Showing posts with label farmers markets. Show all posts
Showing posts with label farmers markets. Show all posts

Friday, August 22, 2014

Smoked Salmon Chowder

by Sheila Connolly

I love to talk about Irish food. And I happen to be in Ireland at the moment, making the most of local food.

Smoked Salmon Chowder

Irish food keeps evolving, and quickly. I first visited Ireland in 1998, with my husband and daughter. With just my daughter in 1999. In 2001, with a friend I’d met online because we both had ancestors who lived in a tiny townland in County Carlow. There was a pause of a few years, and then I started going back in 2011, and 2012, and twice in 2013, and now again in 2014. The trips began long before I even thought of writing, but once I started writing, I knew I had to write about Ireland, and in particular, County Cork, where my grandfather was born.

Looking back on those first few trips, I have trouble remembering any noteworthy meals, either in Dublin or out in the country (unless you count the French fry sandwich in Carlow). It was almost as though the Irish were trying to live up to their own reputation for lousy food: watery potatoes, mushy carrots, soggy cabbage and grey meat. I ate my share of it, because there weren’t a lot of choices.

But things started changing. In an Irish paper just this month, I read that West Cork is now “a byword for good food.” The writer went on to say, “anyone who doubts that West Cork is now driving the food revolution begun in Ballymaloe [site of the Ballymaloe Cookery School, also in Cork] should visit the farmers’ market in Skibbereen any Saturday morning.”

I wrote about that famers’ market after I visited last November. Believe me, this year I’ll be there, shopping bag in hand.

This year I’m going back to Ireland (unexpectedly) because the pub that I write about—that used to be called Connolly’s—is reopening this month, after it went dark several years ago, and I want to be there. Having decided that I was going, I started making a list of places I wanted to visit or revisit, and the farmers’ market was near the top of that list (right after Connolly’s and the Drombeg Stone Circle). I’m actually staying in Skibbereen this time, and can walk to the farmers’ market. And to the amazing grocery store, where last year I bought wild game. Funny—sounds like I’m flying a couple of thousand miles just to eat, doesn’t it?

But it’s not happening only in the big town (Skibbereen’s population is about 2,700), but in the smaller villages as well. There’s Leap, which now has a bistro (that opened last year) with good food. There’s tiny Union Hall (2006 population, 192, although there are plenty of summer holiday visitors), which has its own fishing operation and a fishmonger with fresh fish that make me want to weep; and a place down the road that makes its own smoked salmon; and a new distillery that makes Irish whiskey.

Yes, West Cork has discovered food--fresh, local, and outstanding. They even have a food festival (in September, alas, so I will miss it). So rather than find a cute B&B (since I’m traveling without family and friends this time), I’ve rented a small one-bedroom place so I could have a kitchen and take advantage of some of this fabulous fresh food.

And lest you think that this town has gone food-mad merely as a tourist gimmick, as a central town in the region Skibbereen has been holding weekly markets for well over a century—year round. Live chickens and ducks. Apple trees. “Tat” dealers (sort of like a flea market table). And one man who carves magic wands from bog oak. Yes, I have one.

This recipe is a nod to the Union Hall Smoked Fish Company that I hope to have explored fully by the time you read this. (Wonder how much I can fit into my carry-on?) The recipe is derived from one I found in Margaret Johnson’s The New Irish Table, into which I inserted more than a dozen sticky notes the first time I read it. Yum!

Smoked Salmon Chowder

3 Tblsp unsalted butter
1 small onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
4 oz. white mushrooms, chopped
2 Tblsp flat-leaf parsley, chopped
4 oz. smoked salmon, chopped
Ground white pepper to taste
1/4 cup flour
2 cups fish stock or bottled clam juice
1/2 cup cream or half-and-half
Sour cream and a few fresh dill sprigs for garnish

In a medium saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the chopped onion, garlic, mushrooms and parsley. Cook for 2-3 minutes until tender. Add the salmon and the pepper and sauté for another two minutes, until the salmon is heated through.

Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the flour. Return to the burner  and cook over low heat, stirring (this “cooks” the flour). Gradually add the fish stock or clam juice, stirring continuously until the flour is incorporated. Return to medium heat and bring to a boil, then quickly reduce the heat to a simmer and cook for 2-3 minutes, until the mixture thickens. Stir in the cream.

Ladle the soup into bowls. Add a spoonful of sour cream or crème fraiche and top with a dill sprig.

It's a fairly quick recipe (once you get done chopping everything!), and I have a suspicion that this soup might be good cold as well.


And since I'm talking about Ireland, here's a sneak peek at the cover for the next County Cork Mystery, An Early Wake (coming February 2015)

Friday, December 7, 2012

Irish Food, Part One

by Sheila Connolly

Irish food has always had a lousy reputation.  Most "traditional" recipes appear to be some combination of potatoes, cabbage and carrots, with butter added.  Goodness knows I've eaten my share of watery stews and overcooked roasts there. 

But in the last decade, Ireland has made a quantum leap forward and has jumped into the foodie world with both feet.  Restaurants emphasize fresh local products (of course, when your country is less than two hundred miles across, it's hard for food not to be local). And the markets…oh, the markets.

My husband and I just spent two weeks in a very well-equipped cottage in County Cork.  The cottage is no more than ten years old, although it sits on the site of an old farmer's cottage (which belonged to a branch of the Connolly family, although probably not my branch, even though it's no more than a mile from my people…long story), and comes with a full kitchen, including microwave and dishwasher.  And views.  Endless views of rolling hills.  It was hard to get any cooking done while watching the rain showers sweep across the fields, trailing rainbows; or of an evening, watching the neighbors' lights twinkle on, a mile or more away.

The view from my breakfast table

But I digress.  I wanted a real kitchen because I wanted to cook. And cook I did.  We stopped at the local quick-mart type place at the only gas station in Leap, a tiny village on the south coast, nearest the cottage.  They were well-stocked with almost everything you could need (including socks and hot water bottles (yes, they still exist)).  The bread was freshly made and extraordinary, but you had to remember to get there early in the day if you wanted any.

Once settled in, we made a foray to the local supermarket in Skibbereen (pop. 2,000), of which I am in awe.  It is so much better than my local market. In every category.  I was blown away each time we went in, which was as often as possible. 


Friendly fishmonger with skate
But that was just the commercial side.  We also visited Union Hall, an even tinier town across the harbor, and home to the local fishing fleet.  They have a fish market, that locals tell us has a block-long line in the summer—not surprising since you can see the boats from the window.  In November we were the only patrons, and the fishmonger was chatty (as were most of the Irish people we met), and didn't mind my asking stupid questions about what I was looking at, most of which I had never seen in my life.  Whole monkfish (they have weird teeth).  Whole flounder, or maybe it was plaice, covered with perfectly round orange spots.  Local prawns.  And skate.  I had never seen a whole skate, or eaten or cooked one. I quickly remedied that. It's very mild and surprisingly pleasant.

And the farmers market in Skibbereen…I thought I'd died and gone to heaven.  Goes on year round.  Has everything—fish, cheese, bread, cakes, meat, live chickens and quail, late apples, the largest cabbage I have ever met, and so much more.  I came back to my kitchen with venison sausage, having passed on the wild boar (with the fur on!), pheasant and wood pigeon.  I also bought an 1880 silver plated christening cup because it was pretty (there were sellers of what they themselves called "tat" there in addition to food).

My word, so far I have gone on about mainly the raw materials, with nary a recipe in sight.  Stay tuned:  I found an amazing pumpkin soup, and a pear-almond cake that had me asking the young cook for tips.  And posset.  I must try my hand at posset.

The first book in Sheila Connolly's County Cork Mysteries, Buried in a Bog, will debut in February 2013.  She may have to include recipes! Or at least go back and taste a few more.


Friday, August 31, 2012

Eggplant Pizza

by Sheila Connolly

I went to the Plymouth Farmers' Market (now being held weekly at Plimoth Plantation) this week, after a gap of several weeks (life kept getting in the way), and after coming home I was sorely tempted simply to show you lots of pretty pictures of fresh local vegetables and call it a day.  But I restrained myself.  So you'll get half pretty pictures and a recipe too.

I have also decided that, perversely, I like vegetables that are not whatever their standard color is.  Which is why I have red and yellow carrots, and purple and green tomatoes.  And a range of eggplant from near black to stripey, and some peppers that are yellow and orange striped.  Somehow I forgot to buy the purple long beans, but there will be other trips.

Now, if you go to all the trouble to go to a farmers' market and buy fresh local produce, you have a certain moral obligation to use said produce while it is still fresh.  I'll admit I have a tendency to buy a lot of pretty things that I have no idea what to do with, and often eggplant falls in that category.  I did not grow up eating eggplant.  I have been only intermittently successful cooking eggplant as an adult.  This time around I bought three kinds of eggplant.  Oh dear.

But I am resourceful!  I turned to (love that site!) and went hunting for eggplant recipes, and then I thought, I've got those gorgeous heirloom tomatoes that I'd better use before they turn to mush, so the search became "eggplant+tomato", and I found not one but two recipes for Eggplant and Tomato Pizza.  Except neither one was exactly what I wanted, so I made a mash-up:  I took the best bits of each and came up with something else.  And it worked!  So here's my locavore, vegetarian, eggplant pizza recipe.

Eggplant Pizza

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.

1 pizza crust.  Okay, purists, you can make your own if you want, but I bought a package of ready-made dough from our market.  It was whole-wheat (they were out of the regular kind), but that turned out to be a plus, because the whole wheat added a slightly sweet, nutty flavor that went well with the rest of the ingredients.


2-3 Japanese eggplant (the long skinny kind)

1 medium onion, thinly sliced

Chopped tomatoes, draining

1 cup tomatoes, sliced (I used a single large gorgeous heirloom one)

2 garlic cloves, minced or crushed

Olive oil

Salt and pepper


1–1½ cups coarsely shredded cheese (I used a mix of fontina and mozzarella, with a sprinkling of Parmesan over the top to brown)

Since you are using fresh, slender eggplants, you don’t have to go through the salting/draining thing.  Slice your eggplants about half an inch thick.  Pour some olive oil (enough to coat the bottom lightly) into a pan and sauté the onions briefly, then the eggplant slices.  Reduce the heat and continue cooking until the vegetables are soft and slightly browned. Add a bit of salt and pepper. 

While the eggplant mix is cooking, slice your tomato and seed it.  Add your garlic, mix well, then set in a colander to drain (if you don't, your pizza will be soggy).

Lightly coat a baking sheet with olive oil.  Stretch out your dough (mine fights back).  It will be irregular, but who's worried?    Spread the eggplant-onion recipe in an even layer (leaving an inch or so at the edges), then strew the tomatoes over that.  Top with an even layer of cheese.

Assembling your pizza
Bake for about 15 minutes, until the crust is golden brown and crisp.  Slice and enjoy quickly!


And the first apples of the season have arrived!

Friday, August 3, 2012

Tomato Cream Sauce

by Sheila Connolly

This past week I wended my way through some local farmers markets in the western part of Massachusetts, and confirmed the fact that I love pretty colors.  I have a tendency to buy vegetables that aren't the color they're supposed to be (as you will see below).  A couple of years ago this led to an orgy of eggplants, where I tried everything from pure white through lavender to the standard purple, with a few stripes throw in the middle. (For the record, when I was a child I dyed applesauce blue and ate it.) This year I was playing with peppers and carrots and tomatoes.

The heirloom tomatoes were too pretty to pass up, but then I was faced with doing something with them while they were fresh.  So I turned to one of my family's favorite tomato sauce recipes.

I want to say it's a simple sauce, but not quite.  It is simple in flavor and cooking.  But to be honest, it does require a bit of chopping up front, and then puréeing at the end.  You have choices:  one, you can chop up your tomatoes, cook, then run through a food mill; or two, you can peel your tomatoes, cook, and stick the sauce into a food processor and whirl away.  It's up to you, depending on where you want to put your effort.

In terms of the actual cooking, that is simple too—but not short.  But you can use that in your favor.  Assemble the ingredients in a pan, set the heat as low as possible, then walk away for an hour, stirring as the spirit moves you.  Come back and mill/puree, etc. at the end.

Anyway, it's a flavorful way to highlight your tomatoes, and it's a nice change from a traditional tomato sauce for pasta or, in this case, gnocchi, with a lovely color and texture.

Tomato Cream Sauce
½ stick salted butter
3 Tblsp finely chopped yellow onion
3 Tblsp finely chopped carrot
2 ½ cups tomatoes, chopped (you can use canned or fresh; if you use fresh, you may need to add a little extra liquid, depending on how juicy the tomatoes are)
1 tsp salt
¼ tsp sugar
½ cup heavy cream

Put everything except the cream into a saucepan and cook at a bare simmer for an hour, uncovered.  Stir with a wooden spoon occasionally.

 Purée the contents of the pan through a food mill (or if the tomatoes are skinless, in a food processor or blender).  Return the mixture to the saucepan and bring to a simmer, stirring.  Add the heavy cream and heat through.  Taste and correct for salt.  Serve immediately, over hot pasta or gnocchi.

BTW, packaged gnocchi are great to keep on hand--they cook in no time at all, and the go well with almost any sauce.