It’s such an exciting time in food and even though the figures for obesity and Type 2 diabetes continue to increase, there are real grounds for optimism as growing numbers don their Lycra and take to their bikes or run or swim or walk.
I’m a fan of the latter and greatly enjoy hill walking now and then.
Most gyms are oversubscribed and despite my pessimistic prediction that Operation Transformation would never catch on, it has got many couch potatoes off the sofa and transformed them into messianic walkers or bikers.
There is so much to be encouraged about, not just in Ireland but there also appears to be a global grassroot movement who want to take back control of their food and their lives. Millennials are beginning to ask themselves searching questions.
In the midst of all the pressure and traffic jams, there’s the nagging thought, “there has to be more to life than this”..
So some at least (and the numbers are increasing) are finding solace in the joy and satisfaction of growing some of their own food — instead of planting flower beds, they are sowing vegetables and herbs, seeds, planting a few apple trees, a cherry, a few gooseberries and blackcurrants and are like children in a toy shop when their produce is ready to eat. A decade ago 70% of all seeds were flower seeds; now vegetables seeds are outselling flower seeds by 78% to 22%.
In the US, the Grow Food not Lawns Movement continues to grow as does GIY here in Ireland. Cully and Sully’s programme, Give Peas a Chance, in conjunction with national secondary schools had entries from 7,000 students, 3,000 teams, a fifth of secondary schools and was won by the St Augustine’s in Dungarvan.
Their teacher Margo McGann and David McCarthy told us about the excitement it generated among her class, the parents, fellow teachers and how the whole school is basking in the warm glow of success. It will now further develop a school garden with the prize they won and continue to teach the children how to grow vegetables and fruit. Many of the children have already encouraged their parents to start a vegetable garden at home.
The craving to reconnect with how food is produced and to relearn skills is particularly evident in the response to a new course we introduced onto the Ballymaloe Cookery School curriculum this year.
A six-week sustainable food programme where the participants learn everything from how to sow a seed, plant a seedling into the ground, how to milk a cow, make butter, cheese, yoghurt, keep chickens for eggs and the table, filled in a couple of weeks and was oversubscribed by more than 100%.
The course also covered how to rear heritage pigs, butcher, bake breads, forage, preserve, ferment, make charcoal and cook and address a number of food issues.
Many will return to their former careers, several have already bought some land or will now begin to cultivate their gardens or at least plant a window box depending on their situation. But, whatever their future path, life will never be the same.
In their own careers, each have a skill set that I couldn’t even begin to aspire to but you can’t imagine the joy they are finding in learning these basic life skills and baking their first loaf of bread or roasting a free range organic chicken…
In this column, I include a few of the recipes they have learned to make from scratch over the past six weeks.
Caramelised Carrot, Beetroot and Apple Salad with Sesame Seeds
A couple of bocconcini will make this salad into a more substantial lunch
600g young carrots, with a little green top
2 teaspoons thyme leaves
Extra virgin olive oil
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
450g beetroot, cooked and peeled
1-2 dessert apples, unpeeled and coarsely grated or julienned
25g pumpkin or sesame seeds
Watercress, purslane and chickweed or a mixture of interesting leaves and ‘weeds’
2 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
5 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon sesame oil
2 teaspoons honey
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Preheat the oven to 230C/mark 8
Scrub the carrots, dry, split in half lengthwise, if too big. Put into a large bowl, add the thyme leaves, drizzle with the olive oil and honey, season with salt and freshly ground pepper, toss gently to coat.
Spread out in a roasting tin. As soon as you put the trays into the oven reduce the heat to 200C/mark 6.
Roast for 10-15 minutes, turning occasionally until the carrots are almost tender and caramelised at the ends and edges.
Remove from the oven and allow to cool.
Just before serving, toast the pumpkin or sesame seeds on a dry pan over a medium heat for a couple of minutes — you’ll need to keep tossing them or they’ll burn on one side and become acrid and bitter.
Cut the cooked beetroot into wedges or chunks depending on size.
To make the dressing: Whisk the lemon juice, oils and honey together, add the thyme leaves, keep half the dressing aside.
Grate the apple on the coarse side of a box grater, directly into the rest of the dressing. Toss, taste and correct seasoning.
To serve: Arrange a few sprigs of watercress, chickweed, and purslane on each plate. Whisk the dressing. Sprinkle over the carrot and beets. Taste, it should be nice and perky. Divide them between the plates. Spoon some grated apple here and there, sprinkle with toasted seeds and serve with crusty bread.
Variation: Omit the apple and sesame oil and drizzle with carrot leaf pesto.
Jacob Kenedy’s Blackcurrant Leaf or Meadow Sweet Panna Cotta
Normally panna cotta (‘cooked cream’) is a somewhat bland vehicle for fruit or sauce. Here infused with blackcurrant leaves (which magically have more aroma than their fruit, that comes later in the year), it becomes the star attraction.
Something of a charlatan, I actually prefer to make my panna cotta without cream at all, replacing it with yoghurt — both for a lightness of taste, and reduction of guilt.
3 sheets gelatin (2.5g each – ‘standard’ size)
400ml (14fl oz) whole milk
1 vanilla pod, split
25g (1oz) fresh blackcurrant leaves (or, equally lovely, fig leaves) or meadow sweet flowers
100g (3½ oz) caster sugar
150ml (5fl oz) double cream (or 200g/7oz Greek yoghurt)
350g (12oz) fresh blackcurrants, strings removed
50g (2oz) sugar
50ml (2fl oz) water
Bloom the gelatin in cold water.
Bring the milk to a boil with the vanilla pod, and take it straight off the heat. Allow it to cool to about 70C/158F, then add the blackcurrant leaves (or meadow sweet flowers if using). Keep it around 60-70C/140-158F (put over a low flame briefly if it cools below) for 5-15 minutes, and taste to judge when the infusion is correct (too long and it starts to taste bitter; too short and it will be bland).
When you’re happy, strain the milk and, while still hot, add the sugar and the bloomed gelatin. Stir to dissolve.
At room temperature, stir in the cream or yoghurt and portion into glasses or moulds.
Serve turned out onto little plates, just as they are or with a spoonful of blackcurrant compote (see recipe), which though not seasonal can be made using frozen berries and not much sugar.
To make the blackcurrant compote:
Put the blackcurrants into a stainless steel saucepan, cover with stock syrup.
Bring to the boil and cook until the fruit bursts — this will take about four to five minutes.
Pork Osso Bucco
This recipe is also lovely made with lamb or rosé veal shanks. The leftover meat and juices are delicious over pasta.
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
3 medium onions, sliced
5 garlic cloves, chopped
2 red peppers, seeded and sliced
2 yellow peppers, seeded and sliced
2 bay leaves
1 sprig thyme
1 x 400g (14oz) tin of chopped tomatoes
Salt and freshly ground pepper
2 tbsp sweet or smoked paprika
900ml (1½pints) homemade chicken stock
16 thick slices of pork shanks (you’ll want 4 shanks for 8 people, ask the butcher to saw them into thick slices for you or do it yourself)
450ml (16fl oz) dry white wine
300ml (10fl oz) sour cream
50g (2oz) roux
Lots of flat parsley
Cast-iron or heavy roasting tin
Preheat the oven to 160C/325F/Gas Mark 3.
Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a casserole, add the sliced onion and garlic, toss, cover and cook over a medium heat while you prepare the peppers. Add the peppers and continue to cook until the onion and peppers are soft. Add the bay leaves, thyme and chopped tomatoes with their juice. Add salt, freshly ground pepper and paprika. Stir, then add the chicken stock and bring to the boil.
Meanwhile, heat another 2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil in a frying pan. Toss the pork in seasoned flour. Sear the meat a few pieces at a time, and add to the tomato base. Deglaze the pan with white wine and bring to the boil.
Dissolve the caramelised meat juices in the wine. Add to the casserole.
Cover and cook gently for 2–2½ hours.
When the meat is almost falling from the bones, remove the pork from the casserole and set aside.
Skim the fat off the cooking sauce, add the sour cream, bring to a boil and thicken lightly with roux. Taste and correct the seasoning.
Return the pork shanks and their juices to the sauce. Bubble over a medium heat until the meat heats through.
Taste and correct the seasoning.
Transfer to a shallow serving dish. Scatter with lots of flat parsley sprigs and serve with noodles, rice or mashed potatoes.
Serve one small and one large piece of shank per person.
Rory O’Connell’s Salad of Beetroot with Raspberries, Honey and Mint
2 cooked beetroot, peeled and very thinly sliced on a mandolin
16 small mint leaves
Maldon sea salt
Cracked black pepper
Divide the sliced beetroot between four white plates.
Cut some of the raspberries in half lengthways and some in cross section slices, and scatter over the beets. Season with salt and freshly cracked black pepper.
Dress the salads with a drizzle of honey, a squeeze of lemon juice and a drizzle of olive oil. Sprinkle on the tiny mint leaves and serve.
Note: I sometimes place a few teaspoons of thick yoghurt or labneh on the salad when assembling.
Check out the Carlow Garden Festival: Running until July 30, a full programme of TV and radio gardeners, international garden designers, tree trails, garden visits, free events, workshops — www.carlowgardentrail.com/events/category/carlow-garden-festival-2017/
Irish Street Food Awards: We are looking for the best street food dishes in Ireland with the winner going on to represent Ireland in Berlin at the European Street Food Awards final in the autumn. Applications and nominations are open (http://irishstreetfoodawards.com) to any street food vendor trading in Ireland. For more information contact Ali Dunworth on 087-4144288 or email@example.com
Fresh and local food: Check out Michael Barrett’s lobster rolls and oysters at the Midleton Farmers’ Market, every Saturday 9.30am-2pm.
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