Archive2022

Cost of Living

For the past two years the ‘fear of God’ was struck into us by Covid and just as we thought life was coming back to normal at last, here comes the ‘cost of living’ crisis. Virtually every radio, newspaper headline and TV bulletin is full of doom and gloom with predictions of unimaginable price hikes in electricity, oil and gas and of course food.
Thousands of families who have already tightened their belts to combat the ‘back to school and college’ expenses are now faced with a winter of struggle and discontent. And to cap it all off, there’s talk of the possibility of no Christmas lights and fossil fuel shaming.
Everyone is hoping for some support in the upcoming Budget but nonetheless it’s going to be tough, all the more reason to focus on producing comforting, wholesome delicious food for the family to tuck into around the kitchen table.
We may need to shop differently, learn or relearn thrifty ways, how to use cheaper cuts of meat and off cuts of fish, use leftovers and completely eliminate food waste.

Just because one is short of funds is no excuse to resort to ultra-processed food.  Better to invest in wholesome, nourishing ingredients than spend your hard-earned cash on meds. 

So what to look out for.  I’ve already extolled the virtue of potatoes in several articles – go along to your local Farmers’ Market and buy chemical-free food directly from the farmer or producer and no it’s not true that Farmers’ Markets are way more expensive than supermarkets.  That sweeping statement is usually made by people who don’t visit Farmers’ Markets and are looking for an excuse not to go…

It’s true that some stallholders may not be able to compete with the ‘below cost selling’ of some of the discounters.  Do you know how long it takes to grow carrots or beets from seed to harvesting – three months at least.  Would you be happy to look after something for three months and then be paid less than a euro for a bunch of 5 or 6.  Doesn’t take much to work out that it can’t be done without a ton of artificial fertilisers and chemicals spray and screwing the farmers.

Sadly, if this low or below cost selling continues, there will be virtually no Irish vegetable growers in a year or two. 

Another thrifty tip – do a bit of research to find contacts for farmers who are selling their meat directly.  You’ll get a fine box of mixed cuts of beef, lamb, pork and a variety of game birds, very often organic and sometimes with a pack of well tested recipes included. 

Go along and have a chat with your local butcher too – ask which cuts are best value and while you are there, ask for some bones to make stock.  Start to experiment with lesser-known cuts – oxtail, ham hocks, lamb breasts, pork ribs…  Talk to the fishmongers, find out about the bargains on offer.  Learn what fruit and vegetables are in season – they will be at their cheapest and best then.

Irish apples are ripening now, your friends may have a glut – make lots of stewed apple and apple sauce and freeze for winter.

Cabbage is ridiculously cheap, but super nutritious, it’s brilliant for salads and soups as well as cooked with a bit of bacon or a ham hock. It’s so easy to make a fine tasty dinner from a few simple ingredients but the reality is you must be able to cook.  It’s not rocket science, just follow these simple recipes…

Carrot and Spring Onion Fritters

These vegetarian spiced fritters can be vegan if you omit the egg. Change the vegetables with the seasons: try cabbage, parsnips, celeriac or sprouts.


Makes 16/Servers 4

80g (3 1/4oz) chickpea (gram) flour

4 tablespoons self-raising flour

2 teaspoons ground coriander

2 teaspoons ground cumin

1/2 teaspoon paprika plus 1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika

1 organic, free-range egg (optional)

150g (5oz) carrots, grated

30g (1 1/4oz) spring onions, thinly sliced

extra virgin olive oil, for frying

flaky sea salt and pepper

Coriander Aioli, to serve

Mix together the flours, spices and a generous pinch of salt in a bowl. Whisk the egg with 110ml (4fl oz) water. (For a vegan version, omit the egg and increase the water to 150ml/5fl oz). Add to the dry ingredients and mix together – the batter should be the texture

of double cream. If it’s too thick, add a little more water. Cover loosely with a tea towel and leave to stand for 30 minutes.

Add the carrots and spring onions to the batter, stir and season until the vegetables are well coated.

Heat a little olive oil in a non-stick frying pan over a medium heat. Drop a tablespoon of the mixture into the pan. Fry for 2–3 minutes on each side until golden brown and crispy on the outside and cooked in the centre. Season to taste. Fry three or four at a time, depending on the pan size. Serve 3–4 fritters per person on hot plates with Coriander aioli alongside.

Coriander Aioli

225ml (8fl oz) homemade mayonnaise

1-3 cloves of garlic, depending on size

1–2 tablespoons of chopped coriander

Crush the garlic and add to the egg yolks just as you start to make the mayonnaise. Finally add the chopped coriander and taste for seasoning.

Ham Hock with Cabbage and Scallion Champ

They are delicious with so many things – cabbage and champ, lentils, a bean stew, shredded into a broth with diced vegetables or in a split pea soup. We also love to add chunks of quartered cabbages to the cooking water about half an hour before the end of cooking.

Serves 8 or more

4 fresh or smoked ham hocks

1 onion

4 garlic cloves

1 carrot, thickly sliced

2 celery ribs, chopped

1 bay leaf

1 teaspoon black peppercorns

1 cabbage, sliced

Scallion Champ (see recipe)

Put the ham hocks into a deep saucepan, add the vegetables and seasonings. Cover well with cold water, bring to the boil and simmer for 2– 2 1⁄2 hours or until the meat is virtually falling off the bones.

Add the sliced cabbage and cook for 10-15 minutes.  Save the cooking liquid as a base for tomato soup. 

Serve with accompaniments of your choice and lots of mustard.

Scallion Champ

A bowl of mashed potatoes flecked with green scallions with a blob of butter melting in the centre, add the butter just before serving so it melts into the centre. ‘Comfort’ food at its best.

Serves 4-6

1.5kg (3lbs) unpeeled ‘old’ potatoes e.g. Golden Wonders or Kerr’s Pinks

110g (4oz) chopped scallions or spring onions (use the bulb and green stem) or 45g (scant 2oz) chopped chives

300-350ml (10 – 12fl oz) milk

50-110g (2 – 4oz) butter

salt and freshly ground pepper

Scrub the potatoes and boil them in their jackets.

Chop finely the scallions or spring onions or chopped chives.  Cover with cold milk and bring slowly to the boil.  Simmer for about 3 – 4 minutes, turn off the heat and leave to infuse.  Peel and mash the freshly boiled potatoes and while hot, mix with the boiling milk and onions, beat in the butter.  Season to taste with salt and freshly ground pepper.  Serve in 1 large or 6 individual bowls with a knob of butter melting in the centre.  Scallion mash may be put aside and reheated later in a moderate oven, 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4. * Cover with parchment paper while it reheats so that it doesn’t get a skin and add the lump of butter just before serving.

Beef and Oxtail Stew

Oxtail costs very little and make an extraordinarily rich and flavoursome winter stew, considering how cheap it is. This is another humble dish, which has recently been resurrected by trendy chefs who are capitalizing on their customer’s nostalgic craving for their Gran’s cooking.  Use the leftover stew as a sauce for pasta, sprinkle with lots of grated Parmesan cheese and chopped parsley. 

Serves 6-8

2 whole oxtails

450g (1lb) shin of beef or stewing beef, cut into 4cm (1 1/2 inch) cubes                                                        

110g (4oz) streaky bacon
25g (1oz) beef dripping or2 tablespoons olive oil
225g (8oz) finely chopped onion
225g (8oz) carrots, cut into 2cm (3/4 inch) cubes
55g (generous 2oz) chopped celery
1 tablespoon homemade tomato purée

1 bay leaf, 1 sprig of thyme and parsley stalks
salt and freshly ground pepper
150ml (5fl oz) red wine
450ml (16fl oz) homemade beef stock or 600ml (1 pint) all beef stock

175g (6oz) mushrooms (sliced)                                                                   

15g (generous 1/2oz) roux                                                            

2 tablespoons chopped parsley

First cut the oxtail into pieces through the natural joints – the joints are made of cartilage, so you won’t need a saw.  If this seems like too much of a challenge, ask your butcher to disjoint the oxtail for you.

Cut the bacon into 2.5cm (1 inch) cubes.      

Heat the dripping or olive oil in a frying pan, add the bacon and sauté for 1-2 minutes, add the vegetables, cook for 2 – 3 minutes, stirring occasionally. Transfer into a casserole. Add the beef and oxtail pieces to the pan, a few at a time and continue to cook until the meat is beginning to brown.  Add to the casserole. Add the wine and 150ml (5fl oz) of stock to the pan.  Bring to the boil and use a whisk to dissolve the caramelised meat juices from the pan, bring to the boil.  Add to the casserole with the herbs, stock and tomato purée. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper. Cover and cook either on top of the stove or in a preheated oven 160°C/325°F/ Gas Mark 3 very gently for 2 – 3 hours, or until the oxtail and vegetables are very tender.

Meanwhile, cook the sliced mushrooms in a hot frying pan in a little butter for 2 – 3 minutes. Stir into the oxtail stew and cook for about 5 minutes. Transfer the beef and oxtail to a hot serving dish and keep warm. Remove and discard the bay leaves, thyme and parsley stalks.

Bring the liquid back to the boil, whisk in a little roux and cook until slightly thickened. Add back in the meat and chopped parsley.  Bring to the boil, taste and correct the seasoning.  Serve in the hot serving dish with lots of champ.

Darina’s Favourite Apple and Blackberry Pie

Apple pie is virtually everyone’s favourite pudding. My famous break-all-the-rules pastry taught to me by my mum is made by the creaming method, so people who are convinced that they suffer from ‘hot hands’ don’t have to worry about rubbing in the butter.  I make this pie year-round with whatever fruits are in season: pears, plums and damsons are also in season now… Enjoy with a blob of softly whipped cream and soft brown sugar, it’s obligatory!

Serves 8-12

Break-all-the-Rules Pastry

225g (8oz) butter, softened

40g (1 1/2oz) caster sugar, plus extra for sprinkling

2 organic, free-range eggs

350g (12oz) plain flour, plus extra for dusting

1 organic, free-range egg, beaten with a dash of milk

Filling

600g (1lb 5oz) Bramley cooking apples, peeled and cut into large dice

110g (4oz) wild blackberries

150g (5oz) granulated sugar

To Serve

softly whipped cream

dark soft brown sugar

1 x 18cm x 30.5cm x 2.5cm (7 x 11 x 1 inch) deep square tin or 1 x 22.5cm (8 3/4 inch) round tin

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

To make the pastry, cream the butter and sugar together by hand or in a food processor.  Add the eggs one by one and beat for several minutes. Reduce the speed and mix in the flour slowly.  Turn out onto a piece of floured baking parchment, flatten into a round, then wrap and chill.  This pastry needs to be chilled for at least 2 hours otherwise it is difficult to handle – better still, make it the day before.

Roll out the pastry to about 3mm (1/8 inch) thick, then use about two-thirds of it to line the tin.

Fill the pie to the top with the apples and blackberries and sprinkle with the sugar – brush the edges with water.  Cover with a lid of pastry, press the edges together to seal.  Decorate with pastry leaves, brush with the beaten egg mixture and bake for 45 minutes – 1 hour until the apples are tender.  When cooked, sprinkle lightly with caster sugar, cut into pieces and serve with softly whipped cream and sugar.

A comforting and delicious Rice Pudding

A creamy rice pudding is one of the greatest treats on a chilly Autumn day and costs very little to make. You need to use short-grain rice, which plumps up as it cooks. This is definitely a forgotten pudding and it’s unbelievable the reaction we get to it every time we make it at the Cookery School.

Serves 6–8

100g (3 1⁄2oz) pearl rice (short-grain rice)

50g (2oz) sugar

small knob of butter

1. 2 litres (2 pints) milk

1 x 1. 2 litre (2 pint) capacity pie dish (it’s important to have the correct size dish)

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

Put the rice, sugar and butter into a pie dish. Bring the milk to the boil and pour over. Bake for 1 – 1 1⁄2 hours. The skin should be golden, the rice underneath should be cooked through and have soaked up the milk, but still be soft and creamy. Time it so that it’s ready just in time for pudding. If it has to wait in the oven for ages, it will be dry and dull and you’ll wonder why you bothered.  Serve with brown sugar and softly whipped cream. 

Blackberries

What a bumper crop of wild blackberries we have this year, I can’t quite remember when there was such an abundant harvest of plump and juicy FREE fruit.  They have also ripened earlier than usual after those glorious sunny days, now just a distant memory.  

It took me less than a half an hour to pick a huge bowl full…. My fingers were stained a delicious purple from the juice but it’s not just blackberries in the hedgerow, there are also lots of sloes and a promising crop of hazelnuts and crab apples too. 

After my foraging expedition, I popped into town to do a bit of shopping and there on the display shelf in the midst of the season were plastic punnets of cultivated blackberries – €4.50 for 200g!

Maybe picking fruit off the brambles in the hedgerows isn’t everyone’s ‘cup of tea’ but I love a blackberry picking expedition, particularly when the group is made up of all ages and bring a picnic along too. 

We show the children how to inspect the fruit and pick perfect berries.   If the central core is discoloured or stained with juice, it usually indicates that a maggot has moved in.  Nature provides for all of us…

Blackberries are high in Vitamin C and antioxidants and were traditionally used to soothe sore throats.  When picking, stick to hedgerows on country lanes or boreens and areas that haven’t been sprayed with chemicals, try to avoid busy roadsides….

Blackberries freeze brilliantly and are a wonderful standby during winter months for tarts, compotes, crumbles and jam.  We pay lots of eager local children pocket money to harvest for us.  There will certainly be a glut this year but what to do apart from freezing.  Of course, there is jam but it’s worth remembering that blackberries are low in pectin, so you’ll need to add some tart, pectin rich apples to help the set and cut the sweetness. I like to include some chopped rosemary or sweet geranium to add some extra magic and how about making a cordial, wild blackberry mousse or a chutney…

We also love a riff on the classic Eton mess with wild blackberries or a mixture of blackberries and autumn raspberries.  Maybe add a tablespoon or two of cassis if you have it. 

I scattered a few into the batter for a batch of ‘wee buns’ today, slathered lemon icing on top and decorated them with a few fresh blackberries and sweet geranium leaves.  I got showered with compliments while they disappeared like hot cakes. 

In fact, you can pretty much substitute blackberries for any other summer berries in recipes. 

Blackberry fool is also delish, try folding a few berries into your breakfast bircher muesli with a little grated tart apple.  How about sprinkling a fistful of frozen blackberries into a batch of muffins or clafoutis.  Sprinkle them with sweet geranium sugar.  Blackberry ice-cream and blackberry and sweet geranium granita are also exquisite.  Everyone should have a sweet geranium plant to add that hauntingly, beautiful lemony flavour to so many dishes but it has a particular affinity to blackberries. 

It’s also worth making a wild blackberry syrup, just mash equal parts of blackberries, sugar and cider vinegar in a sterilized Kilner jar and allow to sit for a couple of weeks in a cool spot.  Decant and dilute with sparkling water and lots of ice.

A more grown-up version…. blackberry gin or vodka is also super easy to make and use as a base for festive fizz or a perfect Christmas present.

So get gathering, it will be the game season soon, a fistful scattered into the pan when roasting pork, duck or game bird is delicious crushed into the gravy with lots of thyme.  Add a few squished blackberries to a mojito …there’s no end to the delicious ways to use your wild blackberry harvest. 

Here are a few recipes for you to enjoy…

Wee Blackberry Buns with Lemon Icing and Sweet Geranium Leaves

If you don’t have sweet geranium, substitute fresh mint leaves for these adorable ‘wee buns’.

Makes 10

175g (6oz) soft butter

150g (5oz) castor sugar

3 eggs, preferably free range

175g (6oz) self-raising flour

110g (4oz) wild blackberries 

Lemon Glacé Icing

225g (8oz) icing sugar

finely grated zest of 1 lemon

2-4 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

1 bun tray with 10-12 holes

 Line the base of the tins with small muffin papers or bun cases… 

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

Put the soft butter, castor sugar, eggs and self-raising flour into the bowl of a food processor. Whizz for a few seconds to amalgamate. Sprinkle the blackberries over the mixture, fold in gently, then – Divide evenly between the 10 or 12 cases depending on size.  I sometimes lay a geranium leaf on top of each bun.  Bake in the preheated oven for 20- 25 minutes approx. or until golden and well risen.

Cool on a wire rack.

Meanwhile make the Lemon Glacé Icing.

Sieve the icing sugar into a bowl.   Add the lemon zest and enough lemon juice to make a softish icing. Use a palette knife to spread a little icing on each bun, decorate the tops with fresh blackberries and a sweet geranium leaf if available, alternatively use a fresh mint leaf…

Beth’s Wild Blackberry Mouse

I loved this blackberry mousse which I tasted recently at a friend’s house.  I call it Beth’s wild blackberry mousse, but she was insistent that I tell you that the recipe originally came from the Times Cookery Book by Katie Stewart.  Not sure if it’s still in print but it’s a book well worth trying to get a copy of.  *Beth tells me she likes to use less gelatine which seems perfect to me.

Serves 4 to 6


450g (1lb) blackberries
110g (4oz) caster sugar
juice of 1 small lemon
3 tablespoons cold water

15g (1/2oz) gelatine *
150ml (5fl oz) double cream
2 egg whites

Pick over and wash the blackberries.  Place in a saucepan with the sugar and the strained lemon juice.  Place over a low heat, cover and gently simmer for 10 minutes.
Measure the water into a bowl and sprinkle with gelatine.  Leave for 5 minutes.
Draw the pan of fruit off the heat and stir in the soaked gelatine.
Pass this through a sieve into a large mixing bowl to make a purée, rubbing through as much fruit as possible and then discard the pips in the sieve.
Put the purée aside to get cold and start to thicken.
Lightly whip the cream and stiffly beat the egg whites.  Fold the cream in first and then the egg whites into the purée.  Pour into a serving dish and chill until set.
Serve with extra cream if liked, and a few fresh blackberries on top.

Blackberry, Bramley Apple and Rosemary Jelly

Makes 2.7 – 3kg (6-7lbs) approx.

2.7kg (6lbs) crab apples or windfall cooking apples

2.7L (4 3/4 pints) water

2 unwaxed lemons

900g (2lbs) blackberries

3 sprigs of rosemary

sugar

2-3 tablespoons rosemary, finely chopped at the last minutes

Wash the apples and cut into quarters, do not remove either peel or core. Windfalls may be used, but make sure to cut out the bruised parts. Put the apples into a large saucepan with the water and the thinly pared rind of the lemons, add the blackberries and 3 sprigs of rosemary.  Cook until reduced to a pulp, approx. 3/4 hour.

Turn the pulp into a jelly bag* and allow to drip until all the juice has been extracted – usually overnight.  Measure the juice into a preserving pan and allow 425g (15oz) sugar to each 600ml (1 pint) of juice*.  Warm the sugar in a low oven.

*We use 350g (12oz) of sugar, but if you wish to keep the jelly for 9 months or more, it may be preferable to use 425g (15oz) to each 600ml (1 pint).

Squeeze the lemons, strain the juice and add to the preserving pan. Bring to the boil and add the warm sugar and 3 tablespoons finely chopped rosemary. Stir over a gentle heat until the sugar is dissolved.  Increase the heat and boil rapidly uncovered without stirring for about 8-10 minutes.  Test, skim and pot immediately.

Blackberry Syrup

Base for a delicious fresh tasting super nutritious drink.

Dilute with sparkling water.

Equal quantities of:

blackberries

sugar

cider vinegar

Mash the blackberries and sugar together, add the vinegar.  Put into a glass jar, cover and store in a cool dark cupboard for 2 weeks.  Strain and bottle.  Serve with sparkling water and lots of ice. 

Blackberry and Sweet Geranium Gin

Make this now and enjoy neat or as a base for a Blackberry and Sweet Geranium gin and tonic.

600g (1 1/4lbs) blackberries

600g (1 1/4lbs) sugar

600ml (1 pint) gin or vodka

4-6 sweet geranium leaves (pelargonium graveolens)

Put all the ingredients into a bottle for 2 – 3 months. Enjoy in small glasses. Damsons, sloes and haws also make delicious liqueurs. We’ve had excellent results with both gin and vodka. 

Blackberry and Sweet Geranium Sorbet

Sweet Geranium (Pelargonium Graveolens) has a wonderful affinity with blackberries.  Fresh mint or lemon verbena leaves could also be substituted – deliciously refreshing.

Serves 6

450g (1lb) wild blackberries

75g (3oz) sugar

150ml (5fl oz) water

4-6 large sweet geranium leaves (depending on size)

Put the sugar, water and sweet geranium leaves into a saucepan and bring slowly to the boil, boil for 3-4 minutes.  Allow to cool.  Meanwhile, liquidise and sieve the blackberries through a nylon sieve.  When the syrup is cold, mix with the blackberry purée, taste, it ought to taste a little too sweet at this stage, but add some fresh lemon juice if it’s cloying.  Freeze in a sorbetière for about 20 minutes.  Alternatively, put into a freezer until almost frozen, then take it out and break up the crystals with a whisk or in a food processor, return to the freezer and repeat once or twice more.  If you do not have a sorbetière you might like to fold half a stiffly beaten egg white into the sorbet to lighten the texture.

Serve a scoop of sorbet on chilled white plates, decorate with whole blackberries and sweet geranium leaves.

Going Back to School (Family Suppers)

Family suppers have got a whole lot more complicated in recent times, particularly during term with a variety of extracurricular activities at random times. However few things are more comforting than knowing that there will be a kitchen supper waiting when you come home. The smell of roast chicken with gravy and lots of roast spuds and juicy apple tart makes your heart skip… Don’t forget to give the cook a big hug and a hand with the washing up.

Many households now have a couple of vegetarian or vegan teens, then throw in the extra challenge of allergies and intolerances… and what used to be a relatively simple and fun exercise can turn into a ‘nightmare’ not to mention the many children who are picky and finicky.

One devastated Mum told me recently that she’d almost lost the ‘will to live’ because of the hassle. One can see how people give up the battle and just give in to readymade pizzas and burgers.

Let’s try to think of a few multipurpose ingredients and recipes that will be welcomed by virtually everyone.

So here are a few simple recipes that my children and grandchildren love.

Potatoes, super nutritious and Boy, can you cook them in a million different ways, vegetarian, vegan, gluten free, a meal in themselves, a side or filler to bulk out a stew.

Mac & Cheese is another family favourite, neither gluten free or dairy free but can be vegetarian. Equally, I like to add cubes of bacon or chorizo, maybe smoked mackerel or a bit of smoked salmon and lots of dill or parsley, the remains of a cooked chicken or roast and lots of fresh herbs…

Here’s a recipe for dahl, kids seem to love spices nowadays so stock up your pantry – start with coriander and cumin, turmeric, chili flakes then cardamom and you’ll probably have cloves anyhow for apple tarts. 

Frozen Chicken in a Pot, this delicious recipe was born out of desperation….

We’d invited all the family to Saturday for kitchen supper, we were running late so telephoned home to ask someone to slather the chicken with butter and chopped rosemary and pop it into the oven only to discover that they were still in the freezer….we’re now mid-afternoon – what to do!

I gave instructions to unwrap the bird, pop it into a deep saucepan with lots of chunks of onion and carrots, a few outside stalks of celery and a few sprigs of thyme and tarragon and a sprinkling of black peppercorns. Add a couple of inches of stock or failing that water. Cover the pot, put it on a medium heat, bring to the boil and simmer gently for about 1.5 – 2 hours or until the meat is tender and delicious and will virtually lift off the bones – the broth will be packed with flavour, continue on with the recipe and finish as you choose.

Pilaff rice – gorgeous with that chicken in a pot, is a doddle to make – It cooks itself and is much easier than risotto. Make it with vegetable or chicken broth and add whatever tasty bits you have to hand. Mind you the best pilaff is made with butter and has lots of grated cheese.

Faux Deep Pan Pizza is another gem and I’ll be amazed if it doesn’t become a go to recipe in your home too, always greeted with whoops of delight.

You’ll love Clafoutis, another easy pudding, comforting and delicious… We make it year-round with whatever fruit is in season. This recipe from my One Pot Feeds All book is made with plums or damsons but I recently enjoyed a delicious version with blackcurrants at Inis Meáin Suites on Inis Meáin, cooked by one of my favourite chefs, Ruari de Blacam. Omit the cinnamon and add a tablespoon of Cassis or a  scant teaspoon of pure vanilla extract instead… 

Remember the way to everyone’s heart is through their tummy and sitting down around the kitchen table, tucking into a yummy supper together is what memories are made of … so worth the effort… 

Frozen Chicken in a Pot

A brilliant recipe born out of desperation! You’ll need a really flavourful chicken,  use the very best organic bird you can find. We love to serve it with Tomato Fondue.  Not just for an emergency, it can  be prepared ahead and reheats well but do not add the liaison until just before serving. Two tablespoons of chopped tarragon and or a pan of sautéed mushrooms added to the sauce will make it even more special.. 

 Serves 8 

1 good free-range and organic chicken, can be frozen solid…. 2 kg (4 1/2lbs) approx.

2-3 carrots, sliced into chunks

2-3 onions, quartered

a couple of sticks of celery

6 black peppercorns

a sprig of thyme, a few parsley stalks, a tiny bay leaf, and a sprig of tarragon if available.. 

450-600ml (16fl oz – 1 pint) approx. water or water and white wine mixed or light chicken stock

30g (1 1/4oz) approx. roux

250-300ml (9-10fl oz) light cream or creamy milk

Liaison, an enrichment

1 egg yolk

50ml (2fl oz) cream

salt and freshly ground pepper

fresh watercress sprigs

Pilaff Rice

Put the frozen chicken into a deep saucepan or casserole with the carrot, celery, onion, herbs and peppercorns. Add a teaspoon of salt.  Pour in water, water and wine, or stock, (3/4 stock – 1/4 wine).  Cover and bring slowly to the boil and simmer either on top of the stove or in the oven for 1 1/2 – 2 hours, When the bird is cooked, remove from the casserole.  The meat should lift easily from the bone.

Strain and de-grease the cooking liquid and return to the casserole.  Discard the vegetables: they have already given their flavour to the cooking liquid.  Reduce the liquid in a wide uncovered casserole for 5-10 minutes until the flavour is concentrated.

Meanwhile make the pilaff rice.

Add cream, return to the boil and reduce again; thicken to a light coating consistency with a little roux.  Taste, add salt, correct the seasoning. 

Skin the chicken and carve the flesh into bite-sized pieces;  add  to the sauce and allow to heat through and bubble (the dish may be prepared ahead to this point).

Finally, just before serving mix the egg yolk and cream to make a liaison.  Add some of the hot sauce to the liaison then carefully stir into the chicken mixture.  Taste, correct the seasoning. Stir well but do not allow to boil further or the sauce will curdle. 

Serve with a simple Pilaff Rice. Turn the pilaff into a wide hot serving dish, top with the chicken pilaff.  Scatter with flat parsley and serve.

Alternatively serve the pilaff rice separately.

Pilaff Rice

Although a risotto can be made in 20 minutes it really entails 20 minutes of pretty constant stirring which makes it feel rather laboursome. A pilaff on the other hand looks after itself once the initial cooking is underway. Pilaff is super versatile – serve it as a staple or add whatever tasty bits you have to hand.

Serves 8

25g (1oz) butter

2 tablespoons finely chopped onion or shallot

400g (14oz) long-grain rice (preferably Basmati)

975ml (1 litre) well-flavoured homemade chicken stock

salt and freshly ground pepper

2 tablespoons freshly chopped herbs e.g. parsley, thyme, chives: optional

Melt the butter in a casserole, add the finely chopped onion and sweat for 2-3 minutes. Add the rice and toss for a minute or two, just long enough for the grains to change colour. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper, add the chicken stock, cover and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat to a minimum and then simmer on top of the stove or in the oven 160˚C/325˚F/Gas Mark 3 for 10 minutes approx. By then the rice should be just cooked and all the water absorbed. Just before serving stir in the fresh herbs if using.

Note

Basmati rice cooks quite quickly; other types of rice may take up to 15 minutes.

Roux

110g (4oz/1 stick) butter

110g (4oz/1 cup) flour

Melt the butter and cook the flour in it for 2 minutes on a low heat, stirring occasionally.  Use as required.  Roux can be stored in a cool place and used as required or it can be made up on the spot if preferred.  It will keep at least a fortnight in a refrigerator.

Everyone’s Favourite Mac and Cheese

Mac and cheese is a bit like apple crumble, simple fare but everyone loves it, plus you can add lots of tasty bits to change it up. Macaroni cheese was and still is one of my children’s favourite supper dishes. I often add some cubes of cooked bacon, ham or chorizo to the sauce.

Faux Deep Pan Pizza… 

Can’t tell you how many times this soda bread pizza base has come to the rescue when I need to whip up a dish of something filling and delicious in jig time.  Could be as simple as this with a topping of grated mature Cheddar cheese with a few spring onions.

Serves 6-8

450g (1lb) flour

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

1 level teaspoon salt

375 – 400ml (13-14fl oz) buttermilk to mix

extra virgin olive oil

75g (3oz) spring onions – white and green, thinly sliced at an angle

175g (6oz) grated mature Cheddar cheese

12 black Kalamata olives (optional)

drizzle of extra virgin olive oil

flaky sea salt

1 roasting tin 31 x 23cm x 5cm (12 x 9 x 2 inch)

First fully preheat the oven to 230°C/Gas Mark 8.

Sieve the dry ingredients into a large wide bowl. Make a well in the centre. Pour the milk in all at once. Using one hand, mix in the flour from the sides of the bowl, adding more milk if necessary. The dough should be softish, not too wet and sticky. When it all comes together, turn it out onto a floured board, knead lightly for a few seconds, tidy it up and flip over.

Brush the tin with olive oil.  Roll the dough into a rectangle just large enough to fit the tin.  Sprinkle evenly with chopped spring onion and then grated Cheddar.  Stud with olives (optional).  Season with flaky sea salt.  Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil and bake in the preheated oven for 5 minutes.  Then reduce the temperature to 200˚C/400˚F/Gas Mark 6 for 20-25 minutes or until just cooked.  The cheese should be bubbly and golden on top.  Transfer to a wire rack to cool.  Cut into squares and served with drinks or with a steaming bowl of soup.

Other tasty toppings

50g (2oz) Parmesan and 4-6 tablespoons of your favourite Pesto – basil, kale, rocket or wild garlic

110 – 150g (4-5oz) Tapenade and 110-150g (4-5oz) soft goat cheese

110 – 150g (4-5oz) Nduja and 18-22 Bocconcini

Martha Rosenthal’s Red Lentil Dahl

Turmeric has major, scientifically-proven, anti-inflammatory properties (similar to anti-inflammatory medications). It also has anti-septic properties.

This is the quickest dahl to cook – it takes only 20 minutes without using a pressure cooker.  The orange/red colour of the lentils becomes pale yellow once it is cooked.  It keeps well.

Serves 6

225g (8oz) orange/red lentils

400ml (14fl oz) can of coconut milk plus 300ml (10fl oz) water

1 teaspoon turmeric

scant 1 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1 teaspoon garam masala

Baghar

3 tablespoons oil

1 teaspoon cumin seeds

1/2 – 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1 teaspoon coriander powder

Garnish

6 slices onion, sautéed until golden

a few chopped fresh coriander or mint leaves

Put the lentils in a heavy saucepan with the coconut milk and water, add the turmeric, bring to the boil and simmer for about 10-15 minutes by which time the lentils will be soft, almost mushy.  When cooked turn off the heat, add salt, lemon juice and garam masala.  Heat the oil, add cumin seeds, fry for 10 seconds and turn off the heat.  Add the cayenne and coriander, stir and pour over the cooked lentils.  Mix well and garnish.  Serve with Basmati rice and Tamarind Sauce

Martha’s Garam Masala

What adds flavour to this simple recipe is to make your own garam masala.

Punjabi-style Garam Masala

18g (3/4oz) cumin seeds

35g (1 1/2ozs) coriander seeds

1 1/2 teaspoons cardamon seeds

1 1/2 teaspoons black peppercorns

15 whole cloves

5cm (2 inch) piece cinnamon stick

3 tablespoons fennel seeds

1 tablespoon brown mustard seeds

1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes

Heat a heavy sauté pan over a medium-low heat.  Add all of the ingredients, dry roast the spices, stirring occasionally until they darken slightly, about 8-10 minutes.  Transfer to a coffee grinder or blender and grind to a powder.  Use while fresh or store in an airtight container for up to a month.

Tamarind Relish

Tamarind is high in the antioxidant vitamin C, B vitamins, flavonoids and vital minerals. It helps preserve vitamin C levels in the body, promotes heart health by lowering cholesterol. Tamarind juice can be used as a gargle to ease a sore throat.

4 teaspoons tamarind

200ml (7fl oz) boiling water

1 teaspoon freshly grated ginger

35g (1 1/2oz) chopped dates or raisins, or half and half

1/2 teaspoon dry roasted cumin seeds, crushed

1/4 – 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper, or to taste

salt to taste

Mix the tamarind with the boiling water, cover and soak for 30 minutes. Press the tamarind pulp through a fine sieve extracting all the paste, add the ginger, stir and then put the dates and/or raisins.  Mix well, then add the freshly ground cumin, cayenne and salt to taste.  Keeps for 3-4 weeks.

Tamarind Water

Tamarind lends a distinctive sour taste, helping to balance out the sweet, salty and hot flavours so often found in Asian cooking. I buy the whole pod, keep it in a sealed container in the fridge and break off little pieces as I need them. To use, the pieces are soaked in hot water to cover for 20 minutes. The water takes on the tamarind flavour and it is this that you use once it has been strained. Press the tamarind pulp in your strainer to extract as much flavour as possible.

Top Tip

Martha sometimes adds 2 quartered ripe tomatoes just before serving.

Soda Bread Deep Pan Pizza

The idea to use Soda Bread as a base for a pizza was born out of desperation one day when I needed to whip up a dish of something filling and delicious in no time at all for a few hungry lads.  It can be as simple as a topping of grated mature Cheddar cheese and scallions or well-seasoned cherry tomatoes, a few basil leaves and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil.  This recipe is taken from my ‘One Pot Feeds All’ published by Kyle Books. 

Serves 6-8

450g (1lb) plain white flour, plus extra for kneading and rolling

1 level teaspoon bicarbonate of soda

1 level teaspoon sea salt

375–400ml (13-14fl oz) buttermilk

Topping

extra virgin olive oil, for brushing

1/2 – 1 tablespoon chopped rosemary

50g (2oz) pepperoni or chorizo, diced into 5mm (1/4 inch)

350g (12oz) Tomato Fondue or chopped fresh or tinned tomatoes mixed with seasoning/spices

8 bocconcini, halved

15g (1/2oz) Parmesan cheese, grated

lots of snipped flat-leaf parsley

Fully preheat the oven to 230°C/450°F/Gas Mark 8.

Sift the flour, bicarbonate of soda and salt into a large bowl. Make a well in the centre. Pour in 375ml (13fl oz) of the buttermilk and, using one hand, mix in the flour from the sides of the bowl. Mix to a softish, not too wet and sticky consistency, adding more buttermilk if necessary. When it all comes together, turn out the dough onto a floured board, knead lightly for a few seconds, tidy it up and flip it over.

Brush a roasting tin, approx. 31 x 23 x 5cm (12 x 9 x 2 inch), with olive oil. Roll out the dough lightly to fit the tin and sprinkle with rosemary. Scatter the diced chorizo evenly over the surface. Spread a layer of tomato fondue over the chorizo and arrange some halved bocconcini on top. Sprinkle with grated Parmesan.

Transfer the tray to the fully preheated oven on a low rack and bake for an initial 15 minutes. Then reduce the heat to 200°C/400°F/Gas Mark 6 and bake for a further 20–25 minutes or until the dough is cooked and it’s golden and bubbly on top.

Sprinkle with the parsley sprigs and serve with a good green salad.

Other tasty toppings

’Nduja and Bocconcini

Follow the main recipe, omitting the rosemary and replacing the chorizo with 100g (31/2oz) ‘nduja mixed with 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, to make it easier to spread.   Sprinkle with fresh marjoram to serve.

Follow the main recipe, omitting the rosemary and replacing the chorizo.

Pesto and Parmesan

Follow the main recipe, omit the rosemary and chorizo and replace the tomato fondue with 3 tablespoons of loose basil or wild garlic pesto. Top with 110–150g (4-5oz) grated mozzarella or 110–150g (4-5oz) soft goat’s cheese and 15g (1/2oz) grated Parmesan.

Tapenade and Soft Goat’s Cheese

Follow the main recipe, omitting the rosemary and chorizo and replacing the tomato fondue with 3 tablespoons of tapenade, and the mozzarella with 110–150g (4-5oz) blobs of soft goat’s cheese.

Spiced Aubergine

Follow the main recipe, omitting the rosemary and chorizo and replacing with 6-8 tablespoons of Spiced Aubergine.

Cheddar Cheese and Spring Onion

Follow the main recipe, omitting the chorizo and replacing the rosemary with 4 tablespoons of sliced spring onions and the Parmesan with 100g (3 1/2oz) grated mature Cheddar cheese.

Plum or DamsonClafoutis

Clafoutis is a sort of fluffy custard, a base for whatever seasonal fruit you can lay your hands on: rhubarb or gooseberries are delicious, but you need to adjust the sugar. This one is made with stone-in plums or you can use damsons. I often have rose geranium or mint sugar in a jar – this also makes a delicious sprinkle. Use 500g (18oz) of blackcurrants… delicious… 

Serves 8

15g (generous 1/2oz) softened butter, for greasing

5 organic, free-range eggs

100g (3 1/2oz) caster sugar

75g (3oz) plain white flour

115ml (generous 4fl oz) double cream

420ml (scant 15fl oz) whole milk

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon or 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

750g (1lb 10oz) Mirabelle plums or damsons or cherries, peaches, nectarines

or greengages, in season

25g (1oz) pistachio nuts, coarsely chopped or flaked almonds

icing or caster sugar, to sprinkle

softly whipped cream, to serve

Preheat the oven to 180°C/350˚F/Gas Mark 4 and grease a 28cm (11 inch) round baking dish or similar with softened butter.

Whisk the eggs with the caster sugar in a mixing bowl. Sift in the flour, pour in the cream and milk, and add the cinnamon or vanilla extract. Whisk together to form a smooth batter
with no lumps.

Pour half the batter into the buttered dish. Scatter the Mirabelle plums or damsons on top. (I leave the stones in, but you could de-stone them if you wish. If using cherries or greengages, you can scatter them over whole, or stone them if you prefer; peaches or nectarines are best halved or quartered, depending on size.) Pour the remaining batter over the fruit.

Bake for 30–40 minutes, and then scatter with the pistachios or flaked almonds and continue to cook for a further 10 minutes until the clafoutis is puffed up and the nuts are golden. Sprinkle with icing or caster sugar and serve with lots of softly whipped cream.

Northern Ireland

Anyone who has experienced the chaos in so many airports this Summer, to get to their longed-for holiday destination, may well have questioned whether it’s really worth the effort.  Having battled to get there, many were sizzled alive at temperatures from mid-30˚C to 40˚C…

Been there, done that too so from now on, whenever I can snatch a few precious days, I’m determined to explore parts of Ireland hitherto not visited.  I haven’t been to the North since before the pandemic so let me tell you about a recent trip to the Mourne Mountain area in Co. Down.  It’s such a beautiful area, a hill walkers paradise but I was also on a food trail. 

The Northern Ireland artisan producer scene has exploded since peace was restored in 1998 and Government funded organisations in different regions have been generous in their support of those with a spark of entrepreneurial spirit. 
Mourne Mountains and Ring of Guillion plus Savour Mourne were also very supportive with information on where to visit in the area.  Killeavy Castle Estate has been saved from an advanced state of dereliction and restored by an Australian couple Mick and Robyn Boyle with a connection to the area.  It’s set in the midst of a 330-acre farm, woodlands and walled gardens.  Young chef, Darragh Dooley is super enthusiastic about local produce and is on a mission to use as much produce as possible from the estate – beef from the longhorn cattle, lamb from the flock of Cheviot sheep, vegetables, fruits, fresh herbs…a work-in-progress but an admirable aspiration… (www.killeavycastle.com). 

Darragh and his kitchen team cooked us a delicious lunch where I also met several local producers, Damien Tumulty rears Dexter cattle and sells online from Castlescreen Farm (www.castlescreenfarm.com) , Andrew Boyd makes a range of award-winning ciders at Kilmegan when he’s not teaching rowing (www.kilmegancider.com ).  Another local entrepreneur Brendan Carty set up Killowen Distillery in 2019 – he makes whiskey, gin, rum, liqueurs and poitín.  There are so many good things to taste and explore in this area –   www.killowendistillery.com

Ann Ward, a medic, set up meditation and mindfulness Xhale Experience Yoga and forest bathing – how about that for a fun and restorative experience (www.xhale.biz).

We also tasted several Northern Ireland artisan cheeses – Young Buck – a delicious, feisty blue made by cheese pioneer, Mike Thompson and Ballylisk Tripple Rose made by the Wright family from the milk of their pedigree Holstein herd.  The sweet and nutty soda bread was served with local honey and treacle. 

A few miles along the road in Castlewellan, another highlight…this time, an artisan brewery tour.  The Whitewater Brewing Company was established in 1996 by Bernard and Kerrie Sloan – on a 5th generation family farm.  This dynamic, innovative couple are making some of the best artisan beer on the island of Ireland.  They have also been super courageous in their business decisions investing with ‘fingers crossed’ in a bottling plant and later a canning plant that has been a huge success and has opened up many more options.   Their completely natural beers are gluten-free and vegan friendly and have won top awards here and abroad are now exported not just to France, Italy and Sweden but also to Japan.  Their latest venture is an interesting range of Selzers which will be launched in September.  Their enthusiasm was irresistible and infectious.  Visit them when you are in the area or get 3 or 4 pals together to spend a day learning how to make a ‘wee brew’ together in the Brew School – www.whitewaterbrewery.com

We enjoyed a spectacular dinner cooked by multi award-winning chef Paul Cunningham who cooks at secret locations.  He popped up at Carrick Cottage Café in Annalong.  Carrick Cottage Café is really worth seeking out on any day (www.carrickcottagecafe.co.uk).

Apart from all of this, the rugged landscape and granite stone walls in the Mournes and the long drive along the coast is truly spectacular – an exciting new discovery for me as was the charming little Hillyard Hotel in Castlewellan (www.hillyard-house.co.uk).

Here are some of the recipes I enjoyed on my trip…

Granny Mary’s Wheaten Bread

Makes 18 x 7cm (2.5 inch) squares

Feel free to use half the recipe and use a smaller tin

1 large rectangular tin with edges 32cm/13 inch (length) x 23cm/9 inch (width) x 5cm/2 inch in depth

1kg (2 1/4lb) wholemeal flour

200g (7oz) porridge oats

25g (1 tablespoon) salt

15-20g (3-4 teaspoons) bread soda

2 eggs

100ml (3 1/2oz) olive oil

75ml (3 tablespoons) treacle

50g (3 tablespoons) caster sugar

110g (6 tablespoons) coarse pinhead oatmeal

1200ml (2 pints) buttermilk

75g (3oz) mixed sunflower and pumpkin seeds

Preheat the oven to 175˚C/325˚F/Gas Mark 3.

Oil the sides and base of the tin and line with parchment paper.

In a large bowl mix flour, oats, salt, bread soda, sugar and pinhead together and mix by hand until combined. In another bowl whisk the eggs add the treacle and olive oil and buttermilk.  Whisk to combine. Make a well in the centre of the dry ingredients, pour in the wet ingredients and mix to a soft dough.

Pour the mix into the lined tin. Sprinkle with 75g (3oz) of mixed seeds.

Bake in the preheated oven for 75 minutes.

Remove from oven take out of tin and bake for 10 more minutes.  Cool on a wire rack.

Best served warm with some unsalted butter.

Adapted from Killeavy Castle Estate (August 2022)

Note

Darragh tells me ‘our wheaten bread is best eaten between 1 to 3 days after baking but it freezes brilliantly’.

Mourne Food Adventures Nana’s No Bake Fifteens

Makes 1 roll

A twist on the traditional Ulster traybake using local foraged and artisan ingredients. This recipe is handed down from my grandmother who emigrated to Wyoming USA in the 1930s when provisions were scarce.

gorse or whin bush flowers or cornflowers in Summer

40g (generous 1 1/2oz) handpicked rosemary

Homemade Shortbread made with:

125g (4 1/2oz) Aberthney butter

55g (2 1/4oz) caster sugar

180g (6 1/4oz) Morton’s plain flour

80g (3 1/4oz) NeargNogs old fashioned Irish chocolate – NearyNogs chocolate is a small batch crafted on the Mourne Coast

80g (3 1/4oz) hazelnuts, chopped

20ml (3/4fl oz) milk

100-125g (3 1/2 – 4oz) of white chocolate

Crumble the shortbread until it looks like fine crumbs.

Chop the hazelnuts and chocolate into small bites, mix with the shortbread.

Chop rosemary and whin petals (or cornflowers).

Add to shortbread mix.

Grate white chocolate and leave aside.

Stir in milk slowly and mix to soft dough.

Shape into sausage shape and chill.

Lay grated white chocolate onto greaseproof.

Remove the dough from the parchment.  Roll in the grated chocolate.  Slice into rounds.

Refrigerate until firm

Serve with a hot cup of tea!

Irish Bannock

A delicious fruity soda bread, traditional to both Scotland and Northern Ireland. It resembles a giant scone. Enjoy it freshly cooked, in thick slices, slathered with butter.

Most recipes I’ve come across include currants but some use raisins or sultanas.

Makes 1

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

1 level teaspoon bicarbonate of soda

1 level teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons sugar

75g (3oz) currants or raisins or sultanas

1 organic egg

about 350 – 425ml (12-14fl oz) buttermilk

Preheat the oven to 220°C/425°F/Gas Mark 7.

In a large mixing bowl, sieve in the flour and bicarbonate of soda; then add the salt, sugar and sultanas. Mix well by lifting the flour and fruit up into your hands and then letting them fall back into the bowl through your fingers. This adds more air and therefore more lightness to your finished bread. Now make a well in the centre of the flour mixture. Break the egg into the base of a measuring jug and add the buttermilk to the 425ml (14fl oz) line (the egg is part of the liquid measurement). Pour most of this milk and egg mixture into the flour.

Using one hand with the fingers open and stiff, mix in a full circle drawing in the flour mixture from the sides of the bowl, adding more milk if necessary. The dough should be softish, but not too wet and sticky.

The trick with bannock like all soda breads, is not to over mix the dough. Mix it as quickly and gently as possible, thus keeping it light and airy. When it all comes together, turn it out onto a well-floured worked surface.  WASH AND DRY YOUR HANDS. Roll around gently with floury hands for a second, just enough to tidy it up. Flip over and flatten slightly to about 5cm (2 inches) approx. Transfer to a baking tray lightly dusted with flour.   Cut the surface with a deep cross and once again if you would like 8 wedges.  Let the cuts go over the sides of the bread to make sure of this inches deep.  Put into the oven and immediately reduce the temperature to 200°C/400°F/Gas Mark 6. Cook for 35-40 minutes. If you are in doubt about the bread being cooked, tap the bottom: if it is cooked it will sound hollow. This bread is cooked at a lower temperature than soda bread because the egg browns faster at a higher heat.

Serve freshly baked, cut into thick slices and smeared with butter and jam.

Diana Kennedy

Diana Kennedy, the famously feisty British born cook and food writer who  dedicated the great part of her career to seeking out and documenting the richness and diversity of Mexican cuisine has died at the age of 99. 

Diana whom I was fortunate to know always said that she didn’t want to live to be over 100.  I visited her in her beloved Michoacan in Western Mexico in 2013.  When she moved to Mexico City from New York in her 30’s, she met and fell in love with Paul Kennedy, the great love of her life who was the New York Times correspondent for Mexico.  She became intrigued by the diversity of Mexican food and when he died in 1967, she continued to travel and drove thousands of miles backwards and forwards across the country in her ancient ‘pick-up’ truck to research regional cuisine.  She’d talk to street vendors, stallholders in the markets and ask how do you do this or cook that.  She watched, cooked with them in their simple kitchens and always credited those who taught her dishes in many books.  Her books appealed both to home cooks and chefs.  She was described as ‘the Indiana Jones of Mexican Food’ by Spanish chef and philanthropist José Andréas.

Her first book ‘The Cuisines of Mexico’ was a revelation to those English-speaking readers who hitherto had only tasted the TexMex food.  Thanks to Diana, they discovered the extraordinary richness and biodiversity of regional Mexican food through her many books.

I met Diana several times, first in Oaxaca at an IACP (International Association of Culinary Professionals) regional conference.  She later came to Ireland in 2014 to speak and teach at the Ballymaloe Lit Fest.  People flew in from all over the world to attend her class.  At that time, she was 91, a force of nature dressed in black leather…

She loved Ireland but my happiest memories of Diana were several days spent at her beautiful adobe house, built around a boulder in the midst of her eco-garden and farm in Zitacuaro.  Even in her late 80’s and 90’s, she produced most of her own organic food, vegetables and fruit, grew her own fresh herbs, coffee, chillies, epazote (Mexican aromatic herb), watercress, raspberries…It was like the Garden of Eden on a very rugged site.

We went to the market, cooked together and then feasted at a little table in the garden close to the kitchen.  Her solar oven and plate warmer close by.  Plastic bags were drying on the branches of the shrubs.  Diana hated lots of things; she hated waste and reused plastic over and over again.  She hated pesticides, genetically modified food, industrialised tortillas…she was outraged that Mexico, the home of corn, was importing corn from the US.  She mourned the loss of taste, how right she was…

Her home was powered by solar and wind energy.  In ‘Nothing Fancy’, a documentary about her life made in 2020, she described her garden as her ‘jewel box’. 

Her influence was immense; she won many accolades including the Mexican Order of the Aztec Eagles, the country’s highest award for foreigners.  Like so many others, I feel fortunate that our paths crossed in  life – what a legacy she has left us all.  Her home in Michoacan will become a centre for Mexican food studies.

When she died, Arturo Sarukhán, a former Mexican Ambassador to the US, described her death as a huge loss for Mexico, the UK and Mexican gastronomy’.  She changed the narrative and perception of Mexican cuisine from a bland mish-mash of TexMex to a sophisticated tapestry of regional cuisines as rich as any in China, India, France or Italy.

Here are a few recipes Diana shared at the Ballymaloe Lit Fest in 2014. 

A Whole Fish with Mexican Spices

Pescado en Macum

It is much more common for a housewife to use a whole fish than fillets. You could use a whole grouper or snapper or thick fillets from either fish. They should be cooked in one layer.

Serves 6

1.1kg (2 1/2lbs) fillets of fish about 2.5cm (1 inch) thick, cut into 6 servings

125ml (4 1/2fl oz) fresh lime juice mixed with 225ml (8fl oz) water

1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds

12 peppercorns

1 tablespoon dried oregano

6 garlic cloves, peeled

2 teaspoons achiote paste

salt to taste

4 – 6 tablespoons of bitter orange juice or substitute (see recipe below)

6 tablespoons of olive oil

1 medium white onion, thinly sliced

450g (1lb) tomatoes, thinly sliced

2 x-cat-ik chiles, grilled

banana leaves to cover (optional)

Rinse the fish with the lime juice and water and pat dry. In a coffee or spice grinder, grind together the cumin, peppercorns and oregano. Crush 2 cloves of the garlic, add the ground spices and achiote paste with salt and mix well. Dilute to spreading consistency with the orange juice. Spread this on both sides of the fish and set aside to season for at least 30 minutes.

Heat the oil in a skillet that will hold the fish on one layer. Fry the remaining 4 cloves of garlic for about 30 seconds or until golden, remove from the oil and discard. Add the fish and fry for about 3 minutes on each side. Remove and set aside. Add the onions to the pan and fry for a few seconds – they should not brown – add the tomatoes and fry over fairly high heat for 3 minutes. Put the fish back into the pan, add the x-cat-ik chiles and cook, covered over a gentle heat for about 15 minutes or until the fish is just tender. I like to set it aside for about 10 minutes before serving to develop flavour.

Bitter Orange Substitute

Makes about 125ml (4 1/2fl oz)

2 tablespoons fresh grapefruit juice

2 tablespoons fresh orange juice

1 teaspoon finely grated grapefruit rind

65ml (2 1/2fl oz) fresh lime juice

Mix everything together thoroughly about 1 hour before using. Keep in the refrigerator, tightly sealed, no more than 3 or 4 days.

Recipe taken from ‘My Mexico’ – copyright Diana Kennedy

Chicken in Peanut Sauce

Pollo en Salsa de Cacahuate (Señora Letica Castro)

Central Mexico

I was having tea one afternoon with Señora Letica Castro, who has a great reputation as a cook. During a discussion of the food of Oaxaca, she called in one of her maids who was from Oaxaca and asked her to dictate some of her favourite recipes to us. This she did, without a moment’s hesitation and without needing to correct a quantity or ingredient. Here it is just as she gave it to us – a most interesting and delicious way of preparing chicken. The sauce is not very picante. There should be a pleasant “afterglow” from the chiles.

Serves 6

2kgs (4 1/2lbs) chicken parts

1 teaspoon salt, or to taste

freshly ground black pepper

4 – 5 tablespoons fresh lime juice

1 medium white onion, cut into 4 pieces

2 garlic cloves, unpeeled

2.5cm (1 inch) piece of cinnamon stick

6 peppercorns

6 whole cloves

315ml (10 1/2fl oz) raw (unroasted, unsalted) peanuts, measured shelled and with papery husks removed

450g (1lb) tomatoes, broiled

4 chipotle chiles en vinagre or adobo, or to taste

3 tablespoons vegetable oil or rendered chicken fat

500ml (18fl oz) water

Sprinkle the chicken with salt, pepper and the lime juice and set aside to season while you prepare the sauce.

Heat a small, ungreased frying pan and toast the onion and garlic until soft. Peel the garlic. Toss the spices in the hot pan to toast them lightly and then toast the peanuts until they are golden.

Put the unskinned tomatoes, chiles and the toasted ingredients, except the peanuts, into a blender and blend until quite smooth, gradually add the peanuts and add a little water only if necessary to release the blades of the blender. Heat the oil or chicken fat in a heavy casserole and fry the chicken pieces, a few at a time, until golden brown. Remove the chicken from the frying pan and set aside. There should be about 65ml (2 1/2fl oz) of oil in the pan. Remove or make up to that amount. Reheat the oil and fry the blended ingredients over medium heat for 3 minutes, constantly stirring and scraping from the bottom of the pan. Lower the heat and let the sauce cook for about 15 minutes longer, continuing to scrape the bottom of the pan from time to time.

Add the chicken pieces and the 500ml (18fl oz) of water. Adjust the seasoning and cook over low heat until the chicken is tender – 35 to 40 minutes. The sauce will thicken – it should lightly cover the back of a wooden spoon – and pools of oil will form on the surface.

Serve the chicken with plenty of sauce, accompanied by small, boiled potatoes.

Note: this dish can be prepared several hours ahead. Surprisingly it freezes very well and will keep for about 2 weeks.                                                                     

Recipe taken from ‘The Essential Cuisines of Mexico’ – copyright Diana Kennedy

Guacamole Chamacuero

Makes about 750ml (1 pint 5fl oz)

2 heaped tablespoons finely chopped onion (sharp not sweet)

2-3 (or to taste) serrano chiles, finely chopped

sea salt to taste

500ml (18fl oz) roughly crushed avocado pulp

188ml (3/4 cup) finely diced ripe, but not too soft, peeled peaches

125ml (1/2 cup) halved seedless grapes

1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lime juice

83ml (1/3 cup) pomegranate seeds

Crush the onion, chile and salt to a paste. Stir in the avocado pulp, peaches, grapes, lime juice and half the pomegranate seeds. Mix well and sprinkle the surface with the remaining seeds.

Ideally serve with warm corn tortillas.

Note: In Mexico we spell chile like this and not chilli.

Pineapple and Banana Dessert

Cajeta de Piña y Plãtano

Serves 6

This is a thick, dark paste of fruit with an unusual and refreshing flavour.  Whenever I make it, I think of Luz, our first Mexican maid.  Although she came only to clean for a few brief periods each week, somehow, she managed to give me my first Mexican cooking lesson.  At that time I didn’t think to ask her where she had come across this recipe, and I had never been able to find it in any cookbook, or find anyone else who knew of it, at least in Mexico City.  But one day, I was reading through a book I had just acquired, Recetas Prácticas para la Señora de Casa published in Guadalajara in 1895, and there it was.

375ml (13fl oz) dark brown sugar

750ml (1 pint 5fl oz) water

5cm (2 inch) piece of cinnamon stick

1 pineapple, about 1.8kg (4lbs)

900g (2lbs) bananas (not too ripe)

5cm (2 inch) piece of cinnamon stick, broken in half

juice and zest of 1/2 lime

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

Bring the brown sugar, water and cinnamon to the boil in a heavy pan and let them continue to boil fast for 20 minutes.  The liquid will have reduced to about 625ml (1 pint 1fl oz).  Remove the cinnamon stick. 

Clean and dice the fruit and blend it with the syrup to a medium texture.  Pour the mixture into a shallow ovenproof dish, ideally not much more than 7.5cm (3 inches) deep and stir in the broken cinnamon stick and lime juice and zest.  Place the dish in the oven and let the mixture cook for about 4 hours.  From time to time, scrape the mixture from the sides of the dish and stir it well.  This is particularly important towards the end of the cooking period.

When the mixture is thick, sticky and a rich, dark brown, transfer it to a small serving dish and glaze it quickly under the broiler (grill).  Set it aside to cool.  Serve the cajeta with queso fresco or thick sour cream.

Note

This should keep for 10-15 days in the refrigerator – but I doubt whether that will be necessary.  I’m afraid I always dip a finger into it each time I open the refrigerator door.  I don’t suggest freezing. 

Recipe taken from ‘The Essential Cuisines of Mexico’ – copyright Diana Kennedy

Summer Foraging

I’m sitting in my little garden in an enormous Adirondack chair sipping a glass of watermelon lemonade, the birds are twittering in the trees and the sun is beaming down – a lovely moment to be treasured.

But it sounds like there are tough times ahead of us this winter.  The cost of everything seems to be skyrocketing, who knows what’s ahead, but it will certainly be challenging and as ever, those less fortunate will be most heavily impacted.  Tough decisions to be made on how to allocate the weekly budget but whatever happens, let’s try to continue to feed ourselves and our families wholesome, nourishing food but that doesn’t need to be fancy or expensive.

I’ve written many times in this column about the importance of learning to be thrifty and mastering practical life skills.  Already many of us are questioning virtually everything we do, not a bad idea, do we need to use the spin dryer, how about putting up a washing line – I love hanging clothes out in the breeze and dashing out to bring them in before it rains – a blast from the past…

Question everything in your shopping trolley too and tot up how much you save.  Learn to recognise foods from the wild, they are bursting with goodness, much flavourful and more nutritious than virtually anything on the supermarket shelf because they haven’t been adapted to produce maximum yield at minimum cost.  Buy a book on foraging or go for a ramble with a knowledgeable friend.  If you are fortunate to be within a reasonable distance of upland areas or dry woodlands or scrubby mountains, how about collecting some wild bilberries.  For years we got baskets of wild blueberries or fraughans at Ballymaloe from the Knockmealdown Mountains.  Traditionally, the Celtic festival of Lughnasa on the last weekend in July was known as Frauchán Sunday.

These wild bilberries are really worth seeking out, the berries are smaller and tarter but truly delicious crushed with sugar then smothered with cream.  We requested them as one of the desserts, with carrageen moss pudding for our ‘wedding breakfast’.  If you have a glut – remember they freeze brilliantly. 

Wild blueberries grow on scritchy low growing shrubs and boast nearly twice as many oxidants as their cultivated counterparts.  So seek out some of these free foods and let’s build resilience for times ahead, it’s not too late to grow some of your own food for the Autumn and Winter.  Even if you don’t have a garden or raised bed, you’ be surprised how much you can grow in large containers on your patio or balcony.  Check out GIY Ireland for a myriad of terrific tips. 

Wild watercress and sea spinach are easier to find and there will be damsons, sloes and wild hazelnuts in early autumn.  There’s a fantastic crop of nuts this year but they won’t be ripe until late September so keep an eye out and bring children with you so they can have fun learning the skills of recognising food in the wild – Nature’s bounty to all of us.

Sea Spinach and Rosemary Soup

The trick with these green soups is not to add the greens until the last minute, otherwise they will overcook, and the soup will lose its fresh taste and bright green colour. For a simple spinach soup, omit the rosemary and add a little freshly grated nutmeg with the seasoning.

Serves 6-8

50g (2oz) butter

110g (4oz) onion, peeled and chopped

150g (5oz) potatoes, peeled and chopped

600ml (1 pint) homemade chicken stock, vegetable stock or water

425-600ml (15fl oz – 1 pint) creamy milk (1/4 cream and 3/4 milk)

salt and freshly ground pepper

225-350g (8-12oz) sea spinach or sea beet, destalked and chopped

1 tablespoon fresh rosemary, chopped

Garnish

2 tablespoons whipped cream (optional)

sprig of rosemary or rosemary flowers

Melt the butter in a heavy-bottomed saucepan. When it foams add the onions and potatoes and turn them until well coated. Sprinkle with salt and freshly ground pepper. Cover and sweat on a gentle heat for 10 minutes. Add the boiling stock and milk, bring back to the boil and simmer until the potatoes and onions are fully cooked. Add the sea spinach and boil with the lid off for about 4-5 minutes, until the sea spinach is tender. Do not overcook or the soup will lose its fresh green colour.  Add the chopped rosemary.

Liquidise and taste.  Serve in warm bowls garnished with a blob of whipped cream and a sprig of rosemary. If you have a pretty rosemary bush in bloom, sprinkle a few flowers over the top for extra pzazz.

Good to Know

If you need to reheat a green soup, do so at the last minute. If it sits in a saucepan or bain-marie for ages it will lose its lively colour.

Butterfly Sandwiches

Sounds very grand but they are simply Watercress sandwiches cut into triangles – a favourite supper or picnic food when we picked watercress in the Chapel Meadows behind the church outside the little village of Cullohill in County Laois where I spent my childhood.

Makes 2

a bunch of fresh watercress

4 slices of a good white pan loaf

butter

flaky sea salt

Slather the thinly sliced bread generously with butter.  Wash, dry and chop the watercress coarsely. 

Spread an even layer of chopped watercress,  about 1cm (1/2 inch) thick onto the slice,  should be about the same thickness as the bread.  Sprinkle with flaky sea salt and a grind of black pepper.  Top with the second slice, press down, trim the crust and cut into triangles. 

Enjoy the butterfly sandwiches soon, also delicious with an extra layer of cucumber slices – perfect for afternoon tea…

Chicory, Watercress, Apple and Hazelnut Salad

The Irish apple season has begun, we’ve got an abundance of Beauty of Bath apples this year too.  I love to put them into salads.  The dressing for this salad doesn’t need a robust flavour, use a light olive oil.

a handful of whole unblanched hazelnuts

2 bunches watercress

2 bulbs chicory

4 medium sized tart/sweet crisp apples

Dressing

2 tablespoons cider vinegar

pinch of salt

6 tablespoons light olive oil

To Serve

a small bunch of chives cut into inch or so lengths

Maldon sea salt

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

Toss the hazelnuts in a little oil and a sprinkle of salt and roast in a hot  oven until toasty brown.  Leave to cool. Break them into coarse pieces with a rolling pin

Make the dressing in a large mixing bowl; mix the vinegar and a pinch of salt along with the light olive oil.

Remove the more fibrous stalks from the watercress and separate the leaves of chicory. Cut the apples into slim wedges, removing the core with a sharp knife.

Just before serving.

Gently toss the chicory, watercress and apple in the dressing and transfer to a serving dish. Sprinkle liberally with the broken hazelnuts and chives and a pinch of Maldon sea salt. 

Pickled Samphire

Originally samphire was just pickled in a solution of 3 parts vinegar to 1 part water and a little salt, but of course one can add flavours, spices, herbs…

225g (8oz) fresh samphire

1 bay leaf

600ml (1 pint) wine or apple vinegar

1 dessertspoon sugar

10 peppercorns

2 teaspoons coriander seeds

1 sprig thyme

Put all the ingredients for the pickle into a stainless-steel saucepan, bring to the boil for 4-5 minutes.

Meanwhile, pick over and wash the samphire, blanch in boiling water for 1-2 minutes.

Pack in sterilized jars.  Cover with pickle, cover tightly. 

Store in a dark place and allow to mellow for 2 weeks before using.  It will keep for a year or more but its best eaten sooner.

Delicious with cold mutton or lamb, in sandwiches, add a little to mayonnaise to serve with fish.

Wild Blueberry and Rose Geranium Sugar Bites

Everyone should have a sweet geranium plant on their windowsill.  It’s got a haunting lemony scent and flavour and a variety of names.  Pelargonium Graveolens is the Latin name.   Cut this delectable ‘tray bake’ into bites.  This recipe will become a favourite. 

Makes 24

175g (6oz) soft butter

150g (5oz) caster sugar

2 large eggs, preferably free range

175g (6oz) self-raising flour

2 tablespoons freshly chopped sweet or rose geranium

225g (8oz) wild blueberries (blackberries or raspberries may also be used)

Rose Geranium Sugar

50g (2oz) caster sugar

1 tablespoon of freshly chopped rose or sweet geranium

25.5 x 18cm (10 x 7 inch) Swiss roll tin, well-greased or lined with parchment paper

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

Put the butter, caster sugar, eggs and self-raising flour and chopped sweet geranium into a food processor. Whizz for just a few seconds to amalgamate.  It should be softish – add a little milk if necessary.   Spread evenly in the well-buttered tin.  Sprinkle the blueberries (blackberries or raspberries if using) as evenly as possible over the top. 

Bake in the preheated oven for 25-30 minutes approx. or until golden brown and well risen.

Allow to cool slightly, sprinkle with caster sugar whizzed with leaves of rose geranium. Serve in squares.

Note

In Winter when the butter is harder to cream, it may be necessary to add 2-3 tablespoons of milk to lighten the mixture and texture.

Ice-Cream with Crushed Blueberries

If you aren’t fortunate enough to find the wild ones, look out for the plump and delicious Irish cultivated blueberries which are in the shops at present.

Serves 6-8

350g (14oz) whole unsweetened natural yoghurt

75g (3oz) caster sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

125ml (4 1/2fl oz) cream

Put the yoghurt and sugar into a bowl. Add the vanilla extract and mix well.  Stir in the cream and freeze in an ice-cream machine if you have one. Otherwise an excellent result is achieved by simply freezing it as it is.  Serve with crushed blueberries. 

Crushed Fraughans or Blueberries

fraughans or blueberries

caster sugar

softly whipped cream

Crush the berries with a pounder or potato masher and sweeten to taste with caster sugar. 

Watermelon Lemonade

Serve well chilled. 

110g (4oz) sugar

110ml (4fl oz) water

600g (1 1/4lbs) cubed watermelon

675ml (1 pint 3fl oz) cold water

110ml (4fl oz) fresh lemon juice

Place the watermelon into a blender. Cover and purée until smooth, then strain through a fine mesh sieve.

Next bring the sugar and water to a boil in a saucepan over a medium heat until the sugar dissolves, about 5 minutes. Remove from the heat. Stir in the cold water and  lemon juice. Put lots of ice cubes into 12 glasses, scoop 2 or 3 tablespoons of watermelon purée over the ice, then top with the lemonade.

Gently stir before serving.

Summer Shellfish

I’m writing this column from lovely West Cork.  I’ve been fortunate, the weather has been wonderful, sunny days and long balmy evenings to enjoy leisurely suppers in the shade of the ash tree.

I love to explore the islands and watch out for fisherman hauling in their pots on the way back to Baltimore Harbour.  A few days ago, we drew up beside a little trawler hoping for a few mackerel, no such luck, they are incredibly scarce this year but he had just hauled in his pots and had a bucket full of velvet swimming crabs – what a treat.  Most people can’t be bothered with them because they’re small and extracting the sweet meat is fiddly but I am in heaven picking through the little crevices and cracking the legs to enjoy the tiny morsels of white meat.  I also love the teaspoon or two of brown meat in the shell.

I’m happy to enjoy them just freshly cooked with maybe a little homemade mayo and some warm soda bread but they also make a fantastic shellfish soup – the shells have a ton of flavour.

The shrimp season opens on August 1st and will continue until mid-March.  Wonderful summer food, so easy to cook.  Enjoy them just as they are, add them to salads or pasta, pile them onto toast or make a buttery, herby Bretonne sauce to transform them into a luxurious feast. 

Apparently, the common brown crab is also scarcer this year but have you discovered spider crabs yet?  They are beautiful creatures with long spindly legs, there’s very little meat in the carapace (shell) but crack the legs and you’ll find lots and lots of sweet, juicy white meat.  Some fishermen and innovative supermarkets like Field’s in Skibbereen sell them already cooked as well as local mussels, clams and occasionally razor clams – another of my favourites.

All these local shellfish are perfect summer food – super quick and easy to cook so you can make the most of the beautiful weather and don’t have to spend ages in the kitchen.

Here are a few suggestions for you to enjoy…

How to cook crab

All types of crab are best cooked in seawater.  Alternatively, cook in well-salted freshwater.  For common crab, put the crab into a deep saucepan, cover with cold or barely lukewarm water, using 175g (6oz) of salt to every 2.3 litres (4 pints) of water.  This may sound like an incredible amount of salt but try it: the crab will taste deliciously sweet.

Cover the saucepan, bring to the boil and then simmer from there on, allowing 15 minutes for the first 450g (1lb), and 10 minutes for the second and third (I’ve never come across a crab bigger than that!).  We usually pour off two-thirds of the water halfway through cooking, and then cover and steam the crab for the remainder of the time.  As soon as it is cooked, remove it from the saucepan and allow to get cold.

How to cook spider crabs

For spider crabs, cook in the same way but boil for just 12 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and leave to stand for 5 minutes, then remove the crabs, cool and pick the meat from the legs and clean and wash out the carapace.  My favourite way to eat spider crab is to mix the sweet white meat with the very best extra virgin olive oil and a little freshly squeezed lemon juice to taste.  I then fill it back into the shell and enjoy it as the Italians do, with a glass of dry white wine.

How to cook Velvet Swimming Crabs… 

Follow the master recipe, add the crabs and bring to the boil. They will change colour from grey/ brown to orange red.  Simmer for no more than 2-3 minutes, drain and allow to cool.

Velvet Swimming Crabs with Homemade Mayo

Serve 3-5 crabs per person with a bowl of mayonnaise and a shellfish pick… enjoy a happy half hour or even more extracting the sweet juicy morsels of white meat.

Mediterranean Fish and Velvet Crab Soup with Rouille

I can’t pretend that this fish soup is either quick or easy. It’s a labour of love and worth every minute. Fish soups can be made with all sorts of combinations of fish.  Don’t be the least bit bothered if you haven’t got exactly the fish I suggest but use a combination of whole fish and shellfish.  The crab adds almost essential richness in my opinion.

Serves 6-8

2kg (4 1/2lb) mixed white fish 

6-8 velvet swimming crabs

150ml (5fl oz) olive oil

1 large clove garlic, crushed

275g (9 1/2oz) approx. onion, chopped

5 large very ripe tomatoes or 1 x 400g (14oz) tin tomatoes, sliced

5 sprigs of fennel

2 sprigs of thyme

1 bay leaf

fish stock or water barely to cover

1/4 teaspoon saffron

salt and freshly ground pepper

pinch of cayenne

Rouille

Serves 8

1 piece of French baguette bread, 20g (3/4oz) approx.

6 tablespoons hot fish soup

4 cloves of garlic

1 egg yolk, preferably free range and organic

pinch of whole saffron stamens

salt and freshly ground black pepper

6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Garnish

chopped parsley

Croutons

8 slices French bread, baguette, thinly sliced

75g-110g (3-4oz) Gruyére cheese, grated

mouli legume

Cut the fish into chunks, bones, head and all (remove gills first).  Heat the olive oil until smoking, add the garlic and onions, toss for a minute or two, add the sliced tomatoes, herbs and fish including the shells.  Cook for 10 minutes, then add enough fish stock or water barely to cover.  Bring to a fast boil and cook for a further 10 minutes.  Add more liquid if it reduces too much.

Soak the saffron strands in a little fish stock.  Pick out the crabs, remove as much of the crab meat from the shells as you can. Add to the soup. Taste, add salt, freshly ground pepper, cayenne, saffron and the soaking liquid.

Push the soup and soft shells through a mouli (this may seem like an impossible task but you’ll be surprised how effective it will be – there will be just a mass of dry bones left which you discard).

Next make the rouille. 

Cut the bread into cubes and soak in some hot fish soup.  Squeeze out the excess liquid and mix to a mush in a bowl.  Crush the garlic to a fine paste preferably in a pestle and mortar, add the egg yolk, the saffron and the soggy bread. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper.  Mix well and add in the oil drip by drip as if making mayonnaise.  If the mixture looks too thick or oily add 2 tablespoons of hot fish soup and continue to stir.

Next make the croutons. 

Toast slices of French bread slowly until they are dry and crisp. Bring the soup back to the boil. Serve each guest a bowl of fish soup with 3 or 4 croutons, a little bowl of rouille and a little bowl of freshly grated cheese.

To Eat

Spread each crouton with rouille and sprinkle with Gruyére cheese, float a few croutons in your bowl of Mediterranean fish soup.  Exquisite.

Buttered Shrimps with Bretonne Sauce

A gorgeous butter sauce, quick and easy to make and also delicious with other fish even with the humble mackerel if you are fortunate to find a few this year…

Serves 4 as a starter, 2 as a main course

900g (2lbs) shrimps

2.3 litres (4 pints) water

2 tablespoons salt

Bretonne Sauce

1 egg yolk, preferably free range

1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard

1 tablespoon parsley, chopped or a mixture of chervil, chives, tarragon and fennel, chopped (mixed)

75g (3oz) butter, melted

Garnish

flat parsley or fresh fennel

25g (1oz) butter

Bring the water to the boil. Add the salt, toss in the live or very fresh shrimps, they will change colour from grey to pink almost instantly.  Bring the water back to the boil and cook for just 2-3 minutes.  The shrimps are cooked when there is no trace of black at the back of the head.  Drain immediately and spread out on a large baking tray to cool.

Next make the Bretonne Sauce. 

Whisk the egg yolk with the mustard and herbs in a bowl.  Bring the butter to the boil and pour it in a steady stream onto the egg yolks, whisking continuously until the sauce thickens to a light coating consistency as with a Hollandaise.  Keep warm in a flask or place in a pottery or plastic bowl (not stainless steel) in a saucepan of hot but not boiling water.

Just before serving, peel the shrimps and toss in the foaming butter in a frying pan until heated through.  Heap them onto a hot serving dish or plates.  Coat with Bretonne Sauce.  Garnish with flat parsley or fresh fennel and serve immediately.  

Spaghetti with Shrimps, Red Pepper and Flat Parsley

Chunks of tuna or salmon may be substituted for shrimps in this recipe. Crispy bacon or Italian sausage is also good.

Serves 4

225-450g (8oz -1lb) spaghetti

2 fleshy red peppers

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 clove garlic

salt and freshly ground black pepper

225g (8oz) cooked peeled shrimps

a generous pinch of Aleppo or Urfa chilli flakes (optional)

175ml (6fl oz) cream

2-4 tablespoons chopped flat leaf parsley

4.5 litres (8 pints) water to 1 tablespoon salt

Quarter the peppers, remove the seeds and cut into dice.

Heat the olive oil in a sauté pan, add the garlic, peppers, season with salt and freshly ground black pepper, cover and sweat on a gentle heat until tender but not coloured – add the chilli flakes if using.

Meanwhile, bring the water to the boil, add 1 tablespoon salt. Add the pasta, stir well to make sure the strands are separate. Cover and bring back to a rolling boil, boil for 2 minutes. Turn off the heat and allow to sit tightly covered for 10 minutes approx. by which time the pasta will be perfectly cooked.

Just before the pasta is cooked, add the shrimps to the pepper, toss around for a minute of two to heat through, add the cream and parsley. Bubble up and taste for seasoning. As soon as the pasta is ‘al dente’, drain well, add to the pan and toss in the sauce over the heat until well coated.

Turn into a hot pasta dish, sprinkle with chopped parsley and serve immediately on hot plates.

Summer Salads

Understandably, this column is always written a little ahead of publication, chances are it’ll be raining today but after all the glorious weather we’ve been having, lots of requests for Summer grills and salads including several for perennial favourites like potato salad and now that the Irish tomato season is underway, a really good tomato salad.  We have 16 varieties this year including some ‘new’ heirlooms, notably Northern Lights; Green Zebra, San Marzano, Golden Sunrise, Yellow Submarine, Sartroloise, Tigerella, Brandy Wine, Black Russian, Marmande, Mirabelle Blanche, Andine Cornue, Stripe, Dzintre Lasite…

Early season tomatoes have not as yet developed the intense sweetness they’ll have in late August. Choose the ripest you can find, cut them in haphazard shapes. Season well with flaky sea salt and freshly cracked pepper.  I like to add freshly squeezed lemon juice, then drizzle them with runny honey.  Toss gently so they are well coated and garnish generously with lots of fresh mint or basil leaves.  We grow several types – Genovese, purple opal basil, lemon basil, Greek and perky Vietnamese… but the first three are best for a tomato salad.  Taste and tweak if you fancy.  This makes a delicious starter salad or an accompaniment to either fish, meat, feta or mozzarella or a selection of vegetarian salads.

The secret of a really delicious potato salad, the ultimate Summer crowd-pleaser, is to cook the potatoes in their jackets in really well-salted water.  Peel and coarsely chop while still warm.  Spread out on a wide platter, season ‘mindfully’ with sea salt and freshly cracked pepper.  Sprinkle with lots of freshly chopped parsley and green scallions.  Drizzle with French dressing.  Toss gently but thoroughly. This will be delicious just as it is but if you feel that a richer, creamier,  potato salad will work better with your meal, add some mayonnaise which has been loosened with water so it’s easier to fold through.  If you have a lovage plant in your garden, add some, it will contribute a delicious, fresh celery flavour.  Once again, taste.  However the secret which Myrtle Allen taught me is to toss the potatoes in French dressing while still warm. The potato variety also matters, some favour a waxy variety which makes a ‘tidier’ potato salad but we’ve always favoured British Queens or Kerr’s Pinks at this time of year.  Of course, you can add many other good things to the basic potato salad – cucumber pickle, smoked mackerel and dill, hard-boiled eggs, chorizo…Vegans could substitute a classic mayo with tahini … 

I’ve done quite a bit of recipe testing lately.  We love the new rice salad with irresistible crunchy topping, certainly makes a great stand-alone salad but we also enjoy it with these chicken kebabs which were inspired by a recipe we tested from Mezze.

This Pedro Ximénez Panna cotta is my new favourite dessert.  We’ve enjoyed it with a sprinkle of boozy raisins but it’s also surprisingly good with summer berries. The blackcurrant season is just starting, don’t forget my favourite super intense blackcurrants with icy cold cream.  Poach the currants in a simple syrup until they burst, a matter of minutes, then serve them immediately in small bowls with some icy cold, preferably Jersey cream…exquisite!

Potato, Spring Onion and Nasturtium Salad

For a classic potato salad, omit the nasturtium and substitute lots of spring onion and parsley instead.

Serves 4-6

900g (2lbs) freshly cooked potatoes – diced, allow about 1.1kg (2 1/2lbs) raw potatoes

1 tablespoon chopped parsley

1 tablespoon chopped chives or scallions or 2 teaspoons chopped onion

110ml (4fl oz) French Dressing

110ml (4fl oz) homemade Mayonnaise

salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

lots of nasturtium leaves and red, orange and yellow nasturtium flowers (75-110g/3 – 4oz)

The potatoes should be boiled in their jackets and peeled, diced and measured while still hot. Mix immediately with onion, parsley, salt and freshly ground pepper. Stir in the French dressing, allow to cool and finally add the mayonnaise. Toss in the coarsely chopped nasturtium leaves and two thirds of the flowers.  Scatter the remaining nasturtium flowers on top of the salad.

Best served fresh but keeps well for about 2 days.

Note: This potato salad is also delicious without mayonnaise.   Potato salad may be used as a base for other salads, e.g. add cubes of chorizo, cooked mussels or cockles or even diced cucumber.


Ballymaloe French Dressing

A brilliant all-purpose salad dressing.

50ml (2fl oz) white wine vinegar

150ml (6fl oz) extra virgin olive oil

1 level teaspoon mustard (Dijon or English)

1 large clove of garlic, crushed

1 scallion or small spring onion

sprig of parsley

sprig of watercress

1 level teaspoon salt (it’s vital to put in correct amount of salt)

few grinds of pepper

Put all the ingredients into a blender and run at medium speed for 1 minute approx. or mix oil and vinegar in a bowl, add mustard, salt, freshly ground pepper and mashed garlic. Chop the parsley, spring onion and watercress finely and add in. Whisk before serving, best used fresh.

Homemade Mayonnaise

Serve with cold cooked meats, fowl, fish, eggs and vegetables.

2 egg yolks, preferably free range

1/4 teaspoon salt

pinch of English mustard or 1/4 teaspoon French mustard

1 dessertspoon white wine vinegar

225ml (8fl oz) oil (sunflower or olive oil or a mixture) – We use 175ml (6fl oz) sunflower oil and 50ml (2fl oz) olive oil, alternatively use 7/1

Put the egg yolks into a bowl with the salt, mustard and the white wine vinegar (keep the whites to make meringues). Put the oil into a measure. Take a whisk in one hand and the oil in the other and drip the oil onto the egg yolks, drop by drop whisking at the same time to create an emulsion. Within a minute you will notice that the mixture is beginning to thicken. When this happens you can add the oil a little faster, but don’t get too complacent or it will suddenly curdle because the egg yolks can only absorb the oil at a certain pace. Taste and add a little more seasoning and vinegar if necessary.

Heirloom Tomato Salad with Basil, Olive Oil and Honey

Serves 6-8

8 very ripe heirloom tomatoes

salt and freshly ground pepper

2 tablespoons lemon juice

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 tablespoon pure Irish honey

10-12 leaves of fresh basil

Cut the tomatoes into a variety of shapes – 5mm (1/4 inch) thick slices or quarters or eighths depending on size.  Sprinkle with salt and freshly ground pepper. Squeeze the lemon juice over the tomatoes.   Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil and honey.  Add the ‘torn’ basil leaves, toss gently. Taste for seasoning and correct if necessary.

Chicken Shawarma Flatbreads with Yoghurt

Serves 4

For the Chicken

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 teaspoon sumac

1/4 teaspoon roasted and ground cumin

juice of 1/2 lemon

2 garlic cloves, crushed

1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves

1/2 teaspoon chilli flakes

6 boneless chicken thighs

For the Yoghurt Raita

200g (7oz) labneh or thick natural yoghurt

1 teaspoon sumac

juice of 1/2 lemon

1 small teaspoon honey

1 tablespoon fresh mint, leaves chopped

To Serve

4 flatbreads

1 little Gem lettuces 

1/2 cucumber, cubed

sumac

2 tablespoons pomegranate seeds

fresh coriander, chopped

Combine all of the ingredients for the chicken in a bowl.   Toss until coated, then marinate for at least 15 minutes or a couple of hours if possible.

Whisk all of the ingredients together for the yoghurt raita. Season with salt and pepper. Taste and tweak if necessary…

Preheat a barbeque or griddle pan to a high heat.  Cook the chicken for 5-6 mins on each side until nicely charred on the outside but juicy in the centre.

To Serve

Grill the flat breads for a minute or two on each side.  Slather each generously with yoghurt raita, sprinkle on a quarter of the cucumber dice.  Add a piece of chicken and sprinkle with sumac,  pomegranate seeds and fresh coriander.  Fold over and serve immediately.

A Salad of Coconut Rice with Sweetcorn and Peanut Crunch

The peanut crunch makes more than you need, store the excess in an airtight container and sprinkle over salads and fruit.

Serves 8

45g (scant 2oz) virgin coconut oil plus 1 teaspoon extra
3 onions (360g/12 1/2oz), peeled and roughly chopped
3 fresh makrut lime leaves
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
30g desiccated coconut
200g (7oz) white Basmati rice, washed until the water runs clear, then drained
300ml (10fl oz) full-fat coconut milk
200g (7oz) frozen sweetcorn, defrosted
1 1/2 tablespoons lime juice
1 tablespoon olive oil
20g (3/4oz) coriander leaves
10g (scant 1/2oz) mint leaves, roughly chopped

1/4 teaspoon sea salt

Topping
1 tablespoon virgin coconut oil
1 teaspoon chilli flakes
60g (scant 2 1/2oz) salted peanuts
40g (generous 1 1/2oz) desiccated coconut
3 shallots (40g/generous 1 1/2oz) fried in oil
1 teaspoon soft light brown sugar

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

Put the 45g (scant 2oz) coconut oil, onions, lime leaves and 1/2 a teaspoon of salt in a large sauté pan for which you have a lid. Put the pan on a medium-high heat, and cook, stirring often for 10 minutes until the onions are lightly coloured and translucent.
Stir in the desiccated coconut, cook for 3-5 minutes until lightly browned, then stir in the rice. Pour in the coconut milk or 200ml (7fl oz) milk and 200ml (7fl oz) water, cover, turn the heat to low and cook gently for 15 minutes. Uncover and fluff up with a fork.

Meanwhile, make the topping. Melt 1 tablespoon coconut oil in a large frying pan on a medium heat. Add the chill, peanuts and desiccated coconut and cook, stirring for 4-6 minutes until toasted. Take off the heat and stir in the fried onions, sugar and 1/2 teaspoon of salt, then tip on to a tray and leave to cool. Once cool, tip into a bowl.

Wipe clean the frying pan and put it on a high heat. When it’s smoking hot, add the sweetcorn and cook, stirring for 3-5 minutes until slightly charred. Tip into a bowl. Add the lime juice to the bowl with the olive oil, herbs and 1/4 teaspoon of salt.

Arrange the rice on a platter, sprinkle the topping and serve with the rest on the side immediately otherwise the delicious crunchy topping will soften.
Adapted from Yotam Ottolenghi

Pedro Ximénez Panna Cotta

Panna cotta is easy to make and there are endless possibilities. Pedro Ximénez, a sweet sherry is well worth looking out for, I particularly love the Lustau version.

Serves 8-10

3 gelatine leaves
800ml (1.4 pints) double cream
finely grated zest of 1 organic orange
1/2 vanilla pod, split lengthways in half and the seeds scraped out
100ml (3 1/2fl oz) whole full-fat milk
60ml (scant 2 1/2fl oz) brandy
110ml (4fl oz) Pedro Ximénez sherry
140g (scant 5oz) caster sugar

175g (6oz) raisins
150ml (5fl oz) Pedro Ximénez sherry

Put the gelatine leaves in a small bowl and pour over enough water to cover. Soak for 4-5 minutes or until they are soft, drain and squeeze out the excess water.

Put 50ml (2fl oz) of the cream in a saucepan with the orange zest and vanilla pods and seeds. Bring to the boil, turn off and leave to infuse.

Warm the milk gently in another saucepan, then take off the heat. Add the gelatine and stir to dissolve. Add the brandy, Pedro Ximénez and sugar. Strain the infused cream through a sieve, add to the milk mixture, mix well and allow to cool.

When cold, lightly whip the remaining cream and fold gently into the mixture. Pour into 8-10 ramekins, allow to set in the fridge for at least 2 hours until set.

Meanwhile, put the raisins into a small saucepan, cover with the sherry. Being very slowly to almost boiling point, turn off the heat and allow to macerate for at least 1 hour.

Serve each Panna cotta with a spoonful of Pedro Ximénez raisins.

Copenhagen – Smørrebrød (Open Sandwiches)

Apart from the thrilling restaurant and avant-garde café scene in Copenhagen, there’s still the Danish favourite tradition, smørrebrød – delicious open sandwiches mostly on rye bread with an endless selection of classic and creative new toppings.  A chilled-out way to enjoy a quick snack, lunch or entire dinner – perfect Summer food and infinitely adaptable.
Occasionally one tastes something that continues to live on in one’s memory – the flavour and texture of a smørrebrød that I ate in the 1970’s in Schønnemann’s in Copenhagen is unforgettable.  Rare roast beef, still warm on rye bread with remoulade sauce, crispy onions and horseradish.  The thinly sliced rare beef was still warm, the homemade remoulade sauce thick and unctuous, the onion rings sweet and crisp and finally a sprinkling of freshly grated horseradish all on a slice of Danish rye. The flavours and textures were exquisite.  I’ve returned over and over to recapture those flavours and that experience.

Smørrebrød (pronounced smuhr-broht) simply means bread and butter in Danish and is an interesting part of Denmark’s traditional food culture. 

After several decades of dwindling interest, smørrebrød is regaining popularity. Its waning coincided with a drop in quality – when all the toppings and rye bread became mass produced and there was more competition for fast food concepts like wraps, burgers and shawarma. But smørrebrød is having ‘its moment’.   Once again, cool young chefs are reclaiming the concept with home baked high-quality rye bread and homemade toppings served with ice cold artisan Schnapps and beer from microbreweries.

There’s a ritual, before you take the first bite, always a toast, Skal with Schnapps followed by a second toast, it seems the legacy of smörgåsbord is here to stay.


So how to make a memorable smørrebrød.  Super healthy and tasty rye bread is the foundation. The butter has to be salted. Next assemble the toppings…

According to my friend Trine Hahnemann, who has written a book ‘Open Sandwiches’ on the subject, there must be at least three of the following components: salt, sweet, sour, butter and umami. You’ll also need a contrast of texture and flavour. Balance soft with crunchy, sweet and sour…
There should be more than one colour and a garnish of fresh herbs, could just be a little pinch of cress grown on the windowsill.

Trine gives an example of a classic combination:
A slice of rye bread, buttered, hard-boiled eggs (soft and fatty), tomatoes (firm and sweet/tart), creamy mayo, salt and freshly ground black pepper and cress – a perfect simple smørrebrød.
There are several unspoken rules that only Danes can tell you about.
Always use herring first and then salmon or other fish.  Don’t combine fish with meat and vegetables…Finally, cheese always comes at the end.

Everyday open sandwiches are called Madder. For a family style supper, lay out a range of toppings on a board, everyone can assemble a madder of their choice – a perfect convivial supper. 

Trine Hahnemann reminds us that to make smørrebrød you just need a few basic ingredients most of which will already be in your cupboard or fridge.
You can of course buy some of the toppings but homemade will taste so much better and that’s the trademark of the young chefs who are spearheading the revival. Some of the smørrebrød establishments like Schønnemann’s (est. 1877) have chefs’ specialities like René Redzepi’s smørrebrød.  Smoked halibut with cucumber and dill mayo.

Good rye bread, a Danish staple, is now becoming easier to find over here. Trine gives 70 recipes and two rye breads in her ‘Open Sandwiches’ book published by Quadrille. It’s also worth knowing that rye bread keeps and freezes brilliantly.  All the pickles and condiments can of course be bought but will taste so much better and be better for you if homemade.

Just get started, include the kids, have fun and make delicious smørrebrød part of your everyday life.
Here are a few suggestions but of course one can use alternative ingredients depending on what you have to hand.

Beef, Remoulade, Crispy Onions and Horseradish

For perfection, the beef should be still warm and medium rare.

4 slices rye bread
butter
4 thin slices rare roast beef

Remoulade Sauce (see recipe)

cucumber pickle

fresh grated horseradish
crispy onions rings (cooked in dripping or oil)
flaky sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Butter each slice of rye bread evenly. Arrange a ruffled slice of rare beef on top. Add a dollop of remoulade on one side and some cucumber pickle on the other.  Grate a little fresh horseradish on top and garnish with crispy onions.  Sprinkle with a few flakes of sea salt and a grind of black pepper. 

Cucumber Pickle

Serves 10-12

1kg (2lb 4oz) thinly sliced unpeeled cucumber

3 small onions thinly sliced

225g (8oz) sugar

1 tablespoon salt

225ml (8fl oz) cider vinegar

Combine the cucumber and onion sliced in a large bowl.  Mix the sugar, salt and vinegar together and pour over cucumbers.  Place in a tightly covered container in the refrigerator and leave for at least 1-2 hours or overnight before using. 

Keeps well for up to a week in the refrigerator.

Seasonal Note

When we have our homegrown organic cucumbers, we find that we need to reduce the sugar by 50-75g (2-3oz).

Rémoulade

Taken from Open Sandwiches by Trine Hahnemann published by Quadrille

Makes about 400g (14oz)

200g (7oz) mustard pickles (see recipe)
150g (5oz) mayonnaise
50g (2oz) full-fat natural yoghurt
sea salt flakes and freshly ground black pepper

Drain the pickles a little in a sieve if you do not want the rémoulade to be too runny. Then mix them in a bowl with the mayonnaise and yoghurt. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Mustard Pickles

Taken from Open Sandwiches by Trine Hahnemann published by Quadrille
The best pickles I know of; this is my mother’s recipe. I use the pickles in the Rémoulade, but also just to serve as pickles for meat, fried fish or fishcakes.

Makes about 400g (14oz)

750g (1lb 10oz) green tomatoes, cut into chunks
1kg (2lb 4oz) courgettes (zucchini), cut into chunks
350g (12oz) onions, cut into chunks
35g (3 tablespoons) sea salt flakes, or to taste
500ml (18fl oz) apple cider vinegar
50ml (2fl oz) lemon juice
400g (14oz) granulated sugar
40g (generous 1 1/2oz) plain flour
2 1/2 tablespoons mustard seeds, ground
2-3 tablespoons curry powder, or to taste

Blend the tomatoes, courgettes and onions until very fine in a blender or food processor (or with a hand blender). Mix with the salt, then set aside for 3-4 hours in a cool place.

Pour the vegetables into a jelly bag and leave to drain for a couple of hours. Then place the vegetables in a big saucepan with 400ml (14fl oz) water and 75ml (3fl oz) of the vinegar. Bring to the boil while stirring, then let it simmer over a very low heat for 20 minutes. Once more, pour the vegetables into a jelly bag and leave to drain for some hours – even better overnight until rather dry.

Place the vegetable mixture in a big saucepan, then add the remaining vinegar and the lemon juice. Mix the remaining ingredients in a bowl, then stir into the vegetables. Bring to the boil, still stirring, then let it simmer for 30 minutes over a very low heat, stirring often. Season to taste with more salt, curry powder and sugar. Pour the pickles into sterilised jars and seal them. Store in a cold place, they will keep for 1 year.

Crispy Onions

Taken from Open Sandwiches by Trine Hahnemann published by Quadrille

Makes enough for 10-12 smørrebrød

750g (1lb 10oz) onions, finely sliced

50g (2oz) plain flour

1 tablespoon sea salt flakes, plus more to taste

1 litre flavourless vegetable oil, for deep-frying

Place the sliced onions in a bowl with the flour and salt and mix very well, until the onions are covered with flour.  Pour them into a sieve to get rid of any extra flavour.

Heat the oil in a frying pan.  Make sure the oil is hot by dropping in a slice of onion; if it sizzles, it is ready.  Reduce the heat a little and add one-third of the sliced onions.  Be careful – it may spit!  Don’t leave; instead, stir occasionally.  Fry until light brown and crispy.

Using a skimmer, transfer the onions to a plate lined with kitchen paper and sprinkle with a little more salt.  Repeat the process with the other batches. 

Mackerel Rillettes

Taken from Open Sandwiches by Trine Hahnemann published by Quadrille
In August, the mackerel are big and fat, and that’s when they are best to smoke. They can be eaten on rye bread with egg yolk and raw onions. When I visit my mother in the country in summertime, we always sit outside and eat the smørrebrød. I have merely added fresh coriander; I hope she doesn’t mind…

Serves 4

170g (scant 6oz) smoked mackerel
2 hard-boiled eggs, chopped
2 tablespoons finely chopped chives
5 radishes, finely chopped
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 tablespoons lime juice
1 1/2 teaspoons finely grated unwaxed lime zest
2 tablespoons chopped coriander, plus leaves to decorate
1 1/2 teaspoons chilli flakes
freshly ground black pepper
4 slices of rye bread
salted butter

Carefully remove and discard the skin and bones from the mackerel. Break up the fish into pieces.

Mix the mackerel, eggs, chives, radishes, lemon juice, lime juice, lime zest, coriander and chilli flakes. Season to taste with pepper.

First hard-boil the eggs.
Place the eggs in a small saucepan and pour cold water over, so they are covered. Bring to the boil and let them boil for 4 minutes. Take the saucepan off the heat, pour out the boiling water and pour plenty of cold water over the eggs. After 10 minutes, peel them; they are ready to be used.

Place the rye bread slices on a work too and spread the butter evenly on each slice. Divide the mackerel rillettes between each bread slice and top with the coriander leaves.

Tomato, Egg and Mayonnaise

Taken from Open Sandwiches by Trine Hahnemann published by Quadrille
You can use cottage cheese instead of mayonnaise here, if you prefer. Or change the herbs: chopped chives, chervil and dill will work well instead of cress.

Serves 4

4 slices of rye bread
salted butter
2 large tomatoes
2 hard-boiled eggs
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
2 tablespoons cress
sea salt flakes and freshly ground black pepper

Place the rye bread slices on a worktop and spread the butter evenly on each slice. Slice the tomatoes. Cut each egg into 4 slices, and place 2 slices of egg with 1 slice of tomato in the middle of each bread.

Divide the mayonnaise between the open sandwiches, place the cress on top and sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Denmark Food Scene

Just returned from a few action-packed days in Copenhagen, still a super exciting food town.  I’d been invited to join a friend’s table at NOMA, René Redzepi’s internationally acknowledged restaurant in the midst of a garden overlooking the famous Copenhagen incinerator and ski slope.  It’s been awarded the best restaurant in the world for 3 years in a row in the World’s 50 Best Restaurant Awards.

Having achieved all possible accolades,  René has decided to follow in the footsteps of Ferran Adrià of El Bulli in Spain so this will be the last season of NOMA.  He’s working on a new project yet to be revealed.  The whole NOMA experience is unforgettable from the moment you are welcomed on arrival.  One walks up the beautiful borders of swaying grasses and perennials interspersed with fresh herbs to the restaurant.  The planting plan was designed by Piet Oudolf who created the garden on the Highline in Manhattan.  The food is creative, complex and delicious. 

René and his team greeted us warmly with a glass of sparking fizz,

Fifteen memorable vegetarian courses followed – I would have no idea how to create any of the complex multi-ingredient dishes with up to 5 or 6 people working on each course.  Many are willing interns anxious to learn in this famous kitchen.  The name NOMA on your CV, certainly opens doors but nowadays questions are frequently being asked about the future of this practice. 

Some of the produce and fresh herbs come from the gardens and the glasshouse beside the kitchens and the fermentation and pickles are a revelation.  But Copenhagen is not just about NOMA, the restaurant that is credited with starting the Nordic food revolution and transforming Copenhagen into the culinary capital of the world. 

During the pandemic, NOMA opened Popl, a NOMA burger joint selling fat, juicy burgers made from organic grass-fed beef.  It too is a huge success but I particularly love the little cafés cum bakeries, wine bars and cocktail bars all of which serve a selection of delicious small plates.  In the few days we were there we tried as many as possible.

Lille Bakery in Refshaleøen is in an old industrial area in a non-auspicious part of town.  It was started in 2018 on a shoestring by Jesper, Mia and Sara who met at 108, the Michelin-starred restaurant of René Redzepi.  Tables are a mixture of junk shop finds and timber cable reels but the sourdough bread, flaky croissants, cardamom buns, sausage rolls and baked goods are exceptionally delicious.  I was thrilled to find that one of our past students, James Lang who learned to bake his first loaf of sourdough in our Bread Shed here at the Ballymaloe Cookery School was one of the bakers in this tiny but exceptional bakery.  I also loved their typical Danish breakfast, a ham and cheese sourdough sandwich slathered generously with butter and I’m still dreaming about the soft, puffy Berliner, a doughnut with no central hole in the centre filled with a rhubarb cream and topped with a little smidgeon of meringue.

Alice Café is another hidden gem in Markmandsgade 1. It too has a short menu of very good things and some say the best hand-crafted ice-cream in Copenhagen.  The notice board on the wall told us the time when the sourdough buns, flaky croissants, tebirkes (poppy seed pastries), cardamom twist and teboller (buttermilk buns) would be coming out of the oven.  Apart from really sensational bread, each has their own specialities and devotees.  We also visited the Hart Bageri owned by Richard Hart, originally Chad Robertson partner at Tartine (in California) and later head baker at NOMA.  His bread is legendary and he too had his specialities – a burnt basque cheesecake plus cardamom croissants and spandauer – a black sesame cookie to die for! 

And yet another gem, Hahnemann’s Køøken in Østerbro.  When I arrived Trine Hahnemann was teaching a French group from Brittany how to make a selection of Danish smorgasbord (see next weeks column) but then she showed me around her café, bakery and truly sensational selection of baked goods – cakes, pastries and breads, all made from 100% organic ingredients.

Thank you to all these generous bakers who shared their recipes with us all.  Let me know how you enjoy them…

Berliner

Puffy doughnuts without the hole in the centre – totally irresistible!

25g (1oz) fresh yeast

450g (1lb) baker’s or strong flour

40g (1 1/2oz) caster sugar

pinch of salt

75g (3oz) butter

1 organic egg, whisked

150–225ml (5 – 8fl oz) water at blood heat

Dissolve the yeast in a little of the tepid water. Sieve the flour, sugar and salt into a bowl. Rub in the butter and then add the whisked eggs. Add the yeast mixture and enough additional water to make a fairly soft dough. Cover and leave to rest for 10 minutes.

Turn out onto a floured board. Knead well, about 5–10 minutes, until the dough becomes firm and springy. It should bounce back when pressed with a finger.

Put into a deep Pyrex bowl, cover and leave to rise until it doubles in size. Punch down to knock out the air and redistribute the yeast back in contact with the dough. Knead well for 2–3 minutes. Leave to rest for a further 5 minutes.

Divide the basic yeast bun dough into 25g (1oz) pieces. Shape each piece into a ball and flatten.  Arrange on a floured tea-towel or tray, cover and leave to rise until doubled in size. Heat some good-quality sunflower oil in a deep-fryer to 160°C (315°F). Gently slip a few risen Berliners into the oil. Cook for about a minute on each side, turning them with a slotted spoon until they are evenly brown. Remove and drain on kitchen paper. Leave to cool slightly.

Toss in crunchy sugar and eat soon.

Alternatively, mix 110g (4oz) of caster sugar and 1 teaspoon of cinnamon in a wide, shallow bowl. Toss the doughnuts in the cinnamon sugar. Pipe vanilla pastry cream or rhubarb pastry cream into the centre through the side.  

Lille’s Cardamom Buns

Remonce, a Danish word for pastry filling  is basically a brown sugar and cardamom buttery filling that’s whipped, spread across sheets of croissant dough which is rolled up like a Swiss roll and portioned.  This dough can also be used for croissants and cinnamon buns.

Remonce

soft butter 500g (18oz)

brown sugar 225g (8oz)

caster sugar 225g (8oz)

salt 5g (scant 1/4oz)

cardamom (blitzed) 12g (1/2oz)

Put the soft butter into a bowl with the sugars, salt and ground cardamom.  Whip until light and soft. This makes 500g (18oz) of filling, it could be halved but keeps well and can also just be spread on some Brioche toast or eaten on its own! 

Bun Dough

Makes 25

flour 833g (1lb 13oz)

sugar 83g (3 1/4oz)

salt 16g (generous 1/2oz)

fresh yeast 33g (1 1/4oz)

soft butter 50g (2oz)

milk 500g (18oz)

water 366g (12 1/2oz)

500g block of square butter

There is no big secret with this dough either.  Put all the ingredients into a mixer (except from the extra 500g/18oz butter block).  Mix with a dough hook for 5-10 minutes on a low to medium speed to a smooth texture.  Wrap the dough and immediately transfer to the fridge.  Leave overnight.  The laminating begins the next day….

Roll the butter between two sheets of greaseproof paper to approx. 20cm x 20cm (8 x 8 inch) square. 

Flour the worktop and roll the risen dough into a square (approx. 40cm x 40cm/16 x 16 inch).  Place the square of butter into the centre of the dough and fold the dough over the butter. Press gently to seal the edges.

Next, make the first lamination….

Flour the worktop lightly, roll the dough into a rectangle. Brush off any excess flour and fold in 3 lengthwise. Give the dough a 90° turn, seal the open edges with a rolling pin. Re-roll the dough towards the open end into a rectangle. Fold in 3 once again. Cover tightly with greaseproof paper. Refrigerate for an hour. Then repeat this process, cover and refrigerate the dough overnight.

Next day, roll out into a long rectangle 30 x 12cm (12 x 5 inch), slatter with cardamom remonce (you won’t need it all), then roll it up to form a Swiss roll log shape. Portion into 100g (3 1/2oz) pieces.  Place the buns on a lined tray, cover lightly and prove until the layers have begun opening up a little, approx. 3-4 hours.

Bake at 210˚C/410˚F/Gas Mark 6 for 18-25 minutes until golden brown and crispy on the bottom.

Trine Hahnemann’s Traditional Strawberry Cake

This cake has got it all: marzipan, chocolate, cream, vanilla, and strawberries. It can be found in almost every bakery in Denmark. You can bake the marzipan base and keep it in the freezer; I like to bake 4 at the time. Then you can easily make this strawberry cake on a summer day.

Serves 10-12

125g (4 1/2oz) marzipan*, grated

125g (4 1/2oz) caster sugar

125g (4 1/2oz) soft butter, plus extra for greasing

3 eggs

40g (generous 1 1/2oz) plain flour or corn starch

Cream

1 pod of vanilla

200ml (7fl oz) single cream

2 egg yolks

3 tablespoons caster sugar

1 tablespoon corn flour

200ml (7fl oz) heavy cream

Chocolate Glaze

200g (7oz) dark chocolate

4 tablespoons heavy cream

Topping

500g (18oz) strawberries

2-3 tablespoons red currant jelly

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

Beat the grated marzipan with the sugar in a mixing bowl (you get the best result using an electric mixer), then add the butter and beat again until smooth. Add the eggs one at a time, beating between each addition, until the mixture is even and smooth, then fold in the flour or corn starch. Pour the dough into a buttered round baking tin 24 centimetre. Bake for 25 minutes. Remove from the oven and cool down.

Now melt the chocolate over steam, add the butter and mix well.

When the marzipan base is cooled down, spread the chocolate evenly over it.

When the chocolate has set on the marzipan base, it is time to make the cream.

For the cream, cut the vanilla pod in half lengthwaysand scrape out the seeds with the tip of a knife. Put the vanilla seeds with the single cream in a saucepan and heat until steaming hot. Meanwhile, whisk the egg yolks and sugar together in a mixing bowl until the mixture turns pale and fluffy, then whisk in the corn flour. Stir one-third of the hot cream into the egg mixture, then pour the egg mixture into the saucepan. Stir over a low heat until it starts to thicken. Remove from the heat and leave to cool.

When the cream filling is cold, whip the double cream until it forms stiff peaks and fold it in the cream.

Carefully rinse the strawberries in cold water, remove the little flower and cut in half, dry them carefully. Place the red currant jelly in a piping bag.

Whip the cream quite firm, fold into the cold custard, place on top of the chocolate 2 centimetres from the edge, form into a little pyramid shape. Cover it with the strawberries, place small dollops of jelly in between the strawberries, decorate with flowers. Serve right away or keep in refrigerator until ready to be served.

*real marzipan with 60% almonds

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