Weekend food with Darina Allen

THE apple blossom is in full bloom in the orchard this week with the promise of a bumper harvest provided we don’t get a random frost within the next few weeks.

Everyone should have at least one apple tree in their garden for the sheer joy of having a picnic under the apple blossom at this time of the year as well as the anticipation of juicy apples and apple pies in the autumn. The old-fashioned Bramley’s Seedling is a brilliant cooker and keeps well. This year we’ve managed to save the last apples of last year’s crop until now — that’s definitely a record for us. When choosing an apple tree to plant seek out an old variety that you can’t find in the shops like Arthur Turner or Lane’s Prince Albert, which are delicious cookers and maybe Ergemont Russet or Cox’s Orange Pippin as a dessert apple.

There’s a tantalising choice of ‘eaters’ as well. I particularly love Beauty of Bath, it’s an early variety that used to be in almost every Irish garden. The apples are mottled yellow and red, juicy and bittersweet, the flavour bringing back memories of robbing orchards! Irish Seed Savers have an extensive range of old varieties that particularly suit the Irish climate (order now to plant in the autumn): www.irishseedsavers.ie.

Last weekend we had a Slow Food picnic in the Ballymaloe apple orchard. Everyone brought along a picnic and a rug and we had a little demonstration on how to crystallise the apple blossom and a talk on old varieties. Apple blossom is so beautiful to bring into the house but don’t steal too much or you’ll diminish your crop of apples. We used it to decorate a delicious apple blossom sponge which was the centrepiece of our picnic.

Some other good things to have for your picnic: radishes, goat’s cheese and cucumber sandwiches, homemade lemonade, sausage rolls, mini frittatas, spicy chicken wings, and wee buns.

Suppliers: Woodside Farm, Oldcourt, Ballincurrig, Leamlara, Co Cork, 087-2767206, info@woodsidefarm.ie;

Castlemary Farm Goat Cheese, Cloyne, Co Cork, 087-7977203;

Caherbeg Free Range Pork, Rosscarbery, Co Cork 086-82244145.

Apple Blossom Sponge

This feather-light sponge was the centrepiece of our apple blossom picnic.

Serves 8–10

3 organic eggs

225g (8oz) caster sugar

75ml (3fl oz) warm water

150g (5oz) plain white flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

Bramley apple filling:

450g (1lb) Bramley cooking apples

2 teaspoons water

50g (2oz) sugar or more depending on tartness of the apples

Peel, quarter and core the apples, then cut the quarters in two and put in a small stainless steel or cast-iron saucepan. Add the sugar and water, cover and cook over a low heat. As soon as the apple has broken down, stir so it’s a uniform texture and taste for sweetness. Allow to get cold.

2 x 20cm (9in) sandwich tins

Preheat the oven to 190C/375F/gas mark 5.

Separate the egg yolks from the whites. In a food mixer, whisk the yolks with the caster sugar for 2 minutes and then add in the warm water. Whisk until light and fluffy, this will take about 20-30 minutes. The mixture will have greatly increased in volume and should hold a figure of eight for a few seconds.

Gently fold the sieved flour and baking powder into the mousse in batches. Then whisk the egg whites until they hold a stiff peak. Fold them in very gently.

Divide the mixture between two greased and floured sandwich tins and bake for 20 minutes.

Remove from the tins and cool on a wire rack.

When cool, sandwich the two together with the Bramley apple filling and whipped cream.

Sprinkle a little caster sugar or icing sugar over the top before serving. Decorate with fresh apple blossom.

Homemade Sausage Rolls

Everyone’s favourite when made with really good sausages and buttery puff pastry.

Puff or flaky pastry

Good sausages, such as Woodside, PJ Crowe, Hodgkins, Caherbeg.

Dijon mustard or sweet chilli sauce (optional)

Egg wash

Preheat the oven to 230C/450F/gas mark 8.

Roll the puff pastry into a thin sheet. Measure the sausages. Cut the pastry into slighter wider strips (the pastry will shrink slightly in the cooking). Lay a sausage across the pastry about 1in/2.5cm from the edge. Slather with mustard or sweet chilli sauce. Fold the pastry over the sausage. Brush the edge with cold water, press to seal and cut. Transfer to a baking tray. Continue until all the sausages have been used up, then brush each one with egg wash. Prick or score the top.

Bake in the preheated oven for 15-20 minutes or until the sausages are fully cooked and the pastry puffed and golden. Cool on a wire rack. Delicious freshly cooked or at room temperature. Serve with crispy lettuces and Ballymaloe Country Relish.

Mini Frittatas with Oven Roasted Tomatoes, Chorizo and Castlemary Goat’s Cheese

Serves 6-8

You can of course make this frittata in a pan and slice it at the picnic but it’s really handy to cook individual frittatas in muffin tins.

450g (1lb) ripe or sun-blushed tomatoes, preferably cherry tomatoes

1 tsp salt and freshly ground black pepper

8 large eggs, preferably free range and organic

2 tbsp parsley, chopped

4 tsp thyme leaves

2 tbsp basil, mint or marjoram

110-175g (4-6oz) chorizo, thickly sliced, cut into four

40g (1½ozs) Parmesan cheese, grated

25g (1oz) butter

110g (4oz) Castlemary soft goat’s cheese (We also use Ardsallagh or St Tola goat cheese)

Extra virgin olive oil

Non-stick pan 10cm (7½ in) bottom, 23cm (9in) top rim or 1 muffin tray lined with 5 inch (12.5cm (5in) squares of parchment paper.

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

Cut the tomatoes in half around the equator, season with salt and a few grinds of pepper. Arrange in a single layer in a non-stick roasting tin. Roast for 10-15 minutes or until almost soft and slightly crinkly. Remove from the heat and cool. Alternatively use sun-blushed tomatoes.

Whisk the eggs in a bowl, add the salt, freshly ground pepper, fresh herbs, chorizo and grated cheese into the eggs. Add the tomatoes, stir gently. Melt the butter in a non-stick frying pan. When the butter starts to foam, tip in the eggs. Turn down the heat, as low as it will go. Divide the cheese into walnut sized pieces and drop gently into the frittata at regular intervals. Leave the eggs to cook gently for 15 minutes on a heat diffuser mat, or until the underneath is set. The top should still be slightly runny.

Preheat a grill. Pop the pan under the grill for 1 minute to set and barely brown the surface.

Slide the frittata onto a warm plate.

Serve cut in wedges with a good green salad and perhaps a few olives.

Alternatively put the pan into a preheated oven 170C/325F/gas 3. Alternatively cook mini frittata in lined muffin tins (for approximately 15 minutes). Serve with a good green salad.

Variation: For a yummy vegetarian alternative omit the chorizo and add 110g (4oz) grated Gruyère cheese to add extra pizzazz.

Serve warm with a good green salad and perhaps a tomato and basil salad.

Top Tip: The size of the pan is very important; the frittata should be at least 3cm (1¼ in) thick. If the only pan available is larger, adjust the number of eggs, etc.

Hot tips

East Cork Slow Food Events: Celebration Cakes and Cake Decorating with Pamela Black. An evening demonstration featuring many exciting ways in which to decorate cakes for all occasions, Wednesday, May 11 at 7pm at Ballymaloe Cookery School. Slow Food members — 15/non-Slow Food members — 20

Catherine Stanton, a senior research officer at Moorepark Dairy Research Centre, Fermoy will give a talk on the Health Benefits and Risks of Raw Milk Consumption on Monday, May 16 at 7pm at Ballymaloe Cookery School. Admission: Donation to East Cork Slow Food Educational Project. Booking essential: 021-4646785, slowfoodeastcork@gmail.com

Food festivals are now so numerous that it’s a major dilemma to know which one to head for. Carlow Food Hero Festival, Step House Hotel, Borris, Co Carlow is on Sunday, May 15. See www.stephousehotel.ie for further information

Wexford Food Festival May 20 — 22. Visit wexfordfoodfare.ie for the details.

Burren Slow Food Festival May 20—22 in Lisdoonvarna — great weekend with tastings and talks, cookery demonstrations and farmers market showcasing the best of the Burren. See www.slowfoodclare.com or email birgitta@burrensmokehouse.ie

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