Darina Allen: A winter lamb stew that makes the most of seasonal produce – Irish Examiner


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World Soil Day falls on December 6 this year. For me it’s the most important day of the year — perhaps that sounds as if I’ve gone slightly dotty but it’s really good to remind ourselves that we are all totally dependent on the four or five inches of topsoil around the world for our very existence. Our health and more than 90% of our food comes from the soil. If we don’t have rich fertile soil we won’t have clean water or good food — think about it! Soil also plays a vital role in regulating the climate and supporting animal and plant biodiversity.In the words of Lady Eve Balfour: “The health of soil, plant, animal and man is one and indivisible” and the ominous warning from Franklin D Roosevelt, 32nd President of USA that “The nation that destroys its soil, destroys itself” — how prophetic was that!Here in Ireland, we have little reason to be complacent: only 10% of Irish soil is at optimum fertility. According to Teagasc, that means 90% of Irish soil is mineral deficient mainly as a consequence of overuse of artificial nitrogen, synthetic fertilisers, pesticides and herbicides which damage the soil and the earthworm population.Soils are a limited natural resource; their formation occurs at an extremely slow pace. At the very least, it takes 100 years to build an inch of topsoil but can, in fact, take 500 years or more. Most current food production methods do not nurture the soil, instead they exploit it. The move by many farmers to regenerative farming as a means of improving soils, increasing biodiversity and mitigating climate change is to be welcomed.I’m intrigued by the soil. Soil scientists confirm that there are more microbes, enzymes, protozoa and nematodes in a teaspoon of healthy soil than people on earth and there is so much still to understand.If I ‘come back again’, I want to be a soil scientist. As organic farmers, we are passionate about the soil. We continue to build fertility by adding well-rotted farmyard manure, compost, humus, seaweed and even seashells. Regular soil testing monitors progress. We eagerly await the introduction of a spectrometer that can measure the nutrient density of food so farmers who produce more nutrient-dense food can be paid properly for the extra nourishment their food provides. That could surely be a game-changer. It’s not difficult to calculate that someone along the food chain is losing out when a bunch of carrots which takes at least four months to grow from seed are sold for 46 cent. Despite economies of scale, if this continues there will be no Irish vegetable growers within a few years — they simply cannot any longer continue to produce vegetables below an economic level.Check out the brilliant French initiative C’est qui le Patron (cestquilepatron_ on Instagram) where the consumer gets the option to pay more having being told the story behind the production of that litre of milk, loaf of bread, or carton of eggs. Delicious, nutrient-dense, wholesome food that helps to build a strong immune system and boosts our antibodies comes from rich fertile soil, not from labs and test kitchens.Late Autumn/Winter is the root vegetable and citrus fruit season, leeks and calçots too and all the stronger brassicas — kale, red cabbage. So here are a few recipes for nourishing winter dishes: you’ll eat less and feel more satisfied.Winter lamb stewA super tasty meal in one pot. Celeriac and Jerusalem artichokes can also be added for extra nourishment and deliciousness. Preparation Time 10 minsTotal Time 1 hours 10 minsIngredients1.8kg (4lb) of shoulder of lamb chops, not less than 2.5cm (1 inch thick)350g (12oz) green streaky bacon (blanch if salty)seasoned white flour, preferably unbleacheda little butter or oil for sautéing450g (1lb) onions, (baby ones are nicest)450g (1lb) carrot, peeled and thickly sliced or 225g (8oz) carrots and 225g (8oz) of parsnips750ml approx. lamb or chicken stock8-12 'old' potatoes (optional)sprig of thymeRoux (optional)MethodCut the rind off the bacon and cut into approx. 1cm (½ inch) cubes. Blanch if salty and dry in kitchen paper.Divide the lamb into 8 pieces and roll in seasoned flour.Heat a little oil in a frying pan and sauté the bacon until crisp, remove and put in a casserole. Add the lamb to the pan and sauté until golden then add to the bacon in the casserole. Heat control is crucial here, the pan mustn't burn yet it must be hot enough to sauté the lamb. If it is cool the lamb will stew rather than sauté and, as a result, the meat may be tough.Then quickly sauté the onions, carrots and parsnips if using, adding a little butter if necessary, and put them into the casserole. Degrease the sauté pan and deglaze with the stock. Bring to the boil, pour over the lamb.Cover the top of the stew with peeled potatoes (if using) and season well. Add a sprig of thyme and bring to simmering point on top of the stove, cover the pot and then put into the oven for 45-60 minutes, 180˚C/350˚F/Gas Mark 4. Cooking time depends on how long the lamb was sautéed for.When the casserole is just cooked, strain off the cooking liquid, degrease and return degreased liquid to the casserole and bring to the boil. Thicken with a little roux if necessary. Add back in the meat, carrots, onions and potatoes, bring back to the boil.Serve bubbling hot sprinkled with chopped parsley.Swede and bacon soup with parsley oilrecipe by: Darina Allen A little diced chorizo or some chorizo crumbs mixed with some chopped parsley is also delicious sprinkled on top. Ingredients1 tbsp sunflower oil150g (5oz) rindless streaky bacon cut in 1cm dice110g (4oz) onions, chopped110g (5oz) potatoes, peeled and diced350g (12oz) swede turnips, peeled and cut into 7mm dice900ml (1 ½ pints) homemade chicken stockcream or creamy milk, to tastesalt and freshly-ground black pepperFor the parsley oil: 50g (2oz) freshly chopped flat-leaf parsley50ml (2fl oz) extra virgin olive oilTo garnish: freshly-ground black pepperfried diced bacon croutonsMethodFirst, make the parsley oil. Whizz the parsley with the olive oil until smooth and green.Next, make the soup.Heat the oil in a saucepan, add the bacon and cook over a gentle heat until crisp and golden. Remove to a plate with a slotted spoon and keep aside.Toss the onion, potatoes and swede in the oil. Season with salt and freshly-ground pepper. Cover with a paper lid to keep in the steam and sweat over a gentle heat for about 10 minutes until soft but not coloured. Add the stock, bring to the boil, and simmer for 10-15 minutes until the vegetables are fully cooked. Liquidise, taste add a little cream or creamy milk and some extra seasoning if necessary. HOT TIPS

Something in the Basket
Launching mid-November, Something in the Basket – Vegetable recipes from the Garden at Lavistown. Beautifully illustrated by Anne McLeod, this timely book is packed with easy recipes and ideas for using seasonal vegetables in lots of different ways. It will become a classic for anyone who wants to re-invent their vegetable cookery. Each recipe has its own teaser to get you growing your own too. For more information, see gardenfable.com/books/ 

Munster Agricultural Traditional Christmas Pudding Competition
The annual Munster Agricultural Traditional Christmas Pudding Competition is open for online entries until December 7, 2021. Entrants are required to present a homemade traditional Christmas pudding in a 2lb plastic bowl. All entries will be donated to local food charities after judging takes place on Saturday, December 11. For more information, see corksummershow.com

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