Organic food hits the spot

NATIONAL Organic Food Week, now in its sixth year continues to gather momentum. The raison d’être for the week-long campaign from Monday, September 13 to Sunday, September 19 is to raise awareness about organic food and where to buy and enjoy it.

During the Celtic Tiger era in Ireland the demand for organic produce grew year after year. At present, there are approximately 1,500 registered organic farmers and 1.25% of arable land is being farmed organically in contrast to the European average of 4%. Now that we are in more challenging times the ‘true believers’ depending on their circumstances have continued to seek out organic produce or have decided to grow their own and possibly keep a few hens also. Some farmers who were tempted by the extra supplement offered to organic farmers under the REPS scheme have reverted now that the scheme is under review. Bord Bia estimated the organic farming market was worth 124m in 2009 and is projected to grow to 239m by 2013.

The Ballymaloe Cookery School farm has been organic for over a decade. We have built up the fertility of the soil by regular applications of well-rotted farm yard manure, compost, seaweed and the use of green manures.

We grow in excess of 85 crops, all be it in small quantities, year round. We also keep a few cattle for beef, free range traditional breeds of pigs for pork sausages and cured meats. Two gentle Jersey cows provide milk and cream to make homemade butter, yoghurt and a few simple cheeses.

As a result we regularly sit down to meals where every single thing on the plate, including the butter and cream comes from the farm or our neighbours. It’s such a joy and for me that is real luxury — much more thrilling that owning a pair of Louboutins or a Prada handbag. Whatever turns you on.

People regularly argue about whether organic food tastes better or not, as ever it’s difficult to be dogmatic, the skill of the grower affects the quality, variety affects flavour and freshness is of paramount importance. Organic food that comes from half way across the world may not have any chemical residues but it is unlikely to make you go “wow” when you taste the first forkful. So, look out for fresh, local organic Irish produce at farmer’s markets and neighbourhood shops. Seek out and subscribe to organic vegetable box schemes so you will have a year round supply of vegetable for yourself and your family.

Check out the Bord Bia website for news of more than 70 events around the country during National Organic Week, including Portumna Forest Picnic on Sunday, September 12. The picnic takes place from 12 noon to 4pm and admission is free. Peter Ward from Country Choice, Nenagh, Co Tipperary is organising the annual Blas an Fhomhair organic lunch on Sunday, September 19.

In addition to nationwide events, Bord Bia will host the National Organic Awards 2010 on Tuesday, September 14, alongside a one day trade conference on the opportunities within the German organic market. I myself will do a talk at the Nano Nagle open day on how to make the most on cheaper cuts of organic meat cuts in the Nano Nagle Centre, Ballygriffin, Co Cork on Wednesday, September 15 at 6:30pm.

There’s all sorts of exciting events to choose from, such as an organic apple juicing demonstration at Trevor’s Kitchen Garden, 37 Tara Cove, Balbriggan. Co Dublin. All around the country, there are organic farm walks, tastings of organic food in shops and super markets and some like Urru in Bandon are giving a 10% discount on all organic food in the store.

Teagasc has scheduled its National Organic Conference entitled Challenges and Opportunities for Organic Producers in Birr, Co Offaly, on Thursday, September16.

Eric Treuille’s Thai Lime and Organic Coconut Chicken

Eric Treuille and his wife Rosie own the iconic Books for Cooks in Blenheim crescent in London. Eric has written several excellent cookbooks.

Serves 8

2 organic lemon grass stalks

3 organic fresh green chillies, seeded and chopped

2 organic garlic cloves, chopped

3 organic spring onions, chopped

1 handful fresh coriander leaves

½ tsp ground cumin

½ tsp ground white pepper

½ tsp turmeric

1 tsp ground coriander grated

Zest of 1 organic lime

3 tbsp lime juice

2 tsp grated fresh ginger

1 tbsp fish sauce

125ml coconut milk

8 boneless, skinless organic chicken breasts, butterflied

Salt and black pepper fresh

Mango or Papaya Sambal (see recipe)

To serve:

Little Gem lettuces

Butterflying a chicken breast: With one hand on the breast to hold it in place, slice through the middle horizontally to cut almost in half. Open out flat.

Remove and discard the tough outer skin from the lemon grass stalks and roughly chop. Put lemon grass, chillies, garlic, spring onion, fresh coriander, cumin, pepper, turmeric, ground coriander, lime zest, lime juice, ginger, fish sauce and coconut milk in food processor or blender; pulse until smooth.

In a bowl, toss the chicken with the lemon grass mixture. Cover and refrigerate for 1 hour.

Grill over medium-hot coals until the chicken is opaque with no trace of pink — approximately 3 minutes per side. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Serve hot with fresh mango or papaya sambal in little gem lettuce leaves.

Note: Make marinade up to three days in advance. Cover and refrigerate. Marinate chicken up to four hours in advance. Cover and refrigerate.

Organic Mango or Papaya Sambal

Makes 225g (8oz) approximately

1 ripe organic mango or organic papaya peeled and diced

½ organic red onion, finely chopped

2 tbsp freshly squeezed organic lemon juice

1 tbsp fish sauce (nam pla)

1 tsp sugar

1-2 tbsp roughly chopped coriander

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Put the mango, chopped red onion, freshly squeezed lime juice, fish sauce, sugar and coriander in a bowl. Add salt and pepper to taste. Mix gently.

Cover and allow the flavours to mingle for 30 minutes. Serve chilled or at room temperature.

Heirloom Organic Tomato Salad with Basil, Olive Oil and Runny Honey

The Ballymaloe Cookery School stall at the Midleton Farmers’ Market has a unique selection of organic heirloom tomatoes in all shapes and sizes — red, yellow, black, striped, round, pear-shaped and oval.

They make a divine tomato salad and are wonderful with fresh buffalo mozzarella and lots of fresh basil.

Serves 4

8 very ripe organic heirloom tomatoes

Salt and freshly ground pepper

3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

1–2 tbsp organic lemon juice

2 tsp runny honey

2 tsp fresh basil leaves, torn

Cut the tomatoes into 5mm (¼ inch) thick slices. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Mix the oil, lemon juice and honey together. Add the basil leaves, pour the mixture over the tomatoes and toss gently. Taste and correct the seasoning if necessary.

A little freshly squeezed lemon juice enhances the flavour in a very delicious way.

Pickled Organic Carrots with Star Anise

Scott Walsh, a talented chef from Ballymaloe House, came up with this recipe.

10 organic carrots, peeled and sliced thinly lengthways on a mandolin

600 ml (1 pint) unsweetened carrot juice

100 g (3½ oz) caster sugar

200 ml (7 fl oz) white wine

200 ml (7 fl oz) white wine vinegar

200 ml (7 fl oz) water

250 ml (9 fl oz) extra virgin olive oil

Bunch of tarragon and thyme

8 star anise

2 tbsp coriander seeds, whole

10 black peppercorns

Place all ingredients into a wide stainless steel saucepan, bring to the boil, then simmer gently until carrots soft. Allow to go cold before serving.

Aubergine and Tahini Dip: Baba Ghanouj

There are loads of lovely organic aubergines at present so make the most of them with this delicious Middle Eastern dip.

Makes about 550g (1lb 3oz)

3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

2 organic aubergines

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

2-4 organic cloves garlic, peeled and left whole

3 tbsp light tahini paste (sesame paste)

Juice of 1 organic lemon

125ml (4.171 fl oz) Greek-style yoghurt

2 tbsp chopped parsley

Preheat the oven to 190C (375F/gas mark 5). Drizzle 1 tablespoon of the olive oil over a baking tray. Cut the aubergines in half lengthways and place skin side down on the tray. Drizzle with another tablespoon of the olive oil and season well with salt and pepper. Add the garlic to the tray and bake in the oven for 20-30 minutes, or until the garlic and aubergines are soft.

Once cool enough to handle, use a spoon to scoop the flesh from the skin of the aubergine. Discard the skin and put the flesh into a food processor with the garlic, tahini, lemon juice and the remaining olive oil. Blend until smooth and transfer to a bowl. Alternatively, place all the ingredients in the bowl and puree using a hand-held beater. Allow to cool.

Once cool, fold in the yoghurt and almost all of the parsley. Check the seasoning, adjusting if necessary, then spoon into a serving bowl and scatter with the remaining parsley.

Green and Black Organic Chocolate Chip Cookies

Makes about 36-40, depending on size

225g (8ozs) butter

200g (7oz) brown sugar

165g (6oz) caster sugar

2 eggs, preferably free-range

1 tsp pure vanilla extract

350g (12 oz) plain white flour

1 tsp baking powder

1 tsp baking soda

Pinch of salt

150g (5oz) Green and Black dark chocolate, 70%, broken into pieces

100g (3½ ozs/ cup) chopped nuts — hazel nuts

Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/gas mark 4.

Cream the butter add the sugars and beat until light and fluffy. Add in the egg bit by bit, then the vanilla extract.

Mix the dry ingredients together and fold them in. Lastly, add the Green and Black chocolate pieces and the chopped nuts.

Divide the mixture into 7g (¼ oz) pieces, for teeny-weeny pieces, 25g (1oz) for medium-sized or 50g (2oz) for American-style cookies onto baking sheets. Remember to allow lots of room for spreading. Bake for about 8-10 minutes, depending on size. Cool for a few minutes on the tray and then transfer to wire racks. Store in an airtight container.

Foolproof food

Hot Buttered Oysters on Toast

These wonderfully curvaceous oyster shells tend to topple over maddeningly on the plate so that the delicious juices escape. In the restaurant we solve this problem by piping a little blob of mashed Duchesse potato on the plate to anchor each shell.

12 Pacific (Gigas) oysters

25g (1oz) butter

½ teaspoon parsley, finely chopped

To serve:

4 segments of lemon

4 ovals of hot buttered toast (optional)

Open the oysters and detach completely from their shells.

Discard the top shell but keep the deep shell and reserve the liquid.

Put the shells into a low oven to heat through.

Melt half the butter in a pan until it foams. Toss the oysters in the butter until hot through — about one minute perhaps.

Put a hot oyster into each of the warm shells.

Pour the reserved oyster liquid into the pan and boil up, whisking in the remaining butter and the parsley.

Spoon the hot juices over the oysters and serve immediately on hot plates with a wedge of lemon.

Alternatively discard the shells and just serve the oysters on the hot buttered toast.

The toast will soak up the juice — simply delicious.

Hot tip

Easy entertaining: The current climate challenges us to think outside the box.

Joe and Hazel Bourke of Assolas Country House near Kanturk have come up with a brilliant idea for easy entertaining. Check it out on www.easyentertaining.ie. Contact 029 50006.

Meet the winemaker: Silvia Allegrini from Veneto in Italy will be at the Winemakers Lunch at Ballymaloe House on Tuesday, September 28.

Since the 16th century the Allegrini family have been handing down grape growing and wine producing traditions and have played a major role in the Valpolicella Classico area.

Booking is essential, contact: 021 4652531.

Oysters galore: The oyster season has just opened. Nature Fresh Oysters are one of the great gastronomic experiences — eat them just as they are, with maybe a drop of freshly squeezed lemon juice. Giga’s Oysters also work well in cooked dishes. We love them deep fried with Wasabi mayonnaise or with a spoonful of champagne sauce but the simple recipe above for Hot Buttered Oysters on toast is one of my absolute favourites.


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