Wednesday, March 9, 2011

'She sowed no green barley for that'

I returned from Switzerland on Saturday after an exhilarating week long ski holiday.  It was, I must say a total break from all normality and daily routine, without my husband and without my children.  I slept all night every night (something of a rarity for me), skied all day, every day, sauna-ed, swam, ate, cooked nothing and I generally had a great week with my lovely brother and sister.  I am back now, broke and if I am honest, finding it difficult to get back into routine.

Its funny when you don't see your children for a week like that, they do look somehow different.  In my mind's eye they look so familiar, but when I actually see them after a week of not seeing them, they are very subtly different, it is too subtle to actually pinpoint what is different, but when you are used to spending almost every waking hour with these little people, it is strange that they look a little unfamiliar.  A strange trick of my memory.  Needless to say, they themselves have not changed a bit and all peace and quiet has gone for the next year!

Ok so yes as you can see, it was great and the food and scenery were spectacular, the highlights being Chez Vrony and Olympia Stübli, but also Stadel, the Pollux kitchen and the excellent sausages on the grill from Willy Bayard outside his butchers shop on Bahnhofstrasse - a large consignment which consisted of Weiss wurst, wiener wurstchen, speck and air-dried beef did make their way safely back to Dublin.

Although I should, I don't feel as thought I have come back with a bounce and, to tell the truth, I feel a little pre-occupied and uninspired.  I tried to shake this off today by mucking around in the kitchen as that usually works, the result being a re-creation of the creamy barley soup which we ate a lot of last week.

I am no stranger to soups of all kinds - being brought up in a house where the motto 'a soup boiled is a soup spoiled' was recited in preparation of every pot - I must add at this point that my mother is the current the master of old sayings, much to our amusement - her recent favourites being 'she sowed no green barley for that'  or 'a gale that would clean corn'.  Nevertheless, she does manage to fashion a great tasting broth out of virtually nothing but some greens from the garden and some small little remnants of dried things which spill out unknowingly and hide at the bottom of the kitchen drawer....heavily influenced I believe by the children's recipe for stone soup, she is the soup queen. 
So much as a surprise to myself, this one was pretty good - as they say in North Antrim she sowed no green barley for that!

It is a creamy rich barley soup with impossibly finely chopped onion, carrot and sometimes leek, soft pearl barley (I had the crude kind with husk), some diced air dried beef served sprinkled with finely chopped chives.  Everywhere we ate it, from canteen to fine dining in Zermatt it held a rich stock and delivered a much needed warm punch (the warm punch I discovered being caused by the addition of both cream and egg yolks).
I did not believe it until I made the soup and did a taste comparison before and after the addition of the cream and yolks but they are definitely needed to produce the soup which I grew to love last week.

To prepare (apologies for lack of exact quantities but trust your instincts, you cannot go so wrong): 

Soak some (100g) barley in some cold water for 3 hours.
Dice (impossibly finely) the onion, carrot and leek whites and saute in butter and a little olive oil in a heavy based saucepan for a few minutes.
In a separate saucepan bring the barley to the boil in 500ml of chicken/vegetable or ham stock.  Skim off and discard any scum which may form on top.
Simmer for 30 minutes until the barley is al dente and then add the sauteed vegetables.
Add the finely chopped air-dried speck/diced cooked pancetta or you could use some torn boiled ham (using the ham stock to previously cook the barley).
Simmer for a further 15 minutes to ensure that everything is cooked through.
Season to taste.

In a separate bowl mix 2 egg yolks and 75ml of fresh cream.
Just as you serve, place 2 tblsps of the cream and yolk into a bowl and add the fresh hot barley broth on top, gently stir and serve with finely chopped chives.

It will look like this, not exactly identical to that eaten in Zermatt,  but every bit as tasty.

Apart from my family, the only and next best reason to be back at home is to celebrate the new arrival of two delicious pots of the very best Henchions Famous Home-made Marmalade, devoured in Cork since the 1950's and still enjoyed today!  I have been passed on the secret recipe so when Dublin decides to import a good crop of Seville oranges, hopefully in 2012 I will be replicating these!  In the mean time I am very happy to be the recipient of such fine marmalade.  Thank you Cork.

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