Mix & Mash
Rumour has it we are now in Spring, though it is hard to believe, as the horizontal hail and rain is ricocheting off the window. This is a time of impatient anticipation for although the days are getting longer it is still necessary to rely on those winter crops that have had the stamina to endure the chill and dampness of our Irish weather.
It may be some consolation to know that the frost (albeit later than usual) is sweetening your parsnips; their starches are converted to sugar as the temperature drops below zero, enhancing their flavour and providing a valuable source of fibre. Parsnips, carrots and swedes make a colourful threesome to roast or braise and their potential is even greater when generously strewn with fresh herbs.
These roots also marry well with many of those spices that we may have stocked for Christmas but which are often deported to the back of the cupboard this time of year. Nutmeg and Swede, known as Neeps, are a popular Scottish dish. Carrots with cumin or coriander is a classic combination in Middle Eastern cooking. Cinnamon is the familiar scent of carrot cake. Equally successful pairings with herbs will provide a flourish to these unglamorous roots. Rosemary adds a fresh floral note to oven baked potatoes and vegetables. Plentiful parsley with butter will coax the plainest of side dishes to centre stage. It is worth experimenting and discovering the numerous permutations while taking care not to overpower the inherent flavour of the main ingredient.
Most of us have memories of overcooked, waterlogged mashed root vegetables which were not very enticing, though mashed potato is perhaps the exception. As a child I remember the joy of a plateful of Champ , as I formed a landscape of hills and rivers of melting butter which was ceremoniously reduced with my spoon. If you are trying to feed reluctant children, a variety of mashes can be combined and formed with an ice-cream scoop. Carrot, Parsnip ,Parsley and butter is usually a winner, paired with scoops of creamy potato and celeriac or potato and leek. A green pesto is another option to mix through potato for a fresh herby balance. Adult versions can include mixes pepped up with garlic, horseradish , nutmeg or freshly ground black pepper.
Here is a recipe for an aromatic parsnip soup which can be adjusted to your own taste ; the chilli is optional and if you don’t have time to prepare your own spice mix, a good quality garam masala will do.
Aromatic Parsnip Soup
- 3 or 4 Parsnips, washed and chopped
- 1 large/2 small onions,sliced
- 1 or 2 cloves garlic
- Bunch of Fresh coriander
- Fresh root ginger (approx..2 cm)
- 1 Tblespn coconut oil ( or other veg oil)
- 2 pints organic chicken or vegetable stock
- Salt to taste
For the spice mix
- 1/2 Tblspn whole coriander
- 1/2 Tblspn whole cumin
- 2 tspn whole black pepper
- 2 or 3 cardamom seeds
- ½ tspn grated nutmeg
- ¼ tspn sweet paprika
- ½ tspn turmeric
First prepare the spices. Dry roast the first four whole spices on a heavy skillet, on a medium heat for a minute or two until they begin to pop and release their aromas .Be careful not to burn. Grind to a uniform powder and add the other three ground spices.
Combine the garlic, fresh ginger and coriander stalks to a paste in a pestle and mortar before adding to the above spices.
Heat the coconut oil in a large saucepan before adding the onion and chopped parsnip. Cook these for a few minutes with a lid on. Stir now and again. Once the onions have softened add the spice paste to coat the vegetables and cook for a further few minutes before pouring in the stock. Simmer gently until the parsnips are soft and add the chopped coriander leaves just towards the end. Blend the soup and serve with a garnish of coriander leaves.
After the excesses of the seasonal binge, there is still a need to comfort ourselves in these dark and watery days of January. The early months of the New Year bring a particular need for sustenance and recovery. It doesn’t have to be dull. This is when we can really benefit from the potent pleasures of winter vegetables which can offer a colourful and cleansing boost to our weary souls and bodies.
Hibernation is a necessary phase in the cycle of life and interestingly now is the time to enjoy the hearty wealth of food that has been gathering its force from underground. Root vegetables come top of my list for comfort and nourishment.
The sweet earthy flavour of beetroot is a seasonal gem which has gladly become fashionable again and when shredded raw is a perfect accompaniment to a salty goat’s cheese. If you prefer to cook your beetroot, I find it is best to bake them whole (don’t top or tail), wrapped in foil. This method ensures their goodness doesn’t bleed away. A warm beetroot salad served with a tahini dressing and green salad will add a colourful compliment to a bowl of soup.
I recently had the pleasure of eating a beetroot and yacon salad here on the farm which was a real surprise. Yacon is a South American tuber, now growing here, also known as ‘water root’ which has a pleasantly mild flavour close to pear, apple and celery. Its texture is similar to water chestnut. Research suggests some very interesting benefits of this new crop; not least it’s value in the battle against diabetes. This is due to its unique source of inulin which is hailed as a valuable source of sweetness for diabetics. High in fibre and low in calories, it promises many benefits to the digestive system and is all the more inviting for its refreshing crunchiness when eaten raw.
Yacon tends to discolour quickly once it is sliced but this can be solved by quickly dressing it in citrus juice or just combine it with an equal quantity of shredded beetroot; the yacon will absorb the lovely crimson juices to blend into a crisp, refreshing and robust salad.
Above ground, my favourite green is the sturdy kale Cavalo Nero.
*Please note that these fantastic vegetables are available at Manna Organic Store in Tralee.
This is the first contribution to our blog by Ita McConville. She will be writing about seasonal food and sharing her lovely recipes, cooking tips and photographs. Hope you’ll enjoy it!
It’s Pie Time
In an effort to slow down the race to Christmas, lets savour the abundance of colour and taste that comes with the sweet harvest of autumn. As the days lose their stretch there is a welcome compensation in the comforting, slow-cooking aromas that invite us in from the cold.
It’s at this time of the year that our locally grown produce is at its very best. We can be seduced by the exotic, glossy and unseasonal produce (that has probably been imported) while missing the rich abundance that is under our very noses. Beetroot, turnip, carrot, parsnip, leek and kale. To name but a few and not forgetting the versatile spud. Out in the woods there are mushrooms cleverly poised among the patchwork of fallen leaves and still some crab apples to be found. Pumpkins and apples aren’t just for Halloween; they can provide scrumptious pies and tarts when tucked in with a crisp, buttery pastry.
So today I’d like to share my tips on making pastry which will expand any cook’s repertoire and can provide an impressive variety of ideas for using any or all of the above bounty.
There was a time when I might have been heard say “Life is too short….” as I reach for a packet of puff pastry. It is one of those convenience foods even chefs will admit to using, due to its time consuming process. However, I have been noticing some unwelcome contents in some of the more popular brands (in particular palm oil) so have set out to make the next best thing …rough puff. This does warrant the plentiful use of butter, but if reserved for occasional treats, it is definitely preferable.
I generally use a basic shortcrust pastry for pie bases which are blind baked to ensure a crisp, sealed ‘tray’ which will hold any quiche style eggy mix. It is a fail-safe pie base provided it is pre-baked in this way; painted with beaten egg a few minutes towards the end of the first bake.
250 g organic plain flour
125 g organic butter (cold and diced)
2 or 3 tblspns chilled water
Combine the flour and butter with fingertips until the texture of fine breadcrumbs. Bring together with just as much water as it takes to form a dough, handling only as much as necessary. Form into a flattened ball, wrap in cling film and chill for at least 20 mins before using.
Roll out on a lightly floured surface and place carefully into a shallow pie tin. This quantity will make two 20 cm bases. Be careful not to stretch the dough while gently pressing it to the edges. Prick with a fork and trim any excess with a knife or leave to trim after baking (it will shrink slightly in the oven). Line this with baking paper and fill with rice or dry beans to ‘blind’ bake for approx. 20 mins. Remove the rice and paper about 5 mins towards the end, paint the pastry with beaten egg and return to oven for the final few mins to seal the base.
This is a basic casing for any quiche or tart and can prepared in advance.
Rough Puff Pastry
The rough puff version can be used to cover any pie base, offering a flaky layered top which can be decorated to suggest the sweet or savoury content. It is also ideal for any tartin or strudel style pastry.
225 g organic plain flour
175 g organic butter (very cold, walnut size pieces)
200 ml ice cold water
Combine the butter and flour in a bowl by using a blunt knife, breaking up the butter into smaller pieces. Gradually add the cold water and bring together with your hands to form a dough. Don’t over work this dough; once all the dry bits are combined form into a neat square, wrap in cling film and chill for at least 30 mins. The chilling stages of this recipe are critical to its success.
Shape and roll the dough to an even rectangle (approx. 40 cm x 20 cm). From the short side fold one third to the centre, then the other third on top of that (known as a book fold). Turn this block 90 degrees, roll and repeat the folding action before covering in cling film and chill at least 20 mins. Repeat this action and chill again. During this process you should see streaks of butter as you work and layers as you fold, which gives it a light flaky texture when baked.
Once you have followed a few basic principles, making pastry is not so complicated. Keep all ingredients cold and ‘handle’ as little as possible. Like riding a bicycle, once you do it right you will not forget it.