Author Archives: lettercollumkitchenproject

About lettercollumkitchenproject

A cook that gardens. Sun addict. Not a good addiction in West Cork hence the travel addiction. Add in a splotch of kitchen snooping while away, a big walled organic garden while home and a kitchen full of a bit of everything. Runs an organic bakery/delicatessen/food shop with her husband using food from the garden and the years of accumulated kitchen snooping. Check out the shop and garden at www.lettercollum.ie

Excited About Chickpeas

I’m not sure where the chickpeas we can usually obtain come from but generally they are old. Old and hard and take a very long time to cook so when I saw that the olive guys in our local Neighbourhood Food had imported chickpeas and pinto beans I had to try them.

I’m always on the lookout for good chickpeas – I’m possibly one of the only people that travel home from Spain with dried chickpeas in my bag. A true chickpea geek. Big fat chickpeas that only take 30-40 minutes to cook make me very happy. They obviously haven’t been sitting about in dusty depots for months on end.

I cooked some of the above prize chickpeas this morning after soaking them overnight. The weather was awful – torrential rain – it seemed pretty obvious that what we needed was warming sustenance so I made this dish. I’m never quite sure whether it’s a soup or a stew but the recipe is an old favourite. Sometimes I make it with spinach and sometimes with kale, depending on what I have and on the tomato front just use the best you have – fresh or canned. One thing is for sure – you will have a delicious bowl of bright nutrition to beat the rainy day blues.

And the new chickpeas cooked up a dream.

Chickpeas, Spinach and Coriander

250g dried chickpeas, soaked in cold water overnight – or 2 cans

2 onions – peeled and finely chopped

100mls olive oil

2 stems celery- diced

3-4 carrots- peeled and diced

3 cloves garlic- peeled and finely chopped

1-2 chillies (Optional) – chopped finely

2 big tomatoes or 1 can – chopped

1 tsp turmeric

1 tsp ground coriander

800mls vegetable stock/chickpea liquor

1 bunch spinach or kale – 2 big hanfdfuls when shredded

1 bunch fresh coriander – parsley or chervil work too if that’s what you have

salt and black pepper

Put the chickpeas to cook. Drain and cover with water. Bring to the boil then cover and turn to a simmer. Cook until tender – anything between 30 mins and 3 hours , depending on the vintage of your chickpeas. Take off the heat and reserve the cooking liquor.

Heat a large saucepan then add the olive oil and chopped onions followed by the celery and carrots . I chop and add in that order, adding a little salt as I go. Cook the vegetables on a medium heat until they begin to melt down but don’t brown.

Stir in the garlic and chilli, cook for a couple of minutes then stir in the tomatoes. Let the tomatoes melt down then add about 800mls reserved chickpea liquor or vegetable stock or a mix of the two. Bring to the boil and leave to simmer for 20 minutes. It’s up to you whether you eat this a s stew or soups add more stock if needed

This is when I popped up the garden and picked some spinach and chervil. The recipe does call for coriander but our coriander is in animated suspension at the moment but we do have a healthy amount of chervil Basically use what you have!

Wash the spinach and remove any thick stems then gather it up and chop into thin ribbons. Stir this into the pot, allow everything to return to the boil then take off of the heat. Taste and add salt and ground black pepper. I use a hand held blender to give the soup a couple of buzzes – very quickly – just enough to create a little background creaminess. Chop the herbs and stir in.

Admittedly this makes a large pot but I put a picture up on the family WhatsApp and it was soon devoured!

It’s ideal to share but it would also freeze well


Winter Garden Soup

Each evening I go to the garden to give the chickens their afternoon tea. It’s pretty slim pickings for them now that the shop is closed so their tea isn’t a gourmet selection anymore but fortunately the chickens are still tuned in to the universe and their inner egg radars have turned back on. It is amazing how quickly the incremental increase of daylight brings on the eggs so to thank them I prowl around the garden looking for green things to supplement their diet.

It’s surprising what’s out there. It’s not growing very quickly – more like suspended animation but there’s always something. Yesterday evening I came down to the house with a head of fennel, some leeks and a bunch of kale – I soaked some cannellini beans and we were set up for today’s lunch.

Soaking dried beans for this recipe is optional as canned beans also do a good job. The bonus of cooking dried beans is the cooking liquid makes a great base for the stock. A Parmesan rind is a definite bonus if you have one. I didn’t this time but I did find some pumpkin that needed a home while I was searching the fridge which was great for the colour scheme.

Winter Garden Soup

1 onion

100mls olive oil

1-2 stems celery

Parmesan rind – optional

1 bulb fennel

2 leeks

a bunch of kale

250g diced pumpkin

200g dried cannellini beans or 1-2 cans

2 sprigs of fresh rosemary

1 litre vegetable stock or stock plus bean water

salt and pepper

If you’re using dried beans soak them in cold water overnight. The next day drain them, put them in a saucepan and cover them with water. Bring to the boil then simmer gently, covered with a lid for – now this is the mystery bit as it depends how old the beans were – anything between 40 mins and 2 hours. I keep checking. When they are cooked take them off the heat. Drain them and reserve the cooking liquid for the stock

Peel and chop the onion. Heat a medium/large saucepan, add the olive oil and the onion, give it a stir then turn the heat to medium.

Cut the celery in strips lengthwise then chop into a dice. Stir in with the onions.

If you have a Parmesan rind add it now.

Wash the fennel, cut it into half then slice thinly. Add to the pot. Season with a little salt and give it a stir.

You should be able to hear the vegetables sizzling. If you can’t increase the heat.

Trim the leeks – don’t cut all the green bit off, just the scraggy bits. Rinse well under running water to remove all dirt then slice into 1cm pieces. Add to the pot and stir.

Dice the pumpkin into 1cm cubes . Strip the rosemary from the woody stem and roughly chop. Add to the pot

Wash the kale then strip from the stem and chop into thin ribbons. Season with a little more salt and stir well.

Cook until the vegetables melt down. This sweetens the vegetables and enhances the flavours. Add the vegetable stock/bean water then bring to the boil. Stir in the beans then simmer for 15-20 minutes.

Season with salt and pepper. If you have used a parmesan rind take it out and discard (chickens love them!).

I like to give the soup a quick mash to encourage creaminess but don’t overdo it.


Hey Presto Pepper Soup

The recent lockdown landed a large amount of vegetables into our kitchen – not a complaint but to be truthful too much of anything looses it’s appeal. We’ve been cooking our way through a box of red peppers and now we’re nearing the bottom they are beginning to get a little shabby so today I took the wrinkliest and made them into red pepper and tomato soup. This is super popular in our shop where we take a box of peppers, chop them up and toss them in olive oil and roast them in the oven. Ditto with ripe tomatoes.

Today’s recipe is made in a less industrial style. I didn’t even turn the oven on as roasting three peppers was definitely not going to save the planet, instead I slowly cooked them into sweet submission in a saucepan on the hob. We have eaten all of our fresh tomatoes so I used a can which always makes sense if it’s not tomato season or you don’t have any that need immediate attention.

Apart from the core flavourings – onion and celery – I added a tablespoon of red lentils, just to give the soup some body. Sometimes I use a diced potato but the choice is yours. Whatever you choose to use should remain anonymous in the soup – it’s just got a job to do not a starring role.

Red Pepper and Tomato Soup

3 red peppers

1 onion

1-2 stems celery

2-3tbs olive oil

1 can tomatoes or 6 ripe tomatoes diced

1 tbs red lentils or 1 potato peeled and diced

1 tsp ground cumin

800mls vegetable stock

salt and pepper

Peel and chop the onion finely. Heat a saucepan, add the olive oil and onions then cook on a medium heat.

Chop the celery and add to the pot.

Wash and deseed the peppers then chop into small chunks. Add to the pot with a good pinch of salt and give everything a stir. Cook until the peppers begin to melt down, stirring from time to time.

Once the peppers have softened stir in the tomatoes, vegetable stock, ground cumin and lentils (or diced potato). Bring to the boil then simmer for 15-20 minutes. Take off the heat, buzz until smooth, taste and add more salt if needed.


Sunday Night Pasta

Sunday’s aren’t the culinary highlight of our week, more of lazy day whereby whoever’s hungriest first makes the dinner. Last nights dinner involved prowling around the fridge and vegetable basket where I discovered a piece of broccoli, half a jar of anchovies and the last of our home grown cherry tomatoes. Yes, our own tomatoes in January. They weren’t exactly sun kissed but at least we knew where they came from and it would be a crime not to eat them.

It’s a fast and easy dinner to make.

First put a big pot of water to boil then prep the broccoli. Slice the stalks into discs and the head into several pieces. When the water boils add 1tsp salt and all of the broccoli. Cook for 1 minute. This takes the raw edge off of the vegetable. Lift the broccoli out of the water – save the water to cook the pasta – then cool in cold water, drain, and chop into smaller pieces

Check out the cooking time for your pasta, mine was 10-12 minutes which is perfect for bringing the dish together. Bring the water back to the boil and add another teaspoon of salt and the pasta . Give it a stir and check the clock or put a timer on

Put a large pan onto the heat, add good drizzle of olive oil and all of the broccoli. Cook stirring until the broccoli takes a little colour – around 4 minutes. Lift the broccoli from the pan then take the pan off the heat for a minute to cool a little before adding a little more olive oil, a couple of cloves of chopped garlic and a good pinch of chilli flakes.

Cooling the pan is important as you don’t want to burn the garlic. The garlic should sizzle all the same and once it’s cooked for 30 seconds the pan can go back on a medium heat. Stir in 4-5 anchovies – leave them out if you would like a vegetarian version – these will dissolve into the garlic mix then throw in the cherry tomatoes (which I halved). Turn the heat up and cook everything together for a minute or two then add the broccoli back into the pan.

As soon as the pasta is cooked drain it, saving a few spoonfuls of the cooking water to loosen everything up. Taste to check the seasoning – as the anchovies are salty it might just be perfect if not add a little salt

Toss the pasta with the vegetables and add enough water to moisten everything.

Serve with grated parmesan or pecorino

Delicious with a Sunday night glass of wine!


Memories of Cuba

When we visited Cuba I enjoyed eating Fritura de Malanga which are fritters made from Taro root. These crispy fritters were often the one and only vegetarian choice bar rice and beans so I ate a lot of them .

Looking through my recipes I came across my notes on Fritura de malangas remembering this sunshine snack. 

Taro doesn’t grow around here but we have plenty of parsnips so I exchanged them and the results were really good and it also cranked up the points for sustainable eating.. The parsnips aren’t as starchy as taro but even though the batters looked very different (I’d done some YouTube snooping) they made excellent fritters. Another bonus from the YouTube snooping was the idea to put some cheese in the middle. We still had a knob of gorganzola left from the xmas cheese board which I thought would partner well with parsnips but I’d say use whatever you have or fancy.

500-600g parsnips

2 cloves garlic

2 eggs

½ tsp salt

About 100g cheese – something that’ll melt

Vegetable oil to fry

Peel the parsnips and grate finely – this is quite slow but it’s what you have to do!

Peel the garlic and chop finely.

Put the grated parsnips, chopped garlic and salt into a bowl then mix in the eggs.

You will have a quite dense paste/batter.

Cut the cheese into small cubes – no bigger than 1cm

Using a dessertspoon take small amounts of the parsnip mix and mould it onto the spoon then using your thumb make an indentation in the middle, pop a piece of cheese in and mould the paste back around the cheese so that it’s completely covered.

Put the fritter/croquette onto a plate and repeat the process until your mix is used up.

Put the fritter/croquette onto a plate and repeat the process until your mix is used up.

Heat 2-3cms vegetable oil in a deep sided frying pan or shallow pot, When it’s hot enough,  a piece of bread should pop to the surface as soon as you drop it in, start frying the fritters. Fry them on a medium heat as they need to cook through. Cook for 3-4 minutes turning them half way. Reduce the heat if they are browning too quickly.

Serve with something to dip – mayonnaise, alioli, or as in Cuba some kind of fruity sauce. I use mango chutney thinned with a little sugar syrup or alioli.


Rapid Fire Supper

Sunday evenings are a bit of loose cannon in our culinary week – no designated cook nor plan.

Usually whoever is the hungriest acts first.

Last night I spotted a small bowl of borlotti beans on the counter that had been picked a few days previously. It was too small to have any real purpose but too valuable to waste. I put them in pot with a bashed clove of garlic, covered them with water and set them to cook. As they were fresh this only took twenty minutes. When they were cooked I drained them, dressed them with olive oil and little salt and then checked out the fridge.

I found a bag of mixed mushrooms from the farmers market- shiitake, oyster and portabello and then I discovered a tub of Glenilen cremefraiche – surely the creamiest and tastiest. Hmmm…. a plan was beginning to form.

Here’s what we had. Fast , comforting and tasty – if little blonde – it was on the table in ten minutes.

Serves 2

Borlotti, Mushrooms and Orzo

400g cooked borlotti beans – or one can drained and rinsed

200g orzo

300g mixed mushrooms

2 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped

2 heaped tablespoons creme fraiche

a little chopped parsley

Put a saucepan of water to boil to cook the pasta

Slice the mushrooms and chop the garlic

When the water boils add a heaped teaspoon of salt and the orzo. Cook for 5 -7 minutes – check the packet for cooking time

Heat a large sauté pan. Add the butter and olive oil and as soon as the butter melts add all the mushrooms and stir well. Keep the heat high and stir the mushrooms every minute until they almost begin to brown. Add the borlotti beans then stir in the chopped garlic, cook for one minute longer. Take the pan off the heat.

At this stage the orzo should be cooked. Drain it and add it to the pan.

Stir in the creme fraiche and parsley and you’re ready to go


Tomato Party

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Storm Ellen did a superb job of flattening our beans but fortunately the tomato tunnel stood strong and our beautiful tomatoes are still ripening and bursting with flavour.

The feasting is endless. Tomatoes with everything.

Whilst browsing for tomato ideas I came across a recipe for Panzanella. It was the picture that caught my fancy as a salad using old bread that was dried then got wet again sounded odd. I checked out a few more recipes and realised this idea had real potential and no better chance of success than when surrounded by ripe home grown tomatoes.

Panzanella originates in Italy where there are ripe tomatoes and dry bread aplenty. These simple ingredients paired with the best olive oil and vinegar that you can lay your hands on make a stunning salad.

The first step is to dry out the bread, which proved easier said than done in a West Cork kitchen. I used thick slices of sour dough bread as recommended and spread it out in a bread basket and left it in the kitchen to dry.

In the south of Europe where these recipes originate bread bought in the morning is stale by the evening, hence the proliferation of recipes using old bread but no such luck here. Two days later the bread was still perfectly edible and far from dry so I turned the oven on for assistance.

I couldn’t resist rubbing the slices of bread with a cut clove of garlic before ripping it into small pieces and tossing with a drizzle of olive oil. ( if you like garlic bread, you will like this) I spread the bread on a baking tray, popped it in the oven and ten minutes later it was beautifully dry .

Now is the moment to make this recipe if you live in this part of the world. The local tomatoes are ripe and at their full flavour potential. The only time of the year we can eat such tasty tomatoes without travelling. Check out the farmers markets and small stores that sell home grown vegetables

This recipe is well worth the effort = dry bread and tomatoes tossed together with olive oil, vinegar and basil makes a sublime combination however odd it might sound, a real flavour and texture bomb in the mouth.

Simplicity at its best

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Panzanella

Tuscan Tomato and Bread salad

 

4  large ripe tomatoes

4 thick slices sourdough or country bread

3 cloves garlic

1 small red onion.

1 bunch basil

150mls extra virgin olive oil

50mls vinegar – the best you have

1 tsp Dijon mustard

Salt and black pepper

Anchovies in oil (optional)

 

Put the oven on 180c

Cut the crusts from the slices of bread, rub with a cut side of garlic – no need to peel it.. Tear the bread into small pieces (2cm).

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Put it into a bowl, drizzle over a little olive oil 1-2tbs, toss well then spread out on a baking tray. Bake for ten minutes then check. The bread should be crisp but not brown.

Dice the tomatoes into 1 -2cm cubes, sprinkle over a little salt and put them into a sieve or colander and set them over a bowl to catch the juices. Leave for 15-20 minutes.

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Peel and finely slice the red onion. Massage in a few grains of salt to separate and soften the onion. Peel the remaining 2 cloves of garlic and chop very finely.

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Put the garlic into a small bowl together with the Dijon mustard, vinegar and the juice that has run off from the tomatoes. Whisk these together then drizzle in the olive oil whilst continuing to whisk until you have a creamy emulsion. Stir in the sliced onion.

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Put the tomatoes and dried bread into a bowl – approx. 50/50 of each. (Keep any remaining bread to top other salads or soup). Chop the basil and add to the bowl, pour over the dressing then toss together until well mixed. Leave aside for ten minutes to let the flavours to mingle before serving.

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Pea Days

I have a cameo memory from when I was young of sitting on the back doorstep shucking peas in the sunshine with my mum. Peas were super exciting then as although peas were available in cans all year round it was before the frozen pea revolution and canned peas were completely different to fresh peas. Fresh peas were a total treat when they arrived.

We grow peas in our garden. Just for us, not for the shop, because if we were paid to grow, pick and shuck the peas without a mechanised system they would be like gold.

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We just grow them to eat like sweeties when they first ripen and as the crop ripens we always make risi e bisi (a pea risotto) and summer vegetable pilafs, paellas and salads but after that we begin to scratch our heads and the peas keep coming. It’s a real grow your own phenomenon, the all or nothing syndrome and when the peas ripen they need eating as it’s obvious they should not go into the freezer.

This is new recipe that we’ve enjoyed this summer. It was inspired by a recipe from Spain called Tortillitas de Camarones which are crispy little fritters made with baby shrimp. Last autumn we visited Sanlucar de Barrameda in the very south of Spain and I have happy memories of bars where camarones were served as tapas on the terraces, usually with an accompanying glass of chilled manzanilla, the local sherry.

I became addicted to these thin crispy fritters and when I got home I tried to make my own. They weren’t quite the same and it wasn’t only the lack of sunshine that was missing  so I googled the problem and after reading many recipes and watching a particularly edifying YouTube tutorial I cracked it!

You might be wondering at this stage what this has to do with the peas, well I discovered they are an excellent addition to this recipe, either peas and shrimp or peas alone. Both work very well and the peas alone are suitable for vegans which is always a bonus.

There are couple of little tricks involved so read the recipe carefully before you begin.

Use a combination of gram flour and white rice flour if you want the fritters to be gluten-free. The water needs to be chilled and sparkling gives the best results

 

Pea fritters – Tortillitas de Guisantes

 

200g peas – fresh or defrosted

1 small onion

90g gram flour

40g white flour or rice flour

¼ tsp turmeric

A little lemon zest

1 tbs finely chopped parsley

Chilled sparkling water

Oil to fry

 

Pod or defrost the peas.

Sift the gram flour and regular flour or cornflour into a bowl. Add half teaspoon salt and turmeric. Stir to mix.

Peel and finely chop the onion small and finely chop the parsley. Zest a few swipes of lemon for the mix

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Put everything except for the water into the bowl and mix well then start stirring in the chilled water until the batter has a medium pouring consistency, like a crepe pancake mix or pouring cream.

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Heat 4cms oil in a frying pan or wide based saucepan and when it is hot add a tablespoon of the fritter mix, spread it a little with the spoon after it goes into the pan, spreading the fritter with the back of the spoon under surface of the oil., it should be bubbling just below the surface. You need to do this quickly. Repeat but don’t overcrowd the pan.

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Cook each side for 2-3 minutes, until golden. Lift onto kitchen paper then cook the next batch. It’s a good idea to stack the fritters like dishes so the oil drains off both sides.

Serve with lemon wedges

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Fridge Booty

I often arrive home hungry and gaze into the fridge where there’s nothing instant to eat but many pots of left overs. Fortunately the left overs are full of potential and anything that tasted good the night before can be enjoyed with egg so we make odd frittatas/tortillas. Pasta works very well as do left over beans, lentils and vegetables.

Yesterday’s lunch was courgette and spaghetti encased in an egg blanket which makes a surprisingly great tortilla. Interesting texture and plenty of flavour – I threw in an extra handful of basil, and today’s could be lentils and stir-fried kale. The possibilities are endless and easy if you’re happy to live on a diet of eggs and random left overs. Add ins are welcome additions; cheese, herbs, tomatoes etc

Simply fry the ingredients in little olive oil until they are hot then tip them into a bowl of whisked eggs seasoned with salt and pepper. (I usually use 4 or 5 eggs)

Mix well and pour back into the pan.

Cook the egg mix carefully, lower the heat and cover with a lid. When the egg is cooked at the sides and beginning to set in the middle give the pan a shake and with a bit of luck your tortilla will be mobile, if not gently ease it away from the pan with lifter until it moves.

Place a plate on top of the pan and flip the tortilla onto the plate then slide it back into the pan again and cook for 2 minutes more – not too long as it’s better if the egg isn’t cooked dry. If the thought of flipping the pan freaks you out you can finish the tortilla under the grill or in the oven in which case you’ll have a frittata – the main difference between a tortilla and frittata being how you finish cooking the eggs.

Delicious with salad on the side and even portable if you need to run.

 


Stalking Courgettes

I have been stalking our courgette plants, prompted by a photo of my son’s dinner which was  a plate of courgette carbonara – our family is really into food porn! It got me dreaming of young courgettes which are succulent and tasty and perfect for this simple dish where they are the star of the show

So I ‘ve been waiting for our courgette plants to produce and finally there are these little stubby beauties winking at me.  Apart from being the first and therefore really wanted the small courgettes have a real flavour unlike the big ones which look splendid but are often more substance than flavour. As the season goes on our enthusiasm for courgettes lessens but right now we’re delighted to see them

The dish takes as long as the pasta takes to cook so salt the courgettes and as soon the water boils you’re ready to go.

Serves 2

2-4 small courgettes

25g butter

25mls olive oil

50g grated parmesan

2 egg yolks

50mls cream

a little lemon zest

Handful chopped basil

250g spaghetti

salt and pepper

 

Wash the courgettes and cut into julienne strips, sprinkle with a little salt, toss to mix then leave for 15 minutes.

Put a large pot water to boil. When the water is boiling add a tablespoon of salt and the pasta. Give it a stir and set the timer.

Mix the egg yolks and cream together in a small bowl

Tip the salted courgettes onto a clean tea-towel and pat dry. Heat a pan to cook the courgettes, one minute before the pasta is ready add the butter and oil to the pan followed by the courgettes. Keep tossing the pan so the courgettes cook evenly.Season with salt and pepper and a little grated lemon zest

Set a colander over your serving bowl then tip in the cooked pasta and drain over the bowl. Reserve a little cooking water then empty the bowl. This will pre heat your bowl which is important when serving pasta. Put the spaghetti back into the bowl, tip the courgettes and any cooking juice on top then pour over the cream/egg mix and grated cheese. Toss everything together. Add a little reserved cooking liquid to help everything move. Stir in the basil and serve