2020 was a year when many of us reconnected with local food. Staying as close to home as possible with more people working from home long term than ever before, our local food networks became an essential part of living and eating well.
I added to my cornucopia with a very successful year of vegetable growing, as well as taking advantage of nature’s larder and foraging for leaves, herbs, berries and other edibles too.
For this new series, A Year of Flavour, join me as I meander through the seasons and eat when produce is at its best.
So, whether you Grow It Yourself, Shop For It or Forage For It, let’s make the most of the wonderful things grown in Cork for tastier eating!
The first thing to do in January is to give yourself something to look forward to and make room for good things to come.
I don’t remember where I heard the mantra that planting a seed is an act of great optimism, but it has always stuck with me. January is my time to plan what I want to grow in my garden for the year ahead, and I started by planting mustard seeds on New Years’ Day which two weeks later were ready to cut as microgreens for adding to everything from sandwiches to toasted bread topped with hummus, mash and every fine thing. Their peppery punch and crisp crunch a delightful addition to a meal and I’ll be harvesting these from my kitchen windowsill well into February, their bright green shoots a welcome sight against the grey of January.
The end of the month I will plant tomato seeds for indoor germination. Two varieties this year: Alicante – a red ripening tomato that fruited abundantly last year, and a Yellow Cherry variety that should also grow well outdoors in the Irish climate. Growing tomatoes are an investment in time – it’ll be August, at least, before they will be ripe enough to eat.
From what remains of last years’ gardening efforts in the raised bed Kale, Chard, a hardy winter lettuce, beetroots and baby leeks – all of which should keep us going until the end of February. See the recipe below for Butter Braised Baby Leeks with Blue Cheese and Hazelnuts.
I’m also busy clearing out my deep freeze – mainly of broad and runner beans which remind me of the Bean Armageddon I faced in July and August when all the beans and peas were ready for harvest at the same time! We ate what we could, gave away what we could, and the rest ended up prepped, blanched and frozen for over the winter. I have resolved to grow less beans and peas this year but looking forward to growing a variety of mange tout that is purple/black in colour and should add a touch of exoticism to the raised bed.
Supermarkets offer year-round selection of fruits and vegetables, so it can be hard to know what is in season.
I prefer to eat chicory raw and I particularly like it as a salad with a salty cheese and juicy pomegranate seeds. It can be a little on the bitter side – especially red chicory; but braising or grilling helps to caramlise its natural sugars and sweeten the final flavour. It pairs well with black pudding too – a source of meat that is high in Iron, a nutrient that provides a boost of in the final days of winter to battle tiredness and fatigue.
Jerusalem artichokes are abundant this time of year, and another great source of Iron, Vitamin B6 and Potassium. They are well known for their ability to create gastric wind, hence their nickname, Fartichokes, but cooked with a little Asafoetida – a spice mix used in Indian cuisine to relieve this inconvenience, works a treat! They are sweet and have a delightful natural smokiness of flavour. Treat them in the same way as a potato; in fact, I like to cook them in a gratin with Pink Fir Apple Potatoes – a variety that shares its knubbly appearance with artichokes. Delicious!
Oysters and beef are also good right now. Again, these are loaded with energy boosters Iron and vitamin B6. Sorting through my kitchen larder, I had a little bit of ground coffee that wasn’t enough to make a brew with, but just enough to use as a marinade for a sirloin beef steak. I used the reverse sear method to cook this to medium rare, (a low and slow cook in an oven followed by a high heat flash fry in a pan), and the flavour was incredible. Find my recipe for the Spiced Coffee Rub below.
On the fruit side of life, Irish grown apples and pears are still there for the taking, and in warmer climes citrus season is still in full swing and my favourite citrus of all: blood oranges.
In January, the ground is still sleeping – as we all are, I feel! There really isn’t much to forage yet from natures larder, but there is Pennywort (which pretty much grows all year round), and Three-Cornered Leek.
It grows particularly well on old stone walls, but equally in meadows and gardens too where it can take hold and spread quickly. It is recognisable from its leaves which are round and frilled at the edges. They are deep, spinach green in colour and are a succulent, so the leaves feel spongy to the touch. They are not dissimilar to spinach in taste although sweeter, and juicier too. I prefer eating them raw (after a good rinse), and find them delicious with smoked fish, particularly smoked salmon or trout.
Three-Cornered Leek is the pre-cursor to its more famous cousin Wild Garlic. Leaves are long, slender and, when picked, the leaf has a trefoil shape which gives it its name. More leek in flavour than garlic, milder and I think nicer for it. Use it in replacement of garlic in sauces or as a pleasing herb to garnish. It will bloom little white bell-like flowers later in the year, and these are edible too. This month I used it to flavour my Jerusalem Artichoke and Pink Fir Potato Gratin, see recipe below.
Serve as a starter for two, although quantities can easily be scaled up for more.
4 baby leeks, washed and trimmed
1 tbsp olive oil
Large dash of white wine
1 tbsp flat leaf parsley, chopped
1 tbsp hazelnuts, coarsely chopped
Blue cheese, crumbled
- Heat a saute or frying pan over a medium high heat. Add the butter and olive oil, allow butter to melt then add the leeks. Turn ever minute or so to lightly brown all around.
- Add the white wine and most of the parsley, clamp the lid on and allow to cook for 5 minutes. Remove leeks.
- To the butter juices in the pan, add a small amount of the blue cheese hazelnuts. Swirl over the heat until the cheese has melted in.
- Plate the leeks, drizzle over the butter sauce and scatter over the rest of the blue cheese, parsley and hazelnuts. Serve with chunky
bread and butter.
I prefer using sirloin steak with this rub, but it will work with whatever cut you have. The reverse sear method is one I would recommend, but alternatively you could just cook this in a pan with a high heat with lots of butter.
2 tbsp of ground coffee powder / espresso powder
1 tbsp brown sugar
1 tsp sweet smoked paprika
1 tsp ground cumin
½ tsp garlic powder
½ tsp celery salt
¼ tsp fermented chilli powder / cayenne pepper
1 tsp smoked sea salt
2 tsp ground black pepper
- Mix all the ingredients together. Ensure your steaks are at room temperature and rub a little olive oil on the steaks, and then generously rub the steaks all over with t
An indulgent side dish to accompany a meat, fish or vegetable main course.
8 each of Pink Fir potatoes and Jerusalem artichokes, washed and sliced thinly length ways
200ml each of double cream and whole milk
4 or 5 leaves of Three-Cornered Leek, chopped
Pinch of asafoetida, salt and pepper
25g pecorino cheese, grated
- Heat the oven to 190 degrees Celsius.
- Pour cream and milk into a saucepan and warm together until just before boiling point. Take off the heat and add asafoetida, three-cornered leek, salt and pepper and stir to combine.
- Layer potatoes and artichokes alternatively in an oven-proof baking dish. Season each layer with salt and pepper. Pour over the cream mixture and top with cheese.
- Bake uncovered for 30-40 minutes until soft enough to push a knife through like butter and the top is golden brown and bubbling.