AuthorDarina Allen

Christmas Day Starters

We definitely want something light and deliciously refreshing…
How about a platter of oysters nestled on the bed of glistening seaweed with some crushed ice to keep them nicely chilled. Native Irish oysters are a very special luxurious treat, could be from Rossmore in the estuary of Cork Harbour, Kelly’s of Galway, Harty’s in Dungarvan Bay, Carlingford Oysters in Co Louth….

Each has their own unique flavour and needs no further embellishment other than perhaps a tiny squeeze of juice from an organic lemon.

The curvy Portuguese oysters can take on lots of flavours. How about these rock oysters with Asian vinaigrette?

Order them ahead to be delivered by courier and keep them well refrigerated until needed. Just love the way they arrive in those timber boxes, often packed with bladder wrack seaweed and if you’re lucky it’ll include an oyster knife too, an essential tool to open oysters.
I also love the super fresh combination of watercress with blood oranges, Medjool dates, Macroom mozzarella and chopped pistachio nuts…
You can do lots of riffs on the combination,  maybe omit the dates and add a sprinkling of pomegranate seeds instead. Also delicious for vegetarians and if you remove the cheese, you’ve got a tempting vegan starter too.

Hopefully, you’ll have had time to make a few pots of chunky soup to have ready to reheat as a moment’s notice. There’s so many Winter roots to choose from, they all make delicious soup in many combinations, freeze two/portion tubs so you never get caught out.
But I’m still wanting a light, fresh and easy to combine starter before my juicy roast turkey or goose on Christmas Day.

If you’re a bit jaded from mediocre smoked salmon, how about gravlax (you can make your own but Ummera and Woodcock Smokery make a delicious version), or how about some smoked trout or a piece of warm smoked salmon or my absolute favourite smoked eel.

Really good smoked fish needs little in the way of embellishment either although I do love some horseradish cream with smoked trout, a juicy smoked mackerel and of course smoked eel. Once again, a simple combo can be put together in minutes. All are delicious with the Ballymaloe brown yeast bread which can be made in minutes, (the recipe is in The New Ballymaloe Bread Book). There’s no kneading involved and only one rising. Make four loaves together, it’ll keep for the best part of a week over the Christmas period.

Smoked eel from the Burren Smokehouse or Lough Neagh Fisherman’s Co-operative is recognized as the largest producer of wild caught eel in Europe. Goatsbridge Trout Farm in Co Kilkenny for trout, be sure to get a jar of trout roe. Just gorgeous as an extra treat to top off little canapés.

Merry Christmas to all our readers and remember, the way to everyone’s heart is through delicious dinners all year long…

A Plate of Locally Smoked Fish with Horseradish Sauce and Mustard and Dill Mayonnaise

We have fantastic smoked fish in Ireland. Artisan Smokers like Sally Barnes of Woodcock Smokery in West Cork, Frank Hederman of Belvelly, near Cobh, Anthony Cresswell of Ummera have developed a cult following for their wild smoked Irish Salmon and other fish.

Serves 4

a selection of smoked fish, such as smoked salmon, smoked mackerel, smoked trout, smoked eel, smoked tuna, smoked hake and smoked sprats

Mustard and Dill Mayonnaise (see recipe)

Horseradish Sauce (see recipe)

Cucumber and Dill Pickle (see recipe)

Garnish

segments of lemon

sprigs of watercress or rocket leaves

Occasionally we serve just three different types of smoked fish, for example salmon, mussels and trout, on tiny rounds of Ballymaloe brown yeast bread, topped with a small frill of fresh Lollo Rosso.  A little cucumber pickle goes with the smoked salmon, while a blob of homemade Mayonnaise is delicious with marinated smoked mussels and a dollop of horseradish cream, and a sprig of watercress compliments the pink smoked trout. These three delicious morsels make a perfect light starter.

Slice the smoked salmon into thin slices down to the skin. Allow one slice per person.  Cut the mackerel into diamond-shaped pieces and divide the trout into large flakes.  Skin and slice the eel.  Thinly slice the tuna and hake. 

To Serve

Choose four large white plates. Drizzle each plate with mayonnaise and divide the smoked fish between the plates, arranging it appetizingly. Put a blob of horseradish sauce and some cucumber pickle on each plate. Garnish with a lemon wedge and sprigs of watercress or rocket leaves.


Mustard and Dill Mayonnaise

Super delicious with any or all of those smoked fish and gravlax.

1 large egg yolk, preferably free range

2 tbsp French mustard

1 tbsp white sugar

150ml groundnut or sunflower oil

1 tbsp white wine vinegar

1 tbsp dill, finely chopped

salt and white pepper

Whisk the egg yolk with the mustard and sugar, drip in the oil drop by drop whisking all the time, then add the vinegar and fresh dill.

Horseradish Sauce

This is a fairly mild sauce.  If you want to really clear the sinuses, increase the amount of horseradish!  Serve with roast beef, smoked venison or smoked mackerel.

Serves 8 – 10

3 – 6 tbsp freshly grated horseradish

2 tsp white wine vinegar

1 tsp freshly squeezed lemon juice

¼ tsp mustard

¼ tsp salt

lots of freshly ground pepper

1 tsp sugar

225ml softly whipped cream

Put the grated horseradish into a bowl with the vinegar, lemon juice, mustard powder, salt, freshly ground pepper and sugar.  Fold in the softly whipped cream but do not over mix or it will curdle.  The sauce keeps in the fridge for 2-3 days, covered, so that it doesn’t pick up other flavours. 

Cucumber and Dill Pickle

Brilliant to have in your fridge over Christmas or indeed at any time.

Serves 10-12

1kg thinly sliced unpeeled cucumber

3 small onions thinly sliced

225g granulated sugar

1 tbsp salt

225ml cider vinegar

2 tbsp chopped dill

Combine the sliced cucumber, onion and the chopped dill in a large bowl.  Mix the sugar, salt, vinegar together and pour over cucumbers.  Place in a tightly covered container in the refrigerator and leave for at least 1-2 hours or overnight before using. 

Keeps well for up to a week in the refrigerator.

Rock Oysters with Asian Vinaigrette

Even though oysters are produced all year round here in Ireland, they too are best in Winter.  Unlike the native oysters’ which are only in season during the colder months when there’s ‘an r’ in the spelling.

Serves 8 as a starter

24-32 rock oysters

4 spring onions, cut at an angle

1 red chilli, finely chopped

1 clove garlic, crushed

6 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

3 tbsp sesame oil

2 tbsp rice wine vinegar

2 tbsp mirin

2 tbsp soy sauce

1 tbsp finely chopped chives

1 tbsp fresh ginger, grated

To Serve

fresh seaweed (if available)

lime segments

To make the Asian vinaigrette, mix all the ingredients in a glass jar, seal and shake well.

If you can get some, place a little fresh seaweed on each plate.  Arrange 3-4 oysters per person on top and spoon a little vinaigrette over each one.  Serve with segments of lime.

Watercress, Blood Orange, Medjool Date and Macroom Mozzarella Salad with Pistachio Nuts

The rich West Cork pasture that the buffalo’s feed on gives the Macroom Mozzarella its quintessentially Irish taste.

A few beautiful fresh ingredients put together simply make an irresistible starter.

Serves 4

2-3 balls of fresh Macroom Mozzarella

2 blood oranges

a bunch of fresh watercress

4 Medjool dates, stoned and quartered lengthways

2-3 tbsp Irish honey

a good drizzle of extra virgin olive oil

some coarsely ground black pepper

50g pistachio nuts, roughly chopped

With a sharp knife remove the peel and pith from the blood oranges, cut one into 5mm thick slices and segment the other.

Just before serving, scatter a few watercress leaves over the base of each plate, slice or tear some mozzarella over the top.  Tuck a few orange slices/segments here and there in between the watercress, mozzarella and dates.   Drizzle with honey and really good extra virgin olive oil.  Scatter with pistachio nuts. Finally add a little coarsely ground fresh black pepper and serve.

Ruby Grapefruit and Pomegranate Granita

A grapefruit granita is super versatile. Serve in chilled shot glasses as a canape or at the beginning, in the middle, or at the end of a meal but this is meant to be a starter here.

Serves 20 as a canapé or 4-6 as a starter

500ml ruby grapefruit juice (5 grapefruit approx.)

160g caster sugar approx.

1 egg white (optional)

Garnish

seeds from ½ – 1 pomegranate

fresh mint leaves

16-20 shot glasses if served as a canapé or 4-6 cocktail glasses if served as a starter

Put the freshly squeezed grapefruit into a bowl, add the sugar and dissolve by stirring it into the juice.  Taste.  The juice should taste rather too sweet to drink, it will lose some of its sweetness in the freezing.

Make the granita in one of the following ways.

Method 1. Pour into the drum of an ice-cream maker or sorbetière and freeze for 20-25 minutes until completely set and frozen.  Scoop out and serve immediately or store in a covered bowl in the freezer until needed.

Method 2.  Pour the juice into a stainless steel or plastic container and put into the freezer. After about 4-5 hours when the granita is semi frozen remove and whisk until granular. Return to the freezer. Repeat several times. Keep covered in the freezer until needed.

Method 3. If you have a food processor, simply freeze the granita completely in a covered stainless steel or plastic bowl, then break into large pieces and whizz up in the food processor for a few seconds. Add one slightly beaten egg white, whizz again for another few seconds, then return to the bowl. Freeze again until needed.

To Serve

Chill the glasses in a refrigerator or freezer.

Put 1 chilled scoop of granita into each glass. Sprinkle a few pomegranate seeds on top. Freeze until needed just before servings. Decorate with fresh mint leaves and serve immediately with a tiny teaspoon for each one.

Laois Taste

Love the way counties all over the country have well and truly got their mojo back after the setback of the pandemic but it has to be said that much wonderful creativity bubbled up during those couple of years of confinement.
 This really came home to me on a recent visit to Stradbally to celebrate the many awards that members of Laois Taste won during 2023 including the EU organic award presented to Kevin Scully of The Merry Mill near Vicarstown for the exceptional quality and nutrient density of his organic gluten-free oats.
It was such a convivial event held in the courtyard of the Ballykilcavan Brewery, virtually all of the 26 artisan and specialist food and drink producers from all over the county turned up and proudly displayed their products. The passion in the room was palpable, I have to say I was properly impressed by the quality and have since sent in an order for several items to stock in our little Farm Shop in Shanagarry.
Laois County Council, Laois Chamber of Commerce, Laois Partnership Co, Laois Enterprise Board, Laois Tourism and Laois Co Manager were out in force to show their unqualified support for this vibrant sector. On my way to the event, I called in to the Muller O’ Connell artisan bakery in Abbeyleix for a cup of coffee and was mightily impressed by the display of both food and drink products from around the county, but I now know that if I had wandered into Supervalu down the road I would have been equally impressed. They are just one of several businesses in the county who are highlighting and selling these local Laois products proudly.
Long gone are the days of my childhood when local food was a derogatory term, one would expect to pay less for something if it was local. Fast forward to now when local is one of the sexiest words in food and there’s a deep, craving for food with a story and genuine provenance.
One of the pioneers, the legendary, Helen Gee was there in fine fettle, she regaled us all with the story of how she started off with a saucepan and wooden spoon in her own kitchen and how winning first prize for her raspberry jam at the Abbeyleix Food Fair in 1997 gave her the confidence to establish Gee’s Jams, now a hugely successful business selling a wide variety of jams and preserves all over the country. Little pots of her jams grace first class trays on Aer Lingus flights worldwide and three of her children have returned to Abbeyleix from other careers to help to sustain and grow the business even further.
Kevin Scully also shared the hilarious story of his transition from the building trade to farming, and his initial efforts to harvest, mill and dry his oats with the help of a sieve and hair dryer. Virtually all of the artisans and producers would’ve had stories of how they improvised as they started.
Adding value to the raw materials and initial produce is the key to survival for many in rural areas and it is hugely encouraging to see the creativity and spirit of cooperation within the sector and the second generation, returning to the business in several cases.
As the numbers grow, it encourages others within the county to wrack their brains for ways to add value to the produce and come up with new ideas, rather than ‘me too’ products, the world is your oyster in the sector at the moment.
But there is no success without plenty of hard work and it’s wonderful to see the joy that the Blas na hÉreann, The Great Taste Awards and others bring to those who are trying so hard to establish a brand and break into a brave new world.
I also ordered some of the ION organic oils, cold pressed in Portarlington. I was particularly looking for sunflower oil, but they have hazelnut, walnut and poppy seed oils too. I loved the sugared cranberries and caramel shortbread nuts from Tatiana Bite of Zephyr Yard.
For a full list of Laois Taste products, check out www.laoistaste.i

Mummy’s Light Christmas Cake

This light fruit cake is a huge favourite with many who don’t enjoy a rich Christmas cake.  Mummy used royal icing and made a snow scene with Santa and his sleigh. Thanks for the memories…

Makes 35 pieces

50g whole almonds

200g sultanas

200g raisins

100g homemade chopped candied peel

50g currants

50g real glacé cherries, cut in quarters

50g ground almonds

225g butter, softened

225g caster sugar

4 large or 5 small eggs, preferably free-range and organic

grated rind of 1 orange

275g flour

a pinch of salt

⅛ tsp bicarbonate of soda

1 tsp milk

Almond Paste

175g caster sugar

175g ground almonds

1 small egg, preferably free-range and organic

2 tsp whiskey

1 drop of almond extract

1 egg white, beaten, or apricot jam

icing sugar, for dusting the worktop

Fondant Icing

vodka, for brushing over the almond paste

600g ready-to-roll fondant icing

Decorations

Santas, candied angelica or holly leaves (optional)

Preheat the oven to 150°C/Gas Mark 2.

Line a 20.5cm x 30.5cm cake tin that is 5cm deep lined with parchment paper.  Mum cooked this cake in an oval enamel tin with a lid.

Blanch the whole almonds in boiling water for 1 or 2 minutes, rub off the skins and chop.  Mix together all the fruit, candied peel and the ground and chopped almonds.  Cream the butter until it’s really soft, then add in the caster sugar and beat until light and creamy.  Whisk the eggs and add them in bit by bit, beating well between each addition.  Add the grated orange rind.  Sieve the flour and salt together, then stir in the flour and all of the fruit.  Dissolve the bicarbonate of soda in the milk and stir it thoroughly through the mixture.  Spoon into the prepared tin and bake in the preheated oven for 50 – 60 minutes.  Allow to get cold, turn out of the tin and wrap in greaseproof paper until ready to ice.

To make the Almond Paste.

Sieve the castor sugar and mix it with the ground almonds.  Beat the egg and add the whiskey and almond extract.   Add to the dry ingredients and mix to a stiff paste (you may not need all the egg.) 

To ice the Cake

Brush the top of the cake with beaten egg white or apricot jam.

Sprinkle the worktop with icing sugar.  Roll the almond paste into a rectangle slightly larger than the cake.  Roll the almond paste over the rolling pin, then unroll it over the cake.  Press carefully onto the cake.  Allow to dry for at least 4 hours, or preferably overnight.

When ready to apply the fondant icing, brush the almond paste with vodka or other non-coloured spirit.

Next, apply the fondant icing.  Roll it out slightly larger than the cake.  Roll it over the rolling pin and then unroll it over the cake.   Press lightly.

Decorate if you wish with Santas, candied angelica or holly, but it looks great just as it is.

Cut the cake into 35 pieces (5 across x 7 on the length) or to whatever size you prefer.

Chocolate Yule Log

This melt in the mouth Chocolate Yule Log is usually much more delicious than the original chocolate sponge Swiss roll but I prefer this sinfully rich version.  There’s no need for any icing, it’s rich enough as it is! Even though it seems very fragile, it can be made 1-2 days ahead, keep covered with a slightly damp cloth and roll up and decorate close to time of serving.

Serves 10 approx.

5 eggs, preferably free-range

175g best-quality dark chocolate (we use Callebaut 52%)

175g caster sugar

3 tbsp water

Filling

300ml double cream

1-2 tbsp rum

sieved icing sugar

Decoration

Santas, holly leaves etc.

Preheat the oven to 180°C/Gas Mark 4.

Line a shallow 30.5cm x 20.5cm Swiss roll tin with oiled parchment paper.

Separate the eggs.  Put the yolks into a bowl, gradually add the caster sugar and whisk until the mixture is thick and pale lemon coloured.  Melt the chocolate with the water in a saucepan set over a very gentle heat, then set aside while you whisk the egg whites to a firm snow.  Add the melted chocolate to the egg yolk mixture.  Stir a little of the egg white into the mixture, then cut and fold the remainder of the egg whites into the mixture and turn it into the prepared tin.  Cook in a preheated oven for 15-18 minutes, until firm to the touch around the edge but still slightly soft in the centre. 

Wring out a tea-towel in cold water.  Take out the roulade out of the oven and let it cool slightly, then cover with the cloth.  (This is to prevent any sugary crust from forming.)  Leave it in a cool place.  Provided the cloth is kept damp, it will keep for 2 days like this.

To Serve

Whip the cream and flavour with the rum.  Put a sheet of parchment paper onto a table and dust it well with sieved icing sugar.  Remove the damp cloth from the roulade and turn the tin upside down onto the prepared paper.  Remove the tin and carefully peel the parchment paper off the roulade.  Spread with the rum-flavoured cream and roll it up like a Swiss roll.  Cut about one-third off the roll at an angle.  Lift the roll onto a serving plate, arrange the smaller piece so it looks like a branch and dust well with icing sugar.  Decorate with Christmas cake decorations, such as holly leaves, Santas or robins, sprinkle again with a little extra icing sugar and serve.

Frosted Christmas Tangerines

Can you imagine how welcome frosted tangerines are after a rich meal?

This clean, tingly fresh-tasting ice tastes like superior iced lolly. It can also be filled into ice-pop moulds, which halves the work! Clementines, mandarins or satsumas are also great in this recipe. Citrus fruit are at their best and most varied in the winter, when they are in season.

Serves 10-12, depending on whether people eat 1 or 2

20-24 tangerines

juice of ½ lemon

icing sugar (optional)

Syrup

225g sugar

150ml water

juice of ¼ lemon

Decoration

fresh bay leaves or holly

First make the syrup. Put the sugar, water and lemon juice into a saucepan over a low heat, stir until the sugar dissolves. Bring to the boil, and boil for 2-3 minutes, Cool.

Grate the zest finely from 10 of the tangerines, cut in half and squeeze the juice. Cut the remaining tangerines so that they each have a lid. Scoop the sections out of the ‘shell’ with a small spoon and then press them through a nylon sieve, (alternatively, you could liquidise the pulp and then strain). You should end up with 700ml juice approx. Add the finely grated zest, the freshly squeezed lemon juice and the syrup to taste. Taste and add icing sugar or extra lemon juice if more sweetness or sharpness is required.  It should taste sweeter than you would like it to be because it will lose some of its sweetness when it freezes.

Freeze until firm in one of the suggested ways.

Make the sorbet in one of the following ways.

1. Pour into the drum of an ice-cream maker or sorbetière and freeze for 20-25 minutes. Scoop out and serve immediately or store in a covered bowl in the freezer until needed.

2. Pour the juice into a stainless steel or plastic container and put into the freezer.  After 4-5 hours, when the sorbet is semi-frozen, remove from the freezer and whisk until smooth, then return to the freezer. Whisk again when almost frozen and fold in 1 stiffly beaten egg white. Keep in the freezer until needed.

3. If you have a food processor, simply freeze the sorbet completely in a stainless steel or plastic bowl, then break into large pieces and whizz up in the food processor for a few seconds. Add 1 lightly beaten egg white, whizz again for another few seconds, then return to the bowl and freeze again until needed.

Meanwhile, chill the tangerine shells in the fridge or freezer and fill the chilled shells with scoops of the frozen sorbet. We sit them in muffin trays so they don’t wobble around.  Replace the lids and store in the freezer. Cover with cling film if not serving on the same day.

To Serve

Serve on a white plate decorated with fresh bay leaves or holly.

Note

Sorbetières or ice-cream makers can be very expensive, but we find that the kind that can be put in the freezer the night before work surprisingly well.

Grow Your Own Food in 2024

I know we’re all sick and tired of the rain, but I’ve just come back from a trip to Canada and a Climate Farm School at Spannocchia, a 2,000 acre estate in Tuscany. Ironically, everywhere I went, the predominant topic of conversation was also rain but actually the lack of it.

On a visit to Trails End Ranch near Nanton, less than an hour from Calgary in the province of Alberta and close to the Rocky Mountains, we met a trailblazing couple Tyler and Rachel Herbert who are raising grass fed cattle on the prairie lands they share with both brown and grizzly bears, elk, bison, wolves, coyotes, whitetail, deer and the occasional cougar.
Their beef has a loyal following of devotees, who are grateful for the sustainable, humane and environmentally friendly way they rear their red and black Angus cattle. They are lone voices in mostly huge feedlot territory where thousands of cattle are reared in pens.
From the farm shop on the farm and online, they sell quarter, half and whole animals to restaurants and discerning customers all over Canada who crave the flavour of their grass fed meat, but it’s not easy. Prior to the snow, which now covers the prairies, they hadn’t had rain for over five months so didn’t manage to save any of their own hay this Summer nor did their neighbours. Consequently, the price of a bale of pesticide free hay is €230 this year as opposed €120 last year. They need five bales a day to feed their hundred cattle throughout the winter, the difference between profit and loss.
Needless to say, they are fearful for the future, particularly of family farms and have no idea what’s ahead. It’s even more alarming when we learn that Canada is warming at twice the global average. Here in Ireland on the other hand, because of the constant rain, many farmers are struggling to harvest some of last year’s crops while others are unable to get seeds planted for future harvests.
We are sleepwalking into a food security crisis and unlikely though it may seem, we will see food shortages sooner than we think.
So, let’s get proactive in our own space, start a conversation with your family and friends about growing some of your own food. You’d be astonished just how much could be grown in a small space – consider joining a community garden e.g., Community Roots www.communityroots.ie  
Fresh herbs, grow despite you and almost favour poor soil. (Forget basil, it’s out of season,  hails from sunnier climes and hates the Irish Winter).
If you’ve never grown a thing in your life, a fun thing to do is to buy a bunch of scallions, Use some of the green tops, plant the rest individually into soil, a raised bed, barrel or pot, they’ll continue to grow and you can go on snipping the juicy tops every time you need a little green onion for scrambled eggs, an omelette or frittata…
For Christmas, how about giving packets of seeds as a pressie, maybe a digging fork and trowel or even a wheelbarrow plus a How to get Started, gardening book.
For example, Klaus Laitenberger’s books ‘The Self-Sufficient Garden’, ‘Vegetables for the Irish Garden’ and ‘Fruit and Vegetables for the Polytunnel and Greenhouse’ are brilliant for Irish conditions as are the GIY Books, written by Mick Kelly and his team of passionate Grow it Yourselfers, maybe even ‘Grow, Cook, Nourish’…
It’s hard to beat the feeling of satisfaction and joy one gets from harvesting some of your own homegrown produce. You’ll want everyone to know you grew it and won’t want to waste a scrap. You’ll relish and appreciate every delicious morsel so much more than picking it off a supermarket shelf, plus you’re unlikely to spray it with toxic chemicals that you know will damage both the precious soil and your family’s health.
Share with your neighbours, and if you have a glut, have fun, making chutney and pickles or just freeze the surplus for another occasion.
We’ve still got lots of root vegetables and kale in the garden to see us through the winter months. Check out your local shop and Farmers’ Market.
How about making some yummy presents for Christmas hampers…

Sunchoke Soup with Chorizo Crumbs

Sunchoke is the US name for Jerusalem artichokes, a sadly neglected winter vegetable. They look like knobbly potatoes and are a nuisance to peel, but if they are very fresh you can sometimes get away with just giving them a good scrub. Not only are they a smashing vegetable but they are also delicious in soups and gratins and are high in inulin. They are a real gem from the gardener’s point of view because the foliage grows into a hedge and provides shelter and cover for both compost heaps and pheasants! Despite their name, apparently, they have no connection to Jerusalem, their name is an aberration of girasol, the French word for artichoke because the flavour is reminiscent of artichoke hearts.

Serves 8-10

50g butter

560g onions, peeled and chopped

1.15kg Jerusalem artichokes, scrubbed, peeled and chopped

salt and freshly ground pepper

1.1 litres light chicken stock 

600ml creamy milk approx.

Garnish

Chorizo Crumbs (see recipe)

Melt the butter in a heavy bottomed saucepan, add the onions and artichokes. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper, cover and sweat gently for 10 minutes approx.  Add the stock and cook until the vegetables are soft. Liquidise and return to the heat. Thin to the required flavour and consistency with creamy milk and adjust the seasoning.

Serve in soup bowls or in a soup tureen. Garnish with chorizo crumbs.

Note

This soup may need more stock depending on thickness required.

Chorizo Crumbs

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

Makes 175g

4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

125g chorizo, peeled and cut into 5mm dice

100g coarse breadcrumbs

Put the oil into a cool pan, add the diced chorizo.  Toss on a low heat until the oil starts to run and the chorizo begins to crisp.  Careful it’s easy to burn the chorizo, the oil should be BARELY warm.  Drain through a metal sieve, save the oil and return to the pan.

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

Parsnip or Jerusalem Artichoke Crisps

We serve these delicious crisps on warm salads, as a garnish for roast pheasant or Guinea fowl and as a topping for Parsnip or root vegetable soup.  Also a welcome school lunch snack.

* Delicious crisps may be made from other vegetables apart from the much loved potato.  Celeriac, beetroot, leek and even carrots are also good.

Serves 6 – 8

1 large parsnip or 3-4 Jerusalem artichokes

sunflower oil

salt

Heat good quality oil in a deep fryer to 150°C/300°F.

Notice the lower frying temperature because of the high sugar content in root vegetables. 

Scrub and peel the parsnips.  Either slice into wafer thin rounds or peel off long slivers lengthways with a swivel top peeler.   Allow to dry out on kitchen paper.

Drop a few at a time into the hot oil, they colour and crisp up very quickly.  Drain on kitchen paper and sprinkle lightly with salt.

Kale Crisps

Suddenly Kale is the coolest thing, it’s all over the place, on restaurant menus, in Farmers’ Markets, even on supermarket shelves – kale crisps are the snack of the moment. I’m not complaining. I love kale and it’s super nutritious, we grow four varieties here at the school – Red Russian, Asparagus Kale, Curly Kale and Raggedy Jack.  We find curly kale best for this recipe.

Makes lots

250g curly kale

2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

salt, a little sugar

Preheat the oven to 150°C/Gas Mark 2.

Strip the leaves off the kale stalks, tear in large bite sized bits, approximately 5 x 5cm and put in a bowl.  Sprinkle with extra virgin olive oil, a little salt and sugar, toss and spread out in a single layer on two baking trays. 

Bake in the preheated oven for 10-15 minutes or so until crisp.  Transfer to a wire rack to cool and crisp further.  Enjoy. 

Angels Hair (Carrot Jam)

An enchanting name for carrot jam.  Sophie Grigson shared this recipe when she taught a course at the Ballymaloe Cookery School in 1993.  I’m loving Sophie’s new book ‘A Curious Absence of Chickens: A journal of life, food and recipes from Puglia’.

600g carrots

500g caster sugar

zest of 2 large lemon, cut into strips

freshly squeezed juice of 2 large lemon

6 cardamom pods, split

Trim and scrape the carrots.  Grate on a medium sized grater.  Put into a pan with the sugar, lemon zest and juice and the cardamom pods.  Heat gently until the sugar dissolves, then boil hard until the mixture is very thick. 

Place into a warmed, sterilised jar and seal tightly. 

Serve on scones, wee buns or with goat’s cheese.

Gravy

Twice last week, I got a request for a few tips on how to make really great gravy. A super tasty gravy is always part of a roast dinner and certainly an essential part of the magic of a traditional Christmas feast. 

So here are a few of my top tips.

The best gravy is made in the roasting tin after the cooked bird or joint of meat has been removed. The caramelised juices that accumulate at the bottom of the tin are packed with flavour. There will be a little fat too but skim that off carefully and save for making delicious roasties. You’ll need some really good well-flavoured stock and now is the time to start to build up a stash in your freezer. Stock is a flavoured liquid made from bones and poultry carcasses and giblets when available. Add lots of root vegetables, carrot, celery, onions, the green tops of leeks when you have them, a few peppercorns, no salt, parsley stalks, fresh herb trimmings. Fish stock takes just 20 mins to simmer and is made from fish bones, vegetable stock is made from lots of vegetables including mushroom stalks. I love to add a little ginger too, even peelings add a little extra something.

No brassicas (cabbage family) because the flavour taints the stock. No potatoes either because they soak up rather than add flavour.

Neither are beets a good idea, that’s unless you want to make Borsch or don’t mind having a pink gravy.

You’ll also need some roux to thicken the liquid gravy. As you can see from the recipe included, it’s super simple to make and a brilliant standby ingredient to keep in a covered box in the fridge.

Cranberry sauce is also made in minutes, look out for some fresh, preferably Irish cranberries, I like a simple cranberry sauce but of course you can zhush it up with citrus jest, chilli and spices or even port if you fancy.

Breadcrumbs are also great to have in the freezer, so save every scrap of stale bread, including the crusts to make into crumbs. Go the whole hog and make up a few batches of stuffing, freeze and have it ready to pop into your turkey on Christmas Day and also a traditional bread sauce if that floats your boat and it’s certainly a favourite of mine.

Now I want to add something else to this column, it’s a stollen. The traditional German Christmas Cake, a rich fruity loaf with a layer of marzipan tucked inside.

Make it now and hide it away to share with friends at Christmas. This is the recipe from my most recent book, The New Ballymaloe Bread Book. You could make several and gift them to friends, a change from the traditional Christmas Cake or maybe as well as.

Chicken Stock

This recipe is just a guideline. If you have just one carcass and can’t be bothered to make a small quantity of stock, why not freeze the carcass, and save it up until you have six or seven carcasses and giblets, then you can make a really good-sized pot of stock and get best value for your fuel.

Stock will keep for several days in the refrigerator. If you want to keep it for longer, boil it up again for 5-6 minutes every couple of days; allow it to get cold and refrigerate again. Stock also freezes perfectly. For cheap containers, use large yogurt cartons or plastic milk bottles, then you can cut them away from the frozen stock without a conscience if you need to defrost it in a hurry!

Makes about 3.5 litres

2-3 raw or cooked chicken, preferably organic carcasses, or a mixture of both giblets from the chicken (neck, heart, gizzard – save the liver for a different dish)

1 onion, sliced

1 leek, split in two

2 outside celery stalks or 2 lovage leaves

1 carrot, cut into chunks

a few parsley stalks

sprig of thyme

6 peppercorns

Chop up the carcasses as much as possible. Put all the ingredients into a saucepan and cover with about 3.4 litres (7 pints) cold water. Bring to the boil. Skim the fat off the top with a tablespoon. Simmer very gently for 3-4 hours. Strain and remove any remaining fat. Do not add salt.

Gravy

For one roast chicken, double or triple the quantity for a turkey or goose.

600-900ml homemade chicken stock

flaky sea salt and freshly ground pepper

After the bird or joint has roasted and been removed to a low oven to rest. Tilt the roasting tin to one corner, spoon off the surplus fat from the juices and return the roasting pan to the stove. Deglaze the pan juices with the fat free stock from the giblets and bones (you will need 600-900ml depending on the size of the chicken). Using a whisk, stir and scrape well to dissolve the caramelized meat juices in the roasting pan. Boil it up well, season and thicken with a little roux if you like (the gravy should not be thick). Taste and correct seasoning, serve in a hot gravy boat.

Roux

110g butter

110g flour

Melt the butter and cook the flour in it for 2 minutes on a low heat, stirring occasionally.  Use as required.  Roux can be stored in a cool place and used as required or it can be made up on the spot if preferred.  It will keep at least a fortnight in a refrigerator.

Cranberry Sauce

Cranberry Sauce is also delicious served with roast turkey, game and some rough pâtés and terrines. We enjoy this simple Cranberry Sauce best.  It will keep in your fridge for several weeks.  It is also great with white chocolate mousse or as a filling for a meringue roulade.

Fresh cranberries keep for weeks on end but also freeze perfectly.

Serves 6 approximately

175g fresh or frozen, preferably Irish cranberries

4 tablespoons water

75g granulated sugar

Put the fresh cranberries in a heavy-based stainless steel or cast-iron saucepan with the water – don’t add the sugar yet as it tends to toughen the skins.  Bring them to the boil, cover and simmer until the cranberries pop and soften, about 7 minutes.  Remove from the heat and stir in the sugar until dissolved.  It should be soft and juicy, add a little warm water if it has accidently over cooked.

Serve warm or cold.

Mary Jo’s Stollen

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

My lovely American friend and legendary baker, Mary Jo McMillin, shared this delicious stollen recipe with me.  It’s a three-day process but really worth it.

Stollen is a fruit bread, speckled with nuts, spices and dried or candied fruit, coated with icing sugar and often containing marzipan. It is a traditional German Christmas bread and apparently was baked for the first time at the Council of Trent in 1545.

Makes 2 x 700g cakes

Brandied Fruit

250g mixed fruit (sultanas, currants, candied peel and/or diced glacé cherries)

2 tablespoons brandy

Yeast Sponge Starter:

15g fresh yeast (or 1 x 7g sachet of dried yeast)

115ml tepid milk

115g strong white flour

Dough:

55g caster sugar

grated rind of ½ lemon

110g butter, softened

2 eggs

5g salt

250g strong white flour

To Finish:

175g marzipan (see recipe)

2 tablespoons melted butter

3-4 tablespoons icing sugar

Day 1

Mix the dried fruit with the brandy in a bowl.  Cover with cling film and allow the fruit to macerate overnight.

Day 2

To make the yeast sponge starter, crumble the fresh or dried yeast into the tepid milk in a medium bowl.  Set aside in a warm, draught-free place.  After about 5 minutes, it should be creamy and slightly frothy on top.  Mix in the flour and beat well with a wooden spoon.  Cover with cling film and allow to rest in a warm, draught-free place for 30-45 minutes, until light and well risen.

Meanwhile, put the caster sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer.  Add the lemon rind and rub it into sugar with your fingertips.  Add the butter and beat with the paddle attachment until creamy.  Add the eggs one at a time, beating well between each addition.  Add the salt, scrape down the edges of the bowl with a spatula and continue to beat for 1-2 minutes, until soft.

Add the risen yeast sponge to the creamed mixture along with the 250g strong white flour.  Switch to the dough hook attachment and knead on a medium speed for 10 minutes, until the dough is silky and soft.  It should not stick to your fingers.

Cover the bowl and allow the dough to rise at room temperature for 2-2 ½ hours, until doubled in size.

Knock back the dough and scrape it out onto a clean flour-dusted surface.  Flatten to 1cm and sprinkle the brandy-soaked fruit on top.  Roll up like a Swiss roll and knead the fruit into the dough.  The dough may grow sticky but avoid adding more flour.  Scrape fruited dough into a bowl, cover and refrigerate overnight.

Day 3

Remove the dough from the fridge and scrape it out onto a lightly floured surface.  Divide in half.  Shape each half into an oval and roll to about 2cm thick.  Make an indentation lengthways along the centre of the dough and lay a 75g long sausage-shaped piece of marzipan on it.  Fold over and press to seal.  Place each oval approximately 5cm apart on a parchment-lined baking tray.

Cover with a clean tea towel and allow to rise in a warm, draught-free place for 4-5 hours, until doubled in size.

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

Spray the loaves with a water mister.  Bake in the preheated oven for 30-35 minutes, until deep golden and fully cooked.

While still hot, brush with melted butter, then sieve some icing sugar thickly over the top.

Cool well on wire racks before slicing.  The stollen will keep wrapped for four or five days and may be frozen.

Marzipan

So versatile and delicious.  Use marzipan to stuff croissants, brioche or pastries.

Makes 300g

110g granulated sugar

62ml water

175g ground almonds

1 small egg white

natural almond extract, to taste (do not use more than 4 drops)

Put the sugar and water in a deep saucepan over a medium heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar.  Bring to the boil, then cover the pan for 2 minutes to steam any sugar from the saucepan sides.   Remove the cover and boil rapidly just to the thread stage (106-113°C on a candy thermometer).

Remove the pan from the heat.  Stir the syrup for a second or two, until cloudy.  Stir in the ground almonds.  Set aside to cool briefly.

Lightly whisk the egg white, then add the almond extract and stir this into the almond mixture.  Transfer the paste from the saucepan to a bowl.  Cool. 

Knead the cool marzipan – it should feel like moulding clay.  Put in a bowl or jar, cover and use as required. 

This will keep for months stored in a covered box in the fridge.

Top Tip – how to make breadcrumbs!

Any time you have a slice or two of bread or a heel left over, make breadcrumbs. I’ve seen breadcrumbs for sale for more than the price of a loaf of bread for a 250g bag, so let me share the secret of how simple it is to make your own.

You can make breadcrumbs by grating squares of stale bread on the coarsest part of a box grater. The breadcrumbs won’t be as uniform as those made in a food processor, but that’s fine. This doesn’t work with modern sliced bread, which tends to be more rubbery. Breadcrumbs are normally made with white yeast bread, but soda breadcrumbs are also delicious. Any time you have stale bread, get into the habit of whizzing it in the food processor, putting the breadcrumbs in a bag and popping it into the freezer. They don’t freeze solid, so you can get to them at any time. There’s something psychological about having them at the ready, which will make you more inclined to use them in stuffings, for coating fish, in plum puddings, croquettes, fish cakes and bread sauce, or as buttered crumbs or pangrattato.

Listowel Food Fair

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

Mary Keane’s Listowel Mutton Pies

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

Serves 8

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

salt and ground white pepper

For the Pastry

900g plain flour

110g margarine or butter (Mary insisted on margarine)

850ml buttermilk

½ teaspoon salt

egg wash

For the Mutton Broth

mutton or hogget bones, about 2.5kg

3-4 large onions, peeled and quartered

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

salt and freshly ground black pepper

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

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

Preheat the oven to 230°C/Gas Mark 8.

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

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

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

Ballymaloe Sourdough Bread

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

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

Makes 1 loaf

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

200g cold water

230g strong white flour

70g malted/granary flour

20g rye flour

5g wheat germ

11g salt

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ballymaloe Balloons (Cheats Doughnuts)

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

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

Makes about 10

150g white flour

2 teaspoons caster sugar

1 level teaspoon baking powder

pinch of salt

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

light olive or vegetable oil, for deep-frying

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

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

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

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

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

World Vegan Month

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Serves 6

110g dried black-eyed beans

110g chickpeas

110g fresh mushrooms (use chestnut mushrooms if available)

3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

½ tsp whole cumin seeds

1cm piece of cinnamon stick

75g onion, chopped

2 cloves of garlic, very finely chopped

200g fresh or tinned tomatoes, peeled and chopped

1 ½ tsp ground coriander seeds

1 tsp ground cumin seeds

½ tsp ground turmeric

pinch of sugar

¼ tsp cayenne pepper

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

freshly ground black pepper

250g cooked potatoes, diced into 2cm pieces

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

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

½ tbsp fresh mint leaves

Accompaniment

plain boiled rice

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

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

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

Serve with plain boiled rice and a good green salad.

Spicy Roast Chickpeas

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

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

Makes 100g roasted weight

400g can chickpeas

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

Preheat the oven to 220°C/Gas Mark 7.

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

Carrot and Spring Onion Fritters

We vary the vegetables with the season.

Makes 16

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

4 tbsp self-raising flour

2 tsp roasted and ground coriander

2 tsp roasted and ground cumin

½ tsp paprika plus ½ tsp smoked paprika

generous pinch of salt

150g carrots, grated

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

extra virgin olive oil for frying

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

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

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

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

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

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

Burmese Palm Sugar and Coconut Pancakes

Makes 3-4 large pancakes

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

80g sticky/glutinous rice flour

30g rice flour

100g desiccated coconut

125ml water

100g palm sugar (or brown sugar)

8 tbsp water

peanut or sunflower oil for shallow frying

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

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

To Serve

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

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

Fudgy Chocolate Mousse Cake

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

Serves 8 – 10

225g Doves Farm gluten-free white flour

1 ½ tsp bicarbonate of soda

½ tsp salt

1 ½ tsp instant espresso coffee

75g cocoa (we use Valrhona)

375ml hot water

90g coconut oil

300g soft dark brown sugar

2 tsp cider vinegar

Dark Chocolate Icing

175g icing sugar

50g cocoa powder

75g coconut oil

4 tbsp water

110g caster sugar

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

Preheat the oven to 180°C/Gas Mark 4.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pumpkins and Squash

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

Pumpkin/Squash varieties

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

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

Pumpkin Spice Scones

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

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

450g plain white flour

2-3 tsp pumpkin spice (see below)

pinch of salt

1 heaped tsp plus 1 rounded tsp baking powder

25g caster sugar

75g butter

2 small free-range eggs

200ml approx. milk to mix

Glaze

egg wash (saved from scones)

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

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

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

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

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

Serve split in half with butter.

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

Pumpkin Spice

1 tsp ground cinnamon (not cassia)

¼ tsp ground nutmeg

¼ tsp ground ginger

scant ⅛ tsp ground cloves

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

Pumpkin Soup with Rosemary Oil

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

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

Serves 6

50g butter

150g chopped potatoes, 7mm dice

110g peeled diced onions, 7mm dice

salt and freshly ground black pepper

350g chopped well-flavoured pumpkin, 7mm dice

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

3 tbsp fresh rosemary, chopped

Rosemary Oil

110ml extra virgin olive oil

2 tbsp fresh rosemary, chopped

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

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

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

To Serve

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

Marinated Chicken with Roast Pumpkin Salad

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

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

Serves 6

6 chicken breasts, wings still attached

1 soup spoon extra virgin olive oil

Marinade

4 sprigs of thyme

8 cloves of garlic, peeled

4 branches of rosemary

1 small onion, peeled and chopped

½ tsp freshly ground black pepper

a large bunch of flat-leaf parsley, leaves picked

100ml extra virgin olive oil

juice of 1 lemon

100g Dijon mustard

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

Preheat the oven to 200°C/Gas Mark 6.

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

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

Roast Pumpkin and Almond Salad

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

1kg pumpkin

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

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

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

a small bundle of thyme

a small bunch of sage

3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped

grated zest of 1 unwaxed lemon

a big pinch of dried chilli flakes

salt and black pepper

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

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

a bunch of mint, leaves picked and torn

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

Preheat the oven to 220°C/Gas Mark 7.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Serves 6

600g butternut squash or other orange-fleshed winter squash

4 stems of celery, trimmed and thinly sliced

5 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

1 onion, chopped

1 x 400g tin of chopped tomatoes

salt and freshly ground black pepper

2 tbsp caster sugar

4 tbsp red wine vinegar

1 tsp ground cinnamon

3 tbsp chopped flat-leaf parsley

45g flaked almonds, toasted

40g raisins

2 tbsp capers, rinsed if salted

100g black olives, stoned and sliced

a small handful of mint leaves, roughly chopped

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

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

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

Butternut Squash and Coconut Curry

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

Serves 4-6

225g onion, peeled and finely chopped

25g butter

1 tbsp olive oil

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

2 tsp black mustard seeds

1 tsp cumin seeds

1 tsp fennel seeds

1 tsp ground turmeric

1 tsp ground coriander

seeds from 8 green cardamom pods, lightly crushed

20g fresh root ginger, peeled and finely chopped

3 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped

2 green chillies, deseeded and finely chopped

sea salt and black pepper

1 x 400g tin chopped tomatoes

400ml vegetable stock or water

200ml coconut milk

handful fresh coriander leaves

rice

Mint or Coriander Yoghurt

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

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

Mint or Coriander Yoghurt

300ml yoghurt

4 tbsp coarsely chopped coriander or mint

Mix the yoghurt with the coriander or mint.

Tuscany

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fennel Pesto (Pesto al Finocchietto Selvatico)

Loved this Spannocchia riff on pesto.

Serve with pasta or on crostini.

It should be a thicker consistency for crostini.

Makes 2 x 200ml jars

Parmesan cheese, freshly grated, (gritty)

almonds or cashew nuts 

2 large cloves of garlic 

110g wild fennel

salt and freshly ground black pepper 

175-225ml extra virgin olive oil 

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

Stuffed Spinach Ravioli with Butter and Sage Sauce 

(Ravioli di Spinaci e Ricotta con Burroe Salvia)

Salt helps to develop the gluten.

Serves 6   

Homemade Pasta 

600g flour 

6 eggs

3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil 

salt 

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

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

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

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

Ravioli Filling 

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

500g spinach or chopped chard and other greens

2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil 

2 cloves garlic, sliced

1 chilli, finely chopped (optional)

500g ricotta cheese, drained 

1 egg 

3 tbsp grated Parmesan cheese

nutmeg 

salt and freshly ground black pepper 

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

Sauce 

75g butter 

8-10 fresh sage leaves 

45g grated Parmesan cheese, or as desired 

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

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

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

Serves 6 

1kg pork loin or neck/cappacuolo

5-6 sage leaves 

1 sprig rosemary 

fennel leaves and flowers if available

flaky sea salt and freshly ground black pepper 

fennel seeds

4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil 

Preheat the oven to 220°C/Gas Mark 7.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Note 

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

A Salad of Foraged Greens and Flowers

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

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

Plants used for the salad should be young and fresh.

Italian Dressing

1 tbsp fresh lemon juice or Balsamic vinegar

3 tbsp extra virgin Tuscan olive oil

sea salt and freshly cracked pepper

sugar to taste, use only with lemon juice

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

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

Fig Leaf Panna Cotta

Serve with candied figs or a compote of fruit.

Serves 8-10

1 litre light cream (half milk/half cream)

4 tbsp sugar 

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

3 sheets of gelatine 

1 egg yolk 

 4 tbsp of milk

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

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

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

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

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

Serve on fresh fig leaves with candied figs.

Toronto

Food is my subject so everywhere I travel. I’m on the lookout for new foods, new flavours, the latest food trends, (new to me) ingredients and techniques.
Before I leave, I do lots of research and seek insider information to build a list of ‘not to be missed’ places from street stalls and cafés to high end fine dining establishments. The latter are often my least favourites.  I’m fast tiring of exotic foamy presentations and skid marks on plates, and ever more ludicrous dining experiences at extortionate guilt-inducing prices.
On a recent trip to Canada, I ate some delicious things, but one of the most memorable was something called Run over Potato at Miznon, an Israeli sandwich place on Bay Street in downtown Toronto. It came on a gold rectangular cardboard tray and looked positively unappealing. It turned out to be three or four, first steamed then roasted potatoes squished between two sheets of parchment on a smear of crème fraîche with garlic, spring onions and dill, drizzled with extra-virgin oil and sprinkled with freshly cracked pepper and flaky sea salt. Couldn’t have looked less appetising but it was still warm and super delicious.
At the Toronto International Festival of Authors in the Harbourfront Centre, I quizzed Mark Schatzker, the food writer from the Globe and Mail about Toronto food. He was adamant that I mustn’t leave Toronto without tasting butter chicken roti (check out Roti Mahal), sushi pizza and bubble tea if that’s your thing but I don’t love bubble tea.
I was on my way to Calgary to speak at the Terroir Talk Symposium but my principal reason for visiting Toronto was to catch up with my friend Bonnie Stern who owned a cooking school in Toronto for many years. We’ve shared many bonding experiences together, including surviving the rare experience of going down the chute in the emergency evacuation of an aeroplane in Narita airport in Japan in the 1990s. We haven’t seen each other for well over a decade so had lots of catching up to do. Bonnie who is a wonderful cook and a beloved teacher took me to many of her favourite haunts including Honest Weight, a super little café that serves spanking fresh fish and Soma chocolate maker who makes exquisite chocolate from ethical sources. We also visited Downsview City Farm and had a tour with Ran Goel of the collective of CSA Farms in the suburbs who grows beautiful organic produce to nourish the local community. A really inspirational project that could be replicated in any city.
Lots of delicious food including dinner at a Kiin, a much loved Vietnamese restaurant and another memorable meal at Restaurant 20 Victoria where chef/owner Chris White and his entire team were over the moon having just been awarded a Michelin Star the previous night. We were joined by Bonnie’s daughter Anna Rupert who was co-author of Bonnie’s latest book with the appealing title ‘Don’t Worry, Just Cook’ – it’s full of gems for the sort of home cooked food we all love including Chirshi, a multi-purpose pumpkin purée from the aforementioned cookbook just in time for the squash and pumpkin season.  A brilliant standby base for many good things. 

Here are some recipes to whet your appetite.

Chirshi

Recipe taken from Don’t Worry, Just Cook by Bonnie Stern and Anna Rupert published by Appetite, Random House

I first learned about chirshi, the delicious Tunisian and Libyan pumpkin spread, from my friend, Israeli food journalist and author Gil Hovav.  He makes it very spicy and garlicky (like it is supposed to be), but it is very versatile and can be adapted in so many ways that it will surely become a family staple, as it is in mine.  It is a perfect vegetarian/vegan appetizer and also makes a great vegetable side dish.  Serve it as is, or sprinkled with pumpkin seeds, coriander, pomegranate seeds, goat or feta cheese, or drizzled with tahini, thick yoghurt, or labneh.  I also love it sprinkled with Aleppo pepper or sweet paprika.  Serve with challah, pita, tortilla chips, or raw vegetables.  Leftovers can be made into soup (add broth or water) or pancakes (add eggs and flour). 

Makes 2 ½ – 3 cups

2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

1 tbsp tomato paste

1 tsp Kosher salt plus more to taste

450g butternut squash, peeled and cut into 4cm chunks

450g sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 4cm chunks

1-2 garlic cloves, grated

85g pure tahini

2-3 tbsp fresh lemon juice, to taste

1 tbsp fresh thyme leaves

1 tsp – 1 tbsp harissa or other hot sauce plus more to taste

½ tsp smoked or sweet paprika

freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 190°C and line a baking tray with parchment paper.  In a small bowl, combine the olive oil with the tomato paste and salt.  Place the squash and sweet potatoes on the lined baking tray and toss well with the olive oil mixture to coat.  Roast for 30-40 minutes or until tender and lightly browned.  Let cool on the baking tray.  Transfer the vegetables to a bowl and mash with a potato masher or fork if you like it slightly chunky like I do, or purée coarsely or until smooth in a food processor.

Mix in the garlic, tahini, lemon juice, thyme, harissa and smoked paprika.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Spread on a platter and serve as is, or sprinkle with pumpkin seeds, coriander, pomegranate seeds or any ingredients mentioned in the introduction.

Tuna Poke

Recipe taken from Don’t Worry, Just Cook by Bonnie Stern and Anna Rupert published by Appetite, Random House

Poke, originally from Hawaii, is now popular around the world.  There are all sorts of poke with different fish (raw or cooked) and sauces.  My version is a riff on the famous ahi tuna poke dip at the Kahala Resort in Honolulu, where I first tried it.  This also makes a great main-course salad, sandwich filling, topping on a rice bowl, or filling for sushi rolls.  Chopped cooked shrimp works well in place of the tuna.

Serves 8

115g mayonnaise

1 tbsp fresh lime juice

1 tbsp soy sauce

50g coarsely chopped fresh coriander

3 tbsp coarsely chopped pickled ginger

½ tsp toasted sesame oil

350g raw sushi-grade tuna, cut into small cubes

½ ripe avocado

To Serve

Little Gem lettuce cups

Combine the mayonnaise with the lime juice and soy sauce, followed by the coriander, ginger and sesame oil.

Add the tuna and refrigerate until ready to serve.

Dice the avocado and gently stir into the poke just before serving.

Serve in lettuce cups.

Korean Marinated Flank Steak

Recipe taken from Don’t Worry, Just Cook by Bonnie Stern and Anna Rupert published by Appetite, Random House

This easy marinade is perfect for steak, Miami ribs, lamb chops and tofu steaks.  Flank steak is quite lean, but if it is grilled rare and then thinly sliced across the grain, it is very tender.  When deciding how big of a steak to cook, it’s helpful to keep in mind how much waste (bone, fat or gristle) is typical for the type of steak you are using.  Because a flank steak is boneless and has very little fat, 900g might be plenty for six people or maybe even more, depending on how much other food you are serving.  Flank steaks come in different sizes, so you may need one or two.

Serves 6-8

130g soy sauce

50g granulated sugar or light brown sugar

2 garlic cloves, grated

2.5cm piece fresh ginger, peeled and grated

1 tbsp toasted sesame oil

900g flank steak

3 green onions (scallions), sliced on the diagonal

1 tbsp toasted sesame seeds, optional

In a bowl, mix the soy sauce with the sugar, garlic, ginger and sesame oil until the sugar dissolves.  Transfer to a baking dish along with the steak.  Turn the steak a few times to coat.  Marinate for 1 hour at room temperature, or up to overnight in the refrigerator.

If you remember, remove the steak from the refrigerator 30 minutes before grilling (if you forget, don’t worry, it just may take a few extra minutes to cook).  Heat the barbecue on high.  Grill the steak for 4-5 minutes per side, or until an instant-read thermometer reaches 52-54°C when inserted into the thickest part.  Keep a close eye because flank steak can become tough and chewy when overcooked.

Slice thinly against the grain (it may be a bit tough if sliced too thick).  Sprinkle with green onions (scallions) and sesame seeds, if using.  This is delicious served hot or at room temperature and leftovers make for hearty salads or sandwiches.

Bonnie’s Rugelach

Recipe taken from Don’t Worry, Just Cook by Bonnie Stern and Anna Rupert published by Appetite, Random House

This is my most requested cookie, and the one that I always gave to visiting chefs and teachers who taught at my cooking school.  I gave it to Yotam Ottolenghi, and he and Helen Goh included it in their cookbook Sweet – I was a little excited to say the least.  It is also the cookie that has travelled the world.  Not because I took it around the world, but because I once took an entire suitcase full of my rugelach to Israel to give to friends, but the airline lost the suitcase.  It was returned to me 1 week later and I was informed it had travelled far and wide.  Everyone has a slightly different recipe and technique for rugelach, and there are some unique cultural variations.  During the pandemic, rugelach went the way of the babka, with all kinds of sweet and savoury fillings.  This is the recipe I have always used, and while I like to look at the variations from a creative standpoint (e.g., pizza rugelach, everything bagel, smores, blue cheese, pumpkin), from an eating standpoint, I am sticking with these.

Makes 48 cookies

Pastry

225g butter, cold and cut into evenly sized chunks

240g all-purpose (plain) flour

225g full-fat brick-style cream cheese, cold, cut into evenly sized chunks

Filling

225g light brown sugar

60g finely chopped roasted pecans

1 tsp cinnamon

170g best-quality apricot jam

Glaze

1 egg, beaten

110g coarse sprinkling sugar

For the pastry, cut the butter into the flour until crumbly.  This can be done in a food processor, in a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, or in a large bowl with a pastry blender.  Cut the cream cheese into the mixture until the dough just comes together.  Divide the dough into four balls, flatten each to approximately a 10cm round, wrap in parchment paper and refrigerate for a few hours or overnight.

For the filling, in a small bowl, combine the brown sugar, nuts and cinnamon.  Set aside. 

Preheat the oven to 180°C and line two baking trays with parchment paper.  Remove the dough from the refrigerator about 15 minutes before rolling.  Roll each ball into a 25 – 25 1/2cm circle.  (Lightly flour your work surface if necessary).  The circles do not have to be perfect – if they aren’t as good as you would like them, do not reroll, as in my experience, it never gets better.  But you will get better at rolling the dough with practice.  Spread each circle with about 2 tablespoons of apricot jam and sprinkle with one-quarter of the brown sugar mixture.  Cut each circle into 12 wedges, as if you were cutting a pizza (or 16, if you want them smaller).  Roll up each wedge from the outside/wide edge to the middle.  Place on the lined baking tray.  The unbaked cookies can be frozen flat on the baking trays, then transferred to resealable plastic bags once frozen, or you can freeze the cookies once baked.  If baking from frozen, they may take a few minutes longer to cook.

To glaze, brush each cookie with beaten egg and sprinkle with coarse sugar.

Bake for 20-25 minutes or until browned.  Cool for about 10 minutes on the baking tray, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.  These cookies freeze well. 

Note

Resist the temptation to overstuff, any extra jam or brown sugar will just ooze out of the rugelach when they bake and could burn.  If that happens, you can cut or trim with scissors when cool, or not worry about it.

Toronto Sushi Pizza – Crispy Sushi with Salmon, Avocado and Pickled Ginger

Ordinary cooked rice works perfectly too, though it’s not as sticky. 

This is a delicious combo.

leftover sushi rice or sticky rice

flaky sea salt

extra virgin olive oil

smoked salmon or gravlax

wedges of avocado

horseradish sauce or wasabi

pickled ginger

coriander sprigs (optional)

Line the base and sides of a small ‘lasagne’ dish with parchment paper.  Press the cooked rice into the dish so it’s about 1cm deep.  Cover and pop the block into the freezer for about 45 minutes.

Then unwrap, season with flaky sea salt.  Dust both sides with a little seasoned flour or cornflour.  Cut into fingers about 6 x 4cm.

Heat a little extra virgin olive oil in a wide, heavy frying pan.  Cook until crisp and golden on all sides (4-5 minutes).  Cool a little, spread a little horseradish sauce on each, add a strip of smoked salmon or gravlax, a wedge of avocado and a little pickled ginger and maybe a sprig of coriander.  Alternatively, use raw wild salmon when available and a dash of wasabi.  Dip in soy sauce and enjoy!

Basic Sushi Rice

Easy to do, just follow the instructions.

450g sushi rice “No 1 Extra Fancy”

600ml water

Vinegar Water

50ml rice wine vinegar

1 1/2 tablespoons sugar

2 1/2 teaspoons salt

Rinse the rice for 8-10 minutes in a colander or sieve under cold running water or until the water becomes clear.

‘Wake up’ the rice by sitting it in 600ml cold water for 30 to 45 minutes.   In the same water, bring to the boil and then cook for 10 minutes until all the water has been absorbed.  Do not stir, do not even take off the lid. Turn up the heat for 10 seconds before turning the heat off.  Remove the lid, place a tea towel over the rice, replace the lid and sit for 20 minutes.

Mix the rice wine vinegar, sugar and salt together in a bowl until dissolved.  Turn the rice out onto a big flat plate (preferably wooden).  While the rice is still hot, pour the vinegar solution over the rice and mix the rice and vinegar together in a slicing action with the aid of a wooden spoon.  Don’t stir.  You must do it quickly, preferably fanning the rice with the fan.  This is much easier if you have a helper.  Allow to cool on the plate, cover with a tea towel and use as desired.  (It will soak up the liquid as it cools.)

Oysters

There is an R in the month…so, hurrah, we’re in oyster season again and will be until the end of April 2024.
I love, love, love oysters, but didn’t always. I’d never even seen an oyster until I came to Ballymaloe in the late sixties and even then, I was very reluctant to taste. Everyone else around me seemed to be super excited about these strange looking molluscs so I decided I’d better pick up the courage to try them…then the dilemma, should I chew or just swallow?
I didn’t much like the first one or even the second. The oyster aficionados urged me to keep on trying. ‘You’ve got to eat five or six before you’ll start to relish them’ and how right they were. Suddenly I loved the delicious briny flavour and the slithery texture and now I will gleefully tuck into a dozen or more when I’m fortunate enough to have the opportunity.
Last year in the US, I went along to the Billion Oyster Project fundraiser (www.billionoysterproject.org) in the Navy Boatyard in Brooklyn. This is a New York City based not for profit initiative dreamed up by Murray Fisher, Pete Malinowski and friends from Fishers Island to re-populate New York harbour with a billion oysters by 2035. I tasted over 20 different oysters out of the 40 plus from all around the American coast. Many were very good, but I can now confidently say that there’s nothing to beat the flavour of Irish oysters, only the little Olympia oysters from the west coast around Puget Sound come close and believe me I’ve tried a few oysters in my day.
All over the world, there are oyster restoration projects underway for several very good reasons. Oysters are bivalves, filter feeders that clean the water which encourages marine plant life and allows sea life to recover. They also grow in clumps, which create a barrier to protect against coastal erosion – win, win all the way.
During the past few decades, the native Irish oyster almost became extinct, archaeologists have found oyster middens in Cork Harbour that date back to Neolithic times.
For centuries, oysters were overfished, a cheap source of highly nutritious coastal food, loaded with zinc, calcium, selenium as well as Vitamin A and Vitamin B12. At one stage, labourers could not be fed oysters too frequently similar to wild salmon when it was cheap and plentiful before overfishing decimated the stocks.
Rossmore Oysters in Cork Harbour developed a methodology for breeding oysters in saltwater beds on the edge of the estuary. The stocks are now gradually recovering, so there is growing optimism that the native Irish oyster, famed the world over for its unique, briny flavour, and superb texture may be saved from virtual extinction.
Once again native Irish oysters are being featured on top restaurant menus in London, Paris, Berlin….
Recently an Oyster Opening Championship was held at Bentley’s in London. The Irish ‘natives’ got a rapturous response from both chefs’ and oyster lovers.
The champion oyster opener from Bentley’s went on to win the world championships at the famous Galway Oyster Festival in September.
The flat native Irish oysters take four years to reach maturity and for my taste are best enjoyed au nature with maybe a drop of freshly squeezed lemon juice.
The more accessible gigas oysters in their beautiful curvaceous shells, mature faster in 18 months to 2 years. They too are delicious unadorned but also take well to tangy toppings and are delicious cooked in a variety of ways.
Who remembers with nostalgia, Declan Ryan’s delicious oysters with cucumber and beurre blanc from the Arbutus Lodge menu in the 1980s. Ballymaloe House still do oysters in champagne sauce occasionally (see my Examiner Column 11th February 2023), another exquisite oyster classic.
I also loved the smoked oysters that Joe Savage and The Smokin Soul Grill team shared at the Grub Circus during the recent Altogether Now Festival at Curraghmore in County Waterford. They had super grills and barbecue gear, but one could try smoking some in a tin box over a gas jet in your own kitchen. You’ll be surprised, even astonished at how irresistible they taste.
Cooked or smoked oysters are a delicious introduction to oysters if you don’t quite relish the idea of eating them unadorned and then there’s also oyster stew and crispy deep fried oysters.  Here is the recipe for oyster stew given to me in 1986 by the lovely Marion Cunningham and several of my other favourite oyster recipes. 
But most of all seek out the native Irish oysters, you may find some in the English Market in Cork City and give thanks that they have been saved from extinction.

How to Open an Oyster

You will need an oyster knife.

It’s wise to protect your hand with a folded tea towel when opening oysters.  Wrap the tea towel round your hand, then lay the deep shell on the tea towel with the wide end pointing inwards.   Grip the oyster firmly in your protected hand while you insert the tip of the knife into the hinge, twist to lever the two shells apart; you’ll need to exert quite a lot of pressure, so it’s foolhardy not to protect your hand well.   Then, slide the blade of the knife under the top shell to detach the oyster from the shell. Discard the top shell, then loosen the oyster from the deep shell, flip over to reveal the plump side, don’t lose the precious briny juice. 

Hot Oysters with Beurre Blanc and a Fine Julienne of Cucumber

A marriage made in heaven… 

Serves 4

16 rock or Japanese Oysters – we source our oysters from Rossmore Oysters in Cork Harbour,  www.oysters.co.uk

¼ cucumber

Beurre Blanc Sauce

3 tbsp white wine

3 tbsp white wine vinegar

1 tbsp finely chopped shallots

pinch of ground white pepper

175g butter, unsalted

1 tbsp cream

salt and freshly ground white pepper

lemon juice, to taste

To Serve

rock salt or seaweed

First make the beurre blanc.

Put the first four ingredients into a stainless steel saucepan, bring to the boil and reduce to about 2 tablespoons.  Add a generous tablespoon of cream and boil again until the cream begins to thicken.  Remove the saucepan from the heat, whisk in the butter in little pieces, put the saucepan back on a low heat, if necessary, the sauce should be just warm enough to absorb the butter.  Strain out the shallots.  Season with salt and freshly ground pepper, add a few drops of freshly squeezed lemon juice to taste.  Keep beurre blanc aside in a warm bain-marie until needed.

Peel the cucumber and cut into approximately 3cm blocks, cut into very fine julienne.  Use only the firm outside part of the cucumber, not the part with seeds which is soft. 

Scrub the oysters well.  Just before serving, put into a hot oven 250°C/Gas Mark 9 until they start to open. Using an oyster knife, remove and discard the top shell, place a little cucumber julienne on top of each oyster and coat with a spoonful of beurre blanc. 

To Serve

Place on warm serving plates sitting in a bed of rock salt or seaweed. 

Dervilla Whelan’s Native Oysters with Cucumber Water, Tomato Water or Rosé Mignonette

Dervilla O’Flynn, Head Chef at Ballymaloe House kindly shared her recipe with me.

We have access to beautiful oysters all year round in Ireland. The Native oysters are now available, we are using Rossmore Oyster Farm in Cork and Kelly’s in Galway on our menu.

Native and Gigas oysters are delicious served simply with lemon but if you want to add another element you can try one of these sauces.

Use sparingly so that you are just enhancing the oyster not masking its zingy, fresh taste

Oysters must always be firmly closed and alive before you open and eat them.

Cucumber Water

Serves 6

½ cucumber, not peeled

1 teaspoon Rosé Vinegar

¼- ½ juice of 1 lime

Maldon sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Blend all the ingredients together with a blender. Strain through fine muslin for a clean bright green water and chill.

You can finely dice a little bit more cucumber and add it to the water if you want the texture of cucumber as well.

We sometimes freeze the water and scratch with a fork for a cucumber granita which is gorgeous served on an oyster too.

To Serve

Nap each opened oyster with a teaspoon of cucumber water and enjoy.  

Tomato Water

This is Rory O’Connell’s recipe for tomato water which is sublime.

500g very ripe tomatoes

7 basil leaves

½ tsp caster sugar

½ level tsp Maldon sea salt

pinch of cracked black pepper

Cut the tomatoes into coarse pieces and place in a large bowl. Tear up the basil leaves and add in with the sugar, salt and pepper. Use a handheld blender to pulse chop the ingredients to a rough and coarse purée. Do not over blend as you will end up with a cloudy water that will spoil the appearance of the dish. Place the mixture in a large square of muslin, tie securely and hang over a bowl to allow the water to drip from the mixture. This can be done overnight if time allows.

When ready to serve, taste the tomato water and adjust the seasoning accordingly.

Nap each opened oyster with a teaspoon of tomato water and enjoy.

Rosé Mignonette

I gently heat these ingredients to take the raw edge off the sauce.

Serves 6

6 tbsp good quality rosé vinegar

1 banana shallot, finely diced

½ tsp freshly ground black pepper

Put all three ingredients in a small saucepan.

Turn on the lowest heat and stand beside it while it gently warms up. As soon as it starts to get warm, turn it off and let it cool completely.

Keep in the fridge until needed. It will keep for a few weeks.

To Serve

Nap each opened oyster with a half teaspoon of the Rosé Mignonette and enjoy.

Oysters with Namjim and Crispy Onions

An addictive combination. We use the Gigas oysters for this dish.

Serves 6-8

4 shallots or small onions, sliced

namjim (see recipe)

extra virgin olive oil

24 Gigas oysters

fresh seaweed, if available

sprigs of fresh coriander

Peel and slice the shallots or onions thinly. Spread out on kitchen paper to dry.

Meanwhile, make the najmim as per the instructions and keep in a glass jam jar.

Heat about 2.5cm of oil in a frying pan, then fry the onions until crisp and golden. Drain on kitchen paper.

To Serve

Lay a few sprigs of seaweed on each plate, if available.  Open the

oysters and nestle 3 or 4 on top of the seaweed.  Spoon a generous half teaspoon of namjim on top of each oyster and top with some crispy onions and a sprig of fresh coriander. Divine!

Namjim

Rory O’Connell’s version of this easy Thai dressing from his cookbook Master It is great with seafood, especially crab, and is also good with grilled beef, hot or cold. We like to combine it with grilled fish and a handful of mixed greens per person. The choice of chilli is yours, but in Thailand, several very hot bird’s eye chillies would be called for, making for a very hot result. I normally use a mild chilli so as not to rule out any of my guests enjoying it. If you know your audience well and they like it hot, then a bird’s eye chilli would be the ticket.

2 garlic cloves, peeled

4 tbsp fresh coriander, chopped

sea salt

1 green chilli, deseeded and chopped

2 shallots, finely chopped

3 tbsp lime juice

2 tbsp palm sugar

2 tbsp fish sauce (nam pla)

Place the garlic, coriander and a pinch of sea salt in a pestle and mortar and pound until well crushed. Add the chopped chilli and continue to pound. Add the chopped shallots, lime juice, palm sugar and fish sauce and mix. Taste and adjust the seasoning as necessary.

Smoked Oysters

Open the oysters and drain off the salty brine. Arrange on a fine wire rack. Alternatively, put the oysters into a very hot oven at 230°C/Gas Mark 8 for 4-5 minutes or until they pop open. Remove the semi-cooked oysters from the shells. Arrange on the wire rack.  Raw oysters should be cold smoked for an hour or so. Semi-cooked oysters should be ready in 35-45 minutes.

Serve on a salad or with hot buttered toast.

Oyster Stew with Hot Buttered Toast

This oyster stew recipe was given to me by one of my favourite American cooks Marion Cunningham, who serves it to friends and family on Christmas Eve around the kitchen table.

Serves 6

500ml milk

500ml cream

28 shelled oysters (400g approx. after shelling) with their liquor reserved – we source our oysters from Rossmore Oysters in Cork Harbour, www.oysters.co.uk

salt and freshly ground black pepper

30g butter

To Serve

lots of hot buttered toast

Heat the milk and cream in a saucepan, but don’t let it boil.  Add the oysters and their strained liquor.  Simmer just until the edges of the oysters curl a little.  Season to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper.   Add the butter and serve very hot with lots of hot buttered toast.

Letters

Past Letters