Summer is reaching its productive crescendo in the next few weeks. Gardeners out there know this is the time when produce is coming thick and fast. The problem isn’t what fresh produce is available, more like what to do with it all! This is the time to get the preserving pans out, as gardeners and homegrowers try their hands at chutneys, pickles and relishes in an effort to save some of summer’s tastes for the winter months.
Non-greenfingered folk can also enjoy the bounty of this month. So much to choose from in good food shops, farm shops, Country Markets and farmers markets around Ireland. Look out for this array of goodies on your travels.
Courgettes and Marrows
So many courgettes, so little time! As anyone who has ever grown a courgette plant will know, once these things start fruiting there’s almost no stopping them. The more you pick the more will grow. Baby courgettes are sweet and tender and can be sliced into strips lengthways with a veggie peeler, then used raw in salads.
They’re also good with the blossoms still attached, which can be stuffed with a salmon or prawn mousse then the whole thing steamed. Brilliant as a first course. Larger courgettes which have buttery flesh are good halved and griddled over the barbecue coals or on a griddle pan. Use them also for a beautiful risotto or delicate soup. Marrows are a big version of courgettes, with slightly less dense flesh and a more delicate flavour. Good for stuffing and baking or roasting in big wedges. Don’t be afraid to use bold flavourings like garlic and chilli for marrow dishes. This vegetable can take it.
You should be picking beautiful cucumbers now if you are a grower. If not, you can certainly find them in the local market or farm shop. Homegrown cucumbers fresh from the plant are nothing like their imported mass produced cousins. Gone is the watery, personality-free taste, in its place, fresh juicy crispness with a biting savouriness that adds its own magic to salads. If you’ve got lots of cucumbers, you can preserve some by making a simple cucumber pickle very quickly with cider vinegar, salt and sugar. This will keep in the fridge for a couple of weeks and has multiple uses, from sprucing up simple cheese sarnies at lunchtime to adding its own piquant angle to a platter of charcuterie and pate.
Another gem for salads. Little radishes explode with peppery taste on the tongue. Some people like to serve them with salty butter for dipping. Decadent but you will see why it works when you try it. Larger radishes can be milder, but still have that characteristic bite of heat. Slice them very thinly for salads or halve and add to a stirfry for a bit of spicy crunch. Delicious.
Tomato heyday has arrived! Lots of them are being picked from polytunnels and greenhouses all over Ireland. Don’t miss an opportunity to taste some of the more unusual heirloom varieties in farmer’s markets and farm shops. You’ll find all sorts of different sizes and colours, from the gorgoues scarlet or yellow cherry tomatoes to deep red plum tomatoes and purple red beef tomatoes. All absolutely beautiful, full of flavour and have countless uses in every day dishes.
Fresh herbs are rampant right now. Basil, coriander, mint, parsley and chives are the most common ones grown and readily available. But some growers also plant fennel, dill and tarragon, three herbs used in a wealth of classic dishes. Soft fronds of fennel are brilliant for flavouring dressings for fish, or for using as a bed to oven roast a whole Black Sole or Turbot.
Dill is a must have ingredient for curing your own gravlax. Try this recipe from Ballyvolane House. Use tarragon in a creamy sauce for chicken breasts, in the classic style. Or simply sprinkle it fresh over a roast chicken and add some more chopped tarragon to the pan of gravy. This adds a subtle sweet anniseedy flavour the French adore. A ‘must have’ herb for making traditional Bearnaise sauce for steak as well.
Aubergines, Peppers and Chillis
Some Irish smallholders branch out into the more exotic veggies which generally come from hotter climates. Fleshy aubergines with deep purple or purple and white striped skins, crunchy red, green and yellow peppers and bitingly hot chillies can be grown in Ireland with the aid of a polytunnel and a sense of adventure.
If you’re lucky enough to be near a smallholder who grows these veg, grab ‘em while you can because the flavour is astonishingly different to their imported equivalents which have lost flavour and texture in the travelling.
Marry aubergines, peppers and tomatoes in a wonderful Ratatouille to go with baked salmon or roast lamb (see below).
August sees lots of crab, lobster and prawns in fishmongers. Ireland is lucky to have a thriving shellfish industry and lengthy summer season, with small boats catching crab and lobster in pots in the small coves around the coast, or prawn boats going out to sea to bring home plentiful catches now. Treat yourself!
Ireland’s Mountain lamb is now ready to eat, as lambing takes place later in the season than lowland lamb. Try the sweet and tender lamb from Achill Island, which dines out on the heather clad slopes of the mountains, grazes on sea mist bathed grass and even seaweed and sea vegetables which grow near the beaches on the island. Order Achill Mountain Lamb online and get it delivered direct to your door.