Talk about things coming full circle. Chefs are boasting about cooking everything from scratch for their menus, doing in-house butchery, making house-cured bacon and charcuterie, homemade tomato ketchup, pickles, relishes etc.
My son-in-law just back from Portland, Oregon, tells me there are over 400 food trucks and 40 artisan breweries in a city with a population of less than 600,000. The micro-distillery movement has also taken off. Chefs are infusing alcohol with wild foraged herbs, berries, and fruit and using them in cool house cocktails.
A whole counter-culture to fast food is gaining momentum — a virtual revolution at grassroots level, and not just among young chefs and cooks.
Provenance is important to them. They want to know the variety, the breed, the feed. They are flocking back to butchers shops learning about meat cuts, dry-ageing hanging, and pasture-raised. New butchers shops are opening, and butchery classes are oversubscribed.
It is beyond cool to be part of this scene, to be able to do all these things and to rediscover lost or forgotten skills that were certainly not part of the last generation’s experience. On trips to the US over the past decade, I have grown aware of the young agrarians in the US, and the Greenhorns movement — passionate, energetic young farmers and ‘wannabe’ farmers whose voice is growing louder and more persistent.
Many of the top chefs have vegetable and herb gardens, and are growing at least some fresh produce on the roof or balcony or in a variety of containers — they are desperate to source really fresh organic produce for their menus. Of course it also adds to the story.
Several chefs including April Bloomfield are buying farms in upstate New York in order to have a trustworthy supply of fresh, home-produced food — it’s unlikely to be cheaper but it’s worth it.
There’s a deep craving and a growing market for this kind of food and this kind of story. Food you can trust, from small production systems.
Interestingly there’s a growing realisation that food from small production is distinctly different from intensively produced food and chefs are highlighting this on their menu. At Noma in Copenhagen, Rene Redzepi tells us that the butter comes from a herd of just five goats on a small farm in Sweden. I suppose I could boast that our Jersey butter comes from a herd of just three cows!
When people know the story they understand why they need to pay a little more but they must be able to taste a difference, otherwise why would you?
April Bloomfield shared these delicious recipes from her brilliant cookery book A Girl and Her Pig, published by Canongate Books.
Jerusalem artichokes have a slightly sweet flavour and a nutty aroma.
For this recipe, smash them, rather than mash them, keeping them pretty chunky and adding just a bit of cream, so you don’t mask their flavour.
Consider Jerusalem artichokes any time you’re thinking of serving mashed potatoes.
900g Jerusalem artichokes
2 tsp extra virgin olive oil
1 tbsp Maldon or another flaky sea salt
2 tbsp double cream
Freshly ground black pepper
A five-fingered pinch of parsley leaves
Fill a big bowl with cold water. Peel the Jerusalem artichokes as best you can.
They’re a bit knobby, so it’ll take some time, but it’s worth it. It’s okay if you can’t get every last bit of skin.
As you peel each one, drop it into the water to prevent browning.
Once you’ve peeled all the artichokes, drain them and chop them into rough 2.5cm pieces.
Add the pieces to a medium pot that has a lid, along with the olive oil, the salt, and 50ml water.
Give a good stir, cover the pot, and set it over a medium-high heat. Cook at a steady simmer, stirring once in a while, until the chunks are just barely crunchy — about 25 minutes.
Take the pot off the heat. Stir and smash the chunks a bit with a sturdy whisk or spoon, then add the cream and stir and smash to incorporate it.
Keep stirring and smashing until you have a rough mash, some of it smooth and creamy and some of the chokes in medium and small chunks.
Add a few twists of black pepper and a sprinkle of parsley. Serve piping hot.
4 medium red onions (about 225g each) peeled, stem ends trimmed but left intact
About 3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
Maldon or other flaky sea salt
1 head garlic
Small handful thyme sprigs, plus 1 teaspoon of leaves
125g homemade sausage (see recipe)
Or shop bought, removed from casing if necessary
225ml double cream
Preheat the oven to 200C/400º/gas 6. Put the onions in a medium casserole or other ovenproof pot with a lid.
Drizzle some olive oil into your hand and rub it on the onions. You’ll probably end up using about 2 tablespoons.
Grab some salt and crush it between your fingers as you sprinkle it all over each onion, turning the onions to make sure the salt adheres to all sides. Put them in the pot.
Tear off the outermost layers of peel from the garlic head so the cloves are exposed.
Put it in the middle of the onions and drizzle on a little olive oil. Scatter the thyme sprigs over the onions, and pour 75ml water around the onions and garlic. Cover the pot and put it in the oven.
Cook just until the onions are lightly browned and soft enough that you can insert a knife into the centre with barely any resistance, 50 minutes to an hour, depending on the size of your onions.
Let them sit, covered, on the top of the stove until they’re cool enough to handle, so they get even softer (leave the oven on).
Carefully transfer the onions to a plate or cutting board, leaving the liquid behind in the pot.
Use a small spoon to scoop out a few layers of the insides of each onion and stuff each one with about 2 tablespoons of the sausage.
Add the scooped-out onion bits to a 30cm ovenproof pan or small baking dish.
(When you add the cream and water, the liquid should come a little less than half way up the sides of the onions). Squeeze the soft flesh of the garlic cloves into the pan and add the thyme leaves, cream, and 225ml water and 1 teaspoon salt.
Bring the mixture to a full boil, add the stuffed onions, sausage side up, and baste them with the liquid for a minute or so.
Pop the pan into the oven, uncovered, and cook, basting the onions every ten minutes or so, until the sauce is thick but not gloopy, about 40 minutes.
Taste the sauce and add a little more salt, if you’d like. Bring the pan to the table, spoon a little of the sauce over the top of each onion and dig
The rhubarb’s earthy flavour and sharp tartness balance the floral cardamom whipped cream.
Layer the fool in small clear jars, so you can see the pink and white, pink and white. Well chilled, it’s wonderfully refreshing. And not too sweet.
For the cardamom cream
6 green cardamom pods
3 tbsp caster sugar
225ml crème frâiche
225ml double cream
For the rhubarb
550g rhubarb (about 3 fat stalks), topped and tailed, then sliced crosswise into 4cm pieces
50g caster sugar
100ml dry white wine, such as Sauvignon Blanc
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
2½ teaspoons rose water
To serve the fool
75g shelled salted roasted pistachios
Pistachio Brandy Snaps for scooping
Make the cardamom cream: Use the flat of your knife to smash the cardamom pods one by one. Discard the greenish husks. Pound the cardamom seeds to a powder in a mortar, then add the sugar and pound briefly.
Put the crème frâiche and double cream in a large mixing bowl and stir in the sugar mixture. Cover the bowl with clingfilm and refrigerate it while you cook the rhubarb.
Make the rhubarb: Toss together the rhubarb and sugar in a bowl.
Put the mixture in a medium pot and add the white wine. Use a knife to scrape the seeds from the vanilla bean into the pot; discard the pod.
Set the pot over medium-low heat, bring to a very gentle simmer, and cook, tenderly stirring occasionally, until the liquid is a little creamy and the rhubarb is very tender but the pieces are still more or less intact, about 15 minutes.
Set aside to cool. (To cool it quickly, scrape the mixture into another bowl, set it over a larger bowl filled with ice, and stir gently.) Once the rhubarb is completely cool, stir in the rose water.
Make the fool: Use a whisk or handheld electric mixer to whip the cream mixture until it’s fluffy and full, with semi-stiff peaks.
Take four approximately 225g serving containers or one large bowl for a family-style presentation.
It’s nice if they’re clear, so you can see the layers. Spoon some of the rhubarb mixture into the bottom of each glass (or into the large bowl), top with a layer of cream, and sprinkle on some pistachios. Keep layering this way until you’ve used everything up, making sure you finish with a layer of rhubarb.
Cover and pop into the fridge until well chilled, at least 1 hour.
Calling all food writers: At last, an invaluable insight into a food editor’s mind.
‘How to Write About Food — the Top 50 Writing Bloopers to Cross an Editor’s Desk’ comes straight from the horse’s mouth, from one of Ireland’s longest-standing restaurant critics and editors, Ross Golden-Bannon.
Ross has written a handy short ebook that covers the top 50 issues, mistakes and problems which have crossed his desk over the previous 12 years.
You’ll also find top tips on style, logic, legal issues and syntax as well as some examples of the profoundly stupid.
Available on Kindle, Amazon and www.howtowriteaboutfood.com.
If you do not own a palm book or Kindle you can download eBook reader apps and software onto your desktop and read it there.
* If you have dreams of opening your own tea shop or café you might consider attending the week-long Start Your Own Café or Tea Shop practical cookery and business course at Ballymaloe Cookery School.
The course starts on Monday, Apr 8, until Friday, Apr 12, and costs €895. See www.cookingisfun.ie or phone 021-4646785 for more details.
* Date for the diary: Galway Food Festival runs from Mar 28 to Apr 1 — www.galwayfoodfestival.com.