Chickpeas and Kale

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I know, a recipe called chickpeas and kale is the kind of thing you will only click on in the depths of January guilt. It sounds bland, and unnecessarily wholesome. But bear with me. I had seen the recipe for chickpeas and spinach in the Moro cookbook dozens of times while leafing through it. And I had ignored it. Every single time. It sounded boring, it didn’t involve cheese or tahini and I worked off the logic that there were so many amazing recipes in there, there also had to be some duds. I was wrong. Every recipe Sam and Sam Clarke turn out is consistently wonderful, and often deceptively simple. When this recipe appeared on Food52’s Genius Recipes column, and again on Smitten Kitchen, my interest was finally piqued.

I’m trying to get back into the swing of cooking quick and easy work meals after a long Christmas break, and this recipe fit the bill. I adapted it extensively from the original, using a different spice combination, white wine vinegar instead of red, kale instead of spinach and added some tomato sauce (inspired by Smitten Kitchen). It’s easy, wholesome and inexpensive to make, which is perfect for January cooking. You can prepare the bread paste in the advance and keep it in the fridge, so the whole thing can be assembled in about ten minutes. When I first cooked this it was at the end of a twelve hour working day which had been followed by a cheeky pint. Every route to my house from work involves passing at least one chipper so I felt like I should get a medal for cooking this at 9:30pm.

I can’t properly articulate why this recipe is so good, because I can’t wrap my head around it. It’s some magical alchemy involved in the combination of the sharp vinegar, rich breadcrumbs, earthy chickpeas, mineral kale and the, well, garlicky garlic. This is a recipe I can see myself making again and again.

Makes two generous main course portions.

Ingredients

  • 75g slice of bread, torn into small cubes
  • 3 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 2 teaspoons Herbes de Provence
  • 1 teaspoon caraway seeds
  • 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 1 teaspoon mild chili flakes, like aleppo chili.
  • 1 1/2 tablespoon red or white wine vinegar
  • 200g kale washed, with the spines removed and leaves torn into small pieces
  • 2 x 400g tins of chickpeas, drained
  • 2 tablespoons ,of any basic tomato sauce, passata, or 2 teaspoons tomato puree mixed with two tablespoons of water
  • 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • Olive oil

Method

  • Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a frying pan over medium heat.
  • Add the bread cubes and fry until golden, turning frequently.
  • Add the garlic Herbes de Provence and spices and cook for one minute more, stirring frequently.
  • Remove from the heat, and blend in a pestle and mortar, or with a stick blender together with one tablespoon vinegar to form a paste.
  • Wilt the kale in batches in a hot frying pan with a little bit of water  to prevent burning and a sprinkling of salt, then leave aside.
  • Add the bread paste to a frying pan together with the chickpeas and tomato sauce and cook for 5 minutes over medium heat to combine well.
  • Add the wilted kale and cook for a few minutes until heated through and well combined.
  • Top with smoked paprika and serve warm.

Tuscany Part Two: Chianti and San Gimignano

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Travelling Around Tuscany

One of the many reasons I picked Tuscany for a week long visit, was how easy it was to get around by public transport, at least from the major cities. We managed a week long round trip involving Florence, several Chianti towns, Certaldo, Siena and Lucca, all through buses and trains, and ended up spending around 60 euro on transport the whole week.

On our third day in Florence, following a tip from the Guardian we took a bus from central station for a few euro, and an hour later found ourselves in Panzano, in the heart of the Chianti countryside. The route took us through the most postcard perfect Tuscan landscape (after about 20 minutes going through some dreary Florentine suburbs) and brought us back through Greve, the epicenter of the Tuscan wine and food scene. It was the perfect day trip to allow us to actually get to try some of the wine, and not have to worry about spitting it out, or windy country roads.

Getting from town to town once outside the cities was tougher, and to get from our second base of Certaldo to San Gimignano by public transport would have taken over an hour and a half, involving two connections, despite being only 12km. So instead, we cycled. It was entirely uphill on the way out, and there were tears (mine), blood (mine) and a monstrous amount of sweat (both of us) involved, but now that I can blank out that bit, and the memory of shrieking every time I saw a dead snake on the road, it was one of the highlights of the trip.

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Panzano

Panzano is the tiniest of tiny villages, which can be entirely circumnavigated in about five minutes, which makes the amount of people at Dario Cecchini’s trio of restaurants, the target of our visit, even more impressive. Cecchini is a celebrity butcher (yes, there is such a thing) and a graduate from the Michael O’Leary school of PR. In the BSE crisis in 2001 he held a funeral for the Bistecca di Fiorentina, the region’s signature dish, and his butcher shop still displays its tombstone on the outer wall. He was holding court in the butchers shop when we arrived, to a soundtrack of 80s hair metal, with his staff handing out glasses of red wine and crostini topped with flavoured pork fat.

We made our way upstairs to his packed budget endeavour, Mac Dario (one of three meat themed restaurants he has on site). Getting a burger in Tuscany seems like a weird thing to do, but it’s raved about all over food websites and blogs so that was what we went for. The region around Florence prides itself on its beef, though it’s maybe harder to impress an Irish person on that front than most. €10 buys you sage roasted potatoes, a rosemary breadcrumb coated burger, and homemade mustard and ketchup, all of which were lovely, if not perhaps quite living up to the hype. There was a €20 set menu that looked more interesting, but way beyond our appetite. The budget restaurant is based exclusively outside on a terrace, with a slightly less than scenic view over a car park before the hills appeared in the distance. After ordering and devouring our food, we noticed plenty of more savvy customers ordering bits and pieces from the €20 menu, like plates of steak tartar, and Tuscany tuna (a raw pork dish). If I were to go back, this is definitely what I would do, or go to one of the more upscale restaurants on the site. At the end of the day, a burger is a burger, and Tuscany has a lot more to offer than that.

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Greve

Greve is the base camp for exploring Chianti, a small surprisingly modern town filled with wine shops, centered around the lovely and more authentic looking Piazza Matteoti. After a lap of the town we settled on Antica Macelleria Falorni, which claims to be the oldest butcher shop in Italy, and which is still run by its founding family. This was not the old fashioned wood-panelled butchers that you imagine every Tuscan village has, but rather a modern, well-oiled and very clearly tourist aimed machine. Set over three shop fronts in the square it featured a butchers shop, restaurant, cheese room, and wine tasting machines. To buy food you ordered from the counter and waited with a ticket for your meal, to buy wine you bought credit on a card, which could then be used to fill a glass from the different machines that allow you to try tastes, half or full glasses of local wines. There was an extensive butchers shop with lots of different cuts and pieces of cured meat, vacuum packed and ready to go in your suitcase. We ordered a plate of different local pecorino cheeses, and set about tasting the different wines. This was not what I pictured when I ventured into the countryside, and I’m sure the naked commercialism and tourist driven outlook of the place might put a few people off, but for me it was a lovely place to spend an afternoon sampling wine and local specialties.

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San Gimignano

San Gimignano is the most touristy of the touristy Tuscan hill towns, with crowd pullers such as not one, but two medieval torture museums. That being said, even on a sunny Saturday, after that vicious uphill cycle, it was impressive. It’s not a town for eating on a budget, and every restaurant was pretty crowded, so we wandered around before settling on a pretty average cheese and boar prosciutto sandwich from one of the many delis with a stuffed wild boar outside. A word to the wise, most bread in Tuscany is pretty bad, at least the standard bread that gets left on your table, or used to make most sandwiches. It is dry, sliced country loaf style bread, entirely devoid of salt and much flavour. Cordelia would never have said “I love you as much as meat loves salt” if she had tried this monstrous bread. To make up for this, for dessert, we managed to avoid the massive queue for Dondoli gelato on the Piazza Cisterna, the world champion gelateria for several recent years. There are a wealth of flavours on offer, and te staff move so quickly you don’t get to read them all before deciding, so we ended wildly gesturing at three different types to try. The guy in front of us ordered just vanilla gelato, and I am still disappointed in him two months on. We tried a combination of orange, mascarpone, amaretti biscuits and something else called Michele, and a mixture of marsella wine and nuts (I think, it’s been a while). While I have to go on record as saying it was not as good as Talento Gelato in Arbour Hill, it did make me understand the obsessive love of gelato that tourists in Italy espouse on their return.

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Crispy Spiced Chickpeas

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After many years as an atheist, I recently found myself at mass. Afterwards, I was struck by how automatically the responses and prayers came back to me and my similarly lapsed family after years of neglect, buried somewhere in a part of my brain that could be dedicated to more practical things. We have so many of these automatic responses in our head. If you ask any Irish person of my generation, they will be able to reel off, word for word, the instructions given to us in our end of school aural Irish exams. And if you tell someone that you don’t eat breakfast, they will automatically tell you that it is the most important meal of the day. I know this, because I have heard that phrase more times than I can count.

I have never warmed to breakfast. I don’t like eggs or milk or any of those healthy sensible things that people start their day with. No matter how many berries, spoonfuls of honey and sprinkles of cinnamon you put on porridge, it is still just dressed up cardboard paste to me. What I do like are breakfasts that are indistinguishable from lunch or dinner. After the amazing fatteh I had in Berlin, I started thinking about how I could adapt a meal like that into a healthy, portable work breakfast, and came up with the idea of oven roasted chickpeas.These chickpeas gave the crunch I liked in the fried bread from fatter but not the fatty heaviness. Topped with some greek yoghurt mixed with tahini, a squeeze of lemon juice, and some torn up mint leaves, they make a simple breakfast. 

The trick is to get the plumpest chickpeas you can find, the ones that have been slightly overcooked so they are starting to split. Chickpeas from a jar are good for this, also the cheaper supermarket brands like Lidl. The plumper the chickpeas, the crispier the outside coating becomes, I can’t explain why. I like to make a big batch, which can be stored in an airtight container in a fridge for 5 days or so. This makes four breakfast servings, or you could mix them with chopped tomatoes, cucumber, fresh mint, dill and yoghurt dressing to make Morito’s famous crispy chickpea salad.

Ingredients

  • 2 x 400g tins of chickpeas, drained
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon each any combination of: smoked paprika, turmeric, ground cumin, mixed spice, garam masala (about four teaspoons of spice in total)
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Method

  • Toss the chickpeas in oil, then the spices, salt and ground pepper.
  • Roast in the oven at 200C for 30-40 minutes until crisped and browned.
  • Keep for up to five days in an airtight container in the fridge.

 

Saag Aloo (Potato and Spinach Curry)

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There are a lot of things that I cook regularly, that do not make it onto the blog. These are the everyday, usually unphotogenic dishes that make up my weekly diet. It’s hard, in the incredibly styled world of food blogging, to resist the urge for every recipe to be a manicured showstopper, photographed in the natural light that I rarely see at this time of year. But that obviously isn’t an accurate depiction of how I eat. While I dream of being the kind of person who whips up duck confit, beetroot meringues and the like on a daily basis, that just isn’t a realistic possibility when you work a more than full time job. Most meals I cook are based on whatever vegetables were left on the special offer shelves at Lidl at 9pm as I walked home from work or the gym. On days like that, to steal a phrase from Dylan Moran, you’re just thinking how adventurous it would be to eat a meal with two colours.  This is a recipe for that kind of day. It’s easy, with a lot of ingredients from the store cupboard, it’s cheap, it’s filling and it’s quite wholesome. I like to make a big batch of this alongside a big batch of Chickpea and Lentil Salad or some stewed peppers to have in the fridge over a couple of days as a quick and healthy dinner. You can roast the potatoes in advance, and then make the sauce in about 10 minutes. Usually the potatoes for saag aloo are fried, but that takes a lot more active time, and a lot more fiddling around. This serves four as a side dish.

Ingredients

  • 750g baby potatoes
  • 1 red onion
  • 250g fresh spinach
  • 2 teaspoons turmeric
  • 2 teaspoons garam masala
  • 1 teaspoon mustard seeds
  • 1 tablespoon chopped garlic
  • 1 tablespoon chopped ginger
  • 1 tablespoon tomato purée
  • Neutral oil

Method

  • Cut the potatoes into bite sized chunks.
  • Toss in neutral oil, 1 teaspoon turmeric and salt and pepper.
  • Roast in the oven at 200c until golden and crispy, approx 40 minutes.
  • Meanwhile, make the sauce by slicing the onion and sautéing in a few teaspoons of neutral oil over a medium heat until softened, around 8-10 minute.
  • Add the spices, garlic and ginger and cook carefully (it might spit a big at first).
  • Stir frequently to avoid the garlic burning.
  • After 2-3 minutes add the spinach, and let wilt.
  • Add the tomato paste and 100mls water and mix well with the spinach and spices to form a sauce.
  • Cook until most of the water has dried out and the sauce is quite thick.
  • Toss the potatoes in the sauce, check seasoning and serve with Greek yoghurt.

Tuscany Part One: Florence

imageAlthough I visited Florence a fair bit as a child and teenager, when our parents used to load us into the car and drive us from Dublin to Tuscany every few years, this was my first proper adult visit. Sadly, my favourite childhood restaurant, which used to serve a groaning table of antipasti to locals each day has become rubbish and touristy in recent years, but we still found a lot of great places to try.There is nothing new or dramatic in this list, they’re all well known spots. But since Florence is one of the most written about destinations on earth, we were unlikely to hit on a completely undiscovered gem in just three days.

L’Brindellone

When Yotam Ottolenghi instagrams a meal in Florence, and it’s in a dirt cheap trattoria that’s a three minute walk from your apartment, you have to go. Those are the food blogger rules. Although I didn’t see this place in guide books, it features heavily in blogs and reviews.  It’s a proper local place, with local prices and framed Fiorentina jerseys and a photo of Roberto Benigni as the only nods to interior design. The menu is short, with antipasti formed of a combination of crostini, cured meats and coccoli (deep fried pizza dough balls), three or four pastas, meat dishes, and grilled dishes. We were presented with a litre of the house Chianti when we sat down, in lieu of a wine list. That’s how I discovered red wine still gives me migraines, but no regrets. We started off with a plate of liver crostini, parma ham, coccoli and stracchino cheese, all utterly tasty. I followed with a truffle taglierini and fried zuccini flowers, while himself had a stewed beef dish and beans in a tomato sauce. My pasta was rich and delicate at the same time, the zucchini flowers perfectly crisp and not too heavily battered, but the beans were definitely the highlight. I have no clue how they got such depth of flavour into the sauce, but I suspect it involves copious amounts of pork fat. Every one around us was having the Florentine T-Bone steak, which didn’t appeal to me personally, but did look rather wonderful. The entire meal, which was definitely the culinary highlight of the trip, came to €50 in total, including wine, for the two of us. You need to book ahead by phone. We did it a week in advance, and amazed our hostess who had never had this success. That said, they serve quite late and we definitely saw people come in from the street around 9.30-10 and be seated right away.

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Signorvino

A little googling tells me this is a chain in Italy, as I could have surmised from the on-trend industrial decor and hipster waiter outfits. That said, it is a chain which allows you to sit on a balcony with the best view of the Ponte Vecchio, Uffizi and Medici corridor, and sip organic prosecco and munch on fat green olives for around €5. They don’t mark up the off-licence price of the wine (you can also buy it to go), which is pretty extraordinary in this location, in a city like Florence.

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Mercato Centrale and Casa Del Vino

The Mercato Centrale consists of two parts, the traditional downstairs where you can buy groceries, along with tripe sandwiches (we didn’t brave them), wine, coffee and a few different small restaurants which closes at 2pm, and the upstairs which hosts a relatively new food court serving different meals until 10pm. We loved wandering around the downstairs, picking up bites of foccacia and cannoli to nibble on, before buying ridiculously cheap dried porcini mushrooms to bring home, and marvelling at the many different types of offal on display in the butchers. The upstairs left me a little cold. There was lots on offer, but it all seemed about 20% more expensive than anywhere else, and conspicuously aimed at tourists.

imageSo instead of the food court, we wandered a few doors down the street, to Casa Del Vino, which felt more like the real thing. A wine bar that opens at 9:30am and closes at 3:30pm, this was crowded with actual Italians, from older men sharing bottles of wine around and having the chat, to business people in suits grabbing a sandwich and a quick glass. There is no formal menu inside (the one outside didn’t seem to reflect anything people were eating), but they have a good selection of wine, and you can order a sandwich made up on the spot from ingredients on the counter for a few euro, which everyone in there had in their hands as they drank. Pecorino and salsa verde laden with anchovy and garlic seemed to be a favourite. Two glasses of very good wine, and two sandwiches came to €15. As were about to leave, one of the older locals had to reach over our heads to pluck a bottle of the shelf to buy and share around, and gave us a glass as an apology. He was the terrifying image of Phil Leotardo from the Sopranos, and remonstrated with me for drinking white wine. He also may have said something pretty racist, but I’m hoping we just misheard it in all the noise.

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Le Volpi e L’Uve

This was a great little wine bar two minutes walk from the Ponte Vecchio in the Oltrano, with a small but delicious menu of crostini and other bites, and a very reasonably priced wine list (most glasses were €4). Best of all, it had an attentive and knowledgeable waitress, who kept an eye on tables, and made sure people who were standing longest got first dibs when one became free. It has a small area inside, and a bigger terrace outside on a quiet square, next to an empty restaurant which showed a livefeed of its very bored chef playing on his smartphone for about an hour. We ordered a plate of crostini with N’duja and pecorino, and were guided away from our wine choices by the waitress,who led us away from more expensive options when they didn’t suit the food, and tipped us off on some unusual regional wines, all of which I have now forgotten. Unusually and a little bit blasphemously for Florence, they also serve French wine.image

Enoteca Pitti Gola e Cantina

So, wine bars in Florence all close at ridiculously early hours (usually between about 4pm and 9pm), with this enoteca being the one exception. They have a little deck looking out over the Pitti Palace, which is not the most beautiful building, but still a pretty dramatic backdrop for a glass. I know very little about wine, but himself was in awe of the list, which included multiple Brunellos, as well as a number of different vintage Chiantis from the 70s and 80s for around the €10 per glass mark. Glasses of regular pleb wine for people who don’t really understand it started at around €6. If they don’t bring the bottle out to show you, you’re one of those people. Welcome to the club.

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Osteria Santo Spirito

It seems to me in Italian cities, there is always just one square where everyone drinks until the early hours each night, and nowhere else. In Venice, it’s Campo Santa Margherita, and in Florence it’s Santo Spirito. A tall, elegant and slightly shabby tree filled square in the Oltrarno, it’s lined with bars, none of which are spectacular. Each night we passed through it was overrun with gangs of people bringing their own wine and beer (there is a late night shop around the corner on Via Sant’Agostino), sitting on every conceivable surface and having the banter. In the corner, we had dinner at Osteria Santo Spirito, which serves huge portions of tasty pasta dishes for €10 (as well as all the usual second courses, antipasti etc). The highight was the gratin of gnocchi with truffle oil, which had more cream and cheese then a human should consume in a life time. It will haunt my dreams for some time to come. The fact that someone has written an entire Intelligent Life article in praise of the dish shows I’m clearly not the only one.image

 I Due Fratellini

A standard in every guide book, I have very little to say about it but that I agree with what everyone says, it’s great food at a great price. They serve €3 sandwiches and tiny glasses of €1 wine from a hole in the wall near the Piazza della Signoria, and everyone stands on the street wolfing both down. I had goats cheese with fennel salami, and highly recommend it.image

A Weekend in Berlin

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This post is a well overdue round up of a long weekend in Berlin in May. This was my second visit, and the city felt very different from my first in 2008. More polished I suppose, with a bit of the edge gone. Discovering one of the most memorable bars from my first visit, a converted former social club for the stasi complete with 1960s decor, had been demolished to make way for luxury apartments was probably part of that. We had a lot of great recommendations from family and friends who have made Berlin their home, so there were few mis-steps over the weekend. Except the currywurst, which is best avoided.

Henne 

I had visited this tourist favourite on my first time in Berlin, and was drawn to go back for reasons I couldn’t quite understand. It is in every guide book, and the kind of place I usually avoid. It’s decorated in a dark, heavy traditional style complete with tartan tableclothes and steins of beer. It serves one main dish, a roasted half chicken for €8 together with side dishes of potato salad, cabbage, currywurst or sausage. We ordered a half chicken and potato salad each, washed down with lots of Bavarian lager. I had remembered the chicken being good, but I had forgotten how good. It looks on the outside like a confit, but inside the meat is perfectly cooked and moist. This is not a place to go if you don’t like crispy chicken skin. Honestly, this is probably not the blog for you if you don’t like it either. It was so rich and decadent, it felt a little bit wrong to eat in public, the sort of thing that should be consumed in a private booth hidden behind a velvet curtain, away from the gaze of strangers. The potato salad probably came from one of those large industrial buckets, but I didn’t care, it was sweet and tangy and perfect with the chicken. I would go back here in a heartbeat.

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Akroum Snack

Basically a  hole in the wall that you would miss in the blink of an eye, Akroum Snack is one of a long line of Middle Eastern (largely Turkish) restaurants along Sonnennallee. They have one table outside and a few in the dark interior behind the take away window. It was early and on a tip from my brother, we ordered a portion of Fatteh to share for €5. I hate the expression “hug in a bowl” but that’s what this was. Soft, plump, perfectly cooked chickpeas, topped with thick slightly tart garlicky yoghurt, deep fried pieces of pita bread, olive oil, lemon juice and pine nuts, served together with pickles, chopped tomato, onion and flatbread. This is the kind of food you get up for. I can’t explain what makes it so good, it’s more simple than I usually like, but it was so much better than the sum of its parts. I would eat this for breakfast every day if I could.

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Gel Gör Inegöl Köfteci

We ate a lot of Turkish food on this trip, but Gel Gor was by far the best. This was another recommendation from my brother who had been raving about this place for years after once seeing one of the staff hand picking leaves from a large bunch of mint in there at 4am. It is a Turkish take-away with a few seats specialising in köfte that is open 24 hours a day. It was worth the hype. We both had köfte sandwiches. The bread was light and crisp, like a banh mi baguette, topped with rich meatballs with just enough fat to make them tender, fresh herbs and salad leaves, a light yoghurt sauce and a swipe of spicey ajvar for contrast. It felt clean and fresh and surprisingly wholesome.

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Lokal

I had been warned that high end restaurants in Berlin tend to disappoint. While not quite the fanciest place I’ve ever visited, Lokal was at least triple the budget for every other meal we had (because you have to do something a bit fancy for your 30th). It’s located in a Scandi style whitewashed ground floor space in the heart of Mitte. The menu features lots of offal and lots of vegetables, very simply done. We started out with tiny fried sweetbreads with different spring vegetables, and a very bland veal tartare paired with a sparkling Riesling. I went with a vegetarian main, featuring every conceivable type of beetroot served every conceivable way with asparagus and pearl barley and a natural Gewurztraminer. It felt wholesome without being sickeningly virtuous. The vegetables were simply prepared to let their natural flavours sing. Also, the portion sizes were very hefty. We finished off by sharing a generous cheese plate with lots of fresh bread. It was a pleasant place to visit, with lovely service, and a bright space that was perfect for people watching. I’d definitely go back.

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Cafe Einstein

Cafe Einstein is a Berlin institution, with two branches, including one located in a neo-renaissance villa on the tree lined Kurfürstenstraße near the Embassy district. Stolpersteine commemorating the  Jewish owners of the villa on the pavement outside were a sobering reminder of its tragic history. These are scattered throughout many countries in Europe to mark the homes of those who died in the Holocaust. The interior of the villa looked like a set from cabaret, with a perfectly intact 1920s decor. It was one of the few buildings in the area to survive the Allied bombing raids.More than anywhere I’ve been before, Berlin is a city that has had, and continues to have a reckoning with its past, which is difficult to escape wherever you go.

This was another recommendation from my brother, who maintains that Einstein’s has the best club sandwich in the world.Although not really a fan of the idea of club sandwiches, I had to give it a shot. Since it was my first proper club, I can’t really say if it was the best, but it was very tasty. There is nothing fancy about it, just bog standard toasted white bread, fresh chicken breast, crispy bacon, lettuce, tomato and lots of mayo, but it was deeply satisfying and a great meal to welcome me to my thirties (yes, I had a club sandwich for breakfast that day). 

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Neue Heimat

We had many plans for our Sunday, only one of which came to fruition – a trip to Neuheimat. A Sunday street food market in the heart of Freidrichshain, it was surprisingly commercial for the most hipster area in Berlin. It was well organised with bouncers, entrance fees and bag searches, all things I wouldn’t have associated with the relaxed atmosphere inside. Set in a series of old warehouses near the railway line, with courtyards in between, bands played live music and the best of Berlin street food was on offer. We ended up spending  the afternoon there chatting, idling around, people watching and snacking when the mood took us. We had some organic Spatzle from Bavaria, tacos from Neta and some decent Gewurtztraminer from a wine bar inside. There was also a great craft beer festival on that weekend, so we got to sample beers from Lithuania, Norway, Poland and Berlin itself. It was the sort of place I could see myself revisiting a lot if I lived there for a relaxed way to ease through the Sunday fear.

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The Bars:

Becketts Kopf

When I visited this bar back in 2008, I was absolutely blown away by it. It’s the original speakeasy kind of bar that is copied all over Europe now (look for the picture of Samuel Beckett in the window to find it). I’d never tried a cocktail like it, Dublin just didn’t offer them in those days. I could never go back to a €5 tequila sunrise in Capitol Bar again. Revisiting, the prices had gone up steeply to €12 a cocktail. They were great cocktails, but I think I’d hyped the place up in my head in a way it could never live up to. If you’re a cocktail aficionado, this should definitely be on your list.

Freischwimmer 

The Freischwimmer felt like stepping into another place and time. Located down a dark wooded laneway, on the edge of a canal, in a historic wooden boathouse, it felt a million miles away from the bustle of the city. It looked like the kind of place the Hardy Boys would have used as a base for an adventure. The drinks were standard, but it was a beautiful calm place to sit and watch the water. The bar on the opposite bank had a more hedonistic vibe going, if that’s what you’re looking for.

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Not Only Riesling

Conveniently located about a minute from our apartment on Bergmannstrasse, this lovely bright and friendly wine bar specialised in German wines (as the name might suggest) with bits and pieces of charcuterie, cheese and olives on offer. A great place for an aperitif and a snack

Prater Garten

It was cold and grey when we decided in typical Northern European fashion that we were going to have a beer outside, because that’s what you do in May. The fact that it started drizzling after we sat down didn’t deter us. Prater biergarten is a giant, historic beer garden off one of the main streets in Prenzlauerberg. It has  hundreds yellow painted benches and tables surrounded by chestnut trees and floodlights for evening. It felt like a uniquely German place to visit. You can buy different types of beer, and traditional snacks like pretzels and currywurst from the stands on the edge of the garden.

Smoky Tomato Falafel

DSC_0187Falafel have been a staple part of my diet for as long as I can remember. As a child, my favourite restaurant was the Cedar Tree, a Lebanese restaurant in Dublin. How exactly my parents managed to get two incredibly fussy eating children to devour falafel, hummus and other things that were incredibly exotic in Dublin in the eighties is beyond me, but it was one of the few places the whole family loved.  One of my favourite childhood memories is emerging from the basement restaurant onto the street above to discover that the whole city had been freshly coated in snow while we’d been having dinner.

When I first arrived in Holland, with a giant suitcase, a map, and very little else, falafel was my first meal. It hadn’t really occurred to me that not speaking a word of Dutch might pose any problem, until I realised I was hungry and had no clue what anything on any of the cafe menus were. Too embarrassed to ask, I ended up finding one of those fast food places with pictures of everything, relieved I could recognise a plate of falafel. Later, living in Aarhus, a roll of freshly baked flat bread stuffed with falafel, cabbage, chilli sauce, leaves and tahini from the Palestinian take away a few doors from my flat cost about €4. It was one of the few things my two day a week salary would stretch to, and became a weekend staple.

I was always disappointed when I tried to make falafel myself.Many past attempts ended with bland results. The key to this recipe is using dried chickpeas soaked overnight, but not cooked. I tried using tinned chickpeas, and ended up with spicy garlic mush that dissolved on the frying pan.  Being completely honest, this recipe, while delicious, is a million miles away from the falafel you get in Middle Eastern cafes, with their crispy brown deep fried shell giving way to tiny grains delicately spiced grains of broad beans. For starters, broad beans are difficult to track down in Dublin, so I make these with chickpeas. Also, pan frying just doesn’t give quite the same effect.They’re inspired by falafel sold from a Turkish deli stand at the market in Leiden. The recipe makes about 20 falafel. They freeze and keep well, and are great combined with tabbouleh to make a packed lunch for work.

Ingredient

  • 250g dried chickpeas, soaked in lots of water for 12 hours
  • 1 large red onion, finely chopped
  • 4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 1 chipotle chile in adobo
  • 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 8-10 slow roasted cherry tomatoes
  • 1 tablespoon tomato puree
  • 2 tablespoons chopped parsley and/or coriander
  • 1 teaspoon toasted cumin
  • 1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
  • 2 tablespoons of sesame seeds
  • Rapeseed or sunflower oil

Method

  • Mix all the ingredients together in a large bowl or measuring jug.
  • Use a stick blender to break them down and mix them together.
  • The chickpeas should take on a consistency like grains of sand, you don’t want them completely pureed to a paste.
  • Check the seasoning, they can take a good amount of salt.
  • Form the mixture into golfball sized balls, flatten them slightly into patties, and then roll them in a bowl of sesame seeds to coat.
  • Heat 2-3 tablespoons of oil in a frying pan over medium heat.
  • Fry the falafel in batches, about 2 minutes on each side (watch carefully, they burn easily).
  • Drain on kitchen paper and serve warm.

Talento Gelato – The Best Gelato in Dublin

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My corner of Dublin 7 is a mix of the traditional and the new. We have an independent publisher and bookshop, which backs onto a working stable. You can get a cheese toastie and pint of Guinness in Frank Ryans, or clams with sherry vinaigrette and a glass of Txacoli at Fish Shop next door. In April, one neighbour had a notice up in their front window with the local mass timetable. Two doors down, there was a poster urging people to vote yes in the same sex marriage referendum. Sorrento, the chip shop on Arbour Hill, is the perfect mix of traditional and new. It has the same 1970s tiled decor of my grandparents kitchen, and serves traditional chipper fare, with whirly burgers and battered sausages advertised on star shaped neon cardboard handwritten signs. hey also sell the best ice-cream you will ever eat.

I’m not a big ice-cream/gelato fan normally, I find it a bit bland. I’m the type to buy Ben and Jerry’s and then fish out all the non-ice cream bits with a spoon and leave the rest in a puddle in the bowl. My first time trying Talento Gelato was after a few pints in Mulligans, when himself decided on a midnight snack. I have to admit I was sceptical about the sign advertising freshly made gelato. Cristiano, the maker of the gelato was working behind the counter, and apologetically answered our request for pistachio ice cream by explaining the good pistachios were not in season yet, and instead he could only offer buffalo milk and Sicilian blood orange ice cream. Himself bought a large portion for €4. I spent the rest of the walk home trying to wrestle the spoon out of his hand. The gelato was something else altogether, rich and light and full of flavour. If I hadn’t been told it was buffalo milk, I would have spent days trying to figure out what the rich,tangy taste of the gelato base was.

The next time we stopped by the gelato on offer was pistachio, rosewater and saffron made with tender pistachios the size of pinenuts. It was delicate and perfumed, exactly the kind of thing to end a meal with. When we asked him about the gelato he was making, Cristiano explained that growing up in Romania he had never even heard of it, but from the day he first tried it, he was hooked.  He studied to make gelato at Carpigiani Gelato University in Bologna and has been making it in Dublin using traditional methods for the past year.  He showed us the ingredients he used, including different varieties of vanilla pod and chocolate from Madagascar and Tahiti which he used to flavour his gelato. It was impossible not to be impressed with his passion for what he did. I should add he did not know I had a food blog when he talked us through all this, he was just happy to explain his craft to anyone with a bit of interest.  Talento di Gelato ice-cream is also on sale at the Temple Bar Food Market. Cristiano is planning to set up his own gelateria in the next year, and to run gelato making classes.Until then, it’s worth a trip to Arbour Hill just to get a taste of the best gelato in Dublin.

Raspberry, Basil and Lemon Financiers

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Fittingly enough, the history of financiers is a story of greed. Financiers were part of a clever marketing trick targeting stockbrokers at the Bourse in Paris in the late nineteenth century. They’re based on an older simple almond cake called a Visitandine, made by nuns of the Visitandine Order. The Order was founded for nuns who were unable to deal with the austerity required by other stricter orders, who presumably were not allowed to spend their days eating delicious almond cakes.  Stockbrokers in the rational atmosphere of 1890s Paris were not very likely to warm to such an ecclesiastical theme, so a baker named Lasne, who had a shop close to the Bourse, rededicated them with a nod to their egos. The simple cakes were easy to eat neatly as they didn’t have icing on them, which suited people working all day in three piece suits.  They’re a simple recipe to master, with key basic elements of almond, egg and brown butter, after which you can add your own variations. Like their lighter cousins, Madeleines, they’re best eaten on the day they’re made, but the batter can rest in the fridge for a day or two before baking, so you can still have them prepped to go for guests. This recipe makes about 25 financiers, depending on the size of your moulds.

Ingredients

  • 50g butter plus extra for greasing
  • 50g plain flour plus extra for dusting
  • 140g ground almonds
  • 160g icing sugar, plus extra for dusting
  • 6 egg whites, at room temperature
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil
  • 2 teaspoons lemon zest
  • a few drops of vanilla essence
  • 20-30 raspberries (one for each financier)

Ingredients

  • Gently melt the butter over medium heat, watching carefully, until it starts to brown.
  • Take off the heat and leave in the hot pan to brown for a minute or two more.
  • Mix together all the dry ingredients in a large bowl then stir in the egg whites.
  • Gradually stir in the browned butter, basil, lemon zest and vanilla essence until it forms a batter, being careful not to overmix.
  •  Cover and refrigerate for 2 hours or more.
  • Preheat the oven to 180°C.
  • Spoon the batter into greased muffin or financier tins.
  • Add a raspberry to each one.
  • Bake for 10-14 minutes, watching carefully from 10 minutes on.
  • Remove when the edges start to brown.
  • Remove from the oven and leave to cool in the tins for a few minutes.
  • Transfer to a wire rack and serve as soon as possible.

Citrus,Tarragon and Broad Bean Pappardelle with Tomato Bruschetta

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If talking about the weather was an Olympic sport, I’m confident I could medal in it. I’m not unique in this respect, I think all Irish people would be able to do the same. This is probably because we have so much of it. For a garden party last week I brought sunglasses, sandals, shoes, umbrella, hat and raincoat. We go abroad to places with normal, seasonal weather and confuse everyone by observing repeatedly that it’s hot on a June afternoon. Talking about the weather is conversational stretching. Whether you’ve known the person for 5 minutes or 5 years, it eases you into talking about real things.

I say talking about the weather, but really, it’s mainly complaining. There’s a sweet spot of 25C with clear skies and a light breeze which makes me happy. Everything else is moan worthy. Having spent the past two months complaining about how cold it was, I stepped off a plane in Amsterdam recently to 35C at 8:00pm, and the conversation instantly changed. How can anyone stand this heat? It’s the kind of weather where the day is just one long process of getting in and out of various bodies of water interspersed with lying in the shade and groaning. In this kind of weather, you want long, relaxed meals with minimal stove time, so I made this supper with a little help.

If you have two people working together, it’s quick to put together, with lots of great summer flavours. The pappardelle is adapted from a recipe in Helen Atlee’s wonderful book on Italy, The Land Where Lemons Grow.You need really good, sweet and very red tomatoes for the bruschetta, the kind you only get around this time of year. This serves two with some bruschetta topping left over for lunch the next day.

Bruschetta

  • 4 medium sized vine tomatoes, de-seeded and diced
  • 1 small shallot, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon white wine vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon chopped basil
  • 1/2 tablespoon chopped thyme
  • 1/2 loaf of bread, chopped into slices
  • 1 clove of garlic
  • Extra olive oil for drizzling on bread

Orange, Lemon and Tarragon Pappardelle

  • 1 orange
  • 1 lemon
  • 1 shallot
  • 15g butter
  • 1 tablespoon (ish) white wine
  • 100ml cream
  • teaspoon chopped tarragon
  • 200g pappardelle
  • Grated parmesan (to taste)
  • 500g broad beans (unshelled weight)

Method

  • Mix the tomato, shallot, basil, thyme, olive oil and vinegar in a large bowl, and season well.
  • Peel the lemon and orange and julienne the peel.
  • Boil the peel for five minutes so remove the bitterness and drain.
  • Melt the butter in the a sauce pan and add the shallot.
  • Cook over medium-low heat for 5 minutes or so, until softened but not coloured.
  • Add the wine and peel and reduce.
  • After 2-3 minutes when the wine is almost gone, add the cream and tarragon.
  • Squeeze in some juice from the lemon and orange.
  • Taste after a minute and add more if you like, the original recipe called for the juice of two oranges and one lemon, but I thought this was a bit much. I ended up using about 1/2 of each, but it’s whatever you like yourself.
  • Season well with salt and pepper.
  • Meanwhile, shell the broad beans and boil for 3-4 minutes in boiling water.
  • Refresh with cold water, and when you can handle them, squeeze off the tough outer coating.
  • Cook the pappardelle in boiling salted water as per packet instructions.
  • Rub each slice of bread with a peeled garlic clove, drizzle with some oil and toast until golden on both sides (you can do this under the grill or in a pan).
  • When the pasta is cooked, toss it in the sauce and add the broad beans.
  • Mix in some grated parmesan to taste (again, it’s up to you how much, I like quite a lot, about 1.5 tablespoons per portion, but that’s just me).
  • Top the toasted bread with a spoonfull of the tomato mix and serve with the pasta.