Monthly Archives: March 2013

Popeye Food


I headed up to the garden this evening to gather some salad and was instead seduced by the spinach which has really taken off. I picked a bucketful of it. Bright green and perky. This threw the dinner plans in a different direction altogether. By the time I arrived back in the house I was thinking of the Spanish dish of ‘Espinacas con Pasos y Pinones’ -Spinach with Raisins and Pinenuts. This dish was heavily influenced by the Moors and gives a slightly sweet and exotic twist to what would otherwise be plain wholesome spinach. This alone did not add up to a dinner , even though Popeye would have been delighted , so I made a pot of Fassoulia, which is a Lebanese stew of beans, barley and vegetables  to go with.

I have to admit to getting a little creative with the Fassoulia recipe as without pre planning I did not have any soaked cannelini or haricot beans at hand. I rummaged around on the tin shelf and came up with a can of chickpeas which I was going to use but then I came across a can of baked beans. The recipe called for cooked beans, canned tomatoes and tomato puree so I decided to go down the baked bean route and it worked out fine. The slight nuttiness of the barley and the soft beans was a great combination, I ‘d say it was better than a chickpea substitution. It sat together perfectly with the spinach.

Here’s the Spinach Recipe

Espinacas con Pasos y Pinones

about 750g spinach

2tbs pine nuts

2 tbs rains

1 small onion

olive oil


Put the raisins in a bowl and cover with boiled water. leave aside for thirty minutes then drain

Put the pinenuts in a dry pan and gently toast until they are golden.

Wash the spinach and remove any thick stems.

Peel and finely chop the onion. Heat a little olive oil in a large pan and cook the onion until it softens but don’t let it brown. Add the spinach, a little salt then stir to mix everything together. Cover with a lid and cook gently for a few minutes until the spinach has wilted and is tender.. Add the raisins and pine nuts, toss everything together and serve.

Toonsbridge Buffalo Gnocchi


To the uninitiated it would be a big surprise to find an up to the minute dairy popping out little balls of  buffalo mozzarella in the depths of the Macroom countryside. Maybe even more surprising would be the herd of woolly buffalo who are contentedly chomping grass. We sell and use Toonsbridge mozzarella and ricotta in our shop and when were invited to to check out the dairy and how the cheese was made we jumped at the opportunity.

We set off with our raincoats and wellies this morning, programmed the sat nav and headed north. We arrived in plenty of time and after a welcome cup of coffee, by which time the invited group had assembled, we all donned protective hats, shoes and coats and traipsed into the dairy which had been in action since six o’clock this morning. By this time there was a stack of raw cheese ready to go.IMG_1691

This was put through some kind of shredder then transferred to a vat where it was paddled together with very hot water -95cIMG_1693

which changed the cheese to smooth elastic pieces which in turn were posted into what could only be described as an open plan washing machine type drum which plopped the then formed balls of mozzarella into a receiving tank. This is a very un-technical description of the magic practiced in the dairy, if you would like to know more check out

Gnocchi are Italian dumplings and the most common are made with potatoes and flour but this version is made with spinach, ricotta and semolina which makes them much lighter. It also makes the shape less uniform hence the name malfatti which means badly made. I make them with the Toonsbridge fresh buffalo ricotta and the spinach from our garden which has galloped into production with the longer days. The trick is to use enough semolina to hold the gnocchi together without making them stodgy. They are very fast to make and eaten with a little tomato basil sauce make a simple dinner dish that looks quite impressive.

The secret to success in cooking these gnocchi is the temperature of the water in which the dumplings are cooked. A rolling boil will disintegrate these delicate little dumplings so bring a pot of water to the boil then turn to the lowest simmer before slipping them in.

Malfatti – Spinach and Ricotta Gnocchi 

250g ricotta

2 eggs

250g spinach


2-3 tbs semolina

100g grated Parmesan cheese

salt and black pepper

Put a large pot of water on to boil. Wash the spinach and take out any extra thick stems. When the water  is boiling add some salt and the spinach. Make sure the spinach is completely immersed. When the water returns to the boil cook the spinach for one minute then drain and plunge into a bowl of cold water. This will stop the spinach from cooking further. Drain the spinach and squeeze it in your hands to remove the excess water .Chop finely.

Put the ricotta into a bowl and beat together with the eggs until creamy

Stir in the spinach , grated parmesan cheese and the semolina, then season  with a little grated nutmeg and some salt and pepper.

The mix should hold together. If it is still wet add a little more semolina.

Bring a large pot of salted water to the boil, then turn down to the lowest simmer

Wet your hands and form small balls with the gnocchi mixture and gently slip them into the water. When the gnocchi rise back to the surface they are cooked. Remove with a slotted spoon and put onto a warm serving dish..

Dress with tomato and basil sauce or olive oil and fresh herbs and serve immediately.

Serves 4

Sweet and Fragrant Fish Tajine


I was standing in the queue waiting to buy fish at the market this morning when I spotted a monkfish and remembered a recipe that I cooked ages ago with sultanas and ginger. The recipe was in the Moro East cookbook and it was the odd combination of fish and sultanas that made me curious.  As I remember it was delicious so that’s what we’re having for dinner tonight except that I can’t find the cookbook. I vaguely remember lending someone a couple of cookbooks – most unlike me as I don’t usually like them to wander – but I can’t remember who I lent them to so if you read this and have any information please jog my memory!

Meanwhile here’s the version we had . It was subtly sweet and fragrant and the monkfish was cooked on the bone which kept it super succulent. The timing is a bit tricky when cooking a piece of fish like this on the bone. The general guideline is that it should take about half an hour for a kilo piece in a hot oven but I found it took slightly longer. The piece that we had weighed about 600g so I cooked it for twenty minutes, then turned it over for five minutes but when we sat down to eat it was slightly underdone so I wacked it under the grill for a few minutes and that did the job.

here’s my version which we ate with couscous and fed two of us – we did roll away from the table!

2 large onions – peeled and sliced

olive oil

3 cloves garlic – peeled and chopped

a large handful golden sultanas – soak in hot water whilst cooking the onions

6 small waxy potatoes – peeled and cut into even sized chunks

a pinch of saffron infused in hot water

1 tsp cinnamon

1 tsp ground ginger

1 tsp turmeric

approx 250 mls water

600g monkish

pre heat the oven 220c

Put a an oven proof pan on the heat and when it’s hot add enough olive oil to cover the bottom  of the pan and the onions. Give them a good stir and when they are sizzling away sprinkle with a little salt and turn the heat to medium-low. Cook until the onions become  golden , this will take ten to fifteen minutes, stirring regularly.



Add the garlic, give a quick stir  then drain the sultanas and mix everything together. Cook on a medium heat for five minutes then add the spices and cook for a further minute or two. Stir well so that they cook evenly. Pour in the water and infused saffron then bring to the boil .

Put the potatoes in the sauce , seaon with alittle salt and bring everything to the boil. Cover the pan with a lid or piece of foil and put into the hot oven. Cook for twenty fives  minutes then check that the spuds are tender.


Season the piece of monkfish and squash into the middle of the pan then put the lid/foil back on and cook for twenty five minutes.

Take the pan out of the oven and turn the piece of fish over and cook for a further five minutes.

To serve, simply use a sharp knife to cut the fish from the bone and eat together with a little couscous