Four weeks on, we’re still self isolating, everyone is reacting differently.
How fortunate that the Covid-19 pandemic coincided with the onset of spring, so those of us who have been harbouring fantasies about starting a veg patch or a raised bed can indulge their dreams of snipping their own herbs and growing their own greens and crunchy radishes — even on the windowsill.
There’s been an unprecedented rise in requests for recipes. More of us than ever are baking for comfort, enjoyment and to engage the kids.
On a similar note, last week I had several requests for store cupboard recipes — now that we have more time on our hands we’ve been digging deeper, ransacking our cupboards and finding some long forgotten, weird and wonderful stuff.
What to do with those neglected packets, jars and aged spices?
Not to speak of what we discover in the depths of the freezer when we decide to tackle an inventory that has been on our ‘to do’ list for years.
I’ve had some hilarious conversations with people this week who are determined to make best use of the Covid 19 crisis — to straighten out their domestic arrangements and can’t we all associate with that. “Brings out the 1950’s housewife in all of us,” was a friend’s witty quip.
How bizarre that history is at last repeating itself and skills are once again being passed from one generation to the next. Not just baking and gardening but also sewing, knitting and don’t we just love the way TikTok has engaged the youngsters.
Then there is the more recent dilemma of what to do with all the random stuff that we panic bought a few weeks ago.
At least the cans and pulses will keep for some time while we sort out the bits and pieces of hitherto unfamiliar ingredients that we bought for an Ottolenghi recipe a couple of years ago.
Many will be past their sell-by date, so now is the time to start relearning the forgotten skill of judging whether something is safe to eat by using our senses, sight, smell, taste: Unless its fermenting, it shouldn’t be bubbling.
Most sell-by dates are very conservative. Manufacturers like to err on the side of caution and cynics might say the less we use our common sense, the more we chuck out the better they like it.
Well time to take back control, consciously work towards Zero Waste and relearn the skill of reworking leftovers into the next meal.
I’m a sardine aficionado, and have boxes of them piled up in my cupboard from various trips - just to cheer you up I recently enjoyed a tin that was months over its sell by date and they were truly delicious — just open the can, smell and as ever a bulging can is never a good sign, don’t open, just discard.
Of course, beautiful fresh produce in season is wonderful, but tins and cans are not to be scoffed at, they are a terrific standby, canned pulses for example are the bases for soups, stews, salads and dips — you’ll have hummus in minutes from a can of chickpeas or white beans.
Add some sausage or chorizo even to a can of baked beans in tomato sauce and hey presto you have a bean stew.
Finally, a recipe for ox tongue. Order a pickled tongue from your butcher. I love it with a warm potato salad or this avocado and hazelnut salsa.
For those of you who are conditioned to cook pasta in a huge pot of boiling salted water, the idea of cooking pasta in the sauce in just one pot may be quite a stretch to consider attempting, but do try it.
The starch from the pasta thickens the sauce and the pasta absorbs the flavours deliciously, it’s a revelation and you’ll have such fun experimenting. For some reason I still feel slightly guilty, but less washing up helps to salve my conscience.
You’ll need considerably more liquid than in normal pasta sauce because the pasta will absorb much of the liquid. (From One Pot Feeds All; Kyle Books.)
Heat the oil in a 6-litre (10 pint) stainless-steel saucepan. Add the onions and garlic, toss until coated, cover and sweat over a gentle heat until soft but not coloured. Add the chilli. It is vital for the success of this dish that the onions are completely soft before the tomatoes are added.
Slice the fresh or tinned tomatoes and add to the onions with all the juices and the lemon zest. Season with salt, pepper and sugar (tinned tomatoes need lots of sugar because of their high acidity).
Add the rosemary. Cook, uncovered, for a further 10 minutes, or until the tomato softens. Cook fresh tomatoes for a shorter time to preserve the lively fresh flavour.
Add the chorizo, stock and cream. Bring back to the boil, add the pasta, stir gently to separate the strands and prevent sticking. Return to the boil, cover and simmer for 4 minutes and leave to sit in the tightly covered saucepan for a further 4–5 minutes, or until just al dente.
When you add the dried pasta, it will seem too much but hold your nerve, it will soften within a minute or two and cook deliciously in the sauce.
Season to taste, sprinkle with lots of chopped parsley and grated Parmesan. Serve.
Sea spinach is at its sweetest and most delicious at present. I absolutely love it and really want you to know about it, so if you live near a rocky strand, look out for it — the shiny green leaves are unmistakable.
It is, in fact, the ancestor to most cultivated varieties of beet, from beetroot to spinach beet. It can be cooked exactly like garden spinach and used in the same way. For example, try serving it in Middle Eastern style with raisins and pine kernels and a touch of cinnamon.
Not surprisingly, because sea spinach is washed by the tides, it is full of iodine, minerals and other trace elements and it has an addictive salty tang.
Sea spinach is tougher and slightly stronger in flavour than garden spinach, so it takes a little longer to cook.
Ground-elder (Aegopodium Podagraria)
This pernicious ‘weed’ grows with vigour and enthusiasm in damp, shady places throughout the British Isles. The good news for all of us, including me, is you can eat it and enjoy it all the more because it is such a pest in so many gardens.
Ground-elder is best harvested in Spring before it flowers: the young leaves can be added to the green salad bowl and are also delicious cooked like spinach and tossed in butter or extra virgin olive oil.
We also make a delicious Forager’s soup with it (see recipe). Herbalists like John Evelyn and Nicholas Culpeper Wrote of its ability to cure gout and sciatica, hence one of its popular names, ‘goutweed’, or ‘bishop’s goutweed’.
Throughout the seasons one can gather wild greens on a walk in the countryside – foraging soon becomes addictive. Many greens are edible and some are immensely nutritious.
Arm yourself with a good well-illustrated guide and be sure to identify carefully and if in doubt – don’t risk it until you are quite confident. Don’t overdo the very bitter herbs like dandelion.
Melt the butter in a heavy bottomed saucepan. When it foams, add potatoes and onions and turn them until well coated. Sprinkle with salt and freshly ground pepper. Cover and sweat on a gentle heat for 10 minutes.
When the vegetables are almost soft but not coloured add the hot stock and boiling milk. Bring back to the boil and cook until the potatoes and onions are fully cooked.
Add the greens and boil with the lid off for 2-3 minutes approx. until the greens are just cooked. Do not overcook or the soup will lose its fresh green colour. Purée the soup in a liquidiser. Taste and correct seasoning.
Heat a little oil in a frying pan. Add the diced chorizo or lardons of streaky bacon, cook over a medium heat until the fat starts to run and the bacon is crisp. Drain on kitchen paper.
Sprinkle over the soup as you serve. Use the chorizo oil to drizzle over the soup also and scatter a few wild garlic flowers over the top if available.
See https://www.fromballymaloewithlove.com/ for daily updates and recipes.
Put the pickled ox tongue into a deep saucepan. Cover it completely with cold water. Bring to the boil, cover the saucepan and simmer gently for 3–4½ hours, or until the skin will easily peel off the tip of the tongue.
Remove the tongue from the pot and set aside the liquid.As soon as the tongue is cool enough to handle, peel off the skin and discard. Remove all the little bones at the neck end.
Sometimes I use a skewer to prod the meat to ensure no bones are left behind. Curl the tongue and press it into a small, plastic bowl. Pour a little of the cooking liquid over, put a side plate or saucer on top and weigh down the tongue.
The tongue will keep for up to a week in the refrigerator. Traditionally, cold tongue is thinly sliced horizontally into rounds. Use a very sharp knife with a long blade. Thinly slice the tongue and serve it with Avocado and Roast Hazelnut Salsa.
To make the Avocado and Roast Hazelnut Salsa
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.
Serves 4 - 6
Hummus has quickly become a staple in the last few years, loved by children and adults alike, see how you can make your own in minutes.
Put all the ingredients into a food processor and pulse until smooth. Check for seasoning. Thin to required consistency with chickpea cooking water.
Never before has it been so important to buy local Irish produce. Check out Neighbourfood Markets online www.neighbourfood.ie
Some artisans have set up online shops, Pop-Up farm gate shops, veg box schemes and direct order for take-out.
For a comprehensive list of all your local artisan producers go to https://slowfoodireland.com/producers/
Rumors have it that some of the smaller producers’ products have been delisted in the multiples so seek out your favourite artisan foods, farmhouse cheeses, smoked fish in your local supermarkets.
If you can’t find them, enquire when they will be in stock again. Irish farmers and producers need all our support now – they too are superheroes and as Leo reminded us, not all superheroes wear capes, some wear wellies!