There is always room to discover foods from around the world

10,000 Gardens in Africa
10,000 Gardens in Africa

Slow Food is an international organisation that celebrates “good, clean and fair” food. It has nothing to do with slow cooking in a casserole but more about an emphasis on slow growing without the use of pesticides, slow growth of animals without excessive growth hormones - back to the way our grandparents produced food.

Within the charitable movement is an initiative called “10,000 Gardens in Africa” and last Sunday I organised a lunch in the Europa Hotel in Belfast to support it. This scheme sets up gardens in townships, in schools, communities and hospitals where food is grown.

Shane Holland, CEO of Slow Food UK, attended the event and talked about how these gardens provided vital sustenance for whole communities during the Ebola crisis when aid wasn’t getting through. Today they continue to be a crucial source of nutrition.

Slow Food started in Italy in 1986, by Carlo Petrini, as a reaction to a McDonalds opening up on the Spanish Steps in Rome. It seemed fitting to showcase food from here and Italy on the menu. I’m passionate about using local produce and supporting growers and producers from here, but I think there has to be room to discover foods from around the world. It’s what makes cooking so exciting.

Bianca And Mora in London import products from the Emilia – Romagna region in the north of Italy and part sponsored the lunch, alongside Hastings Hotels and Pizzolato Cantina wines in Treviso. We don’t produce balsamic vinegar, olive oil, Parmesan cheese or Prosecco in Northern Ireland but it would never stop me from using it. These fine ingredients come from small artisans and need to be supported just as much as our own. If Broighter Gold can sell in L’Epicerie in Paris we can with all conscience buy a decent olive oil from a single farm that has been pressed with the same ethics and attention to detail.

When I picked Shane up from the airport I drove him to visit Roy Lyttle’s farm outside Newtownards to pick up scallions, soup celery, leeks and parsley for the lunch. We got a tour of the dusty fields in Roy’s Landrover Defender (my dream car!!) and our London-based visitor was blown away by the land, vibrant greens and story of the area.

I’ve included the recipe for one of the starters served – a baked ricotta and parmesan with scallion crostini and nettle pesto. Italian cheese baked with eggs and cream from here, with Strangford scallions in a traditional bread, toasted and topped with a nettle pesto. Young nettle leaves need to be blanched for a minute in boiling water to take away the sting. They have a rich, herbal flavour and are full of nutrition. Soft Italian cheese, zingy greens from here, traditional crunchy bread – a fusion to be celebrated!

To find out more about Slow Food go to www.slowfood.org.uk for information.