Today and tomorrow the Slow Food Festival will take place in the square beside the Guildhall in Derry/Londonderry, from 10am to 6pm as part of the global initiative.
Slow Food is an international organisation that celebrates good, clean and fair food. It has nothing to do with cooking slowly in a casserole but is more about food provenance.
The emphasis is on slow cultivation of produce without the use of pesticides and slow rearing of animals without the use of excessive growth hormones. If it sounds sensible and familiar it’s because it’s the way our grandparents produced food.
During the two day event producers, growers and chefs will showcase food that has been produced ethically and in accordance with Slow Food principles. As part of an international campaign we are being asked to embrace the notion of a “Menu for Change”. This would mean only consuming fresh, local, seasonal products wherever possible. In doing so, we’ll not only eat more healthily and economically, but this will help to reduce fuel emissions. We import meat here from countries around the world. New Zealand lamb and Danish pork are both cheaper to buy than meat that has been raised here, which in itself defies comprehension. Mourne or Sperrin lamb is the most natural meat we can buy with a taste and indigenous Northern Ireland flavour that cannot be replicated by our antipodean cousins. Astonishingly, we seem to prefer to eat something that’s been frozen for months and shipped from the other side of the world. I like to think of this as just a bad habit that can easily be stopped. Equally, proceed with caution. If you buy lamb in a supermarket and it says “Product of NI” don’t assume that the actual meat is from here – in what has become akin to hiding in plain sight, the labelling may only apply to the packing process. Your best bet is to go to a local butcher and ask about their traceability. My first recipe uses lamb mince in a Shepherd’s Pie with a turnip and potato topping. Slowly cooked lamb, topped with seasonal vegetables – all definitely from here and a great dish celebrating what’s perfect about our food.
Most Saturday mornings I call into St George’s Market in Belfast – a double espresso from the Javaman coffee stand and a sausage roll from Ann’s Pantry sets me up for the day. One of my favourite stands is Hillstown Farm butchers from Ahoghill. Last week I bonded with a group of English tourists over the beautiful rare breed pork chops on display in their cabinet. Red meat with a good layer of white fat – the way pork should be. Inspired by Italy, but creating a succulent flavour with ingredients from here. So my other recipe this week uses these great cuts spiced with fennel and lemon and served with a gratin of soup celery, bacon and cannellini beans. Soup celery is an indigenous vegetable from here that we use mostly in broths, but it’s under rated as an impressive and tasty entity in its own right.
Take this week to reflect on what you eat and embrace a slower way of life – the difference will be long lasting.