Preserving basil

We need some space in the tunnel so the basil had to come out.  There were two types of basil – the regular stuff and holy basil.  I set about preserving some of their summer flavour for the dark days ahead.

Holy Basil!

Very fragrant in a different way, holy basil smells a little like a slightly out of date body cream – weird I know but finding it really hard to describe!  Luckily it doesn’t taste like gone off cosmetics and is actually delicious thrown into a curry (especially coconut based) at the very end.  It’s no more difficult to grow than basil but does go to seed quite a bit sooner.  And it also goes very well with tomatoes.

Basil is not one of those herbs you dry – it retains no flavour this way (lack of oils).  I usually freeze basil pesto without the cheese and it works so thought why not just whizz up the basil with some oil and freeze?  It’s not space consuming and this method means you have little nuggets of intense basil oil to add to a dish.

For the regular basil blitz 2 handfuls of basil with 100ml olive oil and transfer to ice-cube trays.  For holy basil use rapeseed oil instead (not too mediterranean incase it’s for curry).

I put these in the freezer for a few hours, then emptied them out to store in a freezer bag and popped them back in the freezer for later use.

If anyone has a more eloquent description for the flavour of holy basil please share!!


Preserving tomatillos & tomatoes

This year I’ve grown tomatillos in the tunnel and have sent some up to Cafe Azteca in Dublin. Hugo from Cafe Azteca visited us here with his family last January and gave a great Mexican Cookery Class.  He then sent on tomatillo and jalepeno seeds.  We had grown tomatillos before but really hadn’t much idea what to do with them.  I tried out a few recipes this weekend and can report good results.  Good news for the future of tomatillos here because the head gardener wasn’t too impressed with all the space they took up!

tomatillo june 2011

A tomatillo is sort of a green tomato, except it has a more interesting growth process and quite a different flavour. The plants flower and then drop down a hollow, green ‘lantern’, into which the fruit then grows.  The taste is sour/sweet.

I first tried a couple of cooked salsa recipes.  This one turned out like a ketchup so I’m calling it:

Tomatillo Ketchup – Mexican-style

makes 8 jars

3kg tomatillos, roughly chopped

3 white onions, roughly chopped

8 cloves garlic, peeled & chopped

6 fresh jalapenos, chopped

2 dried chillis – e.g. guajillo – lightly toasted over gas flame to soften & roughly chopped

Place all these ingredients in a large saucepan.  Heat and bring to the boil – reduce the heat and simmer for 20-30 minutes until the onion is soft.  Now add:

1 bunch fresh coriander

225g sugar

Heat to dissolve the sugar fully.  Blitz with a hand blender to a fairly smooth puree. Bring back to the boil and store in sterilised jars or bottles.  Place sterilised lids on immediately.  Store in a cool, dark press.

It’s lovely and would be a great, flavoursome ketchup replacer, but I wasn’t really going for a ketchup.  I flaked and added sugar towards the end of cooking because I thought it was going to be too sour.  Then it turned into ketchup.  So I started again and came up with a yummy, hotter salsa.

Tomatillo Ancho Salsa

This recipe is exactly as above but instead of 2 dried chillis add 8 dried ancho chillis (lightly roasted over gas flame and roughly chopped).  DO NOT ADD SUGAR. Preserve in the same way.  This salsa would be lovely drizzled over quesedillas, tacos, burritos….and also good for dipping good quality sausages into as I found out yesterday morning.

Hugo had explained that I could use tomatillos in place of tomatoes for ‘pico de gallo’ – the everyday fresh tomato salsa.  I had a look through Thomasina Miers ‘Mexican Food made Simple’ and she has a great recipe for a roast chilli tomatillo salsa.  The only changes I made was to leave out the lime juice ( I think the tomatillos lend plenty of sour on their own) and stick to jalapenos (which I have in the tunnel) instead of serranos.  This was the tomatillo triumph of the day!

Classic Roast Salsa Verde

500g tomatillos

2 cloves garlic

1 large jalapeno chilli

1 large tbsp chopped coriander

1/2 white onion, finely chopped

1 pinch sea salt

First you roast the tomatillo, jalapeno and unpeeled garlic cloves in a dry frying pan. You do this until the tomatillos are blistering and become soft (10-15 minutes).  Take the jalapenos and garlic out of the pan earlier (after 5-10 minutes).  Once they are done, roughly chop the tomatillos, take the stalk off the jalapeno and peel the garlic cloves.  Add these ingredients to a blender and hit blitz a few times to give you a rough puree.  Pour into a bowl and stir in the finely chopped onion, coriander and salt.  Taste – is it good?  Serve with tortilla chips.  Delish!

That is the salsa at the front of the picture, with classic pico de gallo next to it.

Pico de Gallo (not roasted)

3 ripe tomatoes, diced

2 cloves garlic, finely chopped

1 large jalapeno chilli, deseeded and chopped

1 large tbsp chopped coriander

1/2 white onion, finely diced

juice of 1/2 lime

1 pinch sea salt

For pico de gallo just mix all the ingredients together and enjoy with chips.

I’m reading a book called ‘A Year in the Village of Eternity’ by Tracey Lawson.  It details the authors food year spent in Campodimele, Italy where people live particularly long, healthy lives.  There are lots of recipes included and I wanted to try preserving tomatoes as described in the book.   We don’t have tons of tomatoes but I gathered up the surplus from a few people and made 5 jars thick tomato sauce.

Preserved Tomato Sauce

6kg fresh, ripe tomatoes – halved or quartered

6 pinches sea salt

Place the tomatoes and salt in a wide saucepan and heat.  Simmer for about 1 hour until you have quite a thick tomato sauce.  Stir often to prevent sticking at the base. Meanwhile sterilise jars and lids.  Place a basil leave in each jar.  Use a funnel to transfer the hot sauce to the hot jars. Seal immediately with the lid and wrap the jars in newspaper and a blanket (a very important step apparently).  This would be the method my mother uses also but she usually freezes the resulting puree to use later in the year. It will be a bit of a treat to open summer for a pasta sauce some dark winters evening.

Blackberry Fool & Garden Sculptures

It’s blackberry season!  And milking season here at the farm.  The head gardener has started milking the Jersey cow and brought me some homemade yoghurt today.  It’s rich, creamy and very mild – the extra fat toning down the sourness of a natural yoghurt.  I will, at some point, post up ‘how to make yoghurt’ as I’ve been making a lot of goats milk yoghurt lately (for the supper club).  It hardly needs a post really – heat the 1 pint milk to 42 C or hand temperature warm and stir in a few teaspoons of live natural yoghurt.  Leave in a warm place, covered, for 12-18 hours (e.g. hot press, on range/stove overnight).  And you have yoghurt.

On holidays in Edinburgh once, we came across a gorgeous little restaurant late after tramping around looking for the perfect place to eat.  That time the tramping paid off. The food was really simple and seasonal – I had a courgette & lemon pasta dish, he had great steak – and I just loved the dessert.  Not at all fancy but it tasted great.  A very simple rhubarb fool – just stewed rhubarb and yoghurt/cream, maybe a biscuit – I can’t remember.  It’s a nice thing to do with fruit in season.

This fool is something to make with fresh, fresh blackberries and now is the time!  I picked blackberries this evening – mostly for the freezer and some for this quick dessert/snack.

For 2 people take:

1 1/2 cups fresh blackberries and blend with 2 dessertspoons runny honey.  Take 1/2 cup of this mixture out into a separate bowl.  Now add 1 1/2 cups of thick natural yoghurt (e.g. greek if you don’t have a jersey cow to hand!) and blitz quickly to combine. Taste – does it need more honey?

To assemble spoon some extra natural yoghurt into a glass (or wine glass).  Carefully spoon some blackberry yoghurt mix over to create another layer before finally spooning a layer of reserved dark blackberry puree on top.  Enjoy on its own or with a sprinkle of crushed ginger biscuits.

What do you think of our new additions to the garden?  Designed and created by local artist Noel Molloy, who is also a gifted performance artist.

Junior Chef Camp 2011

I’ve been meaning to share some of the experiences from this years Summer Cooking Camps.  Every summer, Easter, mid-term I run cookery camps for children between 6 and 14 years of age.  They come to my kitchen for 2.5  – 3 hours every day for a week, where they have hands-on cookery lessons, garden sessions and dining experiences!  It all started in summer 2009 with a one week course.  This summer I had 3 consecutive weeks of cookery camps.  The interest in teaching our children to cook is growing!

Some of the wonderful things about teaching children to cook is their enthusiasm, their willingness to get their hands, arms, face, clothes…… in there, their creativity (adding pictures below) and the happy look on their faces when the end product is edible! Sometimes they eat a bit there and then, but mostly they just want to bring the result to their parents/family to show what they’ve done and sample it together.

A typical day at cooking camp would be:

  • Feed the hens and check for eggs
  • Gather some veggies and herbs for cooking
  • Hands-on session
  • Healthy Snack
  • Finish cooking/baking
  • Identifying herbs session
  • Home
So if you were at cooking camp this summer here are some of your photos.  Well done!

Supper Club: Vegetarian Special

Odhran (supper club chef friend and co-cook & -founder) and I have had a few requests to run a vegetarian supper club evening.  So the date has been set for Sunday 4th September and we’re setting out the rough menu here.  A 7-course vegetarian menu for all you veggie lovers. Rather than feeling restricted, we’ve really had to struggle over what makes it to the menu. See, we’ve chosen early September for a reason – the selection of produce is pretty amazing and everything is going to taste just as it should.

We’ve also christened our dining experience here – now called ‘The Hidden Leek Supper Club’.  In the next couple of weeks The Hidden Leek will be out on it’s own blog/site….

If you’d like to experience careful, imaginative cooking of purely local and seasonal ingredients, in an intimate dining room with fellow happy eaters then get in touch!  

The Hidden Leek Supper Club

 Menu 4th September 2011 @ 5.30pm


Complimentary Aperetif



Tomato bisque, stuffed cherry tomatoes, basil 

Dillisk crepes, sea vegetable mousse, puy lentil dressing 

Beetroot tasting plate

Damson sorbet, pink pepper sherbert 

Seasonal ‘stew’ stuffed cabbage, polenta chips 

Goats milk yoghurt pannacotta, toffee apple, balsamic & apple syrup 

Chocolate torte & sorbet, honeycomb, coffee sauce, elderberry fritters

Vegetarian cheese plate 


To Book Call: 0879439446 or 0857747319

or email

Roast Beetroot

And a recipe for you…….recently I was cooking dinner for a family gathering.  I wanted to cook everything together in the oven to keep it simple.  This beetroot turned out just lovely – a low temperature oven about 16oC.

Take a good, large piece of tin foil and spread it out flat.  Pile some fresh marjoram in the middle and sprinkle with sea salt and black pepper.  Leave 1 inch of stalk at the top of the beetroot (medium size – 1 per person).  Scrub the beets carefully without removing the root or stalk.  Place the beets on top of the herb.  Wrap the tin foil up well, trying your best to seal the package fully.  Place the package on a tray and pop into the oven for 2 hours.  20-30 minutes before serving open up the package and allow to cook open in the oven.  I serve these whole, without even peeling the beets – the eaters can work it out for themselves.  The earthy flavour and taste is just so……beetroot!


Even Better Courgette & Almond Soup

A year ago I posted a recipe for Courgette & Almond Soup that’s had quite a few hits. It was delicious…..however, I’ve improved the recipe.  I’ve made this a few times recently with small, young courgettes from both the tunnel and outside.  It’s a richer affair and would be a perfect starter  in an elegant, shallow bowl served at a summer dinner party.  It could in fact be called courgette, white onion & almond soup since the flavour of new season onions makes a huge difference to this recipe.  I’m talking about onions that haven’t developed a crispy russet skin in storage, but still have a soft cover and taste really sweet after sweating in butter.  I’ve seen some for sale in bunches in the local veg shop.  The amazing thing about this creamy soup is that it can be made completely vegan if you substitute a vegan cooking margarine or olive oil for the butter. Try to get small courgettes that haven’t travelled too far and only make this soup in summer – it really shows off the youth and freshness of the courgette at this time of year.

Even Better Courgette & Almond Soup 

For 4

2 tbsp butter

2 medium white onions

2 cloves garlic

8 small courgettes

4 tbsp ground almonds

800ml – 1 L very light vegetable or chicken stock

salt & pepper

Heat the butter in a saucepan to melt.  Chop the onions roughly and add them to the butter.  Sprinkle with sea salt, cover with a lid and leave to sweat over a low heat for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.  When the onions are lovely and soft add the garlic – finely chopped and the courgettes – chopped into even pieces.  Cook for 5 minutes with the lid off.  Sprinkle with a little more sea salt and add the light stock – enough to cover the vegetables.  Bring to the boil and simmer until the courgettes are just tender – 10 minutes or so.  Be careful not to overcook so that none of the vibrant green colour is lost.  At this stage stir in the ground almonds and remove the pot from the heat.  Blitz the soup to a puree – taste and season with salt and pepper.  If it’s too thick add a little more stock.  If it doesn’t seem creamy enough, try adding a little more ground almonds. Heat gently to serve.

My Junior Chefs

Today starts 3 weeks of Junior Chef: Summer Cooking Camps.  I have two groups every day – younger in the morning (7-10), older in the afternoon (11-14).  They are brilliant and really get into my way of cooking – i.e. going to forage in the garden before coming to the kitchen.

Here’s they’re gorgeous mini-quiches from today using our free-range eggs, courgettes, chive flowers, nasturtium flowers, carrot, onion, garlic and cheese!  Adventurous cooks!

Junior Chef Mini-Quiches