ArchiveAugust 2022

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… ( 

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 ( , Andrew Boyd makes a range of award-winning ciders at Kilmegan when he’s not teaching rowing ( ).  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 –

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

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 –

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 (

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 (

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)


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.


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


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


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


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.


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


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


chopped parsley


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


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.


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