This is UK Coffee Week where this ancient hot beverage is celebrated and vital funds are raised for the charity Water Aid. When I was growing up coffee was instant, almost always Mellow Birds, and didn’t have a great image. Nowadays coffee couldn’t be more trendy and every other shop in towns across the province seems to be a café. Baristas slave over gleaming machines to make frothy drinks with fancy designs on top. I’m a diehard caffeine consumer – every day starts with a double espresso, or two so all the flaffing around leaves me cold. I would much prefer it if the emphasis was on buying good quality beans which have then been transformed into a drink produced by a well maintained machine.
As well as being a refreshing drink, coffee is the perfect ingredient for desserts and savoury dishes alike. One of my favourite desserts is affogato – a scoop of icecream, topped with a shot of espresso, and a toot of liqueur if you wish. It’s simple but sublime with the right raw products. A good coffee and walnut cake is an Ulster teatime classic and rightly so.
Last January I visited the northern Italian city of Treviso. It’s 20 minutes from Venice, and while it has beautiful architecture it lacks the rip off culture and eye watering prices of its near neighbour. The iconic dessert, Tiramisu was created in the La Beccherie restaurant there. Literally translated as “pick me up”, layers of boudoir sponge biscuits soaked in coffee and liqueur are interspersed with a rich mascarpone cream.
In my recipe I use a sabayon of egg yolks, lemon and sugar mixed with cream and mascarpone and chocolate. Lemon and chocolate are controversial additions but the sharpness of the citrus and spice of the chocolate works well with the sultry coffee.
Espresso Martinis are the drink of choice for hip young, and not so young, things around town. Espresso coffee, sugar syrup, coffee liqueur and vodka are shaken to a cocktail that looks like a well poured Guinness – perfect for after dinner. My other recipe takes the elements of this and makes them into a mousse with white chocolate that tops a coffee flavoured brownie.
Coffee also works well in savoury dishes. Last year in California I had carrots baked on coffee beans – the sharpness of the beans cutting through the sweet carrots. Cowboys used to add coffee to the pan they cooked bacon in to make a red eye gravy. Similarly some crushed coffee beans added to barbecue sauce add a nice smoky tone to the finished result. My other recipe takes inspiration from both these dishes to make a bacon jam. You can buy this in jars but it’s much better to make your own. Buy good bacon, cook with spices, sugar, maple syrup, coffee and vinegar to make a condiment that’s perfect with grills, eggs, vegetables or served on its own, spread on good toasted bread.