Unearthing hidden culinary gems
One of the most exciting aspects of being back in Ireland is finding hidden treasures in the countryside. There's all the wonderful stuff growing along the roadside, which invariably fills my pockets on my walks and gets brewed up or stewed for dinner.
But when I drive through a tiny village, where one wouldn't expect to spot much beyond a couple of pubs and a church, and find a shop selling the likes of homemade spelt baguettes, handmade chocolate truffles, organic grains and beans of all descriptions -- not to mention a freshly brewed cappuccino with frothy rice milk -- I start to wonder if I've died and gone to heaven!
I left an Ireland some 30 years ago where I was likely to be considered a health fanatic if I didn't take sugar in my tea. To be back all these years later and find my fellow country folk munching on goji berries or opting for gluten-free sprouted rice bread instead of sliced pan makes me feel that some sort of quiet revolution has been going on.
Gowran is a little village that we passed through on the journey from my parents' home in Killedmond to Kilkenny. Every time we drove through the village, my head would crane as I tried to get a look inside Glasraí and Goodies.
I haven't quite come down from the high of being on a celebrity's budget, so I tend to get a little carried away when I find a shop that sells interesting foods. This tiny store has shelves lined with produce by local artisans and from around the world that could keep me inspired for the rest of my days.
The most thrilling part was meeting the lovely couple, Derek and Siobhan Lawler, who own the shop. Siobhan makes all the lovely cakes and cookies that you can have with your coffee. Their 13-year-old daughter even contributes with her lovely homemade flapjacks.
Among my purchases were the ingredients to make some biscotti. This is the recipe I came up with. Enjoy!
1 cup walnuts
2 cups spelt flour
1 cup ground almonds
1 rounded tsp baking powder
1 tbsp grated orange zest
½ tsp allspice
Big pinch sea salt
¼ cup coconut oil/vegan butter
½ cup maple syrup
2 tbsps orange juice
Enough rice or nut milk to form a soft dough (a little under ¼ cup)
1Pre-heat the oven to 150°C/ Gas Mark 2. Spread a piece of parchment paper on a baking sheet and brush lightly with oil.
2Dry roast the walnuts in a pan over a low heat until they start to smell nutty and crisp up a bit, then chop them. Combine the flour, ground almonds, baking powder, chopped walnuts, orange zest, allspice and sea salt in a mixing bowl.
Add the coconut oil or vegan butter and mix in with your fingertips. Add the maple syrup and orange juice and mix in, then drizzle in enough rice or nut milk to form a sticky dough.
3Transfer the dough to the baking sheet and shape it into a flattish log about 4-5in wide x 14in. Bake for 25 minutes, then remove from the oven and reduce to 130°C/Gas Mark ½.
Gently cut into one-inch fingers and turn the pieces on their sides. Then, return to the oven for 25-30 minutes. Test to make sure they've crisped up before removing from the oven.
The biscotti will store in an airtight container for up to two weeks.
- For a gluten-free version, use amaranth and rice or cornflour. This will give a crumblier texture.
- Other nuts can be used, such as pecans, hazelnuts, almonds, pistachios, cashews or brazil nuts.
- In place of orange zest, other flavourings can be used, or a splash of a flavoured liqueur such as Cointreau.