Darina’s Saturday Letter

Latest stories

Flavours of Greece

Recipes
  1. Chicken Avgolemono Soup
  2. Mani Pork Souvlaki (Kebabs)
  3. Tsatsiki (Yogurt and Cucumber Salad) Variations of this crisp refreshing salad are popular throughout an area stretching from northern India to the Balkans and Greece. In the Greek version, large amounts of garlic and flat leaf parsley are used or, better still, fresh mint which gives a light fragrant flavour. Serve tsatsiki as soon as possible after preparing or it will become watery. Serves 4 1 large cucumber, peeled 1/2 tablespoon sea salt, or more to taste 300ml (10fl oz) yogurt 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice freshly ground white pepper to taste 2 large cloves of garlic, finely chopped (to taste) 5 tablespoons fresh mint leaves or coarsely chopped flat leaf parsley or 2 tablespoons dried mint, crushed Using a knife, food-processor or mandoline, slice the cucumber into julienne (matchsticks). Sprinkle with salt and set aside in a colander for 1 hour to drain. Combine the yogurt, olive oil, lemon juice, pepper and garlic in a large bowl. Cover and refrigerate. Just before serving, beat the yogurt sauce with a wooden spoon until smooth. Tear the mint leaves into small pieces. Dry the cucumber by gently squeezing it between paper towels, don’t worry if the cucumber bruises – it is more important to avoid a watery salad. Combine with the yogurt mixture and mint, add salt and pepper to taste, and serve.
  4. Grilled Kephtedes (Spicy Beef and Lamb Patties)
  5. Peppered Dried Figs
  6. Fragrant Apricot Ice Cream

Just longing to jump on a plane and spend a few days in Greece or puttering around the Aeolian Islands. Imagine those clear skies and azure blue seas and little tavernas by the seas with spanking fresh grilled fish, sizzling saganaki, a freshly chopped Greek Salad – gorgeous sunny Summer food. I’ve never been to Greece in Winter but I also love those rich bean soups, lamb and beef stifados, and an occasional pork or wild boar and butter bean stew….

Closest, I’ll come to that in the near future is a trip down memory lane with Rosemary Barron’s ‘Flavours of Greece’, originally published in 1991 but it has never gone out of print and has recently been republished by Grub Street.
Many books have been written on Greek food since then but Rosemary’s book is still considered to be the most authentic and authoritative collection of Greek recipes.
In the 1980’s, Rosemary owned a cooking school in a 450 year old village house on the island of Crete, the first of its kind in Greece and described by Vogue as one of the best cooking schools in Europe.
Her recent courses on Santorini explore the foods and flavours of Greek antiquity – contact her at rosemary.barron@googlemail.com 

Greek Summer dishes are just the sort of food I am loving at present. A selection of mezze to set taste buds tingling.

Mezze can be a simple or an elaborate selection, so easy to put together – 5 to 25 dishes…marinated Kalamata olives, chunks of feta or kefalotiri cheese, radishes, toasted salted almonds, taramasalata, hummus, broad beans, aubergine in many guises, spanakopittas (little filo pastry pies) stuffed with meat, vegetables or cheese, peppered figs, dolma wrapped in grape leaves, octopus, smoked eel, tiny fried fish….serve with lots of pitta or flat bread and a glass of crisp Greek wine. I’m also dreaming of Avgolemono – a delicate and comforting chicken and rice soup, light and refreshing for Summer evenings.  I can virtually smell Souvlaki – chunks of pork marinated with juniper and coriander, a dash of red wine and lots of garlic and oregano charring over the charcoal… 
Grilled Kephtedes (spicy beef and lamb patties) are also irresistible with a dollop of Tsatsiki and of course a Greek Salad – chunks of sweet ripe tomato, cucumber and spring onion dressed with gutsy Greek olive oil, freshly squeezed lemon juice and lots of 

Follow with a platter of deliciously ripe fresh Summer fruit and berries on a bed of fig or grape leaves served with some Mizithra cheese and Hymettus honey – divine.

Simple as it sounds, it can be very difficult to reproduce here in Ireland when it’s so difficult to find ripe figs and stone fruit in Summer but a platter of ripe fresh local berries would be sublime if you can find them. Watch out, despite what you might think, Driscoll’s fruit doesn’t come from Skibbereen, it comes all the way from a humongous farm in California!  Try to find Irish Summer berries….

Chicken Avgolemono Soup

A traditional favourite in Greek homes and tavernas, avgolemono soup has its origins back in antiquity. It’s a most delicious and refreshing soup – light, nourishing and elegant enough to serve at a dinner party. My version is based on a rich chicken stock enhanced with saffron, which gives a delicate but distinctive flavour. The addition of rice makes a more substantial soup.

Serves 6-8

1.6 litres (2 3/4 pints) rich chicken stock
50g (2oz) short-grain rice (optional)
4 eggs, separated
juice of 2 large lemons
sea salt and freshly ground white pepper to taste

For serving
2 tablespoons finely-chopped flat leaf parsley

Bring the stock to a boil in a large saucepan. (If using rice, add to the stock, cover and simmer for 15 minutes or until the rice is cooked).

Five minutes before you are ready to serve the soup, whisk the egg whites in a large bowl with a wire whisk or electric mixer until stiff. Whisk in the egg yolks, add the lemon juice and whisk for 1 extra minute. Hold a ladleful of the hot soup broth about 30xm (12 inches) above the bowl and slowly add it to the eggs and lemon juice, whisking constantly. (This trick helps prevent curdling the egg mixture, because by the time the broth reaches the bowl, it is hot but not boiling). Off the heat, whisk the egg and lemon juice sauce into the soup. Do not return the soup to the heat. Add salt and pepper to taste, sprinkle with the parsley and serve at once.

Darina’s Tip: Once the egg and lemon juice is added, the soup must not be reboiled otherwise it will curdle.

From ‘Flavours of Greece’ by Rosemary Barron published by Grub Street

Mani Pork Souvlaki (Kebabs)

Serves 6

During the period when Greece was part of the Ottoman Empire the Muslim occupation naturally discouraged the eating of pork. This did not, however, deter them, rebellious inhabitants of the isolated and mountainous Mani region at the southern tip of the Peloponnese, who continued to raise pigs throughout the centuries of occupation and developed a long tradition of pork cookery. This is a simple and easy-to-prepare dish but, what it lacks in sophistication, it more than makes up for it in flavour. The meat is marinated in a blend of coriander, juniper berries and mustard, grilled with perfumed bay leaves and garnished with fresh coriander.

1.2kg (2 1/2lbs) boneless lean pork from the tenderloin or leg
1 tablespoon coriander seeds
6 juniper berries
3 tablespoons aged red wine vinegar
1/2 teaspoon powdered mustard
115ml (4fl oz) extra virgin olive oil
18 bay leaves, each broken in half
1 tablespoon honey
cracked black pepper and coarse-grain sea salt to taste

For serving
coarsely chopped fresh coriander or watercress or purslane sprigs
lemon wedges

Tsatsiki (see recipe)

Cut the meat into 2.5cm (1 inch) cubes and trim off any fat and sinew. Pound the coriander seeds and juniper berries in a small mortar until crushed and well mixed. Combine with the vinegar and mustard in a small bowl, and whisk in the olive oil. Combine the meat and marinade in a non-reactive bowl, mix together with your hands and cover. Set aside for 2-3 hours.

Prepare the fire (barbecue).

Remove the meat from the marinade and thread alternatively with the bay leaves onto 6 skewers. Whisk the honey into the marinade and baste the meat liberally with this sauce, then sprinkle it with pepper.

Set a grill rack 10cm (4 inches) above the hot coals and lightly brush with olive oil. Grill the souvlakia until lightly browned on all sides, then raise the grill 5cm (2 inches). Grill 10-15 minutes longer, basting frequently or until the souvlakia are cooked.

Arrange on a warm platter, sprinkle with salt, pepper, fresh coriander and surround with the lemon wedges.

Tsatsiki (Yogurt and Cucumber Salad)

Variations of this crisp refreshing salad are popular throughout an area stretching from northern India to the Balkans and Greece. In the Greek version, large amounts of garlic and flat leaf parsley are used or, better still, fresh mint which gives a light fragrant flavour. Serve tsatsiki as soon as possible after preparing or it will become watery.

Serves 4

1 large cucumber, peeled
1/2 tablespoon sea salt, or more to taste
300ml (10fl oz) yogurt
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
freshly ground white pepper to taste
2 large cloves of garlic, finely chopped (to taste)
5 tablespoons fresh mint leaves or coarsely chopped flat leaf parsley or 2 tablespoons dried mint, crushed

Using a knife, food-processor or mandoline, slice the cucumber into julienne (matchsticks). Sprinkle with salt and set aside in a colander for 1 hour to drain.

Combine the yogurt, olive oil, lemon juice, pepper and garlic in a large bowl. Cover and refrigerate.

Just before serving, beat the yogurt sauce with a wooden spoon until smooth. Tear the mint leaves into small pieces. Dry the cucumber by gently squeezing it between paper towels, don’t worry if the cucumber bruises – it is more important to avoid a watery salad. Combine with the yogurt mixture and mint, add salt and pepper to taste, and serve.

From ‘Flavours of Greece’ by Rosemary Barron published by Grub Street

Grilled Kephtedes (Spicy Beef and Lamb Patties)

Spicy beef and lamb patties are a traditional centrepiece for many outdoor parties and village gatherings.  These grilled kephtedes are highly flavoured but simple food, usually served mounded on a platter with an array of colourful garnishes for an eye-catching presentation.  They are good with aubergine dishes, tsatsiki and fried potatoes.

Serves 6

350g (12oz) lean beef, finely minced

350g (12oz) lean lamb, finely minced

1 large onion, finely chopped

4 tablespoons finely chopped flat leaf parsley  

2 tablespoons dried oregano (rigani), briefly pounded in a small mortar

1 teaspoon dried thyme, crumbled

75g (3oz) fresh wholemeal breadcrumbs

1 tablespoon mustard seeds or 1/2 teaspoon powdered mustard

4 tablespoons dry red wine or 2 tablespoons aged red wine vinegar

coarse grain sea salt and cracked black pepper to taste

extra virgin olive oil

For serving

2 small red or mild onions, quartered and thinly sliced

1 small bunch of flat leaf parsley, leaves coarsely chopped

3 ripe tomatoes, skinned and cut into small dice

1/2 medium cucumber, peeled and cut into small dice

juice of 1/2 lemon

1 tablespoon sumac or 1 teaspoon paprika and a large pinch of cayenne pepper

watercress sprigs

lemon wedges

Combine the beef, lamb, onion, parsley, oregano (rigani), thyme and breadcrumbs in a large bowl.  Heat the mustard seeds in a small dry frying pan over a low heat until a few pop.  Pulverise them in a mortar or spice grinder.  Mix this powder with the wine and add to the meat, along with salt and pepper.  Knead the mixture for a few minutes, tightly cover, and refrigerate for 1-4 hours. 

Prepare the fire (barbeque).

Moisten your hands with cold water and shape the meat mixture into 12 balls, flattening each one into a 2cm (3/4 inch) thick patty.

Oil a grill rack and place it 10-12cm (4-5 inches) above the hot coals.  Grill the kephtedes, basting frequently with olive oil, for about 8 minutes, until browned and crusty on both sides but still moist and pink in the centre. 

Combine the onion, parsley, tomatoes, cucumber, lemon juice, sumac and salt and pepper to taste and spread this mixture over a platter.  Arrange the kephtedes on top, sprinkle with olive oil to taste and surround with the watercress and lemon wedges.

Note: Sumac, available from Greek and Middle Eastern shops, is the pulverised berry of a piquant herb.   It has a coarse texture, pleasantly tangy acid flavour and a deep auburn colour. 

From ‘Flavours of Greece’ by Rosemary Barron published by Grub Street

Peppered Dried Figs

If possible, use fleshy, juicy organic figs imported from southern Greece for this simple meze and prepare three days ahead for the richest flavour.

24 good-quality, moist dried figs

4 tablespoons cracked black pepper

12-18 bay leaves

Trim the fig stems.  Gently roll each fig in the pepper to lightly coat.

Cover the bottom of a glass jar with a few of the bay leaves or make an overlapping circle of leaves on 2 layers of parchment paper.  Then make alternate layers of fig and bay leaves, finishing with a layer of leaves.  Gently press down on the leaves with the palm of your hand, then tightly cover the jar or pull the edges of the parchment together into an airtight packet.  Store at room temperature for up to 1 month. 

Serve the figs on a bed of bay leaves.

From ‘Flavours of Greece’ by Rosemary Barron published by Grub Street

Fragrant Apricot Ice Cream

Apricots, said to originate in China, are thought to have been brought to Greece by Phoenicians.  In those days they were probably made into creams and sweetmeats, but modern Greeks are more likely to use this ancient flavour in ice creams.  Make this rich ice-cream in early Summer when apricots are ripe and sweet.  Serve it prettily garnished with toasted almonds and small colourful flowers and accompanied by glasses of sweet Samos liqueur.

Serves 6

900g (2lbs) fresh apricots

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

150g (5oz) aromatic honey (such as Hymettus) or to taste

3 eggs, separated

175ml (6fl oz) double cream

2 tablespoons Samos liqueur or apricot ratafia (optional)

For serving

toasted slivered almonds

a few citrus blossoms or borage flowers or other fragrant, decorative flowers

Fill a large saucepan with water and bring to the boil.  Drop the apricots into the boiling water, remove the saucepan from the heat, count to 3, then carefully remove the apricots with a slotted spoon.  Peel with a small paring knife, cut each in half and discard the pits.  If they are not quite ripe, bring about 115ml (4fl oz) of water to the boil in a heavy saucepan, add the apricots and simmer for 5 minutes.  Drain and reserve the cooking liquid.  Process the apricots until smooth in a food-processor.  Add the vanilla and most of the honey.  Add the remaining honey to taste and add some of the reserved cooking liquid if necessary to produce a mixture of consistency of double cream.

Place 225ml (8fl oz) of this purée in a non-reactive bowl, tightly cover and refrigerate.  Whisk the egg yolks until thick and pale and gradually add the remaining purée, whisking constantly.  Transfer to a small heavy saucepan.  Heat over a low heat, stirring constantly, until thick enough to lightly coat the back of the spoon, about 5 minutes.  Immediately transfer to a bowl.  Let cool. 

Whisk the double cream until slightly thickened and lightly whisk in the cooled custard.  Transfer to an ice cream machine and freeze according to the manufacturer’s instructions.  When the mixture is almost frozen, whisk the egg whites until they hold soft peaks, fold into the custard and freeze until firm.

Add the liqueur to the reserved purée.  Stir in the honey to taste if desired and add some of the reserved juice or water if necessary to give a pouring consistency.

To serve, spoon the sauce onto chilled plates, place small scoops of ice cream in the centre of the sauce, and sprinkle with the toasted almonds and blossoms.  Serve immediately. 

Note:  You can also freeze this ice cream in the freezer.  Pour the cooled custard into stainless-steel pans and freeze, stirring occasionally, until almost firm.  Whisk the egg whites until they hold firm peaks and fold them into the custard until thoroughly combined.  Freeze until firm. 

From ‘Flavours of Greece’ by Rosemary Barron published by Grub Street

Marjoram

There seems to be considerable confusion between marjoram and oregano.  There are several different forms Common marjoram is a perennial, it re-emerges every year, but annual marjoram has an infinitely superior flavour and is closest to the Greek oregano.  (see photograph).   Annual marjoram, also known as knotty marjoram is closest in flavour to the Greek oregano. 

Summer Salads

Lots of requests for Summer salads so this week I am going to write a short blurb for a change and include the maximum number of gorgeous Summer salads in my column.

But first a few tips…

Delicious as they are, let’s throw out our preconceived notions of traditional salads, and get wildly creative with both dressings and flavour combinations…..

Choose beautiful greens, not just a bag of mixed salad leaves. Seek out crunchy heads of Little Gem, speckled Castelfranco, bitter red chicory, Endive and Radicchio, peppery watercress sprigs, dandelion leaves, pea shoots, crunchy little romanesco florets….

Add lots of soft fresh herbs….  mint, chervil, coriander, basil, tarragon, can’t you just taste the combination.

Kale and Hispi or Savoy cabbage are transformed when sprinkled with flaky sea salt then given a good massage until they are soft and silky. 

Ramp up your dressings….

The classic formula of 3 parts oil to 1 part acid seems so samey…..

To add extra zizz, try a perkier 2 parts oil to 1 part acid, could be wine, cider, sherry or champagne vinegar or freshly squeezed citrus juice…

But let’s get extra adventurous… how about…

Natural yoghurt, lime and harissa….

Grape seed oil, rice vinegar, miso and grated ginger….

Mayonnaise, rice wine vinegar, garlic and gochujang…..

Extra virgin olive oil, cider vinegar and maple syrup…..

Roasting or grilling transforms vegetables like carrots, radishes, broccoli, cabbage or romanesco florets. Be bold, use a high heat for maximum caramelisation and sweetness.

Raddichio, chicory, kale and Romaine are also brilliant grilled. 

Some pickled vegetables – chillies, cucumbers, red onions, grapes, radishes, rhubarb really add extra oomph to a salad.

Think about texture as well as flavour. Add crunchy corn or potato chips, crispy fried onions or shallots or slivered garlic. 

Toasted walnuts, almonds, hazelnuts, cashew nuts or roasted nuts are always a pleasing addition…

Crispy pork scratchings, garlic croutons or chunks of nut brittle can also be a delicious surprise. 

Shaved radishes, scallions, fennel, kohl rabi or beets submerged in cold water with lots of ice will crisp deliciously and can be done several hours ahead.  Add a dice of membrillo for extra sweetness and a little unexpected pop of flavour. 

Slivered chilli, salted anchovies or sardines or grated horseradish or burratta are also brilliant flavour enhancers.

Where to stop…really, the world’s your oyster so throw caution to the wind.  I also love to occasionally finish a salad with a little grating of lemon zest…..

Oaxacan Black Bean Salad with Corn, Avocado and Lime Vinaigrette

We love this perky Mexican salad and make it throughout the year with either fresh or tinned corn.

Serves 6-8

2 x 400g (14oz) tins black beans, rinsed and drained

or 450g (1lb) black beans, soaked overnight and cooked (see recipe)

175-225g (6-8oz) cooked fresh corn or corn niblets

2 red peppers, diced

2 cloves garlic, crushed or grated

2 tablespoons shallots, finely chopped

2 teaspoons salt

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

125g (4 1/2oz) chopped fresh coriander, plus more for garnish

2 ripe but firm avocados, diced (preferably Hass)

Dressing

9 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 teaspoon lime zest

6 tablespoons fresh lime juice

2 tablespoons sugar

To Serve

tortilla chips

Put the black beans, sweet corn, red pepper, garlic and shallots into a bowl.  Sprinkle the salt and cayenne and chopped coriander evenly over the surface.  Toss gently to combine. 

Mix the extra virgin olive oil with the lime zest and juice.   Add the sugar and whisk to emulsify.  Pour over the salad and toss.  Taste and correct the seasoning and add a little more sugar if necessary to balance the lime.

Just before serving, add the avocado dice, mix gently, being careful not to mash the avocados. Garnish with some more roughly chopped coriander.  Just before serving, fold some tortilla chips gently through the salad or serve as a side.  Serve at room temperature. 

How to cook black beans.

Soak the beans in plenty of cold water overnight. Next day cover with fresh water, bring to the boil and simmer for 30 minutes approx. or until just cooked.  Cook more than you need and freeze the remainder for another time.

How to Cook Sweetcorn

Bring a large saucepan of water to the boil, add salt.  Peel the ears of corn, trim both ends, drop into the water.  Cover the saucepan and bring back to the boil, cook for just 3 minutes.

Watercress or Rocket Salad with Manchego, Membrillo and Marcona Almonds

Another gorgeous combination…. the peppery watercress contrasts deliciously with the mild Manchego, crunchy almonds and sweet musky membrillo…

Serves 6

3 fistfuls of watercress or rocket leaves

150-175g (5-6oz) Manchego, diced and slivered

150g (5oz) membrillo, diced

110 (4oz) Marcona almonds, toasted at 170°C/325°F/Gas Mark 3 for 8-10 minutes and slivered lengthwise

Dressing

2 tablespoons, white wine vinegar or sherry vinegar

extra virgin olive oil

flaky sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 clove of garlic, grated

1 teaspoon runny honey

Whisk all the ingredients together for the dressing.

Put the watercress or rocket into a bowl, drizzle with the dressing, toss lightly with your fingers until each leaf glistens with a light coating of dressing.  Add the cubes of cheese, toss gently and pile onto a shallow plate.  Sprinkle with membrillo, a few shavings of Manchego and toasted, slivered almonds.

Enjoy immediately.

Shaved Summer Roots Salad in an ice bath…

Serves 6

700g (1 1/2lbs) shaved vegetables – multi-coloured radishes, fennel, kohl rabi, white turnip, small crisp cucumber

110g (4oz) of walnuts or 150g (5oz) pistachio nuts

1 tin of anchovy fillets (8-9 fillets)

2 large garlic cloves

flaky sea salt

6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

50 (2oz) Parmesan

freshly ground black pepper

chive and marigold petals if available

Slice the vegetables as thinly as possible on a mandolin.  Put into a bowl of iced water.

Preheat the oven to 170°C/325°F/Gas Mark 3. 

Roast the walnuts or pistachios until deep golden brown (8-10 minutes), shaking the tray occasionally.  Allow to cool and chop or crush coarsely.

Next, make the dressing

Mash the anchovies, add the garlic and pound in a pestle and mortar.  Transfer to a small pan.  Drizzle in the oil and cook for 2-3 minutes over a medium heat until the garlic looks toasty, add the freshly squeezed lemon juice, walnuts or pistachios. Taste, transfer to a jar.

Just before serving, drain the crisp vegetables really well.  Dry in a salad spinner.  Transfer to a bowl, add the dressing and half the freshly grated Parmesan.  Toss, taste and correct the seasoning.  Pile

onto a platter….

Sprinkle with the remainder of the Parmesan and scatter with chive and marigold petals if available. 

Roast Carrots with Labneh, Pistachio and Watercress

This salad is a game changer, inspired by a dish I enjoyed during my last visit to New York…

Serves 6

600g (1 1/4lbs) whole young carrots

4-6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

a generous tablespoon of honey

1 teaspoon cumin, roasted and coarsely ground

1 teaspoon coriander, roasted and coarsely ground

salt and freshly ground black pepper

1-2 tablespoons Aleppo pepper

75-175g (3-6oz) Labneh (see recipe)

watercress or rocket leaves

50-75g (2-3oz) pistachio nuts, very coarsely chopped

sea salt flakes

extra virgin olive oil

Preheat the oven to 230°C/450°F/Gas Mark 8

Scrub the carrots, dry, split in half lengthwise, if too big.  Put into a large bowl.  Drizzle with the extra virgin olive oil and honey.   Mix the roast and coarsely ground cumin and coriander together.  Sprinkle over the carrots.  Season with salt and freshly ground pepper, toss gently to coat evenly.  

Spread out in a roasting tin.   As soon as you put the trays into the oven reduce the heat to 200°C/400°F/Gas Mark 6.

Roast for 10-15 minutes, turning occasionally until the carrots are almost tender and caramelised at the ends and edges.

Remove from the oven.  Sprinkle with Aleppo pepper and toss.

To Serve

Put a few watercress springs on a plate.  Top with 3-5 pieces of roast carrot.  Add a few blobs of labneh and scatter with a sprinkling of coarse pistachio nuts, a few flakes of sea salt and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil.

Serve soon, best when the carrots are still slightly warm. 

Soft Yoghurt Cheese – Labneh

This thick, creamy, soft cheese from the Middle East is so easy to make and so wonderfully smooth that your friends will be mightily impressed if you produce it for a dinner party. This is an old recipe. I believe that dairy items like these were once made everywhere in Europe and elsewhere over many centuries and then forgotten at some stage, probably during industrialisation, so I have borrowed from those places where the traditions survived. Labneh is a real treat and an easy way to dabble in cheesemaking. It is also much-loved by children and is a good way for you to pass on your knowledge of old skills to them. It can be used for sweet or savoury dishes.

Use whole-milk yogurt for a creamier cheese – this can be made from cow’s, sheep’s or goat’s milk. You can also use commercial yogurt.

Makes 500g (18oz) labneh approx.

1kg (2 1/4lb) natural yoghurt

Line a strainer with a double thickness of sterilised cheesecloth. Place it over a bowl. Pour in the yogurt. Tie the four corners of the cheesecloth to make a loose bundle and suspend this bag of yogurt over a bowl. Leave it in a cool place to drip into the bowl for 8 hours. Then remove the cheesecloth and put the labneh in a bowl. Refrigerate overnight, and store until needed in a covered glass or plastic container. The liquid whey that has drained off can be fed to pigs or hens.

Note

The labneh should be like softly whipped cream.  If thicker, simply stir back in some whey. 

Pan-grilled Summer Steak Salad

This salad always gets a brilliant reaction – everyone loves it. Omit the steak for a meat free version.

700-900g (1 1/2 – 2lbs) sirloin or fillet steak (at least 4.5cm/1 3/4 inch thick)

1 red onion pickled (see below)

8-10 sweet ripe cherry tomatoes

2 firm but ripe avocados

1 Romaine or 3 Little Gem lettuces

extra virgin olive oil

rocket and watercress sprigs

12 scallions or spring onions

110-175g (4-6oz) mild blue cheese (Gorgonzola, Crozier Blue or St. Agur)

Caesar Dressing (see recipe)

Season the steak generously on both sides with flaky sea salt and freshly cracked pepper. Cover and allow to sit at room temperature for at least an hour. Make the pickle red onions as per the recipe below.

Cut the Romaine into sixths lengthwise or the Little Gem into quarters. Slice the cherry tomatoes in half around the equator. Season with salt, pepper, sugar, a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and a squeeze of lemon juice.

Make the Caesar dressing (see recipe).

Preheat a BBQ or a pan-grill on a high heat. Pat the steak dry with kitchen paper. Drizzle the steak with extra virgin olive oil. Sear the meat well on both sides and along the fat. Reduce the temperature and cook until medium rare. Transfer to a plate and allow to rest while you sear the Romaine or Little Gem on all sides. Clean the grill first, then drizzle the salad with extra virgin olive oil and sprinkle with flaky sea salt. Sear the lettuce chunks on a high heat until nicely charred on all sides. Transfer to a serving plate. Scatter with rocket and watercress sprigs.

Toss the spring onions in a little extra virgin olive oil, sprinkle with salt and sear on the heat. 

Cut the steak into 5mm (1/4 inch) thick slices across the grain. Scatter over the salad with the tomatoes, pickled red onions, avocado wedges, and crumbled blue cheese. Finely chop with charred spring onions and scatter over the salad along with some flaky sea salt and a few grinds of freshly cracked pepper. Serve with Caesar dressing and tuck in immediately while the steak is still warm.

Pickled Red Onions

450g (1lb) red onions, peeled and thinly sliced on a mandolin

225ml (8fl oz) white vinegar

110g (4oz) sugar

pinch of salt

3 whole cloves

1 cinnamon stick, broken

1 dried red chilli

Bring the white vinegar and sugar to a simmer with a pinch of salt and 3 whole cloves, broken cinnamon bits, dried chili, etc. Add the onions to the simmering liquid one-third at a time. As soon as the onions are pink and wilted, lift them out into a clean jam jar. Continue until all onions have been wilted. Cover the onions in jars with the brine. The onions should be pink and crunchy. Store in the fridge when cool.

Caesar Dressing

2 egg yolks, preferably free-range

2 tablespoons lemon juice, freshly squeezed

1 x 50g (2oz) tin anchovies

1 clove garlic, crushed

a generous pinch of English mustard powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2-1 tablespoon Worcester sauce

1/2-1 tablespoon Tabasco sauce

175ml (6fl oz) sunflower oil

50ml (2fl oz) extra virgin olive oil

50ml (2fl oz) cold water

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

Note: The remaining dressing will keep covered in a fridge for several days.

World Microbiome Day

Celebrate World Microbiome Day on June 27th.
In our crazy world, many of us know far more about the lives of celebrities than we do about the source of the food we and our families eat.  Nonetheless, we have become increasingly paranoid, can’t eat this, can’t eat that…meanwhile in supermarkets, free-from and supplement aisles are gaining more space…

For the past year and a half, we’ve lived in a climate of fear. Covid-19 has made us even more paranoid about bacteria, microbes, viruses….
We sanitize from morning until night, carry little phials in our handbags and worry endlessly that there are bacteria waiting to pounce everywhere we go…Scientists and microbiologists are becoming ever more concerned. In our sanitizing frenzy, we have also eliminated many beneficial bacteria that help to protect us. Consequently, the pathogenic bacteria are becoming stronger and stronger because nature always triumphs in the end

Humans have co-evolved with microbes, bacteria, virus, fungi, archaea…since time began.  They are everywhere, on plants and animals, in water, soil, food and all over us humans.  Most are beneficial, a few are pathogenic.  They are also in the soils and oceans of the world, on every surface, there are trillions on the human body, on our skins in our mouths and 90-95% reside in our gut microbiome.   In Ayurvedic and Chinese healing traditions, the dialogue between the gut and the brain has long been recognised, however Western medicine failed until relatively recently to appreciate the complexity of how the brain, gut and microbiome communicate with each other.

Scientific study of the gut microbiome is relatively new.  A growing body of research worldwide, with much done in UCC in Cork, has proved beyond any doubt that the biodiversity of our gut microbiome, has a profound impact not just our physical but also on our mental health.

The invisible world of microbes is a fascinating one, filled with untapped potential, microbiologists say that much has still to be understood. 

But here’s a taste of what they’ve discovered so far:  

  • Marine microbes produce most of the oxygen we breathe and can absorb as much carbon dioxide as plants do on land.
  • Microbes in the soil fix nitrogen – changing it from a gas in the atmosphere to a form in the soil that plants can use to grow.
  • Some microbes even have the capacity to break down methane gas, helping to slow climate change.
  • In our homes, composting microbes help us recycle our green waste (plants, vegetables, fruits) and recover nutrients to enrich the soil in our gardens.
  • Up to a third of the food we consume is produced by microbes. We can use microbes to extend the shelf-life of our foods and prevent food waste by fermenting foods at home.
  • At a larger scale, microbes can contribute to the circular economy by converting waste (e.g. food production waste) into fuel and thus provide new and sustainable opportunities for the food and feed production.

But in this article, I will concentrate on how to boost our personal gut microbiome.  World Microbiome Day 2021 focuses on the potential of microbiomes for a sustainable future.  It’s all about biodiversity, the greater the variety of fresh organic food we eat, the more healthy and diverse our gut microbiome becomes.  Once again, it’s not rocket science, gut microbes love real food.  They are totally confused by fake food so let’s cut ultra-processed food totally from your diet and concentrate on sourcing as much seasonal produce as possible with lots of fresh vegetables for roughage.  Nature provides what we need year-round.  Let’s learn how to recognise beneficial and edible food in the wild, incorporate them into our diets.  They carry the antibodies of our area and have maximum nutrients because unlike many other foods they have not been manipulated to produce maximum yield at minimum cost, which is sadly the primary focus in mass food production these days to the detriment of our overall health.  

Biodiversity is the key, eat as wide a range of seasonal and chemical free range of foods as possible.  So, concentrate on boosting your gut-biome.  Local honey, local pastured eggs from organic free-range hens, local organic meat from free-ranging grass fed animals and organic raw milk also boost our microbiome. Fermented foods are another must have, sauerkraut, kimchi, kombucha, water and milk kefir. Try to make your own, they’ll be infinity more complex than most of what you can buy.  Thick unctuous yogurt preferably made from organic milk and collagen rich home-made home broths.  In fact, all real food will stimulate and delight the almost 2kg of microbes in our gut and you’ll feel the better for it both mentally and physically. Keep washing your hands but be careful of over sanitizing, you may well be doing more harm than good.

For World Microbiome Day on June 27th, APC Microbiome Ireland SFI Research Centre is hosting Microbiome Friendly Brunch Demonstration – Darina Allen in conversation with John Leech, an APC Microbiome Ireland SFI Research Centre, PhD student based in Teagasc Food Research and research officer with MASTER.

This very special online cookery demonstration will cover the following dishes – Water Kefir and Milk Kefir, Yoghurt- Labneh, Honey, Almonds, Porridge, Shakshuka with Sourdough, Granola and Pan Grilled Mackerel Miso. The cookery demonstration will commence at 11am on World Microbiome Day and be available on demand thereafter.

Darina and John will discuss how the various ingredients benefit the microbiome as the cookery demonstration progresses. They will also discuss sustainability – the theme for World Microbiome Day 2021 – and a cause which is high on the agenda for Darina Allen and Ballymaloe Cookery School.


Visit www.apc.ucc.ie for more information, a recipe booklet and a link to book your free tickets via Eventbrite

Ballymaloe Cookery School Homemade Yoghurt

It’s really easy to make your own yoghurt, the end result will depend on the quality of the milk.  We make our natural yoghurt from the rich milk of our small Jersey herd.  First it is boiled, pasteurized and then allowed to cool to lukewarm.  This destroys any unwanted bacteria in the milk which could interfere with the bacterial action of the yoghurt bacillus.

600ml (1 pint) fresh milk

2-3 teaspoons live yoghurt or natural bacillus

Heat the milk to 90°C (194°F) in a heavy bottomed saucepan.  Allow to cool to 42°C (107.6°F).  Gently stir or whisk in the yogurt. Leave in the saucepan or pour into a deep terracotta bowl or a wide mouth flask works brilliantly.  Cover and put into a warm draught-free place until set.  This usually takes about 14 hours.  The cooler the temperature, the longer the yogurt will take to set, but too high a temperature will kill the bacillus and the yogurt will not form (over 50°C/122°F).

The simple aim is to provide steady even warmth to allow the bacillus to grow.  Remember to keep back 2 tablespoons of yoghurt as the starter of the next lot.

Yoghurt with Honey, Dates and Almonds

unsweetened natural yoghurt, very cold

runny honey

Medjool dates

thick cream

almonds (with the inner brown skin left on i.e unblanched)

  1. For each person half-fill a pudding bowl or glass with yoghurt.
  2. Stone dates and chop them roughly.  Put a few on the top of each helping of yogurt.
  3. Spoon a good dollop of thick cream over the top, then trickle over 1 teaspoon of runny honey.
  4. Scatter a few more coarsely chopped almonds on top.  Pistachio nuts are also delicious and perhaps a few shredded mint leaves.

Penny Allen’s Milk and Honey Kefir

Milk kefir is a probiotic drink a bit like a slightly effervescent yoghurt.

It is made with kefir grains and milk. The grains can be used again and again and will multiply if well looked after. The grains are not related to cereal grains and neither are they related to water kefir grains. The grains are a bio-matrix made by yeasts and bacteria. There are many ways to enjoy kefir. It can be added to smoothies, used as you would buttermilk, great as a marinade to tenderise meat or add spices to make lassi.

Basic Recipe

1 tablespoon milk kefir grains

250ml (9fl oz) milk

honey to taste, vanilla or spices

Put your grains into a glass jar.

Add the milk and stir gently with a non-metal spoon.

Cover the jar with a clean cloth and put somewhere out of direct sunlight.

Let it sit for 12-24 hours until it reaches the desired sourness.  Stir from time to time. This helps it to ferment evenly. Taste it after 12 hours.

When the kefir has reached the desirable taste, strain the kefir through a plastic sieve into a bowl. You might need to help it through with a plastic spoon. You will be left with the kefir grains in the sieve, ready to be reused. Don’t be tempted to wash them.

You can now make the basic recipe again. As the grains multiply you can make larger batches.

To the strained kefir you can now add something like honey, a vanilla pod or spices to add flavour.

If you want to take a break from brewing kefir just put the grains into a fresh cup of milk and put it in the fridge. This will slow down fermentation for a few days.

Penny Allen’s Basic Sauerkraut

At its basic sauerkraut is chopped or shredded cabbage that is salted and fermented in its own juice.  A preservation method that has existed in one form or another for thousands of years and sailors have carried it on ships to ward off scurvy because of its high Vitamin C content. 

800g (1 3/4lb) of cabbage

Or

500g (18oz) of cabbage plus

300g (10oz) of mixture of any of the following: grated carrot, turnip, celeriac, onion

3 level teaspoons sea salt

1 x 1 litre Kilner jar or similar receptacle

1 x small jam jar to act as a weight inside the lid of the 1 litre jar

Wash the cabbage if it’s muddy. Take off any damaged outside leaves. Quarter the cabbage, core it and then finely shred each quarter.

Mix the cabbage and the rest of the ingredients together in a large bowl.  Using your hands, scrunch cabbage and other vegetables with the salt until you begin to feel the juices being released.  Continue for a few minutes. Pack a little at a time you’re your Kilner jar and press down hard using your fist – this packs the kraut tight and helps force more water out of the vegetables.  Fill the Jar about 80% full to leave room for liquid that will come out of the vegetables as it starts to ferment.

Place a clean weight on top of cabbage (a small jar or container filled with water works well).  This weight is to keep the vegetables submerged under the brine. This is the most important thing to get your ferment off to the right start. (Under the brine, all will be fine!)

Sit the jar on a plate just in case some brine escapes while it is fermenting. Place on a countertop and allow to ferment for at least 5 days. Ideally leave it for 10 days to 2 weeks.  As you eat the kraut make sure the remainder is well covered in brine by pushing the vegetables under the brine and sealing well.  It will keep for months, the flavour develops and matures over time. Once you have opened it, it’s best to keep it in the fridge where it will last for months.

Chicken Stock and Broth

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

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

Makes about 3.5 litres (6 pints)

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

1 onion, sliced

1 leek, split in two

2 outside celery stalks or 2 lovage leaves

1 carrot, cut into chunks

a few parsley stalks

sprig of thyme

6 peppercorns

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

Broth

Continue to cook for a further hour or so.

Add a tablespoon of wine vinegar which helps to extract even more minerals and helps to breakdown the cartilage and other connective tissues in the bones of the chicken, which helps speed up the formation of gelatine in the stock. Store in the fridge for 3-4 days or freeze in convenient containers.

Chicken Broth with Julienne of Vegetables

1.5 litres (2 1/2 pints) of well-flavoured homemade chicken stock

Julienne

50g (2oz) carrots

50g (2oz) celery

50g (2oz) white turnip

50g (2oz) leeks

flat parsley

4 spring onions, cut at an angle

First, julienne the vegetables.

Peel and cut the carrot, celery, turnip and leek into very thin strips

Heat the broth, season with salt and freshly ground black pepper.  Add the julienne, bring back to the boil and simmer gently until the vegetables are just cooked, 5-6 minutes. 

Ladle into bowls and scatter with parsley and spring onion.

Father’s Day

The second Father’s Day with a difference is coming up.  At least this year there seems to be light at the end of the tunnel.  It’s been such a crazy time for so many families and frazzled parents trying to adjust to both dad’s and mum’s working from home. This scenario has certainly brought its challenges.

In virtually every household, there have been highs and lows… tempers have flared from time to time as we all scrambled to adjust to the new reality and tried to seem, in control in the midst of the all the uncertainty and seemingly endless lockdown confusion.  It’s been a serious learning curve for each and every one of us.  Almost everything has changed in our COVID parallel universe.  Many dads have been confronted for the first time with what was hitherto the hidden labour of childcare and housekeeping.

It’s been an eye-opener and a serious behavioural challenge.

During lockdown, some dads had very little access to their children others had a lot more than they bargained for and for the first time discovered the highs and lows of parenting.  The joy of the first smile, first tooth, first steps, potty training…and having to let go of many firmly held parenting resolutions re: online access…it’s been quite the rollercoaster.  In desperation anything to keep them quiet! 

Today we celebrate dads who together with mums have had to rise to the gargantuan challenges of the past year and because we’re only human there were good days and bad days.  I chatted to lots of dads and asked what special treat they would love for Father’s Day.  It was so funny because they all complained that their partners hardly ever made them puddings nowadays.  It was so sweet, each hankered after the nursery puddings of their childhood.  Even though it is June, several wanted steamed puddings, particularly spotted dick and custard. Another wanted a jammy Bakewell tart.  Bread and butter pudding, old-fashioned rice pudding came up too as did queen of puddings, treacle tart and jelly and cream.  A new one on me was something called Manchester tart, which I had never heard of before, apparently a school meals favourite.  Jam and custard featured a lot and of course rhubarb and apple pies.  This apple and custard pie ticks several boxes and Bumble’s ginger roll is an all-time favourite.  

So give Dad a big ‘well-done’ hug and make his day by cooking his absolute favourite pud – the way to everyone’s heart…  

Happy Father’s Day.

Manchester Tart

A delicious ‘new’ discovery for me.  Apparently, it was a favourite school pudding based on an original Mrs. Beeton recipe – it’s delicious.

Serves 8-10

Pastry

175g (6oz) plain white flour

50g (2oz) icing sugar

90g (scant 3 1/2oz) butter, cubed

1 egg yolk and 1 tablespoon water or 1 small egg

Custard Filling

4 large organic free-range eggs

75g (3oz) caster sugar

75g (3oz) custard powder

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

750ml (1 1/3 pints approx.) whole milk

180g (6 1/4oz) raspberry jam (approx.)

50g (2oz) desiccated coconut

1x 23cm (9 inch) tart tin with pop-up base

First make the pastry in the usual way.  Alternatively, put the sieved flour and icing sugar into a food processor.  Add the diced butter. Pulse until it resembles fine-ish breadcrumbs.  Add the beaten egg yolk and water or egg and pulse again for a few seconds until it begins to come together.  Turn out onto the work top and knead lightly to form a smooth pastry.  Cover and rest in the fridge for at least 15 minutes.  Roll out thinly, line the flan ring and chill for a further 15 minutes.

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

Line the pastry case with parchment and baking beans.  Cook for 25 minutes or until pale golden brown.  Remove the paper and beans and return to the oven for a further 5 minutes.  By then the pastry case should be crisp and fully cooked.

Cool in the tin on a wire rack.

Meanwhile, make the custard.

Whisk the eggs with the sugar, custard powder, vanilla extract and 50ml (2fl oz) of milk.

Heat the remainder of the milk to the shivery stage.  Whisk into the custard base.  Return to the saucepan and cook over a medium heat until the custard is thick and smooth.

Spread a layer of jam over the base of the cold tart.  Pour the custard evenly over the top.  Sprinkle with desiccated coconut.  Transfer the tart onto a serving plate.  Chill and serve with softly whipped cream.

Apple Custard Pie

The most delicious apple tart with a ‘built in’ custard topping.

Serves 4

900g (2lbs) Bramley cooking apples

2 or 3 cloves

110g (4oz) caster sugar

350g (12oz) approx. flaky pastry or shortcrust pastry (note different cooking temperatures)

Custard

1 large egg, preferably free range

1 tablespoon sugar

150ml (5fl oz) cream

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 pie dish, 900ml (1 1/2 pint) capacity

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

Peel and core the apples and chop into chunks put into a pie dish and add sugar and the cloves.

Roll the pastry into a sheet 1/8 inch (3mm) thick, cut several thin strips to fit onto the lip of the pie dish. Brush the ‘lip’ with cold water and press the strips of pastry firmly onto the dish. Brush the pastry strips with cold water and then press the lid of pastry firmly down onto the edges, trim off the excess pastry. Flute the edges and scallop with the back of a knife, cut some pastry leaves from the excess pastry, egg wash the pie, decorate with the pastry leaves. Make a hole in the centre and egg wash again.

For flaky pastry.

Bake in a preheated oven 230°C/450°F/Gas Mark 8 for 15-20 minutes, then turn down the heat to 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4.  Whisk the egg and sugar together then mix in the cream and vanilla extract. Make a hole in the centre of the pie and pour in the custard, put back into the oven for a further 20-30 minutes or until the custard sets and the apple is fully cooked.

For shortcrust pastry.

Bake in a preheated oven 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4 for 20 minutes. When the apple is almost cooked (test with a skewer). Whisk the egg and sugar together then mix in the cream and vanilla extract. Make a hole in the centre of the pie and pour in the custard, put back into the oven for a further 20-30 minutes or until the custard sets and the apple is fully cooked.

Sprinkle the pastry with a little caster sugar and serve.

Bumble’s Ginger Roulade

I spent a fun-filled weekend at Strathgarry House in Scotland doing a cooking class with Bumble and her sisters Jeannie Chesterton and Henrietta Thews.  Bumble demonstrated this recipe which we’ve been delighting our guests with ever since.

Serves 8-10

75g (3oz) butter

225g (8oz) golden syrup or treacle

50g (2oz) caster sugar (soft dark if you like)

110ml (4fl oz) hot water

110g (4oz) plain white flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon ground ginger

1 egg, preferably free-range and organic

300ml (10fl oz) pint softly whipped cream

50g (2oz) chopped crystallized ginger (optional)

icing sugar

Large Swiss roll tin 25.5cm (10 inch) x 38cm (15 inch) lined with silicone paper

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

Barely melt the butter, golden syrup or treacle and sugar with the water.  Mix flour and baking powder and spice together in a bowl.  When the liquids have melted and cooled, add the flour, spice and egg yolk.  Lastly whisk the egg white until they reach a stiff peak and fold gently into the other ingredients.  Pour into the lined Swiss roll tin and bake in the preheated oven for 12-15 minutes (12 minutes works in our ovens).  Remove from the oven, cover with a damp cloth and leave to cool. 

Turn out onto a sheet of silicone paper which has been dredged with icing sugar.  Fill with softly whipped cream and crystalized ginger and roll up.  Transfer to a serving plate, decorate with a few rosettes of whipped cream and crystallized ginger.

Frosted Ginger Roulade

Bumble’ Top Tip

Bumble discovered quite by accident that the ginger roulade freezes really well. You can pull it out when required and cut into thick slices and put into a gratin dish, sprinkle with Demerara sugar and heat through in a very hot oven for 8-10 minutes – try it, it’s super!

Spotted Dick

Oh my goodness, does this bring back memories or what?!  Serve a steamed pud for an Autumn or Winter dinner party and everyone of ‘our’ age will dissolve into a sepia tinted haze of nostalgia!

Serves 4

75g (3oz) fat yellow sultanas or 75g (3oz) stoned Valencia, Lexia or Muscatel raisins or fat yellow sultanas

110g (4oz) butter, at room temperature

110g (4oz) caster sugar

grated rind of 1/2 unwaxed and organic lemon

2 eggs, preferably free-range and organic

175g (6oz) plain white flour

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1-2 tablespoons milk

15g (1/2 oz) butter for greasing the pudding bowl

Homemade Custard

1/2 vanilla pod or a few drops pure vanilla extract

300ml (10fl oz) rich milk

2 egg yolks, preferably free-range and organic

1 tablespoon caster sugar

Scant 1 litre /2 pint (6 inch) pudding bowl

Brush the pudding bowl with melted butter.  Press some of the sultanas or seeded and split raisins around the sides.  Cream the butter, add the sugar and lemon rind and beat until light and fluffy.  Gradually add the eggs, beating well after each addition. Stir in the flour and baking powder and enough milk to make the mixture just loose enough to drop from a spoon, add the remainder of the fruit.  Spoon into the pudding bowl.  Cover with a pleated piece of double greaseproof paper or foil and tie down.  (The paper is pleated to allow for expansion.)  Bring a saucepan of water to the boil, put in the pudding bowl, the water should come halfway up the sides.  Cover and steam for 2 hours. 

(Check the water level regularly to make sure the water doesn’t boil off).

Meanwhile make the homemade custard.

Put the vanilla pod (if available) into the cold milk and bring slowly to the boil.   Whisk the egg yolks with the sugar in a bowl.   Remove the vanilla pod from the milk and pour the milk onto the yolks, whisking all the time, (add the pure vanilla extract if using), return to the saucepan.   Stir over a gentle heat until the mixture thickens just enough to coat the back of a spoon, careful it must not boil.  Pour into a cold bowl and stir occasionally as it cools.

Treacle Tart

An all-time favourite.  The pastry lattice can be optional for a simpler version.

Serves 8

Shortcrust pastry made with:

225g (8oz) white flour

110g (4oz) butter

1 egg or water or a combination of both

Filling

400g (14oz) golden syrup

150g (5oz) fine fresh white breadcrumbs

2 organic lemons, zest and juice

1 free-range egg, beaten, to use as egg wash

1 x 18cm (7 inch) round tart tin with removable base

First make the pastry.

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

Using 150g (5oz) of the pastry (save the rest for the lattice top, cover and chill until needed).  Roll out thinly on a lightly floured worktop and use it to line a 23cm (9 inch) flan tin. Line with kitchen or greaseproof paper and fill to the top with dried beans. Rest for 15 minutes in the fridge.

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

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

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

Place the reserved pastry for the lattice top on cling film and roll out thinly. Egg wash the pastry and set aside to chill in the fridge (the cling film makes it easier to move later). Do not cut into strips at this stage. Do not egg wash the strips once they are on the tart as it will dribble into the treacle mixture.

Meanwhile, make the filling.  Heat the syrup gently in a sauté pan.

When the syrup has melted, add the breadcrumbs, lemon juice and the finely grated zest to the syrup. If the mixture looks too runny, add a few more breadcrumbs.  Cool for a few minutes. 

Pour the syrup mixture into the lined tin and level the surface.

Take the reserved pastry from the fridge and cut into 1cm (1/2 inch) wide strips.  Make them longer than the edges of the tart tin. 

Egg wash the edge of the pastry in the tin, lattice the top of the tart pressing each strip down at the edge to create a neat finish.

Bake in the pre-heated oven for about 30 – 40 minutes until the pastry is a deep golden and the filling is set.

Remove the tart from the oven and allow leave to firm up in the tin. Serve warm or cold.

‘Chasing Smoke, Cooking Over Fire Around The Levant’ (Cookbook by Sarit Packer & Itamar Srulovich)

Even if you didn’t know Sarit Packer and Itamar Srulovich, you’d have to be intrigued by this title and bright orange cover.  There are many cookbooks these days so it’s difficult to stand out from the crowd but this one certainly does.

It’s a third book from the ‘Honeys’ who own the much loved London restaurants, Honey and Co, Honey & Smoke and Honey & Spice. 

Where there is smoke, there is fire and this irrepressible couple have been following the trail of smoke all their lives.  They tell me that where there’s fire, food, friendships and memories are made. 

Their own fires burn brightly at their grillhouse Honey and Smoke at the northern end of Great Portland Street in London.  The irresistible smell of aubergines, onions, courgettes and squash charring over coal and wood smoke wafts out onto the street to tempt the passers-by to follow the trail to the source of the delicious smells.

This book takes us across the Levant as Sarit and Itamar visit their favourite cities in Alexandrea, Egypt, Amman, Jordan, Acre, Israel, Adana, Turkey and Thessaloniki in Greece.  They’ve really get a knack for ferreting out the most delicious simple, flavour packed dishes – could be a meal for two or a mouth-watering joyful feast for your family and a few friends.  Perfect timing…exactly the sort of food I want to eat now that we can have a little get together outdoors, lots of fresh air and tantalizing smells.

Sarit and Itamar really are masters of cooking over fire.  I love how they pass on many of the tips and tricks they’ve learned over decades of grilling both at home and in their restaurants – there’s even some rainy day advice.  In Chasing Smoke, they’ve put together a beautiful collection of recipes from all over the Middle East from the most famous grill houses to the humblest roadside kebab houses, even cooking over a circle of stones on the sea shore.

I also learned about balcony cooking, the reality for so many in high-rise apartments but it doesn’t matter where you live, one can cook safely over a little grill and reawaken the hunter gatherer within us all.

It was so difficult to choose just a few recipes.  Here are a few to tempt you and suggestions for cooking in the oven if the heavens open…Enjoy

Chicken Heart Skewers

Many people have never eaten heart, which is a shame as it is easy to cook and has a pleasant, subtle flavour. The heart is a muscle (of course) and benefits from quick cooking over a very high heat to avoid becoming tough or chewy. Strangely enough, these skewers tend to be a favourite with kids, although we are not sure whether they’re more drawn by the idea of the flavour. Finding chicken hearts for sale can sometimes be tricky, but if you ask your butcher nicely, I’m sure they will set some aside. It is a part of the bird that tends to get thrown away, but really it should be celebrated.

Makes 8 skewers (allow 2 per person)

500g (1lb 2oz) chicken hearts
2 tablespoons flaky sea salt
2 litres (3 1/2 pints) very cold water

For the cooking
1 bunch of parsley (about 40g/1 1/2oz)
2 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
1/2 teaspoon hot paprika (or a pinch of cayenne pepper)
a sprinkle of flaky sea salt

Clean the hearts, removing any white membrane and trimming away viable veins. Mix the salt and water in a large bowl, add the cleaned hearts and leave to soak for 30 minutes to draw out any impurities.

Pick and chop the parsley, mix with the minced garlic and set aside until needed.

Tip the soaked heats into a colander or sieve to drain, then pat them dry with kitchen paper. Thread five or six on each skewer. Stack the charcoal on your BBQ really high to get a good heat. Sear the hearts for 2 minutes on each side on a very hot grill, then dip each skewer in the parsley-garlic mixture before placing on a serving plate. Sprinkle with the salt and paprika (or cayenne) and serve immediately.

To cook without a BBQ
Use a lightly oiled, preheated griddle pan over a really high heat on your stove or hob and cook just as you would on the fire (but without the skewers).

From ‘Chasing Smoke, Cooking Over Fire Around the Levant’ by Sarit Packer and Itamar Srulovich published by Pavilion

Joojeh kebabs – Chicken in yogurt and saffron

Makes 4 large skewers (allow at least 1 per person)

8 large chicken thighs (boneless and skinless) – about 1.2kg (2lb 10oz net weight)

For the marinade
1 onion, peeled (about 150g/5 1/4oz)
3 garlic cloves, peeled
1 green chilli, halved and seeds removed
2 tablespoons ras el hanout spice mix (see recipe)
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
zest from 1 lemon
1 pinch of saffron strands
1 tablespoon rose water
80ml (3 1/4fl oz) water
200g (7oz) goats cheese

Purée the onion, garlic and chilli together in a food processor. Transfer to a large bowl, then combine with the rest of the marinade ingredients. Add the chicken thighs and mix really well to cost all over. Leave to marinate for at least 2 hours and up to 24 hours.

When you are ready to cook, use double skewers for each kebab (to keep the thighs as flat as possible) and thread with two pieces of marinated chicken. Keep any remaining marinade to baste the chicken as it is grilling.

Roast over good hot coals to caramelise the marinade and develop the sweetness, turning the kebabs every 5 minutes and brushing with leftover marinade after each turn. The chicken will take about 15-20 minutes to cook through. If your BBQ has a lid, covering it for 5 minutes will help the kebabs cook well without charring too much, however we tend not to do this as we really favour the taste of the charred marinade.

Serve with a small herb salad mixed with orange segments, for a freshness that goes really well with the robust marinade.

To cook without a BBQ
Roast the chicken thighs (no need to skewer them) in a very hot oven (240°C/220°C Fan/Gas Mark 9) for 15-20 minutes, or use a lightly oiled, preheated griddle pan on your store or hob and cook just as you would on the fire.

Ras el Hanout Spice Mix

There are as many versions of this spice mix as there are spice shops in the Middle East.  The literal translation of ras el hanout is ‘head of the shop’, meaning the best the shop has to offer, and can contain up to twenty different spices.  This is our version, which you can make yourself.

60g (2 1/4oz) cumin seeds

60g (2 1/4oz) coriander seeds

90g (3 1/4oz) fenugreek seeds

3 whole cloves

2 dried Persian limes

30g (1oz) whole cardamom pods

20g (3/4oz) dried rose petals

20g (3/4oz) curry leaves

1 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1 tablespoon ground white pepper

1 tablespoon ground turmeric

1 tablespoon ground cinnamon

1 tablespoon amchoor (mango powder)

1 tablespoon sweet paprika

Heat your oven to 190C/170°C fan/Gas Mark 5.

Place the cumin, coriander, fenugreek, cloves, dried limes and cardamom pods on a baking tray.  Roast for 5 minutes, then add the rose petals and curry leaves and roast for another 3 minutes.

Remove from the oven and cool before using a spice grinder to grind to a powder.  Mix with the pre-ground spices.  Store in a dry, airtight container, ideally in the freezer.  This will keep for up to 6 months, but I always think you should try to use it within 2 months to get the flavour at its best. 

From ‘Chasing Smoke, Cooking Over Fire Around the Levant’ by Sarit Packer and Itamar Srulovich published by Pavilion

Pork Chops with Spiced Butter


This invariably ends up being a staple dinner when we are on holiday. We buy a couple of chops and a local spice mix, light a small BBQ in the garden and cook this just for the two of us.

Serves 2

2 large potatoes
2 large pork chops on the bone
juice of 1 lemon

For the spiced butter
50g (2oz) butter (or ghee)
1 teaspoon sweet paprika
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice (pimento)
a pinch of freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
zest of 1 lemon
1 garlic clove, peeled and crushed
1/2 teaspoon salt

Build a BBQ and let it settle to nice hot embers. Wrap the potatoes in foil and pop them in the coal about 45 minutes before you want to eat.

Melt the butter in a small pan and stir in the spices, oregano, olive oil, lemon zest, garlic and salt. Remove from the bear and leave to infuse for 5 minutes.

Brush the chops on one side with the spiced butter and lay them buttered-side down on the BBQ. Grill for 5 minutes, brushing butter on the top (previously unbuttered) side of the chops as they cook. Flip them over to grill for 5 minutes on the other side, again brushing the top side with butter. Remove to a plate.

Pull the softened potatoes from the embers and leave to cook for a few minutes until you can easily unwrap them. Slit them down the middle and pour the rest of the seasoned butter over them. Serve with the chops and drizzle the lemon juice all over.

To cook without a BBQ
Bake the potatoes in a hot oven (220°C/200°C Fan/Gas Mark 7) for 45-60 minutes until soft. Use a preheated griddle pan on your stove or hob and cook the chops just as you would on the fire.

From ‘Chasing Smoke, Cooking Over Fire Around the Levant’ by Sarit Packer and Itamar Srulovich published by Pavilion

Fire-top knafe

There aren’t many Middle Eastern recipes for sweet things cooking on the fire.  The tradition is only to serve fresh or dried fruit to end a meal or maybe tiny, very sugary baklavas, mini doughnuts or halva, if you want to spoil your guests.  Fire-top knafe is an exception to this rule.  This combination of desiccated kadaif pastry, stringy cheese, rich syrup and a hint of smoke was celebrated in Jordan more than in any other place we visited.  I didn’t understand why the pastry was desiccated until I got back to London, started experimenting, and jammed one mincer after another with fresh pastry.  The heat in Jordan dries the pastry, making it brittle and requiring a new method to make it delicious again.  You will need to open a packet of fresh kadaif pastry and leave it on a try in a warm room for a day or two to dry out completely.  You can make the sugar syrup and kadaif crust in advance, so you just need to prepare the filling and cook this on the day of serving.

Fills a 28cm (11 inch frying pan) (or a knafe pan, if you own one)

Sugar Syrup

400g (14oz) granulated sugar

230ml (8 1/4fl oz) water

a squeeze of lemon juice

2 teaspoons orange blossom water (you can use more or less, to taste)

For the crust

375g (13oz) kadaif dough, air-dried until crisp

100ml (3 1/2fl oz) sugar syrup (the rest is poured over the cooked knafe)

45ml (1 1/2fl oz) water

100g (3 1/2oz) melted ghee

For the filling

250g (9oz) fresh Mozzarella

250g (9oz) hard Mozzarella (the stuff you can grate)

To cook and serve

30g (1oz) melted ghee to brush the pan

ground pistachios to garnish (optional)

Combine the sugar, water and lemon juice for the syrup in a medium saucepan, set on the BBQ over a high heat and bring to the boil.  Move to a low heat and let it simmer very gently for about 10 minutes.  Remove from the heat and stir in the orange blossom water.  You could, of course, prepare this on the stove if you prefer. 

Break up the dried kadaif pastry, then mince in a meat mincer or grind in a coffee grinder until you have a fine powder.  Place in a bowl, pour over 100ml (3 1/2fl oz) of sugar syrup, the water and the ghee, and mix until the pastry is well-coated and resembles cooked couscous.  Bake in the oven at 170°C/150°C Fan/Gas Mark 3-4 for 15 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes until dry and crumb-like, but still pale.  Allow to cool and store in an airtight container until needed.

Drain the fresh Mozzarella and roughly tear apart.  Place in a bowl, roughly grate in the hard Mozzarella and stir to combine.

Brush the base of your frying pan (or knafe pan) with the ghee.  Set aside 4 tablespoons of the toasted pastry crumbs and press the rest into the base of the pan to form a crust.  Spread the cheese mixture over the crust, leaving a 1cm (3/8 inch) border uncovered around the edge.  Set the pan over a mellow, low heat and cook for 10-12 minutes, rotating the pan every 2 minutes, until the outermost edge of the crust turns deep golden brown and the cheese has started to melt.  Sprinkle the reserved crumbs over the melting cheese layer, cover, remove from the heat and leave to rest for 5 minutes.  Then take a large plate that can easily fit the diameter of the frying pan and place it on top.  Very carefully, holding the two together, flip them over so the knafe is on the plate.  The cheese will now be the base, and the crispy crust will be on top.  Douse with all the remaining sugar syrup, sprinkle with pistachios (if you wish) and serve hot.

From ‘Chasing Smoke, Cooking Over Fire Around the Levant’ by Sarit Packer and Itamar Srulovich published by Pavilion

World Oceans Day

Have you watched Seaspiracy on Netflix?  I watched it recently and am still reeling from it.  I reckon to know a little about the crisis in the world’s oceans but I had no idea just how shockingly serious the picture is nor did I fully realise that the future of mankind depends even more on the state of the seas and fish stocks than on what happens on land. 

I now understand that the ocean absorbs over 90 percent of the heat that enters the atmosphere, it provides over half of the oxygen we breathe, it supplies over 3 billion people with 20 percent of their daily protein needs, it enables global trade and transport, and provides healthy food and a livelihood to millions, if not billions of people. Without the ocean, humans could not exist on Earth.

I’m trying to pick up courage to watch David Attenborough’s Blue Planet series and Seaspiracy again so I can try to glean some hope from the depressing facts.  It’s difficult not to come to the conclusion that we should not be eating any fish or shellfish at all but life is rarely black and white…It’s a very challenging  time for the fishing industry with Brexit, fish quotas and EU policies…fishing is worth over €1 billion  to the Irish economy and employs 16,000.

Local communities around the world rely on fishing for their livelihoods, the skills have been handed down in many families through the generations.  My preferred option is day boat fish but there are few enough day boats still fishing around our coasts for a variety of reasons.

The bigger boats can go further out and stay longer at sea.  They target the fish shoals with sophisticated technology.  The ‘unintended’ consequences often result in copious amounts of by-catch and decimation of the ocean floor and breeding grounds.  Many species have been overfished almost to the point of extinction which impacts on many other species and habitats in the complex web.

As consumers, we really want to source ‘sustainable’ fish.  According to Ali Tabrizi in Seaspiracy, this area also appears to be problematic with many unanswered questions.

n 1987, the then Prime Minister of Norway, Harlem Brundtland defined sustainability as ‘Meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs’ which could be parsed into ‘balancing the needs of today with the needs of tomorrow’.  Marine ecologist and fisheries biologist Bryce D. Stewart from the University of York, strongly disputed that sustainable fisheries don’t exist.  He maintains that 65.8 percent of fish stocks are harvested sustainably and that 78.7 percent of all landings of marine fisheries come from biologically sustainable stocks. However, this doesn’t mean there are no problems; approximately 34 percent of fish stocks are now overfished and this proportion has increased from only 10 percent in 1990.

So, let’s do our best to seek out non-threatened species and strive to support our local fishing communities.   Be prepared to pay more for day boat fish if you are fortunate enough to source it.

So what species are sustainable in Irish waters?

Look out for hake, rock salmon, sometimes called coley or saithe and mackerel.  There’s also lots of squid which can be either tossed in the pan for seconds or else cooked long and slowly to melting tenderness.  Squid also makes delicious fish cakes.  Prawn stocks are healthy in some areas as is monkfish but for more detail check out the Marine Institute website – it’s a very large file but scroll down to Table 3 on Page 19 for a summary – red, green or white indicates the MSY of the species (Max Sustainable Yield). 

Meanwhile, here are some of my favourite fish recipes, eat them slowly and enjoy every morsel.

Hot-Smoked Mackerel Tostadas

These tostadas are delicious combining the smoky flavour of mackerel and chipotle, lightened with a vibrant, citrusy tomato salsa and finished with a slice of creamy avocado and a sprinkling of deep-fried shallots.

Serves 4

8 x 10cm (4 inch) corn tortillas

300g (10oz) hot-smoked mackerel fillet (look out for Frank Hederman’s smoked mackerel at Midleton Farmers Market or online)

1 x fresh Tomato Salsa (see recipe)

1 cos lettuce, shredded

For the deep-fried shallots (optional)

4 shallots, finely sliced

100ml (3 1/2fl oz) olive oil or vegetable oil for frying

To Serve

Chipotle Mayonnaise (see recipe)

1 avocado sliced

freshly squeezed lime juice (optional)

Fry or bake the tortillas until crisp and golden.

To make the crispy shallots, pour the olive oil into the frying-pan and heat until it is shimmering.  Add the shallots and shallow fry them until they are crisp and golden, trying not to burn them.  Fish out with a slotted spoon and drain on kitchen paper to absorb the oil (you can keep the oil and re-use it for frying). 

Flake the hot-smoked mackerel with a fork and mix into the fresh tomato salsa. 

Spread each tostada generously with chipotle mayonnaise and top with shredded lettuce.  Spoon over the hot-smoked mackerel salsa and top with a slice of avocado.  Squeeze over a little lime juice and if you like and sprinkle with deep-fried shallots.

Variation

This is delicious with any type of smoked fish and also with very fresh raw mackerel, cut as for sushi.

Tomato and Coriander Salsa

Bestin Summer and early Autumn when tomatoes are ripe and juicy.

This sauce is ever present on Mexican tables to serve with all manner of dishes. Salsas of all kinds both fresh and cooked have now become a favourite accompaniment to everything from pan-grilled meat to a piece of sizzling fish.

Serves 4-6

4 very ripe tomatoes, chopped

1 tablespoon red or white onion, chopped

1 clove garlic, crushed

1/2-1 chilli, deseeded and finely chopped Jalapeno or Serrano

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.

Chipotle Mayonnaise

225ml (8fl oz) homemade Mayonnaise (see recipe)

1 1/2 tablespoons puréed chipotle chillies in adobo

juice of 1 lime

1 tablespoon chopped coriander

pinch of salt

Make the mayonnaise in the usual way (see recipe).

Add the chilli adobe, lime juice and coriander.

Mayonnaise

I know it is very tempting to reach for the jar of ‘well-known brand’ but most people don’t seem to be aware that Mayonnaise can be made even with a hand whisk, in under five minutes, and if you use a food processor the technique is still the same but it is made in just a couple of minutes. The great secret is to have all your ingredients at room temperature and to drip the oil very slowly into the egg yolks at the beginning. The quality of your Mayonnaise will depend totally on the quality of your egg yolks, oil and vinegar and it’s perfectly possible to make a bland Mayonnaise if you use poor quality ingredients.

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 (8fl oz) oil (sunflower or olive oil or a mixture) – We use 175ml (6fl oz) sunflower oil and 50ml (2fl oz) olive oil, alternatively use 7/1

Serve with cold cooked meats, fowl, fish, eggs and vegetables.

Put the egg yolks into a bowl with the 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.

Pan-grilled Mackerel with Green Gooseberry Sauce

This is a master recipe for pan-grilling fish.

The simplest and possibly the most delicious way to cook really fresh mackerel.  I love a pat of simple parsley or herb butter melting over the top but I’ve been enjoying them with the first of the green gooseberries – they cut the richness of the mackerel deliciously.

Serves 1 or 2

2-4 fillets of very fresh mackerel (allow 175g (6oz) fish form main course, 75g (3oz) for a starter)

seasoned flour

small knob of butter

Garnish

parsley

Dip the fish fillets in flour which has been seasoned with salt and freshly ground pepper. Shake off the excess flour and then spread a little butter with a knife on the flesh side, as though you were buttering a slice of bread rather meanly. When the grill is quite hot but not smoking, place the fish fillets butter side down on the grill; the fish should sizzle as soon as they touch the pan. Turn down the heat slightly and let them cook for 4 or 5 minutes on that side before you turn them over. Continue to cook on the other side until crisp and golden. Serve on a hot plate with a little bowl of green gooseberry sauce.  Garnish with a sprig of fresh parsley or with some gooseberry leaves if available.

Green Gooseberry Sauce

Use the tart hard green gooseberries on the bushes at the moment, they make a delicious sauce.

275g (9 1/2oz) fresh green gooseberries

approx. 175ml (6fl oz) stock syrup to cover made with 110ml (4fl oz) of water and 75g (3oz) of sugar boiled together for 2 minutes

a knob of butter (optional)

Top and tail the gooseberries, put into a stainless steel saucepan, barely cover with stock syrup, bring to the boil and simmer until the fruit bursts.  Taste.  Stir in a small knob of butter if you like but it is very good without it.

Carpaccio of Mackerel with Ginger and Sesame Dressing

Love this recipe kindly shared by Ruairi de Blacam from Inis Meáin Suites.

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

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

Ginger Sesame Dressing

600ml (1 pint) sesame oil

600ml (1 pint) sunflower oil

150ml (5fl oz) soy sauce

75g (3oz) garlic, grated

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

150g (5oz) sesame seeds toasted

Optional

spring onions, thinly sliced at an angle

coriander leaves

Fillet the spanking fresh mackerel and remove all the bones.  Slice each fillet into 3mm (1/8 inch) thick slices, arrange in a circle on a chilled plate.  Spoon a little dressing over each portion.  Sprinkle with thinly sliced spring onions and coriander seeds.

Spicy Haddock and Squid Cakes with Thai Dipping Sauce

Curry Paste can vary in intensity, so be careful and add more or less as needed.

Serves 4 as a starter

2cm (3/4 inch) cube fresh ginger, peeled and grated

2 garlic cloves, roughly crushed

1 large bunch of fresh coriander, roots attached, roughly chopped

1-2 tablespoons Thai green curry paste

250g (9oz) fresh haddock fillet, skin and bone free cut in cubes

250g (9oz) squid, cleaned and roughly chopped

freshly squeezed juice of a lime

1 1/2 – 2 tablespoons) fish sauce (Nam pla)

lime wedges to serve

sunflower oil for frying

To Serve

Thai Dipping Sauce (see recipe)

Arjard (Cucumber Salad) (see recipe)

Maldon sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Put the ginger, garlic, coriander and curry paste into a food-processor.  Whizz until the mixture is very well processed.  Stir and re-blend if necessary.

Next add the fresh haddock, squid, lime and fish sauce.  Pulse – the mixture should not be completely smooth.

Heat oil in a deep fry or about 5cm (2 inches) in a deep frying pan, cook a little piece to check the seasoning.  Divide the mixture into patties roughly 4cm (1 1/2 inches) in diameter. The mixture will make 14-16.

Deep fry the fish cakes in batches of about six for 3-4 minutes until golden.  Drain well on kitchen paper and keep warm while you cook the rest.

Serve with Thai Dipping Sauce, a wedge of lime and maybe a few fresh coriander leaves.

Thai Dipping Sauce

A version of this sauce is ever present on restaurant tables in Thailand and Vietnam. A great dipping sauce to use with grilled or deep-fried meat or fish and of course spring rolls.

Serves 4

3 tablespoons Nam pla, fish sauce

3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime or lemon juice

3 tablespoons warm water

2 tablespoons sugar or more to taste

1 clove of garlic, crushed

1 red or green chilli (to taste)

Put the fish sauce, freshly squeezed lime or lemon juice, sugar and 3 tablespoons of warm water into a jar, add the crushed garlic. Mix well and pour into 4 individual bowls. Cut the chillies crossways into very thin rounds and divide them between the bowls.

For the Arjard (Cucumber Salad)

2 shallots, peeled and thinly sliced lengthways

1 red chilli, deseeded and sliced into rings

1 green chilli, deseeded and sliced into rings

4 tablespoons sugar

6 tablespoons water

6 tablespoons malt vinegar

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 cucumber, quartered lengthways and thinly sliced

Put all the ingredients except the cucumber in a heavy-bottomed saucepan. Bring to the boil and simmer for 3–5 minutes. Set aside to cool. Once cold, pour the marinade over the slices of cucumber and set aside to marinate in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.

Hake or Haddock with Piperonata and Buttered Crumbs

Piperonata sounds very grand but it’s really just a pepper, tomato, onion and basil stew, gorgeous with fresh fish. 

A crunchy topping in a creamy sauce is always tempting.

Serves 6-8

1.1kg (2 1/4lbs) hake, ling, haddock, grey sea mullet or pollock

salt and freshly ground pepper

15g (1/2oz) butter

Piperonata (see recipe)

Mornay Sauce

600ml (1 pint) whole milk

a few slices of carrot and onion

3 or 4 peppercorns

a sprig of thyme and parsley

50g (2oz) approx. Roux

150-175g (5-6oz) grated Cheddar cheese or 75g (3oz) grated Parmesan cheese

1/4 teaspoon mustard preferably Dijon mustard

salt and freshly ground pepper

Buttered Crumbs

25g (1oz) butter

50g (2oz) soft, white breadcrumbs

900g (2lbs) mashed potato (optional)

First make the Piperonata (see recipe), while it’s cooking make the Mornay sauce. Put the cold milk into a saucepan with a few slices of carrot and onion, 3 or 4 peppercorns and a sprig of thyme and parsley. Bring to the boil, simmer for 4-5 minutes, remove from the heat and leave to infuse for 10 minutes if you have enough time.

Strain out the vegetables, bring the milk back to the boil and thicken with roux to a light coating consistency. Add the mustard and two thirds of the grated cheese, keep the remainder of the cheese for sprinkling over the top. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper, taste and correct the seasoning if necessary. Add the parsley if using.

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

Skin the fish and cut into portions: 175g (6oz) for a main course, 75g (3oz) for a starter. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper.  Lightly butter an ovenproof dish, coat with the Mornay sauce.  Put a layer of Piperonata on the base of the dish.  Lay the pieces of fish on top. Top with another layer of sauce. Mix the remaining grated cheese with the buttered crumbs and sprinkle over the top. Pipe a ruff of fluffy mashed potato around the edge if you want to have a whole meal in one dish.

Cook in a moderate oven, 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4, for 25-30 minutes or until the fish is cooked through and the top is golden brown and crispy. If necessary flash under the grill for a minute or two before you serve, to brown the edges of the potato.

Note: Haddock with Piperonata and Buttered Crumbs may be served in individual dishes. Scallop shells are very attractive, are completely ovenproof and may be used over and over again.

Piperonata

This is one of the indispensable trio of vegetable stews that we always reckon to have to hand. We use it not only as a vegetable but also as a topping for pizzas, as a sauce for pasta, grilled fish or meat and as a filling for omelettes and pancakes.

Serves 8-10

2 tablespoons olive oil

225g (8oz) onion, sliced

a clove of garlic, crushed

2 red peppers

2 green peppers

6 large tomatoes (dark red and very ripe) (use tinned if fresh are out of season)

salt, freshly ground pepper and sugar

a few leaves of fresh basil

Heat the olive oil in a casserole, add the onion and garlic, toss in the oil and allow to soften over a gentle heat in a covered casserole while the peppers are being prepared. Halve the peppers, remove the seeds carefully, cut into quarters and then cut the pepper flesh into 2-2 1/2cm (3/4 – 1 inch) squares.  Add to the onion and toss in the oil; replace the lid and continue to cook.

Meanwhile peel the tomatoes (scald in boiling water for 10 seconds, pour off the water and peel immediately). Slice the tomatoes and add to the casserole, season with salt, freshly ground pepper, sugar and a few leaves of fresh basil if available. Cook until the vegetables are just soft, 30 minutes approx.

Roux

110g (4oz) butter

110g (4oz) flour

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

Picnics

What gorgeous weather for a picnic…well at least it’s heavenly here, blue skies and the sun’s shining.  Sod’s law will probably dictate that it’s lashing rain as you read this…but there’s optimism in the air so grab your picnic basket and head for the countryside…

I come from a long line of picnickers, those who know me will be well aware that there’s always a picnic basket in the boot of the car plus a ‘Granny trolley’ (not sure if that’s what you call one of those roll-along deep shopping bags).  In case I need to schlep my picnic over rough terrain to reach the perfect spot – a sheltered nook along the seashore, in a woodland, on a river bank or beside a lake or babbling brook…

I also keep an old frying pan, some firelighters, a little pack of kindling, a box of matches and some newspaper so I can build a little fire on a circle of stones (where appropriate) to cook a few sausages.  Good breakfast sausages take on a whole new dimension of flavour when cooked and eaten outdoors.

So what to pack into your picnic basket.  My picnics are often super simple, a loaf of good soda or sourdough bread and Jersey butter….a few ripe cherry tomatoes, a bunch of radishes, perhaps a smoked duck or chicken breast or maybe some smoked mackerel or salmon to slice into thin slivers – all brilliant pantry standbys.  The Gravlax recipe I gave on the 1st May 2021 is also a brilliant picnic food, we’ve been having fun experimenting with a beetroot and dill version which is moist and succulent as well as gorgeous to look at when sliced into thin beetroot tinged slices.  Bring a little pot of sweet dill mayonnaise to drizzle over the top and enjoy it with a brown yeast or rye bread. 

It’s hard to beat a freshly roast chicken.  Time it to come out of the oven just before you leave so it’s still juicy and gorgeous when you unpack your picnic.  A bowl of homemade mayonnaise with a little tarragon snipped in would complete the simple feast and of course a jar of Ballymaloe Relish.  Another favourite is a piece of glazed freshly cooked loin of bacon with a sugary glaze spiked with cloves.  A picnic can be super simple, I love to have some artisan salami or chorizo, canned mackerel or sardines too…  For bang for your buck, it’s hard to beat a couple of ripe avocados sprinkled with flaky sea salt, what could be easier…

Pop in some fruit, maybe ripe cherries or a punnet or two of Irish strawberries.  We love to dip them in a little mound of castor sugar and then into a little pot of whipped cream – simple, delicious and super easy.  Bring a chilled ripe watermelon in a cold box and cut it into wedges– instant deliciousness and of course an oozy cheese and crackers.

For a less spontaneous picnic, one can make a creamy quiche or some empanadas, a crunchy filo pie and a seasonal fruittart. 

Don’t forget Myrtle Allen’s chest of sandwiches which takes a little time to prepare but always gets a brilliant reaction and is pretty much a complete picnic in a loaf.  Bring along a bottle of chilled rosé and maybe some homemade lemonade, elderflower fizz and some artisan beer.

Here are a few suggestions….

Myrtle Allen’s Picnic Chest of Sandwiches

Serves 8 approx.

1 x 900g (2lbs) pan loaf

50g (2oz) approx. butter

a long sharp knife with a pointed top

a serrated bread knife

Sandwich fillings might include:

scrambled egg and chives

gravlax with sweet mustard sauce

roasted pepper, Mozzarella and pesto

mature Cheddar cheese with Ballymaloe Country Relish and cucumber pickle

roast chicken with red pepper mayonnaise and sunflower sprouts

tomato, buffalo Mozzarella, tapenade and basil leaves…..

Garnish: salad leaves, watercress, flat parsley, cherry tomatoes, spring onions

Insert the knife at the side just over the bottom crust, just inside the back of the loaf. Push it through until it reaches but does not go through the crust on the far side. Without making the cut any bigger through which the knife was inserted, work the knife in a fan shape as far forward as possible, then pull it out. Do the same from the opposite corner at the other end of the loaf. The bread should now be cut away from the bottom crust inside without a noticeable mark on the exterior of the loaf.

Next cut through the top of the loaf to make a lid, carefully leaving one long side uncut, as a hinge.

Finally, with the lid open, cut the bread away from the sides. Ease it carefully, it should turn out in a solid brick or a round, leaving an empty case behind.

Cut it into slices, long horizontal ones, square vertical ones or rounds, depending on the shape of the loaf. Carefully stack them, butter them and fill them with your chosen filling or fillings in the order in which they were cut. Don’t forget to season each sandwich. Press the sandwiches together firmly and fill them back, still in order into the loaf.

For a picnic.

Close the top of the case and wrap it up, it will gape slightly because of the extra bulk of delicious filling. The sandwiches will keep very fresh.  Add some crisp lettuce and watercress leaves, small ripe tomatoes, spring onions etc. to look like a little hamper overflowing with fruit and vegetables.


Cheddar Cheese Focaccia Sandwich

This soda bread focaccia can be whipped up in 2-3 minutesand it takes just 20-30 minutes to bake.  It is best eaten on the day it is made but is still perfectly edible next day and is also very good toasted.  Here we bake it flat with a bubbly Cheddar cheese topping.

Cheddar Cheese Focaccia (see recipe)

Filling

slices of chorizo or salami of your choice

hard-boiled eggs

homemade mayonnaise, sweet chilli sauce

rocket leaves

First make the bread (see recipe).

To Assemble

Cut the bread in squares and split or hinge. Butter or drizzle with extra virgin oil, top with slices of chorizo, hard-boiled eggs, mayonnaise, sweet chilli sauce and rocket leaves or another filling of your choice.

Cheddar Cheese Focaccia

450g (1lb) plain white flour, preferably unbleached

1 level teaspoon salt

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

sour milk or buttermilk to mix – 400ml (14fl oz) approx.

110-175g (4-6oz) Irish mature Cheddar cheese

1 rectangular tin with deep sides 31 x 21cm (12 x 8 1/4 inch)

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

Sieve all the dry ingredients.   Make a well in the centre.  Pour all of the milk in at once.  Using one hand, mix in the flour from the sides of the bowl. The dough should be softish, not too wet and sticky.  When it all comes together, turn it out onto a floured board.  Tidy it up, flip over and roll the dough into a rectangle, approx. 31 x 23cm (12 x 9 inches).   Brush the tin with extra virgin olive oil. Press the dough gently into the tin. Scatter the grated cheese evenly over the top.

Bake in a hot oven for 5 minutes, then turn down the oven to 200˚C/400˚F/Gas Mark 6 for about 20-25 minutes or until just cooked. The cheese should be bubbly and golden on top.

A little sprinkling of sliced spring onions would be delicious over the top.


Heirloom Tomato and Ricotta Tart

How about this gorgeous tart for your picnic.  It was originally inspired by a photo on the cover of Delicious magazine. The ricotta and pecorino filling is uncooked, so be sure to assemble the tart close to the time of eating.  Choose really ripe tomatoes.  I use the delicious buffalo ricotta made in West Cork for this dish.

Serves 8

For the Pastry

150g (5oz) plain white flour

75g (3oz) cold butter

a little water, to bind

1 beaten organic, free-range egg, to seal

For the filling

250g (9oz) buffalo ricotta

100g (3 1/2oz) pecorino cheese, grated

2 tablespoons double cream

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

1 tablespoon honey

2 tablespoons chopped basil, thyme and marjoram, plus extra leaves to garnish

zest of 1/2 organic lemon

flaky sea salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper

650g (1 1/2lbs) mixed ripe heritage and cherry tomatoes, including striped zebra (green), red and yellow cherry tomatoes, if available

First make the pastry. All the ingredients should be cold. Sift the flour into a large bowl. Cut the butter into cubes. Toss the cubes into the flour and then proceed to lift up a few cubes of butter at the time in each hand. Using your thumbs, rub the cubes of butter across the middle three fingers, towards the index fingers.

Allow the flakes of floured butter to drop back into the bowl, then pick up some more and continue until all the butter is rubbed in. As you rub in the butter, hold your hands well above the bowl and run your fingers through the flour to incorporate as much air as possible to keep the mixture cool. This whole process should only take a minute or two – careful not to rub the butter in too much, or the pastry will be heavy. The pieces should resemble lumpy breadcrumbs. If you are in doubt, shake the bowl and any larger pieces will come to the top. Add salt if using unsalted butter.

Using a fork, toss and stir the pastry as you add just enough water to bind, 2–3 tablespoons should do the trick. If you are in doubt, discard the fork and collect up the pastry with your hand as you will be able to judge more easily by feel if it needs a little more water. Careful not to make the pastry too wet or it will shrink in the oven. If the pastry is too dry, it will be difficult to roll out.

When the pastry has come together, turn it out onto the work surface and flatten it into an approx. 30cm round. Cover with greaseproof paper and, if possible, set aside in the fridge to rest for at least 15 minutes to allow the gluten to relax. The pastry will then be less likely to shrink in the oven.

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

Roll out the pastry to a circle approx. 25cm (10 inch) in diameter. Lift the pastry over a 23cm (9 inch) greased tart tin and press down gently around the sides. Trim around the edges with a sharp knife and prick the base gently with a fork. Line with baking parchment and fill with baking beans.

Transfer the pastry case to the oven and bake ‘blind’ for about 25 minutes until pale and golden. Remove the baking beans and paper. Brush the part-baked pastry case all over with a little beaten egg and pop it back into the oven for 5–10 minutes until pale golden brown all over. Set aside to cool.

To make the filling, combine the ricotta and pecorino in a bowl. Add the double cream, extra virgin olive oil, honey, herbs, lemon zest, salt and pepper. Mix gently together. Taste a little dollop of the filling with a slice of tomato and correct the seasoning, if necessary. It might need a little more honey.

Slice the larger tomatoes and cut the smaller cherry ones in half lengthways or crossways, as you prefer.

Not long before serving, spoon the ricotta filling into the cooked pastry case and arrange the tomatoes on top. I like to arrange the sliced, bigger ones, including the green zebra over the base and top with the smaller cherry tomatoes. Season with salt, pepper, a little drizzle of honey (about 1/2 teaspoon) and lots of thyme and marjoram leaves. Garnish with a few little basil leaves and serve soon.

From ‘One Pot Feeds All’ by Darina Allen, published by Kyle Books


Spanakopita

Greek Spinach and Cheese Pie

Spanakopita can also be made in individual ‘snails’, but this delicious flaky version comes in a sauté pan.  This version is good for a picnic feast as it serves 12–15 people.  You can halve the recipe if you’re serving smaller numbers.

Serves 12-15

150g (5oz) butter

900g (2lbs) leeks, sliced and washed really well

6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

500g (18oz) onions, finely chopped

8 spring onions (both white and green parts), finely sliced

900g (2lbs) fresh spinach, weighed after the stalks have been removed, washed really well

6 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley

6 tablespoons chopped dill

350g (12oz) feta cheese, crumbled

125g (4 1/2oz) Parmesan cheese, grated

4 organic, free-range eggs, beaten

9 sheets of filo pastry, 30 x 43cm (12 x 17 inch) (about one packet)

15g (1/2oz) melted butter, for brushing

egg wash, made by beating 1 organic, free-range egg with 2–3 tablespoons whole milk

flaky sea salt, freshly ground black pepper and nutmeg

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

Melt the butter in a 26cm (10 inch) ovenproof sauté pan and cook the sliced leeks with 2–3 tablespoons of water for 4–5 minutes until tender (older leeks may take slightly longer). Scoop the leeks out of the pan and set aside on a plate while you cook the spinach.

Heat the olive oil in the sauté pan, add the onions and spring onions, and sweat over a low heat for 3–4 minutes, covered, until soft but not coloured. Increase the heat to medium, add the spinach and toss well to coat it in the oil.  Season with salt, pepper and nutmeg.  Add the chopped parsley and dill, and continue to cook for 4–5 minutes, stirring, until the spinach has wilted.  Turn out the spinach mixture into a colander and set aside to drain and cool.

Combine the crumbled feta and 100g (3 1/2oz) of the grated Parmesan in a medium bowl and beat in the egg.  Add the well-drained spinach and the leeks and season to taste.

Brushing each sheet of filo with melted butter as you go, layer up the pastry in the base of the sauté pan or roasting dish so that it comes up the sides, leaving enough pastry hanging over the sides to fold over and encase the filling.

Spread the filling evenly over the pastry and bring up the sides of the filo to enclose the filling.  Score the top of the pie into a diamond or square pattern and brush all over with the egg wash.  Sprinkle the surface with the remaining 25g (1oz) grated Parmesan.

Put the sauté pan onto a gas jet at medium, cook for 3-4 minutes or until the pan heats and the base starts to brown.  Transfer to the oven and bake for about 45 minutes until puffed up and golden.

Serve, cut into wedges, while still warm and fluffy.

From ‘One Pot Feeds All’ by Darina Allen, published by Kyle Books

JR Ryall’s Dundee Cake

This cake is famous – we all love it.  JR Ryle, head pastry chef at Ballymaloe House is also an avid picnicker and always includes this in his basket.

Makes 1 x 18cm (7 inch) round cake or 900g (2lbs) loaf

225g (8oz) softened butter

225g (8oz) caster sugar

grated rind of 1 large orange

4 eggs

225g (8oz) plain flour, sifted

50g (2oz) ground almonds

25g (1oz) mixed candied peel

100g (4oz) currants

100g (4oz) sultanas

100g (4oz) raisins

50g (2oz) glacé cherries, quartered

40-50 split blanched and peeled almonds

Preheat the oven to 150°C/300°F/Gas Mark 2 and line an 18cm (7 inch) round tin or a 900g (2lbs) loaf tin.

Cream butter and sugar until smooth and light.  Beat the eggs.  Add in three stages alternating with a tablespoon of the flour between each addition. Beat thoroughly.  Mix ground almonds, dried fruit and orange rind before folding into the mixture.  Fold in the remaining flour carefully.  Turn the mixture into the prepared tin and arrange the split almonds over the entire top.

Bake in the preheated oven for 2 1/2 – 3 hours until a skewer comes out clean. Remove from the oven and allow 10 minutes before turning onto a wire rack to cool.

Herb Week

Prompted by National Herb Week, this week’s column is all about my beloved herbs – not just parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme… I’ll encourage you to be extra adventurous – experiment with less familiar herbs. I’m loving the bright celery flavour of the new season’s lovage that’s popping up in the Ballymaloe Cookery School Herb Garden. It’s a leafy perennial that grows about 5 feet tall and comes back every year. The tender young growth is particularly delicious in salads and in soups but we also enjoy this under-appreciated herb in scrambled eggs, omelettes and potato and tomato salads with lots of slivered spring onions and parsley.

Fresh herbs can literally transform the flavour of dishes and just like spices, herbs have many different flavours depending on how they are used. Whether they are added at the beginning of the cooking process, in the middle, at the end or scattered in sprigs over the final presentation.

Some, like rosemary and thyme oxidise and discolour within minutes of being chopped, sage is similar. You’ll also have noticed that the fresh young growth is milder than the robust flavour of the evergreen perennials so use accordingly.

The blue, nectar rich flowers of rosemary, thyme and sage attract bees in spring and early summer and also provide flowers and leaves for an aromatic posy on your kitchen table. All of these herbs have medicinal as well as culinary uses. Rosemary is a powerful anti-inflammatory, a rich source of antioxidants, boosts the immune system and helps to improve memory.

So how about a simple glass of rosemary tea every day, just pour boiling water over a generous sprig of rosemary, allow it to infuse for 3 or 4 minutes and enjoy.

Sage too has similar properties, the latter is another underused herb but I fry copious quantities of young leaves to scatter over fried eggs, pasta or a risotto. They’re addictive and have you tried the Tuscan snack Salvia Fritti or Sage and Anchovy Fritters.  Talk about addictive, there never seems to be enough… the perfect nibble with a glass of crisp dry white Soave or a fino.

As ever I am encouraging you to grow your own herbs, close to your kitchen door so you can pop out on a whim to snip a few leaves (and flowers) to add magic to what might otherwise be a totally mundane dish.

Urbanites can grow lots on a window sill, in large pots or in galvanised buckets.

Check out your local garden centre or seek out passionate small growers at Farmer’s Markets to find unusual varieties of familiar herbs. For example, there are numerous forms of mint – apple mint, strawberry mint, pineapple mint, ginger mint, liquorice mint, chocolate mint, Moroccan mint…but spearmint and peppermint are probably the most useful. Apparently there are over 600 varieties on the planet.

There are also numerous sages, the purple and variegated are also easy to source but at least have common sage. Lemon balm is another perennial ‘must have’ and the variegated version, with its green and cream leaves is also worth looking out for.

But back to Herb Week, now in its 15th year, it was created in 2006 to celebrate the nutritional and medicinal value of herbs.  Check out the web for further information.

This year, parsley is the herb of the year – well doesn’t this versatile favourite deserve to be celebrated. I grow both curly and flat parsley and use it in copious quantities. No one should have to buy parsley and one can never have too much. It is a biennial (lasts 2 seasons) and bet you didn’t know that it has more Vitamin C than an orange. Just pick a couple of outside stalks off the plant at a time.  Flat parsley seems to be more fashionable now but both are equally delicious. Use all of the stalk too and at the end of the second year harvest the root, you’ll be blown away by the flavour, use in stews, salads, parsley pesto or the stock pot.

I’m not sure where to start with recipes, there are so many but here are a few of my current favourites – Sage and Anchovy Fritters, Melon in Lovage Syrup, Syrian Mint Lemonade, Parsley Pesto, Chimichurri, Parsley, Red Onion, Pomegranate and Sumac Salad.

Melon in Lovage Syrup

A beautiful ripe melon needs little embellishment, but even a mediocre melon is greatly enhanced by the haunting flavour of borage syrup.

Serves 4

1 ripe melon

2 tablespoons shredded mint leaves

Lovage Syrup (see recipe)

Slice or cube the ripe melon.   Put into a large bowl. Drizzle with the lovage syrup.  Toss gently and leave to marinate in the fridge for an hour or so.

Toss the melon with the shredded mint leaves.

Divide among four chilled plates and serve immediately.

Lovage Syrup

Makes 350ml (12fl oz)

175g (6oz) sugar

225ml (8fl oz) water

25g (1oz) lovage leaves

Put the sugar and water into a saucepan, add the lovage leaves.  Bring to the boil, stirring until the sugar dissolves.    Allow to infuse for an hour or two.  Taste.

Strain the syrup, discard the lovage leaves.  Store in a glass bottle in the fridge.   It will keep for several months.

Fresh Mint Lemonade

(Syrian Laymoun bi-na na – Fresh Lemon Juice with Mint)

Freshly squeezed juices were widely available, lots of orange and pomegranate of course, but we particularly enjoyed this refreshing lemon and mint drink.

Serves 6

juice of 6 lemons

300ml Stock Syrup (see recipe)

2 fistfuls of fresh mint leaves

300ml (10fl oz) cold water

Squeeze the lemons, pour the juice into a liquidiser.  Add the syrup (see below), fresh mint leaves and cold water. Whizz until mint is fine and the drink is frothy. Pour into a tall glass with lots of ice, drink through a straw while still fresh.

Stock Syrup

Makes 825ml (scant 1 1/2 pints approx.)

350g (12oz) sugar

600ml (1 pint) water

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.

Parsley Pesto

Serve with pasta, over goat cheese or halloumi or drizzle over salads.

Makes 2 x 150ml (7fl oz) jars

50g (2oz) flat parsley leaves (no stalks)

2 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed

35g (scant 1 1/2oz) cashew nuts

200ml (7fl oz) extra virgin olive oil

50g (2oz) freshly grated Parmesan

salt

Chop the cashew nuts finely first.  Then put all the ingredients except the Parmesan, oil and salt into the food-processor.  Whizz for a second or two, add the oil gradually.  Add the Parmesan, whizz for another couple of seconds and a little salt.  Taste and correct seasoning.

Chimichurri Sauce

Chimichurri sauce is a hot perky sauce from Argentina.  Great with a pan-grilled steak, drizzle over a fried egg, vegetable pizza or pasta – have fun!

Makes 225-250ml (8-9fl oz) approx.

50g (2oz) flat parsley leaves

4 large cloves garlic peeled and crushed

2 tablespoons water

100ml (3 1/2fl oz) extra virgin olive oil or sunflower oil

50ml (2floz) red wine vinegar

1 red onion, finely chopped

1/2 chilli seeded and chopped or 1/4 teaspoon chilli flakes

salt

Chop the parsley finely with the garlic and water. (Alternatively, whizz in a food-processor, scraping down the sides of the bowl until well pulsed). Transfer to a bowl. Whisk in the oil and vinegar gradually. Add the red onion, chilli and salt. Taste and add more seasoning if necessary.

Parsley, Red Onion, Pomegranate and Sumac Salad

Keep this gorgeous fresh tasting recipe up your sleeve for when you have a glut of flat parsley.

Serves 4-6

4 handfuls of flat parsley leaves

175g (6oz) red onion, thinly sliced

2 teaspoons of sugar

a tiny pinch of flaky sea salt

1 tablespoon Forum white or red wine vinegar

Dressing

3 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil

1 tablespoon Forum white or red wine vinegar

1 teaspoon of pomegranate molasses

1 teaspoon of sumac

seeds from 1/2 pomegranate

Put the thinly sliced onion rings into a small bowl with the sugar, a tiny pinch of salt and vinegar. Allow to macerate for 30 minutes. Add the extra virgin olive oil, vinegar and pomegranate molasses and toss to mix evenly.

Put the parsley into a serving bowl. Add the pickled onions, sprinkle with sumac and toss well but gently. Sprinkle with pomegranate seeds. Taste and tweak the seasoning if necessary. Serve soon as a starter or with pan-grilled lamb chops.

Salvia Fritti – Sage and Anchovy Fritters

I always used to associate these delectable fritters with Tuscany where I first tasted them but I’ve also enjoyed them in Sicily.

Makes 20

40 large young sage leaves

20 finest-quality anchovy fillets

lemon wedges

Light batter

200g (7oz) plain white flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 egg

150ml (5fl oz) soda water

First, make the batter. Sieve the flour and baking powder into a bowl. Make a well in the centre and add the lightly beaten egg. Gradually whisk in the soda water, working from the centre to the outside of the bowl to make a smooth batter. Cover and allow to rest for an hour.

Heat the oil, preferably pomace olive oil in a deep fryer to 280°C (alternatively, use a frying pan with 6cm-7cm (2 1/2 – 3 inch) of oil).

Meanwhile, dip a sage leaf in the batter and shake off the excess. Lay an anchovy fillet or half if they’re too long, on top and press on another sage leaf to make a little sandwich. Dip the sandwiches, one at a time into the batter, shake off the excess. Cook in batches in the hot oil, turning once or twice – a minute should be sufficient. Drain on kitchen paper and serve immediately with a lemon wedge.

Irish Food Writers Guild Awards

Can you imagine the excitement when you open a letter – rare enough these days. Who can this be from? At least it doesn’t have a ‘window’ so hopefully it’s not another bill – WOW…. Guess what, we’ve won an Irish Food Writers Guild Award…!

Variations on this conversation happened in six different food producers’ kitchens recently. It was such a boost to the winners who have battled to stay afloat in unprecedented times.

Kristin Jensen, chair of the Irish Food Writers’ Guild (IFWG) remarked that the choice of winners reflected the times we are in.  During Covid – there has been a newfound appreciation for the simple pleasures in life.

Irish spuds topped with a generous knob of creamy, hand-rolled butter and served with traditional spiced beef are the makings of a fine feast and the cornerstone of many an Irish meal.  The kind of produce we take for granted in Ireland, these oft-considered store cupboard ‘basics’ have each been singled out for a 2021 Irish Food Award, and for good reason. 


That gives you a clue as to the winner’s identity.
Tom Durcan’s spiced beef was one of three awards to go to Co. Cork. Tom’s Spiced Beef can be found not just at his stall in the English Market but also in stores and restaurants nationwide, including Dublin’s Chapter One restaurant, where chef-proprietor and fellow Cork man, Ross Lewis is an enthusiastic champion of the tender, sweet-savoury delicacy.

www.tomdurcanmeats.ie


Irish staples such as spuds and butter are also award winners. 

Abernethy Butter from Co. Down also impressed the judges.  The award recipients haven’t the slightest clue that they have been secretly nominated by a Guild or several Guild members until they get notice.  Allison and her husband, Will Abernethy, are custodians of a near-lost tradition of handmade butter which they revived around ten years ago and have grown it with a variety of flavours as well as handmade fudge and lemon curd. A unique dairy product, there isn’t any other comparable commercial butter in Ireland in terms of process, their small-batch, slow-churned, hand-rolled butter shaped with wooden pats is made using Draynes Farm grass-fed, single-herd superb quality cream. Top chefs both here in Ireland and the UK frequently list Abernethy Butter on menus as a star ingredient in their dishes. Check out a slew of stockists and their walls covered with prestigious awards.
www.abernethybutter.com


And next the spuds.
Ballymakenny Farm Irish Heritage and speciality potatoes have developed a cult-like following in Ireland over the past few years for good reason, and despite the challenges of 2020 they continue to be the spuds everyone wants on their plates. Maria and David Flynn started out growing the usual potatoes for supermarket retail until Maria, unenthused by what they were doing, decided to literally inject a bit of colour into their farming by trying out the ‘purple spuds’ they have become best known for.
www.ballymakennyfarm.com

The Irish Drink Award went to Kinsale Mead – Wild Red Mead – Merlot Barrel aged, which was established by Kate and Denis Dempsey in 2017 – Ireland’s first commercial meadery for over 200 years. In 2020, Kate and Denis, inspired by the legends of Ireland’s Wild Geese, wanted to explore the potential of their mead further by ageing it in French wine barrels for twelve months. The IFWG Award is for their Wild Red Mead – Merlot Barrel Aged, a three-year-old fermented off-dry mead flavoured with tart Irish blackberry and juicy cherry, then aged for twelve months in Bordeaux wine casks. 2020 was a challenging year for the duo as direct sales were impacted, meadery tours were limited and tastings, food festivals and other promotional opportunities all ceased due to COVID-19 restrictions. They responded by creating virtual Online Mead Talk & Taste Zooms comprising tastings and intriguing insights into the history of mead in Ireland and the importance of mead in Irish food culture, held in high esteem and value.
www.kinsalemeadco.ie

The Outstanding Organisation Award went to NeighbourFood, the ‘virtual farmer’s market’, started in Cork in 2018 by Jack Crotty (Ballymaloe Cookery School Alumni) and Martin Poucher.
NeighbourFood has helped immeasurably to brighten people’s lives during the pandemic but also to save the livelihood of countless food producers, artisan bakers, cake makers, fish mongers, vegetable and herb growers, dairy farmers, cheese makers, brewers…who supply more than 65 locations in Ireland and 20 in the UK
Suppliers know in advance what is required of them, so there is no waste. Minimal packaging is used – another win for the environment. NeighbourFood has become an essential service and resource for growers and producers whose livelihoods were threatened as a result of the shrinking of the hospitality industry.
www.neighbourfood.ie

Ballymore Organics Porridge, Stoneground Flour and Semolina Loaf

The Environmental Award went to Ballymore Organics, a Co. Kildare producer for their outstanding organic porridge oats, stoneground flour and semolina.

Makes 1 loaf or 3 small loaves

350g (12oz) stone ground wholemeal flour

75g (3oz) white flour, preferably unbleached

50g (2oz) semolina

25g (1oz) oatmeal (use half for sprinkling on top of the loaf before it goes into the oven)

1 teaspoon salt

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

1 egg, preferably free range

1 tablespoon sunflower oil, unscented

1 teaspoon honey or treacle

425ml (15fl oz) buttermilk or sour milk approx.

Loaf tin 23 x 12.5 x 5cm (9 x 5 x 2 inch) OR 3 small loaf tins 14.6cm x 7.5cm (5.75 x 3 inch) 

Preheat the oven to 200ºC/400ºF/Gas Mark 6.

Put all the dry ingredients including the sieved bread soda into a large bowl, mix well. Whisk the egg, add the oil and honey and buttermilk. Make a well in the centre of the dry ingredients and pour in all the liquid, mix well and add more buttermilk if necessary. The mixture should be soft and slightly sloppy, pour into an oiled tin or tins – using a butter knife, draw a slit down the middle. Sprinkle some sunflower or sesame seeds on the top. Bake for 60 minutes approximately (45-50 minutes for small loaf tins), or until the bread is nice and crusty and sounds hollow when tapped. Cool on a wire rack.

Rory O’Connell’s Radishes with Smoked Eel Butter

Delicious served as a little nibble before dinner.

Serves 4-6 as a starter

Smoked Eel Butter

100g (3 1/2oz) smoked eel

50g (2oz) Abernethy’s butter 

a few drops of lemon juice

sea salt and freshly ground pepper

To Serve

16-24 chilled radishes with leaves attached

Blend the eel and butter in a food processor until just blended. Season with a few drops of lemon juice, a little pepper and if necessary a little salt.

Place the butter in a bowl and serve alongside the radishes sprinkled with a little sea salt.

If plating the dish individually, spread a little of the butter on each plate and simply but artfully lay the radishes alongside with a sprinkling of sea salt.  Serve immediately.

Tom Durcan’s Spiced Beef with Avocado and Roast Hazelnut Salsa

Avocado and Roast Hazelnut Salsa

1 ripe avocado, halved, stone removed, peeled and diced into neat scant 1 cm dice

3 tablespoons of hazelnuts, roasted, skinned and coarsely chopped

3 tablespoons of hazelnut or olive oil

1 tablespoon of chopped flat parsley

Maldon sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Mix the ingredients for the avocado and hazelnut garnish. Taste and correct seasoning. This mixture will sit quite happily in your fridge for an hour as the oil coating the avocado will prevent it from discolouring.

Purple Potato, Pickled Beetroot, Red Onion and Scallion Salad

Purple potatoes cook pretty much the same as any other potatoes.  They can be boiled, mashed, roasted, made into soups…they also make delicious potato crisps, wedges and chips.  They always create a frisson of surprise and excitement when served and like all potatoes benefit from lots of seasoning, e.g. fresh herbs, spices, a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil or a generous pat of butter.  Here I’ve paired them with new season’s pickled beetroot and onions and a few scallions for extra flavour and a touch of green.

Serves 4-6

1kg (2 1/4lb) purple potatoes, freshly cooked

225-350g (8-12oz) pickled beetroot and onion

110g (4oz) scallions, green and white, sliced at an angle

small fistful of fresh mint leaves

salt and freshly cracked black pepper

Dressing

175ml (6fl oz) extra virgin olive oil

50ml (2fl oz) white wine vinegar

1 clove of garlic, crushed

1/4 teaspoon Dijon mustard

salt and freshly cracked black pepper

Garnish

Red Nasturtium flowers and leaves (if available)

First make the dressing by whisking the ingredients together to emulsify. 

Slice the cooked potatoes in half, quarters or wedges.  Season with salt and freshly ground cracked pepper.  While still warm, drizzle with the dressing and toss gently.  Transfer to a serving dish, add the coarsely diced beetroot and lots of the pickled onion slices.  Top with scallions and mint and mix very gently.  Garnish with red nasturtium flowers and pop a few small peppery nasturtium leaves around the edge if available. 

A gorgeous salad – both visually and nutritionally and of course delicious.  A little chorizo could also be tucked in with the purple potato for an even more substantial salad but don’t overdo it or better still, serve with Tom Durcan’s Spiced Beef.

Old-Fashioned Pickled Beetroot

Serves 5-6

450g (1lb) cooked beetroot

225g (8oz) sugar

450ml (16fl oz) water

175g (8oz) red or white onion, peeled and thinly sliced

225ml (8fl oz) white wine vinegar

Dissolve the sugar in water, bringing it to the boil. Add the sliced onion and simmer for 3-4 minutes. Add the vinegar, pour over the peeled, sliced (diced or cut into wedges) beet and leave to cool.

How to cook Beetroot

Leave 5cm (2 inch) of leaf stalks on top and the whole root on the beet. Hold it under a running tap and wash off the mud with the palms of your hands, so that you don’t damage the skin; otherwise the beetroot will bleed during cooking. Cover with cold water and add a little salt and sugar. Cover the pot, bring to the boil and simmer on top, or in an oven, for 15-20 minutes (in May/June when they are young) depending on size (they can take 1-2 hours in late Autumn and Winter when they are tough). Beetroot are usually cooked if the skin rubs off easily and if they dent when pressed with a finger.  If in doubt test with a skewer or the tip of a knife.  Use in chosen recipe or store in covered sterilised jars for up to three months…in a cool dark cupboard.

A Madeira Cake with a glass of Kinsale Merlot Barrel Aged Wild Red Mead

Serves 10

110g (4oz) butter, soft

175g (6oz) caster sugar

3 eggs

finely grated zest of 1 organic lemon

175g (6oz) plain flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 tablespoon milk

1 x 18cm (7 inch) cake tin with high sides, base and sides lined with parchment paper

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

Cream the butter, add the caster sugar and beat until light, fluffy and pale in colour.  Add the eggs one by one, beating well between each addition so the mixture comes back to the original texture.  Stir in the grated lemon zest.  Add the baking powder to the flour, sieve gradually into the base, stirring gently rather than beating – add 1 tablespoon of milk to moisten.  Turn into the prepared tin, make a little dent in the centre and pop into the oven without delay.

Cook for 40-45 minutes or until fully cooked, the cake will have started to shrink in from the sides and be firm in the centre.

Allow to cool in the tin before turning out. 

Dust lightly with icing sugar and enjoy with a glass of Kinsale Wild Red Mead. 

Sustainability

Sadly Ireland, the ‘green clean island’ has consistently ranked among the poorest performing countries on the environmental sustainable development goals (SDG’s) presenting ‘a very disturbing picture of pollution and biodiversity loss’.  According to the latest Sustainable Progress Index (SPI) commissioned by Social Justice Ireland, we rank 11th out of 15th comparable countries in the EU.  It’s also pretty shocking to learn that although some areas are performing well, the biggest transgressor of environmental law in Ireland is the State.

In 2015, countries worldwide came together for the first time under the United Nations and adopted the 17 sustainable development goals.  They covered a wide range of areas from climate change to health, education and food waste.  An ambitious agenda for a better world by 2030. 

Since then, there has been many missed deadlines and many summits including a recent 2-day virtual summit hosted by President Biden to celebrate World Earth Day.  The US, China, Russia and EU participated.  Greta Thunberg has rocked the world with her clear science based message and direct challenges to world leaders and more recently Pope Francis appealed for the world to ‘take care of biodiversity, take care of nature’ and reminded us that Covid-19 and climate change demonstrated what scientists have been screaming from the roof top for decades we no longer have time to waste. 

Not for the first time, the general public are well ahead of the politicians, we’re all properly fed up of empty, flamboyant promises.  We crave action and direction.  We long for courageous leaders who will walk the walk not just talk the talk and we are ready to walk with them.  Time is most definitely running out. 

Coupled with the trauma of living with Covid, the enormity of the challenge can seem overwhelming. 

What can we do?  Let’s rack our brains to think of little things we can change in our everyday lives to live more sustainably and benefit the planet.

First, let’s pick up our pens and write to our politicians to emphasise that as citizens, we want Ireland to step up to the plate and honour our commitments.  I’ve always dreamed of Ireland, the Organic Food Ireland – think of how it would enhance the prosperity of our farmers and food producers at a time when people are craving food they can trust and are well aware of the damage pesticides and herbicides are doing to our health, the health of the soil and the environment in general…

In no particular order:

1. Avoid single use plastic and switch to reusable water bottles.

2. Let’s grow some of our own food – check out Grow Food not Lawns

3. Grow our own herbs, immediately we are eliminating all those plastic trays.  Grow perennial vegetables, herbs and flowers. 

4. Shop at a Farmers Market which also supports local farmers and food producers and small food businesses. 

5. Keep a stash of reusable shopping bags in your car.

6. Carry a coffee mug or glass in your bag.

7. Work towards Zero Waste, almost 50% of plastic waste globally is generated by shopping.  Leave the packaging behind and politely urge your supermarket to reduce unnecessary excessive packaging. 

8. Buy loose vegetables and fruit…

9. No need to line your trash bin with plastic – these bags takes 10-20 years at least to decompose.

10. Keep a few hens – 3 or 4 hens in a little coop in your garden will eat all your food scraps and reward you with eggs instead.  They are the ultimate recyclers and the manure will make your soil more fertile to grow more nutritious food – or link up with a neighbour who has hens, swap eggs for food scraps.

11. Keep bees, even one hive on your roof or in your garden, if you don’t want to be a beekeeper, why not contact a local beekeeper, they may be happy to look after your bees, buy the honey from them in exchange…see www.irishbeekeepersassociation.com

12. Think natural cleaners.  Make your own all-purpose cleaner.  Combine half a cup of white malt vinegar with a quarter cup of bread soda and 4 pints of water. 

13. Use cloth rather than paper napkins and washable wipe down cloths.

14. Let’s try not to buy more than we need, get creative and have fun with leftovers.  You’ll be surprised how much money you save and how little food you waste.

15. Buy local flowers, about 90% of flowers sold in florists are imported and heavily sprayed.  Ask for Irish foliage and flowers. 

16. Learn ‘how to recognise’ food in the wild, forage…

17. During Covid, many of us have realised we need a lot less ‘stuff’.  Shop in thrift or charity shops, donate, reuse, recycle, repair. 

18. Use a bar of soap rather than liquid soap in dispenses that have a far heavier carbon footprint. 

19. Use timber chopping boards and wooden spoons rather than plastic – they are more hygienic and in many cases are easier to clean. 

20. Collect kindling when you go for a walk in the country.  There are a million other ways we can make our homes more energy efficient.

21. Support small local shops, your local butcher and fish monger.  Seek out lesser known fish and cuts of meat, less expensive and absolutely super delicious.

22. Use all parts of vegetables, the green part of leeks for stocks and soups, stalks and leaves of beets, leaves of radishes…

23. Make the most of seasonal gluts, have fun preserving in oil, vinegar, jams, chutneys, ketchups, make kimchi….

24. Leftover bread can be whizzed up for breadcrumbs, frozen and used for stuffing’s or gratins, alternatively dice and use for instant croutons.

We can all make a difference in a myriad of ways and enjoy the feel good factor.

Nettle and Wild Garlic Soup

In late April, the air in the wood is heavy with the smell of wild garlic interspersed with nettles.  The pretty white flowers of the wild garlic mix with the bluebells and primroses. 

Use the wide leaves of the allium ursinum (ramsons) and the flowers of the allium triquetrum, the pretty flowers are divine sprinkled over the top of each soup bowl. 

Serves 6-8

45g (1 1/2oz) butter

150g (5oz) peeled and chopped potatoes

110g (4oz) peeled and chopped onion

salt and freshly ground pepper

900ml (1 1/2 pints) water or homemade chicken stock or vegetable stock

300ml (10fl oz) creamy milk

75g (3oz) chopped nettles

75g (3oz) chopped wild garlic leaves

Garnish

wild garlic flowers (preferably allium ursinum)

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

Meanwhile prepare the nettles (use plastic gloves) and wild garlic leaves. When the vegetables are almost soft but not coloured add the stock and milk bring to the boil and cook until the potatoes and onions are fully cooked. Add the chopped nettles and wild garlic and boil with the lid off for 4-5 minutes approx. until the leaves are cooked. Do not overcook or the soup will lose its fresh green colour. Purée the soup in a liquidiser or food processor. Taste and correct seasoning.  Serve sprinkled with a few wild garlic flowers.

Roast Megrim with Dill Butter

This is a very simple ‘master recipe’ which can be used for all very fresh flat fish, e.g. plaice, dover sole, lemon sole, brill, turbot, dabs, and flounder.  Megrim is less expensive but also delicious when super fresh.  Depending on the size of the fish, it can a starter or a main course.  It’s also delicious with Hollandaise Sauce, Mousseline or Beurre Blanc.

Serves 4

4 very fresh megrim on the bone

Dill Butter

50-110g (2-4oz) butter

1 generous tablespoon of finely chopped fresh dill

salt and freshly ground pepper

dill flowers (optional)

Preheat the oven to 190°C/375°F/Gas Mark 5.

Turn the fish on its side and remove the head.  Wash the fish and clean the slit very thoroughly.  With a sharp knife, cut through the skin right round the fish, just where the ‘fringe’ meets the flesh.  Be careful to cut neatly and to cross the side cuts at the tail or it will be difficult to remove the skin later on.

Sprinkle the fish with salt and freshly-ground pepper and lay them in 1cm (1/2 inch) of water in a shallow baking tin.   Roast in a moderately hot oven for 20-30 minutes according to the size of the fish.  The water should have just evaporated as the fish is cooked.  Check to see whether the fish is cooked by lifting the flesh from the bone at the head; it should lift off the bone easily and be quite white with no trace of pink.

Meanwhile, melt the butter and stir in the freshly chopped dill.  Just before serving catch the skin down near the tail and pull it off gently (the skin will tear badly if not properly cut).  Lift the fish onto hot plates and spoon the herb butter over them.  Serve immediately with a few dill flowers sprinkled over the top if available.

Breast of Lamb with Sea Salt and Coriander

Breast of lamb – also called flank, flap or lap – is the sweet and delicious equivalent of pork belly and is a very inexpensive cut of meat. Lean layers are interspersed with layers of fat, which renders out and gives the meat a sweet, succulent flavour. Freshly roasted and ground cumin is also delicious in this recipe, as is a mixture of coriander and cumin.

Serves 6

1-2 breasts of lamb, about 1kg (21⁄4 lb)

1 1⁄2 tablespoons coriander seeds

1 1⁄2 tablespoons sea salt

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

Score the fat side of the breast of lamb with a sharp knife.

Roast the coriander seeds over a medium heat for 3–4 minutes or until they begin to smell aromatic. Turn the seeds into a mortar and pestle or a spice grinder and grind into a coarse powder.

Mix the coriander powder with the sea salt. Sprinkle and then rub it evenly over both sides of the lamb. Roast for about 45 minutes.

Serve with roast potatoes.

Rhubarb, Fresh Ginger and Sweet Geranium Jam

This delicious jam should be made when rhubarb is in full season and not yet thick and tough.  Even if you don’t have access to sweet geranium leaves, it will still be delicious.

Makes 8 x 450g (1lb) jars

1.8kg (4lb) trimmed rhubarb,

1.3kg (3lb) granulated sugar

grated rind and juice of 2 lemons

8 sweet geranium leaves, finely chopped

25g (1oz) bruised ginger plus 1 teaspoon grated ginger

50g (2oz) chopped crystallized ginger or stem ginger preserved in syrup (optional)

Wipe the rhubarb and cut into 2.5cm (1 inch) pieces.   Put it in a large bowl layered with the sugar, add the lemon rind and juice.  Leave to stand overnight.  Next day put into a preserving pan with the chopped sweet geranium leaves and the grated ginger.  Bash the ginger with a rolling pin, add the bruised ginger tied in a muslin bag to the pan.  Steadily bring to the boil until it is a thick pulp – 40-50 minutes approximately.  Remove the bag of ginger and then pour the jam into hot clean jars, cover and store in a dry airy cupboard.

If you like 50g (2oz) chopped crystallized ginger or preserved stem ginger can be added at the end.

Rhubarb and Ginger Bakewell Tart

We sometimes omit the pastry lattice and sprinkle flaked almonds over the top instead.

Serves 6

Pastry

50g (2oz) butter

110g (4oz) flour

pinch of salt

25g (1oz) castor sugar

1 beaten egg (use about half)

50g (2oz) butter

40g (1 1/2oz) castor sugar

1 egg

25g (1oz) ground almonds

40g (1 1/2oz) flour

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

3-4 tablespoons Rhubarb, Fresh Ginger and Sweet Geranium Jam (see recipe)

Garnish

Sweet Geranium leaves

1 x 18cm (7 inch) tin with a ‘pop-up’ base

Make the shortcrust pastry.

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

Line the flan ring.  Spread a thin layer of rhubarb, ginger and sweet geranium jam in the base of the flan. Cream the butter, add the castor sugar and beat until white and creamy, add the beaten egg, and then stir in the flour, ground almonds and baking powder. Spread this mixture carefully over the jam and smooth the top. Cut the remaining pastry into thin strips and arrange in a lattice pattern over the top of the flan. Egg wash carefully and bake in a moderate oven 180-190°C/350-375°F/Gas Mark 4-5 for approx. 40 minutes. Sprinkle with icing sugar and serve warm or cold with a bowl of softly whipped cream.  Garnish with Sweet Geranium leaves.

* If you would like to decorate the tart with a pastry lattice, use 62g (2 1/2oz) butter and 125g (4 1/2oz) flour.

Wild Food of the Week

Pickled Wild Garlic Buds

By the end of April, wild garlic or ramps will be about to flower.  Pickle the unopened flower buds – they are delicious.   Serve with pâtés, starter salads and cheese.

3 parts white wine or cider vinegar

1 part granulated sugar

Fill a jar with unopened wild garlic flower buds.  Warm the vinegar, add the sugar, stir to dissolve and bring to the boil for 1-2 minutes.  Cool.  Pour over the buds, cover the jar and leave for 2-3 days before use.  Add to starter sala

Instagram – @niamhs_larder  

Letters

Past Letters

  • Recipes