Weekend food with Darina Allen: How to grow your own food

I wonder how many of your New Year resolutions you’ve managed to keep so far?

I’ve been hopeless about lots of things but this year I am determined to encourage as many people as I possibly can to grow some of their own food. 

Join the now worldwide renaissance in urban as well as rural farming and gardening.

It’s extraordinary what’s going on, particularly in the US where many people are further down the road of desperation than we are. 

There’s a grass roots revolution, people are growing up walls, down walls, in window boxes, hanging baskets, on roofs, balconies, even on fire escapes although that’s not encouraged for obvious reasons. 

The ‘Grow Food not Lawns’ Movement attracts more devotees all the time. Here in Ireland, allotments are in peak demand and the sales of polytunnels have skyrocketed. 

Once you’ve planted a few seeds and waited for the plants to grow into something delicious to eat – life changes. 

We appreciate the work of the growers and gardeners so much more plus one has the reassurance that the herbs, vegetables and fruit haven’t been sprayed with a cocktail of pesticides. 

So if you haven’t already got the bug, don’t worry, it’s not too late for this year – you’ve got several weeks to cogitate. 

Maybe get together with a few pals who live close by and make a plan. Each agree to grow five or six vegetables and then share. 

My best top tip is don’t be over ambitious, start small but you could be preparing the soil now. 

Put a layer of compost and maybe some powdered seaweed on top of the ground and let it sit until the weather warms up. 

The soil temperature needs to be 7°C before you sow seeds, otherwise they won’t germinate.

Well this is a cooking column but as we all know good nourishing food starts (whether it’s veg or meat) in rich fertile soil. 

But you could even start with a seed tray on your window sill, I live in the middle of a farm and I feel so blessed to have space to grow and produce quite a lot of our own food and it’s surprising how much is in the garden still in the depths of winter. 

All the gutsy hardy perennial herbs, rosemary, thyme, sage are thriving and ever more exciting the new seasons chives are already well above the ground, much earlier than usual – one of the bonus’s of climate change. 

We also have lots of leeks, a few Brussels sprouts, masses of knobbly Jerusalem artichokes, parsnips, kale, chard…. Our carrots are finished but we have lots of cabbage that would never make it onto a supermarket shelf . 

A few slugs have discovered them but some careful washing in salted water sorts that out and they are sweet and delicious after a few nights frost. 

As are the black radishes, celeriac and swede. and the turnips which are having their moment. 

Can you imagine the humble swede is becoming cool and swede chips are featuring on lots of menus.

I think I’ll start with this Leek Framiche, like a quiche but super delicious.

Jerusalem Artichoke Soup with Chorizo Crumbs

Jerusalem artichokes were a sadly neglected winter vegetable, but many people have discovered them in recent years. 

We love the flavour and of course they are brilliantly nutritious – packed with inulin. 

They look like knobbly potatoes and are a nuisance to peel, but if they are very fresh you can sometimes get away with just giving them a good scrub. 

Not only are they a smashing vegetable but they are also delicious in soups and gratins. 

They are a real gem from the gardener’s point of view because the foliage grows into a hedge and provides shelter and cover for both compost heaps and pheasants!

Serves 8-10

  • 50g (2oz) butter
  • 560g (1¼ lb) onions, peeled and chopped
  • 1.15kg (2½ lbs) Jerusalem artichokes, scrubbed, peeled and chopped
  • salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 1.1L (2 pints) light chicken stock
  • 600ml (1 pint) creamy milk approx.
  • Chorizo Crumbs
  • Makes 175g (6oz)
  • 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 125g (4½oz) chorizo, peeled and cut into 1/4 inch dice
  • 100g (3½oz) coarse breadcrumbs

METHOD

First make the chorizo crumbs. Put the oil into a cool pan, add the diced chorizo. 

Toss on a low heat until the oil starts to run and the chorizo begins to crisp. 

Careful, it’s easy to burn the chorizo. Drain through a metal sieve, save the oil and return to the pan.

Increase the heat, add coarse breadcrumbs and toss in the chorizo oil until crisp and golden. 

Drain and add to the chorizo. (You’ll have more than you need but they’ll keep in a covered box in your fridge and are great to sprinkle over gratins, stews, etc.)

Next make the soup. Melt the butter in a heavy bottomed saucepan, add the onions and artichokes. 

Season with salt and freshly ground pepper, cover and sweat gently for 10 minutes approx. 

Add the stock and cook until the vegetables are soft. Liquidise and return to the heat. Thin to the required flavour and consistency with creamy milk, and adjust the seasoning.

Serve in soup bowls or in a soup tureen. Scatter with a spoonful of chorizo crumbs.

Note: This soup may need more stock depending on thickness required.

Leek Flamiche

There are many variations on this theme, some have no cheese, others no bacon. Similar leek tarts and pies are made in Belgium, France and many parts of the UK, including Wales and Cornwall. 

One can use the filling to make into a gorgeous pie with pastry underneath and on top, or just on top. Either way it is delicious.

Serves 6-8

  • A pre-baked 22.5cm tart shell made with 225g shortcrust pastry -
  • Made with 175g flour
  • 75g butter
  • 1 egg yolk and a little water

Filling:

  • 450g white part of leeks, sliced in 1cm thick rings
  • 50g butter
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 2 eggs or 1 large egg and one egg yolk
  • 300ml cream
  • 100g rindless streaky raw bacon or cooked ham cut into lardons
  • 75g Gruyère cheese, grated
  • Equipment
  • 22.5cm tart tin with removable base.

METHOD

Melt the butter in a heavy saucepan over a gentle heat. When it foams, add the sliced leeks. 

Season with salt and freshly ground pepper, toss, cover and cook gently until soft and tender but not coloured, about 10 minutes. 

Drain if necessary and allow to cool. Cut the bacon or bacon or ham into 5mm lardons. 

Heat a little extra virgin olive oil in a frying pan over a medium heat, add bacon and cook for 5-6 minutes or until slightly golden and cooked through. There’s no need to re-cook ham.

Meanwhile whisk the eggs and cream together, stir in the cooled leeks and ham or bacon and most of the grated cheese. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper.

Spoon into the pre-baked tart shell, sprinkle the remainder of the grated cheese on top and bake in the pre-heated oven for 35-40 minutes or until just set in the centre and golden on top. 

Remove from the tin and cool on a wire rack.

Serve warm.

Salad of Shaved Cauliflower and Brussels Sprouts with Red Onion, Raisins and Parmesan

This is a refreshing salad that can be served as a light starter or as part of a selection of salads. 

It goes particularly well with cold ham or cured meats such as salamis and chorizos. I also like it with spiced beef or coarse terrines.

Serves 6 – 8

  • 50g (2oz) raisins soaked on boiling water for 1 hour
  • 1 small cauliflower
  • 12 Brussels sprouts peeled
  • 225g (8oz) red onion
  • 50g (2oz) roasted, peeled and chopped hazelnuts
  • 2-4 tablespoons of olive oil
  • 8 tablespoons Caesar Dressing (see recipe)
  • 50g (2oz) grated parmesan
  • salt and pepper
  • 2 tablespoons of pomegranate seeds optional

METHOD

Trim the outside leaves and tough stalk off the cauliflower and break it into florets. 

Slice the cauliflower florets thinly, 1/2cm (1/4 inch), by hand or with a mandolin and place in a large bowl. 

Slice the peeled red onion and sprouts even more thinly and add to the cauliflower. Add in the drained raisins. 

Dress the salad with half of the olive oil and the Caesar dressing and toss thoroughly but gently. Add in 3/4 of the grated parmesan and mix again. 

Taste and correct seasoning, add salt and pepper as necessary. 

Spread out in a large shallow bowl or plate and sprinkle on the hazelnuts and pomegranate seeds if using.

A final drizzle of oil and the remaining parmesan sprinkled over the salad and it is ready to serve. The salad can sit for an hour before serving.

Caesar Dressing

  • 2 egg yolks, preferably free-range
  • 2 tablespoons (2 American tablespoons + 2 teaspoons) lemon juice, freshly squeezed
  • 1 x 2oz (50g) tin anchovies
  • 1 clove garlic, crushed
  • Pinch of English mustard powder
  • Half teaspoon salt
  • Half to 1 tablespoon Worcester sauce
  • Half to 1 tablespoon Tabasco sauce
  • 6fl oz (175ml) sunflower oil
  • 2fl oz (50ml) extra virgin olive oil
  • 2fl oz (50ml) cold water

METHOD

I make it in a food processor but it can also be made very quickly by hand. Drain the anchovies and crush lightly with a fork. 

Put into a bowl with the egg yolks, add the garlic, lemon juice, mustard powder, salt, Worcester and Tabasco sauce.

Whisk all the ingredients together. As you whisk, add the oils slowly at first, then a little faster as the emulsion forms. 

Finally, whisk in the water to make a spreadable consistency.

Taste and correct the seasoning: this dressing should be highly flavoured.

HOT TIPS

Date for the Diary: There’s a pop up dinner with our Winter 12 Week Certificate students on Saturday, March 11. 

Welcome Aperitif at 6.30pm; three course dinner at 7pm. Tickets are €40 for Slow Food members, €45 non Slow Food members. Further details in a few weeks’ time.

Cooking for Baby and Toddlers — Natural and Wholesome Food: Everyone wants to feed their baby nourishing and wholesome food. Yet it’s difficult to know how and when to start offering solids. 

Many of us lack the confidence to make our own baby food Darina Allen is happy to pass on the tips and advice gleaned over years of feeding children and grandchildren totally without packets, cans or jars. 

An invaluable half-day course covers everything – choosing the ingredients, recipes, preparation tips, menus, storage, health and nutrition – the lot. Not only will it save you a small fortune but also it will be infinitely better for your baby. 

You’ll soon discover that making your own, nourishing baby food is quick, easy and surprisingly good fun. Also, by giving your baby lots of variety you’ll ensure that as they grow up they don’t become fussy eaters. This course is subsidised by the Ballymaloe Cookery School. 

If you need to bring a child minder with you they are very welcome to take a walk around our gardens while you are attending the course. Friday, March 3, at 2.30pm. www.cookingisfun.ie 



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