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The Darina Allen Column - The Hungry Gap

Darina Allen

This month Darina talks about The Hungry Gap and a Pop Up ‘eating between the seasons’ dinner organised by her students recently, to raise funds for the Slow Food Educational Project

The Hungry Gap is the expression that is used to describe the 6 to 8 weeks between the end of the winter produce and the beginning of the summer crops. Brussel sprouts, leeks, parsnips, Jerusalem artichokes are all coming to the end of their season, not that you’d know if all your shopping is done in your local supermarket which manages to source fruit and vegetables all year round from one corner of the world or another.

But years ago, these few weeks, some of which also coincided with Lent were very lean ones, hence the importance of a wonderful perennial kale called, hungry gap, cottiers kale or cut and come. The latter was so called because the more you cut this tender green with the flavour of kale and the texture of spinach, the more it grew...

Because it was propagated from slips (rather than seed) Cottiers kale was passed from one cottage garden to another and of course it filled the ‘hungry gap’ before the summer greens and new potatoes were ready to eat. The botanical name is Brassica Olereaca and I’ve been fortunate to have a patch in my vegetable garden for years – mine came from Glin Castle gardens no less but theirs had come from their cooks, Nancy and May Liston’s cottage garden in Lower Athea in Co Limerick.

Cafe Scones

All of the above is by way of introduction to the main subject of this column, the Spring Pop Up dinner, organised by the 12-Week Certificate Course students to raise funds for the Slow Food Educational Project. Every term they plot and plan to create a special menu and vibe to celebrate their chosen theme. This year it was ‘Stepping into Spring - eating between the seasons’.

The students wanted to highlight the hungry gap between the seasons when fresh produce can be scare. With that in mind, they foraged around the farm and gardens for the end of the last season’s crops, wild foods and new shoots. They incorporated local lamb and the milk and cream from our small herd of Jersey cows. Students were also keen to encourage the guests to think about what they could grow themselves as the new season begins.

Planning started at the end of January. Phoebe, Shauna and Colm volunteered to be the event planners and together with their fellow students, they formed a creative team and divided themselves into small groups with responsibility for bread, canapés, starters, main course, desserts and petit four and dining room service...

The creative team planned the décor to enhance the Garden Café at the Ballymaloe Cookery School. They spent several nights making pretty pom pom flowers from tissue paper to hang from the rafters, others cut out ‘Stepping into Spring’ in letters to loop across the huge demo mirror.

The menu was decided, Harry did the graphics and then they set out to harvest and forage. Where you and I might see weeds, they imagined a delicious dinner... Shauna and Phoebe led a team of helpers to sow pea shoots and then five weeks later, they were ready to harvest. Fresh pollock from Ballycotton was cured with salt, sugar and dill while other students dug some fresh horseradish roots to grate into a bowl of rich Jersey cream to accompany the gravlax.

The starter was also made from scratch, homemade yoghurt was dripped for labneh then cold smoked. Beetroot was dug out of the winter clamp and cooked two ways for the roasted and pureed beets to complete the starter plate of Roast Beetroot and Labneh with Sourdough Bread.

The enthusiastic breadmakers headed for the ‘Bread Shed’ to make and bake the natural sourdough bread, others went to the dairy to collect Jersey cream to make homemade butter. For the next course guests were given a shot of flavoursome organic chicken broth sprinkled with foraged with wild garlic flowers.

Slow Food Dinner

The lamb from local butcher Frank Murphy was served three ways – crispy lamb cutlet, lamb breast stuffed with pearl barley and a mini lamb pie. Haulie dug the leeks, which were then seared and the plate was served with a wild salsa verde – lamb breast stuffed with pearl barley.

Other students were roasting new seasons rhubarb they has just pulled from the garden. Roasting is an easy and brilliant way to intensify the flavour.

Kate folded chopped stem ginger into the homemade ice cream – so delicious... This was served with one of Rory O’ Connell’s caramel and almond flats and chocolate soil.

Meanwhile another team was creating a sylvan setting in the Garden Room to hide petit fours so the guests could forage among the twigs and chocolate soil for white chocolate and orange truffles, little puff pastry apple bites….They also had egg shells and tiny pots for guests to sow a seed to take home.

Louis Edmanson wrote a poem on ‘Stepping into Spring’ for the occasion and the gardeners played traditional music as the guests arrived. Two of our grandchildren were commandeered to help to pass around the canapés, pollock gravlax with horseradish cream and crudités with anchoide and hummus all served with a glass of irresistible raspberry prosecco.

The guests hugely enjoyed the convivial Slow Food evening and delicious food. If you’d like to know about the next pop-up, email eastcorkslowfood@gmail.com

POLLOCK GRAVADLAX WITH HORSERADISH CREAM ON CROUTINI

This was a canapé – a delicious combination. People in Nordic countries use this basic pickling technique with several types of fish and create many exciting variations. Gravadlax is flavoured with beetroot, black peppers, mustard, even vodka. Fresh dill is essential.

Serves 12–16 as a starter

700g (11⁄2lb) tail piece of fresh pollock
1 heaped tablespoon sea salt
1 heaped tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons fresh dill, finely chopped

Horseradish Cream

1 1/2-3 tablespoons grated horseradish
2 teaspoons wine vinegar
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon mustard
1/4 teaspoon salt
pinch of freshly ground pepper
1 teaspoon sugar
225ml (8fl oz) softly whipped cream

Garnish

wood sorrel, wild garlic flowers and/or dill sprigs

Fillet the pollock and remove all the bones with tweezers. Mix the salt, sugar, pepper and dill together in a bowl. Place the fish on a piece of clingfilm and scatter the mixture over the surface of the fish. Wrap the pollock tightly with the clingfilm and refrigerate for a minimum of 24 hours.

Next make the croutini.

Preheat the oven to 150?C/300?F/Gas Mark 2.

Slice stale-ish baguette diagonally into the thinnest slices possible. Dry in a low oven until crisp and dry, about 15-20 minutes. Store in an air-tight tin box if necessary.

Next make the horseradish cream. Scrub the horseradish root well, peel and grate on a ‘slivery grater’. Put the grated horseradish into a bowl with the vinegar, lemon juice, mustard, salt, freshly ground pepper and sugar. Fold in the softly whipped cream but do not overmix or the sauce will curdle. There will be more than enough for this recipe, but save the rest for another dish. It keeps for 2-3 days: cover so that it doesn’t pick up flavours in the fridge.

To serve, wipe most of the dill mixture off the pollock and slice thinly.

Arrange a couple of slices of gravadlax on top of each croutini and add a blob of horseradish cream on top. Garnish with wood sorrel, wild garlic flowers and/or dill sprigs.

 

STUFFED BREAST OF LAMB WITH SALSA VERDE

Serves 8-10

2 x breast of lamb, fat and bones removed

For stuffing

100g (3½ oz) pearl barley
50g (2oz) dried apricot, chopped
1 1/2 tablespoons brandy
1 1/2 large garlic clove, crushed
1 lemon, zested and juiced
3 tablespoons pistachio, chopped
2 x shallots, chopped finely
15g (½ oz) of curly or flat-leaf parsley, rosemary, wild garlic and mint, chopped

For braising

2 x medium onions, chopped
1 x large carrot, chopped
1 stalk celery, chopped
6 bay leaves
1 x 400g (14oz) tin tomatoes, chopped and sieved
4 cloves garlic
2 sprigs rosemary
250ml (9fl oz) chicken stock
40ml (1 1/2fl oz) white wine

salt
black pepper
string
a large oval casserole dish

Wash the pearl barley, put into a saucepan, cover with a little cold water and cook until tender, about 30 minutes, drain and cool. (Best cooked the day before.) Put into a bowl, add the apricots, brandy, garlic, lemon zest and juice, pistachio nuts, shallots and herbs. Season, taste and correct the seasoning.

Lay the well-trimmed lamb breast on a chopping board to form a rough rectangle. Spread the stuffing evenly over the lamb leaving 2.5cm (1 inch) border all the way around. Fold in the ends and then carefully roll up like a Swiss roll. Tie individually with cotton string. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Render some crispy lamb fat in a wide sauté pan or heavy roasting tin over a low heat for 15 minutes. Remove the bits of lamb fat and discard (birds love it). Brown the meat in the rendered fat (alternatively you can use extra virgin olive oil) on all sides and remove to a plate. Add the chopped vegetables, garlic, bay and rosemary. Toss and cook for 4 or 5 minutes. Add the chopped tomatoes (save the juice), season with salt, pepper and sugar and cook for a further 5 minutes or more. Return the lamb to the casserole. Add wine and stock to come 2/3 of the way up the meat.

Bring to a lively simmer on the top of the stove. Cover and transfer into the preheated oven at 250°C/500°F/Gas Mark 10 for 10 minutes. Reduce the heat to 160°C/275°F/Gas Mark 2-3 and cook until completely tender – 2 1/2 to 3 hours. Allow to rest for 5 minutes, serve in slices with potato gratin and salsa verde.

 

Rhubarb

ROAST RHUBARB

Roasting rhubarb is super-easy and really intensifies the flavour. The sugar content can vary depending on the variety of rhubarb – the end result can be used in a myriad of delicious ways. Try it with warm rice pudding and a blob of cream – OMG!

900g (2lb) rhubarb
200-250g (7-9oz) sugar

Preheat the oven to 200?C/400F/Gas Mark 6.

Slice the rhubarb into 2 1/2cm (1 inch) pieces and arrange in a single layer in a medium size oven proof dish. Scatter the sugar over the rhubarb and allow to macerate for 30 minutes. Roast in the oven for 20-30 minutes approximately depending on size, until the rhubarb is just tender.

RHUBARB FIZZ

Purée the roast rhubarb, put 1-2 tablespoons in a glass, top up with Prosecco or Cava or sparkling water or soda water for a non-alcoholic fizz.

 

Rory O’Connell’s Caramel and Almond Flats

Makes about 60 biscuits

250g (9oz) plain flour
1/4 teaspoon bread soda/bicarbonate of soda
100g (3 1/2oz) butter
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
5 tablespoons water
300g (10oz) soft, medium dark soft brown sugar
110g (4oz) flaked almonds, unskinned if possible

Sieve the flour and bread soda into a bowl. Melt the butter, cinnamon and water on a low heat until just melted. Do not allow to boil. Remove from the heat and add the sugar. Stir with the almonds into the flour mixture. Place the dough on a piece of strong plastic (not clingfilm) or parchment paper. Form this mixture into a neat rectangular slab, 23cm (9 inch) wide, 2.5cm (1 inch) thick, and 9cm (3½ inch) long. I use the sides of a shallow baking tray to help me to achieve neat and straight edges. Freeze until set. Slice into about 3mm thick slices and place on a parchment paper lined baking sheet, allowing a little room between the raw biscuits for expansion during the cooking. Bake at 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4 for 10 minutes, or until golden brown. Slide the biscuits still on the parchment paper on to a wire rack to cool. Store in an air tight box or tin.

 

HOT TIPS

Ballymaloe LitFest 2017

The fifth annual Ballymaloe LitFest runs from Friday 19th to Sunday 21st May 2017, and all of the events over this exciting and stimulating weekend are now confirmed, scheduled and available to book on www.litfest.ie

Ballycotton Island Lighthouse Tours Have resumed again after the winter break. Join Jerry for a truly magical guided tour and hear about the life of the fishermen and the bounty of fish and shellfish in the seas around Ballycotton. Daily tours from 10.00am and take 90 minutes. Visit Ballycotton Island summit and explore the lighthouse or phone 021 464 6875

Ireland’s First Rooftop Cocktail Herb Bed at the Granville Hotel in Waterford is bursting with a beautiful assortment of herbs like chocolate mint, pineapple sage, lemon verbena, black peppermint together with the classics thyme, sage and rosemary…herbs are infused with fruits and botanicals to create special cocktails... Tel: 051 305 555

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 '30 Years at Ballymaloe' - Bord Gáis Avonmore Cookbook of the Year 2013

Good Food Ireland Cookery School of the Year 2012/2013

*** 

Ballymaloe Cookery SchoolOnce again, the Ballymaloe Cookery School in East Cork has a great programme of cookery courses for all interests and abilities running throughout 2017. Ranging from a relaxing visit to sit in on an afternoon cookery demonstration to a week long ‘Intensive Introductory Course’.

Sitting in the middle of a 100 acre organic farm the Ballymaloe Cookery School provides its students not only with a life skill learnt under the expert tutelage of their very capable teachers but also a place to relax and unwind from the stresses and strains of normal everyday life. The cottage accommodation available onsite for residential courses consists of a collection of delightful converted outbuildings which have been transformed over the years by the Allens, and other accommodation is available locally for the short courses.

www.cookingisfun.ie

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