Spring in the Walled Garden

At Blogdementhe I wanted my first Irish post to be close to home. So, i’ll keep it at home.

The old walled garden at Ballyvolane House has mesmerized me since Jenny first showed it to be when I came and visited back in March. I was only really familiar with walled gardens from the Ethicurian near Bristol which I’ve eaten at a couple of times. You can walk around their gardens after your lunch.

The Ballyvolane walled garden blows it out of the water, most notably by its size.

I arrived at a time when there was slim pickings. Onions drying in the shed excited me none the less and my adventure of cooking from the garden began. Roast Chicken with a garden onion puree I believe I served.

As spring came, my love of the walled garden grew and grew. From the chives and parsley to the kale and purple sprouting broccoli I have really started to feel a connection to the ground. I’ve always worked seasonally (mostly thanks to Hugh Fernley-Whittingstall) but this has taken that love to a new level.

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The crown and jewels in the garden are the asparagus and the sea kale. Like most people, I’ve been fascinated by asparagus for a long time. Its short season, the work involved and simply the delicious taste. But after only a few days of the season I was fascinated by the fact I could pick one day, and come down the next and everything had changed.

The other is Sea kale, an ingredient you don’t see much in the UK. It’s not in abundance here either but the Greens love of the plant means it flourishes here. Once the stalks sprout the plant it covered to create a tender white stalk to harvest.

Simply Sea Kale, lemon & fennel fronds

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Young Sea kale. (stalks trimmed, leaves left on) as much as you can per person!

Good quality rapeseed oil

a good squeeze lemon juice

a good handful of fennel fronds. They will come on the top of fennel if you buy it from a good farm shop. Dill can be used as a substitute.

a little butter (i am in Ireland)

Salt and pepper

In terms of the cooking of Sea Kale must people will steam or blanch it. As with must veggies, I will avoid this if I can. Now, if the Sea kale has been left on the plant a little long and it become thick then you may need to blanch or steam it to break down the woodiness a little but if the stalks feel tender then you wont need to.

Heat a frying pan to a medium heat and add the your sea kale with a good hit of salt and pepper. Fry until it begins to soften, then take off the heat and add the butter, lemon juice and chopped fennel.

Enjoy, perhaps with a few nice leaves.

Spring at Ballyvolane is also the time where we say good bye to our piggies. Ive talked many times about my indecision with meat eating. The farm to fork ethos can only be a good thing and its a pleasure to be a part of that. Wonderful Beef at Hartley Farm with Tom Bowles and now the Ballyvolane House Pork… I feel very lucky to have such great ingredients to cook.

Ballyvolane Pork Supper plate with walled garden chard and bbq sauce

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Allow at least 300g per person for the pork belly. You want to ideally cook it whole for the recipe with the ribs left on. Score the skin, ideally down the lines that you will cut the meat to serve.

fennel seeds

salt and pepper

a bag of brown sugar

a bottle of cider vinegar

a handful of chard leaves per person

For the Pork Belly

Sprinkle the skin with salt, pepper and fennel seeds. In a baking tray lay out some garlic, onions and thyme if you have them. Put your pork belly on top and add water to the tray so that it just reaches the meat. You dont need much but this is going to make your bbq sauce later on.

Roast in the oven at 180oc until you meat feels tender and you have a great crackling. Usually about 2 hours.

Remove from the oven and rest.

Sieve off the juices and reduce by half.

Use half of this to make a gravy or sauce. You could simply add a roux of  flour and butter to thicken to a gravy or you could do what we like to do at Ballyvolane which is to reduce it down further with cream and cider.

For your BBQ ribs

The other half of the liquid you want to make you BBQ sauce for your ribs. For my BBQ sauce it is hard to give you a recipe as it depends how rich and how much meaty stock you have. Per 500ml of stock you want around 200g brown sugar and 200ml of cider vinegar. Reduce this down until its lovely and sticky. At this point taste it. If it tastes over sweet then add a little vinegar or under sweet add a little sugar.

Once your meat is rested and cooled a little you want to carefully remove the ribs and cut them into individual ribs. Marinade in your barbecue sauce and then just before serving roast in  the oven for 10 minutes or so.

For your chard

Cooking the chard is super simple. Leave the leaves whole with the stalks. In a sauce pan add a big knob of butter. Once the butter melts and chard starts to soften simply take off the heat and put a lid on your pan.

Enjoy.

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