Feast on these rhubarb and asparagus recipes to nourish and sustain you

WE ARE in the midst of a real crisis in food production. Increasingly farmers and food producers are being paid well below an economic level for their produce and the general public seem totally unaware.

Dairy farmers, encouraged to increase their herd sizes and milk production, are now getting 22c a litre from the farm. 

Last time I checked it cost between 0.75c and 1.29c a litre in the supermarket. 

Where’s the fairness in that and what gives the rest of us the right to assume that cheap food at any cost is our right?

The farmers and fishermen are caught in a helpless stranglehold in the battle between the multiples often having over-borrowed to meet a promised demand. 

There are many who cannot afford to spend any more than they do on their weekly food shopping but there are also many who know the situation would happily pay a little more if they were sure the money was going back to the food producer. 

I don’t know the answer. 

I wish I did but an answer we must find soon.

I’m also amazed at the number of people who do not understand that ‘buy one get one free’ does not mean that the supermarket is providing the second item free, rather it is the producer who often has no option but to do so which further depresses their income even further.

At least, the conversation about food waste is gathering momentum. 

There are now many initiatives including Food Cloud, Bia Food, Stop Food Waste and Fruta Feia — Ugly Veg. 

In 2013 its founder Isabel Soares set up in Portugal an initiative to combat food waste by selling at bargain prices some of the perfectly edible fruit and vegetables that are not currently reaching the consumer for mere aesthetic reasons.

The project model works on a co-operative basis. 

Every week, Fruta Feia buys misshapen fruit and vegetables directly from the farmers who cannot sell them on the regular market because of EU regulations and supermarket demands for uniformity.

They then sell at half the regular price of perfect produce, so the farmers see a much higher percentage of their crop and the public are only too happy to buy the produce that the supermarket consider ‘garbage’. 

At present there are over 3,000 people on a waiting list for the Fruta Feia box scheme. 

They have just been awarded a European Commission grant of €300,600 to develop the model. 

This is music to my ears after years of being outraged by the wanton waste created by the notion that undersized or oversized ‘uglier’ fruit and vegetables were less saleable or nutritious or delicious. 

There is another element I love about Fruta Feia. 

Volunteers run workshops in primary schools to teach children about food waste and why they shouldn’t shun produce that looks less than perfect.

This is timely at the start of the new growing season. 

We’ve been feasting on rhubarb over the past few weeks and I’ve just enjoyed the first of the asparagus and new potatoes.

I’m not a deeply religious person but each new year when I taste the first of these delicious crops, fresh from the farm and garden, I give thanks to the good Lord and Mother Nature for the earth’s bounty, but also to the farmers and food producers who work day in and day out to produce food to nourish and sustain us. 

They deserve to be appreciated and adequately paid for their efforts.

NOPI’ s Chargrilled Asparagus with Romesco Sauce and Apple Balsamic

Feast on these rhubarb and asparagus recipes to nourish and sustain you

Serves 6

1 kg asparagus, woody bases trimmed (800g)

40 ml balsamic vinegar

60 ml apple juice

1 tsp caster sugar

1 tbsp olive oil

10g flaked almonds, toasted

Coarse sea salt and black pepper

Romesco Sauce

1 dried ancho chilli (10g), soaked in water for 30 minutes, drained, deseeded and roughly chopped

40g whole almonds

50g crustless sourdough bread, cut into 3cm cubes

3 medium plum tomatoes, cut into 1½cm wedges (200g)

1 tbsp good quality sherry vinegar

25ml olive oil

1 medium red chilli, deseeded and roughly chopped

Place all the ingredients for the Romesco sauce in a small bowl, along with 1 teaspoon salt and a good grind of black pepper. 

Stir well, and then leave in the fridge to marinate for 4 hours or preferably overnight. 

Transfer to a food processor and blitz to form a paste. 

Place in a small pan and warm through just before serving.

Bring a medium saucepan of salted water to the boil and add the asparagus. 

Blanch for 1-2 minutes, until al dente, then strain and refresh under cold water. Set aside to dry.

Place the balsamic vinegar, apple juice and caster sugar in a small pan and place on a high heat. 

Cook for 4-5 minutes, until it has reduced by half and has a thick, sticky consistency.

Place a ridged griddled pan on a high heat. 

Toss the asparagus with the olive oil and 1 teaspoon of salt and put them on to the griddle pan. 

Chargrill for 2 minutes, turning halfway through so that both sides get scorched. 

Spread the Romesco sauce on individual plates and place the asparagus on top. 

Drizzle the balsamic reduction on top, sprinkle over the flaked almonds and serve.

NOPI, Yotam Ottolenghi and Ramael Scully

Asparagus with Poached Eggs and Hollandaise

Feast on these rhubarb and asparagus recipes to nourish and sustain you

Serves 2 lucky people, a last-minute treat but so worth the wait.

10 spears of asparagus

2 beautiful fresh eggs

Hollandaise sauce (recipe below)

2 tbsp of freshly grated Parmesan

Flaky sea salt

Freshly-ground black pepper

2 slices sourdough bread

Butter

First make the Hollandaise sauce; keep warm

Then prepare the asparagus.

Put on two saucepans of water, one for the asparagus, and the other to poach the eggs.

Heat a grill pan on a high heat to sear the bread. 

Cook the asparagus in 4cm (1½in) boiling salted water for 2-3 minutes, or until the tip of a knife will pierce the root end easily. Drain.

Meanwhile crack an egg into a cup, then slide the egg into the other pot of barely simmering water. 

Repeat with the second egg. Cook gently for 3-4 minutes, or until the egg whites are set and the yolk is still soft.

Meanwhile grill the bread on the hot pan.

To serve:

Take two hot plates, slather the grilled bread with butter. 

Remove the eggs one at a time with a slotted spoon. 

Pop one on top of the bread, arrange five stalks of asparagus alongside and at an angle. 

Drizzle with Hollandaise and sprinkle with finely grated Parmesan and a few flakes of sea salt. 

Coarsely grind some black pepper on top, serve and eat straight away.

Asparagus and Spring Onion Tart

Serves 6

Shortcrust Pastry

110g (4ozs) white flour

50g (2oz) butter

1 egg, preferably free-range

Filling

150g (5ozs) asparagus, trimmed and with ends peeled

15g (½oz) butter

1 tbsp olive oil

250g (9ozs) onion, finely chopped (we use about half spring onion complete with green tops and half ordinary onion)

110g (4ozs) Irish Cheddar cheese, grated

3 eggs, preferably free-range

110ml (4fl ozs) cream

Salt and freshly ground pepper

Equipment

1 x 18cm (7in) quiche tin or 1 x 18cm (7in) flan ring

First make the shortcrust pastry: Sieve the flour into a bowl and rub in the butter until the mixture resembles coarse breadcrumbs. 

Mix in the egg to bind the pastry. 

Add a little water if necessary, but don’t make the pastry too sticky. 

Chill for 15 minutes. Then roll out the pastry to line the quiche tin or flan ring to a thickness of 3mm (1/8 inch) approx. 

Line with greaseproof paper and fill to the top with dried beans and bake blind for about 20 minutes in a moderate oven, 180°C/350°F/gas mark 4. 

Remove the beans and eggs, wash the base and return to the oven for 1-2 minutes. 

This seals the pastry and helps to avoid a ‘soggy bottom’.

Next make the filling: Melt the butter, add the olive oil and onions; sweat the onions with a good pinch of salt until soft but not coloured.

Cook the asparagus in boiling salted water until al dente, then drain. 

When it is cool enough to handle, cut into 1cm (1/2in) pieces.

Whisk the eggs in a bowl; add the cream, almost all the cheese, onion and the cooked asparagus. 

Season with salt and freshly ground pepper. 

Pour into the pastry case, sprinkle the remainder of the cheese on top and bake in a moderate oven 180C/350F/gas mark 4, for 40-45 minutes.

Roast Rhubarb

Serves 6

I’ve become a huge fan of the sweet and intense flavour of roast rhubarb.

900g (2lb) rhubarb

250g-350g (9-12oz) sugar

Heat the oven to 200C/400F/gas mark 6.

Slice the rhubarb into 2½cm (1in) pieces and arrange in a single layer in a medium size ovenproof dish. 

Scatter the sugar over the rhubarb and allow to macerate for 30 minutes. 

Roast in the oven for about 20-30 minutes depending on size, until the rhubarb is just tender.

Serve alone or with cream, ice-cream or panna cotta.

Sauce hollandaise

Serves 4-6, depending on what it is to be served with.

2 egg yolks, free-range

4oz (110g) butter

1 dessertsp cold water

1 tsp lemon juice approx

Put the egg yolks into a heavy stainless steel saucepan on a low heat, or in a bowl over hot water. 

Add the water and whisk thoroughly. 

Add the butter bit by bit, whisking all the time. 

As soon as one piece melts, add the next piece.

The mixture will gradually thicken, but if it shows signs of becoming too thick or slightly ‘scrambling’, remove from the heat immediately and add a little cold water if necessary.

Do not leave the pan or stop whisking until the sauce is made. Finally, add the lemon juice to taste. 

If the sauce is slow to thicken, it may be because you are excessively cautious and the heat is too low.

Increase the heat slightly and continue to whisk until the sauce thickens to coating consistency.

It is important to remember that if you are making hollandaise sauce in a saucepan directly over the heat, it should be possible to put your hand on the side of the saucepan at any stage. 

If the saucepan feels too hot for your hand, it is also too hot for the sauce.

Another good tip if you are making this sauce for the first time is to keep a bowl of cold water close by so you can plunge the bottom of the saucepan into it if it becomes too hot.

Keep the sauce warm until ready to serve, either in a bowl over hot but not boiling water, or in a thermos flask. 

Hollandaise sauce should not be reheated.

Leftover sauce may be used as an enrichment for cream sauces, or mashed potatoes, or to perk up a fish pie.

Hot tips

East Cork Slow Food Event: 

Eat Yourself Well with Karen Brosnan. 

Karen will talk about mindful eating, eating food to help us all age well and to support recovery through challenging times on Thursday May 12 at 7pm at the Ballymaloe Cookery School. 

Slow Food members €6, non Slow Food members €8. Proceeds to support the East Cork Slow Food Educational Project.

Kerrygold Ballymaloe Literary Festival of Food and Wine, May 20-22 2016:

At this year’s Litfest, Canadian writer, Susan Musgrave, who has been described as everything from a standup comedian to an eco-feminist will be talking about her latest book and first cookbook, A Taste of Haida Gwaii in the Ballymaloe Cookery School on Sunday May 22. Susan has received several awards for her writing. 

She lives on Haida Gwaii and teaches poetry at the University of British Columbia.

Flavours of Burma:

A trip to Burma, now known as Myanmar, was one of my most intriguing adventures of 2015. 

Burmese food is virtually unknown outside the country, but word of its unique multi-ethnic cuisine is spreading throughout the culinary world. 

Delicious salads, soups, dahls, curries, noodle and rice dishes with intriguing Thai, Indian and Chinese influences, reflecting its geographical location.

On Friday May 27, we’ll teach a Flavours of Burma course, and introduce you to the essential elements of Burmese cooking and provide a repertoire of recipes. www.cookingisfun.ie 


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