We have always believed that some of the best things when it comes to food and eating are right there under our noses. Things we might have cast off as boring or reminiscent of older, blander days.
We may have to import our lemons, our mangos and avocados. We certainly can get almost anything these days out of season but how about the things we can grow? The foods cultivated, raised or caught right here in and around our bountiful and fertile island.
The winters may be dark and long but the frost adds sweetness to our parsnips, beetroots, turnips and sprouts. The cold months also force us to do wonderful things with our food like preserving, pickling and fermenting, making the summer and spring bounties last in the most wonderful and complex ways. However, enough about winter, spring is here!
The days are getting longer, the weather is getting milder, though often with interruptions from cold snaps; beasts from the east and north bringing continental type weather to keep us cloaked in layers and hungry still for the comfort of hearty food.
The cold March winds blow but we don’t have to wait till May to see flowers, the resilient greening is happening all around us. Spring is here and with it the first great bounty of vegetables. Green is the predominant theme with broccoli, spring onions, peas and cabbage all coming on the scene.
Cabbage is in particularly misunderstood these days. We think too often of it over-boiled in salty bubbling pots, served wet with equally over-boiled and overly-salted ham. There is something to this combination though, not the aggressive boiling, but the match of cabbage and ham as flavours.
Cabbage has a robust, even course flavour, which holds up well against ham which can dominate and overpower more delicate ingredients.
Our first recipe celebrates this traditional and very Irish pairing. Instead of boiling the cabbage, we shred it and fry it in butter with vinegar and tart green apple. The ham used can be left over (there is always a little leftover ham) or newly boiled, which is added to the frying pan in slices or torn pieces. If you don’t have any ham left over or new, you can use lardons of bacon which also work just fine.
Serves 2 - 4
50g of butter
2 medium shallots, sliced thinly
2 green apples, cored and chopped roughly
2 small spring green cabbages
250 — 300g of cooked ham
2 tbsp of cider vinegar
1½ tsp of caraway or fennel seeds
A good handful of flat-leaf parsley, chopped
50g of hard Irish farmhouse cheese
Rapeseed oil or olive oil
Remove the outer leaves and ends of the cabbages and shred into ribbons. Melt the butter in a large frying pan with a little rapeseed oil so it doesn’t burn. The heat should be high and the butter just starting to bubble when you add the sliced shallot. Cook the onion until it starts to turn soft and golden, around five minutes, stirring occasionally. Next, add the diced apple and the caraway or fennel seeds. If you don’t like caraway or fennel seeds you could always add some crushed juniper berries, or leave them out completely. Season the ingredients with salt and black pepper, add the cider vinegar and cook for a further three minutes until the apple starts to become caramelised at the edges.
Add the cabbage, either all together if you have space, or else in two batches, waiting for the first batch to wilt down a little before
adding the second. Stir all ingredients over a high heat for around 10 minutes until the cabbage is starting to get crispy and the flavours
combine. Lastly, add the shredded ham and stir for a further three to five minutes before taking the pan off the heat and stirring through the chopped parsley.
Serve immediately with a few shavings of a good hard Irish farmhouse cheese or even a nice pecorino or parmesan.
I like to enjoy this as it is, but you could also serve it with potatoes, whatever way you like them — mashed, roasted, or boiled.
This is a simple version of a traditional Portuguese caldo verde broth which is one of our favourite soups. It is traditionally made with Portuguese cabbage or collard greens which can be hard to
find in Ireland but a good green savoy cabbage will work fine.
You could also substitute cabbage for kale or even colourful Swiss chard; as the lovely crinkly savoy is so sweet and earthy this time of year it is perfect for this hearty warming broth. Try and find a good- quality chorizo as it will make all the difference.
1 large brown onion, finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic, thinly sliced
4 large floury potatoes, peeled and diced
1.5 litres of good vegetable or chicken stock
200g good quality chorizo, sliced into 1in rounds
1 medium savoy cabbage (about 700g)
Rapeseed or olive oil
salt and pepper
good quality extra virgin olive oil to serve
In a saucepan, heat the stock until boiling and leave to simmer. In a good-sized pot or casserole dish, heat the oil on a medium high heat and add the onion and garlic, season with salt and pepper. Cook until the onion is translucent and the garlic is fragrant before adding the potatoes, stirring well to coat the potatoes in the oil. After around two minutes, add the hot stock and simmer for around 20 minutes until the potato is soft.
In a small dry frying pan, fry the slices of chorizo until they are starting to crisp up around the edges and have released a good amount of their fat.
Remove the chorizo and add to the broth, leaving the fat behind.
Shred the cabbage into ribbons, discarding any tough outer leaves and the hard stem.
Add the cabbage to the simmering broth, check for seasoning and cook for a further three or four minutes so the cabbage is cooked but still has a little bite.
Serve in warm bowls with a nice drizzle of extra virgin olive oil.
This risotto is perfect for March days when spring is in the air but the evenings are still chilly.
The use of mascarpone makes for a rich, unctuous and creamy risotto.
Cabbage is truly delicious when roasted, the flavours becoming concentrated and the texture of the leaves being crispy on the outside with a juicy, crunchy
Smooth, warm, deeply flavourful risotto and the complex textures of roasted cabbage make for perfect springtime eating.
1.7 lites of good quality chicken or veg stock
2 cloves of garlic, minced
350g arborio rice
200ml white wine
salt & pepper
1 medium-sized savoy
cabbage, cut into 6-8 wedges
Pre-heat the oven to 220 degrees celsius.
Bring the stock to the boil in a large saucepan and leave to simmer gently on a low heat.
In a large shallow pan, melt the butter on a medium heat and add the minced garlic and some salt and pepper.
After two minutes add the rice, stirring it well, coating the rice in the garlic and butter.
Add the wine to the rice after one minute and stir through well until the mixture thickens — about three minutes.
Add the stock, two large ladlefuls at a time, stirring continuously.
When most of the stock is absorbed, add another two large ladlefuls, repeating this process until the rice is cooked.
While cooking the risotto, arrange the quartered cabbage pieces on a baking tray lined with parchment paper.
Drizzle with rapeseed oil and sprinkle with a good amount of sea salt and a crack of black pepper.
You could also sprinkle a little caraway or cumin seeds on the cabbage if you wish.
Place in the preheated oven for about 20 to 25 minutes, until the edges of the leaves are starting to char.
To finish the risotto, first stir in the pecorino cheese, followed by the mascarpone.
Serve in warm, shallow bowls and top with one or two of the savoy cabbage wedges.