Ah, summer… Cycling to the beach, sword fights with giant fennel batons, building a tree house (more like a bungalow really) in the shrubs across the house or hiking through the old salt marshes of Séné, July had just started, school was truly over and all these adventures made us all very hungry. There are three dishes that colours the memory of my blessed summers: Dad’s legendary tabbouleh, homemade tomato coulis and of course, my mother’s ratatouille. Not a week without, it has to have had an impact… Tastes and smells? Of course it has! The solid anchors of a happy childhood. Did you ever wonder why they call food comfort?
I used to know that French chef; arrogant, aggravating, a “je ne sais quoi” of rudeness and a pinch of sarcasm. The whole package. No country and no town were ever good for him, so his judgemental ways forced him to be of the nomadic kind. He rang me one day with the news I have been dreading: “Hello, how are you? Guess what, I am in Ireland!”… Great. Thankfully, I never had to work with him but we did share an interest for food and we met the odd times in the local pub. It wasn’t long before he started criticising the local cuisine. He had developed a particular hatred for Coleslaw, something that was alien to most French people then, but like bacon and cabbage, we had incredibly similar things! I pointed out that “Macedoine” was one of them, a medley of cooked carrots, peas and beans, mixed with lots of mayonnaise and served rolled inside a slice of ham ( now I think about it, it was pretty gross…). The other one, much closer was “remoulade”, thinly sliced strips of raw celeriac, served as a crudity starter; it delivered quite a punch of flavours. He shrugged his shoulders in dismissal and finished his pint.
This amusing anecdote came back to me the other day as I was visiting my organic vegetable guy in Mullingar. He had some lovely Irish celeriac, so it gave me an idea for a little bit of fun. First – and for old time sake – I decided to make a remoulade, which brought me back to my school days, a popular starter in our canteen! Well, popular with the intendant in charge of writing the menu that was…
What I love though, is cream of celeriac, so comforting and full of flavours, ideal as a side order, with lamb or beef. Since I am less and less fond of lamb (don’t ask, I don’t really know myself), I went to the Flood Brothers, butcher shop and social magnet of my village. They gave me a nice piece of filet, local… Aged nicely. For the cream of celeriac, it couldn’t be easier; peel the root and wash the dirt off. Slice it into tranches and then into cubes. Bring a pan of salted water to the boil add the cubed celeriac as well as two cloves of garlic in and cook until soft (about 15 minutes, keep checking with the tip of a knife after that). Drain the water off and put it in a recipient suitable for blending. Add a bit of black pepper, a tsp of mustard and a splash of fresh cream (not too much, you can still add more later, 10cl should do).
I served my filet steak with it, and some honey roasted raw beetroot wedges. A simple seasonal feast. As I was enjoying my late lunch in the kitchen, my mind went on a rambling, thinking about my rude French chef acquaintance. I realised that I haven’t heard of him in nearly 14 years, how time flies! The last time I saw him, he was packing to go to work as a chef for a petroleum company, far, far inside the wilderness of Siberia. Never heard of him since. Like an old friend used to say: “ The good Lord doesn’t pay out every Friday, but when he pays, he pays well…”
Young Buck Blue & Beef Salad
The other morning, I got one of my blurry “flashback in time” moments, as I too, grew up between farmlands and sea. August was a month for salads and every member of my family had their own signature dish, between Dad’s couscous tabbouleh, Mother’s simply sliced tomatoes with chives and vinaigrette or the amazing – yet groovy – tuna, sweet corn, green pepper, hard-boiled egg and rice special of Grand Ma… Summer was intense with freshness and simplicity. I too aspired to greatness to have, one day, my own designer salad… It’s a Breton thing. I came close several times, but yet remained unsatisfied, like the young buck I was. But I seem, the other day, to have nailed it, a salad that would reflect the Irish terroir of the midlands … Here is the recipe A Chairde, and a picture to speak for itself.
First, gently pan fry to your liking a nice bit of your favourite steak and let it rest until you do the following. In a bowl, pour 3 tbsp or Irish rapessed oil, 1 tbsp of balsamic vinegar and 1 tbsp of soya sauce. Thinly slice a raw carrot, grate some raw organic beetroot, raw organic broccoli florets (not too big) and some toasted sesame seeds. Crumble in some Young Buck cheese, slice your steak and mix the whole thing with your hands… Enjoy! Hungry Breton.