The Darina Allen Column

Darina Allen

While I love tucking into many warming stews, tagines and slow cooked braises in the colder months, I’m now so ready for the fresh tastes of spring. The Jerusalem artichokes that have added excitement and so much nourishment to our winter meals have now started to sprout are gone past their best for eating, but try get your hands on some so you can plant a few tubers of this superb vegetable for next year.

We’ve been loving rhubarb for a while and then there was sea kale – Alleluia. Such joy, to lift off the cloches to discover the blanched stalks of seakale ready to harvest.  It’s Latin name is Crambe Maritima and I believe it is the only truly seasonable vegetable there is. It’s in season in April (maybe longer this year as the season is so late) and you are unlikely to find it is your local supermarket, but possibly in a brilliant small greengrocer or a Farmers’ Market. And then soon, the first of the Irish asparagus will be in season, but only until the end of June.

Seakale and asparagus may sound luxurious and exotic, but they are not the only nourishing and delicious foods to get excited about at present. Young nettles abound throughout the countryside, a growing band of foragers are harvesting them to deliver to cool chefs who are excited to showcase wild and foraged foods on their menus.

We’ve also been enjoying winter cress, or bittercress as it’s sometimes called. The peppery leaves are delicious in salads and deliver quite the burst of vitamins, minerals and trace elements. Pennywort or navelwort is in abundance, growing out of stones walls, tree trunks and in woods. The fleshy leaves add extra deliciousness and nutrients to starters and salads and make an enchanting garnish for months on end.

When you start to keep your eyes peeled for edible treasure, all of the above are free to gather in both urban and rural areas.

Bitter little dandelion leaves too add zip to a salad and you’ll hate the taste at first but soon grow to love that bitter flavour so lacking in our diets at present. One can also blanch the leaves as the continentals do by covering the plant with a large lid or bucket to exclude the light for several weeks, until the leaves lose their green dark colours and become pale yellow and temptingly sweet.

Here is a delicious RECIPE to showcase some of Nature’s bounty, enjoy…

Asparagus, Rocket and Wild Garlic Frittata

This is an example of how we incorporate seasonal ingredients into a frittata.

The pan size is crucial here.  If you don’t have the exact size, increase the eggs so the frittata is 4cm deep, otherwise the frittata is likely to be thin and tough.

8 eggs, preferably free-range, organic

225g thin asparagus

1 teaspoon salt and lots of freshly ground pepper

50g Parmesan, Parmigiano Reggiano, freshly grated, or a mixture

2-3 tablespoons roughly chopped wild garlic and rocket leaves

2 tablespoons olive oil

Garnish: wild garlic and rocket leaves and flowers

Non-stick frying pan – 19cm bottom, 23cm top rim

Bring about 2.5cm of water to the boil in an oval casserole.  Trim the tough ends of the asparagus, add salt to the water and blanch the spears until just tender for 3 or 4 minutes.  Drain. Slice the end of the spears evenly at an angle keep 4cm at the top intact. Save for later.

 Whisk the eggs together into a bowl.  Add the blanched asparagus except the tops, most of the Parmesan and wild garlic leaves.  Season well with salt and freshly ground pepper. 

 Heat the oil in the pan, add egg mixture and reduce the heat to the bare minimum – use a heat diffuser mat if necessary.  Continue to cook over a gentle heat until just set - about 15 minutes.  Alternatively after an initial 4 or 5 minutes on the stove one can transfer the pan to a preheated oven (and this is my preferred option), 170°C/Gas Mark 3 until just set 10-15 minutes. Arrange the asparagus tops over the top.  Sprinkle with the remaining Parmesan.  Pop under a grill for a few minutes but make sure it is at least 5 inches from the element.  It should be set and slightly golden. Turn out on a warm plate, cut into wedges and serve immediately with a salad of organic leaves, including wild garlic and rocket.


Summer Foraging Course, Saturday 21st July at 9.00am at Ballymaloe Cookery School. Darina, who has been an enthusiastic forager for decades, will take you for a walk in the countryside and on the seashore in search of wild and foraged foods. You’ll be amazed at what can be found even within walking distance. In just one day, you’ll learn how to identify and use over forty wild food plants, flowers, seaweeds and shellfish in season as well as many foraged food from the hedgerows. Free ingredients that are fresher and tastier than almost anything you will find in the shops. A walk in the countryside will never be the same again. Where you previously saw weeds, you’ll now see dinner! See

Wild foraged foods. A growing number of restaurants are incorporating wild and foraged foods including seaweeds from our shoreline into their menu. Check out Pilgrims in Rosscarbery, The Mews in Baltimore Ballymaloe House, The Glebe Garden Café in Skibbereen.....

Where can I taste Seakale? Ballymaloe House in Shanagarry serves seakale from the walled garden on its menu in April and May. The seakale plants have been growing and tended in the two acre walled garden in Ballymaloe for over 60 years. Now that’s a perennial vegetable worth making space for.  To buy seakale plants try or

Street Feast: Sunday 10th June 2018 is Ireland’s annual day of street parties and community gatherings. Registrations are open now at A Street Feast can be held anywhere, from a front garden, driveway, school, community hall to a park, footpath, cul de sac, laneway or street. Anyone can host a  Street Feast, businesses, residents,   sporting clubs, community groups, ... Street Feast events are held in unison with celebrations right across the country.  It’s a not for profit, all for fun, DIY celebration see

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