It's Summer Time & The Cookin' is Easy

Potato - 1st Early ForemostNew season vegetables make healthy eating a pleasure, and they’re quick and easy to cook too, in simple dishes that allow their fresh flavours to take centre stage.

The food that Ireland is associated with throughout the world is of course the potato and the varieties grown commercially range from earlies including Home Guard, which need to be eaten as soon as possible after harvesting and are ideal for salads as well as hot dishes; second earlies such as the much loved British Queen (rarely given its correct name, but known variously as ‘Dublin’, ‘Rush’ or whatever, depending where it’s grown); and main crops including the versatile and very popular red-skinned Rooster and older varieties like Kerrs Pink and the ultra floury Golden Wonder.

Although the popularity of international dishes which use rice or pasta as the main carbohydrate has led to some decline in potato consumption in recent years there seems to have been a revival of interest, both in traditional cooking and in more innovative dishes.

Potatoes are by far the most important crop retailed in Ireland, where we grow over 11,200 hectares commercially – and heaven knows how much in gardens and allotments all over the country. Counties, Meath, Dublin, Louth, Donegal and Cork are the largest potato growing counties, while counties Carlow, Kilkenny, Offaly and Kildare are also good growing areas.

And potato lovers will be pleased to find that a new website devoted to our favourite source of energy,, was recently launched by the Irish Potato Federation in association with Bord Bia. Describing potatoes as “Ireland’s ‘Feel Good Food’ ”, Lorcan Bourke of Bord Bia said (as if we needed reminding) that “they are tasty, healthy, convenient - and represent value for money.” Time to get cookin’ so.

Salad of New Potatoes and Smoked Salmon with a Dill & Mustard Dressing

Salad of New Potatoes and Smoked Salmon with a Dill & Mustard Dressing Use earlies such as Home Guard or Premier (or carefully cooked small second earlies) for this handy dish, which makes a great 'all in one' lunch or could be served as a help yourself starter at a barbecue or other al fresco meal. The sauce can be kept for a week in the fridge and actually tastes even better a day old, as the dill flavour is more pronounced.

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Potato & Bean Salad with Bacon

Potato & Bean Salad with Bacon If cooked carefully to prevent them breaking up, new season Queens (many of which come from North County Dublin, eg Rush/Skerries) can be used for this delicious little dish, and they have great flavour; then later, when that great all-rounder the Rooster comes on stream, that will do nicely.

French or runner beans are perfect – and the blanching process given here is also essential for freezing beans successfully, useful to know if you have to deal with a glut.

Whether served warm or cold, it’s a great salad and can be served as a light main course or, with or without the bacon, as a starter. Vegetarians could try replacing the bacon with cubes of an interesting farmhouse cheese – Mossfield organic, for example, a mature gouda made near Birr, Co Offaly.

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Grilled Vegetables With Mozzarella

Grilled Vegetables with MozzarellaAn easy-peasy dish that uses much the same ingredients as ratatouille but also cherry tomatoes – ideal if you grow your own out of doors, as you’ll probably have masses of them coming along at the moment – and it’s much quicker to make than ratatouille: just the job to serve with plenty of crusty bread for a colourful meal-in-a-hurry.

Grilling is suggested here, but if you have a range type cooker such as an Aga or Waterford Stanley, simply pop the oiled vegetables into the hot oven and they’ll ‘grill’ in a few minutes, allowing excess moisture in the vegetables to evaporate.

Inagh Farmhouse Cheeses - Premio Roma AwardAs an alternative to the mozzarella, why not try the Greek Style variety in the St Tola organic range from Siobhan Ni Ghairbhith’s Inagh Farmhouse Cheeses, made in Ennistymon Co Clare - who have just added to their collection of awards by collecting a Silver Medal at the prestigious Premio Roma awards in Rome, for their mature organic goat’s cheese log.

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Elderflower & Lime Cheesecake

Elderflower & Lime CheesecakeElderflower grows prolifically in Ireland and I keep an eye out for elderflower cordial on my travels – diluted with water it makes a lovely summer drink and is made by some small producers, mainly in Co Cork - eg Ballymaloe House and Ballymaloe Cookery School; Longueville House, Mallow; Blairscove, Durrus; and Ballyvolane House, Fermoy – who also have it in their West Waterford business, O’Brien Chop House in the Heritage Town of Lismore, where they mix it with sparkling water to make a delicious and refreshing non-alcoholic cocktail.

But no Irish producer is yet making it on a commercial scale unfortunately, so the one you are most likely to find in shops is from the UK producer, Belvoir Fruit Farms - who also promote their products as ingredients in desserts such as this unusual cheesecake.

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