Darina Allen: Easter Weekend gems

The past few weeks of the coronavirus shutdown have been tough in a variety of ways — each family has its own set of challenges, writes Darina Allen.

Darina Allen:'Stay resilient and continue to dig deep to find the inner strength you didn’t even know you had — look out for each other and continue the little acts of kindness.'
Darina Allen:"Stay resilient and continue to dig deep to find the inner strength you didn’t even know you had — look out for each other and continue the little acts of kindness."

The ingenuity and resourcefulness of farmers and local food producers, who have come up with myriad solutions to get their perishable products to their local customers, has ben astonishing. 

Many foods are already in short supply. People are desperate for flour.

Millers, like Donal Creedon, at Macroom Mills (026-41800), have been milling around the clock.

Farmers continue to care for their animals, milk cows, and sow and plant to ensure future harvests. They are setting up farm-gate sales, contactless delivery, and payment via Revolut.

Neighbourfood hubs (www.neighbourfood.ie) are springing up around the country, much to the appreciation of both food producers and the local community.

We’ve got an East Cork branch of Neighbourfood here in Shanagarry on Wednesdays and Saturdays.

Just look at how creative we can be, what individuals and communities can organise when they are allowed to get on with it. Up to 60 years ago, towns and villages were self-sufficient — we could so easily work towards that again, in energy, waste disposal, and food production.

We are having quite the wake-up call; it’s time to think outside the box and give thanks for so many blessings even in these terrifying times.

Let’s concentrate on finding the silver lining that we are told lies behind every dark cloud.

Easter is the time of resurrection, take hope this too will pass but meanwhile, let’s have a little celebration tomorrow on Easter Sunday.

Go along to your valiant local butchers, who are still supplying us with meat. Buy a leg or shoulder of lamb, pop it in the oven with a sprinkling of flaky sea salt and freshly ground, black pepper, and let it roast slowly to delicious succulence.

Don’t forget to buy fresh lamb liver, loaded with Vitamin A, combined with the Vitamin D that we need to boost our immune systems to help us resist disease and virus. While you are at the butchers, ask for a big bag of bones to make a fine pot of broth. Another brilliant food to keep us well, it also freezes brilliantly.

Cod liver oil was the only thing I bulk-bought: a bottle for each of my children’s houses and several bottles to spoon into my hard-working teachers, who are flat-out making nourishing, wholesome food for the Farm Shop and for the heroic team on the farm and gardens, who are busy, sowing, planting to ensure future harvests. 

When I was a child, everyone took cod liver oil in winter to protect them from colds and flu. It tasted disgusting then — it tastes better now, but get an unrefined or fermented one, if you can.

A great, big roasting tin of winter vegetables would be delicious with the lamb and, of course, lots of roast potatoes.

Tender, fresh mint leaves are just leaping out of the ground in my herb patch — such joy. I’m making some apple and mint jelly and don’t forget Myrtle’s delicious, simple mint sauce to accompany the Easter Sunday lamb.

I also have another wonderful thing which not many of you will know. 

It’s a perennial kale, known variously as ‘Cut and Come,’ ‘Hungry Gap’, and ‘Cottiers Kale.’ All those names give you a clue as to its attributes: a tender kale with the texture of spinach and the flavour of kale. 

The more you pluck it, the more it grows, and it fills the hungry gap between the end of the winter crops and the beginning of the summer bounty. It’s propagated by root-cutting rather than seeds, so look out for plants — it really merits a space in your plot. 

Watch out for it at Neighbourfood for the next few weeks and we’ll also have some at the Ballymaloe Cookery School Farm Shop.

And then, for pudding, our favourite rhubarb tart — I’ve given this recipe in my column several times, but here we are again. It’s made with a ‘break all the rules’ pastry, that anyone can make. Chill it well. It’ll become your favourite pie pasty for all fruit tarts — gooseberry and elderflower, plums, stone fruit.

My email is darina@cookingisfun.ie or tel 021-4646 785 with your requests; I’ll do my best to include them.

Happy Easter to you and all your family. Keep safe.

www.cookingisfun.ie

www.instagram.com/darina_allen

www.instagram.com/ballymaloecookeryschool

Hot Tips

Planting and sowing seeds

I love the way everyone I know is sowing seeds, planting and even putting up tunnels in their gardens. Don’t be too ambitious — check out GIY and watch Grow Cook Eat on RTÉ1, Wednesday at 7.30 pm. Buy or borrow a copy of Grow, Cook, Nourish published by Kyle Books.

Fruithill Farm near Bandon have a range of chitted organic potatoes available for immediate planting - www.fruithillfarm.com

Cut and Come Kale (Brassica Oleracea)

Cottiers kale, Cut and Come or Hungry Gap – this is a real gem, propagated by slips rather than seeds. Thought to be more than 2,000 years old it’s of huge interest to botanists and was unknown to me until I came across it in the 18th century walled garden at Glin Castle in Co Limerick.

May Liston, one of the cooks at Glin, had originally brought slips of this vegetable from her home in Lower Athea and she gave me some to plant.

The gardener, Tom Wall, called it “Cut and Come”. Since I have begun to grow it myself, people have recognised it from their childhoods and given it different names — Winter Kale, Winter Greens, Cut and Come, Cottier’s

Kale or Hungry Gap, because it was the only green available between the end of winter and the arrival of the first spring vegetables.

It is quite different from curly kale and is much more melting and tender when cooked.

Pigeons love it so we have to keep it netted in the garden.

Neighbourfood

Sadly many Farmers Markets are temporarily closed but you can still find your favourite local artisan food direct from the new pop-up farm gate stalls, or at your local branch of Neighbourfood — www.neighbourfood.ie

Cullohill Rhubarb Pie

This is a gem of a recipe — a real keeper.

The pastry is made by the creaming method, so people who are convinced that they suffer from ‘hot hands’ don’t have to worry about rubbing in the butter.

Serves 8-12

Pastry

  • 225g soft butter
  • 50g castor sugar
  • 2 eggs, preferably free range
  • 350g white flour, preferably unbleached

Filling

  • 900g sliced red rhubarb (about 1cm thick)
  • 370g sugar
  • Egg wash, made with one beaten egg and a dash of milk
  • Castor sugar for sprinkling

To Serve

  • Softly whipped cream
  • Barbados sugar

Equipment

  • Tin, 18cm x 30.5cm x 2.5cm deep

Preheat the oven to 180C/Gas Mark 4.

First make the pastry. Cream the butter and sugar together by hand or in a food mixer (no need to over cream).

Add the eggs one by one and beat for several minutes. Reduce speed and mix in the flour slowly. Turn out onto a piece of floured greaseproof paper, flatten into a round wrap and chill.

Thispastry needs to be chilled for at least 2 hours otherwise it is difficult to handle.

To make the tart

Roll out the pastry 3mm thick approx, and use about two thirds of it to line a suitable tin. Place the sliced rhubarb into the tart, sprinkle with sugar.

Cover with a lid of pastry, seal edges, decorate with pastry leaves, egg wash and bake in the preheated oven until the rhubarb is tender, approx. 45 minutes to 1 hour.

When cooked cut into squares, sprinkle lightly with castor sugar and serve with softly whipped cream and Barbados sugar.

Easter Lamb with Myrtle Allen’s Mint Sauce

Roast lamb. 'For me this is the quintessential taste of Easter'
Roast lamb. "For me this is the quintessential taste of Easter"

Young spring lamb is sweet and succulent and needs absolutely no embellishment apart from a dusting of salt and pepper and a little fresh Mint

Sauce — made from the first tender sprigs of mint.

For me this is the quintessential taste of Easter.

Serves 6-8

  • 1 leg of spring lamb
  • salt and freshly ground pepper

Gravy

  • 600ml (1 pint) lamb or chicken stock
  • A little roux (see below)
  • salt and freshly ground pepper

Garnish

  • Sprigs of fresh mint and parsley

For the Mint Sauce

  • 25g finely chopped fresh mint
  • 2 tbsp sugar
  • 110ml boiling water
  • 25ml white wine vinegar or freshly squeezed lemon juice

Roux

  • 110g butter
  • 110g flour

Lamb Stock

  • 3kg lamb bones (or less or more)
  • 2 large carrots
  • 2 large onions
  • 2 stalks of celery
  • 10 peppercorns
  • A bouquet garni made up of a sprig of thyme, parsley stalks, and a small bay leaf

If possible ask your butcher to remove the aitch bone from the top of the leg of lamb so that it will be easier to carve later, then trim the knuckle end of the leg.

Season the skin with salt and freshly ground pepper. Put into a roasting tin.

Preheat the oven to 180C/Gas Mark 4. Roast for 1-1¼ hours approx for rare; 1¼ -1½ hours for medium and 1½- 1¾ hours for well done, depending on size.

When the lamb is cooked to your taste, remove the joint to a carving dish. Rest the lamb for 10 minutes before carving.

Meanwhile make the gravy. Degrease the juices in the roasting tin, add stock. Bring to the boil and whisk in a little roux to thicken slightly.

Taste and allow to bubble up until the flavour is concentrated enough. Correct the seasoning and serve hot with the lamb, roast spring onions and lots of crusty roast potatoes.

To make Myrtle Allen’s Mint Sauce

Traditional Mint Sauce made with tender young shoots of fresh mint takes only minutes to make.

It’s the perfect accompaniment to Spring lamb but for those who are expecting a bright green jelly, the slightly dull colour and watery texture comes as a surprise. That’s how it ought to be, try it.

Makes 175ml approx.

Put the sugar and freshly-chopped mint into a sauce boat. Add the boiling water and vinegar or lemon juice. Allow to infuse for 5-10 minutes before serving.

To make the Roux

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.

To make Lamb Stock for Gravy or Broth

Preheat the oven to 230C/Gas Mark 8. Put the bones into a roasting tin and roast for 20-30 minutes or until the bones are well browned.

Add the onions, carrots and celery and return to the oven until the vegetables are also browned.

Transfer the bones and vegetables to the stock pot with a metal spoon. Add the bouquet garni and peppercorns.

De-grease the roasting pan and deglaze with some water, bring to the boil and pour over the bones and vegetables. Add the rest of the water and bring slowly to the boil.

Top up the liquid from time to time with water. Skim the stock and simmer gently, uncovered for 4-5 hours. Strain the stock, allow it to get cold, and skim off all the fat before use.

This stock will keep for 2-3 days in the refrigerator.

If you want to keep it for longer, boil it for 10 minutes, and then chill again. It can also be frozen.

Lamb Broth

Return the liquid with water to the pot and cook uncovered to reduce by quarter or half to concentrate the flavour.

Cottier’s Kale, Cut and Come or Hungry Gap

Serves 4

  • 1.3kg of cottier’s Kale
  • 3 teaspoons of salt
  • Freshly ground pepper
  • 50g of butter

Remove the stalks from the sprigs of kale. Wash and drain greens. Cook with the lid off for about 5 minutes until tender.

Drain off all the water.

Chop well, add a big lump of butter, and plenty of freshly ground pepper and salt.

Note: Cut and Come kale, like spinach, reduces a lot during cooking, so you need to start off with a large potful.

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