Archive2024

Fruitful Cookbook

This is the title of a new cookbook penned by Sarah Johnson, a brilliant young pastry chef with an impeccable pedigree.

Fruitful is a very personal collection of sweet and savoury seasonal recipes inspired by farms, orchards and gardens. It’s packed with suggestions for ways to celebrate the bounty of summer fruits. There’s an irresistible collection of mouth-watering suppers, salads, elegant cakes and luxurious desserts…

Sarah is American born but now lives in London. She originally trained with Alice Waters at Chez Panisse in Berkeley in California and currently splits her time between Skye Gyngell’s Spring Restaurant in Somerset House and Heckfield Place, the most gorgeous country house hotel in Hampshire.

On her recent visit, she cooked a Pop-Up dinner at Ballymaloe House and did a guest chef appearance at the Ballymaloe Cookery School.

Both the students and guests loved her, she cooked different dishes for both events using the freshest, most lovely, seasonal ingredients from the farm and gardens.

At the cookery school as well as the three recipes I’ve included with this column, she also cooked a frozen yoghurt and honey parfait with roasted blueberries and macerated strawberries and a sublime chocolate tart in a chocolate pastry shell, all of which are in the cookbook as well as a salad of nectarines, green beans, almonds and feta, pan-fried duck breast with blackcurrant, goat cheese soufflés with roasted cherries and a summer herb salad that charmed the guests at Ballymaloe House. 

The students particularly loved her clever tips and tricks and her expert advice for mastering key techniques. There were also thought provoking combinations from fruit growers around the world.

I too love blackcurrants and gooseberries, the latter are almost over but the blackcurrants have been ripening on the bushes for the past few weeks. We’ve had to cover the bushes with light netting otherwise the blackbirds and pigeons would strip every last plump blackcurrant off the branches. There are raspberries and strawberries from January to December, but blackcurrants and gooseberries rarely appear on supermarket shelves, best to plant a few bushes of your own. Make a note in your diary to order some from your garden centre to plant sometime between November and March depending on the weather.

My very favourite way to eat blackcurrants is to poach them in a simple syrup (equal quantities of sugar and water) until they burst (2-3 minutes). Spoon them into bowls immediately,

then pour a little icy cold Jersey cream – divine!

Make the most of the summer fruit while it is in season.

Sarah Johnson’s Fruitful will give you lots of exciting new ideas. Published by Kyle Books.

Savoury Lemon Chicken Piccata

Lemon, chicken and capers appear harmoniously together in a number of dishes, however Sarah’s favourite version is in this Italian-American classic. Serve it with orzo, or buttermilk mashed potatoes and garlicky green beans. 

Serves 4-6

4 skinless chicken breasts

salt and pepper

140g butter, separated

50ml oil

250g flour

1 clove of garlic

100ml white wine

100ml chicken stock

zest of 1 lemon, plus lemon wedges to serve

1 tbsp lemon juice

2 tbsp capers

handful of parsley

Begin by cutting each chicken breast in half, slicing through horizontally to create two thinner pieces. Place the slices between two pieces of baking parchment and gently pound until they’re about 1.5cm thick. Season the chicken with salt, cover lightly and set aside for 30 minutes – 1 hour.

When you’re ready to cook, heat a large heavy-based frying pan over a medium-high heat then add 40g of the butter and the oil. Put the flour into a shallow bowl, then dredge each chicken cutlet in the flour, shaking off the excess. When the pan is hot and the butter begins to sizzle, place the cutlets into the hot pan, ensuring you don’t overcrowd the pan (you may need to do this in two batches.) Allow the cutlets to cook for 3-5 minutes, waiting patiently before flipping them. Once they are crisp and golden-brown, and release easily from the bottom of the pan, flip them and quickly sear the other side for about 30 seconds. Transfer to a plate and set aside. Repeat with the remaining pieces of chicken. 

Add the chopped garlic to the pan and let it sizzle briefly, but before it browns, add the white wine. Bring the liquid to a boil and let it reduce until it has nearly evaporated. Add the chicken stock and using a spatula, scrape and lift any browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Add the lemon zest, juice, whisk in the remaining butter and then add the capers, swirling them around to form a glossy emulsion. Return the chicken cutlets to the pan, spooning the sauce over each piece until they are warmed through. Take the pan off the heat and let everything rest for 5 minutes.

Just before serving, garnish the dish with freshly chopped parsley and wedges of lemon. 

Serve with buttermilk mash or orzo.

Blackcurrant Jelly

In this recipe, the blackcurrant is set with gelatine rather than pectin, resulting in a bright, fresh-tasting jelly which can be served with a number of dishes both savoury and sweet. It is one of my favourite accompaniments to a number of cheeses, like a young moussey goat’s cheese, or a creamy blue. You may also consider serving small spoonfuls with a terrine or duck pâté on toast. For a sweeter alternative, serve with cold thick cream and sugared rose petals, or include as a layer in your favourite summer trifle. This jelly should be quivering when set, and barely held together by the gelatine. To achieve this, pay particular attention to your measurements.

Serves 6-8

570ml blackcurrant juice (see below)

150–200g caster sugar, plus extra to taste 

4 sheets of gelatine leaf

Measure 100ml of the blackcurrant juice into a small saucepan with the sugar. Place over a gentle heat, swirling occasionally until the sugar dissolves and the juice is hot to touch, then set aside. 

Meanwhile, submerge the gelatine sheets one by one into a bowl of ice-cold water and leave to soften for about 5 minutes. Remove the gelatine from the cold water and squeeze to remove the excess liquid, then add it to the warm currant juice and stir until the gelatine is completely dissolved. Slowly stir in the remaining juice, then strain through a fine-mesh plastic sieve into a serving bowl. Give the jelly a little taste and add a whisper of sugar if desired. Place into the refrigerated uncovered for 2-3 hours, then cover and continue to chill until set. 

Serve with softly whipped cream.

Variation: You may also set the jelly in ramekins, which can be turned out on a plate after a quick run under hot water. 

Cover the remaining pulp with vodka – strain after 7 or 8 days and enjoy.

Blackcurrant Juice

Makes about 600ml

700g topped and tailed blackcurrants

200ml water

Place the blackcurrants in a saucepan with the water, then cover the pan with a lid and bring it to a gentle boil. Lightly mash the currants and let them cook for an additional minute. Remove from the heat and carefully strain the juice through a fine-mesh plastic sieve into a heatproof container, use the back of a ladle to gently press the fruit, being cautious not to agitate it too much to avoid clouding the juice. Use immediately or cover and store in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.

Almond Cake with Roasted Apricots and Sugared Rose Petals

This almond cake is definitely one for your repertoire – it’s a keeper!

Serves 8-10

115g almond flour

80g icing sugar

220g caster sugar

195g unsalted butter at room temperature and cut into cubes plus extra for greasing

5 large eggs (290g)

¼ vanilla bean, scraped (or 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract)

2 tsp almond liquor

140g plain flour

1 ¾ tsp baking powder

½ tsp salt

Roasted Apricots with Muscat Beaumes de Venise (see recipe)

Sugared Rose Petals (see recipe)

Preheat the oven 160°C/Gas Mark 3.

Grease a 23cm cake tin with butter, dust it with flour and tap out the excess.

Line the bottom of the pan with a round of parchment paper

In the bowl of a food processor, grind the almond flour and two sugars until properly mixed. Scatter the cubes of butter over the top, then process until the batter is very smooth and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, processing a bit before the next addition. (You may wish to open the machine and scrape the sides down to make sure the eggs are getting fully incorporated.) Add the vanilla and almond liquor.

Sift the flour, baking powder and salt, then add half the dry ingredients to the processor. Pulse the machine a few times, then add the rest, pulsing until the dry ingredients are just barely incorporated. Scrape down the machine and the blade then pulse one or two more times. Scrape the batter into the prepared cake pan and bake the cake for 30 minutes. Rotate the cake 180 degrees, then bake for another 15 minutes or when a skewer inserted into the cake comes out clean.

Remove from the oven and place onto a wire rack to cool.  

Scatter sugared rose petals over the top of the cake and serve with Roasted Apricots with Muscat Beaumes de Venise.

Roasted Apricots with Muscat Beaumes de Venise 

Ripe apricots and Muscat Beaumes de Venise, at their best, share a beguiling scent of honey and sweet nectar. This quality makes them a perfect combination for this simple dish. If you have difficulty sourcing Muscat wine, particularly one that won’t strain your budget, feel free to experiment with other white dessert wines such as Sauternes or Vin Santo. 

Serves 4-6

1kg ripe, fragrant apricots

4 tbsp Muscat Beaumes de Venise

1 vanilla pod (optional)

2-4 tbsp sugar 

Preheat the oven 220°C/Gas Mark 7.

Halve the apricots and remove the stones, saving them for another purpose.

Arrange the apricot halves closely together in a ceramic dish. Sprinkle 2 tablespoons of Muscat Beaumes de Venise over the apricots and add just enough water to lightly coat the bottom of the dish. Place the dish in the preheated oven for 7 minutes.

Meanwhile, split the vanilla pod and scrape out the seeds. Place the seeds in a bowl along with the sugar. Using your fingertips, rub the vanilla into the sugar, and set it aside. Once the apricots are hot and gently sizzling around the edges, evenly distribute the sugar mixture over the top. Continue roasting for another 7-10 minutes, until the sugar has dissolved into the fruit and the edges start to darken. The fruit should be tender but still retain its shape. Remove from the oven and cut a small corner from one of the apricots to taste. Adjust the sweetness by adding the remaining sugar if desired. Scatter the remaining 2 tablespoons of Muscat Beaumes de Venise over the apricots and allow them to cool on a wire rack.

Sugared Rose Petals

1 egg white

30 fragrant rose petals, unsprayed and dry

a small bowl of caster sugar

For the sugared rose petals, make sure your hands are clean and dry and keep a towel nearby. Place the egg whites into a small bowl and gently whisk them until frothy. Using one hand, drag your index and middle finger along with your thumb through the frothy whites, then pick up a rose petal and gently rub it between your fingers to moisten it. If the petal feels too heavy, dry your finger with the towel and brush away any excess whites. Drop the petal into the sugar, then use your other clean hand to toss and coat it. Place the sugared petal on a wire rack. Repeat this process with the remaining petals, using one hand to coat them in egg whites and the other hand to toss them in sugar. It’s best to keep the bowls of egg whites and sugar separate to avoid creating a sticky mess. However, if your hands become mixed, simply take a break to rinse your hands, wipe them dry and continue. Once you have candied all the petals, transfer the wire rack in a cool, moist-free place until the petals are brittle and completely dry. They can be stored in a well-sealed container, stacked between pieces of baking parchment for up to a day.

Wedge Salads

Wedge salads have been all the rage in the US for some time now. For these, the core ingredient is cut into a wedge and left whole rather than shredded then topped with all sorts of deliciousness.

The end result is crunchy and punchy with lots of little nooks and crannies to absorb a refreshing, zesty dressing.

Crisp Iceberg or baby Gem lettuces are favourite but cos or even loose leaves of Butterhead or speckled Castelfranco are delicious too.

I’ve even used baby cabbages and crisp fennel bulbs.

Roasting or grilling perks up the flavour deliciously and it’s fun to add Chinese, Vietnamese or Japanese flavours, Mediterranean, Mexican or traditional Irish.

Love the charred flavour of Radicchio Treviso which mellows the bitterness in an irresistible way.

I was first introduced to this in Venice where it was served on a bed of white polenta.

An Iceberg lettuce can be cut into eight generous wedges. We love it sprinkled with crispy bacon lardons, seasoned cherry tomato quarters, a drizzle of Caesar dressing and a generous sprinkling of Parmesan Cheese.

A few shaved radishes would be an extra embellishment. Blue cheese lovers will enjoy a Cashel, Bellingham or Boyne Valley Blue dressing and maybe some pickled red onions. Easy peasy to do, just slice the onion rings thinly.  They’ll keep for several days.

Just a few suggestions but the sky’s the limit….

Rory O’Connell’s Little Gem Lettuce with Caesar Dressing and Chorizo Crumbs

This is a lovely savoury combination. If you can manage to get tight little heads of lettuce, they can be cut into wedges which makes a lovely presentation. Omit the chorizo crumbs if you’re running short of time but they do add a certain je ne sais quoi!

Serves 12 as a bite

3 heads of baby Gem lettuce

6-8 tbsp of Caesar Dressing (see recipe)

3-4 tbsp Chorizo Crumbs (see recipe) or croutons

3-4 tbsp grated Parmesan cheese

6-12 anchovies (optional)

Cut each lettuce into four neat wedges yielding 12 pieces.

Carefully dress the lettuce wedges with Caesar dressing. Sprinkle each wedge with chorizo crumbs and grated Parmesan. Place an optional anchovy on top of each wedge for a particular savoury taste.

Caesar Dressing

2 egg yolks, preferably free-range

2 tbsp lemon juice, freshly squeezed

1 x 50g tin anchovies

1 clove garlic, crushed

a generous pinch of English mustard powder

½ tsp salt

½ – 1 tbsp Worcester sauce

½ – 1 tbsp Tabasco sauce

175ml sunflower oil

50ml extra virgin olive oil

50ml cold water

I make it in a food processor, but it can also be made very quickly by hand. Drain the anchovies and crush lightly with a fork. Put into a bowl with the egg yolks, add the garlic, lemon juice, mustard powder, salt, Worcester and Tabasco sauce. Whisk all the ingredients together.  As you whisk, add the oils slowly at first, then a little faster as the emulsion forms. Finally whisk in the water to make a spreadable consistency. Taste and correct the seasoning: this dressing should be highly flavoured.

Chorizo Crumbs

Chorizo Crumbs are delicious and used in so many ways.  We like to scatter them over potato, celeriac, Jerusalem artichoke or watercress soup.  They are particularly good sprinkled over cauliflower or macaroni cheese.  Keep in a box for several weeks and scatter when you fancy!

4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

125g chorizo, peeled and cut into 5mm dice

100g white crust-less breadcrumbs

Put the oil into a cool pan, add the diced chorizo.  Toss on a low heat until the oil starts to colour from the smoked paprika in the chorizo and the chorizo begins to crisp very slightly.  Be careful as it is easy to burn the chorizo. Drain through a metal sieve, save the oil and return to the pan.

Increase the heat, add the breadcrumbs and toss continuously in the chorizo oil until crisp and golden.  Drain and add to the chorizo.

Watercress, Chicory, Apple, Pomegranate and Hazelnut Salad

A refreshing clean-tasting salad.  Just by reading this, one can visualise how delicious this salad will taste, with lots of peppery watercress.

Serves 8

a handful of whole unblanched hazelnuts

2 bunches watercress

2 heads of red or white chicory, cut into wedges

4 medium dessert apples, such as Worcester Pearmain, Cox’s Orange Pippin or Egremont Russet

seeds from 1 small or ½  large pomegranate

a small bunch of chives, cut into 2.5cm lengths

sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Dressing

1 tsp honey

2 tbsp cider vinegar

pinch of flaky sea salt

8 tbsp hazelnut oil or extra virgin olive oil

Preheat the oven to 200°C/Gas Mark 6.

Arrange the hazelnuts on a baking tray in a single layer and toast the hazelnuts for 8-10 minutes in the oven.  Leave to cool. Rub off the skins and break the nuts into coarse pieces with a rolling pin or in a pestle and mortar.

Whisk the ingredients for the dressing in a large mixing bowl.

Remove the more fibrous stalks from the watercress. Separate the leaves of the chicory. Cut the apples into quarters, remove the core with a sharp knife and slice some into thin wedges and others into chunks.

Just before serving.

Gently toss the chicory wedges, watercress and apple in the dressing and season to taste. Transfer to a serving dish or individual serving plates. Sprinkle liberally with the crunchy toasted hazelnuts, a few pomegranate seeds and chives.  Scatter with chive flowers if available.

Chargrilled Fennel Wedges with Roast Red Peppers

Chargrilling sweetens the fennel deliciously. Add to Verdura Mista or this versatile combination. The fronds add a fresh liquorice taste and the flowers a touch of anise.

Serves 6

1-2 fennel bulbs

extra virgin olive oil

3 roast red peppers, peeled, deseeded and sliced

1 tsp fennel seeds, slightly crushed and toasted

lots of fresh fennel fronds, coarsely chopped

fennel flowers, optional

12-18 black Kalamata or Nicoise olives

sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Heat a char-grill or grill pan over a high heat.

Trim the fennel bulbs and cut into 6 wedges. Alternatively, slice the fennel very thinly, 3mm, from top to bottom.  Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil, season with sea salt and freshly ground pepper.

Cook the wedges or slices on the hot pan until golden and slightly caramelized on each side. Arrange on a platter interspersed with warm roasted red pepper slices.  Scatter some freshly roasted and slightly crushed fennel seeds over the top. Toss.  Sprinkle over the freshly chopped fennel fronds, a few fresh fennel flowers, if using, add some black olives, and serve as an accompaniment to a pan-grilled fish or pork chop, or just as a starter.

Pickled Red Onions

You’ll find yourself dipping into the jar of pickled onions regularly, to add to a salad, sandwich, or as an accompaniment to beef or fish burgers.

Makes 2 x 200g jars

225ml white wine vinegar

110g granulated sugar

pinch of salt

3 whole cloves

1 cinnamon stick, broken

1 dried red chilli

450g red onions, peeled and thinly sliced on a mandolin

Put the vinegar, sugar, salt and spices in a heavy-bottomed pan and bring to the boil. Put in one-third of the sliced onions and simmer for 2-3 minutes or until they turn pink and wilt. Lift out the cooked onions with a slotted spoon and transfer them to a sterilized jam jar with a non-reactive lid. Repeat with the rest of the onions, cooking them in two batches. Top up the jars with the hot vinegar, put on the lids and set aside to cool overnight. Once cold, store in the fridge.

A Rose Tea Party

One of the highlights of the summer season for me is the invitation to a friend’s Rose Tea Party. It’s a proper, deliciously old-fashioned afternoon tea in the dining room of a beautiful country house with starched linen tablecloths, lots of delicate China and an assortment of teapots. Flamboyant flower arrangements tumble out of family heirlooms and epergnes, and we all dress up in our summer frocks and linen blazers.
First, we gather in the drawing room for a glass of fizz laced with some super delicious elderflower cordial made by our host, it’s his summer specialty. We’re a motley assortment of eccentrics, me included, having fun catching up on each other’s lives. Eventually, we all amble through the charming old gardens admiring our hosts collection of roses, fastidiously gathered over many decades. Some are familiar like Albertine and Paul’s Himalayan Musk which romps with gay abandon over the wooden pergola. Each rose has its own story. Those that couldn’t be originally identified, now have a name connecting them to the place where they were discovered, perhaps rambling over an old ruin. Others are now rechristened with the name of the person who rescued it from an old ditch or a thicket of brambles.
There’s Derreen with Kerry connections and Patrica Cockburn named after the lovely lady who rescued it from obscurity.
There were cucumber sandwiches on generously buttered white bread with crusts removed, salad sandwiches too and egg mayo and chive, my absolute favourite. Scones of course, tiny little ones topped with softly whipped cream and jam. The pièce de résistance was an irresistible featherlight sponge cake, generously filled and topped with fresh summer strawberries and cream, scattered with deliciously scented rose petals.
Memories came flooding back of afternoon tea parties in the local rectory when we were children. We would dress in our Sunday best, me in one of my pretty smocked dresses with satin ribbons in my hair, the boys in their ‘long pants’ with freshly laundered shirts and tie and their tousled hair brushed into submission. We were warned to behave, to wait until seated at the big mahogany table and then there was a protocol. Only speak when you are spoken to, start with a slice or two of thinly sliced bread and butter from the plate nearest you, no grabbing or stretching, next a sandwich or two, then a scone or jam tartlet and eventually a slice of cake. I particularly remember a Victoria sponge sandwiched together with Granny Nicholson’s homemade raspberry jam and a moist and delicious coffee cake sandwiched together with coffee butter cream, then iced with a smooth glacé icing and decorated with walnut halves. When we couldn’t eat another bite, we were allowed to run out to play on the swing and see-saw, – is that even a thing anymore? We played tig, a chasing game, blind man’s buff, willie wag tail, 123 and giant steps…Oh my Goodness, I really am on a trip down memory lane!
An afternoon tea party is a wonderful way to entertain a few friends with or without their children even if you don’t have a collection of aromatic roses for them to admire.
Here are some of my favourite treats to enjoy.

Almond Tartlets with Raspberries or Loganberries and Cream

Save this recipe for these adorable little tartlets, they are a doddle to make. Raspberries are in season at present but other summer berries like loganberries, boysenberries, tayberries will be delicious or even a few slices of peach or nectarine.

Serves 12

Makes 24 tartlets

110g butter

110g caster sugar

110g ground almonds

Filling

fresh raspberries or loganberries

300ml whipped cream

Preheat the oven to 180°C/Gas Mark 4.

Garnish

little sprigs of sweet cicely, mint or lemon balm

For this recipe, choose two trays of round bottomed, rather than deep tartlet tins.

Cream the butter well and then just stir in the sugar and ground almonds. (Don’t over beat or the oil will come out of the ground almonds as it cooks.) Put a teaspoon of the mixture into 24 small patty tins.  Bake in the preheated oven for 10-12 minutes until golden brown.  The tartlets will be too soft to turn out immediately, so cool in tins for about 5 minutes before carefully sliding out of the tins.  Do not allow it to set hard before removing or the butter will solidify, and they will stick to the tins. Cool on a wire rack.  If this happens pop the tins back into the oven for a few minutes so the butter melts, then they will come out easily. 

Just before serving, arrange whole raspberries or loganberries on the base.  Glaze with redcurrant jelly. Decorate with tiny rosettes of cream. We love to garnish them with sweet cicely or tiny lemon balm or mint leaves.

Redcurrant Glaze (optional)

This shiny glaze gives a professional finish and a bittersweet flavour to the tartlets.

The quantities given above make a generous 300ml of glaze.

350g redcurrant jelly

1 tbsp water approx.

Melt the redcurrant jelly with the water in a small stainless-steel saucepan for 1-2 minutes, stirring gently. Do not whisk or it will become cloudy.  Store any leftover glaze in an airtight jar and reheat gently to melt it before use.

Éclairs with lots of riffs

It’s brilliant to be able to make a batch of choux pastry, one can do so many shapes and make sweet and savoury variations. I like to keep them small for afternoon tea, so one can enjoy several!

Makes 20/Serves 10

Choux Pastry

75g strong flour (Baker’s)

small pinch of salt

110ml water

50g butter, cut into 1cm cubes

2-3 eggs depending on size (free range if possible)

Chocolate or Coffee Glacé Icing

Crème Chantilly

300ml whipped cream

½ -1 tbsp icing sugar

2-3 drops pure vanilla extract

parchment paper

9mm round éclair piping nozzle

Make the choux pastry in the usual way.

Sieve the flour with the salt into a bowl.  Heat the water and butter in a high-sided saucepan until the butter is melted. Bring to a fast rolling boil, remove from the heat.  (Note: Prolonged boiling evaporates the water and changes the proportions of the dough).  Immediately the pan is taken from the heat, add all the flour at once and beat vigorously with a wooden spoon for a few seconds until the mixture is smooth and pulls away from the sides of the saucepan to form a ball. Put the saucepan back on a low heat and stir for 30 seconds – 1 minute or until the mixture starts to furr the bottom of the saucepan. Remove from the heat and cool for a few seconds.

Meanwhile, break one egg into a bowl, whisk and set aside.  Add the remaining eggs into the dough, one by one with a wooden spoon, beating thoroughly after each addition.  Make sure the dough returns to the same texture each time before you add another egg. When it will no longer form a ball in the centre of the saucepan, add the beaten egg little by little. Use just enough to make a mixture that is very shiny and just drops reluctantly from the spoon in a sheet. 

The choux pastry may be used immediately or kept covered and refrigerated for several hours.

Preheat the oven to 230°C/Gas Mark 7.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and sprinkle with a few drops of cold water.  Fill the choux pastry into a piping bag with the round éclair nozzle.  Pipe the dough into strips of your choice (7.5-10cm), 3.5cm apart to allow for expansion. 

Bake immediately in the preheated oven, for 15 minutes then reduce the heat to 200°C/Gas Mark 6, for a further 15-20 minutes or until they are crisp and golden. Rest the tray on the opened oven door.  Make a little hole in the side of each éclair to allow the steam to escape. Return to the oven and bake for approx. 5 minutes more – they should be very crisp. 

Remove to a wire rack.

Meanwhile make the chosen glacé icing or icings (see recipe). 

Sweeten the whipped cream to taste with icing sugar and a dash of vanilla extract, put into a piping bag with a small nozzle.  As soon as the éclairs are cold, fill with chantilly cream through the hole where the steam escaped, (alternatively, split lengthways and fill). 

Dip the tops in the icing and arrange on a wire rack over a tray to catch the drips.  Éclairs are best served within 1 or 2 hours of being made.

Note: If the icing is too thick, add a little warm water, it should be a thick coating consistency.

Delicious as they are but one can have fun with roasted hazelnuts, coarsely chopped pistachios, walnuts or pecans. I sometimes add a little crushed cardamom to the coffee icing, ¼ teaspoon is enough for once the recipe.

Dark Chocolate Glacé Icing

110g caster sugar

75g butter

4 tbsp water

175g icing sugar, sieved

50g cocoa powder, sieved

In a saucepan, stir the caster sugar, butter and water over a low heat until the sugar has dissolved, and the butter is melted. Bring just to the boil, then draw off the heat and pour at once into the sifted ingredients in a bowl. Beat with a wooden spoon until the mixture is smooth and glossy. It will thicken as it cools but thin with warm water as required.

Coffee Glacé Icing

scant 1 tbsp coffee essence

225g icing sugar, sieved

2 tbsp boiling water approx.

Add the coffee essence to the sieved icing sugar in a bowl and enough boiling water to make an icing the consistency of thick cream.

My favourite Coffee Cake

This is a splendid recipe for an old-fashioned coffee cake – the sort Mummy made – and we still make it regularly. Everyone loves it. I’m a real purist about using extract rather than essence in the case of vanilla, but in this cake, I prefer coffee essence (which is actually mostly chicory) to real coffee.

Serves 10-12

225g soft butter

225g caster sugar

4 organic eggs

scant 2 tbsp Camp coffee essence

225g plain white flour, preferably unbleached

1 tsp baking powder

Coffee Butter Cream (enough for crumb coat, filling and decoration)

150g butter

330g icing sugar, sieved

3–6 tsp Camp coffee essence

Coffee Glacé Icing

450g icing sugar

scant 2 tbsp Camp coffee essence

about 3-4 tbsp boiling water

To Decorate

toasted hazelnuts, walnut halves or chocolate-covered coffee beans

2 x 20cm round sandwich tins

Line the base of the tins with circles of parchment paper. Brush the bottom and sides with melted butter and dust lightly with flour.

Preheat the oven to 180°C/Gas Mark 4.

Beat the soft butter with a wooden spoon or an electric hand mixer, add the caster sugar and beat until pale in colour and light in texture. Whisk the eggs in a bowl. Add to the mixture, bit by bit, beating well between each addition, finally add in the coffee essence and mix thoroughly.

Sieve the flour with the baking powder and fold (do not beat) gently into the cake mixture.

Divide the mixture evenly between the prepared sandwich tins and bake for 30 minutes. When the cakes are cooked, the centre will be firm and springy, and the edges will have shrunk from the sides of the tins – a skewer inserted into the centre of the cake will come out clean. Leave to rest in the tins for a few minutes before turning out onto a wire rack. Remove the parchment paper from the base, then flip over so the top of the cakes doesn’t get marked by the wire rack. Leave the cakes to cool on the wire rack.

To make the coffee butter cream, beat the soft butter with the sieved icing sugar and add the coffee essence. Continue to beat until light and fluffy.

To make the coffee icing, sieve the icing sugar into a bowl. Add coffee essence and enough boiling water, 3-4 tablespoons approx., to make the consistency of a thick cream.

When cold, sandwich the bases of the cakes together with the coffee butter cream. Spread a thin layer of buttercream around the sides and over the top of the cake. This is called crumb coating.

Pour the thickish glacé icing directly onto the centre of the cake and allow it to flow slowly over the top and sides of the cake. Use a palette knife dipped in boiling water if necessary. Decorate with the toasted hazelnuts, walnut halves or chocolate-covered coffee beans. 

Alternatively make extra coffee butter cream, ice the top with coffee icing then decorate with rosettes of coffee butter cream and toasted or caramelized hazelnuts, walnut halves or chocolate coffee beans. 

Eggs, The Great Convertible

‘An Apple a day keeps the Doctor away’ was the famous slogan of the 1960s and 70s – no longer so widely used because doctors and dentists nowadays both stress that many of the modern varieties are so high in sugar they are no longer beneficial to our health or our teeth but how about ‘An egg a day keeps us in fine fettle’…
Eggs are a magic food – incredibly nutritious, widely available, super versatile, the quintessential fast food and surprisingly inexpensive, considering their food value and satiety. Years ago, what’s now seen as a flawed study, warned us not to eat more than 4-5 eggs a week because they were too high in cholesterol and would be counterproductive to our health.
The study didn’t mention that the eggs came from intensive production systems, the hens were not free-range or grass fed which alters their nutritional value.
My grandfather ate several eggs every day and lived well into his 90s. That’s not exactly scientific evidence, however several other peer reviewed studies have concluded that a couple of eggs daily appears to reduce the risk of cardiovascular heart disease and stroke and boosts the HDL, the ‘good’ cholesterol in our system. In 2022, almost 1,000,000 people were involved in the study conducted by Peking University in China.
But as ever there are eggs and eggs, and the flavour and nutritional content can be very, very different. The ultimate are eggs from free-range, organic hens, ranging freely on rich pasture. The grass not only enhances the flavour and nutritional quality of the eggs but keeps the hens healthier and indeed happier.

Eggs are a rich source of protein, folate B vitamins, antioxidants including lutein and zeaxanthin. Egg yolks are also rich in choline, particularly important for pregnant mothers and linked to higher IQ in infants.
I’ve kept a flock of hens for over 60 years. In fact, I wouldn’t be without our own eggs, and I regularly urge anyone who is prepared to listen, both urban and rural dwellers to consider, keeping a few hens for a supply of beautiful fresh eggs for the household. Anyone with even a small patch of lawn in a garden can keep a few hens. Four hens in a movable chicken coop would lay plenty of eggs to supply a family of four and you‘d occasionally be able to gift a few eggs to your friends when you’re going to a dinner party, a much more exciting ‘pressie’ than a dodgy bottle of wine…
Actually, keeping a few hens is win-win all the way – the food scraps from your kitchen can be fed to the hens and will come back as eggs a few days later. How cool is that? Apparently, Irish households waste €700 on average on food each year.
Plus as you move the ark around your lawn, the hens act as ‘lawnmowers’, and their poo fertilises the soil.
Kids of all ages love hens and it teaches them where at least some of their food comes from.
If you want chicks, you’ll need to include a rooster with the hens, I love the sound of a cock crowing proudly but it may not endear you to your neighbours in an urban estate.
I forgot to mention that I have several friends who legally keep a few hens in Manhattan – what they called ‘backyard chickens’. They are inordinately proud of them, can you imagine it’s the subject of conversation at many a dinner party, and super cool.
Back in the kitchen, there are countless ways to enjoy your eggs from a simple boiled egg and soldiers to a fried egg with crispy sage leaves, my favourite comfort food.
I want to share a couple of new recipes with you, all include eggs – what would we cooks do without eggs?

Maheshwari Scrambled Eggs, a recipe I brought back from Ahilya Fort in India plus this Irish Farmhouse Cheese Soufflé with Garlic Chives recipe which we tested last week. It also got a rave response.
We’ve got masses of chive flowers in the garden. Sprinkle some of the pretty chive flowers over the top. Add a salad and that’s supper sorted.
We also love this rhubarb tart, a new addition to our repertoire which Kaelin Whittaker, of Awn Kitchen in Edmonton, Alberta shared with us on a recent trip from Canada, so easy to make. It’s always brilliant to have a new rhubarb tart recipe. Enjoy it before the end of the season. We all love this one, I think it may become a favourite in your house too.

Maheshwari Scrambled Eggs

I came across this delicious dish on my last trip to India.

Serves 1 

1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil 

1 medium garlic clove, finely chopped 

2 tsp chopped red onion (20g)

3 tsp chopped tomato, 5mm dice (50g)

1 tsp cumin seeds, dry roasted and roughly chopped

½ tsp ground turmeric 

2 eggs, organic if possible

½ tsp salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil 

1 tbsp finely grated cheese, could be mature Cheddar and Parmesan (20g)

finely diced fresh turmeric (2-3g)

2 tsp coarsely chopped coriander 

Heat the olive oil in a frying pan over a medium heat.

Add the garlic, onion and tomato and stir and fry. Add the cumin and turmeric (both dry) and cook for 3-4 minutes until the onion softens.

Whisk the eggs, add the onion and tomato mixture. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Film the base of the pan with the olive oil. Stir and cook the egg mixture for 15-20 seconds.  Sprinkle on the grated cheese, cook for 15 to 20 seconds, the texture should be soft. Spoon onto a warm plate. Sprinkle with diced fresh turmeric and fresh coriander.

Serve immediately with flat bread or toast.

Irish Farmhouse Cheese and Garlic Chive Soufflé

We love to bake this soufflé in a shallow oval dish instead of the traditional soufflé bowl until golden and puffy, a perfect light lunch or supper dish.

Serves 6

300ml milk

300ml cream

a few slices of carrot

1 small onion, quartered

4-5 peppercorns

sprig of thyme, a few parsley stalks and a little scrap of bay leaf

75g butter

40g flour

5 eggs, free-range organic, separated

110g crumbled goat cheese (we use Ardsallagh goat’s cheese)

75g Gruyère cheese, grated

50g mature Coolea farmhouse cheese, grated (alternatively, use 25g freshly grated Parmesan)

a good pinch of salt, freshly ground pepper, cayenne and nutmeg

4 tbsp garlic chive leaves, finely chopped

Garnish 

garlic chive flowers if available

30cm shallow oval dish (not a soufflé dish) or 6 individual wide soup bowls with a rim

Preheat the oven to 230°C/Gas Mark 8.

Brush the bottom and sides of the dish (dishes) with melted butter.

Put the cream and milk into a saucepan, add a few slices of carrot, a quartered onion, 4 or 5 peppercorns and the fresh herbs.  Bring slowly to the boil and allow to infuse for 10 minutes.   Strain and discard the flavourings, (we rinse them off and throw them into the stockpot if there is one on the go.)

Melt the butter, add the flour and cook for a minute or two.  Whisk in the strained cream and milk, bring to the boil and whisk until it thickens.   Cool slightly.   Add the egg yolks, goat cheese, grated Gruyère and most of the grated Coolea (or Parmesan if using.)  Season generously with salt, freshly ground pepper, cayenne and nutmeg. Add the garlic chives.   Taste and correct seasoning*.

Whisk the egg whites stiffly and fold them gently into the mixture to make a loose consistency.   Put the mixture into the prepared dish, sprinkle with the remaining Coolea or Parmesan cheese. 

Cook for 12-15 minutes, or until the sides and top are nicely puffed up and golden, the centre should still be creamy. Garnish with garlic chive flowers if possible. Serve immediately on warm plates with a good green salad.

*The soufflé can be prepared ahead to here (cover and refrigerate but, if possible, allow to come back to room temperature before cooking, otherwise it will take longer in the oven). Fold in stiffly beaten egg whites

Auntie Lil’s Rhubarb Pie

Thank you to Kaelin Whittaker from Awn Kitchen in Edmonton for sharing her Auntie Lil’s rhubarb tart.

23cm round tart tin

Pastry

175g plain white flour

1 dsp of caster or icing sugar

75g butter, diced

1 large organic egg, whisked

Topping

2 tbsp butter, melted (30g)

85g light Muscovado plus 85g soft light brown sugar

1 organic egg

1 tbsp cream

2 tbsp flour (40g)

450g rhubarb, cut into approx. 7mm pieces

First make the pastry.

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

Roll the pastry out thinly on a lightly floured worktop and use it to line the tart tin. Line with parchment paper and fill to the top with dried beans. Rest for 15 minutes in the fridge.

Preheat the oven to 180°C/Gas Mark 4.

Bake the tart base blind for about 25 minutes in a moderate oven or until pale and golden, remove the beans and paper.  Brush the pre-baked tart shell with a little beaten egg and pop back into the oven for 3-4 minutes or until almost cooked. Cool.

Be careful not to overcook because if this pastry gets too brown, it will be bitter, hard and unappetizing.

Mix the melted butter, brown sugars, egg, cream and flour together. Scatter the diced rhubarb evenly over the base of the blind baked tart. Cover with the topping.

Bake in a preheated oven 220°C/Gas Mark 7 for 10 minutes, reduce the temperature to 180°C/Gas Mark 4, bake for a further 30-40 minutes. Cool.

Serve on a flat plate and sprinkle lightly with icing sugar.

One of Your Five a Day

‘Eat Five a Day’, is the super catchy phrase started out as a health marketing slogan in the US in the 1980’s. 

It’s unquestionably a good idea to include lots of fresh vegetables and fruit in our diet, but in practice there’s huge confusion and considerable manipulation about what constitutes ‘one of your five a day’.

It’s certainly been a boom to food manufacturers who have used it to promote their products with phrases like ‘counts towards your five a day’ but for this column, I dug deeper to try to find the source of this nutritional recommendation/advice.

Is it fact or myth? I have to say, I’m more confused than ever. Lots of phrases like ‘recommended by’, ‘studies show’….And what kind of fruit and veg? Surely, we should be encouraged to eat fresh organic vegetables and fruit in season, and surely it should be chemical-free and organic rather than loaded with residue of the chemical pesticides used in growing to produce unrealistically cheap fruit.

Strawberries, for example are one of the most heavily sprayed fruits, raspberries too, peaches, apples, cherries, grapes, particularly imported ones. Vegetables too – potatoes, tomatoes, spinach, lettuce, celery. Pretty much everything that’s intensively produced and non-organic will have had a cocktail of sprays to inhibit pests and diseases. This information does not have to be on the label.

Not sure about you, but I can distinctly taste the chemicals in many fruits and vegetables. If you are in doubt, look up the Department of Agriculture websites.

So, how do you avoid this? Well, seek out organic fruit or vegetables. Have a conversation and try to buy directly from a small grower at your local farmer’s market. Best of all, try to grow some of your own, you’re unlikely to spray the produce your family plan to eat.

We are super fortunate here in Ireland to have one of the best growing climates in the entire world (Well OK, this year was an exception, at least we hope it was an exception!).

Invest in real nourishing, wholesome food, don’t be conned into imagining that you are doing the best thing by buying some of the well-known brands of fruit juices and smoothies with added sugar and preservatives. Let’s pay the farmers a fair price for their produce to keep us healthy, it doesn’t have to break the budget.

Enjoy lovely fresh, super nourishing and inexpensive cabbage –

how about these cabbage salads and I’ve also included a delicious old-fashioned gooseberry pudding, everyone will fight for the last morsel…

Summer Cabbage Salad with Satay Sauce

Any leftover dressing will keep for several days in the fridge, delicious drizzled over a pan-grilled chicken breast.

Serves 6

summer cabbage, 650g approx.

2 red peppers, 400g approx.

a bunch of spring onions

2 ripe mangoes, 400g approx.

½ a cucumber, 175g approx.

freshly squeezed juice and zest of 2 limes

flaky sea salt and freshly ground black pepper and maybe a little sugar

Satay Dressing

Makes 250ml

110g peanut butter (we use Meridian brand)

1 garlic clove, crushed

2 tsp grated fresh ginger

½ tsp fresh turmeric powder

½ tsp Tabasco

2 tsp toasted sesame oil

2 tbsp soy sauce

1 tbsp runny honey

freshly squeezed juice of ½ lemon

110ml coconut milk (we use Thai Gold brand)

lots of fresh mint leaves

a handful of toasted salted peanuts, 400g approx.

First make the dressing.

Put all the ingredients into a food processor or blender, pulse until smooth.  Cover and allow to stand for 30 minutes at room temperature to allow the flavours to blend. (Add a little more coconut milk if it’s too thick).

Quarter the cabbage, remove the core and thinly slice crosswise. Toss into a large bowl.

Seed the peppers, dice the flesh into 7mm-10mm and add to the cabbage with the sliced white and green parts of the spring onions.

Peel the ripe mango, slice off the chunks and dice into 7mm cubes. Cut the cucumber into quarters lengthwise and then into 7mm slices at an angle.

Add both to the bowl with the lime zest. Season with flaky sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Best served immediately, otherwise, cover and refrigerate.

Just before serving, sprinkle on most of the dressing and the juice of 1 lime, toss gently but thoroughly. Taste, add more dressing and lime juice and adjust the seasoning adding a little sugar if necessary.

Turn into a wide salad bowl, add lots of fresh mint leaves and crunchy peanuts.

Cabbage, Pineapple and Onion Salad

A simple but really tasty salad. Save the juice for a cocktail or for glazing bacon.  It is quite delicious with meat, particularly cooked ham, bacon or pork. 

Serves 6

½ small Savoy Cabbage, 350g approx.

½ tin pineapple (120g)

1 small onion (75g) very finely sliced into onion rings or 4-5 spring onion, sliced at an angle (use the green as well as the white part)

3 tbsp finely chopped parsley

salt, freshly ground pepper and sugar

French Dressing

6 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

2 tbsp white wine vinegar, we use Forum

a clove of garlic, crushed

¼ tsp Dijon mustard

salt and freshly ground pepper

First make the dressing.

Put all the ingredients into a bowl and mix well to combine.

Cut the cabbage into quarters, cut out the hard core and slice into very thin shreds across the grain.  Put into a salad bowl.  Cut the pineapple into chunks and add to the cabbage with the very finely sliced onion rings and 1 tablespoon of chopped parsley.  Toss in French dressing, season with salt, freshly ground pepper and sugar.  Sprinkle the rest of the parsley on top. 

Serve with cold ham or bacon. 

Gooseberry and Elderflower Pudding

This recipe brings back nostalgic memories for many of us, and it is certainly one that has stood the test of time. I remember it as an important part of the pudding repertoire of my childhood, and so will my children and grandchildren. Here you use the basic Madeira mixture for the topping and add fruit – whatever you please, depending on the season: green gooseberries, cooking apples, rhubarb, pears, damsons, raspberries. Blackcurrants are also gorgeous, as is a mixture of blackberry and apples or rhubarb and strawberries.

Serves 4-6

Ingredients

700g (1 ½lb) gooseberries

4 elderflower heads

about 275-300g sugar, depending on the ripeness of the gooseberries

For the Topping

50g butter

50g sugar

1 organic egg, beaten

75g (3oz) self-raising flour

1-2 tbsp milk

Garnish

Caster sugar

crystallised elderflowers if available

900ml pie dish

Preheat the oven to 200°C/Gas Mark 6.

Top and tail the gooseberries and put them in a heavy saucepan with 50ml water, elderflowers and sugar. Cover the pan and stew the gooseberries gently until just soft but not burst. Remove the elderflowers. Spoon into a buttered pie dish with a slotted spoon, reserve any excess liquid for a sauce. Allow to cool slightly.

Meanwhile, using a handheld beater, cream the butter until soft, add the sugar and beat until light and fluffy. Add the beaten egg by degrees and beat well until completely incorporated. Sieve the self-raising flour and fold into the butter and egg mixture. Add about 2 tablespoons milk or enough to bring the mixture to a dropping consistency. Spread this mixture gently and as evenly as possible over the gooseberries.

Bake in the preheated oven for about 25 minutes, or until the sponge topping is firm to the touch in the centre. Sprinkle with about a tablespoon of caster sugar and decorate with crystallised elderflowers.

Serve warm with homemade custard or lightly whipped cream.

Summer Vegetables

National Eat Your Vegetables Day is this coming Monday, 17th June.

By now the penny has dropped with even the most ardent carnivore that we don’t need huge quantities of meat to be fit and healthy. Best to invest in a little top quality preferably organic meat from a good local butcher.

Here and there all around the country, there are small farmers who are selling their meat direct to the consumer from their farms, often rare breeds e.g. Dexter, Kerry, Irish Maol and Droimeann, a little trawl on the internet will bring up lots of addresses.

But this column is not about meat, it’s actually about vegetables. This has to be my absolute favourite time of the year for vegetables.  Here we are super fortunate to have an acre of greenhouses, a relic of a horticultural enterprise. We are in the midst of the growing season, so the plants are jumping out of the ground.

There are several rows of fresh peas which we eat fresh from the pods. You can imagine how much the grandchildren love picking the pea pods directly from the plants with their friends and having a little feast of peas. The students too love them, for many it’s the very first time they’ve seen fresh peas out of a packet.

We’ve also had the first of the radishes, beets, carrots, globe artichokes and we’ve made our wish with the first of the new potatoes. I never want to do anything fancy with them, just cook them in lots of well salted water, slather them with Jersey butter and sprinkle with flaky sea salt.

Now that the asparagus season is over, we’ve been enjoying the beginning of the broad bean crop too.

Last week, our guest chef was Giuliano Hazan, son of the famous Italian cook, Marcella Hazan.  He was enchanted by the garden harvesting fresh vegetables. He showed us how to prepare the first of the new season’s tiny globe artichokes, he served them in the traditional Italian way, thinly sliced, drizzled with extra virgin olive oil. We used Capezzana from Tuscany, sprinkled with freshly squeezed lemon juice and some flaky sea salt.

He did the same with the raw broad beans, peeling each bean is certainly laborious but it was worth the effort with paper thin slices of pecorino over the top. Sweet and delicious, we served them as a starter.

Young, thinly sliced zucchini were served in a similar way drizzled with extra virgin olive oil, freshly squeezed lemon juice and flaky sea salt and garnished with the yellow blossoms.

For dessert, he shared his mother’s favourite carrot cake recipe, baked not in a loaf tin but in a 25cm round tin, enough for 8-12 people to enjoy. It was moist and particularly delicious, add it to your repertoire.

Giuliano has written five best-selling cookbooks including ‘The Classic Pasta Cookbook’ which has sold well over 500,000 copies – seek it out.

I’ve included three recipes incorporating vegetables currently in season to whet your appetite – I hope you enjoy.

Marcella Hazan’s Crisp-Fried Courgette Blossoms

There are both male and female blossoms, and only the male, those on a stem are good to eat. The female blossoms, attached to the courgette, are mushy and unappealing.

Serves 4-6

12 male courgette flowers

vegetable oil

batter

250ml water

75g plain flour

To Serve

salt

First make the batter.

Put the water into a bowl and gradually add the flour, shaking it through a sieve and with a fork, constantly beating the mixture that forms. When all the flour has been mixed with water the batter should have the consistency of sour cream. If it is thinner, add a little more flour, if it is thicker, add a little more water.

Wash the blossoms rapidly under cold running water without letting them soak. Gently but thoroughly pat them dry with a tea towel or kitchen paper. If the stems are very long, cut them down to 2.5cm. Make a cut on one side of each blossom’s base to open the flower flat, butterfly fashion.

Pour enough oil into a frying pan to come 2cm up its sides and turn the heat to high. When the oil is very hot, use the blossoms’ stems to dip them quickly in and out of the batter, and slip them into the skillet. Put in only as many as will fit very loosely. When they have formed a golden brown crust on one side, turn them and do the other side. Using a slotted spoon or spatula, transfer to a cooking rack to drain or to a platter lined with kitchen paper. If any blossoms remain to be done, repeat the procedure. When they are all done, sprinkle with salt and serve immediately. 

Risi e Bisi (Risotto of Peas or Broad Beans)

Comfort food at its very best, a heavenly way to enjoy some of your precious fresh peas.  Young shelled broad beans can also be added.

Serves 6 -9

1kg fresh young peas (podded weight approx. 500g)

Maldon sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

125g butter, softened

1.75 litres homemade chicken stock or vegetable stock

200g onion, finely chopped

300g risotto rice

3 tbsp fresh flat-leaf parsley, chopped

110g Parmesan, freshly grated

Pod the peas and save the pods.  Bring a large saucepan of water (4.8 litres approx.) to the boil and add 2 tablespoons of salt.  Add the pea pods and cook for 5 minutes.  Then scoop them out.  Put through a mouli, with a couple of tablespoons of the cooking water.  Blanch the peas in the boiling pea pod water, drain and add to the pea-pod pulp.  Season with lots of freshly ground pepper and add 45g of the butter 

Put half into a food processor and pulse.  Return to the whole peas. 

Heat the stock. Taste and check for seasoning.

Melt half the remaining butter in a heavy-bottomed saucepan.  Gently fry the onion until soft and just beginning to colour.  Add the rice, stir to coat each grain with butter and cook for 2-3 minutes.  When the rice is opaque, increase the heat to medium and start to add the hot stock ladle by ladle, adding the next only when the last of the stock has been absorbed.  Stir continuously.  After 10 minutes add the peas and parsley, continue to cook until the rice is al dente – about 10 minutes.

Finally, stir in the remaining butter, and most of the Parmesan – the texture should be soft and flowing.  Taste and correct seasoning.  Serve immediately in deep wide soup bowls, with a little more Parmesan sprinkled over the top.

Carrot Almond Cake

Recipe adapted from ‘Marcella’s Italian Kitchen’ by Marcella Hazan

A particularly delicious carrot cake of his mothers, it keeps really well and may well be the best carrot cake I’ve ever eaten!

Serves 8-12

250g shelled, unblanched almonds

225g plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar

110g dry ladyfingers

250g carrots, peeled

2 ½ tsp baking powder

a pinch of salt

1 tbsp Amaretto liqueur

4 large eggs

flaked almonds (optional)

1 x 25.5cm springform pan

2 tsp butter for greasing the pan

1 tbsp flour for dusting the pan

To Serve

225ml heavy cream, whipped with 1 teaspoon of sugar

Preheat the oven to 180°C/Gas Mark 4.

Put the almonds and the sugar in a food processor and chop as finely as possible.  Transfer to a large mixing bowl.  Break up the ladyfingers into pieces about 2.5cm long, place them in the food processor, and grind to a powder.  Add to the almonds and sugar in the mixing bowl.  Cut the carrots into pieces about 2.5cm long and chop in the food processor as finely as possible.  Add to the bowl, mixing them in well with the other ingredients.

Add the baking powder, the salt, and the Amaretto liqueur and mix well.  Separate the eggs and add the yolks, mixing them in until they are well distributed with the other ingredients. Put the whites in the bowl of an electric mixer.

Whip the egg whites with an electric mixer or by hand until they form stiff peaks. Take a couple of tablespoons of the beaten egg whites and mix them with the ingredients in the bowl to soften the mixture a bit.  Pour the rest of the egg whites onto the mixture and carefully fold them in with a rubber spatula.

Grease the bottom and sides of the springform pan with the butter and dust it with flour.  Pour the batter into the pan, then shake the pan a bit until the batter is evenly distributed. Sprinkle some flaked almonds over the top if desired.

Place the cake in the upper level of the preheated oven and bake for 45-50 minutes, or until a skewer comes out clean when inserted into the cake.

When the cake is cool, cut it into 8-12 pieces and serve with a dollop of whipped cream.

Summer BBQ

Nothing says Summer like wheeling out the barbeque, but this year because the weather has been so crazy, it’s been in and out of the shed on a regular basis. I’ve got a couple of different contraptions. One a very fancy barbeque Weber and several other ‘Heath Robinson’ types, all of which do the job, but it must be said, varying degrees of skill are needed to turn out nicely charred, succulent food.

I love cooking over fire, it definitely brings out my inner ‘caveman’ and awakens my primeval instincts. Can be as simple as a circle of stones with a feisty fire in the centre and a wire rack to lay the food on top. Grilling is all about controlling the heat and arranging the food at a careful distance from the heat source. If, however you really prefer not to play Russian roulette and would rather play safe to be sure of constant results, invest in a Weber or similar type barbeque – they are brilliantly reliable and have a lid so you can cook anything from a loaf of bread to a butterflied leg of lamb to a turkey deliciously. We love to give a smoky flavour. Tempting as it may be, don’t leave your gas barbeque out in all weathers, it will eventually deteriorate and rust.

Last weekend, I was invited to a friend’s 80th birthday party in the UK. It was such a brilliant party and a wonderful weekend of catching up with young and old friends, some of whom I hadn’t seen for over 20 years and certainly not since before the pandemic.

For Sunday lunch for over 80 guests, multiple sheets of marinated ribs were grilled on a long skinny repurposed scaffolding frame with two half barrels on top and a rack that could be adjusted to two heights (essential). I suppose the whole barbeque was put together for less than £50 and it worked like a dream. On the previous evening, five butterflied legs of lamb had been cooked to perfection on the same simple contraption.

A super easy way to feed a crowd of people and a brilliantly convivial way to whet everyone’s appetite.

Top Tips for tasty grilled food:

  • Marinade before, time will depend on the thickness of the meat or fish.
  • Use lots of gusty herbs and spices.
  • Season generously with flaky sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper.
  • Buy really fresh fish and best quality ingredients.
  • Keep chops and steaks good and thick so they can char on the outside but remain juicy and pink in the centre.
  • Use lots of chunky vegetables doused in extra virgin olive oil and optional herbs and spices – carrots, aubergines, cabbage wedges, scallions, spring onions….
  • As an accompaniment, have a gorgeous bowl of chilled fresh organic salad leaves with lots and lots of Parmesan grated over the top.
  • Have lots of good sauces and salsa.

Jasper Wight’s Rosticciana – Charcoal Grilled Pork Ribs

Rosticcianaare whole sheets of pork ribs grilled over charcoal, then cut into single cooked ribs.

They are common in Tuscany, Italy, more in a home cooking environment (cucina casalinga) than in restaurant cooking.

Jasper learned this recipe and marinade from Piera Vegnani, at one of her Sunday lunches for 20 or so family and friends crowded around a long table in the kitchen of their rustic farmhouse on the edges of Panzano-in-Chianti, in the heart of Tuscany.

Sheet ribs are simply a single sheet of ribs cut close to the bone when the pork belly is taken off in a single piece (approx. 12 ribs). Do not be tempted to buy spareribs, with their extra inch or so of flesh, or to buy single ribs. 

A decent butcher should be happy enough to cut the sheet ribs off. 

There are of course many variations on the marinade, so feel free to improvise. Quantities depend on the quantity of ribs, but you want a light marinade, like a heavy dusting, not a heavy load.

  • finely sliced onion
  • finely sliced garlic
  • black peppercorns crushed in a pestle and mortar or a spice grinder to a medium texture
  • fennel seeds likewise
  • a few crushed dried chillies if you like some extra heat to the pepper
  • strips of lemon zest
  • coarsely chopped rosemary
  • coarsely chopped sage
  • sunflower or olive oil
  • (no salt)

Rub the marinade all over the ribs in a large oven dish, cover and chill for at least 12 hours, ideally turning and mixing from time to time.

At least 4 hours prior to cooking, take the marinated ribs out of the fridge and bring up to room temperature

Around 90 mins before serving, light the barbeque, using only lump wood charcoal, ideally large restaurant grade chunks, not charcoal briquettes.

Ideally your barbeque will have a rack for the coals to sit on and an adjustable height grill. also keep a small squeezy bottle of water nearby to douse any flames, and a pack of fine sea salt that will be easy to sprinkle.

Our friend Mimmo Baldi, who runs the Enoteca Baldi on the main piazza of Panzano-in-Chianti, likes to clean the barbeque grill with an improvised brush of woody herbs, such as rosemary and bay branches, and also to drop some of the leaves into the coals a little before the ribs hit the grill, to give some extra perfume to the ribs in due course.

After around 45 minutes the coals should be white and not so fiercely hot, but still hard to hold your hand near.

Knock off as much of the onion, garlic, lemon zest and herbs as you can, but don’t fuss if some is left on.

Salt one side of each rib sheet (fairly generously) and place it facing salt side downwards on the grill.

Don’t move the sheet ribs around. They should sizzle gently, not flame and not burn. If they do flame excessively, raise the grill a bit and squirt a little water onto the flaming areas.

After around 10-15 minutes, salt the top side of the ribs (maybe a little less generously than before) and flip them over. You want to be sure the cooked side is cooked all over, with no patches of raw pork that maybe missed the main areas of heat.

Grill the second side for another 10-15 minutes, until there is no blood puffing from the bones, and the flesh is all cooked through.

Generally, we serve these pretty much straight from the grill, but they can be rested and held for up to an hour or so if you want to build up a larger pile.

To serve, cut between the ribs with a heavy knife and pile up on a warm plate.

Eat with your fingers, with paper towels to hand.

Pineapple, Chilli and Lime Salsa

Delicious served with the ribs or just a lamb chop.

Serves 8

½ fresh pineapple, cored and finely diced (use less canned if you are in a hurry)

1 fresh red chilli, seeded and finely chopped

1 red onion, finely chopped

2 tbsp chopped fresh coriander or mint

grated zest of 1 lime

3 tbsp lime juice

salt and sugar

Mix the pineapple with the chilli, onion, coriander or mint, lime zest and lime juice in a bowl.  Add salt and sugar to taste.  Cover and let stand for 30 minutes at room temperature to allow flavours to blend.  Serve chilled or at room temperature.


Butterflied Leg of Lamb with Harissa and Chickpea Salad

Serves 8 or more

1 butterflied leg of lamb (1.5kg approximately)

100g harissa or rose harissa

zest and freshly squeezed juice of 2 lemons

Chickpea Salad

700g dried chickpeas

3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

4 onions, sliced

4 cloves of garlic, chopped 

flaky sea salt

½ – 1 pomegranate

Dressing

175ml extra virgin olive oil

50ml freshly squeezed lemon juice

2 cloves of garlic, crushed

2 tsp freshly ground cumin seeds

2 tsp freshly ground coriander seeds

salt and freshly ground pepper

To Serve

3 tbsp coriander, chopped

3 tbsp flat leaf parsley, chopped

150ml natural yoghurt with 1 tablespoon of freshly chopped mint leaves

Night Before.

Mix the harissa with the zest and freshly squeezed juice of the lemon.  Place the lamb in a large bowl.  Pierce some holes in the lamb with the tip of a sharp knife – this will allow the marinade to penetrate the meat.  Pour the marinade over the lamb and rub in well.  Cover and refrigerate overnight.  A large Ziploc bag works brilliantly also.

Cover the dried chickpeas in plenty of cold water.  Allow to soak overnight.

Next Day.

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

Drain the chickpeas, put into a saucepan.  Cover with fresh cold water.  Bring to the boil and simmer until tender, about 30-45 minutes approx.  Heat the oil in a saucepan, sweat the onion and garlic until soft.  Then allow to become golden and caramelised.  Season with flaky sea salt.   

Mix all the ingredients for the dressing together in a bowl. 

Remove the meat from the marinade, place on the barbecue near the coals to seal in the juices on each side.  Raise the grill and cook for 20 minutes on each side, occasionally basting with the remaining marinade.  We like it pink. Alternatively put on a roasting tray and roast in a preheated oven for 1 – 1 ¼ hours depending on how well you like it cooked. 

When the chickpeas are cooked, drain and toss immediately with the caramelised onions, garlic and spicy dressing.  Allow to come to room temperature. 

When the lamb is cooked, remove from the grill and allow to rest for 15 minutes. 

Toss the freshly chopped herbs through the chickpea salad. 

Slice the meat thinly, serve with chickpea salad and a blob of yoghurt and fresh mint.

Summer Salads (Sprout Saladology Cookbook)

A chunky brown paper parcel has just arrived on my desk via the ever reliable snail mail. Who doesn’t love the anticipation of opening a parcel but how about this for perfect timing. It’s a  cookbook entitled ‘Spout Saladology’, packed from cover to cover with photos and recipes for the most beautiful salads you could imagine, all made with delicious fresh ingredients.
Just in time, I’ve got lots of gorgeous fresh produce at present, the garden and greenhouses are bursting with new seasons vegetables and masses of fresh leafy herbs, radishes, beets, spring onions and cabbages even the first of the fresh peas. Once the rain stopped and the sun came out at last, everything seems to virtually leap out of the ground.
Have you heard about Theo Kirwan and his brother Jack, co-founders of Sprout & Co in Dublin? They’ve now got seven restaurants serving an ever-changing range of beautiful fresh salads to their growing numbers of devotees.
The first restaurant was launched 2015 in Dawson Street in an unlikely premises where everyone predicted ‘it’ll never work there’.  In 2018, they started their own organic farm in County Kildare overseen by a passionate and inspiring biodynamic grower Trevor Harris. This cut their supply chain of salad leaves from farm to restaurant to just 24 hours.
Theo, a former actor has quite the following for his recipe videos, he shares his recipes but people still queue around the corner for the fresh salads.
I’ve got a particular interest in this cookbook because both Jack and Theo trained here with us at the Ballymaloe Cookery School and I was thrilled to read that the idea for Sprout & Co started when Jack cooked with a freshly picked, super ripe tomato from the greenhouses and couldn’t believe the difference in flavour…“ It was the lightbulb moment that made us think how a business could be built around just that: fresh, in season produce grown locally”.
They chose not to take the easy route, they decided to make everything from scratch, dressings, sauces and dips were and still are prepared daily. They choose the freshest and best from the Dublin Smithfield Market and other local growers and roasted tray after tray of whole chickens in their ‘bloom closet’ size kitchen and shredded them by hand for lunch service. Word spread like wildfire…
Apart from oodles of delicious recipes, Sprout Saladology has an all-important chapter in the beginning of the book entitled The Larder. It’s a list of the staple ingredients that Theo and Jack use in the restaurants and always keep a stock of in the kitchens to add magic to their salads. Towards the end, there’s another brilliant chapter called Dressings, Crispy Things and Pickles and these will make all the difference to even a simple green salad. I’ve already been experimenting, and I can vouch for them. Very difficult but I’ve managed to choose three recipes to whet your appetite, then you may want to dash out to your local bookshop to pick up a copy of Sprout Saladology.

All recipes are from Sprout Saladology: Fresh ideas for delicious salads by Theo Kirwin, published by Mitchell Beazley.

Stir-Fried Savoy Cabbage with Fried Peanuts and Crispy Lime Leaves

I love this dish, as it feels like you’re eating a big bowl of cabbage-y noodles. It involves a bit of prep, but once that’s done it’s quick to pull together. If you don’t want to matchstick the aromatics,

just make sure they are in chunks and of equal size so that they don’t burn. You’ll have more of the fried peanuts than you need, but you’ll thank me later, as they keep for a few weeks in an airtight container. Once comfortable with this dish, try adding spices and playing around with the formula depending on what you have to hand. This works great as a as a side with a Malaysian style curry and coconut rice or as a main with a crispy fried egg.

Serves 4 as a side

7 garlic cloves

2 thumb-sized pieces of fresh

root ginger

1 green chilli

1 bunch of spring onions (about 5)

1 Savoy cabbage

1 tbsp soy sauce

salt

To serve

1 quantity Fried Peanuts and Crispy Lime Leaves (see recipe), oil reserved

juice of 1 lime

1. This is a stir-fried dish, so it’s best to have everything prepped

before turning on the wok.

2. Peel and finely slice the garlic. Peel the ginger, then cut into thin

matchsticks along with the green chilli and spring onions.

Set aside separately on a plate.

3. Cut the cabbage in half, then into quarters to make 4 thick wedges.

Remove the core, then shred all the cabbage into thin strips and

set aside.

4. Pour the reserved peanut and lime leaf cooking oil into the

wok and heat over a high heat. Add the garlic, ginger, green chilli

and a pinch of salt to the hot oil so that it all sizzles together.

Fry for about 2–3 minutes, stirring as you cook, then stir in the

spring onions for a further minute.

5. Now begin adding the cabbage in stages, as you don’t want to

overcrowd the wok. Toss the first batch to coat in the flavoured oil

and aromatics, leave to cook untouched for 20 seconds so that the

edges get crispy and then toss again before adding another handful

of cabbage. Repeat this process until all the cabbage is in the wok.

You want to end up with some charred crispy bits as well as some

fresh crunchy green strands.

6. Once the last bit of cabbage is in, toss it together and then let it sit in the pan for another few minutes off the heat until it has all softened and you don’t have any raw bits, and it’s all still vibrantly green.

7. Add the soy sauce and give it a final toss. Pile into a serving bowl,

then add the fried peanuts and crispy lime leaves on top. Serve with

a big squeeze of lime juice.

Fried Peanuts and Crispy Lime Leaves

Makes about 150g or enough for 4 servings

4 tbsp vegetable oil

150g raw skin-on peanuts

15 fresh lime leaves

pinch of flaky sea salt

¼ tsp cayenne pepper

Set a sieve over a heatproof bowl and line a plate with kitchen paper. Heat the vegetable oil in a wok or large, deep frying pan over a high heat, then once hot, add the peanuts and toss in the oil.

Let the peanuts bubble in the oil for 3-4 minutes until the skins turn red and the insides are toasted (be careful not to overdo the frying, as the peanuts will taste bitter).

Add the lime leaves at the last minute to pop and crisp up in the oil. Pour the peanuts and lime leaves with their cooking oil into the sieve to drain and catch the oil, then transfer to the paper-line plate to mop up any remaining oil. Season with the sea salt and cayenne pepper. Once cool, store in an airtight container for up to a month.

‘Crispy’ Dukkah-Spiced Chickpeas with Tomato Salad and Yogurt

I took a food trip to Israel recently and I can’t tell you the number of times I was served a dish with a base of yogurt and tahini. Once the vegetable juices seep in, you are left with a delicious sauce that

is best mopped up with challah bread. I always have a can of chickpeas in the cupboard and frying them in oil until crispy is a great way to use them. Make this salad with or without the dukkah.

And feel free to use alternative vegetables depending on the season.

Serves 2 as a main, 4 as a side

½ cucumber

150g any in-season tomatoes you can get

handful of Kalamata olives, pitted

1 green chilli, finely sliced

2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

finely grated zest and juice of ½ lemon

400g can chickpeas, drained

about 150ml neutral oil, such as vegetable or sunflower

small handful of dill, leaves picked and roughly chopped

small handful of flat leaf parsley, leaves picked and roughly chopped

small handful of chives, roughly chopped

1 garlic clove, finely grated

150g thick Greek yogurt

3 tbsp tahini

salt and freshly ground black pepper

challah bread, to serve

For the hazelnut dukkah

100g blanched hazelnuts

50g pumpkin seeds

3 tbsp sesame seeds

1 tsp cumin seeds

1 tsp fennel seeds

1 tsp coriander seeds

2 tsp dried thyme

1. Start by preparing the dukkah.

Preheat the oven to 200°C (180°C fan)/Gas Mark 6.

2. Spread out all the dukkah ingredients except the thyme on a baking tray and roast for 8–10 minutes until the nuts are lightly golden and the spices are fragrant but not burned. Remove from the oven and pour on to a cold tray to stop the ingredients cooking any further, then leave to cool for 10 minutes. Once cooled and the hazelnuts are nice and crunchy, add to a blender with the thyme and pulse a few times until you have a very loose crumb. I like it to be quite chunky, so don’t pulse too many times. Season with a pinch of salt and a few grinds of black pepper.

3. Cut the cucumber in half lengthways, scoop out the seedy insides

with a spoon and discard, then roughly chop the cucumber into

small pieces. Roughly chop the tomatoes into 2cm chunks. Add both to a bowl with the olives, green chilli, a generous pinch of salt, the extra virgin olive oil and lemon zest, then set aside.

4. Lay the drained chickpeas out on a clean tea towel or kitchen paper and shake the tea towel or paper to dry, gently rubbing the tops to remove any moisture. The drier the chickpeas, the better this will work and the less the oil will splatter everywhere.

5. Line a tray with kitchen paper. Pour enough of the neutral oil into a

medium saucepan to come 2–3cm up the pan. Place the pan over a medium-high heat and heat up slightly, then add the chickpeas, swirling them into the oil. Fry for 8–10 minutes until the chickpeas are lightly golden, crisp and light. Scoop them out of the oil on to the paper-lined tray, then toss with 4–5 tablespoons of the

dukkah to coat the crispy chickpeas. (The remaining dukkah will

keep in an airtight jar for a few weeks.)

6. Toss the chopped herbs into the tomato and cucumber salad with

the lemon juice and another pinch of salt.

7. Mix the garlic into the yogurt, then dollop on to individual serving

plates or a platter along with the tahini, followed by the tomato and

cucumber salad. Top with the dukkah chickpeas. Serve with slices

of challah bread.

The ‘Sataysfied’ Chicken

A top seller in our restaurants, this dish may be the reason you bought this book. This isn’t exactly how we present it in our restaurants because I thought I’d share a version more suitable to prepare at home.

Serves 4

4 skin-on chicken breasts

3 tbsp olive oil

4cm piece of fresh

root ginger, peeled and finely

chopped or grated

3 garlic cloves, finely sliced

1 tbsp Madras curry powder

1 tsp ground turmeric

1 red chilli, deseeded and finely chopped

400ml can full-fat coconut milk

4 tbsp crunchy peanut butter

1 tsp soy sauce

juice of 1 lime

salt

1 quantity Sweet Pickled Cucumber & Shallot Salad (see recipe)

a few handfuls of Peanut Sesame Brittle (see recipe), to serve

For the coriander & spring onion brown rice

200g brown basmati rice

400ml water

handful of fresh coriander, roughly chopped

4 spring onions, roughly chopped

1. Start by preparing the rice. Wash the rice until the water runs clear, then drain. Add to a medium pan with a lid along with the measured water and a small pinch of salt. Bring to the boil, then cover the pan with the lid, immediately turn the heat down to its lowest setting and cook for 40 minutes, or until all the water has evaporated. Turn the heat off and fluff the rice up with a fork. Place the lid back on and leave to steam for 10 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, season the chicken breasts with salt and 1 tablespoon

of the olive oil. Place a large nonstick frying pan over a medium heat,

and once hot, add the chicken breasts to the pan, skin-side down,

along with another tablespoon of olive oil. Fry for 4–5 minutes until

deeply golden and crisp. Flip the chicken over and cook for another

4 minutes until cooked through (the timing may differ depending

on the size of your chicken breasts). Remove the chicken from the

pan on to a plate to rest.

3. Add the remaining tablespoon of olive oil to the chicken juices in

the pan along with the ginger, garlic, curry powder, turmeric and

chilli and fry for 2–3 minutes over a medium heat until softened

and fragrant. Pour in the coconut milk and bring to a gentle simmer.

Then add the peanut butter and stir until the sauce thickens slightly.

Turn off the heat and season with the soy sauce. Squeeze in the

lime juice and pour in the resting juices that have collected on the

bottom of the plate of chicken.

4. Once the rice has cooled a little, toss in the coriander and spring

onions and season with more salt if needed.

5. Prepare individual plates or assemble a family-style platter by

pouring the satay sauce on to a warmed serving dish, carve the

chicken breasts and place on top of the sauce, and scatter over the

sweet pickled cucumber and shallot and peanut sesame brittle.

Serve with the coriander and spring onion rice on the side.

Peanut Sesame Brittle

225g roasted, unsalted

skinned peanuts

3 tbsp olive oil

3 tbsp maple syrup

2 tbsp mixed white and black sesame seeds

½ tsp cayenne pepper

½ tsp chilli flakes

large pinch of flaky sea salt

1. Preheat the oven to 210°C (190°C fan)/Gas Mark 6.

2. Line a small, low-sided roasting tray with nonstick baking paper.

3. Mix all the ingredients together in a bowl, then pour into the lined tray and spread out. You should have a good layer of the liquid at

the bottom here, so if you don’t, just top it up with a bit more oil and maple syrup. You want the peanuts to fry and caramelize in the liquid. Bake for 8–10 minutes until lightly golden and you have

a bubbling caramel. Remove from the oven and set aside

for the peanut mixture to cool completely in the tray.

4. Once cooled, lift the brittle off the tray and peel off the lining

paper. Break the brittle into little clusters. Any leftover can be stored in an airtight container for up to 2 months.

Sweet Pickled Cucumber and Shallot Salad

I must credit the Ballymaloe Cookery School in County Cork for this, adapted from memory from their Thai-inspired pickled cucumber salad recipe called Arjard. When you simmer the vinegar and sugar mixture, it becomes a little syrupy and acts as a dressing as well as a pickle liquor. It’s great with rich sauces or served with other dishes such as the ‘Sataysfied’ Chicken.

Serves 2 as a side

150ml white wine vinegar

150ml water

3 tbsp sugar

1 tsp salt

1 cucumber

1 shallot, finely sliced into rounds

1 green chilli, finely sliced

1 red chilli, finely sliced

1. Heat the vinegar, water, sugar and salt in a small saucepan over

a medium heat and gently simmer for 5 minutes. Remove from

the heat and set aside to cool completely.

2. Cut the cucumber in half lengthways, scoop out the seedy

insides with a teaspoon and discard, then slice diagonally into

1cm thick half-moons. Place in a bowl with the shallot

and chillies.

3. Once the pickle liquor has cooled, pour it over the vegetables and

toss so that they are all coated. Set aside to pickle while you prepare

your accompanying dish.

Sustainability

There’s a really interesting movement in the US called homesteading which I think may have originated in America but certainly gathered momentum during Covid when thousands left the cities for rural areas to get away from crowds and out of their cramped apartments.
Some acquired land or settled on farms or ranches, others had small back gardens or balconies. They gradually adjusted to life in the countryside. Many wanted to take back control to grow some of their own food, vegetables and a few herbs, keep a few hens, pigs, even a cow. They longed to bake bread, make jams, pickles, preserve but struggled to relearn, forgotten or more often never learned skills.
Many returned to urban living after the pandemic, but many did not, and now others are eagerly joining the movement saying, “It’s my one and only life, there must be a better way than this”. There are multiple blogs, chapters, podcasts and huge conferences for devotees.
Often they are young professionals, sometimes with small children who are sick and tired of the rat race in the cities, the commute, the cost-of-living crisis, the ever-escalating rents. This movement is called Homesteading in the US, but there is an equivalent movement in the UK, and in several other countries – Spain, France, Italy, Portugal, Germany, Australia with various names crofting small holding, campesinos….
In the US, it seems to be particularly among millennials and Gen Z, often highly educated young techies, people in the financial world, lawyers, accountants, those who can quite easily work from home. They dream of being self-sufficient, to enjoy a different lifestyle both for themselves and for their children who long to roam wild and free. Many home school, some even choose to live off the grid.
For many, it’s a romantic dream, but they soon discover that to be comfortably self-sufficient you need to be of considerable independent means otherwise it can be all work and very little play…
Talking about change, now that I am in my mid-seventies, I’m being encouraged to draw back from the day-to-day running of the Ballymaloe Cooking School to leave it to the very competent team around me. It became evident not only to me but to everyone else that retirement was not quite in my character, and that if I wasn’t to drive myself and everybody else totally mad, I certainly needed another project…So my new ‘start up’ at 75 is the Ballymaloe Organic Farm School which runs concurrently with the Ballymaloe Cookery School here in the middle of our 100-acre organic farm in East Cork. This got underway last autumn. There’s been an enthusiastic response and the curriculum continues to build. There are day courses and week courses and at present we are midway through the Six Week Sustainable Food Programme. The fully subscribed course is made up of five nationalities with the highest percentage coming from America. There’s a real craving to relearn skills and to take back control of our lives and food. There seems to be growing skepticism of the corporate world. People appear to trust multinationals, governments, and financial institutions less and less. Essentially the movement would seem to be a rejection of the status quo.
Everyone on this 6 Week Sustainable Programme and they come from a myriad of different backgrounds and careers, want to learn how to live more sustainably and to have a lighter impact on the planet, they are determined to find ways to be part of the solution rather than the problem.


Beginners Brown Soda Bread

For those who are convinced they can’t make a loaf of bread – it couldn’t be simpler – just mix and pour into a well-greased tin.  This bread keeps very well for several days and is also great toasted. Whether you are an astronaut or a physicist, baking your first loaf of crusty bread is a rite of passage…

Makes 1 loaf or 3 small loaves (10-12 slices)

400g stone-ground wholemeal flour, we use Howard’s One Way

75g plain white flour

1 level teaspoon bicarbonate of soda, sieved (bread soda/baking soda)

1 teaspoon pure salt

1 egg, preferably free range

425ml buttermilk or sour milk approx.

1 tbsp olive oil, plus extra for greasing

1 tsp honey or treacle

sunflower or sesame seeds (optional)

Preheat the oven to 200°C/Gas Mark 6.

Grease a 13 x 20cm (450g) loaf tin OR three small loaf tins (14.6 x 7.5cm).

Put all the dry ingredients, including the sieved bicarb, in a large bowl and mix well. Whisk the egg, buttermilk, oil and honey or treacle together. Make a well in the centre of the dry ingredients and pour in all the liquid. Mix well and add more buttermilk if necessary. The mixture should be soft and slightly sloppy.

Pour into an oiled tin or tins. Using a butter knife, draw a slit down the middle. If you fancy, sprinkle some sunflower or sesame seeds on the top.

Bake in the preheated oven for approx. 60 minutes for a large loaf or 45-50 minutes for small loaf tins, until the bread is nice and crusty and sounds hollow when tapped on the bottom. Cool on a wire rack. Enjoy every scrap and it will still be good toasted when it’s several days old.

Basic Vegetable Soup Technique

Well over half the soups we make at Ballymaloe are made on this simple formula. 1.1.3.5.

Use the same receptacle to measure each ingredient and liquid – a cup, mug, measure, bowl.

Serves 6

1 part chopped onion

1 part chopped potato

3 parts any chopped vegetable of your choice, or a mixture

5 parts stock or stock and milk mixed

seasoning

One can use chicken or vegetable stock or water and season simply with salt and freshly ground pepper.  Complementary fresh herbs or spices may also be added, and one can get super creative and drizzle lots of exciting herb or spice oils on top

So, one can make a myriad of different soups depending on what’s fresh, in season and available.

If potatoes and onions are the only option, one can still make two delicious soups by increasing one or the other and then adding one or several herbs – potato and fresh herbs or onion and thyme leaf.  We even use broad bean tops, radish leaves and nettles in season.

A Green Vegetable Soup 

Ingredients as above but with green vegetables e.g. spinach, watercress, wild garlic, nettles, chard greens, radish leaves, broad bean shoots, kale, mustard greens, leek greens, foraged greens or a mixture

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 pepper. Cover and sweat on a gentle heat for 10 minutes. 

Add the stock and continue to cook until the onion and potato dice are tender. Add the freshly chopped greens, return to the boil, uncovered for 3 or 4 mins or until just cooked. Taste and serve or liquidise for a thick soup. Taste again and correct the seasoning.

NOTE

If the green vegetables are added at the beginning, they will most likely be over cooked and the soup will lose its fresh taste and bright green colour.

Vegan Option

For a vegan option, use vegetable stock or water and substitute soya, almond or cashew milk for creamy milk and proceed as in the master recipe. 

Onion and Thyme Leaf Soup

Here is an example where I increase the onion – 4 parts onion, 1 part potato and add some thyme leaves, simple and truly delicious.

Serves 6 approximately

450g chopped onions

225g chopped potatoes

45g butter

1-2 tsp fresh thyme leaves

salt and freshly ground pepper

1 litre homemade chicken stock or vegetable stock

150ml cream or cream and milk mixed, approx.

Garnish

a little whipped cream

fresh thyme or chive flowers or chopped parsley

Peel and chop the onions and potatoes into small dice, about 7mm.  Melt the butter in a heavy saucepan. As soon as it foams, add the onions and potatoes, stir until they are well coated with butter. Add the thyme leaves, season with salt and freshly ground pepper.  Place a paper lid on top of the vegetables directly to keep in the steam. Then cover the saucepan with a tight-fitting lid and sweat on a low heat for 10 minutes approx. The potatoes and onions should be soft but not coloured. Add the chicken or vegetable stock, bring it to the boil and simmer until the potatoes are cooked, 5-8 minutes approx. Liquidise the soup and add a little cream or creamy milk. Taste and correct the seasoning if necessary.

Serve in soup bowls or in a soup tureen garnished with a blob of whipped cream, sprinkle with thyme or chive flowers or chopped parsley.

Bread and Butter Pudding

This is one of the older nursery puddings that has enjoyed a terrific revival, but initially it was just a way of recycling old bread, made with just milk and a scattering of dried fruit. It was something that you ate but didn’t necessarily relish. But there’s nothing frugal about this recipe – it’s got lots of fruit in it and a generous proportion of cream to milk. When people taste it, they just go ‘Wow!’ I know it has a lot of cream in it, but don’t skimp – just don’t eat it every day! We play around with this formula and continue to come up with more and more delicious combinations, depending on what’s in season and what we have around; see below for some of them.

Please see variations for my seasonal rhubarb bread and butter pudding – delicious!

Serves 6-8

12 slices good-quality white bread, crusts removed

50g butter, preferably unsalted

½ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg, cinnamon or mixed spice

200g plump raisins or sultanas

450ml cream

225ml milk

4 large organic eggs, lightly beaten

1 tsp pure vanilla extract

110g sugar plus 1 tbsp for sprinkling

pinch of salt

1 x 20.5cm square pottery or China dish

Butter the bread and arrange 4 slices, buttered side down, in one layer in the buttered dish. Sprinkle the bread with half the spice and half the raisins, then arrange another

layer of bread, buttered side down, over the raisins, and sprinkle the remaining nutmeg and raisins on top. Cover the raisins with the remaining bread, again, buttered

side down.

In a bowl whisk together the cream, milk, eggs, vanilla extract, sugar and the pinch of salt. Pour the mixture through a fine sieve over the bread. Sprinkle the tablespoonful of sugar over the top and let the mixture stand, loosely covered, at room temperature for at least 1 hour or chill overnight.

Preheat the oven to 180°C/Gas Mark 4.

Place the pudding in a bain-marie and pour in enough water to come halfway up the sides of the baking dish. Bake the pudding in the middle of the oven for about 1 hour or until the top is crisp and golden. Serve the pudding warm with some softly whipped cream.

Note: This bread and butter pudding reheats perfectly.

Bread and Butter Pudding with Cardamom and Pistachios

Substitute ½ – 1 teaspoon of freshly ground and crushed cardamom instead of the cinnamon.  Proceed as in the master recipe, sprinkle 50g coarsely chopped pistachio on top before serving.  One could sprinkle a few extra over the sultanas while assembling if desired. 

Delicious Bread and Butter Puddings can be made using:

• Barmbrack as a base – add mixed spice or cinnamon.

• Panettone – proceed as above.

• Scones – proceed as above.   

• Brioche – proceed as above or use apricot jam and lace with apricot brandy.

• Rhubarb or gooseberry and elderflower compote or spiced apple purée may also be used.

National Food Days

Today, I took a little ramble through the Internet to check out the World, National and International Food days in May. Can you imagine there is one for virtually every day of every month of the year.
Several captured my imagination – May 13th was international Hummus Day, just missed that, but Sunday 19th is World Baking Day, Monday 20th is Quiche Lorraine Day. Fancy that and wait for it, Tuesday the 21st is National Strawberries and Cream Day, that’s the next three days sorted.
So what to bake? Well tomorrow is Sunday, so if there are kids around, how about making some cupcakes together to share. Can you believe National, Give Someone a Cupcake Day is also a thing, that was on May 8, but still it’s never too late to have fun, pass on skills and spread some delicious joy.
So how about Lemon Meringue Cupcakes? There are three elements to this recipe, just the thing to make on a wet afternoon to keep several of the family gainfully employed.
(1) The cupcake mixture, (2) lemon curd, and (3) tiny meringues. If you can’t be bothered to make the meringue. Although they are super cute and delicious the cupcakes will be delicious alone or with a little homemade lemon curd. The little bakers will have learned three skills plus the joy of gifting to grandparents, neighbours and their friends 
Can you imagine that there’s a National Quiche Lorraine Day…Well, here’s my favourite recipe for Quiche Lorraine, which I think is based on a recipe from Elizabeth David’s French Provincial Cooking from the 1960’s

Here again, there are several techniques how to make a delicious, buttery, shortcrust pastry, line a flan ring and excellent proportions for a quiche. But the secret of a memorable quiche, which has been so debased and pedestrian from overuse, is really good eggs, lots of cream and excellent streaky bacon, I like it a little smoked…. (Quiche was certainly never meant to be made with milk or ‘perish the thought’ low fat milk…
And finally, for Strawberries and Cream Day on Tuesday, how about Ballymaloe Almond Meringue with strawberries and cream. ‘This Break all the Rules’ meringue was the very first dessert I tasted from the famous sweet trolley when I arrived in Ballymaloe House in 1968. Plus, it was also the very first dessert I learned to make in the kitchen, it’s still one of my favourites. Also brilliant for entertaining and for birthdays. The discs can be stored in an airtight tin for several days and it’s a really brilliant way to showcase the first of the early Irish Strawberries.
Enjoy…

Quiche Lorraine 

Probably the most famous quiche of all, named after the Lorraine region of north-east France, this classic is delicious served with a simple green salad. Best served warm or room temperature.

Serves 6

Shortcrust Pastry

175g plain flour, sieved (spelt or sieved wholemeal flour may also be used)

pinch of salt

75g butter, chilled, 

1 egg (to bind) – 4 tablespoons liquid approx.

Filling

1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

175g nice fatty streaky bacon cut into 1cm lardons

100g finely chopped onions

3 eggs and 2 egg yolks

300ml single cream

1 scant tbsp chopped parsley

1 scant tbsp chopped chives

110g Gruyère cheese, grated or 75g Gruyère and 25g grated Parmesan

salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 x 23cm round tin

Make the pastry.

Sieve the flour and salt into a large bowl. Cut the butter into cubes, toss in the flour and then rub in with your fingertips. Keep everything as cool as possible; if the fat is allowed to melt, the finished pastry may be tough. When the mixture looks like coarse breadcrumbs, stop.

Whisk the egg. Using a fork to stir, add just enough liquid to bring the pastry together, then discard the fork and collect it into a ball with your hands, this way you can judge more accurately if you need a few more drops of liquid. Although rather damp pastry is easier to handle and roll out, the resulting crust can be tough and may well shrink out of shape as the water evaporates in the oven. The drier and slightly more difficult-to-handle pastry will give a crisper, shorter crust.

Flatten into a round, cover the pastry with parchment and leave to rest in the fridge for at least 15 minutes. This will make the pastry much less elastic and easier to roll.

Preheat the oven to 180°C/Gas Mark 4.

Roll the pastry out thinly on a lightly floured worktop, line the tart tin and ‘bake blind’ for about 25 minutes. The base should be almost fully cooked.  Remove the parchment paper and beans, brush the base with a little beaten egg white and replace in the oven for 3-4 minutes.  This will seal the base and avoid the “soggy bottom” effect.

Heat the oil in a sauté pan and cook the bacon over a medium heat until almost crisp. Remove to a plate and cool. Add the finely chopped onions to the pan, cover and sweat gently on a low heat in the same pan for a further 5-6 minutes until soft but not coloured.

Meanwhile, whisk the eggs in a medium-sized bowl, add the cream, herbs, cheese, bacon and onions. Mix well and add seasoning. Taste and correct, if necessary, quiches need to be well seasoned. Otherwise, heat a frying pan, cook a teaspoon of the quiche mixture on a gentle heat for 2 or 3 minutes until it coagulates – taste and if necessary, correct the seasoning. (A bit of a faff but so worth the effort to get the seasoning right).

Stir, Pour the filling into the pastry base and return to the oven for 30–40 minutes or until the centre has just set. Serve warm with a green salad. 

Lemon Curd Meringue Cupcakes

These cupcakes are absolutely adorable and really delicious, the way to everyone’s heart.

Makes 24

Cupcakes

225g butter (at room temperature)

225g caster sugar

225g self-raising flour

4 organic large eggs

zest of 2 lemons

Lemon Curd

50g butter

100g caster sugar

grated zest and juice of 2 lemons

2 organic eggs and 1 organic egg yolk whisked (keep white aside for meringue)

Lemon Curd Cream

110ml whipped cream

4 tbsp lemon curd (see recipe)

1 tbsp sieved icing sugar or to taste

Meringue Kisses (see recipe)

Garnish

sprig of lemon balm or lemon verbena

2 muffin tins lined with 24 muffin cases

Preheat the oven to 180°C/Gas Mark 4.

First make the cupcakes.

Put all ingredients into a food processor, whizz until smooth. Add a little milk if the mixture is too thick.

Divide mixture evenly between cases in a muffin tin. 

Bake in the preheated oven for 20-25 minutes or until risen and golden.

Meanwhile, make the lemon curd.

Melt the butter on a very low heat. Add the caster sugar, freshly grated lemon zest and juice and then add the whisked eggs.  Stir carefully over a gentle heat with a straight ended wooden spatula until the mixture coats the back it.  Remove from the heat and allow to cool.

To assemble

Mix the lemon curd into the whipped cream and add the sieved icing sugar.  Put into a piping bag with a medium sized plain nozzle.  Put the remainder of the lemon curd into a piping bag with a small plain nozzle.

Insert the nozzle into the top of the cupcake and squeeze in a small teaspoon of lemon curd.  Pipe a blob of lemon cream over the top.  It should almost cover the cupcake, add another teaspoon of lemon curd, then top with a meringue kiss and garnish with a sprig of lemon balm or lemon verbena.  Eat as soon as possible.

Meringue Kisses

Makes 30

2 egg whites

110g caster sugar

Preheat the oven to 150°C/Gas Mark 2.

To make the meringue.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Mix all the sugar with the egg whites at once and beat until the mixture forms stiff dry peaks.  Put into a piping bag with a star nozzle and pipe into 4cm rosettes onto the baking sheet.   Bake immediately in the preheated oven for 45-50 minutes or until set crisp.

Ballymaloe Almond Meringue with Strawberries and Cream

We use this all-in-one meringue recipe for birthdays, anniversaries, Valentines Day, or simply for a special dessert, it’s particularly delicious with fresh strawberries, but raspberries, loganberries, peaches, nectarines, or even kiwi fruit are also very good.

Serves 6

90g whole unskinned almonds

240g icing sugar

120g egg whites, preferably free range

Filling

300ml whipped cream

225g fresh Irish strawberries in season 

Garnish

little sprigs of mint or lemon balm

6-8 crystallised rose petals (optional)

Blanch and skin the almonds. Grind or chop them up. They should not be ground to a fine powder but should be left slightly coarse and gritty, (you could cheat and use nibbed almonds!). Toast in a moderate oven at 180°C/Gas Mark 4 for 8-10 minutes until golden. Keep an eye on them and stir occasionally. 

Mark 2 x 18cm circles on parchment paper or a prepared baking sheet.  Check that the bowl is dry, spotlessly clean and free from grease.   Mix all the icing sugar with the egg whites in the bowl, whisk until the mixture forms stiff dry peaks.  Fold in the almonds quickly.  Divide the mixture between the two circles and spread evenly with a palette knife.  Bake immediately in a cool oven, 150°C/Gas Mark 2 for 45 minutes or until crisp.  Turn off the oven and allow to cool.  The meringue discs should peel easily off the parchment paper.

To Assemble

Slice the strawberries.  Sandwich the meringue discs together with the fruit and whipped cream.  Reserve a little fruit and cream for decoration. Decorate with rosettes of whipped cream and strawberries.  Garnish with little sprigs of mint or lemon balm and crystallised rose petals.

Note:  If you chill for an hour before serving it will be easier to cut.

The meringue discs will keep for several weeks in a tin.

Almond Meringue with Loganberries or Raspberries

Substitute 110g loganberries or raspberries for strawberries in the above recipe.

Crystallized Flowers

Flowers and leaves crystallized with sugar will keep for months, although they may lose their initial vibrant colour. This is what we call a high-stool job – definitely a labour of love and not something suited to an impatient, Type A personality. The end result is both beautiful and rewarding and many family and staff wedding cakes have been embellished with crystallized flowers over the years.

Flowers and leaves must be edible and are all worth doing.

Smaller flowers are more attractive when crystallized e.g. primroses, violets, apple blossom, viola’s, rose petals. We crystallize lots of leaves as well as flowers so one can make attractive arrangements.  Use fairly strong textured leaves – e.g. mint, lemon balm, sweet cicely, wild strawberry, salad burnet or marguerite daisy leaves.

The caster sugar must be absolutely dry, one could dry it in a low oven for about 30 minutes approx.

Break up the egg white slightly in a little bowl with a fork. Using a child’s paintbrush, paint the egg white very carefully over each petal and into every crevice. Pour the caster sugar over the flower with a teaspoon. Arrange the crystallized flowers carefully on parchment paper so that they retain a good shape. Leave to dry overnight in a warm, dry place such as close to an Aga, over a radiator or in an airing cupboard. When properly crystallized, these flowers will last for months, even years, provided they are kept dry. We store them in a pottery jar or a tin box with an airtight lid.

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