‘Everything has its place, except truffles. Hidden underground is just where they should stay’

Food Court: As Food Month comes to an end, Marie-Claire Digby and Lilly Higgins voice opinions for and against truffles, and contributors nominate their favourite and most detested foods

 

FOR: Marie-Claire Digby

The door opened and a strange and alluring aroma, like nothing I’d ever encountered before, was carried in on a gust of cold air. Borne high on the shoulders of a white-coated delivery man, ushered in like a VIP, was a polystyrene box, from which the pungent, earthy, elemental scent was escaping.

The precious cargo was a consignment of white Alba truffles, arriving into Valvona & Crolla, the Italian delicatessen in Edinburgh, where I was spending a few contended hours browsing the shelves, pondering pepper from Pondicherry and other such exotica.

Noses twitching like bloodhounds, customers turned to trace the origin of the smell that was enveloping the busy shopfloor. Sensing an appreciative audience, the counter assistant taking charge of the delivery lifted the lid a fraction ... and that was it, a coup de foudre that ignited a lifelong love affair.

That was more than 30 years ago, but I’ve never forgotten my first encounter with the “diamond of the kitchen”, and am as enamoured now as I was then.

Since then, I’ve eaten truffle shaved luxuriously over silky home made pasta in Italy; indulged in it added to almost everything – including ice cream (no, not a good idea) – in Croatia, and most recently, crunched through a bag of potato crisps in Spain infused with it.

The aroma and inimitable flavour, bring me right back to Elm Row in Edinburgh, and the exotic, endless culinary possibilities Valvona & Crolla’s well stocked shelves promised.

Just don’t try and fob me off with truffle oil, that synthetic aberration that gives the real thing a bad name. Instead, get hold of a real truffle. Store it immediately in an airtight jar, nestled into either arborio rice or the best free-range eggs you can find. Then use it to make the best risotto or scrambled eggs you’ve ever eaten, with the addition of lots of good butter.

AGAINST: Lilly Higgins

There are very, very few foods that I hate. Green peppers are bitter and dull to me, but I’d eat them. There’s nothing I dislike enough to actually pick out of a dish. I acknowledge that anchovies are unbelievably rich and condensed in flavour, but on a pizza, or melted into a tomato-based sauce they’re divine.

Everything has it’s place, except truffles. Hidden underground is just where they should stay. They are held in high esteem by chefs worldwide and heralded as the “diamond of the kitchen”.

I only ever found them tolerable. I was given a truffle shaver a few years ago, but it remains unused. I think my dislike of them stems from a few years ago when we were in Italy.

At a charming little family run delicatessen we were led downstairs to the cellar to view the cheese laid out on beds of straw on cold stone shelves. But, as I walked down the stairs gazing wide mouthed at the gorgeous cheeses, I banged my forehead on the cold stone ceiling.

Staggering into the cellar, our guide was oblivious to my curses and stuffed some freshly cut truffle infused cheese into my mouth. As a result of that, I now have a physical reaction to truffle anything. It gives me a banging pain in my head. So no need to waste your prized truffle oil on me this festive season, I’m quite happy without it.

Marie-Claire Digby is an Irish Times journalist. Lilly Higgins is a food writer, blogger, photographer and chef.

WE LOVE ...

Curry: Bibi Baskin

I lived in India for 15 years, until recently, and frequently had curries twice a day. If we do the maths on that, then it becomes obvious that I simply adore them.

There’s a huge difference in the many regional curries of India, but my favourite is the hot and spicy type. I don’t accept the argument that too much chilli powder numbs the flavours of the other masala ingredients.

An educated palate can pick them up and each chef/home-cook will have his/her own combination of spices.

A fiery chickpea curry from Kerala is the dish for me.

Bibi Baskin, former broadcaster and hotelier, is currently a social media manager.

Sausages: Paul Flynn

All sausages make me happy, from the plain unassuming breakfast ones to the big chunky ambitious ones with venison, wild boar or duck inside them.

From our humble black and white puddings to the fancy French boudin blanc and boudin noir, I love them all, with their variations and subtleties.

To be perched at a bar counter in Seville eating inky morcilla with chickpeas, currants and pine nuts, sipping a cool sherry, is the stuff or my distant dreams .

Or, more accessible, but no less delicious, thrusting Mama Genoa’s battered sausage into a handy tub of cool coleslaw after a hectic Saturday night service ... All my boxes are ticked: hot, cold , crispy , salty and a little bit bad for you. But hey, I’m only human.

Paul Flynn is chef proprietor at the Tannery restaurant in Dungarvan, Co Waterford.

Seaweed: JP McMahon

I love seaweed. It should be our national food. We have 2,500 varieties in the west of Ireland. It’s underused and under appreciated. We need to look into ways of putting on our menus in all aspects. It’s sustainable in terms of farming and could develop the economy of rural areas.

JP McMahon is a chef, restaurateur, activist and writer

Yoghurt: Colin Harmon

We have an incredible standard of dairy in this country and although its all very trendy to talk about butter, cheese and milk, I can’t understand how we don’t cook more with yoghurt.

Yoghurt should be a central ingredient to Irish cooking, in stews, soups and as a marinade with meats. It is the sort of thing you can make yourself, eat at any meal and there are many health benefits to eating proper yoghurt.

It brings so much depth to a lot of traditional Irish dishes and we should be embracing what we are best at.

Colin Harmon is the owner of 3fe Coffee in Dublin and the author of a new book aimed at helping people open and run coffee shops. See whatiknowaboutrunningcoffeeshops.com

Broth: Robin Gill

I love broth, all types of broth, soup, stew, ramen, tom yam, cassoulet, pot au feu, coddle... Make a nice seasoned stock, chuck in noodles, prawns, lobster, pork belly, rashers, an egg, lamb shoulder, barley, ox cheek, chuck in a horse. Just don’t give me cake, I hate cake.

Think of an icy cold wintery grey day when someone has made you a piping hot, beautifully seasoned bowl of loveliness from the heart. I will always remember the comfort of my Mum’s coddle and the shlurping of my Dad as we fight over the bottle of Worcester sauce. Make me an honest broth and I’ll love you.

Robin Gill is a chef and restaurateur

Turnip: Kate Lawlor

To quote Wikipedia, “In Scotland, Ireland, northern England, and parts of Canada, the usage is confusingly reversed, with the yellow vegetables being called turnips or neeps, and the white ones swedes. Neeps are mashed and eaten with haggis, traditionally on Burns Night.”

When I say turnip, I mean the yellow turnip, you know, the one we are used to being boiled to within an inch of its life.

It’s a vegetable we often see mashed, or served up with others roots, or over cooking on the carvery, and let’s face it, if you were a kid like me, you didn’t touch the stuff.

Being honest, it’s only in recent times I have begun to have a fondness for this vegetable. I only truly began to appreciate it in its own right when one of the chefs decided to salt bake it. Crack open the crispy salt pastry, take off the skin, dice it, add a bit of butter and pepper, and it is delicious. You can even braise it in cider or make a remoulade or a gratin with it.

It’s a veg that takes on flavour well and offers that warming feeling on a winter’s night, or a freshness to a salad.

I encourage you to embrace this underrated vegetable, and if the sight and smell of it gets to you, you can always close your eyes and hold your nose.

Kate Lawlor is head chef at Fenn’s Quay restaurant in Cork

WE HATE ...

Crème caramel: Vanessa Greenwood

Robbed of choice ... that’s how I feel when I see crème caramel on a dessert menu, sitting alongside the predictable brownie, meringue, crumble and ice cream offerings.

When I peruse the dessert menu after a nice meal, what I am anticipating is the pastry chef’s signature dessert, perhaps something that made them become passionate about desserts to start with.

In the cookery school, I have a sixth sense and am usually the first to detect the smell of a saucepan falling to the mercy of burnt sugar in the kitchens. Copper coloured burnt sugar absorbed into custard is not something that I want to taste when I am out to dinner.

My dislike for crème caramel probably stems from camping holidays in France when small plastic pots of the stuff were served up as convenient desserts (but that’s camping where everything tastes better outdoors).

Rather than a wobbly custard dessert with a soft caramel top, I would much prefer to crack my way through the top of a crème brûlée. Two desserts, so close and yet so far apart in enjoyment for me.

Vanessa Greenwood is a cookery school proprietor and tutor

Leg of lamb: Gary O’Hanlon

How can one love the belly, shank, loin, shoulder and liver of an animal, but utterly despise the leg. Well, that’s how it is with me and lamb leg. The smell, taste and texture just turns my stomach.

There has been one exception to the rule though. I once had a small piece from a bog heather fed young lamb that more resembled milk fed veal. No smell or strong taste. I can appreciate the quality though, and why people would love it. Much like my distain for prawns and lobsters, (what’s wrong with me, right?) I love to work with them but they’re simply not for me.

That’s the weird thing with being a chef. You need to develop a palate for everything. And I mean everything. You must know right from wrong. This generally leads, through time, to developing a liking for most things.

It’s hard to believe there was ever a time I hated blue cheese, but there was. I now couldn’t go a week without having a chunk of Crozier Blue. It hasn’t happened with lamb, sadly. I get full carcasses of black faced Achill mountain lamb delivered most weeks throughout their July to December season, so lamb is pretty much ever present on our Sunday lunch menu for a decent part of the year. But a love for the leg still alludes me. That still leaves plenty of the good stuff for me though.

Anyhow, I’ll just keep on tasting. It’s a tough life isn’t it.

Gary O’Hanlon is executive head chef at Viewmount House in Co Longford

Packet soups: Kate Lawlor

Why, oh why, would you open a packet, place it in a pot and add water, I ask? Yes, I understand we are always on the go and need something fast and quick, but what about the joy of making a homemade soup from scratch – that sense of achievement when you sit down and sample your first mouthful and smile, in the knowledge that you made that soup with fresh vegetables in all its goodness.

Revert back to the start, when I opened the packet and added the water to a powdered form of dried soup stock, dehydrated vegetables and meats, with maltodextrins, emulsifiers, fat powders and sugar.

Where is the joy? Where is the love? Where is the sense of satisfaction that comes from making a soup with butter or oil, onion, leek, potato, fresh herbs cut from your little herb garden and chicken stock you made yourself with the carcass from the roast dinner you made recently?

A packet soup won’t offer you this. I urge you to drop those packets and get into real soup therapy, you won’t regret it .

Black pepper: JP McMahon

I hate black pepper. People sprinkle it over everything without thinking. It has nothing to with salt. The phrase salt and pepper should be banned in every restaurant in Ireland. Salt and pepper are different things, for different purposes.

Sweetcorn: Colin Harmon

I detest sweetcorn, and haven’t been able to stomach it since I was a child. I’ve grown to love mushrooms, kidney beans and offal, in time, but I draw the line with sweetcorn.

Chief amongst sweetcorn crimes is using it as a garnish in a salad. It is impossible to pick out and you always end up having one pop in your mouth when you bite into something else.

As a child, I was forced to pick up a corn-on-the-cob and chew away, but I’d rather hand my kids a leg of lamb than the sickly-sweet devil food that is sweetcorn.

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