Eat local and seasonal, it’s never been easier

In her monthly series ‘A Year in Flavour’, KATE RYAN tells us what we should be growing, sowing, shopping for and cooking
Eat local and seasonal, it’s never been easier

New potatoes are in season now. Picture: Kate Ryan

AT the start of July, as I sat down with my journal and pen in hand to make my list of all the seasonal foods in their prime this month and jot down ideas for recipes to make with them all, I realised we are in peak produce season! How do I know this?

Well, let’s say it was a tricky business to whittle down the 30 recipes penned for this month into the six I actually have space for!

July, then, is the month when cooking and creating new dishes is easy to do simply by virtue of so much choice this time of year. Often, in July, close to half the ingredients used for dinner will come from my garden, the rest purchased from local growers. I guess the point is: doing ‘local and seasonal’ is never easier than it is right now.

We have exciting things like aubergines coming into season, grown in tunnels and greenhouses for the heat they crave so much. Gort na Nairn farm grow particularly fine aubergines and are available from their farm shop in beautiful Nohoval, open all week long.

Fennel, Globe Artichokes, and Cucumbers — along with some early ripening tomatoes — are all now in season, adding a distinctly Mediterranean flavour to our meals; as well as beans and peas of all kinds and all members of the allium family — garlic, shallots, spring onions, and bulb onions too.

Kate Ryan says July is a time of plenty. 	Picture: Kate Ryan
Kate Ryan says July is a time of plenty. Picture: Kate Ryan

But for me, July is all about fruits. Soft fruits both wild and cultivated are in abundance locally, and from now too we can revel in stone fruits such as peaches and apricots that grow better in warmer countries. And then, we can look forward to Fraughan Sunday… Fraughan, what? A fraughan is a wild blueberry. The berries take dexterity to pick from the bushy undergrowth without squashing them so they are often eaten as picked — but if you can employ a little patience, collect them for cooking with sweet and savoury dishes.

I like making a sweet compote to spoon over cheesecake, with grilled fresh summer Mackerel, or spatchcocked Quail cooked on a BBQ.

Fraughan’s grow in ditches and hillsides, and are small round fruits that have the shine of a blackcurrant and the sweetness of a blueberry. Fraughan Sunday is the last Sunday in July and is said to be a remnant of the ancient Celtic festival of Lughnasa — one of the cross-quarter days in the old Celtic calendar making it a day of particular note in folklore traditions.

Fraughan Sunday and Lughnasa mark the beginning of the harvest season, so it is no coincidence that July is the month when we really are spoiled for choice!

GROW IT YOURSELF

The garden is looking lush — there’s no other way to describe it! The mix of rain and warm weather is the perfect combination for speedy growth and plump pickings, and I adore the fact that every morning I can pick a few strawberries and raspberries to top off my morning bowl of yogurt and granola.

I’m sowing Pak Choi seeds this month, a leafy green vegetable often used in Chinese or Japanese-inspired dishes. I haven’t grown Pak Choi before but should be suited to growing in Ireland.

The Broad Beans are heavy with pods, now. The smaller ones can be picked and cooked whole into a Greek-style stew with tomatoes, onions, potatoes, lemon, feta and herbs — delicious and freezes well. Larger pods require a bit of work picking, podding out from their furry jackets, blanching, then ‘double-podding’ to take off the tough outer skin to reveal the jade-colour tender bean. Blitz into a dip, toss through rice or cous cous, or try my simple Broad Bean and Feta Salad, recipe below.

Courgettes are a beginner gardener’s dream crop growing easily, producing abundantly with minimal effort. They are in season now, and anyone growing them for the first time may be surprised at the quantity to contend with! But courgettes are versatile: from cooking into muffins and cakes; roasted in a tray bake; or sliced into long ‘steaks’, brushed with miso and soy and fried in a hot pan.

Even the flowers can be harvested, stuffed with ricotta flavoured with lemon and herbs, dipped in a tempura batter and deep fried —delicious! But courgettes don’t have to be cooked before eating. Picked fresh, they are delicious raw — try my Courgette, Mint, Lemon, and Chilli Salad below.

SHOP FOR IT

Aubergines (eggplant), Alliums (onion-family) and Fennel are on my mind for purchasing this month, as well as Redcurrants and Blackcurrants (for a classic Summer Pudding), and Cherries (for baking and, my personal favourite, kicking off a Cherry-Brandy infusion that will be ready in time for Christmas!).

New potatoes are everywhere now, too, simply steam and slather in butter with some fresh chopped chives — it simply cannot be beaten and goes with everything.

I have two favourite ways to cook and eat Aubergine. First is to slice into rounds, salt for an hour, then coat in seasoned and herbed panko breadcrumbs and fry until golden and tender. I always serve this with a simple tomato sauce, fried halloumi, and herby pesto. Second is a fiery Aubergine and Potato Curry I learned to make in India. Flavoured with onions, tomatoes, green peppers, chillies, mustard seeds and curry leaves, it’s a one-pot cook-until-tender kind of dish that cooks down into a thick sauce that really packs a punch! Serve with a spoon of mint and lime flavoured natural yogurt to cool things down a bit.

Despite firing up the BBQ any chance I can get this time of year, I tend to eat less red meat in summer, preferring poultry, pork, and fish instead. Slaws and chopped salads are my go-to accompaniment for these, and I particularly enjoy my Fennel, Carrot, Orange and Poppy Seed Slaw, see recipe below.

Stone fruits and BBQ cooking are also a match made in heaven! Peaches and Plums grilled over coals until jammy and juicy are perfect with a scoop of Leahy’s Open Farm Vanilla and Honeycomb Ice Cream. Alternatively, try my riff on classic Peach Melba flavours with my Sauternes-infused Peaches and Raspberry Whipped Cream.

FORAGE FOR IT

Aside from the wonderful Fraughan’s which you’ll be able to pick from the end of July and into August, there are two other hedgerow harvests I encourage you to indulge in: Meadowsweet and Wild Raspberries.

You have probably passed by Meadowsweet hundreds of times, maybe noticing a honey-like scent, but otherwise ignoring them. But what a treat you are missing! If you’re a fan of Elderflowers sweet musk-like taste and aroma, you will adore Meadowsweet, which I personally think is superior in everywhere, and makes an utterly gorgeous Cordial, see recipe below.

There is a lot of folklore around Meadowsweet — used to flavour Mead because of its honey-like qualities, and you can see the etymology of Meadowsweet to Mead too. In the wonderful book by Cyril and Kit Ó’Céirín, Wild and Free, it is described as a plant for which every part has a recorded history of medicinal use: the root as a fever cure, drinks made from Meadowsweet good for skin conditions, and “parts of the plant, dried and ground, have been used instead of flour in times of scarcity.”

Not only that, but it has painkilling and anti-inflammatory properties, and a synthesisation of Meadowsweet is the active component in aspirin!

Wild Raspberries are no different to the cultivated variety, but often get mistaken in the wild for blackberries, so often they are left unpicked as unripe blackberries. Beautiful just picked and eaten or preserve them in vinegar for use in sweet and savoury concoctions, see my ultra-simple method below.

Wild Raspberry. 	Picture: Kate Ryan
Wild Raspberry. Picture: Kate Ryan

COOK IT

Broad Bean and Feta Salad

Aside from podding, blanching and skinning the beans, assembly of this salad takes about five minutes! Great as a side dish or as a crostini topping too.

Ingredients (serves 2, scales up easily)

3 large handfuls of Broad Beans in their pods

125g Feta cheese

25g pine nuts, toasted (you could also use flaked almonds)

1 spring onion, trimmed and finely sliced on the round

1 tsp sumac

Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Sea Salt, Black Pepper

Juice from ¼ of a lemon

Handful of herbs roughly chopped: oregano and chive work well.

Method:

Remove the beans from their pods, blanch for two minutes, refresh in iced water, then peel off outer skin. Place into a bowl.

Toast the pine nuts (or flaked almonds) in a dry pan. Set aside to cool slightly.

Crumble feta cheese over the broad beans, add chopped spring onion, Sumac and add a small pinch of sea salt (the feta will already be salty), and a grind of black pepper.

Broad Bean and Feta Salad. 	Picture: Kate Ryan
Broad Bean and Feta Salad. Picture: Kate Ryan

Add lemon juice and a generous glug of EVO (about 1 tablespoon). Chuck in the herbs and the toasted pine nuts, mix all together and serve.

Courgette, Mint, Lemon, and Chilli Salad

I like to make this using a spiraliser, but you could just use a box grater, slice thinly on the round, or use a veg peeler to create thin ribbons. It’s up to you!

Ingredients

2 courgettes (mix and match varieties and colour, if you like)

1 tbsp of fresh mint, finely chopped

Zest and juice of 1 lemon

1 red chilli, finely chopped

Extra Virgin Olive Oil (1 – 2 tbsp)

2 tsp sea salt

Method:

Clean, top and tail the courgettes. Cut/slice them as desired, and place in a serving bowl.

To the courgettes, add mint, lemon zest and juice, and chilli. Season with sea salt and add oil.

Mix everything together well and serve.

Fennel, Carrot, Orange, and Poppy Seed Slaw

This salad lends itself to summer fish, like Mackerel, Sardines or Red Snapper. It will also go well with chicken and pork, or even a light frittata.

Ingredients

2 fennel bulbs

2 large carrots

Zest of 1 orange, juice of half, segments of half

1 tbsp fresh parsley, chopped

½ tbsp poppy seeds

2 tbsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil

1 ½ tbsp sea salt Black pepper

Method:

Using a sharp knife or a mandolin, slice the fennel bulbs as finely as you can manage. Place into a bowl and set aside.

Using a vegetable peeler, peel carrots into ribbons, discarding the outside skin. Add to the fennel.

Into a small jug add the zest of a whole orange and the juice of half. To this add the olive oil, salt and pepper. Stir with a fork to combine.

Cut the skin off the other orange half, cut into small pieces removing any pips and pith before adding to the carrot and fennel. Scatter over with poppy seeds.

Pour the dressing over the vegetables and mix everything together well.

Sauternes-infused Peaches and Raspberry Whipped Cream. 	Picture: Kate Ryan
Sauternes-infused Peaches and Raspberry Whipped Cream. Picture: Kate Ryan

Sauternes-infused Peaches and Raspberry Whipped Cream

This dessert is my take on the classic peach melba flavour pairing of peaches and raspberries.

If you can’t find Sauternes, you can use white port, light sherry or any sweet dessert wine.

Ingredients

8 ripe peaches, quartered and stone removed

175g granulated white sugar

300ml cold water

1 tbsp of vanilla bean paste

200ml Sauternes

100ml double cream

100g raspberries, slightly squashed Amaretti biscuits

Method:

Into a large pan over a medium heat, add water and sugar. Bring to boil for the sugar to dissolve, then add the peaches, vanilla bean paste, and sauternes. Cook until tender, time will depend on how ripe the peaches are, but between 5-10 minutes.

Sterilise a jar large enough to fit the peaches and liquid.

When the peaches are tender, turn off heat, and remove the peaches from the cooking liquid using a slotted spoon. Allow peaches to cool slightly, then remove their furry skin.

Place peaches into the jar and pour over the cooking liquid. Allow to cool completely before eating.

To serve, whip double cream into stiff peaks and gently fold in the slightly squashed raspberries.

Into bowl, place a few of the peaches, add some of the raspberry whipped cream, and a little of the liquid from the jar. Crumble over two Amaretti biscuits and serve.

Meadowsweet Cordial

This is a thick cordial so a little goes a long way! I like to drink it either on its own topped with sparkling water, or with gin and tonic. Add a little to some whipped cream as a perfect accompaniment to a classic Summer Pudding.

Ingredients (makes a 750ml bottle)

15 heads of Meadowsweet

600ml water

900g white granulated sugar

1 lemon 45g citric acid

Method:

Trim any stalks from the flower heads and give a gentle shake to ensure no little creatures are hiding!

To a stainless steel pot, add the water and sugar and bring to the boil until the sugar has dissolved. Turn off the heat, add the flower heads, zest of the whole lemon, slice the lemon and add it to the pot. Add in the citric acid and give everything a good stir.

Place a lid on the pot and leave to stand and infused overnight.

Next day, sterilise a 750ml bottle and line a fine sieve with a piece of muslin and strain the liquid into a jug, (I usually do this stage twice). Pour into the bottle and seal. If stored in a fridge after opening, the cordial will be good for a year.

Meadowsweet Cordial.
Meadowsweet Cordial.

Raspberry Vinegar

Once assembled, leave to infuse for at least a week in a cool, dark place before using. Use as the basis for a vinaigrette dressing, or when making meringues to add extra colour and flavour; or pour a little into a glass and top up with sparkling water for a refreshing Shrub.

Ingredients (makes a 250ml bottle)

250g fresh raspberries, sliced in half Enough organic apple cider vinegar to fill bottle and cover raspberries.

Method:

First, sterilise the bottle and cap. Add the sliced raspberries and top with the vinegar until the bottle is almost full, but all the raspberries are covered.

Screw the cap on tip and give a little shake.

Store in a cool, dark place for at least one week before using. Shake once a day.

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