Rhubarb and Custard Tart

AS THE horsemeat scandal continues to gain momentum what amazes me is why we are surprised.

How exactly do we explain the incredibly low price of many processed foods?

For those of us who are farmers and food producers we know it cannot be done without resorting to deeply unsavoury practices. Furthermore, what is going on behind the scenes has been well known in food circles for a long time.

It is a global issue and unlikely to be the only area of scary adulteration that comes to light. All the more reason for the Government, the Department of Agriculture and the Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) to encourage and support artisan food producers in farmers markets, country markets, small shops, local butchers, abattoirs and fish mongers.
Over the past few weeks there has been much discussion among food producers who have ‘been put through the wringer’ — or ‘constantly hassled’ as one woman put it.

Beef farmers are justifiably very, very angry. Could this be the time for farmers to take back control and start the co-ops all over again?

This whole affair is shining a bright and for some, deeply uncomfortable light on areas of a bewilderingly complex food chain that is very rarely scrutinised.

Investigations have revealed an international criminal conspiracy and a tangled web where it would appear that rules and laws are constantly broken.

Local food producers are known in their own area and their neighbours invariably know exactly how the food is produced and whether they operate to a high standard.
Invariably they are passionate about quality and are acutely aware that their reputation and the success of their business depends on maintaining the highest standard.

We can be justifiably proud of the FSAI who flagged up the problem in the first place and our Minister of Agriculture Simon Coveney who has dealt with a difficult situation in a carefully measured manner.

Meanwhile back to the kitchen for a weekend menu. Watercress, Blood Orange and New Seasons Toonsbridge Mozzarella Salad

Serves 4

A few beautiful fresh ingredients put together simply to make an irresistible starter.

2–3 balls of fresh Toonsbridge Mozzarella

2 blood oranges

A bunch of fresh watercress

2–3 tbsp Irish honey

A good drizzle of extra virgin olive oil

Some coarsely ground black pepper

Just before serving, scatter a few watercress leaves over the base of each plate, slice or tear some mozzarella over the top.

With a sharp knife remove the peel and pith from the blood oranges, cut into ¼ inch thick slices, tuck a few here and there in-between the watercress and mozzarella. Drizzle with honey and really good extra virgin olive oil.

Finally add a little coarsely ground fresh black pepper and serve.

Braised Neck of Lamb with Wild Garlic Mash

Serves 9-10

Wild garlic is back in season so let’s feast on it for the next few weeks.

Lamb neck or scrag end is ‘cheap and chips’ and really sweet and juicy.

6 half lamb necks (scrag ends) on the bone

Extra virgin olive oil or trimmed lamb fat

4 medium onions, quartered

2 large carrots, cut in chunks

½ head celery, coarsely chopped

5 bay leaves

1 x 400g (14oz) tin of tomatoes, chopped or 1 lb (450g) very ripe tomatoes, peeled and chopped

8-10 cloves of garlic, peeled

4 sprigs of rosemary

500ml (18fl oz) lamb stock or water

62ml (2 1/2fl oz) white wine

Chopped parsley

Trim the excess fat off the necks. Cut into cubes, render out the liquid fat in a large sauté pan over a medium heat.

Season the lamb necks with salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Remove the pieces of lamb fat from the pan and discard (alternatively you can use extra virgin olive oil).

On a high heat seal the meat for a couple of minutes on all sides turning until nicely browned.

Remove from the pan. Add the coarsely chopped root vegetables to the pan and toss and cook for 2 – 3 minutes.

Lay the lamb necks on top; add the herbs, white wine, chopped tomatoes, garlic and enough stock to come 2/3 of the way up the meat.

Bring to a simmer on top of the stove and then transfer into a preheated oven 250°C/500°F/Gas Mark 10, to start with and when it’s simmering gently, cover the lamb loosely with the lid or parchment paper. Reduce the heat to 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4 and cook until completely tender – 2 1/2 to 3 hours. The meat should be almost falling of the bones.

Cool and pop into the fridge until next day (alternatively skim off every bit of fat)

To serve: Remove and discard the solidified fat and warm through uncovered in a hot oven.

Taste and correct seasoning before serving. Scatter with lots of chopped parsley.

Serve with Wild Garlic Mash

Wild Garlic Mash

Serves 4

2 lbs (900g) unpeeled potatoes, preferably Golden Wonders or Kerr’s Pinks

½ pint (300ml) creamy milk approx.

1 whole egg

1-2 ozs (30-55g) butter or extra virgin olive oil

6 tbsp freshly chopped wild garlic leaves

Garnish

Wild Garlic Flowers (Alium ursinum)

Scrub the potatoes well. Put them into a saucepan of cold water, add a good pinch of salt and bring to the boil.

When the potatoes are about half cooked, about 15 minutes. for ‘old’ potatoes, strain off two-thirds of the water, replace the lid on the saucepan, put on to a gentle heat and allow the potatoes to steam until they are fully cooked. Peel immediately by just pulling off the skins, so you have as little waste as possible, mash while hot (see below). (If you have a large quantity, put the potatoes into the bowl of a food mixer and beat with the spade).

While the potatoes are being peeled, bring about ½ pint (300ml) of milk to the boil.

Add the egg into the hot mashed potatoes, and add enough boiling creamy milk to mix to a soft light consistency suitable for piping, add the freshly wild garlic and then beat in the butter or olive oil, the amount depending on how rich you like your potatoes. Taste and season with salt and freshly ground pepper. Scatter with wild garlic flowers.

Note: If the potatoes are not peeled and mashed while hot and if the boiling milk is not added immediately, the potato will be lumpy and gluey.

Rhubarb and Custard Tart

Serves 10-12

Pastry

8 ozs (225g) plain flour

6 ozs (175g) butter

Pinch of salt

1 dstsp icing sugar

A little beaten egg or egg yolk and water to bind

Filling

1lb (450g) or a little more rhubarb, cut into small pieces

6-8 tbsp castor sugar

300ml (10fl oz) cream

2 large or 3 small eggs

2 tbsp castor sugar

1 tsp pure vanilla extract

1 x 12 inch (30.5cm) tart tin or 2 x 7 inch (18cm) tart tins

Make the shortcrust pastry in the usual way (see recipe). Line a tart tin (or tins) with a removable base and chill for 10 minutes.

Line with paper and fill with dried beans and bake blind in a moderate oven 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4 for 15-20 minutes.

Remove the paper and beans, paint the tart with a little egg wash and return to the oven for 3 or 4 minutes.

Arrange the cut rhubarb evenly inside the tart shell. Sprinkle with 6-8 tablespoons castor sugar.

Whisk the eggs well, with the 2 tablespoons sugar and vanilla extract, add the cream.

Strain this mixture over the rhubarb and bake at 180C/350F/Gas Mark 4, for 35 minutes until the custard is set and the rhubarb is fully cooked.

Serve warm with a bowl of whipped cream.

Sweet Shortcrust Pastry

This is almost the most versatile of all the pastries. Use at least 1 part butter to 2 parts flour.

The higher the proportion of butter the more delicious the pastry, but the more difficult it will be to handle.

Makes enough pastry to line a 23cm (9 inch) flan ring

175g (6oz) plain white flour

75g (3oz) butter

40g (1 1/2oz) caster sugar

1 large organic egg, whisked

Dice the butter and leave to soften at room temperature for 30 minutes.

Sift the flour onto a work surface and rub in the butter. Add the sugar.

Make a well in the centre and break in the egg, adding a little water if necessary.

Use your fingertips to rub in, pulling in more flour mixture from the outside as you work.

Knead with the heel of your hand, making three turns. You should end up with a silky smooth ball of dough.

Wrap in clingfilm and leave in the fridge for at least 1 hour before using.

It will keep for a week in the fridge and also freezes well.

Hot tips

Neven Maguire, one of the nicest guys on the Irish food scene, is coming to Trabolgan to do a cookery demonstration in aid of the Aghada GAA on Tuesday, Mar 5. Doors open at 8pm.

Cheese and wine reception, craft and artisan food producer stalls. Tickets €20. Tel: 021-4661223 Day’s Spar, Whitegate, East Cork.

The Organic Centre Rossinver, Co Leitrim, Complete Organic Garden Day at the Organic Centre on Saturday, Mar 9, will focus mainly on soil fertility management, composting, sowing in the polytunnel.

The course costs €75 and starts at 10am to 4pm. Spring into the Garden incorporating the annual Potato Day is on Sunday, Mar 10, from 11am to 5pm — there will be gardening demonstrations, walks and talks with lots of advice on sowing, soil preparation, seed choice. www.theorganiccentre.ie.

Cooking for Baby — Natural and Wholesome Recipes half day course at Ballymaloe Cookery School Friday, Mar 8, 2pm to 5pm.

Learn the best ways of feeding your baby healthy food with Darina Allen, a mother of four and grandmother of eight. I’m happy to pass on the tips and advice gleaned over years of feeding my children and grandchildren without packets, cans or jars! Tel: 021-4646785; www.cookingisfun.ie.


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