all potatoes benefit from lots of seasoning, e.g. fresh herbs, spices, a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil or a generous pat of butter.  Here I’ve paired them with new season’s pickled beetroot and onions and a few scallions for extra flavour and a touch of green.

Serves 4-6

1kg (2 1/4lb) purple potatoes, freshly cooked

225-350g (8-12oz) pickled beetroot and onion

110g (4oz) scallions, green and white, sliced at an angle

small fistful of fresh mint leaves

salt and freshly cracked black pepper

Dressing

175ml (6fl oz) extra virgin olive oil

50ml (2fl oz) white wine vinegar

1 clove of garlic, crushed

1/4 teaspoon Dijon mustard

salt and freshly cracked black pepper

Garnish

Red Nasturtium flowers and leaves (if available)

First make the dressing by whisking the ingredients together to emulsify. 

Slice the cooked potatoes in half, quarters or wedges.  Season with salt and freshly ground cracked pepper.  While still warm, drizzle with the dressing and toss gently.  Transfer to a serving dish, add the coarsely diced beetroot and lots of the pickled onion slices.  Top with scallions and mint and mix very gently.  Garnish with red nasturtium flowers and pop a few small peppery nasturtium leaves around the edge if available. 

A gorgeous salad – both visually and nutritionally and of course delicious.  A little chorizo could also be tucked in with the purple potato for an even more substantial salad but don’t overdo it or better still, serve with Tom Durcan’s Spiced Beef.

Old-Fashioned Pickled Beetroot

Serves 5-6

450g (1lb) cooked beetroot

225g (8oz) sugar

450ml (16fl oz) water

175g (8oz) red or white onion, peeled and thinly sliced

225ml (8fl oz) white wine vinegar

Dissolve the sugar in water, bringing it to the boil. Add the sliced onion and simmer for 3-4 minutes. Add the vinegar, pour over the peeled, sliced (diced or cut into wedges) beet and leave to cool.

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 or store in covered sterilised jars for up to three months…in a cool dark cupboard.

A Madeira Cake with a glass of Kinsale Merlot Barrel Aged Wild Red Mead

Serves 10

110g (4oz) butter, soft

175g (6oz) caster sugar

3 eggs

finely grated zest of 1 organic lemon

175g (6oz) plain flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 tablespoon milk

1 x 18cm (7 inch) cake tin with high sides, base and sides lined with parchment paper

Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4.

Cream the butter, add the caster sugar and beat until light, fluffy and pale in colour.  Add the eggs one by one, beating well between each addition so the mixture comes back to the original texture.  Stir in the grated lemon zest.  Add the baking powder to the flour, sieve gradually into the base, stirring gently rather than beating – add 1 tablespoon of milk to moisten.  Turn into the prepared tin, make a little dent in the centre and pop into the oven without delay.

Cook for 40-45 minutes or until fully cooked, the cake will have started to shrink in from the sides and be firm in the centre.

Allow to cool in the tin before turning out. 

Dust lightly with icing sugar and enjoy with a glass of Kinsale Wild Red Mead. 

Sustainability

Sadly Ireland, the ‘green clean island’ has consistently ranked among the poorest performing countries on the environmental sustainable development goals (SDG’s) presenting ‘a very disturbing picture of pollution and biodiversity loss’.  According to the latest Sustainable Progress Index (SPI) commissioned by Social Justice Ireland, we rank 11th out of 15th comparable countries in the EU.  It’s also pretty shocking to learn that although some areas are performing well, the biggest transgressor of environmental law in Ireland is the State.

In 2015, countries worldwide came together for the first time under the United Nations and adopted the 17 sustainable development goals.  They covered a wide range of areas from climate change to health, education and food waste.  An ambitious agenda for a better world by 2030. 

Since then, there has been many missed deadlines and many summits including a recent 2-day virtual summit hosted by President Biden to celebrate World Earth Day.  The US, China, Russia and EU participated.  Greta Thunberg has rocked the world with her clear science based message and direct challenges to world leaders and more recently Pope Francis appealed for the world to ‘take care of biodiversity, take care of nature’ and reminded us that Covid-19 and climate change demonstrated what scientists have been screaming from the roof top for decades we no longer have time to waste. 

Not for the first time, the general public are well ahead of the politicians, we’re all properly fed up of empty, flamboyant promises.  We crave action and direction.  We long for courageous leaders who will walk the walk not just talk the talk and we are ready to walk with them.  Time is most definitely running out. 

Coupled with the trauma of living with Covid, the enormity of the challenge can seem overwhelming. 

What can we do?  Let’s rack our brains to think of little things we can change in our everyday lives to live more sustainably and benefit the planet.

First, let’s pick up our pens and write to our politicians to emphasise that as citizens, we want Ireland to step up to the plate and honour our commitments.  I’ve always dreamed of Ireland, the Organic Food Ireland – think of how it would enhance the prosperity of our farmers and food producers at a time when people are craving food they can trust and are well aware of the damage pesticides and herbicides are doing to our health, the health of the soil and the environment in general…

In no particular order:

1. Avoid single use plastic and switch to reusable water bottles.

2. Let’s grow some of our own food – check out Grow Food not Lawns

3. Grow our own herbs, immediately we are eliminating all those plastic trays.  Grow perennial vegetables, herbs and flowers. 

4. Shop at a Farmers Market which also supports local farmers and food producers and small food businesses. 

5. Keep a stash of reusable shopping bags in your car.

6. Carry a coffee mug or glass in your bag.

7. Work towards Zero Waste, almost 50% of plastic waste globally is generated by shopping.  Leave the packaging behind and politely urge your supermarket to reduce unnecessary excessive packaging. 

8. Buy loose vegetables and fruit…

9. No need to line your trash bin with plastic – these bags takes 10-20 years at least to decompose.

10. Keep a few hens – 3 or 4 hens in a little coop in your garden will eat all your food scraps and reward you with eggs instead.  They are the ultimate recyclers and the manure will make your soil more fertile to grow more nutritious food – or link up with a neighbour who has hens, swap eggs for food scraps.

11. Keep bees, even one hive on your roof or in your garden, if you don’t want to be a beekeeper, why not contact a local beekeeper, they may be happy to look after your bees, buy the honey from them in exchange…see www.irishbeekeepersassociation.com

12. Think natural cleaners.  Make your own all-purpose cleaner.  Combine half a cup of white malt vinegar with a quarter cup of bread soda and 4 pints of water. 

13. Use cloth rather than paper napkins and washable wipe down cloths.

14. Let’s try not to buy more than we need, get creative and have fun with leftovers.  You’ll be surprised how much money you save and how little food you waste.

15. Buy local flowers, about 90% of flowers sold in florists are imported and heavily sprayed.  Ask for Irish foliage and flowers. 

16. Learn ‘how to recognise’ food in the wild, forage…

17. During Covid, many of us have realised we need a lot less ‘stuff’.  Shop in thrift or charity shops, donate, reuse, recycle, repair. 

18. Use a bar of soap rather than liquid soap in dispenses that have a far heavier carbon footprint. 

19. Use timber chopping boards and wooden spoons rather than plastic – they are more hygienic and in many cases are easier to clean. 

20. Collect kindling when you go for a walk in the country.  There are a million other ways we can make our homes more energy efficient.

21. Support small local shops, your local butcher and fish monger.  Seek out lesser known fish and cuts of meat, less expensive and absolutely super delicious.

22. Use all parts of vegetables, the green part of leeks for stocks and soups, stalks and leaves of beets, leaves of radishes…

23. Make the most of seasonal gluts, have fun preserving in oil, vinegar, jams, chutneys, ketchups, make kimchi….

24. Leftover bread can be whizzed up for breadcrumbs, frozen and used for stuffing’s or gratins, alternatively dice and use for instant croutons.

We can all make a difference in a myriad of ways and enjoy the feel good factor.

Nettle and Wild Garlic Soup

In late April, the air in the wood is heavy with the smell of wild garlic interspersed with nettles.  The pretty white flowers of the wild garlic mix with the bluebells and primroses. 

Use the wide leaves of the allium ursinum (ramsons) and the flowers of the allium triquetrum, the pretty flowers are divine sprinkled over the top of each soup bowl. 

Serves 6-8

45g (1 1/2oz) butter

150g (5oz) peeled and chopped potatoes

110g (4oz) peeled and chopped onion

salt and freshly ground pepper

900ml (1 1/2 pints) water or homemade chicken stock or vegetable stock

300ml (10fl oz) creamy milk

75g (3oz) chopped nettles

75g (3oz) chopped wild garlic leaves

Garnish

wild garlic flowers (preferably allium ursinum)

Melt the butter in heavy bottomed saucepan, when it foams, add the potatoes and onions and toss them until well coated. Sprinkle with salt and freshly ground pepper. Cover and sweat on a gentle heat for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile prepare the nettles (use plastic gloves) and wild garlic leaves. When the vegetables are almost soft but not coloured add the stock and milk bring to the boil and cook until the potatoes and onions are fully cooked. Add the chopped nettles and wild garlic and boil with the lid off for 4-5 minutes approx. until the leaves are cooked. Do not overcook or the soup will lose its fresh green colour. Purée the soup in a liquidiser or food processor. Taste and correct seasoning.  Serve sprinkled with a few wild garlic flowers.

Roast Megrim with Dill Butter

This is a very simple ‘master recipe’ which can be used for all very fresh flat fish, e.g. plaice, dover sole, lemon sole, brill, turbot, dabs, and flounder.  Megrim is less expensive but also delicious when super fresh.  Depending on the size of the fish, it can a starter or a main course.  It’s also delicious with Hollandaise Sauce, Mousseline or Beurre Blanc.

Serves 4

4 very fresh megrim on the bone

Dill Butter

50-110g (2-4oz) butter

1 generous tablespoon of finely chopped fresh dill

salt and freshly ground pepper

dill flowers (optional)

Preheat the oven to 190°C/375°F/Gas Mark 5.

Turn the fish on its side and remove the head.  Wash the fish and clean the slit very thoroughly.  With a sharp knife, cut through the skin right round the fish, just where the ‘fringe’ meets the flesh.  Be careful to cut neatly and to cross the side cuts at the tail or it will be difficult to remove the skin later on.

Sprinkle the fish with salt and freshly-ground pepper and lay them in 1cm (1/2 inch) of water in a shallow baking tin.   Roast in a moderately hot oven for 20-30 minutes according to the size of the fish.  The water should have just evaporated as the fish is cooked.  Check to see whether the fish is cooked by lifting the flesh from the bone at the head; it should lift off the bone easily and be quite white with no trace of pink.

Meanwhile, melt the butter and stir in the freshly chopped dill.  Just before serving catch the skin down near the tail and pull it off gently (the skin will tear badly if not properly cut).  Lift the fish onto hot plates and spoon the herb butter over them.  Serve immediately with a few dill flowers sprinkled over the top if available.

Breast of Lamb with Sea Salt and Coriander

Breast of lamb – also called flank, flap or lap – is the sweet and delicious equivalent of pork belly and is a very inexpensive cut of meat. Lean layers are interspersed with layers of fat, which renders out and gives the meat a sweet, succulent flavour. Freshly roasted and ground cumin is also delicious in this recipe, as is a mixture of coriander and cumin.

Serves 6

1-2 breasts of lamb, about 1kg (21⁄4 lb)

1 1⁄2 tablespoons coriander seeds

1 1⁄2 tablespoons sea salt

Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4.

Score the fat side of the breast of lamb with a sharp knife.

Roast the coriander seeds over a medium heat for 3–4 minutes or until they begin to smell aromatic. Turn the seeds into a mortar and pestle or a spice grinder and grind into a coarse powder.

Mix the coriander powder with the sea salt. Sprinkle and then rub it evenly over both sides of the lamb. Roast for about 45 minutes.

Serve with roast potatoes.

Rhubarb, Fresh Ginger and Sweet Geranium Jam

This delicious jam should be made when rhubarb is in full season and not yet thick and tough.  Even if you don’t have access to sweet geranium leaves, it will still be delicious.

Makes 8 x 450g (1lb) jars

1.8kg (4lb) trimmed rhubarb,

1.3kg (3lb) granulated sugar

grated rind and juice of 2 lemons

8 sweet geranium leaves, finely chopped

25g (1oz) bruised ginger plus 1 teaspoon grated ginger

50g (2oz) chopped crystallized ginger or stem ginger preserved in syrup (optional)

Wipe the rhubarb and cut into 2.5cm (1 inch) pieces.   Put it in a large bowl layered with the sugar, add the lemon rind and juice.  Leave to stand overnight.  Next day put into a preserving pan with the chopped sweet geranium leaves and the grated ginger.  Bash the ginger with a rolling pin, add the bruised ginger tied in a muslin bag to the pan.  Steadily bring to the boil until it is a thick pulp – 40-50 minutes approximately.  Remove the bag of ginger and then pour the jam into hot clean jars, cover and store in a dry airy cupboard.

If you like 50g (2oz) chopped crystallized ginger or preserved stem ginger can be added at the end.

Rhubarb and Ginger Bakewell Tart

We sometimes omit the pastry lattice and sprinkle flaked almonds over the top instead.

Serves 6

Pastry

50g (2oz) butter

110g (4oz) flour

pinch of salt

25g (1oz) castor sugar

1 beaten egg (use about half)

50g (2oz) butter

40g (1 1/2oz) castor sugar

1 egg

25g (1oz) ground almonds

40g (1 1/2oz) flour

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

3-4 tablespoons Rhubarb, Fresh Ginger and Sweet Geranium Jam (see recipe)

Garnish

Sweet Geranium leaves

1 x 18cm (7 inch) tin with a ‘pop-up’ base

Make the shortcrust pastry.

Sieve the flour and the sugar into a large bowl. Cut the butter into cubes, toss in the flour, rub in with the fingertips until the mixture resembles coarse breadcrumbs. Whisk the egg with 2 teaspoons of cold water and add enough to bind the mixture. But do not make the pastry too wet – it should come away cleanly from the bowl. Flatten into a round and wrap in parchment paper and rest in the fridge for 15 minutes.

Line the flan ring.  Spread a thin layer of rhubarb, ginger and sweet geranium jam in the base of the flan. Cream the butter, add the castor sugar and beat until white and creamy, add the beaten egg, and then stir in the flour, ground almonds and baking powder. Spread this mixture carefully over the jam and smooth the top. Cut the remaining pastry into thin strips and arrange in a lattice pattern over the top of the flan. Egg wash carefully and bake in a moderate oven 180-190°C/350-375°F/Gas Mark 4-5 for approx. 40 minutes. Sprinkle with icing sugar and serve warm or cold with a bowl of softly whipped cream.  Garnish with Sweet Geranium leaves.

* If you would like to decorate the tart with a pastry lattice, use 62g (2 1/2oz) butter and 125g (4 1/2oz) flour.

Wild Food of the Week

Pickled Wild Garlic Buds

By the end of April, wild garlic or ramps will be about to flower.  Pickle the unopened flower buds – they are delicious.   Serve with pâtés, starter salads and cheese.

3 parts white wine or cider vinegar

1 part granulated sugar

Fill a jar with unopened wild garlic flower buds.  Warm the vinegar, add the sugar, stir to dissolve and bring to the boil for 1-2 minutes.  Cool.  Pour over the buds, cover the jar and leave for 2-3 days before use.  Add to starter sala

Instagram – @niamhs_larder  

Grow Your Own

As I write this column the skies are blue and the sun is shining and new seasons produce is leaping out of the ground in the garden and greenhouse.  I so hope you too have managed to sow some seeds and experiment the sheer joy and excitement of seeing the seeds germinate and the first leaves unfurl and then there’s the gradual growth until your crop reaches the peak of perfection, ready to enjoy even if it’s just a few salad leaves in a seed tray on your kitchen windowsill.

Your very own organic leaves will taste sooo much better, because you, yourself have grown them, you’ll relish every bite and want everyone else to know how you grew and looked after and anticipated enjoying them for weeks.   When you grow some of your own food, it gives an added insight into the work and commitment that goes into producing beautiful produce, you’ll never want to complain about the price of food again and will want to hug every farmer and producer you meet.  I’m super lucky to have several garden heroes here who grow beautiful produce for us to enjoy and cook with and to sell in the Farm Shop, Farmers Markets and NeighbourFood.  So far we’ve had rhubarb, outdoor sea kale and now the asparagus is gleefully popping up out of the bed.  We’ve even had a few beets, they are about the size of table tennis balls at present but swelling every day.  Look out for new seasons beets in the Farmers Markets and use every scrap of the stalks and leaves as well as the beets themselves.  They are every bit as delicious as spinach, if anything, more delicious and meltingly tender and cook in minutes – also fantastic for juicing.  I’m a huge beetroot fan, love it hot as well as roast and pickled, for me it’s the vegetable that keeps on giving.  The new season’s crop is so mild and delicious compared to the end of last year’s crop which by now is woody and unpleasantly strong.  Try this beetroot gravlax with a side of salmon, it’s a delicious riff on the classic Nordic pickled salmon, gorgeous for a Summer lunch or as a nibble before a Summer BBQ, you love the cucumber and dill sauce and find lots of other ways to enjoy it. 

This week, I also include my new favourite cake which I told you about in November, it’s called Lori De Mori’s Olive Oil cake from Towpath, a little café on the edge of Regent’s Canal in London.  It may not sound appealing but for me it’s my new ‘best find’ of the last few months, a richly flavoured ‘madeira’ type cake that keeps brilliantly and if anything improves with age.  Try it, you’re going to love it, delicious with a cup of tea or coffee but also perfect as a dessert with some berries and a blob of crème fraiche.  This is ‘definitely a keeper’ as Rory O’Connell would say.

Wild garlic will soon come to an end so make a batch of Wild Garlic Pesto for your store cupboard before it disappears until next year.  Pick the smaller, sweeter leaves for best flavour. 

Another Tip…rhubarb is also at its best at present, so buy or harvest more than you need.  Chop into slices and freeze in kg bags for Winter –best to do this now while rhubarb is at its best.

Hope you too are feeling uplifted by the Summer weather, the bounty of the seasons and the gradual easing of Lockdown.

Here are some delicious recipes to enjoy this week.

Leila’s Olive Oil Cake

I find it just delicious on its own or with a little sprinkling of icing sugar.  I loved it recently with a compote of kumquat and some coarsely chopped pistachio over softly whipped cream but a generous tablespoon of roast rhubarb would be pretty irresistible too.

Serves 12

butter, for greasing the tins

3 organic eggs

300g (10oz) caster sugar

175ml (6fl oz) best quality olive oil

180ml (6 1/4fl oz) full-fat milk

1 organic orange, zested and juiced

325g (11oz) self-raising flour, plus extra for dusting

Preheat the oven to 180°C /350°F/Gas Mark 4 (160°C Fan).

Line, butter and flour a 24cm (9 1/2 inch) cake tin.

In a large mixing bowl or mixer, beat together the eggs and sugar until pale yellow. This should take about 5 minutes.

Slowly, in a continuous stream and on a high speed, pour in the olive oil, milk, orange zest and juice. You may need to lower the speed towards the end to prevent the mix from splattering everywhere.

Gently, fold in the flour, until fully incorporated.

Pour the batter into the prepared tin. Bake for about 45 minutes, until golden brown and a toothpick or skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean. Leave to cool in the tin.

(from Towpath by Lori de Mori & Laura Jackson, published by Chelsea Green Publishing)

Use every Scrap – Zero Waste 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.

Serves 4

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 (2 inch) pieces. First cook the stalks in boiling salted water (1.8 litres/3 pints water to 1 1⁄2 teaspoons salt) for 3–4 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.

Beetroot Tops with Cream

Substitute 75–125ml (3–4fl oz) cream for olive oil in the recipe above. A little freshly grated nutmeg is also delicious.  Taste and correct the seasoning.

Beetroot Gravlax

This modern Scandinavian version results in a two-tone gravlax, with a deep-red beetroot colour on the outside and salmon pink within.  Wild salmon is very difficult to source but why not try a side of fresh haddock.   

Serves 30–40

2 sides of wild salmon or organic farmed salmon

2 heaped tablespoons sea salt

3 heaped tablespoons sugar

2 teaspoons freshly ground pepper

2 tablespoons dill, chopped

175g (6oz) beetroot, peeled and grated

Cucumber and Dill Sauce (see recipe)

First prepare the salmon.

Fillet the salmon and remove all the bones with a tweezers. Mix the salt, sugar, pepper and dill together in a bowl.  Place the fish on a piece of parchment paper and scatter the mixture over the surface of the fish. Wrap tightly with parchment paper and refrigerate for a minimum of 24 hours.

Line a long oval dish with parchment paper. Put one fillet, skin side down, on the lined dish. Mix together the salt, sugar, pepper, dill and freshly grated beetroot and spread over the surface of the salmon.

Place the other salmon fillet on top and wrap the salmon tightly with the cling film. Place a weight on top (I use a chopping board). Turn a couple of times during the next few days. Serve with the Cucumber and Dill Sauce (see recipe).

Cucumber and Dill Sauce

Serves 8 – 10 depending on how it is served.

1 crisp cucumber, peeled and diced into 1/2 – 1cm (1/4-1/2 inch) dice approx.

salt and freshly ground pepper

1-2 cloves garlic, crushed

1 heaped tablespoon of freshly chopped dill

450ml (15fl oz) Greek yoghurt or best quality natural yoghurt

4 tablespoons cream

Put the cucumber dice into a sieve and sprinkle with salt and allow to drain for about 30 minutes.  Dry the cucumber on kitchen paper, put into a bowl and mix with garlic, a dash of wine vinegar or lemon juice and the yoghurt and cream.  Stir in the dill and taste, it may need a little salt and freshly ground pepper, or even a pinch of sugar.

Boost your gut biome    

Beetroot Kvass


This is a slightly sour/salty tonic of a deep-red colour known to help clean the liver and purify the blood.

2 large beetroot
1 1/2 litres (2 1/2 pints) filtered water (or non-chlorinated)
2 teaspoons sea salt
50ml (2fl oz) starter – this could be whey, water kefir, sauerkraut juice or kombucha

Scrub the beetroot but do not peel.

Chop into small chunks – 2cm (3/4 inch) cubes (roughly).

Put into a 2 litre Kilner jar or something similar with a lid.

Add the water, sea salt and starter and secure the lid tightly.

Allow to sit in a warming undisturbed place for about 5 days.

Bubbles will start to appear (fermentation is taking a hold) – taste it after day 3, if it is to your liking.  Strain out the beetroot chunks.  Bottle and store in the fridge once it reaches the desired sourness.

New Season’s Asparagus with Mussels and Hollandaise on Toast

Swap out seakale for asparagus if you are fortunate to have some.

Serves 4

8-12 stalks of asparagus in season

20-24 mussels

Hollandaise Sauce

2 egg yolks

1 dessertspoon cold water

110g (4oz) butter cut into dice

1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice, approx.

4 slices of pan loaf bread for toasting

sprigs of chervil or dill

First make the hollandaise.

Put the egg yolks into a heavy bottomed saucepan on a low heat.  Whisk with 1 tablespoon of water, then gradually whisk in the butter, cube by cube as it thickens gradually – careful it doesn’t overheat.  If it does, pull the saucepan off the heat and dip the base in cold water for a minute or two.  When all the butter has been incorporated, whisk in some freshly squeezed lemon juice to taste.  Transfer to a small Pyrex bowl or measure and keep warm in a stainless-steel saucepan of hot but not even simmering water while you prepare the asparagus and mussels. 

Break off the ends of the asparagus spears where they begin to get woody.  They will snap at that point if you bend over your index finger. 

Bring about 2.5cm (1 inch) of water to the boil in a saucepan, season well with salt and add the asparagus.  Cover the saucepan, bring the water back to the boil and cook for 3-4 minutes (depending on the size of the asparagus spears) or until the tip of a knife will pierce the thickest end.  Drain while still al-dente, it will continue to cook a little.

Wash the mussels, check they are all tightly shut.  Choose a wide sauté pan, add the mussels in a, maximum, double layer and cook for 3-4 minutes over a medium heat which is usually enough for the mussels to open.  Remove, strain and save the mussel liquor.

To Serve

Meanwhile, toast and butter the bread. 

Cut the asparagus spears into 2 or 3 pieces at an angle.

Remove the mussels from their shells, scatter over the asparagus, drizzle with Hollandaise and garnish with sprigs of chervil or dill and serve ASAP.

Rhubarb and Sweet Cicely Compote

Sweet Cicely is one of the first herbs to pop up in Spring, the seeds are spicy and the leaves have a liquorice sweet anise like flavour.  Use liberally to garnish sweet dishes. 

Serves 4

450g (1lb) red rhubarb, e.g. Timperely early

450ml (16fl oz) stock syrup (dissolve 175g/6oz of granulated sugar in 300ml/10fl oz of water and boil for 2 minutes)

4-6 sprigs of sweet cicely

Cut the rhubarb into 2.5cm (1 inch) pieces. Put the cold syrup into a stainless steel saucepan, add the rhubarb and sweet cicely.  Cover, bring to the boil and simmer for just 1 minute, (no longer or it will dissolve into a mush). Turn off the heat and leave the rhubarb in the covered saucepan until just cold.  

Remove the sweet cicely, serve garnished with fresh sprigs of sweet cicely and lots of softly whipped cream.   

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