Fennel Pasta

Fennel tends not to feature on most people’s top ten veg list. Even though it grows quite happily for us in Ireland we don’t have any tradition of cooking it so most people draw a blank (it’s famed anise aroma means it’s not the kind of veg you can throw into anything). It’s a shame because it has lots to offer.

Nutritionwise, it’s got high levels of potassium which is very good for your heart as well as a good mix of minerals like copper, iron, calcium, magnesium, manganese, zinc, and selenium, vitamins like C and B-6 and folic acid, essential oils  anethol, estragole, and fenchone (fenchyl acetate). anethol is especially useful as it has been found to have anti-fungal and anti-bacterial properties. Phew!! Not bad for something that only has 31 calories per 100gr.

In the kitchen it is delicate and sweet and has that beautiful anise aroma which is brilliant for waking things up on the dinner plate especially at this time of year when the temptation to eat lots of heavy comforting food really takes over. It’s great for balancing those heavier wintery dishes – try the classic and oh so simple salad of shaved fennel with Parmesan, lemon and olive oil with baked potatoes for an easy supper that comforts but also leaves you able to walk around afterwards. Or how about a slab of chilli baked feta with a salad with this week’s red cabbage, some perfectly ripe Hass avocado, finely chopped fennel, toasted seeds and a smattering of chopped coriander? That’s tomorrow’s lunch sorted….

I think the trick with fennel is to cook it a lot or not at all. There aren’t half measures. Long slow(ish) cook renders it tender and sweet with a melt in the mouth consistency. That’s why I favour the oven. Favourite approaches are quartered or sliced with butter and lemon or for the last word in moreish try it finely sliced and layered with Parmesan and sour cream, topped with bread crumbs and baked til crispy and golden. Yum!!

Of course there isn’t always the time for that kind of cooking. Slicing it finely will get around that. For this a mandolin is your best friend. I got mine a few years ago in Arnotts and haven’t looked back. I love it!!!! In a mere 2 or 3 minutes a large bulb is reduced to a pile of wafer thin layers. A whole new level of precision. A lot of patience and a very sharp knife will do the same thing but that’s never been my strong point ….

With the fennel shaved it cooks to sweet perfection in about the same time it takes to boil pasta making it perfect for a quick dinner or supper. I pan-fry it with a little chilli til it was crispy round the edges then tossed it with toasted pine nuts, crumbled feta and a spritz of lemon juice. Very delicious but a cinch to make this dish will set you up perfectly for an evening of pre-Christmas pints. Enjoy!

Fennel Pasta ingredients

Pasta with fennel, toasted pine nuts, feta and lemon

You’ll need:

1 bulb fennel (about 350gr)

1/2 fresh red chilli finely chopped

A handful pine nuts

100gr feta

1/2 lemon

olive oil


Put on the kettle for the pasta then shave the fennel with a mandolin or knife to the thickness of a business or loyalty card (roughly 1/2 mm). Heat some olive oil on the pan and add the fennel and chilli. Put on the pasta and heat another pan to toast the pine nuts. Add the nuts to the pan and toast until stating to turn golden then take off the heat and cool down when. Remember to keep tossing the fennel so it cooks evenly and you can also add a generous pinch of crushed Maldon. When the pasta is done, drain it and set aside. The fennel should be ready at this stage – nice and soft and turning brown and crispy round the edges. Add the pasta to the fennel along with the pine nuts. Mix well adding a little more if you think it needs it. Now add the juice of the half lemon, the feta crumbled, lots of black pepper and the parsley. Mix again and serve immediately. Enjoy x


purple sprouting broccoli

This week a variety that takes us out of  winter eating and towards lighter summer fare – purple sprouting broccoli. It’s a variety that says yes, the seasons are changing you will not have to think about new ways to deal with root vegetables forever. Yay!  Summer is on the way.

So what is it? Well, it’s broccoli but better. More delicate and refined plus it’s a gorgeous purpley-green colour. Actually you also have the regular kind in your bag this week too. I only got the call about the sprouting kind at the last minute. Usually I have to stalk suppliers for weeks on end for it so I couldn’t say no.

As always with this type of thing simplicity is the way forward. Going fancy just misses the point. Steamed and tossed in butter or olive oil with maybe a spritz of lemon is a great place to start. With a bowl of quinoa this makes a beautifully simple lunch.

A little sautéed garlic, chilli maybe some tangy Parmesan or Pecorino are also good foils. Add some pasta and you’ve got one of those gorgeously understated dishes which, baby Lee permitting I’ll be making (or bullying someone else into doing it for me) this evening. Orecchiette (literally babies ears) from Puglia would be my pasta of choice for this kind of dish but it’s up to you. Unless you stop to feed a baby about 10 times this will be ready in ten…..

purple sprouting broccoli with orechetti

Purple sprouting broccoli with garlic and chilli (for 2 or 3 at a push)

You’ll need:

About 250gr purple sprouting broccoli

5 cloves garlic chopped

1  fresh red chilli with or without the seeds, finely chopped

Pecorino cheese or Parmesan if you don’t have Pecorino

Orecchiette pasta

Olive oil

Salt and pepper

trimmed purple sprouting broccoli

Put the kettle on for the pasta and sort through the broccoli trimming the tougher stalks. You don’t need to cut it unless stems are really big. Place in a steamer until tender but not soft then remove and set aside.

While the broccoli is steaming put on the pasta. Heat a generous glug of olive oil on a pan and gently sweat the garlic and chilli until soft. Add the broccoli and toss everything together.

chilli and garlic in the pan

When the pasta is done, drain and add to the pan mixing everything together. Add salt, lots of black pepper, some grated cheese and a generous drizzle of your best olive oil. Serve with more cheese and eat immediately

Early broad beans are another sign of summer. They are another variety that cry out for a simple approach. The recipe above can easily be made with them but they are also great in salads. Check out my recipes for a warm salad with Serrano ham or with star-anise infused cous cous with blood orange (they’ll be gone soon so look smart!) and feta.

In case you were wondering…….

The gnarly beast in your bag is celariac. Like all roots it can be boiled, mashed and roasted. It also makes great soup. I’ll be having it crushed with potatoes topped with crispy onions and fresh green chili – yum!

Rhubarb is now in season!!!

We’ll be getting some in from Wicklow next week.If you’d like a bunch give us a shout.It’ll be €2.75 a bunch. Get ready to crumble!

Have a great Sunday,


The best ragù ever!!!!

March 14, 2012

Pasta ragu

As someone who eats mainly vegetarian (chorizo’s not meat right?) I’m rarely completely confident about cooking meat. Give me a filet steak and yes of course I’ll get a result but when it comes to those tougher cuts things get a lot more hit and miss. Flavour might be good but I always seem to have toughness issues despite all the “slow cooking”. Recently, I think I’ve cracked it and what I’ve realised is that  3 hours, despite what books will tell, you is not slow cooking. For slow cooking to really work its magic you need at least 6 and ideally 8. Really. It’s then that you get that meat that falls off the bone and a sauce that wows.

For this kind of dish the holy trinity of celery, onion and carrot really come into its own conferring that wonderful depth of flavour. Wine is also essential. The acidity helps break down the meat fibres  and of course it makes things even tastier.

This week’s recipe is for a  ragù of beef cheeks and apart from the aforementioned celery, onion, carrot and wine the only other ingredients are a tin of tomatoes and some thyme. That’s all. Sounds way too dull was what I thought the first time I started preparing this dish…….. surely things need spicing up? I was so wrong.  What followed was quite simply the best ragù we’d ever made. Some kind of magic happens when you cook simple ingredients for such a long time. The flavours mingle and become so much more than the sum of their individual parts. After a while it’s not even clear what’s in the sauce it just tastes AMAZING.

I love this sauce with those enormous pasta tubes or  large flat noodles.  Lasagna is on the menu this week and I know for a fact this would be amazing with a bowl of polenta or creamy mash. All you need is some decent Parmesan to serve on top. I strongly advise making double quantities……….

Beef cheek ragù

You’ll need:

Olive oil

2 carrots diced

2 onions diced

1 stick of celery diced

2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves

1 bay leaf

5 cloves garlic

750gr beef cheeks cut into large chunks – you might have to hunt a little to track this down. A good butchers should have them or can get them for you. You’ll definitely find them on Moore Street if you’re still having trouble. Cheeks are very tough so cutting and trimming them will take some time so allow for this or, sweet-talk your butcher into doing it for you.

300ml red wine

600ml beef stock

1 tin chopped tomatoes

Salt and pepper

Heat a dash of olive oil in a heavy pot. Add the onion, carrot and celery with the bay leaf and thyme then sauté over a gentle heat for about ten minutes until they have nicely softened. Throw in the garlic and cook for another few minutes until tender. Turn off the heat and remove all the vegetables from the pot.

Reheat the pot with another dash of olive oil. Season the meat with salt and pepper then brown on all sides. Do this in batches if necessary setting aside each batch as it browns.  When all the meat is browned and taken off, turn up the heat a little and deglaze the pot with the wine stirring well to ensure all the juices from the meat get thoroughly mixed with the wine. Reduce the wine by half then return the meat and veg to the pot.

Add the stock and tinned tomatoes then season. Bring things to the boil then turn down the heat. Leave partially covered and simmer for 6-8 hours until the meat is falling apart. If things start to dry out simply add a little more stock or water . You should be able to leave things to their own devices for most of the cooking so make sure the heat is nice and low. When the sauce is ready most of  the meat will have fallen apart  – you can help this along by breaking  down the chunks with a wooden spoon towards the end if needs be.

To serve, simply prepare your pasta of choice. This amount of  ragù will give you enough for 6 decent portions. Enjoy!

Perfect roasted tomatoes

August 5, 2011

Roasted tomatoesThis recipe is the starting point for so many meals in our house. Slow roasted, lightly seasoned with maybe a hint of chilli tomatoes become so sweet and concentrated that they never fail to garner compliments. Las t night I served these (as I often do) with a slab of baked feta and a dish of Greek olives as a start to a barbecue (we’ve been doing lamb with a Moro marinade on repeat all summer). Pita or fresh bread to scoop them up with the salty feta and it’s a combination made in heaven.

As always, I did a big quantity so there are lots left over for salads. You can add them to any really. They are especially good with cous cous or quinoa. I sometimes smash a handful and use them along with a glug of olive oil and a dash of balsamic to dress green salads. Add some olives – I especially like the wrinkly black Greek ones because their intense saltiness contrasts so well with all the gorgeous sweetness. Feta or goat’s cheese and maybe some scallions complete this but, like a lot of summer cooking,  it’s a moveable feast.

Smash them to make the simplest pasta sauce. Basil is great with this too if you have it. Use them as a bed for any baked white fish – they make the blandest really sing. Again, olives or basil are great partners here. Fry up some garlic and chilli with prawns then add a handful of smashed roasted tomatoes and some chopped parsley for a really brilliant starter (served over a simple green salad) or pasta sauce. Add a few to a simple summer risotto say, with courgettes and/or broad beans. Sandwiches and wraps…as a base for cheese on toast topped with a few olives. It goes on and on. A stash of these (they’ll keep for 3 or 4 days in the fridge) and you’ll always have the makings of a meal.

The big secret to getting them right is time. Five hours minimum is what they need and more is even better. I usually do them at about gas mark 4 / 170 degrees and leave them til they are half their original size and much, much darker. You can’t rush them. Turning up the temperature will char them on the outside before they’ve concentrated all that flavour on the inside.So be patient start them in the afternoon if you want them for the evening. They don’t need any attention so you can leave them to it. It’s the kind of cooking I love – you’re in the garden (hopefully!) hanging out while dinner, well, cooks itself. Easy.

Roasted Tomatoes

You’ll need:

Any quantity of tomatoes – this week we all have the first of Marc Michel’s cherry vine variety but really any will do. If using regular sized ones – quarter them first.

A generous pinch of salt.

Herbs – oregano or marjoram are my favourites but thyme works well too.

A little  chilli – this is optional but I do like a little hint of heat on mine – up to you.

Olive oil

Sugar – not necessary in the middle of summer when tomatoes are sweetest but at others times of the year when they’re not as good, it really helps to build that intense flavour.

Wash the tomatoes and place them in a roasting tin. I always try to keep mine on the vine because it looks really nice when you serve them.  The tin should be pretty full though not overcrowded either so choose the size according to the quantity you’re roasting. Add a generous pinch of salt and sugar (if using), a smattering of herbs and a little chilli. Drizzle generously with olive oil. Place in the oven (Gas mark 4), sit back and let the magic begin. Enjoy.

This week our bags have lovely baby spinach from the Healy’s farm in Wicklow. It cooks in a minute so is a great fast food. Serve it straight up with a knob of butter or a drizzle of olive oil. For a really delicious side dish sauté a few chopped cloves of garlic in butter then throw on the spinach, mix everything together well and serve. For a main course add some cream and Parmesan and you’ve got a very quick pasta sauce. This week’s recipe is a pasta dish but without the cream as I’m sure that we’d all like to hit the beach at some stage this year…………..

Pasta with baby spinach, garlic and black olives

You’ll need:

120gr baby spinach

5 cloves garlic – if you’re using the fresh stuff from last week use more


Olive oil

Handful of stoned black olives roughly chopped

Pasta – whatever you like, kids shouted for shells so I went with those

First of all stick on the kettle for the pasta (this dish is that fast) Wash your spinach then roughly shred it. Stick on the pasta.
Chop the garlic then gently sauté it in a large knob of butter and some olive oil. When the garlic has softened (don’t let it change colour as it’ll start to burn very quickly after that) add the spinach and toss it until it has wilted and is well coated in butter and garlic. Add the olives and when the pasta is cooked, drain it and mix into the pasta adding some more butter and olive Oil aswell as a couple of tablespoons of freshly grated Parmesan. Season with salt and pepper and serve immediately.

Spinach is, of course, fab in all kinds of salads and sambos. Try it with this week’s cherry vine tomatoes, toasted pine nuts and goat’s Cheese or with walnuts and feta. Dress with olive oil and balsamic vinegar and serve with a simple omelette or some fish.

Have a great weekend,

Wild garlic leaves

I heard about these and couldn’t resist. Because they are wild they can’t be certified organic but they come from woodland on Denis Healy’s organic farm. These garlic leaves are also known as ramsons or bear’s garlic (kids got a real kick out this one) and they grow in deciduous woods so if you like today’s lot foraging for more would be easy but make sure you don’t pick lily of the valley instead – the leaves look very similar but are poisonous!!!

Flavourwise, think delicate garlic so you can  be generous. Raw they can go into salads and omelette while pan-fried they make a great sidedish.Tossed on the pan with chorizo they really come to life…

Wild garlic pesto

They make great pesto where they take the place of both the basil and the garlic although if you like yours very punchy you can throw in a clove or two aswell. I didn’t and the result was a bit hit. Before I put the pasta on we picked at it with some crackers and bread and it proved just a bit too moreish – we nearly didn’t make it to dinner! Luckily, the recipe below makes enough for at least two dinners for four (last night’s leftovers were topped up with oil in a jar) plus lots of dips.

Pesto with wild garlic leaves

You’ll need:

90gr garlic leaves

250 ml extra virgin olive oil

50gr pinenuts

50gr Parmesan cheese

50gr Pecorino cheese – if you can’t get this don’t panic, just use more Parmesan.

Maldon salt

Remove the thicker stems from the garlic leaves then wash and dry them (salad spinner does a great job)  Roughly chop the leaves then add the pinenuts, a generous amount of Maldon and the oil. Blast with your handblender til the leaves are broken down. With a spoon mix in the cheeses. Taste and add more salt or oil if you think it needs it. That’s it – another 10 minutes for the pasta and dinners ready. Yay!!


Today I have the last of the lovely leeks we’ve been eating over the past few months from Philip Draper’s farm in Birr Co. Offaly. This week’s  beetroot, carrots and spuds also hail from there too. I love leeks. Slow cooked (in butter of course!) so they almost melt in your mouth, a caramelized leek has to be one of life’s great pleasures. It cries out for eggs and cheese (ham is pretty amazing too). I wanted to make an eggy tart that was much more about the filling than the egg, with way more filling than you get in say, a typical quiche or omelette. The egg is really more to hold the whole thing together than the main feature. Pastry just seemed a step too far for a week night so I made a frittata  instead. Way faster and healthier to boot. Yay! A frittata, in case you don’t know, is an omelette but easier. You don’t have to flip it you just cook the top part under the grill. The good part about this is that you can melt cheese on top and needless to say, that was a temptation just too hard to resist for me. Some rounds of goat’s cheese added a lovely bite which really offset the juicy sweetness of the egg and leeks. I also added some crème fraiche to the eggs which made things really lush. Some slow roasted beets in a mustardy dressing tossed with a handful of walnuts plus some crusty bread completely the meal.

It’s not a difficult meal at all to put together but slow cooking does mean…um… slow cooking so it’ll take a while. Patience is a key ingredient but the one that adds all the sweetness to both the leeks and beets. Get the beetroot going a couple of hours before you plan to eat. I always boil them up whole for up to an hour (for big bulbs) before they go in the oven. This you can do way ahead of time even a day or two before. I boil them whole and unpeeled and after they’ve cooled down a bit I peel then cut them into quarters or eighths depending on the size. Toss them in olive oil then pop into a medium oven (Gas mark 5) for a good hour and a half. Move them around every so often and after the first hour or so you can add a dash of balsamic vinegar which will spike the sweetness beautifully. They’re done when slightly wrinkled on the outside and completely tender with a little chewiness. I let them cool a bit then toss with a handful of broken walnuts and dress in the following:

A mustardy dressing for  roast beetroot (enough for about 600gr roast beetroot)

You’ll need:

2 tablespoons walnut oil

2 tablespoons mild olive oil

1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar (or sherry if you prefer)

1 teaspoon whole grain mustard

1 teaspoon honey

A pinch of crushed Maldon salt

The caramelized leek and goat’s cheese frittata (enough for 3- 4)

The frittata takes about 40 minutes but most of that is letting the leeks and butter do their thing over a slow heat on the pan. I’m planning on making this for brunch tomorrow and I reckon I’ll have plenty of time to read the papers while I “cook”. It sounds long but really you’re just waiting around keeping an eye on things hopefully drinking lattes and flicking through the style section if the kids cooperate (play quietly in a non life threatening fashion in the next room or further if I’m really lucky)

You’ll need:

700gr leeks

A very generous amount of butter for frying

Olive oil

3 large eggs

3 tablespoons crème fraiche

Salt and pepper

150gr soft goat’s log cut into 3 rounds

Trim the green part of the leeks and slice them into disks about 1 cm wide. Heat some butter along with a generous dash of olive oil and start to sauté over a lowish heat. They’ll take about 30 minutes to get the way you want them – supersoft and starting to caramelize. Keep an eye on things, turning them from time to time. You might even need to add more butter if things start to stick. When they’re ready, take off the heat and set aside.

Beat the eggs with the crème fraiche. Stir in the leeks then season with salt and lots of freshly ground pepper. Heat some olive oil in a small pan. Pour in the egg mixture and cook the frittata on one side over a lowish medium heat – you want the base to cook but not burn while the eggs get to a semiset stage. The best way to acheive this is in a good nonstick pan over a lowish heat. When you’re ready, take the pan off the heat and turn on your grill. Top the eggs with the rounds of goat’s cheese and grill until golden. Allow to sit for a minute or two before serving warm or at room temperature. Yummmmmmmmmy!!!