Food is my subject so everywhere I go, I’m on the lookout for new ideas, new trends, delicious flavours, both new and traditional.…

Recently I popped over to Amsterdam, ostensibly to see the once-in-a-lifetime Vermeer exhibition, but also to get a flavour of the food scene.

I have an enviable hot list of restaurants, cafés, bakeries, markets, wine bars passed on to me by Ballymaloe Cookery School alumni from the Netherlands.

Amsterdam feels like it would be a wonderful city to live in, meandering canals, houseboats, beautiful, elegant houses with Dutch gables reflected in the water, cycle lanes…

My head was virtually on a swivel from looking to left and right but

I managed to survive a few days without ending up on the handlebars of a super fit ‘Dutchie’s’ bike…It’s notable how few people are overweight or obese.…

More and more of the cobbled streets are like gardens with cars hidden in underground car parks.

We were super lucky to get a last-minute cancellation for a table for lunch at De Kas, a plant to plate restaurant in a series of greenhouses dating back to the 1920’s, the dynamic kitchen crew create a menu of delicious, small plates every day from their homegrown fresh herbs, vegetables and local seasonal produce. Everyone was all agog because Obama had eaten there on the previous day. He too loves beautiful, fresh, seasonal food – put De Kass on your Amsterdam list.

Just round the corner from where we were staying in the Museum Quarter, we found a super chic café and shop called Edible Treasures where we met a lovely red-haired girl from Tipperary. The Saturday Zuider Farmers Market close by was really worth checking out for the quality of its produce, I stocked up on some aged Gouda and in the midst of it all on the fish stall was Harty’s oysters from Dungarvan! Cheese lovers shouldn’t miss Betsy Kosters shop, La Amusé and a visit to Duikelman is like a wander round Aladdin’s cave for cooks and chefs…

There’s so much to discover… Ballymaloe alumni, Florence Gramende’s bakery levain et le vin on Jan Pieter Heijestraat 168 bakes some of the very best bread and pastries in Amsterdam and there’s superb coffee and a fine selection of really interesting natural wines, this is just one of many really interesting bakeries in Amsterdam. Also loved LOOF where I happily joined a queue of 20 plus people to order a couple of their superb focaccia sandwiches. There was also a long queue at Brod, another notable artisan bakery. Don’t miss the original Holtkamp in a beautiful art deco shop for a dazzling selection of pastries and apparently the best meatballs in Amsterdam.

Zacht Staal, a properly authentic farm to table restaurant is a 30 minute drive out through the beautiful flat Dutch countryside. There we found yet another restaurant in a greenhouse in the midst of a 40-hectare organic farm with lots of cool cabins and pods constructed from mainly recycled materials to snuggle up in the midst of the long grass. The chef, Kees Elferink spent a number of years at Chez Panisse in Berkeley with Alice Waters before returning to the Netherlands to open several restaurants including Marius in Amsterdam. This is his newest venture and the food was super delicious, I particularly enjoyed it.

We took a 45 minute boat ride to the Lighthouse Island, Vuurtoreneiland … to have dinner at Zomerrestaurant, a repurposed army camp, an interesting experience. Another of my favourite meals was at Restaurant VRR in a converted shipyard workers canteen, the owner Sandar Overeinder also spent time with Alice Waters at Chez Panisse in Berkeley in California which was evident in the many plates of delicious, fresh tasting food and really impressive list of natural wines.

We also loved having lunch overlooking the canal at Buffet van Odette and at Bambino, a natural wine bar and bistro with a mainly vegetable based menu. We didn’t manage to get to their sweet little sister restaurant BAK in the former timber port of Amsterdam Houthaven but it’s definitely on the list for next time – more simple seasonal dishes.

One doesn’t necessarily associate Amsterdam with delicious food, but I have to say that my perception has completely changed. We didn’t have enough meal slots to enjoy all the recommendations we got this time. Virtually everywhere we ate and drank, the food, coffee, wine and focaccia sandwiches were super delicious and really, really good…

Here are some of the delicious dishes we enjoyed and don’t forget frites and mussels…

Roast Peppers with Anchovies, Walnuts and Chervil

A delicious little starter, inspired by Café Bambino in Amsterdam. Use the best anchovies you can find.

Serves 2

2 plump organic red peppers

6 beautiful anchovies

4 or 5 whole walnuts

sprigs of fresh chervil 

flaky sea salt and freshly ground pepper

extra virgin olive oil

Chargrill the red peppers on a gas jet, turning frequently until blackened all over, they should be soft and tender and completely charred. Put into a bowl, cover tightly and allow to soften in the steam for about 10 minutes. Rub off all the skin, then remove the stalk and discard all the seeds.

Open out each pepper and arrange in a square on the base of two white plates. If necessary, trim the edges to neaten.

Lay three beautiful anchovies diagonally on top of each pepper.  Crack the walnuts and divide each half into two pieces. Arrange 6 or 7 quarter walnuts and 5 little sprigs of chervil on each one.  Sprinkle with a few flakes of sea salt and freshly cracked pepper, drizzle with a little extra-virgin olive oil and serve with crusty sourdough bread or focaccia and good butter.

A Little Spring Salad

We’ve just picked the first of our new season, broad beans… bliss!

Once again inspired by a little starter at Café Bambino in Amsterdam.  The original was made with green peppers but we used red because we had no green in the pantry. 

Serves 6

110g (4oz) of feta crumbled 

150g (5oz) cream

a tiny bit of flaky sea salt and freshly ground pepper

and maybe a tiny drizzle of runny honey if needed

125g red onion, diced 7mm

125g (4 1/2oz) white radish or mooli, diced 7mm (1/3 inch)

125g (4 1/2oz) organic green pepper, diced 7mm (1/3 inch)

125g (4 1/2oz) blanched and peeled broad beans (1/3 inch)

a generous drizzle of extra virgin olive oil

a good squeeze of freshly squeezed lemon juice

flaky sea salt and freshly ground pepper

fresh dill and flowers when available.

Place the finely crumbled feta and cream into a food processor and blitz lightly until really smooth. Taste and season with a very little flaky sea salt, freshly ground pepper and a drizzle of runny honey if necessary. Mix, taste and tweak.

Dice the red onion, put into a sieve and rinse well in cold water, allow to drain.

Wash, peel and dice the white radish or mooli and green pepper, put into a bowl. 

Add the drained red onion and broad beans, drizzle with extra virgin olive oil and a good squeeze of fresh lemon juice and a little flaky sea salt and freshly ground pepper.

Sprinkle with coarsely chopped dill. Toss, taste and correct the seasoning if necessary.

To Serve

Spread a generous tablespoon of feta cream on the base of each plate, sprinkle a pile of the chopped salad on top, add a few more sprigs of dill and a few fresh dill flowers if available.

Enjoy with good crusty bread. 

Dutch Cheese Croquettes

The Dutch love croquettes of all kinds – meatballs and fish fritters…

Makes about 20 croquettes

450ml (16fl oz) whole milk

225g (8oz) roux (equal quantities of butter and flour – melt the butter and cook the flour for 2 minutes on a low heat, stirring occasionally)

2 egg yolks

225g (8oz) Gouda or mature Cheddar cheese, grated

1 heaped tbsp snipped fresh chives (optional)

salt and freshly ground black pepper

Dijon mustard

For the coating

100g (3 1/2oz) plain flour

salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 large egg

dried breadcrumbs, toasted

To Serve

Ballymaloe Country Relish or a chutney of your choice

Pour the milk into a medium-size pan, bring it to the boil and then reduce to a simmer. Whisk in enough roux while the milk is simmering to make a thick white sauce.  Then stir in the egg yolks, cheese and chives if using.  Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper.  Taste and add a little Dijon mustard if necessary.  Leave to cool off the heat. Shape the mixture into about 20 sausage-shaped croquettes or round balls.

To prepare the coating, place the flour on a plate and season with salt and pepper. In a bowl, whisk the egg well.  Spread the breadcrumbs out onto another plate. Dip each croquette in the seasoned flour, then the beaten egg and roll in the toasted breadcrumbs.

These can be fried in a shallow pan but are best deep-fried at 160°C. If the oil is any hotter, the filling tends to leak out into the fryer.  To check if the oil is hot enough, drop in a breadcrumb. If it comes back up to the top relatively quickly, the oil is the perfect temperature for frying. If it immediately burns, the oil is too hot.

When the oil is at the right temperature, add the croquettes and cook for about 8 minutes turning over a few times.

Drain on kitchen paper and serve immediately with some Ballymaloe Country Relish or your favourite chutney.

Dutch Apple Cake with Cinnamon Sugar

This will become a family favourite.

Serves 6

2 large eggs preferably free range and organic

175g (6oz) caster sugar

110g butter

150ml (5oz) creamy milk

185g (scant 6 1/2oz) plain flour

3 teaspoons baking powder

3-4 Bramley Seedling cooking apples

25g (1oz) granulated sugar

Cinnamon Sugar

Mix 25g (1oz) caster sugar with 1/4 teaspoon fresh ground cinnamon or alternatively use caster sugar

Preheat the oven to 200°C/gas mark 6.

Grease and flour a 20 x 30cm roasting tin.

Whisk the eggs and the caster sugar in a bowl until the mixture is really thick and fluffy. Bring the butter and milk to the boil in a saucepan, and stir, still boiling, into the eggs and sugar. Sieve in the flour and baking powder and fold carefully into the batter so that there are no lumps of flour. Pour the mixture into the prepared roasting tin. Peel and core the apples and cut into thin slices, arrange them overlapping on top of the batter. Sprinkle with the remaining 25g (1oz) caster sugar. Bake in the preheated oven for 10 minutes, then reduce the heat to 180°C/gas mark 4, for a further 15-20 minutes or until well risen and golden brown. Sprinkle with cinnamon sugar. Cut into slices. Serve with softly whipped cream.

About the author

Darina Allen
By Darina Allen


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