AuthorDarina Allen

Falastin – A Cookbook

Have you heard of Sami Tamimi? His name may not be all that familiar to you but he is the business partner of Yotam Ottolenghi. The pair are credited with introducing us all to Middle Eastern food and many ingredients that we were hitherto totally unfamiliar with – sumac, za’atar, Aleppo pepper, baharat, sumac, pomegranate molasses, tahini……

The story of how this Palestinian and Israeli met and became firm friends is intriguing, an inspiration to many. Food unites us all and despite the heart breaking political situation, their friendship has endured for over 20 years. They met in 1999 when Sami worked at Baker and Spice in London.

Sami and Yotam run three Ottolenghi branches in Notting Hill, Islington and Belgravia as well as Nopi and Rovi and have co-authored 2 books together, Ottolenghi in 2008 and Jerusalem in 2012.

Sami’s latest book is called Falastin which means Palestine in Arabic. The name is deeply symbolic and for Sami has many interwoven emotions.

Palestinian home cooks and cookbook writers tend to be women who pass the skills and recipes from on generation to another. Sami however lost his mother when he was seven – he spent much of his childhood being shooed out of the kitchen by his aunties and sisters.

For me it’s a fantastic book, it has instant appeal, packed with recipes I really want to dash into the kitchen to cook and share with friends.

Falastin is co-authored with Ballymaloe alumni Tara Wigley who also collaborated with Yotam on his book, Simple.

For Sami, Falastin is a deeply important book full of haunting memories of his mother’s delicious food and Palestine – as Tara wrote – ‘It’s a love letter to his country’. She has been part of the Ottolenghi family since 2010, she turned up on her bike, fresh from a 12 Week Certificate Course here at the Ballymaloe Cookery School.  She had arrived to us in April 2010 with her 18 month old twins and a great big Bosnian dog named Andy. Tara was leaving a decade in publishing, her dream was to combine her love of cooking and writing and it quickly became clear that at Ottolenghi she could have her cake and eat it!

After a few years collaborating with Yotam and Sami on recipe testing, writing and cooking, Tara focused exclusively on writing. She remains a passionate home cook and knows very well how to fill a table with a feast.

It was really hard to pick recipes but here is some to whet your appetite, for me this book comes highly recommended.

Sweet and Spicy Seeds and Nuts

Serves 4 as a snack

2 tbsp light soft brown sugar (20g)

2 tsp flaked sea salt

1 tbsp olive oil

1 tsp mild curry powder

¼ tsp ground turmeric

½ tsp Aleppo chilli flakes (or ¼ tsp regular chilli flakes)

180g raw unsalted cashews

2 tbsp sunflower seeds (20g)

2 tbsp pumpkin seeds (20g)

Preheat the oven to 160 degrees Celsius fan.

Put everything apart from the cashews and seeds into a small saucepan, along with 2 tablespoons of water. Bring to the boil on a medium heat. Stirring often, then add the nuts and seeds. Cook for another 3 minutes or so, stirring constantly until the nuts and seeds are coated in a sticky glaze.

Transfer to a parchment-lined baking tray, then, using a spatula, spread the nuts out so that they’re not stuck together. Bake for 14 minutes, stirring once halfway through, until golden. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool completely, then transfer to a bowl to serve or to a sealed container if making in advance.

(From Falastin by Sami Tamimi and Tara Wigley, published by Ebury Press)

Hummus

I’m just sharing one way but in Falastin Sami and Tara give two ways and lots of toppings.

Serves 6

250g dried chickpeas, soaked overnight in double their volume of water

1 tsp bicarbonate of soda

270g tahini

60ml lemon juice

4 garlic cloves, crushed

100ml ice-cold water

Salt

To make the hummus, drain the chickpeas and place them in a medium saucepan on a high heat. Add the bicarbonate of soda and cook for about 3 minutes, stirring constantly. Add 1½ litres of water and bring to the boil. Cook for about 30 minutes – timing can vary from 20-40 minutes depending on the freshness of the chickpeas – skimming off any foam that appears. The chickpeas are ready when they collapse easily when pressed between thumb and finger: almost but not quite mushy.

Drain the chickpeas and transfer them to a food processor. Process to form a stiff paste and then, with the machine still running, add the tahini, lemon juice, garlic and 1½ teaspoon of salt. Finally, slowly drizzle in the iced water and continue to process for another 5 minutes: this will feel like a long time but it is what is needed to get a very smooth and creamy paste. Transfer to a bowl and set aside at room temperature, until needed. If you are making it in advance then transfer to a sealed container and keep in the fridge. Remove it half an hour before serving, to bring it back to room temperature, and give it a good stir if a ‘skin’ has formed.

When ready to serve, spoon the hummus into individual shallow bowls, creating a slight hollow in the centre of each. Sprinkle with parsley, chilli and mint, if using and serve with a final drizzle of extra virgin olive oil.

(From Falastin by Sami Tamimi and Tara Wigley, published by Ebury Press)

Labneh Balls (Labneh Tabat)

Makes about 50og / 20 balls, to serve 10 as part of a larger spread

900g Greek-style yoghurt (or a combination of 450g goat’s yoghurt and 450g Greek-style yoghurt)

About 500ml olive oil

3 sprigs of thyme or oregano, or a mixture of both

1 ½ tbsp. chilli flakes (enough to coat 10 balls)

2 ½ tbsp. za’atar (enough to coat 10 balls)

Line a deep bowl with a piece of cheese cloth or muslin (a clean J-cloth is also fine, as an alternative) and set aside.

In a separate bowl, mix the yoghurt(s) with 1 teaspoon of salt. Pour into the cloth-lined bowl, then bring the edges of the cloth together and wrap tightly to form a bundle. Tie firmly with a piece of string. Hang the bundle over a bowl (or attached to the handle of a tall jug so that the bundle can hang free – and drip – inside the jug) and leave in the fridge for 24-36 hours, until much of the liquid is lost and the yoghurt is thick and fairly dry.

Another method is to put the bundle into a sieve placed over a bowl, with the weight of a plate, for example, or a couple of tins, sitting on top: this weight speeds up the draining process.

With lightly oiled hands, spoon a small amount – about 20g – of the labneh into the palm of one hand. Roll it around to shape it into a 3cm-wide ball, and transfer  it to a tray lined with a damp (but clean) J-cloth. Continue with the remaining labneh until all the balls are rolled. Transfer to the fridge for a couple of hours (or overnight) to firm up.

Half fill a jar (enough to fit all the rolled labneh: about 10cm wide and 12cm high) or airtight container with olive oil and drop in the balls. Top with more oil, if necessary – you want the balls to be completely covered with oil – and add the thyme or oregano. Seal the jar and store in the fridge.

When ready to coat – you can do this up to a day before serving – remove the jar from the fridge and bring to room temperature, so that the oil becomes unset. Life the balls out of the oil and roll them in the chilli flakes or za’atar: an easy way to do this is to spread your chosen coating on a plate, place a few balls at a time on top and shake the plate: the balls will be coated in seconds. If not eating at once, return them to the fridge on a plate (but not in the oil). Bring back to room temperature before serving: you don’t want them to be fridge-cold.

(From Falastin by Sami Tamimi and Tara Wigley, published by Ebury Press)

Chilled cucumber and tahini soup with spicy pumpkin seeds

Serves four

3 large cucumbers (1kg), peeled

65g tahini

2 tbsp olive oil, plus extra to serve

2 lemons: finely grate the zest to get 2 tsp, then juice to get 60ml

2 large garlic cloves, crushed

10g dill, roughly chopped, plus a few extra fronds to serve

¾ tsp Aleppo chilli flakes (or 1/3 tsp regular chilli flakes)

100g ice cubes

20g mint leaves

20g parsley, roughly chopped

Salt and black pepper

1 tomato, cut into ½ cm dice (80g), to serve

Spicy pumpkin seeds

3 tbsp olive oil

40g pumpkin seeds

1 tsp ground cumin

¼ tsp chilli flakes

Put all the ingredients for the spicy pumpkin seeds into a small sauté pan, along with 1/8 tsp of salt, and place on a medium heat. Cook for about 8 minutes, stirring frequently, until the seeds begin to colour lightly and pop. Transfer to a bowl (or to an airtight container if making a batch) and set aside to cool.

Cut off a roughly 80g chunk of cucumber and slice in half. Scoop out the seedy core (add this to the pile of cucumber to be blended), then finely chop the remainder into 1cm dice. Set this aside, to serve. Roughly chop the remaining cucumber into 2cm chunks and transfer to a free-standing blender (or a deep bowl if you are using a hand-held blender), along with the tahini, oil, lemon zest, lemon juice, garlic, dill, chilli flakes, ice cubes, half the mint, half the parsley, 1 teaspoon of salt and a good grind of black pepper. Blitz for about 2 minutes, until completely smooth, then keep in the fridge until ready to serve.

Divide the soup between four deep bowls and spoon the reserved cucumber and diced tomato on top. Shred the remaining mint and sprinkle this over each portion, along with the remaining parsley, any spare dill fronds, the spicy pumpkin seeds and a final drizzle of oil.

(From Falastin by Sami Tamimi and Tara Wigley, published by Ebury Press)

Chicken Musakhan

Serves four

1 chicken (about 1.7kg), divided into 4 pieces (1.4kg) or 1kg chicken supremes (between 4 and 6, depending on size), skin on, if you prefer

120ml olive oil, plus 2-3 tbsp extra, to finish

1 tbsp ground cumin

3 tbsp sumac

½ tsp ground cinnamon

½ tsp ground allspice

30g pine nuts

3 large red onions, thinly sliced 2-3mm thick (500g)

4 taboon breads or any flatbread (such as Arabic flatbread or naan bread) (330g)

5g parsley leaves, roughly chopped

Salt and black pepper

To serve

300g Greek-style yoghurt

1 lemon, quartered

Preheat the oven to 200°C fan oven.

Place the chicken in a large mixing bowl with 2 tablespoons of oil, 1 teaspoon of cumin, 1 ½ teaspoons of sumac, the cinnamon, allspice, 1 teaspoon of salt and a good grind of black pepper. Mix well to combine, then spread out on a parchment-lined baking tray. Roast until the chicken is cooked through. This will take about 30 minutes if starting with supremes and up to 45 minutes if starting with the whole chicken, quartered. Remove from the oven and set aside. Don’t discard any juices which have collected in the tray.

Meanwhile, put 2 tablespoons of oil into a large sauté pan, about 24cm, and place on a medium heat. Add the pine nuts and cook for about 2-3 minutes, stirring constantly, until the nuts are golden brown. Transfer to a bowl lined with kitchen paper (leaving the oil behind in the pan) and set aside. Add the remaining 60ml of oil to the pan, along with the onions and ¾ teaspoon of salt. Return to a medium heat for about 15 minutes, stirring from time to time, until the onions are completely soft and pale golden but not caramelised. Add 2 tablespoons of sumac, the remaining 2 teaspoons of cumin and a grind of black pepper and mix through, until the onions are completely coated. Remove from the heat and set aside.

When ready to assemble the dish, set the oven to a grill setting and slice or tear the bread into quarters or sixths. Place them under the grill for about 2-3 minutes to crisp up, then arrange them on a large platter. Top the bread with half the onions, followed by all the chicken and any chicken juices left in the tray. Either keep each piece of chicken as it is or else roughly shred it as you plate up, into two or three large chunks. Spoon the remaining onions over the top and sprinkle with the pine nuts, parsley, 1 ½ teaspoons of sumac and a final drizzle of olive oil. Serve at once, with the yoghurt and a wedge of lemon alongside.

(From Falastin by Sami Tamimi and Tara Wigley, published by Ebury Press)

Pulled lamb Shawarma sandwich

Serves eight

3 onions, 1 roughly chopped and the other 2 quartered (and peeled as always) into wedges

2 heads of garlic, 1 cut in half, horizontally, and 8 cloves from the second head roughly chopped

2 ½ cm piece of ginger, peeled and roughly chopped

20g parsley, roughly chopped

1 ½ tbsp ground cumin

1 ½ tbsp ground coriander

2 tsp smoked paprika

2 tsp ground turmeric

2 tsp ground cinnamon

¼ tsp ground cloves

3 tbsp cider vinegar

60ml olive oil

2-2.5kg lamb shoulder, bone in

700ml chicken stock

½ a lemon

Salt and black pepper

Sumac yoghurt

200g Greek-style yoghurt

60g tahini

1 ½ tbsp lemon juice

2 tsp sumac

To serve (any or all of the following)

2 plum tomatoes, thinly sliced (200g)

1 red onion, thinly sliced into rounds (120g)

10g picked parsley leaves

5g picked mint leaves

100g shatta

8 pita breads

First make the spice paste. Put the chopped onion into a food processor along with the chopped garlic and ginger. Pulse until finely minced, then add the parsley and spices. Pulse for about 10 seconds, until just combined. Scrape down the sides, then add the vinegar, oil, 2 ¼ teaspoons of salt and a generous grind of black pepper. Pulse to form a coarse paste, then transfer to a non-metallic food container large enough to hold the lamb

Pat the lamb dry and pierce liberally all over with a small, sharp knife. Add it to the spice paste and coat generously, so that all sides are covered. Cover with foil and leave to marinate, refrigerated, overnight.

Take the lamb out of the fridge about an hour before going into the oven: you want it to be more like room temperature rather than fridge-cold.

Preheat the oven to 140 degrees Celsius fan.

Put the remaining onions and head of garlic into the centre of a large roasting tray and pour over the chicken stock. Sit the lamb on top of the vegetables, cover tightly with foil and bake for 4 hours. Remove from the oven, discard the foil and bake for 90 minutes more, increasing the oven temperature to 160 degrees Celsius fan towards the last 30 minutes of cooking time. The lamb is ready when it is fork-tender and easily pulls away from the bone. Set aside to cool slightly, about 15 minutes, before using two forks to roughly shred the lamb directly in the pan, gathering as much of its juices as possible. Transfer the shredded lamb, onions, garlic cloves and any of the pan juices to a serving bowl. Squeeze over the lemon juice and set aside.

While the lamb is in the oven, prepare the sumac yoghurt. Put the yoghurt, tahini, lemon juice, 2 tablespoons of water, the sumac and ¼ teaspoon of salt into a bowl and whisk well to combine.

When ready to serve, lay out all the various condiments, along with the pita, to let everyone make up their own shawarma sandwich.

(From Falastin by Sami Tamimi and Tara Wigley, published by Ebury Press)

Shortbread Cookies

Makes about 35 cookies

200g ghee or clarified butter, at room temperature

80g icing sugar, sifted

370g plain flour, sifted

¾ tsp salt

1 ½ tsp orange blossom water

1 tsp rose water

12g unsalted pistachio kernels (enough for one to go on each cookie)

Put the ghee and icing sugar into the bowl of a free-standing mixer with the whisk attachment in place. Mix on a medium-high speed for about 4 minutes, until pale and fluffy. Replace the whisk with the paddle attachment. Add the flour, salt, orange blossom water and rose water and mix for another 3 minutes, until the dough is uniform and smooth. Using your hands, bring the dough together and shape into a ball. Place the dough in an airtight container and leave in the fridge for about an hour, to rest. You’ll need to remove it from the fridge 10 minutes before you want to roll it out so that it has some malleability.

Preheat the oven to 160 degree Celsius fan.

Pinch off a bit of the dough, about 20g, and roll it into a sausage: it should be about 10cm long and ½ inch thick. Bring both ends together, slightly overlapping them and pressing down where the two ends meet. Press a single pistachio into the dough where the ends join and place on a tray lined with baking parchment. Repeat with the remaining dough, spacing the rings 1cm apart on the tray. You’ll need two trays to fit them all. Bake for 15 minutes, until the cookies are cooked through but have not taken on too much colour. Remove from the oven and set aside until completely cool before serving.

(From Falastin by Sami Tamimi and Tara Wigley, published by Ebury Press)

Windfall Apples…

Storm Ellen and Storm Francis played “hell” with our apple crop. We didn’t have a particularly good crop anyway but much of our meagre harvest ended up as windfalls in the grass underneath the apple trees in the orchard. Some like Beauty of Bath were already ripe, many other varieties were not but still the strong winds managed to shake them off their branches. I collected as many as I could to make windfall jelly. 

These under-ripe fruit are perfect for apple jelly, don’t worry about the odd bruise or slug bite just cut them out. Wash the fruit but don’t bother to peel, save the stalks and seeds too, they all add to the end result.

To make the preserve… Just fill a large pot with the coarsely chopped fruit, cover with cold water.  Add other flavours if you fancy, a few fistfuls of blackberries, sloes, rowan berries, damsons or haws.  If you add  a mixture, it can be called Hedgerow jelly. Alternatively, simply add mint, chillies or a pinch of traditional cloves. This is a brilliant all-purpose recipe – ‘a-catch-all’ to use up a couple of fistfuls of autumn fruit and berries. I can add some ripe elderberries, and in a few weeks bletted medlars to make a delicious apple and medlar jelly to accompany game or a boiled leg of mutton.

We have also found that the strong pectin, rich apple juice works brilliantly as a natural gelling agent in both  strawberry and blackberry jam, both of which can be notoriously difficult to set. We plan to freeze it as an experiment to use in winter jams and jellies instead of jam sugar.

And who doesn’t love an apple tart – every family has their favourite pastry but this recipe for a buttery ‘break all the rules’ shortcrust pastry was passed on to me by my Mum. It’s not just our favourite but has become many other people’s ‘go to’ recipe for a tart or pie crust. Its made by the ‘creaming method’ so those of you who are convinced you have hot hands, there’s no need to worry – this one is a ‘keeper’ and it also freezes well.

The whole family will love this Autumn apple and blackberry pie, with cinnamon sugar  and I’ve also included the aristocrat of apple tarts, the French classic, Tarte Tatin. This is sometimes made with puff pastry but we also love this tender irresistible sour cream pastry – give it a try, it is made in minutes, see how you like it…

Apple charlotte is an almost forgotten pudding. I find it’s best made with Cox’s Orange Pippin apples and slices of good white yeast bread, soaked in melted butter – No wonder, it’s so delicious. I make it just once a year, but the memory of the texture of the crisp buttery bread and the sweetness of the Cox’s Apple puree lingers for months on end. And finally check out this simple recipe for apple fritters, another of my grandchildren’s favourites which they have nicknamed Scary Little Monsters because of the funny shapes the batter cooks into on the pan… sprinkle them with castor sugar and enjoy…. 

Windfall Apple Jelly and Variations

Making jellies is immensely rewarding. This is a brilliant master recipe that can be used for many combinations. A jelly bag is an advantage, but by no means essential. Years ago we strained the juice and pulp through an old cotton pillow and hung it on an upturned stool. A couple of thicknesses of muslin will also do the job. Place a stainless-steel or deep pottery bowl underneath to catch the juice. Tie with cotton string and hang from a sturdy cup-hook. If you can’t get enough windfall apples, use a mixture of crab apples, windfall and cooking apples, like Bramley’s Seedling, Grenadier or any other tart cooking apple.

Makes 2.7–3.2kg (6–7lb)

2.7kg (6lb) windfall apples of crab apples

2.7 litres (5 3⁄4 pints) water

2 organic lemons

425g (15oz) granulated sugar to every 600ml (1 pint) of juice

Wash the apples, cut into quarters, but do not remove either the peel or core. Windfalls may be used, but be sure to cut out the bruised parts. Put the apples into a large stainless-steel saucepan with the water and the thinly pared zest of the lemons and cook for about 30 minutes until reduced to a pulp.

Pour the pulp into a jelly bag and allow to drip until all the juice has been extracted, usually overnight. (The pulp can later go to the hens or compost. The jelly bag or muslin may be washed and reused over and over again.)

Measure the juice into a preserving pan and allow 425g (15oz) sugar to each 600ml (1 pint) of juice. Warm the sugar in a low oven. Squeeze the lemons, strain the juice and add to the pan. Bring to the boil and add the warm sugar. Stir over a gentle heat until the sugar is dissolved. Increase the heat and boil rapidly without stirring for about 8–10 minutes. Skim, test and pot immediately. Flavour with rose geranium, mint, sage or cloves as required (see below).

APPLE AND ELDERBERRY JELLY

Add a fistful or two of elderberries to the apple and continue as above. Up to half the volume of elderberries can be used (1/2 pint of elderberries works very well although it’s not essential to measure – it’s a good starting point). A sprig or two of mint or rose geranium or a cinnamon stick further enhances the flavour.

APPLE AND SLOE JELLY

Substitute sloes for elderberries in the above recipe. You want about the same quantity by weight of crab apples and sloes.

APPLE AND MINT JELLY

Follow the Windfall Apple Jelly recipe and add 3–4 sprigs of mint to the apples as they stew. Add 2–3 tablespoons (2 1/2 – 3 3/4 tablespoons) of finely chopped mint to the jelly just before it’s potted.

APPLE AND ROSEMARY JELLY

Add 2 sprigs of rosemary to the apples as they stew and put a tiny sprig into each pot. Serve with lamb.

APPLE AND ROSE GERANIUM JELLY

Add 8–10 leaves of rose geranium (pelagonium graveoleus) to the apples initially and 5 more when boiling to a set.

Autumn Apple and Blackberry Pie with Cinnamon Sugar

Serves 8 – 10

8 ozs (225 g) soft butter

8 ozs (225 g) caster sugar

4 eggs, preferably free range

11 oz (300 g) self-raising flour

2 good – size cooking apples (approx. 450g (1lb))

4 ozs blackberries

A generous dusting of cinnamon sugar

Cinnamon Sugar

110g (4oz) castor sugar

1 – 2 teaspoons of cinnamon

1 x 9 inch (23 cm) round tin.

Cream the butter and sugar until light, fluffy and pale in colour.  Add the eggs on at a time, beating well after each addition. Gently fold in sifted flour, mixing well.  Place mixture into the well greased tin.

Peel the cooking apples, slice thinly into ¼ inch (5 mm) slices and arrange slightly buried on top of the mixture.  Scatter the blackberries or incorporate as part of the pattern.

Place in a preheated fan oven 170ºC (325ºF/gas mark 3) for 25-30 minutes.  Bake until the cake and the apples are cooked. Sprinkle with cinnamon sugar.

Serve warm or at room temperature with a bowl of softly whipped cream.

Tarte Tatin

Serves 6-8

The ultimate french apple tart. The Tatin sisters ran a restaurant at Lamotte-Beuvron in Sologne at the beginning of the century.  They created this tart, some say accidentally, but however it came about it is a triumph – soft, buttery caramelised apples (or indeed you can also use pears) with crusty golden pastry underneath.  It is unquestionably my favourite French tart! One can buy a special copper tatin especially for this tart.  It takes considerable courage to cook the caramel dark enough but the end result is so worth the effort

1.24kg (2 3/4lb) approx. Golden Delicious, Cox’s Orange Pippin or Bramley Seedling cooking apples

175g (6oz) Sour Cream Pastry or puff pastry or rich Sweet Shortcrust Pastry (see recipe below)

110g (4oz) unsalted butter

210g (7 1/2oz) castor sugar *

a heavy 20.5cm (8inch) tatin mould or copper or stainless steel sauté pan with low sides

Preheat the oven to 220ºC/425ºF/Gas Mark 7 for puff pastry.  For shortcrust -180ºC/350ºF/Gas Mark 4.

First, roll out the pastry into a round slightly larger than the saucepan.  Prick it all over with a fork and chill until needed.

Peel, halve and core the apples.  Melt the butter in the saucepan, add the sugar and cook over a medium heat until it turns golden – fudge colour.  Put the apple halves in upright, packing them in very tightly side by side, careful not to burn your fingers.  Replace the pan on a low heat and cook until the sugar and juice are a dark caramel colour. Hold your nerve otherwise it will be too pale.  Put into a hot oven for approx. 15 minutes.

Cover the apples with the pastry and tuck in the edges.  Put the saucepan into the fully preheated oven until the pastry is cooked and the apples are soft-25-30 minutes approx. For puff pastry reduce the temperature to 200°C/400°F/gas 6 after 10 minutes.

Take out of the oven and rest for 5-10 minutes or longer if you like.  Put a plate over the top of the saucepan and flip the tart on to a serving plate.  (Watch out – this is a rather tricky operation because the hot caramel and juice can ooze out).  Reshape the tart if necessary and serve warm with softly whipped cream.

Sour Cream Short Crust Pastry

Makes 500g (18oz)

250g (9oz) plain white flour

25g (1oz) icing sugar

175g (6oz) butter

62ml (2 1/2fl oz up) sour cream

To make the pastry.

Put the flour and icing sugar into a large bowl.  Dice the butter and rub into the flour until it resembles coarse breadcrumbs.  Add enough sour cream to just bring it together.  Divide in two pieces, wrap, refrigerate and chill for at least 30 minutes before rolling out.  Use for tarts, pies or tarte tatin.

Apple Charlotte

This is the scrummiest, most wickedly rich apple pudding ever. A friend, Peter Lamb, make it as a special treat for me every now and then.

It’s also a brilliant way to use up bread and apples deliciously.

We make apple charlotte from old varieties of eating apples – my favourites are Ergemont, Russet, Charles Ross, Cox’s Orange Pippin or Pitmaston Pineapple. It’s sinfully rich but gorgeous.

Serves 4-6

1 kg (2 1/4lb) dessert apples

225g (8oz) clarified butter

175g (6oz) castor sugar

2 organic egg yolks

good quality white yeast bread

1 loaf tin – 13 x 20cm (5 x 8inch)

Preheat the oven to 200°C/400°F/Gas Mark 6.

Peel and core the apples. Melt a little of the clarified butter in a stainless steel saucepan, chop the apples into cubes and add to the saucepan with a couple of tablespoons of water and the castor sugar. Cover and cook on a gentle heat until the apples break into a thick pulp. Beat in the egg yolks one by one – this helps to enrich and thicken the apple purée. Taste and add a little more sugar if necessary.

Melt the remaining clarified butter and use a little of this to brush the inside of the tin then dust it with caster sugar.  Cut the crusts off the bread and cut into strips about 4cm (1 1/2inches) wide and 13cm (5 inches) high and quickly brush them with the clarified butter.  Line the sides of the tin with butter-soaked bread. Cut another strip to fit tightly into the base of the tin. Brush it on both sides with butter and tuck it in tightly. Fill the centre with the apple pulp. Cut another strip of bread to fit the top. Brush with melted butter on both sides and fit it neatly to cover the purée.

Bake for 20 minutes then reduce the heat to180°C/350°F/gas mark 4 for another 15 minutes or until the bread is crisp and a rich golden colour.

 To serve

Run a knife around the edges in case the bread has stuck to the tin. Invert the apple charlotte onto a warm oval serving plate. It won’t look like a thing of beauty, it may collapse a bit, but it will taste wonderful. Serve with softly whipped cream.

Apple Fritters

Funny how one sometimes forgets a recipe; we hadn’t had these for ages, but I remembered them recently and they taste just as good as ever. As children we particularly loved fritters because they used to fry into funny shapes, which caused great hilarity. These can also be shallow-fried in a pan. You can add a teaspoon of cinnamon to the sugar to toss the apples in for extra flavour.

Serves 6–8

110g (4oz) plain white flour

pinch of salt

1 organic egg

150ml (5fl oz) milk

good-quality vegetable oil, for frying

450g (1lb) cooking apples (about 4), Bramley’s Seedling or Grenadier

225g (4oz) caster sugar or cinnamon sugar (see apple and blackberry pie recipe)

Sieve the flour and salt into a bowl. Make a well in the centre and drop in the egg. Use a whisk to bring in the flour gradually from the edges, slowly adding in the milk at the same time. Leave the batter in a cool place for about 1 hour.

Heat the oil in a deep-fryer to 190°C (375°F).

Peel and core the apples. Cut into rings, no thicker than 1cm (1⁄4 inch). Dip the rings into the batter and lift out with a skewer, allowing the surplus batter to drain off, then drop into hot fat, a few at a time. Fry until the batter is golden brown and the apple is tender.  Drain well on kitchen paper. Toss each fritter in caster sugar or cinnamon sugar. Serve immediately on hot plates with softly whipped cream.

Wild Foods – Crab Apple (Malus sylvestris)

Crab apples are wild apples that probably grew from seeds in an apple core that was tossed from the window of a car, they are in season at present and may be picked off the tree, but many grow quite high so they can be difficult to reach. However, the windfalls that lie on the ground are also worth collecting. Once the bruised bits are cut out and thrown into the compost bin, the remaining skin, pips and stalks are fine for making jellies.

Preserving the Summer Glut

I’ve been a bit like a broken record throughout this Covid 19 pandemic reminding readers on almost a weekly basis about the importance of really focussing on the quality of the food we are feeding ourselves and our families at this critical time.

Many of you have been actively seeking out local farmers markets and buying directly from the growers and food producers – building up a bond of trust. Others have signed up to an Organic box scheme where you receive a weekly box of beautiful seasonal vegetables, fruit and herbs fresh from the garden. Chock full of minerals, vitamins and trace elements to boost your energy, mood and immune systems. Those of you who like us embrace the concept of growing your own food have been enjoying the fruit of your labours and now fully understand the excitement, importance and frustrations of the ‘farm to fork’ concept and the heightened enjoyment of eating food you have personally grown and sown the seeds, watered, wed and harvested.

The pride and joy of sitting down to a plate of food where everything on your plate came from your garden or local producers known to you personally is tangible, you won’t want to waste a single morsel of this precious food….

Now it’s September and Summer 2020 has just whizzed by in a blur….Several of you have contacted me wondering what to do with the end of Summer glut of home grown fruit and vegetables.

Large courgettes, squishy ripe tomatoes, cucumbers and aubergines…..One lady who rang me from the UK actually had a glut of figs, I was deeply envious but having never been in that fortunate situation I was slightly at a loss to think of how to use up almost 100 ripe figs other than making jam and lots of figgy tart and puddings, but she lives alone and we’re not supposed to invite lots of friends around….. so what to do…..?

Figs dry brilliantly, but Rory suggested freezing them for Winter preserves. In the absence of hot sun, how about experimenting with slowly drying them in a fan oven or dehydrator – Any other ideas?

Chillies are easy, thread the stalks onto a piece of strong cotton thread to make a truss or ‘ristra’ as they call it in Italy.  Hang it on a hook in your pantry or loop them under your kitchen shelves. Either way they’ll look great as well as being easy to snip off when you need to add a bit of excitement to a dish.

Alternatively dig up your mature chilli plants, shake off the earth from the roots, pick off the leaves, hang it upside down in a well ventilated spot, turning every day or two until the chillies are dry. If you have a dehydrator they can be dried whole or in slices as can tomatoes and aubergines.

Dehydrators are not overly expensive – €50 – €200 depending on size and quality. For years I hesitated, reckoning that it would be a white elephant sitting in a corner of the kitchen used only sporadically. However, my dehydrator is in constant use. We dry a myriad of vegetables, fruit herbs and edible flowers.  Students also love to experiment with it. Don’t worry if you don’t have a dehydrator, a fan oven at the lowest setting also works brilliantly, just spread out whole or sliced items on wire or oven racks and turn regularly. Keep an eye on them and then store in airtight jars.

We have buckets of super ripe, end of season tomatoes and like those of you who have grown your own we can’t bear to waste a single one. We freeze lots whole, just as they are, for Winter stews, tagines and of course our all-time favourite tomato fondue (defrost in a sieve to remove the excess liquid, which can be used in soups).

The really soft squishy ones, bursting with flavour are cooked into puree to make tomato and basil soup for the Winter that will be reminiscent of Summer flavours. All soups and liquids are frozen in recycled one litre milk bottles and gallon cream containers. They stack neatly side by side and cost nothing.

Large courgettes don’t have much flavour but can be frozen grated or in cubes (tray freeze) and added to frittatas, tomato fondue or gutsy Winter stews with lots of rosemary, sage and thyme leaves to boost the flavour. As Summer changes to Autumn, basil will wither and fade, so preserve the best leaves in olive oil to add a taste of Summer to Winter dishes.

Aubergines are best made into this spiced aubergine mixture – can’t tell you how many times this delicious pickle has come to the rescue, gorgeous with lamb or pork, mozzarella or paired with an oozing burrata as a starter.

Keen gardeners won’t want to waste a morsel of their home grown produce. For more ideas – check out my Grow, Cook, Nourish book published in 2017 which has a How to use up a glut deliciously, suggestion for every fruit, vegetable and fresh herb.

Here’s a few suggestions to get you going:

Tomato Purée

Note: Tomato Purée is one of the very best ways of preserving the flavour of ripe summer tomatoes for Winter.  Use for soups, stews, casseroles etc.

2lbs (900g) very ripe tomatoes

1 small onion, chopped

1 teaspoon sugar

good pinch of salt 

a few twists of black pepper

Cut the tomatoes into quarters and put into a stainless steel saucepan with the onion, salt, freshly ground pepper and sugar. Cook, covered on a gentle heat until the tomatoes are soft (no water is needed). Put through the fine blade of the mouli-legume or a nylon sieve.

Allow to get cold, refrigerate or freeze.

Note: make tomato purée recipe x 2 for Tomato Soup

Confit of Tomatoes

This method concentrates the flavour of the tomatoes deliciously. The oil absorbs the flavour of the tomatoes and will, of course, enhance dressings and salads.  Serve on grilled bread, with pasta, mozzarella and fish.

Makes 3 x 370g (13oz) jars approximately

1.3kg (3lbs) ripe small or cherry tomatoes

5- 6 garlic cloves, slightly crushed

4-5 sprigs of fresh thyme

extra virgin olive oil, to cover

sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 160°C/325°F/Gas Mark 3.

Choose an ovenproof dish that will just fit the tomatoes in a single layer.  Remove the calyxes from the tomatoes and arrange them in the dish.  Tuck a few garlic cloves and the sprigs of thyme in here and there between the tomatoes.  Just cover with extra virgin olive oil and sprinkle with salt and freshly ground pepper.  Bake for 1 1/2 hours or until soft and tender.  Eat immediately or allow to cool.  Store in a sterilised jar covered in the oil and use within a week or so.

Eat immediately or leave to cool then store in a sterilised jar covered in the oil and use within a week or so.

Spiced Aubergine Pickle

This is a delicious way to preserve a glut of aubergines – serve with lamb or pork or just with cheese.

Makes 2kg (4 jars)

2kg aubergines, peeled and cut into thick julienne strips or chunks

4 tablespoons salt

1 litre white wine vinegar

2 tablespoons sugar

125ml  extra virgin olive oil

2 chilli peppers, seeded and finely chopped

50g chives, finely cut

2 tablespoons marjoram

4 garlic cloves, halved

Preserving jars

Put the aubergines in a colander, sprinkle with salt, toss them, and allow to degorge in a colander for 30 minutes.

Bring the vinegar and sugar to the boil in a large saucepan.   Add the aubergines and simmer for 5 minutes, careful not to overcook. Drain, reserving the pickling liquid.

Add the oil, chilli pepper, chives and marjoram to the aubergines, and toss well.  Fill the jars, making sure the aubergines are submerged in the cooking liquid.  Divide the garlic between the sterilized jars. If more juice is needed to cover the aubergines, add 1 to 2 tablespoons of the reserved pickling liquid.  Seal each jar tightly.  Store in a cool, dark place for 2-3 weeks before using.

Basil Oil

Basil may be used either to flavour the oil or the oil may be used to preserve the basil, depending on the quantity used. If using a large quantity of basil, you can preserve it in a jar with enough olive oil to completely cover it for up to three months. Basil oil may be used in salad dressings, vegetable stews, pasta sauces or many other instances.

extra virgin olive oil

fresh organic basil leaves

Ensure the basil leaves are clean and dry. Pour a little of the olive oil from the bottle and stuff at least 8–10 basil leaves into the bottle, or more if you like. The basil must be covered by at least 1cm (1⁄2in) of oil. Seal and store in a cold place. We sometimes fill bottles three quarters full and then chill them. When the oil solidifies somewhat, we top it up with another layer of oil. If the basil is not submerged in the oil, it will become mouldy in a relatively short period of time.

Cucumber Neapolitana

A terrifically versatile vegetable dish which may be made ahead and reheats well. It is also delicious served with rice or pasta.  It makes a great stuffing for tomatoes and is particularly good with Roast lamb.

Serves 6 approx.

1 Irish cucumber

½ oz (15g) butter

1 medium onion – 4 ozs (110g) approx., sliced

4 very ripe Irish tomatoes

Salt and freshly ground pepper

2½ flozs (63ml) cream

1 dessertspoon freshly chopped mint

Roux (optional) 

Melt the butter in a heavy bottomed saucepan, when it foams add the onion. Cover and sweat for 5 minutes approx. until soft but not coloured. 

Meanwhile, peel the cucumber cut into ½ inch (1cm) cubes; add to the onions, toss well and continue to cook while you scald the tomatoes with water for 10 seconds.  Peel the tomatoes and slice into the casserole, season with salt, freshly ground pepper and a pinch of sugar. Cover the casserole and cook for a few minutes until the cucumbers are tender and the tomatoes have softened, add the cream and bring back to the boil. Add the freshly chopped mint.  If the liquid is very thin, thicken it by carefully whisking in a little roux.  Cucumber Neapolitana keeps for several days and may be reheated.

How to Freeze Zucchini/Courgettes

When you are coping with a glut and have run out of meal slots to use them up it is really worth taking a little time to freeze the remainder of your harvest.

The courgettes can be frozen in nuggets or medallions or simply grated. For the latter, (no need to blanch) just grate the zucchini on the course side of a box grater, pack the shredded vegetable into small zip-lock freezer bags – say 8oz/225g in each. Flatten, press out all the air and seal. Label carefully with name, weight and date and freeze immediately. It will keep for the best part of a year but I prefer to use it within 5 or 6 months.

To defrost – take out of the freezer, allow to defrost then put into a sieve to squeeze out the extra liquid. Use for soup, casseroles or zucchini bread.

Courgette Medallions or Nuggets

Slice the zucchini in ½ inch rounds or ¾ inch dice.

Bring a large pot of water to a fast rolling boil, add the zucchini (not too many at a time). Bring the water back to the boil for just one minute. Scoop out the medallions or nuggets. Transfer to an ice bath to cool and then drain really well. Dry. Lay them out on a parchment paper covered baking sheet. Tray freeze for about 2 hours. Pack the frozen medallions or nuggets into freezer bags or boxes and refreeze immediately. They will keep for up to a year but best to use them up within 5/6 months.

Add the still frozen zucchini directly into stews or casseroles close to the end of the cooking time. Remember they will add some extra liquid to the dish so allow for that in your measurements.

Blackberry Season Again…

Gosh it’s difficult to switch off from the realities of Covid 19 coverage and the resulting anxiety but switch off we must while still complying with the HSE guidelines, otherwise the toll on our mental health can be devastating.

So this week, how about a blackberry picking expedition if it’s possible in your particular situation. Where I live in the country, many of the hedgerows are dripping with berries. Some have been battered by the recent rain and winds but there’s still an abundant crop. Local kids have been out foraging to make some pocket money, they arrive at the Cookery School with great big smiles and gallons brimming with ripe berries, we’re delighted to buy them to pop into the freezer for winter jams and preserves.

Blackberries are a virtual power house of nutrients. They are packed with essential nutrients and antioxidants, loads of vitamin C, magnesium, potassium, calcium and they’re a rich source of both soluble and insoluble fibre that many of us don’t have nearly enough of in our diets. So in other words they are good for our gut biome and for digestion and apparently also boost overall brain function.

Bring along with kids and show them how to choose the best berries and avoid the thorns. Make sure you check the berries before you pop them into your mouths – if the core is discoloured rather than pale and unblemished, it usually means that the little crawly beasties have got there first, so it’s best to discard those.

All berries freeze brilliantly provided they are perfectly dry when picked,  it’s best if you have space to tray freeze them,  then one can take out a couple of fistfuls of frozen berries to add to tarts, crumbles or a breakfast smoothie. A few small cartons close to the top of the freezer will come in handy to add to a sauce or gravy to partner a pheasant or a grouse later in the year.

Blackberries, with their low sugar content can be enjoyed by diabetics and because they are so brilliantly versatile one can enjoy them in both sweet and savoury dishes. I’ve got to start with blackberry, apple and sweet geranium crumble, everyone’s favourite family pud!

Blackberry and Apple and Sweet Geranium Cumble

Serves 6-8

Crumbles are comfort food, vary the fruit according to the season.

1 lbs (450 g) Bramley Seedling cooking apples

1/2 lb (225g) fresh or frozen blackberries

1 1/2-2 ozs (45-50g) sugar

1-2 tablespoons water

2 chopped sweet geranuium leaves (Pelargonium Graveolons) – optional

Crumble

4 ozs (110g) white flour, preferably unbleached

2 ozs (50g) cold butter

2 ozs (50g) castor sugar

1 oz (25g) chopped almonds or hazelnuts (optional)

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon (optional)

2 pint (1.1L) capacity pie dish

Peel the apples, cut into quarters, remove the core and cut into large cubes.

Turn into a pie dish. Sprinkle with sugar. Add the water. 

Rub the butter into the flour just until the mixture resembles coarse bread crumbs, add the sugar and cinnamon and chopped nuts if using. Sprinkle this mixture over the apple in the pie dish. Bake in a preheated moderate oven 180°C/350°F/regulo 4, for 30-45 minutes or until the topping is cooked and golden. Serve with whipped cream and soft brown sugar.  (optional – serve with Amaretto cream).

Blackberry and Lime Swirls

Believe me these are totally irresistible….

Makes 18-20 scones, using a 3 inch (71/2 cm) cutter

2lb (900g) plain white flour

6oz (175g) butter

pinch of salt

2oz (50g) castor sugar

3 heaped teaspoons baking powder

3 free-range eggs

16fl oz (450ml) approx. full cream milk to mix (not low fat milk)

Lime Butter

150g (5oz) butter

250g (9oz) pale brown sugar

2 teaspoons lime zest

egg wash

150g (5oz) blackberries

Lime Sugar

4oz (110g/1/2 cup) Demerara sugar mixed with 1 teaspoon lime zest for the top of scones

Preheat the oven 250ºC/475ºF/Gas Mark 9.

First make the Lime Butter.

Cream the butter, sugar and lime zest together and beat until light and fluffy.

Sieve the flour into a large wide bowl, add a pinch of salt, the baking powder and castor sugar.  Mix the dry ingredients with your hands, lift up to incorporate air and mix thoroughly.

Cut the butter into cubes, toss well in the flour and then with the tips of your fingers, rub in the butter until it resembles large flakes.  Make a well in the centre.  Whisk the eggs with the milk, pour all at once into the centre.  With the fingers of your ‘best hand’ outstretched and stiff, mix in a full circular movement from the centre to the outside of the bowl.  This takes just seconds and hey presto, the scone dough is made.  Sprinkle some flour on the work surface.  Turn out the dough onto the floured board.  Scrape the dough off your fingers and wash and dry your hands at this point.  Tidy around the edges, flip over and roll or pat gently into a rectangle about 3/4 inch (2cm) thick. 

Spread the soft lime butter over the dough, sprinkle the blackberries evenly over the butter, leaving an inch along one of the long sides without blackberries. Brush this piece with egg wash.

Roll the dough from the long side and seal with the egg wash. Cut into pieces, about 2 inches (5cm) thick.

Brush the tops (cut edge) with egg wash and dip in crunchy lime sugar. Arrange onto a baking sheet, fairly close together.

Bake in a preheated oven for 10-12 minutes or until golden brown on top.

Egg Wash

Whisk one egg thoroughly with about a dessertspoon of milk.  Egg wash adds colour during cooking.

Variation

Blackberry and Rose Geranium Scones

Substitute 3 tablespoons of finely chopped rose geranium for lime zest in the master recipe.  Add 2 tablespoons of finely chopped rose geranium to the Demerara sugar.

Rory O’Connell’s Smoked Black Pudding and Cheddar Cheese Croquettes with Bramley Apple and Blackberry Sauce

I use smoked black pudding from Hugh Maguire for this recipe. Hugh is known as “the Smoking Butcher” and his pudding is excellent.

Makes approximately 40 little croquettes

400g (14oz) potatoes

2 tablespoons ) cream

130g (4 1/2oz) smoked black pudding, very finely diced

100g (3 1/2oz) finely grated cheddar cheese

For coating the croquettes

seasoned plain flour

3 beaten eggs

150g (5oz) crust-less white breadcrumbs

sunflower oil, olive oil or beef dripping for deep frying

Place the potatoes in a saucepan and season with a pinch of salt. Bring to a boil and cover and simmer for ten minutes. Pour off all except 2cm (3/4 inch) of water, cover and replace on the heat to cook for a further 20 or so minutes until completely tender.

Immediately peel the skins off the potatoes – you want 300g (10oz) of peeled cooked potatoes. Place in a bowl and mash to a smooth fluff. Add the cream, black pudding, cheddar cheese and season with salt and pepper. Mix everything gently together. Chill the mixture until completely cold.

Roll the mixture into 15g (generous 1/2oz) balls. Place the flour, beaten eggs and breadcrumbs in separate bowls. Roll the balls in the flour first, followed by the beaten egg and finally the breadcrumbs. Place on a parchment paper lined tray and chill for 15 minutes.

Heat the frying fat of choice to 170°C/325°F.

Fry the croquettes a few at a time until well coloured and crisp. Drain on kitchen paper and keep warm in an oven heated to 100°C/210°F.

Serve the croquettes with bamboo skewers to hold and the apple and blackberry sauce on the side.

Bramley Apple and Blackberry Sauce

450g Bramley apples

2 tablespoons water

2 tablespoons sugar

100g (3 1/2oz) blackberries fresh or frozen

Peel, quarter and core the apples. Cut each quarter in half. Place in a small saucepan with the water and sugar. Cover tightly and cook on a very low heat. The apples will gradually collapse to a frothy snow. Add the blackberries and cook for a further 2 minutes. Stir lightly, taste and add a little more sugar if necessary.

Blackberry, Melon and Mint Salad

Serves 6

1 ripe Orgen and Cantaloupe melon

freshly squeezed lemon juice

sugar

2-3 tablespoons torn or shredded mint

225g – 350g (8-12oz) freshly picked blackberries

Cut the ripe melon in half and remove the seeds, cut into quarters, remove the peel and cut the flesh into 1 – 2cm (1/2 – 3/4 inch) dice.

Put into a bowl, sprinkle with sugar and the freshly squeezed juice of a lemon. Toss gently and taste.

The amount of sugar will depend on the sweetness of the melon.

Add the shredded mint and the blackberries and stir very gently to combine.  Serve chilled.

Wild Blackberry, Apple and Rose Geranium Jam

Blackberries are famously low in pectin, so the tart apples help it to set and add extra flavour. Go foraging for blackberries in the early autumn before they’re over-ripe. Cultivated blackberries tend to be sweeter so you may need to reduce the sugar.

Makes about 10 x 450g (1lb) jars

900g (2lb) cooking apples (Bramley, or Grenadier in season) or crab apples

2.25kg (5lb) blackberries

1.8kg (4lb) granulated sugar – since Ireland has gone over to cane sugar  which appears to be more intensely sweet we reduced the sugar to 1.6kg/3 1/2lb.  The intensity of sugar varies in different countries.

8 or more rose geranium leaves (Pelargonium graveolens)

Wash, peel, core and slice the apples. Stew them until soft in 225ml (8fl oz) of water in a stainless-steel saucepan, then beat to a pulp.

Pick over the blackberries and put into a wide, stainless-steel saucepan or preserving pan and cook until soft, stirring occasionally. Add the apple pulp and the heated sugar. Destalk and chop the geranium leaves and add. Stir over a gentle heat until the sugar is dissolved. Then bring to the boil and cook steadily for about 15 minutes. Skim the jam, test it for a set and pot into warm, spotlessly clean jars. Cover and store in a cool, dry place.

Peach and Blackberry Crostata

Alice Waters of Chez Panisse in Berkley in California shared this recipe with me when I visited the restaurant.

In Italy a crostata is something crusty.  We use the term for all the tarts we bake using our cornmeal dough recipe.

Makes one 11 inch tart.

1 pre-baked 30.5 (11 inch) cornmeal tart shell (see below)

3/4 tablespoon cornmeal

4 medium peaches (about 700g/1 1/2 lb in weight)

300g (10oz) blackberries

2 1/2 tablespoons sugar plus extra for sprinkling

300g (10 ozs) cornmeal dough, rolled into a 32.5cm (13 inch) circle and refrigerated

1 egg yolk

1 1/2 tablespoons milk

Preheat the oven to 200°C/400ºF/gas mark 6.

Sprinkle the bottom of the pre-baked tart shell with the cornmeal.  Peel, pit and slice the peaches.  Arrange the sliced peaches evenly in the tart shell.  Scatter the blackberries over the peaches.  Sprinkle the fruit with 2 1/2 tablespoons sugar.

Remove the circle of unbaked cornmeal dough from the refrigerator.  Peel off the top sheet of parchment paper and invert the dough onto the fruit.  Remove the other piece of parchment and let the dough settle over the fruit.  Gently seal the tart by pressing around the outside edge of the dough.

Make an egg wash by mixing the egg yolk and milk and brush the top of the tart with it.  Sprinkle with sugar (for extra crunch we use crystallized or raw sugar).  Bake in the top third of the oven for 45 to 50 minutes, until the top is golden brown.  Let cool for 10 minutes and serve warm with ice cream or crème fraîche.

Prebaked Tart Shell

We have been using this recipe for crisp dough for fruit tarts since it was published fifteen years ago by our friend Carol Field in her bible of Mediterranean pastry making, The Italian Baker.  It adds a pleasant crunch to peach and blackberry crostata, and we also like using it for double-crusted tarts filled with pears poached in white wine.

Makes 20 ozs of dough, enough for two 28cm (11 inch) open face tarts or one 28cm (11 inch) double crusted crostata.

150g (5oz/) unsalted butter, room temperature

175g (175g/6 ozs) sugar

3 egg yolks

175 g/6 ozs) plain flour

50 g (2oz) yellow cornmeal

3/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Cream the butter and sugar together in a large mixing bowl.  Add the egg yolks one at a time, mixing thoroughly after each addition.  Sift the flour, cornmeal and salt directly into the mixture.  Add the vanilla and stir until the dough is thoroughly mixed.  Divide the dough in half and gather it into 2 balls.  Wrap the balls in plastic, press them into disks, and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.

To roll out the dough, first cut four 35cm (14 inch) square pieces of parchment paper.  Dust a piece of the parchment paper with flour.  Take a disk of dough from the refrigerator, unwrap it and place on the floured paper.  Dust the top of the dough with flour and cover with another piece of parchment. Roll out the disk into a 32.5cm (13 inch) circle, about 3mm (1/8 inch) thick. If the dough starts to stick to the paper while you are rolling, peel back the paper, dust again with flour, and replace the paper.  Then flip the whole package over and repeat on the other side. If there is excess flour on the dough when you are done rolling, peel back the paper and brush it off. Chill the sheet of dough for at least a few minutes.  Roll out the other disk the same way.

To make an 11 inch tart, generously brush the bottom and sides of an 11 inch tart tin with melted butter (so your tart won’t stick to the pan). Remove 1 sheet of dough from the refrigerator and take off the top sheet of paper.  Invert the dough into the tart tin and peel off the other piece of paper.  Press the dough into the corners of the pan, pinching off any dough overhang.  Use the dough scraps to patch any cracks.  Let the tart shell rest in the freezer for 10 minutes before baking.

To prebake the shell, preheat the oven to 180°C/350Fgas mark 4 and transfer the tart shell directly from the freezer to the oven.  Bake for about 15 minutes, until it is slightly golden.  Halfway through baking, check the shell and pat down any bubbles that may have appeared.  Let cool before filling. 

School Lunches

Back to school – Wow what a stressful time, not just for parents and teachers but also for bus drivers, wardens, school supply shops… and then there’s the extra challenge of getting the kids and the rest of the family back into a pre Covid-19 routine – Early to bed, early to rise and the challenge of finding the words to address the inevitable anxiety and concerns that are preoccupying the little ones.

Hopefully we will all settle into a routine in the next few weeks and people’s worst fears of another lockdown won’t be realised.

Meanwhile lets be super positive, I’m going to concentrate on that all important lunch box which now even more than ever needs to be choc-a-bloc with nutrient dense foods to super charge our family’s immune system and boost our mood and energy levels.

At the best of times preparing daily lunchboxes takes imagination, never ending enthusiasm, time and energy…, Difficult to maintain day-in-day-out when you have a house full of children. The latter two are the scarcest of all. Older siblings may well want to prepare their own lunchboxes, but a bit of tactful guidance is usually needed, but not necessarily accepted!

Another consideration, apart from the food itself, is to try to reduce or eliminate plastic altogether. BPA and DEHP in plastic are leaching into our food. The food industry knows it, our governments know it, scientists know it, and they are becoming more and more alarmed. But many feel helpless to stem the never ending flow of toxins from plastic in its myriad of forms into every aspect of our lives, from the cradle to the care home.

Meanwhile the best we can do is to become super aware of its insidious presence and reduce it as far as possible, yet another thing to fuss about but let’s just do our best… wrap food in parchment paper or beeswax wraps.

A few little tips to help you make lunchbox choices; Think fresh, think seasonal – Mother Nature provides the nourishment we need through seasonal and wild foods.

At present, there is still an abundance of home-grown vegetables and fruit …..  tomatoes, cucumbers, beans, radishes, carrots and beets, all great in lunchboxes to nibble or dunk into a tasty dip. Such as hummus (it also provides zinc), a white bean puree or try this beetroot hummus which can be made in minutes with cooked beets.

Irish blueberries are also abundant at present, a little pot of berries are both an immune booster and a treat and an easy addition to the lunchbox. Many children’s palates seem to be more adventurous nowadays. They love spicy foods – a lentil daal with a flatbread is worth considering. It also works at room temperature and depending on the contents provides lots of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, as well as much needed protein. Include some nuts as well – almonds, hazelnuts, cashew nuts, peanuts and walnuts are an easy addition as are seeds- Include some flaxseeds, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds or maybe chia seeds added to a little pot of overnight muesli.

Don’t forget peanut butter, this perennial favourite is always tasty, delicious and nutritious. Choose a pure one, there are several Irish made nut butters that are worth seeking out.

When the weather begins to get chillier, a little flask of chunky homemade soup is a must. Tuck one or two little brown scones into the lunch box as well, slather them with good butter to feed their brains, and tuck in a little slice of cheese for protein, maybe add a hardboiled egg and some relish or a dollop of homemade mayo. An adventurous muncher may welcome a little pot of sea salt mixed with a few flakes of Aleppo pepper to sprinkle over a jammy egg. A few slices of cured meat or fish, Gubbeen salami sticks are a great favourite of my grandchildren. They keep well and just have to be popped into the lunchbox.

An individual frittata or a wedge of quiche will delight some kids and don’t forget a piece of fruit. Thank goodness for bananas, but Irish plums, pears and apples are in season at present.

After all that, just a couple of things to remember – try to eliminate ultra-processed foods completely. Make sure absolutely everything is chemical free. I know, I know, ironically these free-from foods are more expensive, but so are medicine and supplements and a visit to your overworked local GP. Invest in real food to boost your kids mood and immune system and help to protect them from colds, flus and viruses.

Oh and I almost forgot, include a little cookie, flapjack as an extra treat once or twice a week.

White Bean Hummus

Preparation Time:- 15 minutes

400 g tin white beans

2 tablespoons tahini

Juice of 1 lemon

1 pinch of paprika

1 pinch of ras el hanout

1 garlic clove

Salt and pepper

3-4 tablespoons water

Strain the beans and puree all the ingredients together in a blender. Taste and tweak the seasoning if necessary. Serve with flat bread or a few carrot dippers

Beetroot Hummus with Yoghurt and Za’atar

Another delicious dip on its own or with these additions… Good potato chips, chunks of apple or flat bread would be good to scoop this up….

Serves 6

900g (2lb) fresh medium beetroot – (500g (18oz) after cooking and peeling)

2 garlic cloves – crushed

1 small red chilli, deseeded and finely chopped

250g (9oz) Thick Greek style yoghurt

1 1/2 tablespoons date syrup

3 tablespoons olive oil, plus extra to finish the dish

1 tablespoon za’atar

salt

1 teaspoon honey (optional)

To Garnish

2 spring onions, thinly sliced at an angle

15g (3 /4oz) pistachio nuts, coarsely chopped

60g (2 1/2oz) soft goat’s cheese, crumbled

marigold petals, optional

Preheat the oven to 200°C/400°F/Mark 6.

Wash and cook the beetroot in boiling, well salted water until the skins rub off and a skewer can pierce the beetroot easily.  Alternatively, roast the beetroot on a roasting tin in the oven and cook, uncovered, until a knife slices easily into the centre, approximately 1 hour. Once they are cool enough to handle, peel and cut each into about 6 pieces. Allow to cool down.

Put the beetroot, garlic, chilli and yoghurt in a food processor bowl and blend to a smooth paste. Transfer to a large mixing bowl and stir in the date syrup, olive oil, za’atar and 1 teaspoon of salt. Taste and add more salt and honey if necessary.

Transfer to a wide bowl or serving plate.  Scatter the spring onion, coarsely chopped pistachios and cheese on top and finally drizzle with a little extra virgin olive oil. Serve at room temperature and sprinkle with marigold petals.

 

Hard boiled egg with flaky sea salt and Aleppo Pepper…

How to Hard Boil an Egg

Many people hard-boil eggs in a somewhat haphazard way. To avoid that black ring around the yolk (a sign of overcooking) you need to time them. Really fresh eggs are not ideal for hard-boiling because peeling their shells is a nightmare; the best eggs to use are a few days old. As with soft-boiled eggs, it’s important to use room-temperature eggs and they should be cooked in salted water; their shells are porous, so the flavour will benefit.

organic hen or duck eggs

Bring a small saucepan of water to the boil, gently slide in the eggs, bring the water back to the boil and simmer for 8–10 minutes according to your taste (12 minutes for duck eggs), according to your taste. Drain and then cover with cold water to stop the cooking.

Pop it into the lunch box with a little pot of flaky sea salt and some Aleppo Pepper… your child can peel the egg themselves and sprinkle a little seasoning over each half… 

Ham and Cheese Frittata

Serves 6-8

My eternal standby, perfect for all lunches….. make individual ones too , a perfect size to pop into a lunch box….

A frittata is an Italian omelette.  Unlike its soft and creamy French cousin, a frittata is cooked slowly over a very low heat during which time you can be whipping up a delicious salad to accompany it!  It is cooked on both sides and cut into wedges like a piece of cake.  This basic recipe, flavoured with grated cheese and a generous sprinkling of herbs.  Like the omelette, though, you may add almost anything that takes your fancy.  One could substitute grated mature cheddar but Gruyére and Parmesan give you more ‘bang for your buck’ and all sorts of tasty bits from the fridge, smoked salmon, mackerel, chorizo, bacon or ham……..

10 large eggs, preferably free range organic

1 teaspoon salt and lots of freshly ground black pepper

75g (3ozs) Gruyére cheese, grated

25g (1oz) Parmesan cheese, grated

225g diced cooked ham or bacon

2 tablespoons parsley, chopped

2 teaspoons thyme leaves

25g (1oz) butter

2 tablespoons basil or marjoram chopped

Non-stick pan – 22.5cm (10inch) frying pan

Whisk the eggs in a bowl, add the salt, freshly ground pepper, fresh herbs, diced ham and grated cheese into the eggs.  Melt the butter in a non-stick frying pan. When the butter starts to foam, tip in the eggs.  Turn down the heat, as low as it will go.  Leave the eggs to cook gently for 12 minutes on a heat diffuser mat, or until the underneath is set. The top should still be slightly runny.

Preheat a grill. Pop the pan under the grill for 1 minute to set but not brown the surface.  Alternatively after an initial 3 or 4 minutes on the stove one can transfer the pan to a preheated oven 170ºC/325ºF/gas mark 3 until just set 15-20 minutes.

Slide a palette knife under the frittata to free it from the pan. Slide onto a warm plate.

Perfect cut into slices and packed cold into lunch boxes and will last a few days in the fridge.

Mackerel Season

The word spreads like lightening around our local fishing village, “The mackerel are in”.

Hopefuls head for Ballycotton pier with rod and line.. full of anticipation.

You may be surprised to learn that the humble mackerel is my favourite sea fish – but it must be spanking fresh. In fishing villages, all around our coast, fishermen have a saying that “the sun should never set on a mackerel”. They well know that these fish develop a strong unappealing oily flavour as they age , so must be enjoyed super fresh. Fishing for mackerel evokes happy memories for many. A recent Instagram post evoked a deluge of nostalgic memories of catching mackerel with a hook and line and hauling four or five iridescent wriggling fish at a time over the side of the boat when the shoals of fish come into the bay. Sometimes the water thrashes with movement when the mackerel are chasing a shoal of sprats almost to the shore. One can virtually scoop the mackerel with your hands into a bucket – It’s a feast or a famine…  This phenomenon is regularly witnessed during Summer in Youghal Bay.

The secret to keeping fish fresh for longer is to gut them immediately, right there and then in the boat. Throw the entrails overboard for the squawking gulls who will be swooping around hoping for a treat .

A seasoned West Cork fisherman gave me another brilliant tip. He not only guts them but also chops off the head and tail as soon as they’ve been caught. They bleed and consequently will be stiff and spanking fresh the next day when kept overnight in the fridge. He also insisted that it was important, just to wash them in seawater rather than fresh water. All of this is of course in an ideal world where you are close to the sea. However it emphasises the point that mackerel, like all fish, wherever you source it are at their most delicious when fresh. It’s even more important with mackerel because of their high oil content. These inexpensive little fish are packed with Omega 3, Vit D and B6 and are a super source of protein, as well as potassium, zinc, cobalamin and magnesium.

They are also super versatile, they are gorgeous pan grilled but also delicious poached as well as roasted or tossed on the BBQ. Try this recipe with Bretonne sauce that Myrtle Allen shared with me years ago. They take just minutes to poach. We also love to warm smoke them in a biscuit tin over a gas jet. Again, lots of ‘bang for your buck’ in terms of flavour and fun.

For extra satisfaction, learn to fillet them yourself, you can just slide a sharp knife above the backbone from the tail towards the head, slice right through the pin bones or one can fillet them more meticulously. It takes a little practice but it is a skill well worth acquiring. Alternatively, ask your fishmonger to do it for you and watch carefully. Here are a few of my favourite mackerel recipes. All quick and easy for you to enjoy with your family and a few lucky friends.

Line Caught Mackerel with Lemon and Fennel Flower Mayo with Ashtanur

4 line super fresh caught mackerel

seasoned flour

small knob of butter

Lemon Mayo

3 tablespoons diced fresh fennel

Garnish

1 tablespoon fennel herb

fennel flowers

lemon wedges

Ashtanur Flat Bread (see recipe)

First make the dough, cover and rest (see recipe).

Gut and fillet the mackerel, sprinkle with salt, keep chilled.

Make the mayo, add the diced and chopped fennel.  Taste and correct the seasoning.   Keep aside.

Cook the bread (see recipe).

Just before serving.

Heat the grill pan over a medium heat. Dip the fish fillets in flour which has been seasoned with salt and freshly ground pepper. Shake off the excess flour and then spread a little butter with a knife on the flesh side, as though you were buttering a slice of bread rather meanly. When the grill is quite hot but not smoking, place the fish fillets butter side down on the grill; the fish should sizzle as soon as they touch the pan. Reduce the heat slightly and let them cook for 3 -4 minutes on that side before you turn them over. Continue to cook on the other side until crisp and golden.

Serve on hot plates with fennel mayo and a sprinkling of fennel flowers as well as a wedge of lemon

Ashtanur – Griddle Bread

This is the most basic and probably most ancient form of bread.  It has many names, ashtanur being the Jerusalem moniker and the one which sounds best to us, but in my grandmother Esther’s house it was called saloof.

You can make the dough in advance if you wish and keep it refrigerated to cold-prove until you are ready to bake.  Any bread that is left over can be wrapped in cling film or a plastic zip-lock bag for future heating and eating, or left to dry and become tasty crackers – an added bonus. 

Makes 6-7 flat breads

250g (9oz) strong flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

7g (1/4oz) fresh yeast or 1/2 teaspoon dried yeast

1/2 teaspoon honey (or sugar)

60ml (2 1/2fl oz) + about 60ml (2 1/2fl oz) warm water

1 tablespoon vegetable oil plus extra for rolling

Mix the flour and the salt in a big bowl. 

Dissolve the yeast and honey (or sugar) in the first 60ml (2 1/2fl oz) of warm water and set aside until it starts to foam.

Pour the foaming water-yeast mixture and the oil into the flour and mix, bringing it all together. Add as much of the additional water as you need to get a good even dough, then start kneading until it becomes supple and shiny. 

Drizzle with some extra oil on the top and cover the bowl with cling film and set aside until the dough doubles in volume, or place in the fridge for the next day.

Oil your workbench and turn the dough out.  Divide into six or seven balls of approximately 50g (2oz) each and roll them in the oil, making sure each one has a nice coating of it. Leave them on the counter for 10 minutes to rest.  Now is the time to set the griddle pan on the stove to heat up. 

Start stretching the dough balls. The best way is to oil your hands, then press the dough down to flatten and spread it with your hands until it is as thin as you can get it – you should almost see the work surface through it.

Lift the first stretched dough ball carefully and pop it on the hot griddle pan.  It will take about a minute or two to colour, then flip it, cook for 10 seconds and remove from the pan.  Put the next one on and repeat the process. 

Stack them while they are hot and wrap them in cling film to serve later the same day, freeze once cooled or eat immediately.

Warm Poached Mackerel with Bretonne Sauce

Serves 4 as a main course

 8 as a starter

Fresh mackerel gently poached and served warm with this simple sauce is an absolute feast without question one of my favourite foods.  . 

4 fresh mackerel

1.2 litres (40fl oz) water

1 teaspoon salt

Bretonne Sauce

75g (3ozs) butter, melted

1 eggs yolk, preferably free range

1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard (We use Maille Verte Aux Herbs)

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

Cut the heads off very fresh mackerel.  Gut and clean them but keep whole. 

Bring the water to the boil; add the salt and the mackerel.  Bring back to boiling point, and remove from the heat.  After about 5-8 minutes, check to see whether the fish are cooked.  The flesh should lift off the bone.  It will be tender and melting. 

Meanwhile make the sauce. 

Melt the butter and allow to boil.  Put the egg yolks into a bowl, add the mustard and the herbs, mix well.  Whisk the hot melted butter into the egg yolk mixture little by little so that the sauce emulsifies.  Keep warm, by placing the Pyrex bowl in a saucepan of hot but not boiling water. 

When the mackerel is cool enough to handle, remove to a plate.  Skin, lift the flesh carefully from the bones and arrange on a serving dish.  Coat with the sauce and serve while still warm with a good green salad and new potatoes.

Carpaccio of Mackerel with Ginger and Sesame Dressing

This dressing makes a lot and keeps well.  It is also delicious with noodles or pan-grilled fish.  It is only worth doing this dish if the mackerel is super fresh, less than 5 hours out of the sea.  Ruairi makes a large batch of the dressing and uses it with many fresh fish and for a seaweed salad. 

Super fresh mackerel filleted – 1 mackerel serves 2 as a starter

Ginger Sesame Dressing

600ml (1 pint) sesame oil

600ml (1 pint) sunflower oil

150ml (5fl oz) soya sauce

75g (3oz) garlic, microplaned

100g (3 1/2oz) ginger, microplaned

150g (5oz) sesame seeds toasted

Optional

spring onions, thinly sliced at an angle

coriander leaves

Fillet the spanking fresh mackerel and remove all the bones.  Slice each fillet into 1/8 inch thick slices, arrange in a circle on a chilled plate.  Spoon a little dressing over each portion.  Sprinkle with thinly sliced spring onions and coriander seeds.

How to Smoke Mackerel in a Simple Biscuit Tin Smoker

This is a simple Heath Robinson way to smoke small items of food. It may be frowned upon by serious smokers, but it is great for beginners because it gives such quick results.

mackerel fillets

salt

3-4 tablespoons sawdust

1 shallow biscuit tin with tight-fitting lid

1 wire cake rack to fit inside

Place the mackerel fillets on a non-reactive tray.  Sprinkle very lightly with salt.  Allow to sit for 30 minutes.  Remove the mackerel from the tray and dry really well with a clean tea-towel or kitchen paper.  Lay the mackerel fillets on a clean dry tray.  Allow to sit at room temperature for a further 30 minutes to ensure they are completely dry.  If the fish is not totally dry, the smoke will not adhere to the fish.

Sprinkle 3-4 tablespoons of sawdust on the base of the biscuit tin. Lay the fish or meat on the wire rack skin-side down, then cover the tin with the lid.

Place the tin on a gas jet or other heat source on a medium heat. The sawdust will start to smoulder and produce warm smoke that in turn both cooks and smokes the food. Reduce the heat to low. Mackerel will take about 6–10 minutes depending on size. Leave to rest before eating warm or at room temperature.

Alternatively, you could buy a simple smoking box from a fishing store or hot-smoke in a tightly covered wok over a gas jet in your own kitchen.

 

Mackerel with Cream and Dill

Serves 4 as a main course, 8 as a starter

Dill, which is an annual herb, is particularly good with mackerel.  One wouldn’t normally think of cream with an oily fish but this combination is surprisingly delicious and very fast to cook.

4 fresh mackerel

Salt and freshly ground pepper

¼ oz (8 g) butter

6 fl ozs (175 ml) cream

1½-2 tablespoons fresh dill, finely chopped

Gut the mackerel, fillet carefully, wash and dry well.  Season with salt and freshly ground pepper.  Melt the butter in a frying pan, fry the mackerel fillets flesh down until golden brown, turn over on to the skin side, add cream and freshly chopped dill.  Simmer gently for 3 or 4 minutes or until the mackerel is cooked, taste the sauce and serve immediately.

Time for a Jam Session!

We’re smack bang in the middle of the soft fruit and stone season.  It’s been a brilliant year.  We’ve had a terrific crop of currants and berries, always a challenge to get them picked at the peak of perfection between the showers.  Lots of red, white and black currants have already been picked, weighed, bagged and safely tucked into the freezer for autumn and winter, jams, jellies and puddings.  They freeze perfectly, no need to string before freezing.  I discovered that life changing fact a few years ago when I was too busy to string the currants and had to just bung them into the freezer, thinking I’ll worry about that later….To my amazement, I discovered that if you just shake the bag of frozen fruit, the strings drop off and can be picked out in a matter of minutes, a game changer…

The green gooseberries are long finished, we made lots of green gooseberry and elderflower jam, one of my all-time favourites but now it’s red gooseberry jam from the end of the dessert gooseberry crop (they are sweeter so don’t forget to reduce the sugar).  Traditional single flavour jams are of course delicious when made with beautiful fresh currants and berries but how about becoming more creative and adventurous.  I’m loving having fun with different flavour combinations.  Blackcurrant and rose geranium (Pelargonium graveolens) worked brilliantly after I’d picked a huge colander of plump blackcurrants a few days ago.  Blackcurrants are high in pectin so blackcurrant jam is easy to make, in fact one has to be careful not to overcook.  It reaches setting point in a nice wide saucepan in 10 or 12 minutes.  Strawberry and blackberry are a different matter, both fruits are low in pectin (the gelling component in fruit) so they will need extra acidity.  Tart cooking apples high in pectin work well.  Some cooks like to use jam sugar, I’m not a fan, mostly because the jam will indeed set but is likely to have the texture of bought jam and for my taste a slightly odd aftertaste which kind of defeats the purpose of making it yourself and then many brands include palm oil, a no no for me…..

If you are fortunate to own or have access to a fig tree, add a couple of leaves to raspberry or peach jam or make a fig leaf jelly by adding lots of fig leaf – say 5 or 6 to an apple jelly base.  It’ll enhance the jelly with a delicious slightly almondy flavour.  Lemon verbena leaves from the tender shrub (Aloysia citrodora) add magic to many jams, as does our favourite rose geranium – a plant that no house should be without.  It’s a tender perennial with scented leaves with a haunting lemony flavour.  Spices too can perk up jams and preserves – experiment but I’ve enjoyed strawberry and black pepper, peach and cardamom, orange, clove and cinnamon, pear and ginger.  Maybe add a pinch of chilli flakes – but don’t get carried away…

Guideline Rules for Successful Jam-Making – even if you are a complete novice

  1. For really good jam, the fruit must be freshly picked, dry and unblemished
  2. Slightly under ripe fruit will have more pectin and so the jam will set better.
  3. Jam made from fruit that was wet when picked is more likely to go mouldy within a short time.
  4. The best jam is made in small quantities – e.g. no more than 3lbs of raspberries at a time, perhaps 1.8kg (4lbs) of strawberries with 150ml (5fl oz) of redcurrant juice to help the set. Small quantities cook in a few minutes, so both the colour and the flavour of the jam will be perfect.
  5. Ideally one should use a preserving pan for jam-making. Choose your widest stainless steel pan with a heavy base and sides at least 9 inch deep. It goes without saying that the depth of the contents in the preserving pan and the rate at which they boil, determine how long the jam needs to cook.
  6. Sugar is the preservative in jams, so it is important to use the correct proportion – too little and the jam may ferment, too much may cause crystallization.
  7. Citrus fruit peel, blackcurrants, gooseberries etc. must be thoroughly softened before sugar is added, otherwise the skins will toughen and no amount of boiling will soften them, sugar has a hardening effect on skin and peel.
  8. Stir well to ensure that the sugar is completely dissolved before the jam comes to the boil, (otherwise the jam may crystallize on top). For this reason it is better to add heated sugar, which dissolves more quickly.  Stir with a wooden spoon until the “gritty feeling” disappears.
  9. Fruit should be simmered until the sugar is added, but from then on, it is best to boil as fast as possible until setting point is reached.  Stir occasionally so it doesn’t catch on the base of the saucepan.
  10. If necessary skim near to the end of cooking.  If there is only a little scum, dissolve with a tiny lump of butter stirred in after the jam has reached setting point.

How Do I Know if the Jam is Cooked?

Test for setting frequently so that the jam doesn’t overcook – it will set when the temperature reaches 220°C on a sugar thermometer, a handy but expensive bit of kitchen equipment that you can live without. Alternatively put a teaspoonful of jam on a cold plate, leave in a cool place for a few minutes, if the jam wrinkles when pushed with the tip of your finger it has reached setting point. Skim if necessary and pot immediately.

How Do I Store the Jam?

Wash, rinse and dry the jam jars (remove any traces of old labels or any traces of glue if recycling, sometimes pretty tricky but methylated spirit will usually do the job. Jars should then be put into a preheated oven for 10 minutes at 160°C/325°F/Gas Mark 3 1/2.  Lids may also be sterilised in the oven – 5 minutes is fine. Fill the pots to the top to allow for shrinkage on cooling (use a jam funnel, to avoid drips). Cover immediately with sterilised screw top lids if available or jam covers.

Covering Jam Jars.  Screw top lids should be sterilized in the oven or in boiling water beforeuse.

One can buy packets of jam covers in most shops or supermarkets.  These are made up of three elements, a silicone disc of paper, a large round of cellophane and a rubber band.

When the jam has reached setting point, pour into sterilised jars.  Cover immediately with silicone discs (slippy side down onto the jam).  Wet one side of the cellophane paper, then stretch the ‘dry side’ over the jar, and secure with a rubber band.  If the cellophane disc is not moistened it will not become taut when the jam gets cold.

Later the jars can be covered with doyleys or rounds of material or coloured paper.  These covers can be secured with rubber bands plain or coloured, narrow florists ribbons tied into bows or ordinary ribbon with perhaps a little sprig of dried flowers or herbs.

Really delicious jams are always a welcome present and are also very eagerly sought after by local shops and delicatessens.

Remember if you are selling your jams to cost it properly, taking jars, covers, labels, food cost, heat, etc., into consideration.  A formula used by many is food cost x 4.  This would cover all the other items mentioned.  If you are producing jam for sale you must contact the health authorities and comply with their regulations. 

Note on Pectin

Pectin is the substance in fruit which sets jam. It is contained in the cell walls of fruit in varying degrees. It is higher when the fruit is under ripe. Acid e.g. lemon juice helps in the extraction of pectin. Some fruits are higher in pectin than others e.g. plums, damsons, gooseberries, blackcurrants and apples, while others contain little or none, e.g. marrow, strawberries and blackberries. In these cases, it is necessary to add acid in the form of lemon juice or commercial pectin.  

Blackcurrant and Lemon Verbena Jam

The stalks can be removed from fresh blackcurrants with fingers or a fork. Frozen blackcurrants may also be used, but the jam will take longer to cook. Blackcurrants freeze well, but don’t bother to remove the strings beforehand; when they are frozen, just shake the bag – the strings will detach and are easy to pick out.  Blackcurrants are high in pectin so the jam sets quickly, be careful not to overcook.

Makes 11-12 x 370g (13oz) jars

1.8kg (4lb) fresh or frozen blackcurrants

1.6kg (3lb 6oz) white granulated sugar

– since Ireland has gone over to cane sugar which appears to be more intensely sweet we reduced the sugar from 1.8kg (4lbs/8 cups).  The intensity of sugar varies in different countries and some varieties of blackcurrants are sharper than others.

10 leaves of chopped lemon verbena

Preheat the oven to 150°C/300°F/Gas Mark 2.

Remove the stalks from the blackcurrants and put the fruit into a greased preserving pan. Add 1.2 litres (2 pints/5 cups) of water, bring to the boil and cook until the fruit begins to burst – about 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, put the sugar into a stainless-steel bowl and heat for almost 10 minutes in the oven. It is vital that the fruit is soft before the sugar is added; otherwise the blackcurrants will taste hard and tough in the finished jam. Add the heated sugar and stir over a gentle heat until the sugar is completely dissolved.  Add 10 leaves of chopped lemon verbena to the jam and boil briskly for about 10 – 20 minutes, stirring frequently.  Skim, test and pot into sterilised jars. Cover and store in a cool, dry place (The setting time depends on the variety so be careful not to overcook).

Camilla’s Strawberry and Rose Petal Jam

When my friend Camilla Plum comes to stay she wanders through the farm and gardens and greenhouse, picking and collecting fresh ingredients and cooks non-stop. Last summer, she filled her apron with rose petals from the old scented roses – she tossed them into a saucepan with some fresh strawberries and made this exquisite jam. We also made rose petal syrup and crystallised the petals to decorate desserts and cake. Use organic ingredients where possible

Makes 2–3 x 370g jars

450g (1lb) granulated sugar

1kg (2 1/4lb) strawberries

1 litre scented rose petals (unsprayed)

freshly squeezed juice of 1 lemon

Preheat the oven to 110°C/225°F/Gas Mark 1/4.

Scatter the sugar over a baking tray and warm in the oven.

Put the strawberries in a wide stainless-steel saucepan and cook over a brisk heat until the juices run and the fruit breaks down. Add the rose petals and hot sugar.

Stir to dissolve the sugar, bring back to the boil and continue to cook for 5–8 minutes until it reaches a set. Test for a set by putting about a teaspoon of jam on a cold plate, leaving it for a few minutes in a cool place. It should wrinkle when pressed with a finger. When at setting point, add the lemon juice and remove from the heat immediately. Pour into sterilised jars and store in a cool place for 3–4 months but enjoy sooner rather than later.

Raspberry and Rosewater Jam

Raspberry jam is the easiest and quickest of all jams to make, and one of the most delicious.  Loganberries, Boysenberries or Tayberries may also be used in this recipe.

Makes 3 x 450g (1lb) pots

900g (2lb) fresh raspberries

790g (1lb 12oz) granulated sugar

2 tablespoons rosewater

Wash, dry and sterilise the jars in a moderate oven 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4, for 15 minutes.

Heat the sugar in a moderate oven for 5-10 minutes.

Put the raspberries into a wide stainless steel saucepan and cook for 3-4 minutes until the juice begins to run, then add the hot sugar and stir over a gentle heat until fully dissolved. Increase the heat and boil steadily for about 5 minutes, stirring frequently.

Test for a set by putting about a teaspoon of jam on a cold plate, leaving it for a few minutes in a cool place. It should wrinkle when pressed with a finger.  Add the rosewater and stir. Remove from the heat immediately. Skim and pour into sterilised jam jars. Cover immediately.

Hide the jam in a cool place or else put on a shelf in your kitchen so you can feel great every time you look at it! Anyway, it will be so delicious it won’t last long!

Peach, Lemon and Fig Leaf Jam

A delicious combination jam.  You’ll need really ripe peaches for this. If the fruit is too under ripe it won’t cook down in the sugar into a luscious, glossy jam.  If the peaches are hard, leave them out to ripen on a sunny window or put them into a paper bag, for a couple of days.

Makes 7 x 220g (8oz) jars

1.5kg (3lb 5oz) ripe peaches, peeled, halved, stoned and chopped

3-5 fresh fresh fig leaves, depending on size

800g (1 3/4lb) granulated sugar

Zest and juice of 1 organic lemon

Peel and stone each peach, dice into approximately 1cm (1/2 inch) cubes.  Put into a preserving pan with the fig leaves. If the peaches are not super-ripe, add a splash of water to help them to soften. Cover with a lid to speed up the cooking process. It’s important that the peaches are fully cooked through before you add the warm sugar (Use a potato masher if necessary).

When the peaches are soft, add the hot sugar and zest and freshly squeezed lemon juice.  Cook until the jam reaches setting point, 105C on a sugar thermometer (4-5 minutes).

Remove the jam from the heat.  Put the fig leaves in a sieve and press the juices into the jam to extract more flavour.  Discard the fig leaves.  Allow the jam to rest for 5-6 minutes. Pour into hot, sterilised jars.  Cover immediately. Store in a cool, dark place but enjoy sooner rather than later.

Strawberry and Black Pepper Jam

Makes 4-5 pots

1kg (2 1/4lb) fresh strawberries stems trimmed

500g (18oz) granulated sugar

150ml (5fl oz) redcurrant juice (see recipe)

freshly squeezed juice and rind of 1 lemon

2 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper fresh *to taste

Mash the strawberries roughly with a potato masher in a wide stainless-steel saucepan.   Add the lemon rind, juice and redcurrant juice

Stir in the hot sugar and allow to melt over a low heat. Bring to the boil for 4-5 minutes only and remove pan from heat.

Test by putting half a teaspoon of jam onto a chilled plate.  Push with the tip of your finger, if jam wrinkles it is ready, if not return to boil and check at 2 minute intervals but it’s unlikely to need more time if you are using redcurrants and lemon.

Add the freshly cracked black pepper and remove from heat. Skim off any foam.

Pour into warm sterilised jars and seal.

Store in a cool dry cupboard.

Redcurrant Juice

Put 450g (1lb) redcurrants (they can be fresh or frozen) into a stainless steel saucepan with 175ml (6fl oz) of water. Bring to the boil and simmer for about 20 minutes. Use as is or strain through a fine sieve. This juice can be frozen for use another time if necessary.

Food of Sichuan

Travel is understandably out of the question for the foreseeable future. How fortunate am I to have been able to visit and enjoy the food of so many countries, such happy memories…Amongst others, I long to revisit Myanmar, Transylvania, Egypt, Turkey, Mexico, Cambodia, Laos, Tasmania, China, and of course India, my perennial favourite.

No hope of that any time soon, so for the present, I relive the memories through photos and videos on my iPhone and the interviews I recorded with many of the fascinating cooks, farmers and artisan producers I encountered and of course I wish I had done many, many more.

But the most poignant way to bring precious memories flooding back is through the food.  Even smells transport me to far away places, to bustling food markets, ‘hole in the wall’ eateries, street stalls, as well as world renowned restaurants like Noma in Copenhagen, Fäviken in Sweden, Chez Panise in California, Atica in Melbourne and Restaurante Tlamanalli in the Teotitlan del Valle outside Oaxaca in Mexico.

This week I am going back to China, particularly poignant in the light of the Covid-19 pandemic. My first visit, in February 2018 was to attend the International Slow Food Conference in Chenghu, the UNESCO capital of gastronomy in the Sichuan province. The food was fantastic, the city of Chenghu welcomed the delegates from all over the world whole heartedly, with wonderful entertainment, opera, theatre, music and superb Chinese food for which the Sichuan province is justly famous. We visited day and night food markets with super fresh food, the freshest fish I have ever seen, some still alive. In Pixian, a suburb of Chengdu, we were shown how the famous Chinese spicy bean paste, Dobuanjiang is slowly fermented for several years in huge earthenware pots with wheat, salt and a variety of chillies – it’s the quintessential flavour of China.  Dobuanjiang, is considered to be the soul of Sichuan cooking is an essential ingredient in Mapotofu.

We visited organic farms in the highlands, a 2 hour bus journey outside the city, a wonderful opportunity to see the countryside and wave to the friendly people, many of whom may not ever have seen a non-Chinese person before. It was an intriguing cultural experience, one I will never forget.

One of the special highlights of my visit to Chenghu was meeting  Fuchsia Dunlop who was the very, first Westerner to train at the Sichuan Institute of Higher Cuisine and for almost three decades. Since then she has travelled around China collecting recipes. Fuchsia speaks, reads and writes in Chinese and is the author of four outstanding books on Chinese Food. Her Sichuan Cookery published in 2001 was voted by Observer Food Magazine as one of the greatest cook books of all time – how about that for an accolade.

On this trip, Fuchsia was revisiting the region where her culinary journey began, adding more than 50 recipes to the original repertoire and accompanying them with her incomparable knowledge of the taste, textures and sensations of Sichuanese cookery. Fuchsia’s writing on the cultural and culinary history of Sichuan is quite simply spellbinding and there are food and gorgeous travel photos.

Sounds like I’m getting a bit carried away, well if you have even the remotest interest in Chinese food prepare to be captivated by The Food of Sichuan – Fuchsia Dunlop’s insight into one of the world’s greatest cuisines published by Bloomsbury.

Here are a few tantalising tastes to whet your appetite plus one of the favourites from my One Pot Feeds All cookbook.

Fuchsia Dunlop’s Mapo Tofu

This is the quintessential Sichuan dish.

Serves 4 approximately

500g (18oz) plain white tofu

2 spring onions or 2 stalks Chinese green garlic

6 tablespoons cooking oil

100g (3 1/2oz) minced beef

2 1/2 tablespoons Sichuan chilli bean paste

1 tablespoon fermented black beans

2 teaspoons ground chillies

1 tablespoon finely chopped garlic

1 tablespoon finely chopped ginger

175ml (6fl oz) stock or water

1/4 teaspoon ground white pepper

1 tablespoon potato starch, mixed with 2 1/2 tablespoons cold water

1/4 – 1 teaspoon ground roasted Sichuan pepper

Cut the tofu into 2cm (3/4 inch) cubes and leave to steep in very hot, lightly salted water while you prepare the other ingredients.  Cut the spring onions or green garlic into 2cm (3/4 inch) lengths.

Heat a seasoned wok over a high flame.  Pour in 1 tablespoons cooking oil and heat until the sides of the wok have begun to smoke.  Add the beef and stir-fry until it is fully cooked and fragrant, breaking the clumps of meat into tiny pieces as you go.  Remove from the wok with a slotted spoon and set aside.

Rinse and dry the wok if necessary, then re-season it and return to a medium flame.  Pour in 5 tablespoons cooking oil and swirl it around.  Add the chilli bean paste and stir-fry until the oil is a rich red colour and smells delicious.  Next add the black beans and ground chillies and stir-fry for a few seconds more until you can smell them too, then do the same with the garlic and ginger.  Take care not to overheat the aromatics – you want to end up with a thick, fragrant sauce, and the secret is to let them sizzle gently, allowing the oil to coax out their flavours.

Remove the tofu from the hot water with a perforated ladle, shaking off any excess liquid, and lay it gently in the wok.  Sprinkle over the beef, then add the stock or water and white pepper.  Nudge the tofu tenderly into the sauce with the back of your ladle or wok scoop to avoid breaking up the cubes.

Bring to the boil, then simmer for a couple of minutes to allow the tofu to absorb the flavours of the seasonings.  If you’re using green garlic (or baby leeks or garlic sprouts), stir them in now.  When they are just cooked, add a little of the potato starch mixture and stir gently as the liquid thickens.  Repeat this twice more, until the sauce clings deliciously to the seasonings and tofu (don’t add more than you need).  If you’re using spring onions, add them now, nudging them gently into the sauce.

Pour everything into a deep serving bowl.  Sprinkle with the ground roasted Sichuan pepper and serve.

Fuchsia Dunlop’s Twice-Cooked Pork

Twice-cooked pork derives its name from the fact that the pork is first boiled and then stir-fried.

Serves 4 approximately

30g (1 1/4oz) ginger, unpeeled

1 spring onion, white part only

350g (12oz) fatty pork rump, leg or belly, in one piece, with skin

90g (scant 3 1/2oz) Chinese green garlic (or baby leeks, red onions or green and/or red peppers)

2 tablespoons lard or cooking oil

a pinch of salt

1 1/2 tablespoons Sichuan chilli bean paste

1 1/2 teaspoon sweet flour sauce

2 teaspoons fermented black beans, rinsed and drained

1/4 teaspoon dark soy sauce

Lightly smack the ginger and spring onion white with the flat of a cleaver blade or a rolling pin to loosen them.  Bring a large panful of water to the boil.  Add the pork and return to the boil.  Add the ginger and spring onion white, turn the heat down and simmer until the pork is barely cooked: about 10-20 minutes, depending on the thickness of the piece.  Remove from the water and set aside for a few hours to cool completely; refrigerate until needed (the pork can be cooked a day ahead).

When you are ready to make the dish, slice the pork as thinly as possible, making sure each piece has skin, fat and lean meat.  Cut the green garlic at a steep angle into long, thin ‘horse ear’ slices (baby leeks can be cut in the same way, onions or peppers into bite-sized slices).

Heat the lard or oil in a seasoned wok over a meadium flame.  Add the pork and stir-fry, with a pinch of salt, until the pieces have curled up and released some of their oils, and smell delicious.  Tilt the wok, push the pork up one side and add the chilli bean paste to the oil that pools in the base; stir-fry until it smells wonderful and has reddened the oil.  Add the sweet flour sauce and black beans and stir briefly, then tilt the wok back and mix everything together.  Finally, add the soy sauce and green garlic (or other vegetable) and stir-fry until just cooked.

Fuchsia Dunlop’s Bang Bang Chicken

The dish became known as bang bang chicken, because of the sound their wooden cudgels made when hammered down (bang) on the backs of cleaver blades to help them through the meat.

Serves  4 approximately

400g (14oz) cold poached chicken meat, off the bone (about half a chicken)

4 spring onions, white parts ony, cut into fine slivers (optional)

30g (1 1/4oz) roasted or deep-fried peanuts

2 teaspoons sesame seeds

For the Sauce

2 tablespoons sesame paste

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 1/2 teaspoons caster sugar

2 tablespoons light soy sauce

1 1/2 teaspoon Chinkiang vinegar

1/4 – 1/2 teaspoon ground roasted Sichuan pepper or 1-2 teaspoons Sichuan pepper oil

4 tablespoons chilli oil, plus 1-2 tablespoons sediment

2 teaspoons sesame oil

If you want to be traditional, pummel the chicken with a rolling pin to loosen the fibres, and then tear into bite-sized slivers; otherwise, simply tear or cut into bite-sized slivers or strips.  Toss with the spring onion slivers, if using.  Roughly chop the peanuts: the easiest way to do this is to gather them on a chopping board, lay the flat of a cleaver blade over them and press firmly to break them up a bit, then chop them into smaller pieces.  Toast the sesame seeds in a dry wok or frying pan over a very gentle heat, until fragrant and tinged with gold.

Next make the sauce.  Dilute the sesame paste with a little oil from the jar and about 2 tablespoons of cold water: you should end up with a paste the consistency of single cream – it needs to be runny enough to clothe the chicken.  Place the salt, sugar, soy sauce and vinegar in a small bowl and stir to dissolve the salt and sugar.  Add the remaining sauce ingredients and mix well.

Shortly before serving, pile the chicken onto a serving dish and pour the sauce over it.  Garnish with the peanuts and toasted sesame seeds.

Fuchsia Dunlop’s Fine Green Beans in Ginger Sauce

The dressing can also be used as a sauce for blanched spinach or other green, leafy vegetables, blanched mangetout, cold chicken or rabbit and various types of pork offal.

Serves 4 approximately

200g (7oz) fine green beans or yard-long beans

1 1/2 tablespoons very finely chopped ginger

1 tablespoon Chinkiang vinegar

3/4 teaspoon salt

1 1/2 tablespoons cold stock or water

1 1/2 teaspoons sesame oil

Top and tail the beans.  If using yard-long beans, cut them into shorter lengths.

Bring a large panful of water to the boil.  Add the beans.  Return quickly to the boil and cook for 2-3 minutes, until just tender.  Tip into a colander and refresh under the cold tap, then shake dry.  Arrange the beans neatly on a serving dish. 

Combine the ginger with the vinegar, salt and stock or water in a small bowl.  Mix well, then add the sesame oil.  (The vinegar should lend the sauce a light ‘tea colour’ and gentle sourness.)  Pour the sauce over the beans or, for a more refined presentation, strain the sauce over the beans and then arrange the ginger across the top.

Kung Pao Chicken

Taken from One Pot Feeds All by Darina Allen, published by Kyle Books

Everyone loves this spicy dish originally from Sichuan, known as Gong bao or Kung Po, but often better recognised by its American name ‘kung pao chicken’. It can be super hot or a little less punchy, depending on the chillies, but don’t dumb it down too much as the rice will absorb some of the heat.

Serves 4

1 tablespoon corn flour

4 tablespoons light soy sauce

450g (1lb) organic, free-range chicken breast or thigh meat, cut into 2.5cm (1 inch) cubes

3 tablespoons Shaoxing (Chinese rice wine)

2 tablespoons granulated sugar

3 tablespoons homemade chicken stock (see recipe)

4 teaspoons Chinkiang vinegar (brown Chinese vinegar)

1 tablespoon sesame oil

2 teaspoons dark soy sauce

3 tablespoons peanut or sunflower oil

4-12 dried hot red chillies, halved crosswise, and deseeded

5 spring onions (both white and green parts), sliced on the diagonal

1 large clove garlic, thinly sliced

1cm (1/2 inch) piece of fresh ginger, grated

75g (3oz) shelled peanuts

fresh coriander leaves

To Serve

400g (14oz) boiled basmati rice

Mix the cornflour with 1 tablespoon (1 American tablespoon + 1 teaspoon) of the light soy sauce in a medium bowl. Add the chicken cubes, toss well to coat and set aside to marinate for about 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a small bowl mix together the remaining light soy sauce, rice wine, sugar, chicken stock, vinegar, sesame oil and dark soy sauce.

Heat the oil in a 30–35cm (12-14 inch) wok or large frying pan over a high heat until just beginning to smoke. Add the chillies, half the spring onions, the garlic, ginger and marinated chicken and stir-fry for 3–5 minutes until the chicken is golden. Add the soy sauce mixture and stir-fry for a further 2–3 minutes until the sauce begins to thicken. Stir in the peanuts. Scatter with the remaining spring onions and lots of coriander, and serve with the basmati rice, if you wish.

Wild Food of the Week

Marsh Samphire (Salicornia europea) which looks a bit like a miniature cactus without the prickles, grows, as the name suggests, in salt marshes close to the sea. It’s easy to gather if you don’t mind the odd scratch from surrounding bushes and getting covered in mud. Pinch off the young shoots above the root. Later in the season, marsh samphire develops a tough fibrous core, so the earlier you harvest it, the better. The fresher it is, the more vibrant the flavour, but it keeps remarkably well for 1–2 weeks. Marsh samphire is now much sought after by creative young chefs who are putting it onto their menus. We sell it at the farmers’ market and people who aren’t familiar with it fall in love with its salty flavour and crunchy texture.

Summer Salads

This week a range of beautiful chunky salads that can be easily put together with the gorgeous summer produce that is coming in from the garden and greenhouse everyday.
Everyone on the farm and gardens continued to sow and plant for the past three months during the Covid-19 pandemic. They too are heroes providing nourishing nutrient dense super delicious vegetables and fruit to boost our immune system and keep us healthy. Now we are reaping the dedicated rewards of their hard work. Baskets of fresh peas, cucumbers, onions, broad beans, beets…the tomatoes have been ripening slowly for the past few weeks but now we have lots for the kitchens, Farm Shop, Farmers Markets and online NeighbourFood Markets.


The field crop of flowery potatoes, a blight resistant variety called Orla, is ready. If you haven’t ever dug potatoes out of the ground, you haven’t lived! It’s a special ‘Woops in the tummy’ moment when you uncover those jewels under the stalk. Will it be one or two or maybe five or six….?
Everyday we have big platters and bowls of salads oozing with fresh flavours and vitamins and minerals, no need for supplements – this is the real thing. So what’s the secret of making a memorable salad, apart from beautiful fresh produce of course, here are a few tips…
1. Think about a contrast of colour, texture and flavour – counterbalance of sweet, salty and sharp and sour.
2. Vary the greens from crunchy little gem, bitter and beautiful Castlefranco, radicchio, mustard greens, mizuna, tender butterhead, watercress, pea tendrils, peppery rocket and edible flowers. 
3. Add lots of fresh herbs, mint leaves, little sprigs of tarragon, coriander leaves, dill and a variety of basil leaves, purple Opal, Lemon, Vietnamese, Thai, Genovese basil all produce a different burst of flavour. Even flat parsley and of course chervil.
4. Keep it chunky, a base of potatoes cooked in well salted water and tossed while still warm in perky dressing can have a myriad of other ingredients added. Substitute potatoes with chunky roast beetroot, sweet potatoes, white turnips…Pasta, egg noodles, rice or buckwheat noodles are also great.
5. Don’t forget the pulses, chickpeas, cannellini beans, lentils, dress with a perky dressing – a great foundation to embellish with summer vegetables, herbs and spices.
6. Grains and pearl barley must be soaked overnight to make them digestible.
7. Freshly roasted and ground spices also add magic to your salads and dressings adding the flavour of the East and Far East, India, Morocco, Mexico depending on the combination you choose.
8. Vary the dressings too, a basic French dressing of 3 parts cold pressed extra virgin olive oil and 1 part aged vinegar seasoned with flaky sea salt and freshly ground black pepper can be superb, depending on the quality of its oils and vinegars and then there’s flavoured oils – hazelnut, walnut, avocado…. Add a little honey, some excellent mustard, maybe some finely chopped shallot, crushed garlic and lots of fresh herbs – sublime to dress leaves or even a potato salad. The proportions could be 2-1 instead of 3-1 if you want a perkier flavour.  But there’s so much more, don’t forget tahini, miso, pomegranate molasses, date syrup…Look out for Katie Sanderson’s White Rayu Mausu. There are so many addictive hot sauces to experiment with now.
9. Sprinkle roasted, salted and toasted nuts and seeds over your salads – hazelnuts, walnuts, pecans, pistachios, sesame seeds, sunflower, pumpkin…

10. Dried fruits also add a burst of sweetness, extra nutrients and deliciousness. Apricots, dates, dried cherries or cranberries, raisins, sultanas, currants, goji berries….
11. Crunchy croutons, seedy brittle or crispy chicken skin add magic too.
12. Experiment with dressings, maybe natural yoghurt, lime and harissa, mayo, rice vinegar, grated new seasons garlic…. Combine grape seed oil, rice vinegar, miso and grated ginger. Experiment with different vinegars – white balsamic, apple cider vinegar, Moscatel vinegar. Don’t forget a generous squeeze of lemon juice to cut the richness in a mayo dressed salad.

The world’s your oyster as salads are concerned – start with beautiful ingredients, be creative and adventurous…experiment and taste, taste, taste…


Beetroot, Apple, Haloumi and loads of Herbs

If you can’t find Haloumi use chunks of Feta instead.

Serves 4

100g (3 1/2oz) red onion, thinly sliced

1 tablespoon cider vinegar

1 teaspoon of runny honey

2 dessert apples, half inch dice

3 – 4 cooked beetroot, peeled and chopped (3/4 inch)

flaky sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

extra virgin olive oil

100g (3 1/2oz) approx. pomegranate seeds

125g (4 1/2oz) Haloumi, sliced (5mm/1/4 inch thick)

2 tablespoons pumpkin seeds

4 handfuls of rocket leaves

1 handful fresh mint leaves

1/2 handful dill sprigs

Sprinkle the cider vinegar over the thinly sliced red onions in a bowl, drizzle with honey, toss. Dice the apple and beets – keep them chunky, season with flaky sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. Add the pomegranate seeds to the onions.

Put a pan on a high heat, film it with a little extra virgin olive oil. Cook the Haloumi until golden on each side – 30 seconds approx.

Pile the rocket into a wide shallow dish, add most of the fresh mint leaves. Drizzle with a little extra virgin olive oil. Top with apples and beets and some coarsely chopped or sliced Haloumi. Throw the pumpkin seeds onto the pan to toast for a couple of seconds in the residual heat. Meanwhile, drizzle the onion and pumpkin seed dressing over the salad, then sprinkle with pumpkin seeds and the remainder of the mint and sprigs of dill. Enjoy soon….

Chicken Satay Salad

Serves 4

2 organic chicken breasts or 500g (18oz) free range chicken breasts

extra virgin olive oil

1 tablespoon freshly chopped rosemary

salt and freshly ground black pepper

Spicy Peanut Satay Sauce

This satay sauce recipe was given to me by Eric Treuille of ‘Books for Cooks’ in London can be made up to 3 days in advance. 

Makes 250ml (8fl oz)

110g (4oz) peanut butter

1 garlic clove, crushed

1/2 tablespoon grated fresh ginger

1/2 teaspoon turmeric

1/2 teaspoon Tabasco

1/2 tablespoon toasted sesame oil

2 tablespoons soy sauce

1 tablespoon runny honey

juice of 1 lemon

62ml (2 1/2 fl oz) water or coconut milk

2 Little Gem lettuces cut in wedges

1/2 – 1 cucumber, halved and sliced at an angle into 5mm (1/4 inch) pieces

flaky sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper

small handful of fresh coriander leaves.

small handful of fresh mint leaves

75g (3oz) roast peanuts

4 tablespoons of Crispy shallots

pomegranate seeds, about 4 tablespoons

Drizzle a little extra virgin olive oil over the chicken.  Sprinkle with chopped rosemary. Season well with flaky sea salt and freshly cracked pepper.  Cover and allow to marinate so the flavours can penetrate while you make the satay sauce.

To make the satay sauce, put the peanut butter, garlic, ginger, turmeric, Tabasco, oil, soy sauce, honey, lemon juice and water a food processor or blender; pulse until smooth.  Cover and let stand for 30 minutes at room temperature to allow flavours to blend.  It can be chilled or at room temperature. (Add a little more coconut milk if too thick).

Heat a wide sauté pan, add a little olive oil, arrange the chicken in a single layer, cover and cook over a medium heat for 5 – 7 minutes or until cooked through. Alternatively cook in a roasting tin in a preheated moderate oven (180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4) until just cooked through but still nicely moist. Allow to rest while the salad is assembled. Cut in chunky bits, drizzle with the satay sauce, toss to coat and taste.

Mix the Little Gem lettuce, cucumber, coriander and mint leaves in a wide serving dish.  Distribute the satay chicken over the salad. Sprinkle with toasted peanuts, crispy shallots and a few pomegranate seeds if available.

Enjoy with a little extra satay sauce if you wish.

Tuna, Butterbean, Cherry Tomato and Flat Leaf Parsley Salad

I like to cook the beans from scratch (see below). Cannellini or haricot are also delicious in this salad – a very inexpensive source of protein.

Serves 4

100g (3 1/2oz) red onion

200g (7oz) tuna

400g (14oz/1 tin) cooked butterbeans (200g/7oz dried)

250g (9oz) cherry tomatoes, halved around the equator

175g (6oz) of French beans, cut at a 4cm (1 1/2 inch) angle, blanched and refreshed in boiling salted water, toss when warm.

Dressing

6 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil

3 tablespoons of lemon juice

1 teaspoon of runny honey

1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard

flaky sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

A small handful of flat leaf parsley, chopped (1/2 for the dressing and 1/2 to scatter over the salad at the end)

Peel, half and thinly slice the red onion. Rinse in cold water and drain.

Meanwhile, whisk all the ingredients for the dressing together and add 1 tablespoon chopped parsley. Put the preferably still warm beans into a wide bowl, pour the dressing over and toss. Add the halved cherry tomatoes, blanched French beans, and tuna chunks. Stir again very gently. Taste, correct the seasoning if necessary – it should be highly seasoned. Sprinkle the red onions and the remainder of the flat parsley over the top and serve.

To cook the butterbeans – the day before, cover the butterbeans with plenty of cold water. Next day discard the soaked water, cover with fresh water, bring to the boil and simmer until the beans are tender (30 minutes approx. depending on the age of the beans). Top Tip – soak and cook more beans than you need for the recipe. They freeze perfectly and can be used in salads, soups and stews at a moment’s notice.

Gomasio (pronounced gomazio)

A Japanese condiment – great to have in your pantry to sprinkle over rice, cabbage, eggs, roast vegetables, salads, even mashed potato – really good for the gut.  You’ll find yourself reaching for gomasio regularly.

15 tablespoons white sesame seeds

1 tablespoon sea salt or Himalayan pink salt

a heavy iron pan

Put the heavy iron pan on a very low heat, add the sesame seeds.  Slowly dry fry the sesame seeds shaking the pan continuously while pulling the seeds slowly towards you.  The sesame seeds will very gradually change colour.  It’s vital to keep shaking the pan so they colour evenly – this will take 6-8 minutes. 

When the sesame seeds have turned a light golden colour.  Pour out onto a wide plate and allow to cool.  Add salt to the pan and toast in the residual heat of the cast iron pan for 2-3 minutes.  Add to the seeds. 

Tip into a food processor. In Japan they use a suribachi – Japanese pestle and mortar).  Whizz to a coarse texture with a little powder.  The aroma will be divine.  It will keep in an airtight jar for 3-4 weeks if you haven’t already used it all.

Shredded Cabbage, Carrot and Radish Salad with Gomasio

Simple but totally delicious

Serves 4 -6

4 cups cabbage, shredded really thinly

1-2 cups grated carrot

1 cup thinly sliced radish

4 tablespoons approx. Gomasio (see recipe)

Prepare the vegetables and pop into a wide bowl.  Sprinkle with gomasio and serve immediately.

Potato, Spring Onion and Marsh Samphire Salad

Salty samphire is delicious added to the potato salad.  The secret of a good potato salad is to use freshly cooked potatoes and then season and toss in French dressing while they are still warm. This simple trick makes a phenomenal difference to the flavour of the finished salad. I’ve had delicious results with both waxy (Pink Fir Apple or Sharpe’s Express) and floury (Golden Wonders) potatoes, though waxy are definitely easier to handle.

Serves 4–6

1.6kg (3 1⁄2lb) raw potatoes

salt and freshly ground pepper

3 tablespoons chopped chives or spring onions

3 tablespoons chopped parsley

150ml (5fl oz) French Dressing

150ml (5fl oz) homemade Mayonnaise, thinned with a little water

110g (4oz) marsh samphire, blanched

Wash the marsh samphire.  Blanch in boiling water (no salt for 1-2 minutes).  Drain and refresh in cold water.  Drain again.

Boil the potatoes in their jackets in a large amount of well-salted water. Peel and dice the potatoes while they are still hot and put into a large, wide dish. Season with salt and pepper. Sprinkle immediately with the chives or spring onions, parsley and most of the samphire fronds.  Drizzle over the French dressing and mix well. Leave to cool and then add the mayonnaise. Sprinkle the remainder of the samphire on top.  Taste and correct seasoning.

Summer Fruit Salad with Lemon Verbena Leaves

I discovered this recipe which has now become a perennial favourite, quite by accident a few summers ago as I raced to make a pudding in a hurry with the ingredients I had at that moment.  Fresh mint or sweet geranium leaves may be substituted for the lemon verbena in this recipe.

Serves 8-10

110g (4oz) raspberries

110g (4oz) loganberries

110g (4oz) redcurrants

110g (4oz) blackcurrants

110g (4oz) small strawberries, halved

110g (4oz) blueberries

110g (4oz) fraises du bois or wild strawberries 

110g (4oz) blackberries

Syrup

325g (11oz) granulated sugar

8-10 lemon verbena leaves, plus extra to garnish

Put all the berries into a white china or glass bowl. 

To make the lemon verbena syrup, put the sugar, 450ml (16fl oz) water and lemon verbena into a stainless steel saucepan and bring slowly to the boil, stirring until the sugar has dissolved.  Boil for just 2 minutes, then leave to cool for 4-5 minutes.

Pour the hot syrup over the fruit and leave to macerate for several hours.  Remove the lemon verbena.

Serve the fruit salad with softly whipped cream or vanilla ice-cram or simply by itself.  Decorate with a few fresh lemon verbena leaves. 

Wild Food of the Week

Herb Robert – Geranium robertianum. 

Sometimes called Red Robin or Storksbill – used in traditional medicine.  Good for toothache and nose bleeds.  Rub on skin, the smell is said to repel mosquitos. 

Summer Foraging

The Covid-19 experience has been quite the wake-up call for many of us, not just for the obvious reasons but also because many highly achieving, super-efficient people have found themselves floundering when they are out of their usual medium having to cope with the day-to-day reality of feeding the family, doing the laundry, stimulating and home-schooling the kids and planning menus, not to speak of keeping the peace during these challenging times.  Learning a language or how to play a musical instrument or delving deep into an unfamiliar subject has been deliciously distracting – yoga and exercise do it for some, a new hobby, maybe gardening, embroidery or China restoration.

Being able to get out for walks in the countryside has been a life-saver for those who were cooped up indoors for weeks on end – so I’m going to devote this column to Summer foraging to focus on the many delicious edible foods growing around us not just in the wild but also in urban areas.  There has also been a very positive response to my ‘Wild Food of the Week’ in this weekly column and I get regular questions and photos from readers asking if something is edible.  Here at the Ballymaloe Cookery School, we’ve been doing Foraging courses throughout the seasons for over 20 years and we all continue to add to our knowledge of the abundance of wild and free food all round us.

Apart from the fun and extra dimension foraging adds to a walk collecting food in the wild, there’s an even more important reason to become more knowledgeable about the free bounty of nature.  A high percentage of foods, berries and nuts in the wild are edible.  Unlike many conventional foods they have not been tampered with to produce maximum yields at minimum costs so their full complement of vitamins and minerals and trace elements are intact making them highly nutritious and nutrient dense, up to 20 times, more than in the ultra-processed food on which so many of us depend nowadays.

One can forage all year but there are particularly rich pickings at present both in the countryside and along the seashore!  So let’s mention a few, succulent marsh samphire (Salicornia europaea) which is also known as glasswort because it was used in the 14th Century by glass makers, grows in marshy areas close to the sea.  It’s at the peak of perfection as present, full of Vitamin A, Calcium and iron, nibble raw or blanch it in lightly salted water – it’s salty crunch is great with fish or indeed with lamb.   Sea Purslane which grows close is also abundant at present. 

Pretty much everyone recognises dandelions, I regularly urge people to nibble at least one dandelion leaf a day or pop some into a green salad – full of vitamins A, C, and K, calcium and iron.

Gardeners will be cursing chickweed at present, it romps around the garden between the vegetables and in flower beds.  Where others ‘see weeds, we see dinner’.  Pick the chickweed and add to salads or wilt it like spinach, add to mashed potato, risotto or pasta.  It too is highly nutritious.  There’s several varieties of wild sorrel about too, buckler leaf sorrel, lambs tongue sorrel and common field sorrel.  There’s masses of fluffy meadow sweet along the roadside at present, it will last into early autumn – use to flavour panna cotta, lemonade, custards…Watch out for wild mushrooms too, I found just one ‘field’ mushroom yesterday but they usually pop up in warm muggy weather in fields or even on lawns that haven’t had chemicals added.  The flavour is exquisite, don’t waste a scrap.  Chop or slice a glut (including the stalks), sauté and freeze to add to a stew or make into a ketchup. 

And there’s so much more, if you’re a newbie to foraging, be careful – buy a good beginners guide to foraging e.g. Wild Food by Roger Phillips, The Thrifty Forager by Alys Fowler, Forgotten Skills by Darina Allen, The Seaweed Kitchen by Prannie Rhatigan, Extreme Greens by Sally McKenna, Wild Food Plants of Ireland by Paul Whelan and Tom Curtis.  Don’t nibble anything you are unsure of, and introduce foraged food gradually into your menu, better not to binge at first.

These are just a few suggestions.  If you’d like to learn more about foraging on land and along the seashore, perhaps you would like to join Pat Browne and myself on Saturday, 25th July for a 1-Day Summer Foraging course.  Numbers limited, booking essential – 021 4646785 

Slow Roasted Shoulder of Lamb with Marsh Samphire

The salty tang of marsh samphire is delicious with slow cooked shoulder of lamb.  A shoulder of lamb is much trickier to carve than a leg, but the flavour is so wonderfully sweet and juicy, it’s certainly worth the struggle particularly at home where perfect slices of meat are not obligatory.  I sometimes put this into the low oven of the Aga in the morning.  By 7.30 in the evening, it is beautifully cooked – how easy is that!  Marsh samphire is available at the Mahon Point & Midleton Farmers Market and Ballymaloe Cookery School Farm Shop (021 4646785).

Serves 8-10 approximately

1 shoulder of lamb 3.3-3.6kg (7-8lbs) on the bone (neck and shank removed)

extra virgin olive oil

salt and freshly ground pepper

Gravy

600ml (1 pint) homemade lamb or chicken stock

Marsh Samphire (see recipe).

A few hours ahead if possible, score the skin of the meat in a diamond pattern with a sharp knife.  Sprinkle the meat generously with salt and freshly ground pepper and drizzle with olive oil, roast in a low oven 140°C/275°F/Gas Mark 1 in the usual way for 6-7 hours – this gives a delicious juicy succulent texture.  Alternatively cook in a moderate oven 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4 for 2 – 2 1/2 hours.   

To make the gravy: Spoon the fat off the roasting tin. Add the stock into the remaining cooking juice. Boil for a few minutes, stirring and scraping the pan well, to dissolve the caramelised meat juices (I find a small whisk ideal for this).  Allow to thicken with a very little roux if you like.

Taste and add salt and freshly ground pepper if necessary. Strain and serve the gravy separately in a gravy boat.

Carve it into thick slices.  Serve with a light gravy to which some samphire is added. 

Serve with crusty roast potatoes.

Marsh Samphire

Marsh Samphire is also called soapwort and sea beans in the US.

Marsh Samphire (Salicornia europaea), grows in intertidal salt marshes.

500g (18oz) samphire

freshly ground pepper

50g (2oz) butter

Put the samphire into a saucepan of boiling water, bring back to the boil and simmer for about 2–3 minutes or until tender. Drain off the water (refresh in cold water if serving later), season with freshly ground pepper and toss in butter – no salt because samphire has a natural salty tang.

Foragers Caesar Salad

We use a mixture of foraged leaves for this salad.  You are unlikely to have all of these so just add what you can find to a bowl of crisp lettuces and salad leaves. 

In early Spring, we add some young beech and ground elder leaves.

The Caesar Salad dressing makes more dressing than you will need for this salad, it will keep in a covered glass jar in your fridge for several weeks.

Serves 8.

A selection of wild leaves such as (about 8 handfuls):

dandelion

wild garlic

wild watercress

bittercress

chickweed

wild sorrel (buckler leaf or lamb’s tongue)

salad burnet

buckler leaf sorrel

pennywort (also known as bread and butter, walkers friend and navelwort)

sweet cicely

red orach

40 croutons (see recipe)

16 anchovies

freshly grated Parmesan

Caesar Dressing

2 egg yolks, preferably free-range

2 tablespoons lemon juice, freshly squeezed

1 x 50g (2oz) tin anchovies

1 clove garlic, crushed

a generous pinch of English mustard powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2-1 tablespoon Worcester sauce

1/2-1 tablespoon Tabasco sauce

175ml (6fl oz) sunflower oil

50ml (2fl oz) extra virgin olive oil

52ml (2fl oz) cold water

Allow a handful of wild leaves per person. Wash them carefully in cold water and dry them in a salad spinner. Keep chilled until ready to use.

To make the dressing.

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.

Toss the dried leaves in just enough of the dressing to make them glisten. Taste a leaf to check that the seasoning is correct.  Sprinkle with a few croutons and anchovies.  Grate a dusting of Parmesan over the top.

Serve immediately.

Note

For maximum flavour pick the leaves when young.

Croutons

Sprinkle over salads or serve with soups.

Serves 4

1 slice of slightly stale pan bread, 5mm (1/4 inch) thick

sunflower or olive oil

First cut the crusts off the bread, next cut into 5mm (1/4 inch) strips and then into exact cubes (a cube is a six-sided square with equal sides).

Heat the sunflower or olive oil in a frying pan, it should be at least 2cm (3/4 inch) deep and almost smoking. 

Add the croutons to the hot oil.  Stir once or twice, they will colour almost immediately.  Put a tin sieve over a Pyrex or stainless steel bowl.  When the croutons are golden brown, pour the oil and croutons into the sieve.  Drain the croutons on kitchen paper.

Note: Croutons may be made several hours ahead or even a day.  The oil may be flavoured with sprigs of rosemary, thyme or onion.

Croutons may of course be stamped out into various shapes, hearts, stars, clubs, diamonds, etc….

Foragers Soup with Chorizo Lardons

Throughout the seasons one can gather wild greens on a walk in the countryside – foraging soon becomes addictive.  Many greens are edible and some are immensely nutritious.  Arm yourself with a good well-illustrated guide and be sure to identify carefully and if in doubt – don’t risk it until you are quite confident.  Don’t overdo the very bitter herbs like dandelion.  Of course the chorizo is optional – use vegetable stock for a vegetarian version.

Serves 6

50g (2oz) butter

110g (4oz) diced onion (7mm/1/3 inch)

150g (5oz) diced potatoes (7mm/1/3 inch)

250g (9oz) chopped greens – alexanders, nettles, wild sorrel, a few young dandelions, wild garlic, borage leaves, wild rocket, ground elder, beech leaves, chickweed, watercress

600ml (1 pint) light chicken stock

600ml (1 pint) creamy milk

75g (3oz) chorizo or lardons of streaky bacon

extra virgin olive oil

wild garlic flowers if available

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. When the vegetables are almost soft but not coloured add the hot stock and boiling milk.  Bring back to the boil and cook until the potatoes and onions are fully cooked. Add the greens and boil with the lid off for 2-3 minutes approx. until the greens are just cooked. Do not overcook or the soup will lose its fresh green colour. Purée the soup in a liquidiser. Taste and correct seasoning.

Heat a little oil in a frying pan.  Add the diced chorizo or lardons of streaky bacon, cook over a medium heat until the fat starts to run and the bacon is crisp.  Drain on kitchen paper.  Sprinkle over the soup as you serve.  Use the chorizo oil to drizzle over the soup also and scatter a few wild garlic flowers over the top if available.

Meadowsweet Ice-Cream with Fraises du Bois (Wild Strawberries)

Makes 2 pints (5 cups)

This is wonderfully rich ice-cream flavoured with the evocative aroma of meadowsweet.  Delicious on its own or even more of a treat with some wild strawberries. 

60g (2 1/2oz) meadowsweet flowers (weighted off stalk)

350ml (12fl oz) whole milk

8 egg yolks

110g (4oz) sugar

350ml (12fl oz) rich cream, cold

Place the meadowsweet flowers and milk in a heavy saucepan.   Heat to just below the boiling point and remove from the heat.   Cover and allow to steep for 10 minutes.  Strain through a fine sieve.

Whisk the egg yolks and sugar together.  Add warm milk gradually, stirring constantly until all the milk is added.  Return to the saucepan and cook over low heat, stirring constantly, until the custard coats the back of a spoon (170°-175°C).

Pour the cream into a large bowl.  Strain the custard into the cream.  Mix well, then chill thoroughly.

Freeze according to the directions of your ice-cream machine.

Serve with a sprinkling of wild strawberries or raspberries if available.

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