It can hardly have escaped anyone’s notice that eating locally is all the rage these days. Yes indeed, reducing your food miles and growing your own are where it’s at. People who previously didn’t know one end of a spade from the other are suddenly all about raised beds and double digging (for which purpose one sincerely hopes that they are, by now, using the right end of the spade).
Bully for them I say and, yes, bully for me, out there with my wellies on, digging up spuds with the best of them.
But, but, but.
While I might have a spade or a garden-fresh spud in one hand, my other hand is reaching for decidedly non-local foodstuffs, which happen to go very nicely with those straight-from-the-garden veg. Things which, I might add, I feel it is my right to have available to me in the kitchen. Basic things, like lemons, say, or good olive oil. Things not of this Irish earth. I’ve been wondering lately whether I could venture down the ultra-local eating path and really give such things up?
I think the short answer is no.
The slightly more considered answer is that it’s not a question of all or nothing. How those items of food get to me is important too.
Take last weekend, for example. While visiting friends in Raheny, I had a wander around the Saturday market in St. Anne’s Park, where I met Tony Hartley and sampled his wonderful Spanish olives and olive oil. Tony deals directly with a single, small-scale producer in Spain and travels there every four months or so to fill his van with olive oil and olives. Back at home, he supplies olive oil to some Italian pizzerias (shhhh, don’t tell them it’s Spanish) and makes classic pesto sauces and marinated olives to sell at the market.
Of course I bought some of his wares. The oil was lovely stuff and the olives (especially those marinated in oil with lemon and cracked pepper) were the nicest I’ve had in an age. And I thought to myself that if I’m going to continue to buy those foreign foodstuffs, I’ll try to buy from someone like Tony. Not only is it reassuring to deal with someone who really personally cares about the quality of what he’s selling, but it also means that I’m only one step removed from the guy in Spain who’s been busy pressing that oil.
What’s more, once they get to my kitchen, the olives and oil will not be consigned to a foreign food ghetto but will integrate very nicely with the locals. Like in this gratin, where olives, olive oil and one of those outsider lemons cosy up to spuds, courgette, red onion and rosemary that have travelled from my back garden to the kitchen and no further. It’s a mostly-local approach I think I can live with.
Potato, Courgette and Olive Gratin
This was inspired by a recipe for a Provençal gratin taken from the wonderful Green’s Cookbook by Deborah Madison and Edward Espe Brown. Instead of tomatoes and thyme, I’ve used courgette and rosemary to accompany the spuds, along with plenty of Hartley’s olives and olive oil.
- 500g potatoes, preferably a waxy variety
- 400g courgette
- 275g red onion
- 80g green olives, pitted and roughly chopped
- 3 cloves garlic, finely sliced
- zest of one lemon
- 1 tsp chopped rosemary
- 6-8 tblsp olive oil
- coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
You’ll also need:
- An ovenproof dish – mine was 24cm x 30cm x 5cm, but you could certainly get away with one a bit smaller than that – plus some foil to cover the dish while cooking.
- Preheat your oven to 200C
- Scrub the potatoes and cut them into slices approx. 0.5 cm thick
- Bring a pot of water to the boil, add a good pinch of salt and the potato slices. Allow them to come back up to the boil and boil for 3 minutes. Remove from the heat, drain and set aside.
- Slice your onion into pieces around 0.5 cm thick and slice your courgette into rounds, again about 0.5 cm thick.
- Place a pan over a medium-high heat. When hot, add a couple of tblsp of olive oil, swirl to coat the pan and add the sliced onions and the rosemary. Sauté, stirring frequently, for 3-4 minutes, until the onions have started to soften. Remove from the pan and set aside.
- Return the pan to the heat and add another couple of tblsp of olive oil. Add the courgette slices and stir and fry for around 4 minutes or until they start to soften a little, then remove and set aside. You may find this easier to do in 2 batches.
- Now assemble the gratin. Cover the bottom of your ovenproof dish with a film of olive oil. Add half of the onions, half of the sliced garlic and the chopped olives. Sprinkle with some coarse salt and black pepper.
- Layer half of the potato slices, followed by half of the courgette slices. Add the rest of the sliced garlic and half of the lemon zest. Sprinkle with some more coarse salt and black pepper. Repeat, using the rest of the potatoes, courgette and lemon zest.
- Top with the remaining onions, another sprinkle of salt and pour over a couple of tblsp of olive oil.
- Cover loosely with foil and bake for 20 minutes, then remove the foil and bake for another 15 minutes or so, ensuring that the potatoes are cooked through.
- Dig in.
- You might want to experiment with adding more rosemary to this or use thyme instead.
- I meant to add some soft goat’s cheese in between the potato and courgette layers, only I ate all of the goat’s cheese before I remembered what I wanted to use it for. Next time, though…
- Makes 4 good-sized portions of gratin.