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Long before I was familiar with  “ramps” or “ramsons” {or wild leek, spring garlic, and wild onion for that matter} I was visiting the honeybees in the wood with my father-in-law.  I wandered off to admire the babbling brook when I stepped on a plant and suddenly the scent of woodsy garlic hit the air with a vengeance.

I came back and explained what happened to Michael and he enlightened me by saying that the plant was ‘wild spring garlic’ and to him it was a bit of a nuisance. Especially if it grew near the bee hives.  {garlic honey anyone? Actually, that kinda sounds good!}

I went home that afternoon and secretly marveled over the idea of ‘wild spring garlic’.  The following weekend, the little farmer and I packed up a basket and the garden shovel and we went down to collect some of this chive-y plant to use in a soda bread recipe.

Nowadays, Geoffrey and I have an annual outing for ramsons. We have found their haven in the wood, where the flowering onion grows madly and looks like a blanket of snow amidst the ivy entangled trees.

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We’ve done many things with these gems, wild garlic pesto is easy and lovely, wild garlic infused oil works perfectly, I’ve pickled the bulbs and used them for double dirty martinis. Today, I decided to throw them into our favourite go-to pasta. I usually use regular garlic and lemon zest, but switched it up with the ramsons and grapefruit zest. Wild garlic + grapefruit should really get a room together because they absolutely sing. Serve this simple pasta with rhubarb cordial like we did {or a lovely chilled rosé would be divine}

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Irish Ramson + Kale + Grapefruit Linguine

Serves 4

200g Linguine {other any pasta, even asian rice noodles would be nice}
1 chicken or veg stock cube
2-3 tbsp of olive oil
2-3 large ramson bulbs {or 4-5 small}
Handful of ramson flowers {rinsed thoroughly}
200g of blanched kale
1 tbsp grapefruit zest (or lemon zest)
100g grated parmigiano-reggiano (or more to taste)

1. Boil water then add stock cube and linguine.
2. While linguine is cooking, sauté ramson bulbs in olive oil over low heat for 5
minutes until golden.
3. Add kale and cook for another 5 minutes, tossing together gently.
4. Stir in grapefruit zest and 1/2 of the parmesan.
5. Strain linguine, reserving 1/2 cup of stock liquid.
6. Add linguine and reserved liquid to sauté pan, stir through.
7. Serve with remaining parmigiano-reggiano and dress with ramson flowers.

I have a few bits of bacchanalia to share as well. First of all, Donal Skehan has just launched a magazine! Aptly titled FEAST, it is a dinner journal filled with delicious, beautifully photographed Irish food stories. I have recently been contributing recipes + photographs to the positively divine My Little Box, part of My Little Paris. For the moment, the boxes which are similar to the Birch Box, but also filled with a lifestyle +food magazine are only available in France and Belgium, but will soon be expanding to other parts of the world.  I recently discovered Mimi Thorsson’s magnificent Manger blog and can’t get enough of her gorgeously documented life of convivial food and family in France. Beth of  Local Milk blog came to visit Ireland last week and didn’t want to go home. She is a contestant on the new Masterchef series stateside, tune in! Another American girl/soon-to-be-an-Irish-farmer’s-wife shares her recipe for Kombucha. On a non-food related note, I have finally found a store in Ireland that rivals my lingerie lady at Bloomies. This is big news, I tell you.  Dublin Lingerie Co. is an online shop that sells pretty + quality underpinnings {that fit!}.

Slan Abhaile,

Imen

Photos and styling by Imen McDonnell 2013

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It’s official. I’ve lost the plot.  Or, as one might say in Ireland: I’ve gone mad as a brush, a bit doolally, cracked as a cricket, bonkers, a bit touched…. and, in all likelihood--away with the fairies.

You see, the cake pictured above is not your average-ordinary cake. It is NOT a gorgeous vanilla sponge slathered with tangy Meyer lemon icing, nor is it a secret red velvet covered in velvety cream cheese frosting. No, no, no. It is a cake made out of four layers of homemade bread, filled with savoury, creamy goodness and spackled with chilled mayonnaise. Oh, and by savoury, creamy goodness, I mean stick to the ribs, wholesome, rich, Irish-style sandwich fillings. {Ahem, mad as a bag of cats}

I’ve had a notion for quite some time that I needed to share a post about the beauty of Irish Sandwichery with you. I suppose I am taking a bit of liberty with the term Irish Sandwichery, but I believe it serves it well. The art of the Irish sandwich or “roll” is a craft to be reckoned with.

However, it did take me a bit of time to adjust to sandwiches in Ireland. I say this because sandwiches were kind of my ‘thang’ for a long time. I felt intimately close with sandwiches as they comforted me on days when I worked through lunch (more often than not) crunching production numbers or screening through buckets of directors.

I treasured my weekly stiletto sprints to the deli to choose my special sandwich, grab a bag of chips (crisps) and a spritzy lemonade before heading back to my office. I had a bit of a system in place, whereby I would alternate rare roast beef with cheddar on a braided roll with corned beef and Swiss on Kaiser. The odd day I would splash out for chicken salad with grapes and almonds on croissant.  If it was cold out, perhaps a gooey tuna melt and some soup too. Chicken and stuffing had not yet entered my universe.

It is possible that my sandwich affinity started when I was a small girl. I remember my mother making up platters of tuna sandwiches or fluffer-nutters for us when I was still young enough to run around topless on a hot summer sprinkler kind of day. We would eat sandwich after sandwich washed down with tumblers of Country Time lemonade. The picture of health.

So, when I saw my first sandwich board at a popular Irish café, I was stumped. Egg mayonnaise? Ham and salad? Cheese and Onion? Chicken and Stuffing? Tuna and Sweetcorn? Ploughman’s? Bacon and Boiled Egg? Not one turkey pastrami on rye. Wha? Despite the obvious carbtasticness of Chicken and Stuffing, I went for it. And, umm, never looked back.

I have tried each and every one of these traditional Irish sandwich fillings and they are all some kind of wonderful. We often have just sandwiches for evening tea on the farm. Now, these are not the only choices you will find in Ireland, but without a doubt, you will find most of these options in every deli, grocery store, filling station, pubs and casual cafes around this fair country. (*Oh, and for early morning sandwich lovers, try the famous Irish breakfast roll: sausage, rasher, egg, hash brown, puddings, onion, butter and sauce on baguette)

For this post, I really wanted to celebrate Irish sandwich fillings and was trying to think of how to go about it when I was struck by a tasty memory of eating a cake made out of sandwiches years ago. Growing up in the Midwestern part of the USA, you will find plenty of Scandinavian influence in cooking and baking. I distinctly remember a friend’s Scandi mother making these massive sandwich cakes from time to time, and online research tells me that they were likely called Smörgåstårta.

And, so it was decided: I would make a sandwich cake layered with Irish-style fillings. Serendipity!

First, using Rachel Allen’s recipe, I baked my bread layers in springform baking tins, just like you would a sweet layer cake.

Then, I made up the fillings; I chose to do three fillings, which makes it a gorgeous tower of a cake, but to be honest, a bit too much trouble to cut into. If you decide to make this, I would go with two thick layers for the ease of it. I went with tuna + sweetcorn, cheese + onion, and chicken + stuffing (with a bit of rocket). I “iced” the cake with chilled mayonnaise and adorned the top with wild garlic flowers and sorrel leaves.

And, for the big reveal…..sloppy, creamy, oozy, bready, messy, scrumptious savoury cake heaven.

Really lovely treat to bring to an afternoon lunch, garden party or pot luck. Choose your own favourite flavours and decorative toppers. You can also do this using bread rounds from the bakery or store.

Slan Abhaile

Imen x

Photos & Styling by Imen McDonnell 2012. Wild Garlic & Sorrel foraged by Geoffrey McDonnell. With thanks to the Irish Twitter squad for helping me with the mad Irish expressions.

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Perhaps the most traditional of Irish baked goods would be soda bread. Despite this obvious fact, I had never ventured down the magnificent road of soda bread-making until now. After a few {gentle} requests, I decided to get my feet wet this week with a beautiful and simple Avoca recipe…a traditional, bare-bones plain soda bread, which turned out wonderfully, and begged me to make more.

Because this bread can literally be made in minutes, I decided I would experiment by adding in a savoury ingredient or two as well as trying my mother-in-law’s favourite “spotted dog” variety. For the blog, I settled on this combination of wild garlic and flax seed, whose flavours (and health benefits) speak nicely together and are just strong enough to contend with the heavy texture of the soda bread itself.

First, we needed to go down to the wood to forage for wild garlic, which grows madly in our few acres of mossy damp soil that lies untouched on the River Shannon. This wild herb has long lush leaves similar to the Lily of the Valley, but has a distinctive garlic or chive scent. After cultivating a few handfuls of fresh stems, we made a quick trip to the local natural food store to replenish our store of flax seed in our pantry.

I’m a colossal fan of flax. It is considered a superfood and has tremendous benefits because it is loaded with omega-3’s and antioxidants. Some even say it is one of the most powerful plant foods on the planet. All I know is that it tastes kinda nutty (love a nutty) and if it can make us healthier, why not add it to an already well-appointed soda bread?

As we ambled through the woodland acreage, we spotted the wild garlic making its home next to tree roots, ferns and ivy…

We gathered the bright green leaves and brought them home for a wash and a fine chop

Then it was time to mix up all the ingredients, pat it into a round and cut a deep cross on it

(to keep the fairies out!)

 

I find it is best fresh out of the oven slathered with our farmhouse honey butter, but any butter will do…in fact, it really doesn’t need anything….just break a piece off and enjoy.

Here’s the recipe. I hope you enjoy it as much as we do.

Slan Abhaile,

Imen

Photos & Styling by Imen McDonnell. Assisted by Sonia Mulford Chaverri.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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