ArchiveNovember 2023

Listowel Food Fair

Recently I was over in north Kerry for the Listowel Food Fair, now in its 28th year. Such a buzz and the warmest welcome back to this lively Kerry town. I was thrilled to bits to be honoured with a Lifetime Achievement Award presented by the one and only Jimmy Deenihan, what a lovely surprise.
And as if that wasn’t exciting enough, I got to attend the glitzy presentation of the Best Emerging Artisan Food Awards during a delicious dinner cooked by the team of chefs of the Listowel Arms.
The award winners were virtually all new to me.
Mary Thea Brosnan won the Local Food Hero Award for her Kerry Kefir, a brilliant product with multiple genuine health benefits that stimulate our gut biome and enhance both physical and mental health considerably. It’s made with the beautiful rich milk from her herd of Kerry cows on their farm in Castleisland.
Éalú chocolate won the overall prize, a well-deserved accolade for their irresistible chocolate bonbons. A super impressive young couple, Kallam and Cliona Moriarty who only started to make handmade chocolates five months ago – what an achievement. Their chocolates are infused with the flavours of Kerry and are exceptionally delicious. I’m not exactly’ a pushover’ and of course I have no link to the company.
The 2023 Food Storyteller of the Year Award went to Kate Ryan, who recently won the prestigious Blas na hÉireann Irish Food Producers Champion. Among many other publications, Kate writes a regular ‘must read’ column in the Evening Echo highlighting the artisan and specialist food producers and farmers who are doing exciting new things on the Irish Food scene. The adjudication panel were seeking individual creators and unique voices who expand our understanding of food in all its facets and introduce us to new ways of making, cooking and celebrating food. Follow Kate via  
Christine Purcell’s delicious crusty sourdough bread from the Cookie Crumble Bakery won the Baking and Baked Goods Award and the Free-From category went to me Miso Sesame Tofu created by Méabh Mooney of OTOFU in Kilbrittain, Co Cork.
Peter Hinchcliffe was also thrilled to win the Condiment Award for his Trusted Friend, Peach Chutney and then there was Norma and Tom Dineen’s Fenugreek Farmhouse Cheese from Bó Rua. Their delicious Cheddar type cheese comes from their farm near Fermoy in County Cork. Brilliant innovative farmers adding value to the milk of their Mount Beliard herd.
I also got to pop into JB Keane’s pub to catch up with the incorrigible Billy Keane who keeps up the family tradition. This timeless institution is one of my ‘not to be missed’ places to visit in Listowel. I particularly love calling in because it brings memories flooding back of Mary Keane, teaching me how Listowel mutton pies in her kitchen behind the pub.  Since the pandemic, this space has been turned into a little snug, but still on the walls there’s Mary’s picture of Michael Collins, the Sacred Heart and lots of photos of the many celebrities who regularly call in for a creamy pint in this iconic pub.

Mary Keane’s Listowel Mutton Pies

The pastry is quite robust because of the small proportion of shortening to flour, but not at all fragile. Mary explained that the way Listowel mutton pies are eaten is unique. A big pot of mutton broth is made from the bones with maybe an onion or two added. On the day of the Listowel races, the pies are slipped, a couple at a time, into the pot of strained broth. They simmer away for a few minutes and are then served in wide shallow soup bowls with a ladle full of hot broth on top.

Serves 8

450g mutton or hogget, a mixture of neck, shank and scrag end (buy a bit more to allow for trimming)

salt and ground white pepper

For the Pastry

900g plain flour

110g margarine or butter (Mary insisted on margarine)

850ml buttermilk

½ teaspoon salt

egg wash

For the Mutton Broth

mutton or hogget bones, about 2.5kg

3-4 large onions, peeled and quartered

a couple of carrots, celery stalks, parsley stalks, a couple of sprigs of thyme or 2 stock cubes

salt and freshly ground black pepper

Prepare the lamb. Trim off the fat and any gristle or membrane. Cut into tiny pieces, roughly 3mm, and put into a shallow bowl. Season well with salt and ground white pepper. Toss to ensure the meat is evenly coated.

Make the pastry. Put the flour and salt into a bowl. Rub in the margarine or butter, add the buttermilk and mix with your hand into a firm dough, similar to (though drier than) the texture of white soda bread. Knead the dough for 30 seconds to 1 minute to firm it up. Divide it into 2 pieces. On a floured board, roll the pastry out as thinly as possible, to about 5mm thick. Using a saucer as a template, cut out 2 circles at a time. Take 1 round and roll it out a little further to thin the pastry to about 3mm. Put a good half-fistful of seasoned mutton or hogget into the centre. Brush the edge of the pastry with a little buttermilk and cover with another round that has also been rolled to a 3mm thickness. Press the edges together with the tines of a fork, then prick the top several times. Brush the top of the pastry with egg wash.

Preheat the oven to 230°C/Gas Mark 8.

Meanwhile, continue to make the remainder of the pies. When the first 4 are ready, cook on a baking tray for 20-30 minutes. Check the pies occasionally and turn the tray if necessary. Continue to make pies until all the pastry and filling is used up. Leave the pies to cool on a wire rack. At this point, they can be kept wrapped for several days or frozen for later use. 

Next, make a simple broth. Put the mutton or hogget bones into a deep saucepan, add the onions, cover with cold water and bring to the boil. Mary adds a couple of stock cubes later, but if you’d rather not she suggested adding a few thickly sliced carrots, a few celery stalks, a sprig or two of thyme and some parsley stalks. Simmer for 1-1 ½ hours, covered.

Strain the stock and taste, add salt and pepper to correct the seasoning. The broth will keep in a fridge for several days or may be frozen. To serve the mutton pies, bring the broth to the boil in a deep saucepan, then drop a couple of meat pies into the broth. Simmer for 20 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon. Transfer each pie into a wide, shallow soup bowl. Pour a ladle of mutton broth on top. Eat with a fork and spoon and extra pepper and salt to taste.

Ballymaloe Sourdough Bread

Taken from The New Ballymaloe Bread Book by Darina Allen, published by Gill Books

Once you’ve established your starter, it’s only a question of mixing the other ingredients and having patience. It does take time, but most of that time the bread is quietly rising or baking. Every loaf is an adventure. Each will be slightly different and every time you make a loaf you will learn more about the process. Enjoy experimenting and remember, people have been making sourdough bread for centuries.

Makes 1 loaf

340g sourdough starter (see The New Ballymaloe Bread Book by Darina Allen, published by Gill Books)

200g cold water

230g strong white flour

70g malted/granary flour

20g rye flour

5g wheat germ

11g salt

Put the starter, water, flours and wheat germ in the bowl of a stand mixer. Mix with a dough hook on a slow speed for a few seconds, until the dough has combined. Rest the dough for 5 minutes.

After resting, add the salt and turn the mixer on a slow speed – if you beat it too fast at this stage, you can break the gluten. When the dough is sticking to the sides of the bowl and coming away in strings, this is the gluten being developed. Increase the speed and continue to mix until it doesn’t stick to the sides of the bowl and the dough hook lifts the dough cleanly out.

Place the dough in a bowl, cover and leave to rest in the fridge for 24 hours.

The next day, for the first shaping, pour the dough out of the bowl onto a clean work surface and knock it back. Stretch and fold the dough a few times, then shape it into a smooth, tight, round ball and leave to rest for 15-20 minutes in a cool kitchen or 5–10 minutes in a warm kitchen.

Stretch and fold the dough a few times. Turn and push to shape it into a smooth, tight round ball.

For the second shaping, flip your dough over, flatten and spread it out with your fingers. Pull all the edges into the centre of the dough – this helps to trap the CO2 and gases in the dough to give it a nice airy crumb. Flip it back over with a dough scraper (or roll it over) and shape into a smooth, tight, round ball again. The tighter and less sticky the ball is, the better it will hold its shape and rise in

the oven. If it’s too tight, though, the surface will rip and become sticky again. If this happens, rest the dough again for 10-15 minutes and repeat.

Flip the dough over. Pull all the edges into the centre of the dough. Flatten and spread it out with your fingers. Put the dough upside down into a lined, floured banneton (or in a 16-20cm bowl lined with a clean linen tea towel and floured) and leave in the fridge, covered, overnight or for up to 24 hours.

The next day, put a casserole/Dutch oven with its lid on in the oven to preheat. (For this recipe, the lid must be flat. Alternatively, you could cook the loaf directly on a hot baking tray in the oven, but this is the least good option for home baking.) Preheat the oven fully to its maximum temperature or at least 250°C/Gas Mark 9. It is essential that the casserole/Dutch oven is fully preheated, overwise the bread will stick firmly to the base. It will take 30-35 minutes for the heat to penetrate completely.

Meanwhile, take the dough out of the fridge and allow it to sit at room temperature while the casserole/Dutch oven is preheating.

Using an oven mitt or thick tea towel, lift the hot casserole/Dutch oven out onto a pot rack. Lift off the lid and carefully turn the dough out of the banneton onto the upturned lid. Slash the top with a sharp serrated knife or baker’s blade (lame) and mist lightly with water (optional).

Replace the casserole/Dutch oven base on top of the lid and quickly put it back in the hot oven. Reduce the temperature to 230°C/Gas Mark 8 and bake for 20 minutes. Remove the upturned base and continue to bake the bread on the lid for 10-15 minutes, until the crust is dark golden brown. When fully cooked, the bread will feel light and will sound hollow when tapped on the base. Cool on a wire rack.

Ballymaloe Balloons (Cheats Doughnuts)

Taken from The New Ballymaloe Bread Book by Darina Allen, published by Gill Books

There was a brilliant reaction to these balloons when I recently made them on the Today Show. My mother-in-law, Myrtle Allen, made them regularly for her children, then passed on the recipe to her grandchildren and great-grandchildren. They’ve also been a favourite of guest children at Children’s Tea in Ballymaloe House for over 40 years. They cook into funny, uneven little shapes which can resemble little birds, animals or dragons…lots of fun for the children – use your imagination to decide what they look like!

Makes about 10

150g white flour

2 teaspoons caster sugar

1 level teaspoon baking powder

pinch of salt

175-200ml full-fat milk plus more if needed

light olive or vegetable oil, for deep-frying

extra caster sugar or cinnamon sugar (granulated sugar mixed with a little ground cinnamon), to coat

Sieve the dry ingredients into a bowl. Mix to a thick batter (dropping consistency) with the milk.

Heat the oil in a deep-fryer to 190°C. If you don’t have a deep-fryer, heat 4cm light olive or vegetable oil in a deep pan.

Take a heaped teaspoonful of the mixture and gently push it off with your finger so that it drops in a round ball into the fat. Fry until puffed and golden. Remove and drain on kitchen paper. Repeat the process until you have used up all the batter.

Roll the balloons in caster sugar or cinnamon sugar and serve at once. These are also delicious with sweet apple sauce flavoured with a little cinnamon or a bowl of lemon curd.

World Vegan Month

November is World Vegan Month. Originally there was World Vegan Day on November 1st – created in 1994 by Louise Wallis, chair of the Vegan Society in the UK to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the Vegan Society.  Later this morphed into World Vegan week and was eventually extended to World Vegan Month to shine a light on the vegan movement worldwide.  And then there’s Veganuary in January every year which continues to gather momentum and has a definite appeal after the excess of the festive season.

Is the vegan movement growing? Well, it depends on who you ask and how up to date the figures are. 

Even here in Ireland where we have a particular grá for meat and lots of it, it’s estimated that approximately 4% of the population identifies as vegan however it’s difficult to get up to date statistics. 

Many young people particularly have decided to embrace a vegan lifestyle, adding cheap fashion to their concerns about animal welfare and environmental issues.

Multinational food companies and plant based food manufacturers were quick to respond to the trend and already there’s a multi-million $ industry to supply the growing demand. I’m not about to get into the robust arguments on both sides, but most agree that we would benefit from eating a little (or a lot) less meat. Invest in better quality meat, humanely reared from pasture fed animals and try to eliminate intensively produced poultry and meat entirely from your diet for all the well documented reasons not least health – an occasional meat-free day is a good place to start…

Meat-Free Monday is a terrific success and has been enthusiastically embraced by many including a growing number of cafés and restaurants.

Several studies confirm that on average our food has 50% of the nutrients it had in the 1950’s so it’s vital to source as much regenerative, organic food as possible and to ensure you have maximum vitamins et al to boost your immune system and to put pep in your step!
The human body does not produce vitamin B-12 and it is not present in plant-based foods in significant amounts so vegans are encouraged to take this supplement. 

Beans are a brilliant source of protein, inexpensive, super delicious and uniquely versatile. Here are many of the accidentally vegan recipes that I particularly enjoy. I personally choose not to buy vegan substitutes, mock meats or eggs but enjoy jackfruit and find aquafaba, (the liquid from tinned beans) works brilliantly for meringues. 

Black-eyed Bean, Chickpea and Vegetable Stew with lots of Fresh Coriander

Definitely one of our favourites… We use this deliciously spiced stew as a base to add lots of different vegetables in season.  Here we add leftover boiled potatoes and cauliflower or broccoli florets, but I also love cubes of pumpkin, parsnip, celeriac, carrot or Jerusalem artichokes – a brilliantly versatile recipe for your repertoire – also delicious with lamb or chicken.

Serves 6

110g dried black-eyed beans

110g chickpeas

110g fresh mushrooms (use chestnut mushrooms if available)

3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

½ tsp whole cumin seeds

1cm piece of cinnamon stick

75g onion, chopped

2 cloves of garlic, very finely chopped

200g fresh or tinned tomatoes, peeled and chopped

1 ½ tsp ground coriander seeds

1 tsp ground cumin seeds

½ tsp ground turmeric

pinch of sugar

¼ tsp cayenne pepper

1 good tsp salt (it needs it, so don’t cut down)

freshly ground black pepper

250g cooked potatoes, diced into 2cm pieces

225g cauliflower, calabrese or Romanesco florets (half of a medium cauliflower)

1 ½ tbsp freshly chopped coriander (fresh parsley may be substituted though the flavour is not at all the same)

½ tbsp fresh mint leaves


plain boiled rice

Soak the beans and chickpeas separately, in plenty of cold water overnight.  Next day cover each separately with fresh water, bring to the boil and simmer for 30-45 minutes approx., or until just cooked.

Cut the mushrooms into 3mm thick slices.  Heat the oil in a sauté pan over a medium-high flame.  When hot, put in the whole cumin seeds and the cinnamon stick.  Let them sizzle for 5-6 seconds.  Now put in the onions and garlic.  Stir and fry until the onion is just beginning to colour at the edge.  Put in the mushrooms.  Stir and fry until the mushrooms wilt.  Now put in the tomatoes, ground coriander, ground cumin, ground turmeric, pinch of sugar and cayenne.  Stir and cook for a minute.  Cover, and let this mixture cook on a gentle heat in its own juices for 10 minutes.  Turn off the heat under the sauté pan.  Drain the beans and chickpeas, reserving the cooking liquid.  Add to the mushroom base mixture, add salt and freshly ground pepper, 1 tablespoon of the fresh coriander and 125 – 150ml of bean cooking liquid and 125 – 150ml chickpea liquid.

Bring the beans and chickpeas to boil again.  Reduce the heat and simmer for 10-20 minutes or until the beans and chickpeas are just tender. Add the potato and cauliflower florets and continue to cook for a further 5-8 minutes or until heated through.  Stir occasionally.  Remove the cinnamon stick before serving.  Sprinkle with the remaining tablespoon of fresh coriander and mint. 

Serve with plain boiled rice and a good green salad.

Spicy Roast Chickpeas

These chickpeas are seriously addictive – I’ve used freshly ground cumin and coriander here but garam masala, smoked paprika, chilli powder, chopped rosemary or thyme leaves are also delicious.   The chickpeas will get crispier as they cool.  Enjoy as a nibble or sprinkle over salads or roast vegetables. 

Serves 4-6 as a nibble or add to salads.

Makes 100g roasted weight

400g can chickpeas

1-2 tsp each of cumin and coriander seeds, toasted and ground

Preheat the oven to 220°C/Gas Mark 7.

Drain the chickpeas, rinse under cold water and drain again. Lay on kitchen paper, shake and pat gently until dry. Spread the chickpeas out in a single layer on a small baking tray, drizzle with extra virgin olive oil. Sprinkle generously with sea salt and the cumin and coriander seeds (if using). Shake to coat. Roast for 25-30 minutes or until crisp and golden. Cool, taste, add more salt and spices if necessary. Store in an airtight jar.

Carrot and Spring Onion Fritters

We vary the vegetables with the season.

Makes 16

80g gram flour, also known as Besan or Chickpea flour

4 tbsp self-raising flour

2 tsp roasted and ground coriander

2 tsp roasted and ground cumin

½ tsp paprika plus ½ tsp smoked paprika

generous pinch of salt

150g carrots, grated

30g spring onion, white and green part, thinly sliced

extra virgin olive oil for frying

Mix together the flours, spices and salt in a bowl.

Whisk in about 150ml water. The batter should be the texture of coconut milk. If it’s too thick, add a little more water. Allow to stand for 30 minutes.

Add the grated carrot and spring onion, stir until the vegetables are well coated.

Heat a little extra virgin olive oil in a non-stick frying pan.

Drop a heaped dessert or tablespoons of the mixture onto the surface.  Fry for about 2-3 minutes on each side until golden brown and crispy on the outside and cooked in the centre. Fry three or four at a time, depending on the pan size.

Immediately serve 3-4 per person with your favourite chutney or relish.

Burmese Palm Sugar and Coconut Pancakes

Makes 3-4 large pancakes

These sticky golden pancakes are one of the many irresistible street foods I tasted in Yangon a few years ago and are still a favourite… 

80g sticky/glutinous rice flour

30g rice flour

100g desiccated coconut

125ml water

100g palm sugar (or brown sugar)

8 tbsp water

peanut or sunflower oil for shallow frying

Mix both flours and the desiccated coconut together in a bowl, add the water to make a thick batter.   Allow to rest for 20 minutes while preparing the sugar water.

If you are using palm sugar, grate it before placing into a small saucepan. Add 8 tablespoons of water and stir over a moderate heat until the sugar has completely dissolved. Remove from the heat and allow to cool. Gradually, pour into the batter to form a pouring consistency and allow to rest for 5 minutes.

To Serve

Heat a little oil in a small non-stick frying pan (about a tablespoon). Spoon a small ladle of batter (approximately 75ml) into the oil and swirl the batter in the pan to form a circular shape.

Cook the pancake over a moderate heat until the edges are golden brown (4-5 mins approx.), carefully flip over and cook the other side. When it is golden brown on both sides, serve immediately with a little grated palm sugar on top.  This is also good served with berries.

Fudgy Chocolate Mousse Cake

Another delicious confection from super cake maker Pamela Black and accidentally vegan. 

Serves 8 – 10

225g Doves Farm gluten-free white flour

1 ½ tsp bicarbonate of soda

½ tsp salt

1 ½ tsp instant espresso coffee

75g cocoa (we use Valrhona)

375ml hot water

90g coconut oil

300g soft dark brown sugar

2 tsp cider vinegar

Dark Chocolate Icing

175g icing sugar

50g cocoa powder

75g coconut oil

4 tbsp water

110g caster sugar

1x 20cm spring-form tin (tight fitting), line the base and sides with parchment paper.

Preheat the oven to 180°C/Gas Mark 4.

Put the flour, sieved soda, salt, instant coffee and cocoa into a bowl. Whisk to mix evenly.

In a small saucepan, add the hot water over the coconut oil, stir to melt. Add the sugar and vinegar and stir until dissolved.  Pour the wet mixture onto the dry ingredients gradually whisking to avoid lumps.

It’ll be a wet mixture, pour into the lined tin. Bake in the preheated oven for 30-40 minutes. It will shrink in from the sides of the tin and a skewer will come out clean.

Allow to cool in the tin while you make the icing.

Sieve the icing sugar and cocoa powder into a mixing bowl. Measure the coconut oil, water and sugar into a saucepan. Set over a low heat and stir until the sugar has dissolved. Bring just to the boil, then draw off the heat and pour at once into the sifted ingredients. Beat with a wooden spoon until the mixture is smooth and glossy. It will thicken as it cools.

Pour the icing over the top and allow to dribble down the sides. Decorate as you fancy – toasted hazelnuts, pistachio nuts, rose petals….

Pumpkins and Squash

For the past few weeks, the table in the hall at the Ballymaloe Cookery School has been piled high with pumpkins and squash. At least 15 different varieties…

Pumpkin/Squash varieties

Tiana, Orange Summer, Amish Pie, Jack o Lantern, Queensland Blue, Pottimason. Squash – Crookneck, Uchiki Kuri, Sweet Dumpling, Trombonchino, Fictor, Butternut, Green Hokkaido, Waltham Butternut, Futsu Black.

Halloween is well over, but we still have lots to enjoy and keep us going for the Winter.
They come in all shapes and sizes and colours. Some like Crown Prince and Turks Turban and butternut squash will keep for months, but be careful as they are frost sensitive, others like Delicata should be used up within the next few weeks. It’s now become a tradition for children from the local schools to come to the vegetable patch every year to harvest the pumpkins and to take some home to carve. But herein lies a properly scary fact, I couldn’t find any figures for Ireland, but it’s estimated that in the UK over 15 million pumpkins ended up in the bin after Halloween. That’s an estimated £27 million worth of edible food, enough to make 95 million meals which ultimately make it to landfill, emitting methane. So, remember the flesh of those carving pumpkins is edible, not super tasty but of course can be jazzed up with lots of herbs, spices and toppings. If you don’t have time to use within a day, maybe steam, purée or freeze for another day.
We grow a wide variety every year, principally for flavour, but on a recent visit to the Malvern Autumn County Show in the UK, I found a whole tent, full of ginormous vegetables including some giant pumpkins and squash, many weighed more than a sack of flour. I loved listening to the nerdy growers, earnestly discussing their entries.
Opinions vary about the best variety of pumpkin for carving. The ghostly White Polar Bear is definitely the most spooktacular and despite the colour of the rind, the insides are bright orange, and are particularly good roasted and made into a pumpkin mash.
Believe it or not, it can grow to be up to 15kg, but the larger it is, the less flavour it has. The green and cream striped Dumpling squash makes a perfect size soup bowl.
Oval-shaped spaghetti squash is fun to roast. The texture of the insides resembles spaghetti or noodles. The flavour is mild so I love to serve it with a ragu, a feisty herb butter or a spicy olive oil.
The warty ones like goosebumps are, despite their appearance still sweet and delicious, also great for window, mantelpiece or table decorations.
The beautiful orange and stripey green Turks Turban is actually a squash, and it has to be said it looks rather more dramatic than it tastes, but nonetheless, it has a mild slightly nutty flavour and it too benefits from lots of spices and fresh herbs.
Acorn squash looks like a giant acorn, half and scoop out the seeds, then it’s perfect for roasting and stuffing.
Then there’s the long slender and sometimes curly Trombochino also known as Zucchetta, they can grow up to 3 feet plus. We use their tender flesh to spin out vegetable stews or a casserole, pan fried or grilled in slices and also roasted – it’s super versatile and of course partners brilliantly with tomato fondue or a peperonata.
There are literally hundreds of varieties of summer and winter squashes and pumpkins. A brilliant standby and a perfect opportunity to get creative. What other vegetable keeps the kids happy for hours, can decorate the house both inside and out and provides a nourishing ingredient for a variety of yummy dishes from soup to stews, tagines, risottos, purées pickles, jams, pies, candid pumpkin and toasted pumpkin seeds. The ingredient that keeps on giving, long after the ghouls and ghosts are forgotten.

Pumpkin Spice Scones

Stamp them out with as little waste as possible, the first scones will be lighter than the second rolling.

Makes 9-10 scones using a 7 1/2 cm cutter

450g plain white flour

2-3 tsp pumpkin spice (see below)

pinch of salt

1 heaped tsp plus 1 rounded tsp baking powder

25g caster sugar

75g butter

2 small free-range eggs

200ml approx. milk to mix


egg wash (saved from scones)

2-3 tbsp pumpkin seeds for coating the top of the scones

First preheat the oven to 250°C/Gas Mark 9.

Sieve all the dry ingredients together in a large wide bowl. Cut the butter into cubes, toss in the flour and rub in the butter. Make a well in the centre. Whisk the eggs, put into a measure and add milk to bring the liquid up to 300ml, add all but 2 tablespoons (save to egg wash the top of the scones to help them to brown in the oven) to the dry ingredients in one go and mix to a soft dough.

Turn out onto a floured worktop.  Don’t knead but shape just enough to make a round.  Roll out to about 2 ½ cm thick and cut or stamp into scones. * Brush the tops with egg wash and dip each one in pumpkin seeds.  Arrange well-spaced apart on a baking tray – no need to grease. 

Bake in a hot oven for 10 minutes until golden brown on top. Cool on a wire rack.

Serve split in half with butter.

I sometimes add a little pumpkin spice and a little caster sugar to the butter for extra deliciousness.

Pumpkin Spice

1 tsp ground cinnamon (not cassia)

¼ tsp ground nutmeg

¼ tsp ground ginger

scant ⅛ tsp ground cloves

Mix all the spices together and store in a sealed dark glass jar.

Pumpkin Soup with Rosemary Oil

Virtually all soups freeze perfectly.  A brilliant standby for lunch or supper is to defrost soup that has been frozen in a small container.

Use Crown Prince or Uchiki Kuri varieties of pumpkin if possible.

Serves 6

50g butter

150g chopped potatoes, 7mm dice

110g peeled diced onions, 7mm dice

salt and freshly ground black pepper

350g chopped well-flavoured pumpkin, 7mm dice

1.2 litres homemade chicken stock or 1 litre stock and 150ml creamy milk

3 tbsp fresh rosemary, chopped

Rosemary Oil

110ml extra virgin olive oil

2 tbsp fresh rosemary, chopped

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

Meanwhile make the rosemary oil.  Heat the chopped rosemary with the oil until hot but not smoking.  Cool and strain.

Add the pumpkin and stock to the saucepan with the potatoes and onions.  Boil until soft, do not overcook or the vegetables will lose their flavour.    Liquidise with the chopped rosemary.  Taste and adjust the seasoning if necessary.

To Serve

Drizzle a little rosemary oil over each bowl of soup before serving.

Marinated Chicken with Roast Pumpkin Salad

Recipe from ‘Cooking Simply and Well, For One or Many’ by Jeremy Lee published by 4th Estate

Jeremy loves this recipe which he says was inspired by Hamersley’s Bistro in Boston, USA.

Serves 6

6 chicken breasts, wings still attached

1 soup spoon extra virgin olive oil


4 sprigs of thyme

8 cloves of garlic, peeled

4 branches of rosemary

1 small onion, peeled and chopped

½ tsp freshly ground black pepper

a large bunch of flat-leaf parsley, leaves picked

100ml extra virgin olive oil

juice of 1 lemon

100g Dijon mustard

Place the thyme, garlic, rosemary, onion and black pepper in a food processor and grind to a coarse purée. To this add a handful of parsley leaves at a time, adding a few spoonfuls of olive oil as you go, until you have made a thick green paste. Add the lemon juice and the rest of the olive oil. Stir in the mustard. Evenly spread the marinade over the chicken, cover well and leave to marinate at least overnight.

Preheat the oven to 200°C/Gas Mark 6.

Heat a large roasting tin in the oven and, when hot, remove, strew with sea salt and a spoonful of oil and lay the chicken skin side down on the salt. Place in the oven and cook for 45 minutes. With care, lift the chicken from the oven, check for doneness, then cover and rest for 20-25 minutes.

Return the chicken to the oven to ensure it is heated thoroughly before serving with the roast pumpkin salad.

Roast Pumpkin and Almond Salad

This is a salad that makes excellent use of the great many varieties of onion, pumpkin and squash around.

1kg pumpkin

30ml extra virgin olive oil, plus extra for the onions and dressing

3 red onions, peeled and sliced into rounds 5mm in thickness

2 soup spoons red wine vinegar, plus extra for the onions and dressing

a small bundle of thyme

a small bunch of sage

3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped

grated zest of 1 unwaxed lemon

a big pinch of dried chilli flakes

salt and black pepper

salad leaves, a handful of each, e.g., large-leaf rocket, young spinach, watercress, wild cress, land cress, picked and washed

a bunch of flat-leaf parsley, leaves picked and chopped

a bunch of mint, leaves picked and torn

75g blanched almonds, roasted at 150°C for 8 minutes or so until golden, then coarsely sliced

Preheat the oven to 220°C/Gas Mark 7.

Split the pumpkin, remove the seeds and cut into wedges. Heat a large roasting tin in the oven for a few minutes, add the extra virgin olive oil and the slices of pumpkin and return to the oven. Cook for 20 minutes, checking from time to time that the slices are not colouring too fast and may need turning. Add a little more oil if necessary.

Meanwhile, place a wide griddle or frying pan on a moderate heat, and lay the red onions in the heated pan to colour well. Cook for 5-8 minutes, then turn and repeat for a further 3-4 minutes. Remove the onions to a dish, cover and set aside for 5 minutes. Remove the cover and discard any burnt pieces of onion. Lightly dress with 1 soup spoon of vinegar and 2 soup spoons of extra virgin olive oil.

Pick the thyme and sage leaves and chop small, then mix with the garlic, lemon zest and chilli flakes. Season with salt and black pepper. Remove the pumpkin from the oven and insert a knife into the slices, which should offer no resistance. If still firm, return to the oven for a further 5-10 minutes.

Strew the herb seasoning over the roast pumpkin. Pour over 1 soup spoon of vinegar. To assemble the dish, carve each chicken breast in three and keep warm. Tumble all the leaves onto a big dish. Lay the pumpkin on the leaves, along with any juices still in the tin, and scatter the onion over the pumpkin. Tumble on the slices of chicken. Strew the mint leaves, parsley and sliced almonds over the salad, finishing with one last fluffy of vinegar and olive oil.

Caponata di Zucca Rossa (Squash Caponata with Raisins and Toasted Almonds)

Recipe from ‘A Curious Absence of Chicken’ by Sophie Grigson published by Headline Home

A brilliant recipe made with orange-fleshed squashes. This recipe is best eaten at room temperature.

Serves 6

600g butternut squash or other orange-fleshed winter squash

4 stems of celery, trimmed and thinly sliced

5 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

1 onion, chopped

1 x 400g tin of chopped tomatoes

salt and freshly ground black pepper

2 tbsp caster sugar

4 tbsp red wine vinegar

1 tsp ground cinnamon

3 tbsp chopped flat-leaf parsley

45g flaked almonds, toasted

40g raisins

2 tbsp capers, rinsed if salted

100g black olives, stoned and sliced

a small handful of mint leaves, roughly chopped

De-rind the squash and remove and discard the seeds. Cut into 2cm cubes. You will need around 500g prepared weight. Slice the celery stems into half-moons, about as thick as a 1 euro coin. Line a baking tray with a couple of layers of parchment paper.

You must cook the squash and celery separately, either one after the other in the same pan or get two roomy pans heating on the stove at once. Add a couple of tablespoons of olive oil to each one. Once it is hot, add the squash to one pan, the celery to the other. Sauté over a high heat, until both are browned. It takes a surprisingly long time for celery to brown because of all the water trapped in its cells, which has to evaporate off before browning can begin. The squash needs to be just cooked through, but not collapsing. Tip each one out onto the paper-lined tray to drain off some of the oil but try to leave a little oil in one of the frying pans.

Put the oily pan back on a lower heat, and fry the onions in it slowly, adding a little more oil if needed, until they are soft and very tender. Add the chopped tinned tomatoes and a small glass of water. Season with salt and plenty of freshly ground black pepper. Simmer gently for 20 minutes or so, until thick. Stir in the sugar, vinegar and cinnamon and simmer for another 2-3 minutes. Set aside a little of the parsley and the almonds for garnishing and stir the rest into the sauce, along with the squash and celery, the raisins, capers and olives. Give it all a final couple of minutes over the heat to bring all those flavours together, then leave to cool until tepid. Taste and adjust the seasoning (you’ll probably need more salt to balance the sweetness of the squash and sugar). Serve at room temperature, sprinkled with the reserved parsley and almonds, and the mint.

Butternut Squash and Coconut Curry

This will definitely become a favourite, make twice the recipe if you can.

Serves 4-6

225g onion, peeled and finely chopped

25g butter

1 tbsp olive oil

700g butternut squash, peeled and cut into 2cm dice

2 tsp black mustard seeds

1 tsp cumin seeds

1 tsp fennel seeds

1 tsp ground turmeric

1 tsp ground coriander

seeds from 8 green cardamom pods, lightly crushed

20g fresh root ginger, peeled and finely chopped

3 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped

2 green chillies, deseeded and finely chopped

sea salt and black pepper

1 x 400g tin chopped tomatoes

400ml vegetable stock or water

200ml coconut milk

handful fresh coriander leaves


Mint or Coriander Yoghurt

Melt the butter and the oil in a wok, add the onion and sweat over a gentle heat until soft and translucent.  Meanwhile, prepare the butternut squash, add to the onion and cook uncovered for 3-4 minutes. 

Stir in the mustard, cumin and fennel seeds and cook for 2 minutes, careful not to brown the seeds or they will become bitter.  Add the ground turmeric, coriander, crushed cardamom seeds, ginger, garlic and chillies and cook for 30 seconds.  Season with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, add the chopped tomatoes, stock or water. Bring to the boil and simmer for 20 minutes, then add the coconut milk and cook for a further 20 minutes or until the vegetable is tender.  Taste and correct seasoning if necessary. Pour into a hot serving bowl, scatter with coriander and serve with rice, naan bread and mint or coriander yoghurt.

Mint or Coriander Yoghurt

300ml yoghurt

4 tbsp coarsely chopped coriander or mint

Mix the yoghurt with the coriander or mint.


Trundling along on the train from Pisa to Siena, it was a joy to see so many lovely little vegetable gardens alongside the railway track. Lots of globe artichokes plants, beans still clambering up wicker teepees, end of season sweetcorn and tomatoes, a few grape vines and here and there a couple of olive trees. The weather was beautiful, clear blue skies, the countryside was bathed in sunshine, nonetheless everything looks sad and parched,

I was on my way to Tenuta di Spannocchia, a 2,000 acre organic estate in the midst of Maremma national reserve in the province of Siena, to attend a Climate Farm School.

My fellow participants were all from the US, many were involved in policy making for large corporations who are anxious to have a sustainable green image. Others are advising philanthropists and private clients interested in investing in regenerative projects. All were there to learn and understand more about farming systems, how ethically nutrient dense food is produced and how we can best farm in harmony with nature to enhance the fertility of the soil, sequester carbon and produce healthy plants, animals and humans and absorb rainfall.

Except there was no water…It’s been months since there’s been a drop of rain, consequently, there were no olives and it’s a terrible year for viticulture. At a rough guess, they will have about a quarter of the usual grape harvest.

Apparently, it’s been insanely hot throughout the summer and was still around 30°C in mid-October. Many forest fires also but fortunately not on the Spannocchia estate where there are hundreds of acres of forest.

During the week, many brilliant speakers spoke on a variety of related topics, the soil, geology, permaculture, forest and woodland management, models of transformation, a climate action plan…

We visited another eco estate, Tenuta di Paganico who rear longhorn cattle and Cinta Senese pigs and have a farm shop and café where visitors can buy the beef and heritage pork and taste the produce of the estate and local area.

We also visited an organic rice farm at Tenuta San Carlo in the heart of Maremma in southern Tuscany owned and managed by Ariana, the fourth generation to steward this estate with a deep commitment “to create a better future for our children, our community and our planet”.

Everywhere we heard of the myriad of challenges facing farmers in every area at present, not least the fear and uncertainty caused by the unpredictability of climate change, coupled with the poor price for their produce at farm gate.

Early one morning at Spannocchia, Danielle took us foraging in the herb garden to collect some weeds, herbs and wild plants to incorporate into our cooking class. I am intrigued by food in the wild and always eager to learn more.

Some plants were familiar to me, many others were an exciting new discovery.

We picked the leaves of sow thistle (Sonchus oleraceus) and common poppy to add to the spinach and Swiss chard to incorporate into the filling for homemade ravioli. Apparently, pigs love sow thistle hence the name. They have yellow flowers and

look a bit like tall dandelions. The red poppy flower petals went into the salad.

I love the honey/pea flavour of the young bladder campion leaves (silene vulgaris) They too went into the salad, together with the narrow, pointed leaves and white flowers of stitchwort (Stellaria holostea), also called the star of Bethlehem.

I also discovered that the shoots and roots of Hawksbeard (Crepis) are also edible and very good in the salad.

It’s also worth remembering that what we call weeds today, were our ancestors’ medicine cabinet and many contribute a myriad of health benefits. Wild plants haven’t been tampered with to increase yield, so still have the full complement of vitamins, minerals, trace elements and bioactive compounds like polyphenols not easily found in today’s processed foods.

We’ve crystallised violet flowers for years, but I hadn’t realised that the leaves are also edible and delicious. So, they too can go into a green salad from now on.

Back into the kitchen, where Laura and Daniella gave us a cooking class. We all made pasta together, chopped fresh herbs, stuffed the ravioli and watched as Laura butterflied a loin of pork and slathered it with freshly chopped rosemary, sage, and lots of fennel leaves, flowers and seeds.

We made a delicious fig leaf panna cotta for dessert and a wonderfully diverse Foragers salad to accompany the roast pork.

Here are some of those recipes, which I hope you’ll enjoy making at home.

Fennel Pesto (Pesto al Finocchietto Selvatico)

Loved this Spannocchia riff on pesto.

Serve with pasta or on crostini.

It should be a thicker consistency for crostini.

Makes 2 x 200ml jars

Parmesan cheese, freshly grated, (gritty)

almonds or cashew nuts 

2 large cloves of garlic 

110g wild fennel

salt and freshly ground black pepper 

175-225ml extra virgin olive oil 

Using a food processor, blend together the cheese, nuts and garlic.  With the blade running, add the wild fennel, salt and freshly ground black pepper.  Combine well, drizzle in the oil slowly (with the blade still running) as the pesto comes together. 

Stuffed Spinach Ravioli with Butter and Sage Sauce 

(Ravioli di Spinaci e Ricotta con Burroe Salvia)

Salt helps to develop the gluten.

Serves 6   

Homemade Pasta 

600g flour 

6 eggs

3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil 


Sieve the flour onto the timber worktop, make a mound with a hole in the centre.  Put the eggs, olive oil and a few pinches of salt into the hole.  Mix with a fork until blended, then knead with your hands for 8-10 minutes.  You may need to add more flour if the mixture is too sticky.

Divide the dough into six pieces.  Using a pasta maker, start with the thickest setting, putting the dough through two or three times, folding it in thirds between each pass.  Next turn the dial and put it through again, it should be getting longer and thinner each time.  Finally, put the dough through on the finest setting, the strip should be uniform, thin and flexible. (You can also roll the dough out by hand with a rolling pin instead if you prefer).

Lay out one strip of pasta on a flat, dry preferably sodden surface.  Add a small spoonful of filling (see recipe) every 7.5cm or so along the strip.  Make sure you leave space between the filling to cut into individual ravioli.  Lightly wet the edge.  Fold over the pasta to enclose it, then gently press down around the filling to seal the pasta.  Prepare several trays by covering them lightly in flour or with a kitchen towel.  Cut the individual ravioli apart and gently place them on the floured tray.  Don’t let the ravioli touch each other.  Repeat until all the pasta has been used.

When all the ravioli have been prepared, pop them into boiling water with salt and cook for just a few minutes, until al dente (when they will rise to the top).  Remove with a slotted spoon.  Drain well, place in a serving dish and immediately add the sauce and a generous amount of grated Parmesan cheese on top. 

Ravioli Filling 

Other combinations could be two thirds chard and one third sow thistle or 2 dandelions, red poppy leaves and borage.

500g spinach or chopped chard and other greens

2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil 

2 cloves garlic, sliced

1 chilli, finely chopped (optional)

500g ricotta cheese, drained 

1 egg 

3 tbsp grated Parmesan cheese


salt and freshly ground black pepper 

Cook the spinach leaves and/or chopped chard and other greens in well salted water for 4-5 minutes until soft.  Drain very well, even squeezing with your hands to remove any excess water, then finely chop.  Put the greens in a frying pan with a little olive oil and sliced garlic and chopped chilli if using and cook on a medium heat until all the water has evaporated, approx. 5 minutes.  Discard the garlic and put the greens in a large bowl.  Chop with a mezzaluna or knife.  Now add the ricotta cheese, egg, finely grated Parmesan cheese, a pinch of nutmeg, salt and freshly ground black pepper mixing well until you reach an even consistency.  Taste and correct the seasoning if necessary. 


75g butter 

8-10 fresh sage leaves 

45g grated Parmesan cheese, or as desired 

Put the butter and sage leaves together in a small pan over a medium heat, sitting occasionally.  Remove from the heat when the butter is completely melted.  Now spoon the butter sauce onto the pasta and top with Parmesan cheese.   

Pork Loin with Sage, Rosemary and Fennel (Arista al Finocchietto)

At Spannocchia they included fennel at three stages – leaves, flowers and seeds.

Serves 6 

1kg pork loin or neck/cappacuolo

5-6 sage leaves 

1 sprig rosemary 

fennel leaves and flowers if available

flaky sea salt and freshly ground black pepper 

fennel seeds

4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil 

Preheat the oven to 220°C/Gas Mark 7.

Finely chop the sage leaves, rosemary, fennel leaves and flowers together.

Butterfly the pork with a sharp knife to open it out to twice the length.

Season the pork loin with flaky sea salt and freshly ground black pepper; sprinkle the chopped herbs and the fennel seeds evenly over the pork.   Roll up and tie firmly.  Then drizzle well with extra virgin olive oil.  

Place the loin roll on a baking tray and pop into the preheated oven for 20 minutes, reduce the heat to 180°C/Gas Mark 4 and continue to cook for 55 minutes approx. until the internal temperature reaches 72°C.

When the pork is cooked, remove from the oven and allow it to rest.  Skim the juices from the tray and spoon over the pork.    

When ready to serve, remove the pork from the tray and slice (not too thinly!). Garnish with sprigs of rosemary and fennel.


The arista pork is also very tasty served the following day at room temperature the following day with homemade aioli or fennel mayonnaise.

A Salad of Foraged Greens and Flowers

For the mixed salad, the following plants work well together:

stitchwort, pennywort, lemon balm, wild fennel, salad burnet, bittercress, common sorrel, purslane, plantain, nepeta, cowslip leaves and flowers, evergreen clematis (Clematis vitalba), nasturtium leaves and flowers, chive flowers, chicory leaves and flowers, leaves and flowers of purple mallow, violet leaves and flowers, marigold and daisy petals, wild thyme leaves, dandelion leaves and petals, bladder campion leaves and flowers, sage flowers, rosemary flowers, borage flowers, zucchini blossoms, rose petals, common poppy leaves and flowers….

Plants used for the salad should be young and fresh.

Italian Dressing

1 tbsp fresh lemon juice or Balsamic vinegar

3 tbsp extra virgin Tuscan olive oil

sea salt and freshly cracked pepper

sugar to taste, use only with lemon juice

Wash and dry the salad leaves, combine the ingredients for the dressing. Just before serving, toss the salad with the dressing and serve immediately.

Note: Italian lemons are much sweeter and juicier than the imported fruit we have access to so it may be necessary to add sugar to the dressing.

Fig Leaf Panna Cotta

Serve with candied figs or a compote of fruit.

Serves 8-10

1 litre light cream (half milk/half cream)

4 tbsp sugar 

5-6 fresh fig leaves, grilled over a gas flame for 1-2 minutes

3 sheets of gelatine 

1 egg yolk 

 4 tbsp of milk

Put the cream, sugar and fig leaves into a saucepan over a low heat, stirring often until the liquid comes almost to boiling point. Remove from the heat.

Put the sheets of gelatine into a bowl and cover with cold water.  Allow to sit for a few minutes to soften.

Remove the gelatine sheets from the water (discard the water).  Squeeze out the excess water.  Add the softened gelatine sheets to the fig flavoured cream and sugar, stir for a few minutes until dissolved.

In a separate bowl, whisk the egg with the milk.  Whisk in the fig flavoured cream and sugar mixture.  Stir very well.  

Pour the mixture into individual bowls and leave to cool in the fridge for at least 3-4 hours or until set.  

Serve on fresh fig leaves with candied figs.


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