Friday, March 23, 2012

Sharon takes a break from the madness to cook some truly Irish food

This was supposed to have been a Saint Patrick's Day post as I had expected to be able to grab a few minutes on that day to sit at my computer. Instead I spent the day sanding and painting chairs in my future café, a place that seems to have swallowed up my entire life to the extent that I have done little else apart from preparing to open it and talking about what needs to be done to prepare to open it for weeks and weeks and weeks and...

(As you read this, picture me slumped at my computer, bags under my eyes and stress lines on my forehead as I ponder the sheer insanity that must have taken me over when I thought there wouldn't be that much work 
involved in opening a café. How incredibly naive I was but a short time ago.)

So, apologies for this post's lack of timeliness and my absence from here lately. I wish I could say that normal service will resume soon but my life is too crammed full of things to do at the moment to be able to make such rash promises. You will hang in there though, won't you? Normal service has to resume at some stage...

Anyway, I hope you enjoyed your Saint Patrick's Day and celebrated it in a way that was meaningful to you - whether that consisted of donning a silly hat, wearing something green and drinking Guinness or taking the time to do something that reminds you of what is best about Ireland. (I certainly hope you didn't spend it sanding chairs!)

There's one thing that we should all celebrate at this time of year, especially now that spring has sprung and so much fresh produce is coming to market, and that's Irish food. The concept of Irish food is changing and is no longer confined to Irish stew or bacon and cabbage - although both of these are great and I'm sure many people cooked one or other of these dishes on St Patrick's Day.

Modern Irish food consists of the wonderful variety of fruit and vegetables grown here, the fantastic fish and seafood that is to be found on our shorelines and in our seas, the meat from animals that have been raised in our grassy green countryside and the many exceptional food producers that take these pure ingredients and turn them into something truly special.

I'm not claiming that my dish ranks alongside the best of what these food producers do but it's certainly a good one and it's truly Irish. On my way to the café yesterday, I spied wild garlic and some young spring nettles in the hedgerows and decided to create a dish using these native Irish ingredients: nettle gnocchi with a wild garlic sauce.

It's an Irish dish that is well worth eating on Ireland's national day and every other day. And it's green too!

The first thing you have to do is go out and pick some wild garlic. I've seen it by the roadside a lot lately and it especially likes shaded areas. It's worth seeking out as it adds a lovely delicate garlic flavour to this buttery sauce. It looks like this:

Nettles are at their best at this time of year too. But be sure to be careful when picking them. Wear gloves (or use a plastic bag to protect your hands as I did) and only pick the youngest. leaves at the top of the plant. The older ones can be quite tough.

Once you've finished your foraging, you are ready to go home and cook. Here's what you will need to make enough nettle gnocchi for two people:
500g potatoes, Maris Piper, King Edward's or another floury variety
1 egg
100g flour
A pinch of baking powder
125g of nettle leaves (try to remove as much stalk as you can)
Salt and black pepper
Freshly ground nutmeg to taste (I used about half a teaspoon)

Wild garlic butter:
80g butter
A bunch of wild garlic (30 or so leaves), chopped (reserving some of the flowers for garnish)
A sprig of thyme

  • Begin by baking your potatoes in a hot oven (220C/420F). This will take up to an hour depending on the size of your potatoes but it's worth doing as you will then have lots of dry, fluffy potatoes to work with.
  • While the potatoes are baking, blanch the nettles in boiling water for a minute or two. This removes the sting.
  • Drain and set aside.
  • Once the potaotes are baked, allow them to cool so that you can handle them and then mash them well.
  • Chop your nettles or blitz them in a food processor with the egg. You are aiming for this sort of consistency

  • Add the nettles and the egg to the mashed potatoes. Grate in some nutmeg and add some salt and pepper. Tip in the flour and the baking powder and mix until it comes together into a dough-like mix. Be careful not to overwork.
  • Dust your work surface with flour and divide the dough in two. Roll each part into a long roll and cut into equal slices, using the back of the knife to shape into gnocchi-like shapes.
  • Put a large pot of salted water on to boil and while it's coming to the boil, you can make your butter.
  • Melt the butter slowly in a heavy bottomed pan or frying pan and add the chopped garlic. Remove the leaves from the thyme and add those too. Leave to infuse gently as you cook your gnocchi.
  • Once your water has boiled, add a batch of gnocchi to the pot and allow them to cook until they float to the top. Let them continue cooking for another two minutes so that the flour cooks out.
  • Remove with a slotted spoon and serve with the butter poured over and some wild garlic flowers for garnish on top.
And there you have it: a truly Irish dish of native ingredients that combines the pepperiness of nettles with the delicate flavour of wild garlic
I've also decided to enter this in the most recent Very Good Recipes Challenge which is calling out for Saint Patrick's Day recipes that are green - wish me luck!


  1. This is your best post yet. I love the use of locally-growing foraging proceeds and the sheer originality of the recipe. Even though I can't taste it, it sounds like genius.

  2. High praise, Eadaoin! If you saw me now, you'd see a beaming smile on my face! Thanks.

  3. Looks totally yummy! I harvested some wild garlic and used it in a bread which was nice too! I so love the smell of wild garlic!

  4. Mmm, Margaret. I think the idea of wild garlic in bread sounds lovely. And I totally agree about the smell. It's wonderful.

  5. Glad you finally found your nettles. The picture of the wild garlic is interesting--it looks very different from the wild garlic on this side of the country. Turns out it's three-cornered garlic, Allium triquetrum, whereas the garlic over here is Ramsons, Allium ursinum. Love the gnocchi idea and yours look delicious with the flowers on top.

  6. Wow! I didn't realise there were different kinds, Bill. You learn something new every day!

  7. What an unusual combination! I love the sounds of it and it looks great too. I will try this very intriguing recipe for sure :)
    Good luck with challenge and the cafe :)

  8. Dima, let me know what you think of it. I'd love to hear your opinion and you'll always be welcome at Beile le Cheile if ever you're in Dingle

  9. Well that's really interesting, green, original and Irish :) It kinda looks like flavoured gnocchis !
    Good luck :)

  10. Poppy: I'm glad you like the look of it and you too Barry!

  11. This was fun reading and i also learnt what wild garlic looks like.
    As one of the participating judges just popping by to wish you luck!
    cheers :)

  12. Drina, if you've just learned what wild garlic looks like, you probably haven't tasted any. You really should!

  13. What an interesting dish, Sharon! I've gone crazy about wild garlic and today I will be cooking with nettles, as I'm trying out nettle soup!

  14. Nessa, it's a delicious dish too and I don't blame you for your mania for wild garlic. Take advantage of it while you can! The nettles too. I love nettle soup.