Darina’s Saturday Letter

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Back to School Fuel – Breakfast

Back to school…our little dotes are busily settling back into school, some making new friends others reacquainting with special pals from last term. It can be an anxious time for both children and parents and now we hear the deeply worrying statistics that anxiety and depression among children, teens and third level students is increasing at a really alarming rate. No doubt there are many contributory factors….the internet is an easy target, ‘helicopter parenting’…is a new one on me….. apparently it refers to parents who ‘hover overhead’, overseeing every aspect of a child’s life, rather than allowing them to acquire basic life skills, usually learned by trial and error.

Whatever the challenge, I am completely convinced that the food children eat is vitally important for both their physical and mental health and their ability to cope with the stresses of everyday life.

So of all our many responsibilities we have as parents and there are many, one of the most important of all is to make sure that our children eat real food. It’s an investment in their future both in health and socio economic terms. No one is saying this is easy in the frantic world we now inhabit, but somehow it must be done.

The morning is crazy busy in most households as parents try to get themselves and kids fed, school lunches made and their kids off to a crèche and/or school all before 8.00am.

So what to do, now I am going to sound unbearably bossy, but take my advice and ditch the cereal packets. I’m a big porridge fan, otherwise oatmeal fruit muesli or granola with a banana or some fresh fruit, All can be ready from the night before…

Children from seven upwards can learn how to make each of these and be proud of their achievements.

A simple fried egg, pretty much a whole protein and a slice of brown bread will set them up for the day. Most 5 or 6 year olds can learn how to fry an egg, Yes they can…. and they have the wit to know the pan is hot!

After all I’m the oldest of 9 kids, so no ‘helicopter parenting’ in our house, everyone had their own little jobs and so we inadvertently learned life skills and were proud of what we could do and anxious to help Mum (a widow at 36).

I’m a big believer in the value of freshly squeezed orange juice to provide a shot of vitamin C and many other good things each morning to protect from winter colds and flus. Buy a small electric juicer, they’re worth every penny and once again a 7 – 8 year old can make juice, pure and delicious with no additives (save and dry the citrus peels for firelighters).

This week I’m going to concentrate on a simple pre-school (or work) breakfast…. I urge you to make or seek out good bread and I’ve become more and more convinced that it needs to be made from organic flour as research clearly shows glyphosate residues in non-organic products. Look on it as an investment in your family’s health – save on supplements and meds and build up healthy gut biomes in all the family.

We can no longer say we don’t know the danger pesticides and herbicide residues are doing to our health, the research is there…

After all glyphosate is registered as an antibiotic and is known to cross the placenta barrier. Austria became the first country to Europe to ban glyphosate in June 2019, others will follow – It’s an extremely problematic subject but back to the kitchen….

Flahavan’s, the famous seventh generation family from Kilmacthomas in Co Waterford, sell organic oat flakes but their non-organic porridge is also glyphosate free because Flahavan’s banned their growers from using glyphosate over 20 years ago. Pat and Lily Lawlor’s creamy Kilbeggan Oatmeal too is organically grown and widely available. We are also big fans of Donal Creedon’s Macroom Oatmeal with its unique toasted flavour and texture.

Flaked oatmeal porridge can be made in minutes. Pinhead oats or Macroom can easily be made the night before and re-heated in just a few minutes the following morning when you are bleary eyed and trying to wake up. I love it with a sprinkling of soft brown sugar and a drop of Jersey cow milk, but I notice that the young people nowadays enjoy porridge with all manner of toppings. Fresh or stewed fruit, compotes, peanut butter, jam, honey, nuts…the more the merrier to give them energy and vitality to power through the day.

This fruit muesli, a Ballymaloe favourite for over 70 years, changes with the seasons. Add crushed berries or grated Irish dessert apples – they are in season now… If you have an apple tree you’ll probably have a glut, don’t waste a single one, they make delicious apple juice to drink fresh, freeze or try your hand at cider, but we are wandering away from breakfast!

Next week I’ll concentrate on and have lots of suggestions for the all

important lunch box, meanwhile a few staples for breakfast….

Kilbeggan Organic Porridge

Serves 2 -4

Mix a large cup of porridge oats with 2 cups of cold water or milk.  In a saucepan, bring slowly bring to the boil and simmer for 3 to 4 minutes stirring all the time.  Reduce cooking time if the oats are soaked overnight.   My grandchildren love porridge with peanut butter – sounds bizarre but it’s nutritious and delicious!

Variation

To further enrich your porridge, you can add your own selection of organic fresh fruits, nuts, honey, cinnamon…….

Macroom Oatmeal Porridge

Serves 4

Virtually every morning in Winter I start my day with a bowl of porridge.  Search out Macroom stoneground oatmeal which has the most delicious toasted nutty flavour.  It comes in a lovely old-fashioned red and yellow pack which I hope they never change.

155g (5 1/2ozs) Macroom oatmeal

1.2 litres (2 pints) water

1 level teaspoon salt

Obligatory accompaniment!

Soft brown sugar

Bring 5 cups of water to the boil, sprinkle in the oatmeal, gradually stirring all the time.  Put on a low heat and stir until the water comes to the boil.

Cover and simmer for 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Add the salt and stir again.  Serve with single cream or milk and soft brown sugar melting over the top.

Left over porridge can be stored in a covered container in the fridge – it will reheat perfectly the next day. Add more water if necessary.

Note

If the porridge is waiting, keep covered otherwise it will form a skin which is difficult to dissolve.

Ballymaloe Strawberry Muesli

Serves 8

This is a huge favourite with all our family and friends – its such a good recipe to know about because its made in minutes and so good. We vary the fruit through the seasons – strawberries, raspberries, loganberries, blueberries and grated Cox’s Orange Pippin apples or Ergemont Russet in the Autumn.

6 tablespoons rolled oatmeal (Quaker Oats)

8 tablespoons water

250g (8oz) fresh strawberries

2-4 teaspoons honey

Soak the oatmeal in the water for 8-10 minutes.  Meanwhile, mash the strawberries roughly with a fork and mix with the oatmeal.  Sweeten to taste with honey, a couple of teaspoons are usually enough but it depends on how sweet the strawberries are.

Serve with pouring cream and soft brown sugar.

Granola

Granola is a toasted breakfast cereal, it’s super easy to make in a large batch and will keep fresh for several weeks in a Kilner jar. You can add all types of dried fruit and nuts to the basic recipe and top it with all manner of good things to make it even more nutritious and energy boosting.

Serves 20

12oz (350g) honey or golden syrup

8fl oz (225g) oil e.g. sunflower

1lb 1oz (470g) oat flakes

7oz (200g) barley flakes

7oz (200g) wheat flakes

3 1/2oz (100g) rye flakes

5oz (150g) seedless raisins or sultanas

5oz (150g) peanuts/hazelnuts, or cashew nuts split and roasted

2 3/4oz (70g/1 cup) wheatgerm and /or millet flakes

2oz (50g) chopped apricots, 1/2 cup chopped dates etc. are nice too

toasted sunflower or pumpkin seeds are also delicious

Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4.

Mix oil and honey together in a saucepan, heat just enough to melt the honey.  Mix well into the mixed flakes. Spread thinly on two baking sheets.

Bake in the preheated oven for 20-30 minutes, turning frequently, making sure the edges don’t burn. It should be just golden and toasted, not roasted!

Allow to get cold.  Mix in the raisins or sultanas, roasted nuts, toasted seeds, chopped dates, apricots and wheatgerm.  Store in a screw top jar or a plastic box, keeps for 1-2 weeks.

Serve with sliced banana, milk or yoghurt.

A Fried Egg

Crispy at the edges and soft in the centre, fried eggs are probably the most common way of cooking eggs- even a child can do it…, utterly delicious if one starts with a perfectly fresh-free range egg. 

Keeping a few hens is not for everyone, but if it is a possibility for your family, it’s win-win all the day. The hens eat up household food scraps, mow the lawn as you move the coup around, provide chicken manure for your garden to enhance the fertility of the soil and best of all provide delicious fresh eggs the likes of which are almost impossible to source unless you have your own. What a brilliant food, you could hardly do better than go to school (or work) on an egg!
Heat a little pure bacon fat, butter or olive oil in a frying pan, when its just about sizzling break in the eggs one at a time but don’t overcrowd the pan.  Cook over a low heat if you like the eggs soft underneath or on a higher heat if you like them crispy.  Cook until the white is just set but the yolk soft.  Baste with hot fat if you like the top filmed over or cover the pan with a lid. Flip them over gently with a fish slice if that’s your preference.   Serve immediately on warm but not hot plates.

Scrambled Eggs

Perfectly scrambled eggs are rare indeed, though people’s perception of ‘perfect’ varies wildly. However, for ideal scrambled eggs (in my case, soft and creamy), really fresh organic eggs are essential. Nowadays, it’s become common practice to put the eggs into a hot pan, which gives a tough curd if you’re not careful. I prefer the old-fashioned way that my mother taught me: putting the eggs into a cold saucepan, whereby they scramble gently and slowly, and yield a softer, creamier curd. Scrambled eggs should always be served on warm plates but beware – if the plates are too hot, the scrambled egg can overcook between the stove and the table.

Serves 2

4 organic eggs

2 tablespoons whole milk

a knob of butter

salt and freshly ground pepper

Break the eggs into a bowl, add the milk and season with salt and pepper. Whisk well until the whites and yolks are mixed well. Over a low heat, put a blob of butter into a

cold saucepan, pour in the egg mixture and stir continuously, preferably with a flat-bottomed wooden spoon, until the eggs have scrambled into soft creamy curds.

Serve immediately on warm plates with lots of hot buttered toast or fresh soda bread.

Really great scrambled eggs need no further embellishment.

A Little Brown Soda Bread Loaf

The buttermilk in the shops is low fat but if you have access to rich, thick buttermilk, there is no need to add butter or extra cream.

 Bread is a staple in so many of our homes so the quality really matters….

This little loaf of brown soda bread is mixed in minutes and then just poured into a tin.  A few seeds can be sprinkled over the top or added to the dough for extra nourishment.  Why not weigh up x 5 times the amount of flour and salt (but not bread soda).  Mix well and each time just scoop out 450g (16oz), add bread soda and buttermilk – mix and pour into the tin.

Makes 1 loaf

225g (8oz) brown wholemeal flour (preferably stone-ground)

225g (8oz) plain white flour

1 teaspoon salt

1 level teaspoon bread soda (Bicarbonate of Soda/Baking Soda) sieved

450ml (16fl oz) buttermilk plus 2 tablespoons cream

A selection of sesame, pumpkin, sunflower and poppy seeds (optional)

1 loaf tin 13x20cm (5x8inch) approx. brushed with sunflower oil

First preheat the oven to 200°C/400°F/Gas Mark 6

Mix all the dry ingredients together in a large wide bowl, (if using cream, add to the buttermilk).  Make a well in the centre and pour all of the buttermilk. Using one hand, stir in a full circle starting in the centre of the bowl working towards the outside of the bowl until all the flour is incorporated. The dough should be soft. When it all comes together, a matter of seconds, turn it into the oiled tin – slide a knife down the centre of the loaf.  Sprinkle with a mixture of sesame, sunflower, pumpkin and poppy seeds.

Bake in the preheated oven for 60 minutes approximately.

(In some ovens it is necessary to turn the bread upside down on the baking sheet for 5-10 minutes before the end of baking) It will sound hollow when tapped.  Cool on a wire rack, wrapped in a clean tea-towel while hot if you prefer a softer crust.

Note:

1.  One could add 12g (1/2oz) fine oatmeal, 1 egg, and rub in 25g (1oz/1/4 stick) butter to the above to make a richer soda bread dough.

Note:  Bread should always be cooked in a fully pre-heated oven, but ovens vary enormously so it is necessary to adjust the temperature accordingly.

Climate Change….

I’m increasingly dismayed by the often ill-informed and self-righteous debate on climate change. For many – Stop eating meat . . . is considered to be the solution to all our planetary and climate change ills. Farmers of all persuasions are being ‘tarred with the same brush’ and vilified. . .

Some farming methods certainly need to be reviewed and there is a growing consensus that business as usual is no longer an option particularly for very intensive pig and poultry units which despite economies of scale rarely even yield a decent income for the farmers themselves, many of whom feel trapped in the system, fuelled by our assumption that cheap food at any cost is our right!

If you ask most young people what we should eat to be sustainable and healthy, their immediate and well intentioned response will be,  Go vegan or vegetarian. They are convinced by the argument that meat, particularly red meat is bad for us and damaging to the environment. However, there is a world of difference, both in health terms and in environmental terms in meat from pasture reared livestock and intensively reared animals from feedlot systems. Cattle are crucially important to a sustainable agricultural system; it is worth noting that worldwide, approx. 80% of the land that cattle graze on cannot be used for tillage or other forms of agriculture.

It is also important to understand that cattle, other animals and poultry build soil fertility. A crucially important factor at a time when the UN warns us that there are less than 60 harvests left in many intensively farmed soils.

In Ireland we are favoured by nature, with optimum conditions to produce superb food. Many farmers desperately want to be a part of the solution to global warming. They urgently need wise advice, training and support to embark on regenerative agriculture that encourages continual innovation and improvement of environmental, social and economic measures. The primary priority in regenerative organic agriculture is soil health. Vitally important when one realises that our health comes directly from the soil.

For optimum health enjoy a little of all the bounty of nature. . .  Eat vegetables, herbs and foraged foods in season and seek out humanely reared meat with a nice covering of juicy fat so important for our health, include some beautiful wild fish when you can get it fresh, an increasingly difficult challenge.

This week, let’s show support for our farmers who work 24/7 to produce nourishing meat for us to enjoy. Buy from your local butcher preferably one with their own abattoir who knows the source of the meat and buys directly from local farmers or the local mart. Let’s eat a little less but seek out pasture raised meat, from native breeds.

If you are confused about what to eat for optimum health start by cutting all processed and fake food out of your diet, just eat real food in season. . . One could do worse than listen to the sage advice of the Weston A. Price foundation www.westonaprice.org and wise tradition podcasts https://www.westonaprice.org/podcast/ – Some are literally life changing

The reality is, nutrient dense sustainable food can be more expensive to produce. As tax payers we all contribute to a farm support system.

Our taxes help to fund the health service, clean up the environment. . . . I strongly believe that politicians urgently need to be courageous. . .  move the support to more sustainable forms of food production which I believe will help to reduce climate change and benefit our health, a win, win situation all the way… meanwhile back to the comfort of the kitchen and a few of my favorite recipes for super delicious beef dishes.

Homemade Beef Burgers with Ginger Mushrooms and Buffalo Chips

Serves 6

Beef Burgers

15g (1/2oz) butter

75g (3oz) onion, finely chopped (optional)

450g (1lb) freshly minced beef – flank, or chump or even shin would be perfect

1/2 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves

1/2 teaspoon finely chopped parsley

salt and freshly ground pepper

pork caul fat, optional

oil or dripping

Ginger Mushrooms

25g (1oz/) butter

75g (3oz) onion, finely chopped

225g (1/2 lb) mushrooms

125ml (4 1/2fl oz) cream

freshly chopped parsley

1/2 tablespoon freshly chopped chives (optional)

a squeeze of lemon juice

salt and freshly ground pepper

1 teaspoon freshly grated ginger

20g (3/4oz) nibbed almonds, lightly toasted

Buffalo Chips

6 large potatoes unpeeled

salt

Beef dripping or oil for deep-frying – 

Green salad and cherry tomatoes (optional).

burger buns (see recipe)

First make the burgers.

Melt the butter in a saucepan over a medium heat, toss in the chopped onions, sweat until soft but not coloured, then allow to get cold.  Meanwhile mix the mince with the herbs, season with salt and freshly ground pepper, add the onions and mix well.  Fry off a tiny bit on the pan to check the seasoning and tweak if necessary.  Then shape into burgers, 4-6 depending on the size you require.  Wrap each one loosely in caul fat if using.  Keep refrigerated. 

Next make the Ginger mushrooms.

Melt the butter in a heavy bottomed saucepan until it foams. Add the chopped onions, cover and sweat on a gentle heat for 5-6 minutes or until quite soft but not coloured.  Meanwhile slice and cook the mushrooms in a hot frying pan in batches if necessary.  Season each batch with salt, freshly ground pepper and a tiny squeeze of lemon juice.  Add the mushrooms to the onions in the saucepan, then add the cream, ginger, toasted almonds and allow to bubble for a few minutes.  Taste and correct the seasoning, and add parsley and chives if used.  Keep aside. 

Scrub the potatoes and cut into wedges from top to bottom – they should be about 3/4 inch (2cm) thick and at least 2 1/2 inches (6 1/2 cm) long.  If you like rinse the chips quickly in cold water but do not soak, dry them meticulously with a tea towel or kitchen paper before cooking.

Heat the beef dripping or oil in the deep fry to 180°C/350°F, fry twice, once at this temperature for 5-8 minutes depending on size then drain. 

Meanwhile fry the burgers and reheat the ginger mushrooms. 

Increase the heat to 220°C/425°F and cook the Buffalo chips for a further 1-2 minutes until crisp and golden.  Shake the basket, drain well, toss on to kitchen paper, sprinkle with salt.  Put the burgers onto hot plates, spoon some ginger mushrooms over the side of the burgers and pile on the crispy buffalo chips. 

Put a little green salad dressed in a well flavoured dressing on the side with one or two ripe cherry tomatoes and a perky spring onion

Serve immediately and tuck in.

Italian Beef Stew

A good gutsy beef stew which can be made in large quantities – it reheats and freezes brilliantly.

Serves 6-8

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil. 

1.35kg (3 lb) well hung stewing beef or lean flank

2 large carrots cut into 1/2 inch (1cm) slices

285g (10 oz) sliced onions

1 heaped tablespoon  flour

150ml (5fl oz) red wine

150ml (5fl oz) brown beef stock

250ml (8fl oz) homemade Tomato Purée, otherwise use best quality tinned tomatoes  -pureed and sieved

175g (6 oz) sliced mushrooms

2 tablespoons, chopped parsley

salt and freshly ground pepper

Accompaniment

Polenta, mashed potato or noodles.

Trim the meat of any excess fat, then prepare the vegetables. Cut the meat into 4cm

(1 1/2 inch) cubes. Heat the olive oil in a casserole; sweat the sliced onions and carrots on a gentle heat with a lid on for 8-10 minutes. Heat a little more olive oil in a frying pan until almost smoking.  Sear the pieces of meat on all sides, add to the casserole.  Sprinkle in the flour over the meat stir and cook for 1-2 minutes.  Add the red wine, stock and tomato purée together and bring to the boil. Deglaze the pan, with a little stock, scrape to dissolve the flavoursome sediment, bring back to the boil and then add to the casserole.  Season with salt and freshly ground pepper. Cover and cook gently for 2 to 21/2 hours in a low oven, depending on the cut of meat, 160°C/325°F/Gas Mark 3.

Meanwhile sauté the mushrooms and add with the parsley to the casserole, 30 minutes approx. before the end of cooking.  Serve with Polenta, mashed potatoes or noodles and a good green salad.

Italian Beef Stew with Gremolata

Sprinkle a little gremolata (see recipe below) over each portion of Italian Beef Stew and serve.

Gremolata

Gremolata is a fresh tasting mix of chopped parsley, garlic and lemon zest. We use it to sprinkle over roast or braised meats, pastas or anything pan-grilled – delicious!

4 tablespoons, preferably flat parsley, chopped

1 generous teaspoon grated or finely chopped lemon zest

2 garlic cloves, finely chopped

Mix all the ingredients in a small bowl and use soon.

Beef Fajitas with Tomato and Coriander Salsa and Guacamole

Serves 4

For the marinade

2 garlic cloves, crushed

½ tsp crushed chilli flakes

½ tsp ground cumin

2 teaspoon freshly chopped marjoram OR

1 dried oregano teasp

¼ tsp ground allspice

2 tbsp Mexican beer, or lager

1 tbsp olive oil

500g (1 lb) rump steak, cut 2.5 cm (1in) thick. 

For Guacamole

1-2 fresh chillies, seeded and finely chopped

2 tbsp finely chopped fresh coriander

2-4 tbsp  freshly squeezed lime juice

2 ripe avocados, chopped

Salt and freshly ground pepper 

4 flour tortillas

1 handful shredded lettuce

tomato and coriander salsa (see recipe below)

125ml (4 floz) sour cream

First make the marinade, combine the garlic, chilli flakes, cumin, oregano, allspice, beer and oil. Add steak and turn to coat. Cover and refrigerate for 1 hour. For guacamole, combine chillies, coriander, lime juice and avocado. Mash with a potato masher until well combined but still chunky. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Cover and refrigerate.

Grill the steak and leave to stand for 5 minutes before carving into 1cm (1/2 in) thick slices. Warm the tortillas and divide steak slices between the warmed tortillas. Sprinkle with flakey sea salt and pepper. Top with shredded lettuce, tomato salsa, a good dollop of guacamole and sour cream. Roll up and serve hot

Tomato and Coriander Salsa

Serves 4-6

Tomato salsa is best in summer and early autumn when tomatoes are super ripe and juicy.

Salsas of all kinds both fresh and cooked have become a favourite accompaniment to everything from pan grilled meat to a piece of sizzling fish.

4 very ripe tomatoes, chopped

1 tablespoon onion, chopped

1 clove garlic, crushed

½-1 chilli, deseeded and finely chopped

1-2 tablespoons chopped fresh coriander

Squeeze of fresh lime juice

Salt, freshly ground pepper and sugar

Mix all the ingredients together. Season with salt, freshly ground pepper and sugar.

Taste and adjust the seasoning if necessary.

Julija’s Lithuanian Beef Goulash

One day when I was madly busy at the Cookery School, I asked Julija Makejeva, who had recently arrived from Lithuania with little English, if she could cook. She looked at me as though she

hadn’t understood the question. So I asked her again and she said, ‘Of course I cook. Everyone cook’.

Afterwards I realised it seemed to her to be the most ridiculous question. She learned how to cook this goulash from her mother, and now I pass it on to you.

Serves 8

1.1kg (21⁄2lb) stewing beef, cut in 2.5cm (1in) cubes

3 garlic cloves, crushed

1 tablespoon paprika

1⁄4 –1⁄2 teaspoon cayenne pepper (depending on how hot you like it)

salt and freshly ground pepper

4 tablespoons sunflower oil

225g (8oz) onions, sliced

450g (1lb) carrots, cut into 1cm (1⁄2in) cubes

50g (2oz) white flour

850ml (11⁄2 pints)good  Beef Stock 

Preheat the oven to 160ºC/325ºF/ gas mark 2.

Put the cubes of beef in a bowl and add the garlic, paprika, cayenne and salt and pepper. Mix well and leave to rest while you prepare the other ingredients.

Heat 1 tablespoon of sunflower oil in a frying pan over a medium heat and add the sliced onions and cubed carrots. Fry for a few minutes until slightly soft and beginning to colour. Remove from the pan and transfer to a casserole.

Increase the heat under the pan, add more oil and brown the beef in batches. When brown on all sides, transfer the meat to the casserole.

Put the casserole on a medium heat, add the flour and cook for 1 minute. Deglaze the frying pan with the stock. Gradually add it to the casserole and bring to a simmer. Transfer to the oven and cook for 2–21⁄2 hours (depending on the cut of meat) until meltingly tender. Serve with boiled potatoes or plain boiled rice.

Kids Love to Cook

Kids just love to cook and learn about how their food is grown and produced. We coordinated a few Summer Camps and Kids Farm Walks here on the farm over the past few weeks, such excitement…

 The children got fully immersed in the activities of the organic farm. They ran off to collect the freshly laid eggs from the nests in the hen house, and jostled each other to feed the Jersey calves. They loved watching the free range Duroc/Tamworth pigs snuffling in the ground for roots and grubs to keep them healthy – squeals of joy as the pigs ran over the fence. They fed them the end of a crop of spinach and some sweetcorn that had bolted in the green houses.

They also loved sowing seeds and harvesting the produce. In the herb garden, they smelled and tasted fresh herbs, rubbed mint, lemon balm and lemon verbena between their fingers, tasted them and guessed what the flavours would be good with. They giggled and marvelled at the sharp lemony flavour of buckler leaf sorrel and learned how to pick tomatoes with the calyx still on. Ate green beans off the plant, picked cobs of sweetcorn and ripe berries from the strawberry patch. Each of these activities plus listening to the bird song and watching bees collecting nectar from the flowers are a beautiful educational activity.

One of the highlights was watching Maria our ‘dairy queen’ milking the cows in our micro dairy. They saw the milk being separated and then each got a jar of cream to make into butter. They shook the jam jars as they danced to the sound of disco music and hey presto – butter to spread on the scones they made in the kitchen.

They discovered  that many weeds are edible and full of mighty minerals and vitamins and magic trace elements to keep them bouncing with energy. They raced into the blueberries cage to pick the juicy fruit to pop into drop scones.

They made their pizza dough and tomato sauce and let it rise while they collected fallen timber to light a camp fire.

On the last day they set up a Kids Café in the garden so parents could join them to enjoy the delicious food from their mornings cooking in the kitchen, and how they love cooking! It’s astonishing what even quite small children can learn how to do. They can make pasta, bake bread, jam, salads, sauces, both sweet and savoury dishes, juice fruit for homemade lemonade, make popsicles, and feed the scraps left over from their cooking to the grateful hens before they headed home with a little goodie bag of their very own homemade food. Teaching kids how to cook is giving them a gift for life – equipping them with the practical skills to feed themselves healthy wholesome food and they love it!

Salad of Avocado, Cucumber, Tomato, Blueberries Walnuts and Greens

Bursting with goodness and fun to make . . . .

Serves 4

110g (4oz) blueberries

1 organic avocado, diced

1 small red onion, halved and thinly sliced

½ cucumber cut into chunky pieces

6 cherry tomatoes halved

2 handfuls of rocket, baby spinach leaves and baby kale

12 walnuts, halved, toasted and roughly chopped

For the Honey Chia Dressing

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 tablespoon white wine vinegar

1 teaspoon honey

1 tablespoon chia seeds

good pinch salt

Just before serving whisk the ingredients for the dressing together.

Prepare the ingredients. Put the washed and dried greens into a bowl. Sprinkle with dressing. Add the red onion and blueberries. Toss gently to coat. Pile onto a serving plate. Sprinkle with avocado, cucumber, tomatoes and walnuts on top. Fork up gently.

Garnish with edible flowers, marigold petals, chive or wild garlic flowers . . . .

Darina’s Magic Tomato Sauce

Darina’s Magic Tomato Sauce is one of our great convertibles, it has a number of uses, we serve it as a vegetable or a sauce for pasta, filling for omelettes, topping for pizza.

Serves 6 approximately

 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

110g (4oz) sliced onions

1 clove of garlic, crushed

900g (2lbs) very ripe tomatoes in Summer, or 2 tins (x 400g/14oz) of tomatoes in Winter, but peel before using

salt, freshly ground pepper and sugar to taste

1 tablespoon of any of the following;

freshly chopped mint, thyme, parsley, lemon balm, marjoram or torn basil

 Heat the oil in a stainless steel sauté pan or casserole.  Add the sliced onions and garlic toss until coated, cover and sweat on a gentle heat until soft but not coloured – about 10 minutes. It is vital for the success of this dish that the onions are completely soft before the tomatoes are added.  Slice the peeled fresh tomatoes or chopped tinned tomatoes and add with all the juice to the onions.  Season with salt, freshly ground pepper and sugar (tinned tomatoes need lots of sugar because of their high acidity).  Add a generous sprinkling of herbs. Cover and cook for just 10-20 minutes more, or until the tomato softens, uncover and reduce a little.  Cook fresh tomatoes for a shorter time to preserve the lively fresh flavour. 

Tinned tomatoes need to be cooked for longer depending on whether one wants to use the sauce as a vegetable or filling.

Note: A few drops of Balsamic vinegar at the end of cooking greatly enhances the flavour.

Pasta with Bacon and Darinas Magic Tomato Sauce

Serves 6-8

Here is an example of how versatile Darinas Magic Tomato Sauce is.

1 lb (450g) spaghetti

a dash of oil

1 oz (25g/1/4 stick) butter

salt and freshly ground pepper

Darinas Magic Tomato Sauce (see recipe)

8 ozs (225g) cooked bacon or ham

4 ozs (110g) freshly grated cheese, eg. Cheddar or Parmesan

2 tablespoons (2 American tablespoons + 2 teaspoons) fresh basil or parsley, chopped

Bring a large saucepan of water to the boil, add 2 teaspoons of salt and a dash of oil. Add in the spaghetti, stir, boil furiously until almost cooked – al dente – 15 minutes approx. Meanwhile heat the tomato sauce, add the diced cooked ham or bacon and simmer for 3 or 4 minutes. As soon as the spaghetti is cooked, pour off all the water and drain well, toss in a little butter and season with freshly ground pepper. Pour into a wide, hot bowl or pasta dish, then pour over the tomato sauce, Sprinkle with herbs and grated cheese and serve immediately on very hot plates.

Teeny Weenies

The soda bread base only takes 2 or 3 minutes to make. Teeny weenie brown or white scones only take 10 – 15 minutes to bake, depending on size and are irresistible to children and adults alike.

Makes 41

1lb (450g/4 cups) white flour, preferably unbleached

1 level teaspoon/1/2 American teaspoon salt

1 level teaspoon/1/2 American teaspoon bread soda (bicarbonate of soda)

sour milk or buttermilk to mix – 12-14fl oz (350-400ml/1 1/2 – 1 3/4 cups) approx.

Cutter 1 1/2 inch (4cm) approximately

First fully preheat your oven to 230°C/450°F/Gas Mark 8.

Sieve the dry ingredients into a large bowl. Make a well in the centre.  Pour most of the milk in at once. Using one hand, mix in the flour from the sides of the bowl, adding more milk if necessary. The dough should be softish, not too wet and sticky. When it all comes together, turn it out onto a well floured board.  WASH AND DRY YOUR HANDS. Tidy it up then flip it over. Flatten the dough into a round about 1 inch (2.5cm) thick and stamp out into teeny weeny scones. Bake in a hot oven, 230°C/450°F/Gas Mark 8 for 15 minutes (approx.) or until cooked through. If you are in doubt, tap the bottom of the bread: if it is cooked it will sound hollow.

Cool on a wire rack.

Chopped fresh herbs e.g.; rosemary, thyme or olives may be added to the dry ingredients to make delicious little herb scones.

Brush the tops with egg wash and dip in grated Cheddar cheese for yummy Cheddar teeny weenies.

Blueberry Drop Scones

Drop scones are so quick and easy to make, the blueberries make lovely addition.

Makes 24

10oz (275g/2 1/2 cups) plain flour

1 3/4oz (45g/scant 1/4 cup) sugar plus more for sprinkling on top

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

3oz (75g/3/4 stick) cold butter, cut into small pieces

2oz (50g) fresh or frozen blueberries, thawed if frozen

1 large egg, free range

6fl oz (175g/3/4 cup) milk

Preheat the oven to 220°C/425F/Gas Mark 7.

In a medium bowl, combine flour, sugar, baking powder and salt.   Rub in the butter until crumbs form.  Stir in the blueberries.

Whisk the egg and milk together in a small bowl.   Add to the flour mixture and stir with a fork until the ingredients are moistened and bind together.  

Drop the batter in heaped tablespoons, 2 inches (5cm) apart on a baking sheet.

Sprinkle with sugar and bake until golden brown for about 12 minutes. 

Serve immediately.

Fresh Strawberry Popsicles

Makes (18fl oz/2 1/4 cups) or 6 x 3fl oz (1/2 cup) popsicles

400g (14oz) fresh strawberries

Lemon juice

150ml (5floz) Stock Syrup

Clean and hull the strawberries, put into a liquidiser or food processor and blend. Strain, taste and add lemon juice and stock syrup.

Pour into 75ml (3floz) popsicle moulds and freeze for 3 – 4 hours

Stock Syrup

Makes 28 fl oz (825 ml/3 1/2 cups)

350g (12oz/1 1/2 cups) sugar

600ml (1 pint/2 1/2 cups) water

To make the stock syrup: Dissolve the sugar in the water and bring to the boil.  Boil for 2 minutes then allow it to cool.  Store in the fridge until needed.

Raspberry Jam

Makes 3 x 450g (1lb) pots

Raspberry jam is the easiest and quickest of all jams to make, and one of the most delicious. The kids were thrilled with their achievement and proudly brought some home.

Loganberries, Boysenberries or Tayberries may also be used in this recipe.

900g (2lbs/8 cups) fresh raspberries

790g (1lb 12ozs/3 1/2 cups) granulated sugar

Wash, dry and sterilise the jars in a moderate oven 160°C/315°F/Gas Mark 3, for 15 minutes. Heat the sugar in a moderate oven for 5-10 minutes.

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

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

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

Zucchini

Call them by whatever name you fancy, Zucchini or Courgettes are super versatile and an excellent opportunity for a creative cook to rustle up lots of exciting dishes. So instead of the usual moaning about a glut of courgettes in August, let’s have fun. The beautiful courgette plant with its huge leaves and hollow stems and beautiful blousey yellow blossoms just goes on giving. The faster you pick, the faster they seem to grow, so keep on picking and challenge yourself to find new delectable ways to enjoy them, there are many.. . . It’s difficult to get one excited about a marrow, although I am partial to some spicy ginger marrow jam made from a genuine marrow, also part of the cucurbit family, rather than a courgette that got away. They can grow up to an inch a day and become less and less flavourful, the more they expand, so pick them from fingerling size to peak perfection at no more than 5 – 6 inches, they are crisp and nutty, a revelation to those who have only tasted the watery commercial version.

I adore crisp, deep fried courgette blossoms, something you’re unlikely to be able to enjoy unless you grow your own. . .

The female flower will have the courgette attached, the male flowers with their long stalks are made for stuffing. Could be a simple, melty piece of mozzarella with a basil leaf and maybe a scrap of salty anchovy or some Toonsbridge ricotta, Dip them in a simple batter and fry until crisp in a light olive oil.

We’re also loving eating the young crisp zucchini raw as a cruditee with a garlicy aioli or tapenade mayo.

For courgette ‘carpaccio’, try scattering a few long shavings of courgette on a chilled plate, drizzle with extra virgin olive oil and a few drops of freshly squeezed lemon juice, a few shavings of pecorino and crisp deep fried capers – a divine combination.

Little medallions of courgettes tossed in a little extra virgin olive oil in a wok or a fry pan for just a couple of minutes, are the quintessential fast food. Add some flaky sea salt, coarsely chopped annual marjoram, tarragon or basil and serve immediately. Serve as a side, or toss onto pasta or sprinkle over a piece of grilled mackerel or chicken.

Courgettes barbeque brilliantly too and make delicious little courgette or zucchini cakes.

There’s so much more – ratatouille, caponata, roast summer vegetables. . . and I haven’t even mentioned zucchini bread or muffins.

This column could be three times the length, meanwhile a few recipes to whet your appetite. . .  if you still have more courgettes than you can cope with. Share both the courgettes and recipes with your friends.

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Courgette & Blossom Salad with Olive Oil and Sea Salt

This simple salad is delicious served warm with nothing more than a sprinkling of extra virgin olive oil and a little sea salt.

Serves 4–6

8 small courgettes with flowers, if available (choose shiny, firm courgettes)

sea salt and freshly ground pepper

extra virgin olive oil

Separate the flowers from the courgettes. Remove the stamens and little thorns from the base of the flowers.

Plunge the whole courgettes into boiling salted water and poach them until barely tender – 4–5 minutes. Remove from the pot and leave to cool slightly. While still warm, slice them at an angle to allow six slices to each courgette.

Season the courgette slices with sea salt and freshly ground pepper and then sprinkle with extra virgin olive oil. Toss gently and serve immediately, surrounded by the torn courgette flowers.

Hot crusty bread is the only accompaniment needed

Diana’s Zucchini Bread

Makes 2 Loaves

450g 1lb plain flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 level teaspoon bread soda – finely sieved

1 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoon cinnamon

1 teaspoon nutmeg

½ teaspoon ground cloves

120ml 4floz milk

2 organic eggs

110g 4oz butter

110g 4oz castor sugar

3 x15cm 6 inch zucchini – grated

2 oz chopped walnuts

2 loaf tins 13cm x 20cm or 5”x8”  – fully lined

Fully preheat the oven to 180C 350F Reglo 4

Sieve the dry ingredients. In a large wide bowl rub in the butter.  Stir in the sugar.

Beat the eggs and whisk in the milk. 

Mix into the flour mixture.  Beat with a wooden spoon till evenly combined.  Stir in the chopped walnuts.

Divide the mixture between the two loaf tins and bake in the preheated oven for 50 – 60 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean. 

Leave to cool for about 5 minutes in the tins , remove and leave to cool completely on a wire rack.

Zucchini Trifolati

Usually we are super careful not to overcook zucchini, but here the magic is in cooking them to melting tenderness.  The Italians call this Trifolata. The end result will be a chunky puree – an irresistibly delicious vegetable – I also love it piled onto a piece of grilled bread or on top of pasta.  There are so many other variations, add cream and some freshly chopped herbs for a gorgeous sauce, puree a little and add some homemade chicken or veg stock and some milk and fresh basil for a chunky soup

Serves 4

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

6 medium green and yellow zucchini, cut at an angle into 5mm (1/4 inch) rounds

2 garlic cloves, finely chopped

1 teaspoon fennel seeds, toasted and ground

pinch of chilli flakes

10 basil leaves

10 mint leaves

zucchini blossoms (if available)

flaky sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Choose a heavy-bottomed sauté pan that will hold the courgettes comfortably; they shouldn’t come higher than 4cm (1 1/2 inch) up the side of the sauté pan.

I like to slice the zucchini and put them in the pan first to check.  If there are too many layers of zucchini in the pan they will stew and if there are not enough then the zucchini will dry out and burn.

Heat the pan over a high heat and once it is hot, add the oil, quickly followed by the zucchini. Stir, making sure all the zucchini have been coated in the oil, and fry until golden brown.  Then add the garlic, fennel, and chilli flakes and continue to cook for 5 minutes. Season well with salt and pepper.  If it’s starting to catch at this stage, add a few tablespoons of water.

Reduce the heat to low, cover with a tight fitting lid and stew for 5 – 10 minutes. When the zucchini are soft and tender, tear in the mint and basil leaves and a few zucchini blossoms if you have them. Add 1 tablespoon of your best extra virgin olive oil. Season to taste.  The zucchini should be soft, juicy and full of flavour, not al dente.

Deep-Fried Courgette Flowers

If you live on the Continent, you’ll be able to buy courgette flowers in your local market. Over here, they’re beginning to appear in farmers’ markets, but more than likely you’ll have to grow them yourself. We usually use the male flowers for this recipe, because taking the female flower means you’ll deprive yourself of a courgette. They’re delicious just dipped in batter and deep-fried, but they’re also a vehicle for lots of different stuffings.

Serves 6

12–16 courgette flowers (allow 1–3 flowers per person)

Batter (see below)

sunflower oil for deep-fat frying

First make the batter. Then heat the oil in a deep-fat fryer until it’s very hot.

Remove the thorns from the base of the courgette flowers and insert your fingers into the centre and remove the stamens. Dip each flower in batter, shake off the excess and drop, one by one, into the hot oil. Fry on one side for about 2 minutes and then turn over. They will take about 4 minutes in total and should be crisp and golden. Drain on kitchen paper and serve immediately, as part of a fritto misto or as a nibble. They’re delicious served with a fresh tomato sauce or sweet chilli sauce.

Variations

Courgette blossoms are also delicious stuffed. Some suggested fillings:

•        Buffalo mozzarella with pesto, tapenade or concentrated tomato fondue and a basil leaf

•        Goat’s cheese, chopped chorizo and flat parsley

•        Chicken or scallop mousse

Batter

150g (5oz) plain flour

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 large organic egg white

Sea salt

Sieve the flour into a bowl.  Make a well in the centre, pour in the olive oil and stir.  Gradually add enough water, about 175ml to make a batter about the consistency of double cream.  Cover and allow to stand until ready to use.  Whisk the egg white to a stiff peak and fold it into the batter and fry to test the seasoning.  Allow the excess batter to drip off, then lower gently into the oil, shaking the basket all the time.  Cook until crisp and golden, then drain on kitchen paper.  Taste, add more salt to the batter if necessary. 

Tian of Summer Vegetables baked with olive oil and herbs

A delicious recipe to marry courgettes with other summer vegetables

Serves 8 – 10

4 spring onions, thinly sliced or 1 onion very thinly sliced

3 small aubergines (about 675g/1 1/2lbs)

4-6 courgettes, about (560g/20oz)

6-8 very ripe tomatoes (about 900g/2 lbs) peeled

4-6fl oz (110-175ml) extra virgin olive oil

2-4 teaspoons herbs e.g. rosemary or thyme, or annual marjoram

salt and freshly ground pepper

Garnish

1-2 tablespoons (1 ½ -2½tablespoons) parsley, freshly chopped

A large shallow dish   14 x 12 inches (35.5 x 30.5cm) or 2 dishes 10 x 8 inches (25.5 x 21.5cm)

To prepare the vegetables, cut the aubergines into 1/ inch (1cm) slices, sprinkle them with salt and leave to drain for 15-20 minutes. Rinse to remove excess salt and pat dry with paper towels. Peel the tomatoes and cut in thick slices. Slice the courgettes at an angle in three-eight inch slices also.

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

Drizzle a shallow baking dish well with olive oil, sprinkle on the thinly sliced spring onion and some annual marjoram or thyme or rosemary, arrange the aubergine slices alternatively with tomatoes and courgettes. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper, drizzle with more oil and sprinkle over a little more marjoram. Bake in a preheated oven for 25-30 minutes or until vegetables are cooked through, keep an eye on them, you may need to cover with a butter wrapper or tin foil if they are getting too brown.  Sprinkle with some parsley and serve.

Variations

Sprinkle buttered crumbs mixed with grated cheese on top brown under the grill before serving.

Buttered Crumbs

2oz (50g) butter

4oz (110g) soft white breadcrumbs

Melt the butter in a pan and stir in the breadcrumbs. Remove from the heat immediately and allow to cool.

Beetroot

Beetroot is my star of the week for this column. A three in one Summer vegetable that goes on giving – If you haven’t had a chance to grow some of your own, swing by the local Country Market or Farmers Market in your area. Choose a bunch of beautiful beets that still have healthy leaves and stalks intact. This is a true ‘root to shoot’ vegetable. The stalks and dark magenta leaves are also super delicious as well as the beetroot… we love to use them in both sweet and savoury dishes and enjoy both the golden and purple at so many stages.

I pick the young thinnings to add to a salad of summer leaves or to pile on top of a pizza.  We start to use the beets themselves when they are golf ball size and continue as they swell. Roasting intensifies the natural sweetness even further but boiling the beets also works brilliantly and can be the basis of so many good things from soups to stews, curries, dips and crisps and of course pickles.

Have you tried Russian Kvass, a deeply nourishing, lacto fermented drink, full of probiotic goodness and so easy to make. It’s known for its healing and cleansing properties and of course also aids digestion. Beetroot gin is super cool, how about beetroot gravalax or a beetroot cake and who doesn’t love beetroot brownies…..

We made a number of beetroot soups both hot and chilled, some are smooth and silky, others like Borscht and Chorba has lots of chunky bits – a drizzle of sour or pungent horseradish cream over the top and a sprinkling of purple chive flowers or pretty chervil blossoms to ‘guild the lily’.

This beetroot dip is irresistible, a brilliant standby to have on hand to scoop up with pitta or as part of a mezza plate. Chunks of beetroot add extra deliciousness and nutrients to a tray of roast vegetables. The Sri Lankans make some of the best vegetable curry and I featured my favourite Beetroot curry from Sunhouse in Galle on the 25th May (http://letters.cookingisfun.ie/2019/05/#Sri+Lankan+Beetroot%0ACurry)

Beetroot crisps are also irresistible, remember to cook them at 160° rather than the 180° for potato crisps because of their high natural sugar content which can scorch at a higher heat.

Then of course there’s the bonus of the stalks and leaves from the summer beets, chop the stalks and cook in boiling salted water for a few minutes (spinach stalks work too), slather with extra virgin olive oil, add freshly chopped herbs and chilli, delicious and a favourite on Fergus Henderson’s menu at St John in London.

The leaves can be cooked like spinach either in well salted water on a frying pan over a high heat.

If you are lucky enough to have a glut, then let’s pickle, who doesn’t love juicy, homemade beetroot pickle? So completely different to the harsh vinegary pickle of childhood memories. It’ll last for months to embellish goats cheese, smoked fish or salads and there’s the extra feel good factor of having pickled your own and great to have as a homemade pressie when visiting friends.

Check out these beetroot recipe suggestions….

Beetroot Crisps

You can make vegetable crisps from a variety of different vegetables: parsley, celeriac, carrots, Jerusalem artichokes and potatoes of course. But you need to be careful with the ones that are very high in sugar, because they need to be cooked at a lower temperature, otherwise they’ll be dark and bitter. Serves about 8

a few raw beetroots, small to medium-sized

oil in a deep-fat fryer

salt

Use a vegetable peeler to peel the beetroot. Then slice on a mandolin into paper-thin slices. Leave them to dry out on kitchen paper (this may take several hours). You want them to be dry, otherwise they’ll end up being soggy when you cook them.

Heat the oil in a deep-fat fryer to 140ºC (275ºF) and cook slowly, a few at a time. Drain on kitchen paper and sprinkle with salt.

Beetroot Kvass

This is a slightly sour/salty tonic of a deep-red colour known to help clean the liver and purify the blood.

2 large beetroot
1 1/2 litres (2 1/2 pints) filtered water (or non-chlorinated)
2 teaspoons sea salt
50ml (2fl oz) starter – this could be whey, water kefir, sauerkraut juice or kombucha

Scrub the beetroot but do not peel.

Chop into small chunks – 2cm (3/4 inch) cubes (roughly).

Put into a 2 litre Kilner jar or something similar with a lid.

Add the water, sea salt and starter and secure the lid tightly.

Allow to sit in a warming undisturbed place for about 5 days.

Bubbles will start to appear (fermentation is taking a hold) – taste it after day 3, if it is to your liking.  Strain out the beetroot chunks.  Bottle and store in the fridge once it reaches the desired sourness.

Rory O’Connell’s Chilled Ruby Beetroot Soup

 Hopefully your decision to make this soup will coincide with a warm day, as scorching shaded lunches or long balmy evenings are the perfect weather conditions for enjoying this soup, though I can enjoy it almost as much in less clement weather conditions. If you come across golden beetroots, they can be used in exactly the same way as the ruby variety, though they must be cooked separately as the ruby beetroot will bleed into the golden and render them pink, which would really defeat the purpose of using them in the first place. I some times make a little of both colours and serve them swirled together though you may think that’s too horribly psychadelic. Lots of finely chopped chives and their pretty pink flowers help to make a pretty and delicious presentation. Save the leaves of the beets for wilting, or if small and delicate for adding to your salad bowl.

Serves 8

800g (1 3/4lb) whole beetroot

225g (8oz) chopped onions

50g (2oz) butter

salt, pepper and sugar

approx 1.2 litre (2 pints) of light chicken stock

150ml (5fl oz) pouring cream

300ml (10 fl oz) natural, unsweetened yoghurt

4 tablespoons of chopped chives and chive flowers if available

Wash the beets under a cold running tap with your hands being careful not to break the skin. Leave the little tail on and about 5cm (2 inches) of the stalks intact so as not to allow the beets to bleed.

Place in a saucepan that they fit snugly into and cover with boiling water. Add a pinch of salt and sugar. Cover, bring to the boil and simmer until the beets are cooked. The cooking time depends on the size and they can take anything from 20 minutes for tiny little beets to 2 hours for larger ones. They are cooked when the skin rubs off really easily. Don’t use a knife to test if they are cooked, as this will also cause bleeding.

While the beets are cooking, melt the butter and allow to foam. Add the onions, coat in the butter, cover tightly and sweat very gently until soft, tender and uncolored.

When the beets are cooked, peel, chop coarsely and add to the onions.

Add just enough boiling chicken stock to cover and season with salt, pepper and a pinch of sugar. Bring to a boil and simmer for just 1 minute.

Now purée to achieve a smooth and silky consistency. Allow to cool completely. Add yoghurt and a little cream to taste. Check seasoning adding a little sugar if necessary.

Serve chilled with a swirl of yoghurt and lots of chopped chives and a few chive flowers if available.

Pickled Beetroot

Serves 5-6

1 lb (450g) cooked beetroot

8 oz (225g) sugar

16 fl oz (475ml) water

8 fl oz (250ml) white wine vinegar

Dissolve the sugar in water and bring to the boil.  Simmer for 3-4 minutes.  Add the vinegar, pour over the peeled sliced beets and leave to cool.

Beetroot Tops

Beetroot tops are full of flavour and are often unnecessarily discarded – if you grow your own remember to cook them as well as the beetroot.  When the leaves are tiny they make a really worthwhile addition to the salad bowl both in terms of nutrition and flavour.

Serves 4

450g (1lb) fresh beetroot tops

Butter or olive oil

Salt and freshly ground pepper

Cut the stalks and leaves into approx. 2 inch pieces, keep separate.  First cook the stalks in boiling salted water (3 pints water to 1½ teaspoons salt) for 3-4 minutes or until tender.   Just add the leaves and cook for a further 2-3 minutes.  

Drain, season and toss in a little butter or olive oil.   Serve immediately.

Beetroot Tops with Cream

Substitute 75-125ml (3-4fl.ozs) cream for olive oil in the recipe above.   A little freshly grated nutmeg is also delicious.

Ottolenghi’s Pureed Beetroot with Yoghurt and Za’atar

Serves 6

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

2 garlic cloves – crushed

1 small red chilli, deseeded and finely chopped

250g (9oz) Greek yoghurt

1 1/2 tablespoons (2 American tablespoons) date syrup

3 tablespoons (4 1/2 American tablespoons) olive oil, plus extra to finish the dish

1 tablespoon (1 American tablespoon + 1 teaspoon) za’atar

salt

To Garnish

2 spring onions, thinly sliced

15g (3 /4 oz) toasted hazelnuts or pistachio nuts, roughly crushed

60g (2 1/2 oz) soft goats cheese, crumbled

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

Wash the beetroot and place in a roasting tin. Put them in the oven and cook, uncovered, until a knife slices easily into the centre, approximately 1 hour. Once they are cool enough to handle, peel and cut each into about 6 pieces. Allow to cool down.

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

Transfer the mash onto a flat serving plate and use the back of a spoon to spread the mixture around the plate. Scatter the spring onion, hazelnuts or pistachios and cheese on top and finally drizzle with a bit of oil Serve at room temperature.

Beetroot and Walnut Cake

Serves 10

3 free-range organic eggs

150ml (5fl oz) sunflower oil

25g (1oz) soft brown sugar

150g (5oz) white or spelt flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

pinch of salt

100g (4oz) beetroot, grated

60g (2 1/4oz) sultanas

60g (2 1/4oz) walnuts, coarsely chopped

Icing

175g (6oz) icing sugar

3-4 tablespoons water to bind

To Decorate

deep-fried beetroot (see below)

toasted pumpkin seeds

1 loaf tin 13 x 20cm (5 x 8inch)

Preheat the oven to 180ºC/350°F/Gas Mark 4.

Line a loaf tin with a butter paper or baking parchment. 

In a bowl, whisk together the eggs, oil and sugar until smooth.   Sift in the flour and baking powder, add a pinch of salt and gently mix into the egg mixture.  Stir in the grated beetroot, sultanas and walnuts.   Pour into the prepared tin.  Bake for 45-50 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean.  Cool on a wire rack. 

Next make the icing.

Sieve the icing sugar, beat in the water gradually to a stiff but spreadable consistency. Spread evenly over the cake, allow to drizzle down the sides, leave for 5 minutes and scatter with deep-fried beetroot (see below) and pumpkin seeds.

To Deep-fry Beetroot

Peel the outer skin off the beetroot.  Using a peeler, slice thin rings of the beetroot.  Allow to dry on kitchen paper for 20 minutes.  Deep-fry until crispy.

Tomatoes…

The garden is absolutely bursting with beautiful fresh produce at present, summer vegetables, berries, currants, edible flowers….. scarcely enough meal slots to get around to using it all.

This week I’m just going to focus on tomatoes. . . A delicious reward for all the seed sowing, watering, pruning and harvesting.

We used to be commercial tomato growers, my father-in-law, Ivan Allen built his first glasshouse in Shanagarry in the late 1920’s but nowadays we only grow small quantities but many varieties.  Lots and lots of cherry tomatoes because they tend to be more productive than the larger tomatoes, super easy to grow and deliciously sweet when allowed to ripen on the vine.

We grow both red and yellow varieties; Sun-Gold is a relatively new hybrid, bred for its tangy sweet flavour. It ripens to a golden orange colour and tends to split when really ripe but that doesn’t bother me.

We also grow over 25 different varieties of heirloom or heritage tomatoes. The seeds for these open pollinated, non-hybrid cultivars were carefully passed on from one dedicated seed saver to another at a time when many of these tomatoes were not considered worth growing because they had a shorter shelf life, a lower yield and didn’t fit the supermarket criteria for a uniform product.

Commercial tomatoes were picked off the plant under-ripe and became progressively less flavourful, particularly during winter months. Consumers moaned and surprisingly the plant breeders and supermarkets listened….first we got vine-ripened tomatoes which were supposedly better and certainly more expensive but rarely more flavourful.

Next, there were varieties that were grown ‘for flavour’ no less, which begs the question, what exactly were they grown for previously?  Well, we all know the answer – profit of course, all part of the relentless commodification of food, absolutely nothing to do with nourishment, nutrient density or flavour.

Back to the heirloom tomatoes – there are literally hundreds of different varieties of every size, shape and colour.  Some are round, others pear shaped, elongated, heart shaped, pleated…..Some plants produce only 3 or 4  tomatoes weighing up to a kilo each, others like the wild Argentinian are smaller than a marble but produce 20 or 30 intensely sweet, teeny weeny, super cute fruit on each truss. We love them and so do the grandchildren who eat them like smarties.  We just have the red variety this year but there’s also a yellow version called Gold-Rush currant that gets good press to put on next year’s list.

Each tomato variety has an intriguing story but best of all, each tastes different, many are super juicy, some are tart, others have complex bittersweet flavours, not just the one dimensional sweetness that some of the newer varieties now have.

I first came across some of these heritage tomatoes at the San Francisco Farmers Market in California over 20 years ago, strange looking tomatoes bursting with flavour, bizarre shapes, intriguing names…The word quickly spread and customers craving flavour flocked to buy them.  Soon they were on the supermarket shelves, grown commercially but sadly, a shadow of the originals and once again much more expensive.

Reality is, if we want tomatoes bursting with sunny flavour, we need to grow our own or buy from home gardeners, Farmers Markets or from local shops.

Some of my favourite varieties are Oxheart (a red or yellow meaty tomato), Brandy Wine, Black Krim, Cherokee Purple, Green Zebra (a juicy green fleshed tomato), Yellow Pear (bright yellow and pear shaped), Dancing with the Smurfs (an amazing slightly tart purple, blue tomato that develops a red tinge when completely ripe.  Speckled Roman, a beautiful elongated tiger striped tomato and Burpee Delight, Black Russian, Orange Bourgoin, Tigerella, all super delicious.

But a word of caution, just because they are heirloom tomatoes doesn’t necessarily mean they will taste great.  Choose tomatoes that smell intensely tomatoey and feel heavy for their size, that means they will be deliciously juicy.

A few recipes to celebrate your delicious harvest…

Gazpacho

We love to make this cold soup in the Summer with the vine ripened tomatoes in the greenhouses that are bursting with flavour – serve as a starter or as a refreshing drink for picnics.

Serves 4-6

700g (1 1/2lb) very ripe tomatoes, peeled and finely chopped

3 thick slices good quality stale bread, crusts removed and chopped

2-3 cloves garlic, crushed

425ml (15fl oz pint) fresh tomato juice

2 roast and peeled red peppers

110g (4oz) onion, peeled and chopped

1 medium cucumber, chopped

4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons homemade mayonnaise optional

1 tablespoon red wine vinegar

1 teaspoon salt

freshly ground black pepper and sugar

Garnish

2 red peppers, deseeded and finely diced

1 small cucumber, finely diced

4 very ripe tomatoes, finely diced

4 slices bread made into tiny croutons and fried in olive oil

2 tablespoons diced black olives or small whole olives

1 small onion, diced

salt and freshly ground pepper

1 tablespoon freshly chopped mint

Put the tomatoes, chopped bread, crushed garlic, tomato juice, roasted red pepper, chopped onion, cucumber, olive oil and mayonnaise into a food processor or blender. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper and sugar. Whizz until smooth. Dilute with water and chill, taste and correct the seasoning.

Serve the garnish in separate bowls. Guests help themselves, the soup should be thick with garnish. Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil, on a very hot day and add an ice cube or two if you wish.

Heirloom Tomato Salad with Basil, Olive Oil and Runny Honey

The Ballymaloe Cookery School stall at the Midleton Farmers’ Market has a unique selection of organic heirloom tomatoes from the greenhouses in all shapes and sizes. Red, yellow, black, striped, round, pear shaped and oval. They make a divine tomato salad and are wonderful with fresh buffalo mozzarella or ricotta and lots of fresh basil.

Serves 4

8 very ripe heirloom tomatoes

Flaky salt and freshly ground pepper

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1–2 tablespoons lemon juice

2 teaspoons runny honey

2 teaspoons fresh basil leaves, torn

Cut the tomatoes into haphazard shapes. Sprinkle with flaky salt and freshly ground pepper. Mix the oil, lemon juice and honey together. Add the basil leaves, pour the mixture over the tomatoes and toss gently. Taste and correct the seasoning if necessary. A little freshly squeezed lemon juice enhances the flavour in a very delicious way. Serve immediately with fresh baked crusty bread.

 Heirloom Tomato and Ricotta Tart

This gorgeous tart was inspired by a photo on the cover of Delicious magazine last year.  The ricotta and pecorino filling is uncooked so assemble close to the time of eating.  Best made in late summer or early autumn when the tomatoes are exquisitely sweet.  We use the delicious buffalo ricotta made in West Cork.

Serves 8

170g (6 oz) of Savoury Short Crust Pastry

Filling

250g (9oz) buffalo ricotta

100g (3 1/2oz) Pecorino, grated on a microplane

2 tablespoons double cream

extra virgin olive oil

1 tablespoon honey

2 tablespoons basil, mint or thyme and marjoram or a mixture

lemon zest of half an organic lemon

flaky sea salt

1/4 teaspoon cracked black pepper

650g (1lb 6oz) mixed heritage and cherry tomatoes – we used striped zebra (green), red and yellow cherry tomatoes

basil leaves

First make the pastry. Cover, chill and line a tart tin

Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4.

Bake the tart base blind for about 25 minutes in a moderate oven or until pale and golden, remove the beans and paper.

Brush the prebaked tart shell with a little beaten egg and pop back into the oven for 5-10 minutes or until almost cooked. Cool.

Meanwhile put the ricotta into a bowl, add the pecorino, double cream, extra virgin olive oil, honey, freshly chopped herbs, grated lemon zest, flaky sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper.

Mix gently, taste and correct the seasoning.

Taste a little dollop with a slice of tomato, correct the seasoning if necessary, you may need a little more honey.

Not long before serving spoon the ricotta filling into the fully cooked pastry case, slice the tomatoes thinly, arrange the bigger ones, including green zebra on top of the ricotta first. Then add a mixture of the smaller cherry ones cut in half lengthways and crosswise to cover the whole surface. 

Season with flaky sea salt, freshly cracked black pepper, a little drizzle of remaining honey, (about a half teaspoon)  and lots of thyme, marjoram leaves and some little basil leaves.

Serve soon.

 Chettinad Tomato Rice

I first tasted this dish at The Bangala in Karakudi in South India – delicious on its own or as an accompaniment to a piece of pan grilled fish or chicken breast.

Serves 12

100g (3 1/2oz) ghee or clarified butter

100g (3 1/2oz) vegetable oil

2 pieces (2 inches) cinnamon sticks

4 pods of green cardamom

2 bay leaves

2 onions, peeled and finely chopped

1-2 green chillies, split in half

3 large ripe tomatoes (300g/10oz), blanched, peeled and finely chopped (like a thick purée)

500g (18oz) Basmati rice, soaked for 15 – 30 minutes

900ml (1.6 pints) water or chicken stock

225ml (8fl oz) coconut milk

1/2 teaspoon of turmeric

1 1/2 teaspoons salt to taste, needs plenty

Heat a deep saucepan. Add the oil and ghee or clarified butter.

Add the cinnamon, cardamom and bay leaves.

Add the chopped onion and green chillies. Sauté until all the ingredients turn a pale golden colour. Add the raw tomatoes. Stir for 3-4 minutes. Add soaked and drained rice, chicken stock or water, coconut milk, salt and turmeric.  Bring to the boil. Cover with a lid. Cook on gentle heat until the rice is cooked and all the liquid is absorbed, 10 minutes approximately.

Remove from the heat. Keep pan covered until serving.

Confit of Tomatoes

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

Makes 3 x 370g (13oz) jars approximately

1.3kg (3lbs) ripe small or cherry tomatoes

5- 6 garlic cloves, slightly crushed

4-5 sprigs of fresh thyme

extra virgin olive oil, to cover

sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

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

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

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

A walk on the wild side….

Foraging for wild foods with my little basket on my arm is definitely up there with my favourite pastimes. I’ve been sharing my enthusiasm ever since we offered the first foraging course here at the Ballymaloe Cookery School over 20 years ago in the Autumn of 1998. I’d just come back from Vancouver Island where I met Sinclair Phillips at Sooke Harbour House. He introduced me to their ‘in house’ forager who collected the wild foods and seaweeds to incorporate into every course on the Sooke Harbour House menu, Sinclair even dived for the scallops. I was intrigued and realised that what I had been doing as a child, collecting watercress, berries, nuts and field mushrooms in Autumn, had an exciting name…

Now we schedule 3 or 4 Foraging courses every year, one in every season and they are invariably oversubscribed – An introduction to gathering wild and free food can be life changing…where others see weeds and wildflowers I see dinner…

For many identifying and gathering food in the wild is really a ‘forgotten skill’ but one well worth acquiring. All these foods have either medicinal or culinary uses and often both. A very high percentage of the plants around us are edible, some of course are not so it’s best to err on the side of caution as you add to your knowledge.

It’s good to know that these wild foods still have their full compliment of vitamins, minerals and trace elements, up to 20 times more than the ultra-processed food on which so many depend nowadays.

Foraging is often just associated with Autumn when there is an abundance of fruit nuts and berries, free for the gathering but every season produces it’s treasures even in the depths of Winter when we feast on bittercress, sorrel, alexanders….

Spring brings primroses, wild garlic, hawthorn, sweet cicily, sea kale… Early Summer ground elder, purslane salad burnett, elderflowers ….in fact the Elderflowers have only just finished and those that remain on the trees are turning into elderberries which we’ll harvest in the Autumn to make syrups and jellies. We’ll dry some to add to scones, muffins or sauces to accompany game dishes.

On our recent Summer Foraging course we found over 50 different greens in the grounds of the Ballymaloe Cookery School and all along the seashore at Shanagarry strand and at Ballyandreen.

Often the perception is that one needs to go somewhere special to forage, along country lanes or into the woods, hedgerows and hillsides but in fact one can find wild foods everywhere and anywhere – in towns, villages and city parks. Avoid areas that may have been sprayed with pesticides or herbicides or where people regularly walk their dogs.

Once you begin to think foraging, one becomes much more aware of the wild foods around us in nature. Dandelions, nettles, hogweed….

In Summer many of the plants are flowering so pick the edible flowers to scatter over salads, cakes or to decorate ‘wee buns’.

Bring a gaggle of children with you, they love foraging. You’ll be astonished how knowledgeable and adventurous they become in a short time. In recent years, foraging has become super cool for top chefs and cooks, the revolution was led by Rene Redzepi and his team a Noma in Copenhagen but nowadays you need to look no further than your local area… Pilgrim’s in Rosscarbary, The Mews in Baltimore, The Chestnut in Ballydehob, Ichigo Ichie in Cork and of course Ballymaloe House where Mytle Allen was incorporating wild foods into her menu since she opened her country house as a restaurant in 1964.

The next Foraging Course here at the Ballymaloe Cookery School will be on Saturday, 28th September. To book go to www.cookingisfun.ie

Meanwhile, take a basket or pop a little  bag in your pocket any time you go for a walk and gather some rich pickings to incorporate into your menu for optimum health – A walk in the country will never be the same again….

Foragers Soup

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

Serves 6

50g (2ozs) butter

110g (4ozs) diced onion

150g (5 ozs) diced potatoes

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

600ml (1 pint) light chicken stock

600ml (1 pint) creamy milk

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

extra virgin olive oil

wild garlic flowers if available

Melt the butter in a heavy bottomed saucepan. When it foams, add potatoes and onions and turn them until well coated. Sprinkle with salt and freshly ground pepper. Cover and sweat on a gentle heat for 10 minutes. When the vegetables are almost soft but not coloured add the hot stock and boiling milk.  Bring back to the boil and cook until the potatoes and onions are fully cooked. Add the greens and boil with the lid off for 2-3 minutes approx. until the greens are just cooked. Do not overcook or the soup will lose its fresh green colour. Purée the soup in a liquidiser. Taste and correct seasoning.

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

New Potatoes with Dillisk Butter

This seaweed butter is a delicious accompaniment to floury potatoes, otherwise enjoy them with lots of good Irish butter.

Serves 4-5

2lbs (900g) new potatoes e.g., Home Guard, British Queens (the variety we grow is Colleen)

2 pints (1.2 litres) seawater or 2 pints (1.2 litres) tap water plus 1 teaspoon salt

a sprig of seaweed if available

Bring the seawater to the boil. Scrub the potatoes. Add salt if using tap water and a sprig of seaweed to the water, and then add the potatoes. Cover the saucepan, bring back to the boil and cook for 15-25 minutes or until fully cooked depending on size.

Drain and serve immediately in a hot serving dish with dillisk butter.

Note

It’s vitally important for flavour to add salt to the water when cooking potatoes.

Dillisk Butter

110g (4oz) butter

1-2 tablespoons of chopped dillisk

This seaweed butter is a delicious accompaniment to floury potatoes, otherwise enjoy them with lots of good Irish butter.

Foragers Salad

We use a mixture of foraged leaves for this salad.  You are unlikely to have all of these so just add what you can find to a bowl of lettuces and salad leaves.  This salad can be a best for pan grilled, fish, meat or some foraged cockles or mussels.

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

A selection of wild leaves in season such as:

Dandelion leaves

wild garlic

wild watercress

bittercress

chickweed

wild sorrel (buckler leaf or lamb’s tongue)

salad burnet

buckler leaf sorrel

pennywort (also known as bread and butter, walker’s friend and navelwort)

sweet cicely

red orach

Dressing

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil or cold pressed organic rapeseed oil

1 tablespoon apple balsamic vinegar

1/2 teaspoon honey

sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

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

To make the dressing, whisk the oil, vinegar and honey together.  Season to taste.

Toss the dried leaves in just enough of the dressing to make them glisten. Taste a leaf to check that the seasoning is correct.

Serve immediately.

Note

For maximum flavour pick the leaves when young.

Meadow Sweet Panna Cotta

Panna cotta (‘cooked cream’), normally, is a somewhat bland vehicle for fruit or sauce. Here we infuse meadow sweat leaves and flowers but fig leaves are also delicious. This recipe comes from Yotam Ottolenghi, something of a charlatan, who prefers to make without cream at all, replacing it with yoghurt – both for a lightness of taste, and reduction of guilt.

Serves 4

3 sheets gelatine (2.5g each – ‘standard’ size)

400ml (14fl oz) whole milk

1 vanilla pod, split

25g (1oz) meadow sweet flowers or fresh fig leaves

100g (3 1/2oz) caster sugar

150ml (5fl oz) double cream (or 200g/7oz Greek yoghurt)

Bloom the gelatine in cold water.

Bring the milk to a boil with the vanilla pod, and take it straight off the heat. Allow it to cool to about 70oC/158˚F, then add the meadow sweat flowers or fig leaves if using. Keep it around 60-70 oC/140-158˚F (put over a low flame briefly if it cools below) for 5-15 minutes, and taste to judge when the infusion is correct (too long and it starts to taste bitter, too short and it will be bland).

When you’re happy, strain the milk and, while still hot, add the sugar and the bloomed gelatine. Stir to dissolve. At room temperature, stir in the cream or yoghurt and portion into glasses or moulds.

Serve turned out onto little plates, just as they are or with some summer berries, wild strawberries would delicious.

Crystallized Flowers

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

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

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

The caster sugar must be absolutely dry, one could dry it in a low oven for about 30 minutes approx. Break up the egg white slightly in a little bowl with a fork. Using a child’s paintbrush, paint the egg white very carefully over each petal and into every crevice. Pour the caster sugar over the flower with a teaspoon. Arrange the crystallized flowers carefully on silicone paper so that they retain a good shape. Leave to dry overnight in a warm, dry place such as close to an Aga, over a radiator or in an airing cupboard. When properly crystallized, these flowers will last for months, even years, provided they are kept dry. We store them in a pottery jar or a tin box with an airtight lid.

Finco Buenvino Spain

I’m in Spain, just an hour north west of Seville and I’ve just had the most (for me) idyllic morning wandering in a remote part of Andalucia through oak woods where the black legged Iberian pigs snuffle to find the acorns that make the famous Jamon de bellotta (cured ham) from this area so  sweet and exquisite. But today I’m picking wild plums directly from the trees, there are two types, yellow mirabelles and small wine coloured fruit that look like fat cherries, sweeter and not as tart as damsons but a similar size. Sadly the wild figs and pomegranate aren’t quite ripe yet but the green walnuts are just at the perfect stage for pickling.

We’re staying at Finca Buenvino near Aracena, a pink washed, guest house, covered in wisteria and vines, virtually hidden amongst the chestnut and cork oak trees on a hilltop in the heart of the Sierra de Aracena.

Sam Chesterton and his Scottish wife Jeannie came to Spain in the early seventies in search of an old ruin to convert but eventually decided to build on this beautiful site close to a spring of clear water, an immensely important factor in Spain.

Much of the building material was old and traditional, local brick, terracotta tiles, metal grills, high arched doors, a panelled dining room, an intriguing mix of Scottish country house and Spanish villa with a relaxed country house feel.

Finca Buenvina has just five bedrooms, the house can be taken as a unit complete with cook and cleaner or one can just stay on as a guest and be pampered. There’s also the option of several lovely self catering cottages in the woods complete with pool.  It’s quite the find for those who are seeking an alternative to Costa del Sol. Sam and Jeannie are the most genial of hosts. Jeannie cooks the kind of food that I love to eat and now their son Charlie has joined Jeannie in the kitchen.

The food scraps from the kitchen get fed to the happy hens who scratch around under the trees so beautiful eggs for the many Spanish egg dishes. Tapas before dinner were some of the best I’ve tasted anywhere – quail egg with morcilla, Pimenton de Padron, tortillitas.…

A little shaded corner to curl up with a book or just snooze for a siesta in the afternoon and yet another memorable dinner on a terrace as the sun sets with the swifts swooping and whistling overhead.

Sam and Jeannie offer regular cooking classes and one can book now to partake in the traditional metanza early in the New Year, the next one is scheduled for around the first week in February 2020. A fascinating experience where one can learn how to butcher and preserve every scrap of the free range black pigs from the snout to the tail. Learn how to cure jamon in sea salt, (Kg for every kilo of ham) and how to make a variety of chorizo and salchichon, morcilla, zarappa, chistora and a myriad of other porky treats. At the end there’s a party with a huge cauldron of guiso de cerdo, a pork stew, serve with lots of beer and red wine and much merriment.

Wannabe writers can join a Writers Retreat – details for all of these options are on http://www.fincabuenvino.com/

Here are some of the dishes we enjoyed some of which come from The Buenvino Cookbook – Recipes from our farmhouse in Spain published by…

Other places to eat in the area:

D’Caprichio in Los Marinos

Jesus Carrion Restaurante in Aracena

Visit Cinco Jotas in Jabujo for a tour of the Jamon curing rooms to taste the very best Jamon that Spain has to offer – understand why Pata Negra is so revered around the world.

Salmorejo with Hard-Boiled Egg and Serrano

Serves 6

1 clove of garlic crushed

800g (1lb 7 1/2 oz) ripe red tomatoes cut into quarters

50g (2oz) white bread, crust removed and cut into cubes

6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 – 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar, we use Forum

salt, pepper, and sugar

To Serve

2 hard-boiled eggs, roughly chopped

75g (3oz) strips of Serrano ham cut into slivers

extra virgin olive oil

flat parsley

Shallow Terracotta Bowls

Place the garlic, tomatoes, bread, olive oil and 1 tablespoon of vinegar into a food processor – season with salt, pepper and sugar. Whizz until well blended but still slightly coarse.

Taste, you may need to add more vinegar, depending on the sweetness of the tomatoes. Chill well. If the mixture is too thick add a little water but not too much. Serve in chilled shallow terracotta bowls with a couple of tablespoons of chopped hard boiled egg and slivers of Serrano ham in the centre of each.  Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil. Eat with lots of fresh crusty bread.

Ajoblanco with Apple – Ajoblanca de Almendras con Manzana

Also called Gazpacho Blanco

Many people are familiar with the tomato version of Gazpacho but this white version comes from Cordoba and is very nutritious.

Serves 4-6

250g (9oz) blanched, peeled almonds

4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

4 slices of stale white bread with the crusts removed

2 cloves of garlic

salt

2-3 spoons white wine vinegar

2 apples (or 1 bunch white grapes, or 2 slices of melon)

Mash the garlic and salt in a mortar, gradually adding the almonds until a smooth paste is attained.  This can be done much more easily in a food processor.  Soak the bread in water and mix into the paste along with the oil and vinegar.

Mix everything thoroughly, then add 32fl oz (1 pint 12fl oz/4 cups) of cold water. The soup should have a thick, smooth consistency.   Add ice cubes if desired.  The fruit should be added just before serving.  Apple or melon should be diced and grapes should be whole.

The proportions of garlic, olive oil and vinegar are entirely a matter of taste.  This will keep for 2-3 days in the fridge.

Papas Fritas (Potato Crisps) with Jamon

Making potato crisps at home is definitely worthwhile – a few potatoes produce

a ton of crisps and nothing you buy in any shop will be even half as delicious. A mandolin is well worth buying for making chips – but mind your fingers!  

Serves 4

125 grams pata negra de bellotta or Serrano ham, thin slivers
4-6  large, even-sized potatoes, Maris Piper, Aran Victory, Golden Wonder, Kerr’s Pink, Santé

extra virgin olive oil or beef dripping for deep-fat frying

salt

Scrub, wash and peel the potatoes. For even-sized crisps, trim each potato with a swivel-top peeler until smooth. Slice them very finely, preferably with a mandolin. Soak in cold water to remove the excess starch (this will also prevent them from discolouring or sticking together). Drain off the water and dry very well.

In a deep-fat fryer, heat the oil or dripping to 180ºC. Drop in the dry potato slices a few at a time and fry until golden and completely crisp. Drain on kitchen paper and divide between four plates. Lay slivers of jamon on top of the hot crisps and serve immediately.

Sam’s Roast Quails

Choose a couple of quail per person if they are very small. We get them plucked and gutted.

Rub the quail all over, inside and out, with pinchito spice, salt and pepper; or if you cannot get it grind up cumin, turmeric, salt, pepper and paprika to a fine powder. 

Preheat the oven to 200ºC/gas 6. 

Place the quail in a roasting tin, large enough to hold them all without crushing them together. Pour round the bottom of the baking tray a quantity of good cold tea, enough to keep the birds from drying out in a hot oven, roast for 20 to 30 minutes, basting occasionally, until golden brown and cooked through. If you find the quail are browning unevenly, move them around in the tin during cooking. It’s ideal to have the breasts nicely browned, so that the skin is crisp, but you don’t want them to dry out.

Serve with mashed potatoes and a green salad, or fresh peas or beans from the garden.

Sam’s Turkish Eggs

Serves one for a delicious breakfast….

You will need 2 beautiful fresh eggs.

Fry the eggs in melted butter until crisp at the edges, white should be just set but the yolks still soft …. Sprinkle crumbled dried chillies over the egg, some cumin seed, flaky salt and freshly ground pepper… Add a spoonful of rich natural yogurt and a sprinkling of chopped parsley. Eat from the pan with crusty bread….

A few days in Spain…

A few days in Spain…

If you are longing for a taste of simple Spanish food you’ll need to head away from the main drag – off into the back streets and out into the villages in the wooded hillside…

Malaga, the point of entry into Andalucía for many is certainly worth lingering in for a couple of days. The Picasso Museum in the town of the artist’s birth is definitely worth a gentle browse and Cathederal de la Encarnacion is properly awe inspiring. Don’t miss the Centro Pompidou either and stroll along the Pedregalejo seafront and eat the freshest fish in one of the many chiringuitos.

For breakfast, seek out crispy churros to dunk in a glass of hot chocolate. They are a specialty in Malaga and a ‘must do’ for breakfast…

For tapas, Check out Meson Iberico, on Calle San Lorenzo 27, it opens at 8.30pm. Book ahead of else be ready to queue. Be there by 8.15pm… if you want to get a seat at the counter or by the window ledge, you’ll need to sharpen your elbows and make a dash as soon as the doors are opened such is the enthusiasm of the regulars…but it’ll be worth it..

The tapas are traditional, made from superb ingredients and as a result are memorably delicious. We enjoyed a plate of wafer thin slivers of jamon Iberico from Cinco Jotas, perhaps the best pata negra in all of Spain, made from the hams of the long legged black Iberian pigs, reared in the dehesa oak forests and fattened on acorns… You can’t imagine how the delicious flavour lingers in your mouth – food for the gods. We also enjoyed tender whelks, octopus a la Gallega sprinkled with paprika and flakes of sea salt. The tiny, briny sweet clams were also memorable as were the crisp little tortilla aux Camorones (shrimp fritters). Finally, there was a plate of the tiniest little broad beans with two quails eggs and a few slivers of jamon melting over the top. There were many other temptations but by then I was defeated but Meson Iberico goes to the top of my Malaga list.

Next day, we drove out into the countryside to Gaucín, one of the prettiest of the famous Pueblos Blancos villages of Andalucia that hang precariously off the edge of the wooded hillside like a stack of tumbling sugar cubes…. The drive over the mountains from Malaga is spectacular and even more awe-inspiring from Gaucin and even more so onto Ronda. This Moorish city is teeming with tourists but it is definitely worth seeing the El Tajo Gorge under the Punta Nuevo (built in 1735). While you are there, pop into the Inglesia de Santa Maria church and check out the Royal Cavelry Bull Ring, the earliest in Spain.

Back in Gaucín, breakfast at Brena Verde was my favourite find in Guacín. Here, the cheery cook sent plate after plate after plate of tortas fritta out of the kitchen, irregular shaped squares of bubbly fried dough to enjoy drizzled with local honey….simple and so delicious….we  loved them sent lots of compliments to the kitchen so the cheery cook invited me into the kitchen to watch her making the frittas and shared the recipe. So fun to make, your children will love them too, topped with their favourite morsels.

Sleepy Guacin is about 45 minutes from the closest beach but we found several river bathing places with pools of varying depth. The grandchildren spent hours building dams, chasing dragonflies and watching little fish swimming around them in the river. Can you imagine the joy….It brought memories flooding back of swimming in the river Gaul outside the little village of Cullohill in Co Laois when I was a child….

We stayed at Molina del Carmen in Guacín, a former olive oil mill with some of the old machinery still intact. It’s now a complex of five chic interlinking apartments that can be rented individually or as a complex complete with a pool, perfect for a multi generational family holiday. The views from the terraces are jaw dropping… The rock of Gibraltar is clearly visible and Morocco a mere 35 mins ferry ride away… The village has lots of cafes , pubs and artist studios and is less than an hour from the closest sandy beach… you may even chance on a local festival or Féria as we did with fiesty prancing horses, a greasy pole competition to win a jamon and free community paella… a real and enchanting glimpse of Spanish country life…. 

Papas Bravas

Serves 10-12 as a tapa

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

2 cloves of garlic, chopped

1 red chilli, chopped (with seeds)

1 x 400g (14ozs) tin of tomatoes, chopped

1 tablespoon homemade tomato purée

2 teaspoons paprika

salt, freshly ground pepper and sugar

extra virgin olive oil

2lbs (900g) potatoes (e.g. golden wonder) peeled or unpeeled, which ever you prefer

1 tablespoon sherry vinegar

sea salt

To Serve

aoili (see recipe)

Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a sauté pan.  Add the chopped garlic and chilli and cook for 1-2 minutes.  Add the chopped tinned tomatoes, tomato purée and paprika.  Season with salt, freshly ground pepper and sugar.  Simmer for 5-8 minutes or until slightly reduced.

Meanwhile, heat 1 inch (2 1/2 cms) olive oil in a frying pan.  Dice the potatoes into 1 inch (2 1/2 cm) pieces.  Dry on kitchen paper.  Cook the potatoes in the hot oil until light golden brown in colour and tender all the way through. 

While the potatoes are cooking, liquidize the sauce and add the sherry vinegar.  Return to the pan.  When the potatoes are cooked, remove from the oil and drain on kitchen paper.  Season lightly with some sea salt.

Heat the sauce, taste.

Serve the potatoes on a plate, drizzle with the sauce and a good dollop of aoili.

Tortillitas à la Patata

Sam and Jeannie Chesterton of Finca Buenvino in Andalucia, recently introduced me to this little gem.  They are so easy to make and completely addictive – kids also love them and they make the perfect little bites to nibble with a drink, preferably a glass of Fino or Manzilla.  This is totally brilliant way to use up leftover boiled potatoes.  The tortillitas are made in minutes and can be served as part of every meal from breakfast to supper. 

Makes 26

4 organic eggs

225g (8oz) cooked potatoes, cut into 5mm (1/4 inch) dice

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

3 tablespoons finely chopped flat-leaf parsley and chives

extra virgin olive oil, for frying

Maldon sea salt, to serve

Aioli (see recipe)

Whisk the eggs in a bowl, add the diced potatoes, season with salt and freshly ground pepper and add the herbs.

Heat about 5mm (1/4 inch) of oil in a frying pan on a high heat, cook a teaspoonful of mixture and taste for seasoning.  Correct if necessary.  

Continue to cook the mini tortillas as needed, using a scant dessertspoon of the mixture for each. Cook on one side for about 1-2 minutes, flip over and continue to cook on the other side for a similar length of time, or until slightly golden.

Drain on kitchen paper and sprinkle with a few flakes of sea salt.

Serve hot, or at room temperature with a blob of Aioli (see recipe).

Saffron Aioli

“Aioli” refers not only to the sauce made with garlic, egg yolks and olive oil, but also to a complete dish where the sauce is served with boned salt-cod, hard-boiled eggs, squid or snails and vegetables such as carrots, potatoes, artichokes and green beans.

2 egg yolks, preferably free range

1/4 teaspoon salt

pinch of English mustard or 1/4 teaspoon French mustard

1 dessertspoon white wine vinegar

225ml (oil (sunflower, arachide or olive oil or a mixture) – We use 175ml (6fl oz) arachide oil and 50ml (2fl oz) olive oil, alternatively use 7/1

1-4 cloves of garlic, depending on size

1/4 teaspoon saffron soaked in 2 teaspoons of hot water (optional)

Put the egg yolks into a bowl with the crushed garlic, mustard, salt and the white wine vinegar (keep the whites to make meringues). Put the oil into a measure. Take a whisk in one hand and the oil in the other and drip the oil onto the egg yolks, drop by drop whisking at the same time. Within a minute you will notice that the mixture is beginning to thicken. When this happens you can add the oil a little faster, but don’t get too cheeky or it will suddenly curdle because the egg yolks can only absorb the oil at a certain pace. Taste and add a little more seasoning and vinegar if necessary.

If the Mayonnaise curdles it will suddenly become quite thin, and if left sitting the oil will start to float to the top of the sauce. If this happens you can quite easily rectify the situation by putting another egg yolk or 1-2 tablespoons of boiling water into a clean bowl, then whisk in the curdled Mayonnaise, a half teaspoon at a time until it emulsifies again.  Finally add the saffron if using and taste for seasoning.

Churros with Cinnamon Sugar and Hot Chocolate

Makes 25 approx.

choux pastry (see recipe)

225g (8oz) caster sugar

2-4 teaspoons freshly ground cinnamon

sunflower oil for deep-frying

Hot Chocolate for dipping

Make choux pastry below

Choux Pastry

150g (5oz) strong flour (Baker’s)

pinch of salt

225ml (8floz) water

100g (3 1/2 oz) butter, cut into 1cm (1/2 inch) cubes

3-5 eggs depending on size (free range if possible)

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

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

 To make the Churros

Heat the oil in a deep fry to 180°C/350°F.

Mix the cinnamon with the caster sugar and pour onto a flat plate.

Put a medium sized star shaped nozzle into a piping bag. Fill with choux pastry.

When the oil is hot, pipe strips of choux pastry, 2 1/2 inches long approx, directly into the hot oil.  They will puff up so do just a few at a time. Cook until crisp and golden brown, drain on kitchen paper.

Toss in cinnamon sugar and dunk in hot chocolate!

Honey & Co

Honey & Co Chefs, husband and wife team, Sarit Packer and Itamar Srulovich are sitting contentedly at our kitchen table podding peas and broad beans for supper.  They’ve spent the afternoon prepping for their guest chef course at the Ballymaloe Cookery School.  They live in Central London, run two mega successful and much loved restaurants and a deli called Honey & Smoke in Fitzrovia.

Each is jam packed with guests who absolutely love their homey Middle Eastern food.  There’s something particularly welcoming, warm and comforting about Sarit & Itamar’s places and it’s the kind of food we love to eat, who isn’t addicted to scooping up dollops of hummus or baba ganoush on ashtanur flat bread or pitta.  They both love cooking and have since they were five.  They originally met in the kitchen of a posh Italian Restaurant in Israel but decided to emigrate to London, where they worked in the Orrery, it’s worth knowing that Sarit was pastry chef for Ottolenghi and executive head chef at Nopi, both sensational restaurants.

This is their third guest chef appearance at the Ballymaloe Cookery School, they love coming to Ireland and their idea of heaven is being able to wander through the farm and gardens, pick the leaves and petals for the salad, dig potatoes, snip off the blossoms from the zucchini, licking their lips at the thought of how they will prepare them.  Real cooks are endlessly excited by beautiful produce and exciting new flavours.  They have searched the highways and byways of the Middle East for the best spices, sumac, za’atar and best street food.  Their enthusiasm is infectious, even strangers sometimes share recipes with them – they endlessly try to recreate the flavours of their childhood and home country.  Honey Spice is like a tiny Aladdin’s Cave with shelves packed with the best Middle Eastern ingredients, which I’ve discovered I can now order online to recreate their recipes from their three books.

Honey & Co, Honey & Co The Baking Book and the recently published Honey & Co At Home, which has already become many of their devotees favourite.  The format of Honey & Co At Home is different to the two previous books and includes recipes, For Us Two, For Friends, For the Weekend, For a Crowd…at the end of the book there’s an excellent section entitled For the Kitchen, a sort of store cupboard section of spice mixes, pickles, relishes & sauces.  The book is worth the price for this one chapter alone. Their harissa, ras el hanout and tahini has certainly added zing to my dishes, I also love the pithy and the self-deprecating writing.

Sarit & Itamar enchanted us for a whole day, and here are a few dishes they cooked for us, the Ashtanur bread, a super quick flat bread and so worth knowing about, kids also love to make and bake it on a pan or outdoors.

The one pot chicken dish will definitely become a favourite, cracked wheat is easy to find nowadays but if you can’t source it, use long grain rice.

It’s also worth checking out the Honey & Co podcast The Food Talks available on iTunes and Spotify to download and several segments on Youtube where they are cooking favourite dishes in their inimitable way.

Honey & Co www.honeyandco.co.uk

25 Warren St., Fitzrovia, London, W1T 5LZ Tel: 2073886175

Honey & Spice

52 Warren St., Kings Cross, London W1T 5NJ Tel: 2073886175

Honey & Smoke

216 Great Portland Street, London W1W5QW Tel: 2073886175

Harissa and Goat’s Cheese Buns

Makes about 20

175g (6oz) self-raising flour

100g (3 1/2oz) butter (at room temperature), diced

1 egg, lightly whisked and divided into 2 small bowls

60g (2 1/4oz) finely grated Pecorino or Parmesan, divided into 2 small bowls

125g (4 1/2oz) ricotta

125g (4 1/2oz) soft, young, rindless goat’s cheese

30g (1oz/2 tablespoons) rose harissa paste

1 teaspoon sea salt or a generous pinch of table salt

1 teaspoon whole cumin seeds

Pre-heat your oven to 200°C/400°F/Gas Mark 6 or 180°C/350°/Gas Mark 4 (Fan)

I use a mixer to make these; the dough is easy enough to make by hand, but it’s a little messy. Place the flour and butter in a mixer bowl with a paddle attachment and combine to a crumb-like consistency.

Add half the egg and half the grated pecorino or Parmesan, along with the ricotta, goat’s cheese, harissa paste and salt. Mix together until everything forms a nice, soft, pliable dough.

Divide the dough into two pieces and roll each one into a log about 20cm (8 inch) long. Brush each log all over with the other half of the egg, which you set aside earlier.

Mix the remaining Pecorino or Parmesan and the cumin seeds together, and sprinkle on the work surface. Roll the logs in the cheese cumin mixture until coated all over. Place on a tray in the fridge to rest for at least an hour, and up to 48 hours.

When you are ready to bake – best done just before serving as these are great hot –Cut each log into about 10 slices, each about 2cm (3/4 inch) thick, and lay them flat on a lined baking tray. Bake for about 13-15 minutes, until the cheese becomes golden but the buns are still soft. Remove from the oven and serve hot.

Fennel, Kohlrabi, Orange and Chilli Salad

Makes enough for 6-8 as a side of 4-6 as a starter

2 fennel bulbs

1 head of kohlrabi

1/2 teaspoon salt

juice of 1/2 lemon

1 red chilli

3 oranges (blood oranges work beautifully here)

1 small bunch of coriander

1 teaspoon Orange Blossom Water

1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar

2 tablespoons olive oil

Halve the fennel bulbs and remove the core. Lay them flat on a chopping board and slice lengthways as thinly as you can. Place in a large bowl.

Peel the kohlrabi, cut into quarters and then cut into thin wafer-like slices (you can use a peeler, or a mandolin if you own one). Add the kohlrabi slices to the fennel, sprinkle with the salt and lemon juice, and mix.

Cut the red chilli into thin rounds and add to the bowl. Peel the oranges, slice into rounds and add these to the bowl too. Pick the coriander into sprigs and pop them into ice cold water for 10-15 minutes. Drain and add them to the bowl just before serving.

Dress with the orange blossom water, vinegar and olive oil. Mix well and serve.

Ashtanur – Griddle Bread

Makes 6-7 flat breads

250g (9oz) strong flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

7g fresh yeast or 1/2 teaspoon dried yeast

1/2 teaspoon honey (or sugar)

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

1 tablespoon vegetable oil, plus extra for oiling and rolling

Mix the flour and salt in a big bowl. Dissolve the yeast and honey (or sugar) in the first 60ml of warm water and set aside until it starts to foam.

Pour the foaming water-yeast mixture and the oil into the flour and mix, bringing it all together. Add as much of the additional water as you need to get a good even dough, then start kneading until it becomes supple and shiny. Drizzle with some extra oil on the top, cover the bowl with cling film and set aside until the dough doubles in volume, or place in the fridge for the next day.

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

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

Lift the first stretched dough ball carefully and pop it on the hot griddle pan. It will take about a minute or two to colour, then flip it, cook for 10 seconds and remove from the pan. Put the next one on and repeat the process. Stack them while they are hot and wrap them in cling film to serve later the same day, freeze once cooled or eat immediately.


Chicken Braised in Spicy Matbucha and Cracked Wheat Pilaf

A gorgeous one pot dish…

Serves 3-4

1kg (2 1/4lb) chicken thighs

2 teaspoons salt

1 red chilli, thinly sliced

1/2 lemon, quartered and very thinly sliced

2 garlic cloves, sliced

1 long red pepper, cut into thick rings

3 plum tomatoes cut into thick slices

1/2 teaspoon sugar

20 cherry tomatoes (any type will do, but a mix is nice)

1 small bunch coriander, roughly chopped

125ml (4 1/2fl oz) water

200g (7oz) coarse cracked wheat

Place the chicken thighs skin-side down in a large saucepan or sauté pan and season with a teaspoon of the salt. Place on the stove on a low heat and allow the fat from the skin to render out — it will take about 15-20 minutes to crisp the skin. Then flip and cook for an extra five minutes on the other side. Carefully lift the thighs on to a plate, leaving all the fat that’s been produced in the pan. Keep the pan on the heat and add the chopped chilli, lemon slices and garlic. Sauté until a strong aroma of lemons comes from the pan — about three minutes.

Increase the heat to medium-high and add the pepper rings. Sauté for another three minutes, stirring all the time, then add the tomato slices. Season with the second teaspoon of salt and the sugar and mix well. Cook for about five minutes or until the tomato slices start to fall apart and create a sauce.

Return the chicken thighs to the pan, skin side up. Add the whole cherry tomatoes and sprinkle the chopped coriander on top. Add the water, reduce the heat to a minimum and cover. Simmer for 20 minutes, then remove the lid. Stir your dish a little to make sure it isn’t catching on the bottom of the pan. Replace the lid, but this time don’t close it entirely. Allow some steam to escape and simmer very slowly for another 15 minutes.

You can eat the dish now if you wish, but the best thing to do is to sprinkle the cracked wheat into the pot. Stir it a little, bring back to the boil and return the lid to the pot. Set aside for 15 minutes (off the heat) and then serve.

Sumac and Vanilla Shortbread

240g (8 1/2oz) butter, at room temperature

120g (scant 4 1/2oz) icing sugar

360g (12 1/2oz) plain flour

1 vanilla pod, seeds scraped out

1⁄2 teaspoon flaky sea salt

For the coating

2 tablespoons sumac

2 tablespoons granulated sugar

Heat your oven to 190°C/375°F/Gas Mark 5 (170°C/325°Fan)

Use a food processor or an electric mixer with a paddle attachment to work the butter, icing sugar, flour, vanilla seeds and salt until the mixture just forms a ball of dough. It takes a while to come together, so don’t lose faith.

Once it has formed, turn the dough out onto the work surface. Divide into two pieces and shape each one into a log – I prefer to make it rectangular but it is tasty in any shape.

Mix the sumac and sugar on the work surface. Roll the log in the sumac-sugar to coat all over, then place in the fridge to set for at least 1 hour (or freeze it until you want to bake them)

Line two baking trays with baking paper. Use a sharp knife to cut each log into 12–14 slices and place them flat on the trays.

Bake for 10–12 minutes until light golden, then remove from the oven. Leave to cool on the tray before eating.

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