Just honest to goodness produce that speaks for itself is always best

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Driving home from Enniskillen last week I was struck by the number of horseboxes, stands, and lorries selling local vegetables at various stages along the way.

It was a joy to see queues lining up to buy turnip, muck encrusted carrots, regal green leeks and an array of potatoes.

No glossy signs, no slick marketing, just honest to goodness produce that speaks for itself. The smattering of produce sellers marked my route the whole way home to Portstewart.

From time to time you hear people saying “oh I don’t like all the dirt” when it comes to local vegetables.

But where do we think they come from – perhaps delivered from a pristine carriage via the local gooseberry bush? Our kitchens are bigger than they ever were but the cooking that occurs in them has diminished beyond belief. When I lived in Manchester I had a flat at the top of an old Victorian house – the landlady’s kitchen, as was the norm with these buildings, was the size of a cupboard but she produced the most amazing meals from it. In the past I’ve had an eight ring burner and a triple oven that I only used a third of. All anyone needs is four rings, something to chop on and a water to wash the carrots in. A few years ago I was catering in someone’s to die for kitchen. You know the kind – slick, built in gadgets, that makes you want to go home and burn your own house never mind the kitchen. The hostess offered me coffee but instead of using the built in coffee machine she reached into a cupboard and pulled out a Tesco value kettle and made me a cup of Nescafe. Apparently she didn’t want to use the good one. For me the ideal kitchen isn’t one of those featured in House and Garden magazine, but one that is used for cooking food to serve to anyone who happens to come into your home. And if that means getting a bit of muck in the sink then so be it.

Local carrots seem especially sweet this year and should be cherished when we have them. Don’t bother peeling them – a good scrub, cut in half and then toss them in oil. Roast to bring out the natural sugars. Carrots cooked in a stew are always delicious, but good local one’s take this Ulster staple to a new level. My first recipe this week is for a classic and cherished combination– lamb and carrots. I’ve used shoulder of lamb, slowly cooked on the bone with spices, to make a Shawarma, a middle eastern dish. The meat is rested and shredded. I’ve included a recipe for carrot jam – the sweetness cuts through the spicy lamb and a mint yoghurt will add tang and coolness.

My other recipe is for a classic carrot cake. Sometimes I bake the mix in terracotta plant pots, top with a white chocolate cream and sprinkle over a chocolate crumble to resemble soil. I’ve included all the component parts if you feel like having a go or alternatively just make the cake in one tin and enjoy just the same. Like carrots, they don’t need any pomp and ceremony to taste delicious and nutritious at the same time.