Chef, TV presenter and cookbook author, Clodagh McKenna lives on a sprawling property in Highclere Park where she has created her own walled vegetable and fruit garden. Her recipes focus on simple, local and seasonal food, offering a fresh take on Irish cooking while her IGTV series shares accessible recipes and vegetable growing tips with her audience. We caught up with Clodagh to find out her tips for creating your own kitchen garden, her favourite summer recipes and how to elevate a home-cooked dinner to restaurant levels.
What do you recommend growing if you’re just starting your own kitchen garden?
My main recommendation is to just start. I honestly find nothing more rewarding than seeing vegetables, fruits and herbs grow in my garden. I would start with veg that you use regularly to cook with if you are trying this for the first time. Spinach, any salad leaves, herbs, tomatoes and peas are all easy to grow and easy to cook with. Give those a try first. Imagine cooking something like my Summer Green Patch Tart knowing that most of the ingredients had come from your own kitchen garden. Heaven.
What would be your top tip for growing your own veggies?
My number one top tip is to grow from seed. It’s so much cheaper, and you get to see the complete cycle of the plant which is genuinely exciting. You must also feed your soil regularly, as the quality of your soil will determine how successful your plants are. I like to use a seaweed based feed. My raised boxes seem to absolutely love it!
What ingredients should we be foraging now?
I’m finding wild raspberries everywhere I look. Although I’m eating more than I bring back to the house as they’re so good. I’ve been making them into syrups for gin cocktails! I also like this time of year to collect seaweeds. Seaweed is an amazing food source. It’s high in protein (up to 25% in some species) and rich in iodine, magnesium and trace minerals such as iron, calcium and vitamins A and C. This free superfood is all around you on coastal walks. Give it a go, but remember, only take what you need – a little goes a long way with seaweed – and remember to rinse or soak it in sea water to liberate grit and any small creatures sheltering in the fronds! Happy foraging!
What are your favourite ingredients to cook with in summer?
At the moment I’m making Peas a thousand ways as I have so many in the garden, I’m also eating raw pea shoots – such an amazing burst of flavour and a new discovery for me. This week I’ll also be stuffing courgette flowers as they are blooming. I’ve also been sugaring black and red currents which are the most beautiful sweet treat.
What is your favourite three-course meal to cook at this time of year?
You have to start a Summer supper with a cocktail – my current favourite is Strawberry Gin .
RECIPE: Makes 6 cocktails
For the strawberry syrup:
400g / 2 cups strawberries chopped
100g / ½ cup Sugar
125ml / ½ cup water
1tbsp lemon juice
For the gin and tonic:
300ml / 10floz of my gin
Tonic water – I love Double Dutch
1. To make the strawberry syrup combine all the ingredients in a saucepan and bring to a simmer. Simmer for 10 mins then blend with a hand blender until smooth. Allow to cool completely.
2. To make the cocktails, fill glasses with ice and one shot of my gin followed by a shot of strawberry syrup. Top up with cold tonic water then garnish with strawberries and serve.
My Summer Supper Menu
Starter: Fried Courgette Flowers. Always wows people.
Main: One Pot Summer Chicken Casserole. Easy and simply delicious. Universally loved by everyone I’ve ever served it to!
Dessert: Lemon Possets. My favorite summer dessert for guests. I love serving them in vintage glass pots that I’ve found.
How would you dress a table for an al fresco summer meal?
I’m loving washed linen this Summer. I have blue and white stripes and mint green linens in my shop. And now that we are starting to socialise in our gardens I love to set a table using these linens. I always make sure that guests are comfortable. Cushions and blankets for everyone – your table can look beautiful, but if everyone is uncomfortable they won’t enjoy it as much. I also like to put a single stem flower from my cutting garden down the centre of each person’s setting, and of course lots and lots of candles.
Where will be the first place you go for a meal after lockdown?
I have been dreaming about my first visit back to Trullo in Highbury. It was my neighbourhood restaurant when I lived in London and the Slow cooked beef shin ragu is simply delicious. I feel like outside Italy, this is the best it gets. The consistency of their Panna Cotta is also beautiful. It is back open. So give it a try.
Could you share your top three tips for elevating a simple dinner to make a restaurant-worthy meal.
Restaurant food is always planned well in advance and keeps balance in mind. So when you plan a special meal at home you should do the same. Take time to decide what you will cook a few days in advance. If you are planning a rich main course, then make the start and desert light. Balance in a meal is key.
Choose things that don’t have to all be cooked on the day. A lack of stress brings about a more enjoyable experience for everyone. Just focus on doing one thing brilliantly and have everything else prepared in advance.
For the last minute cooking it is easy if you have your Mise en place (all your small ingredients) chopped and ready to go. This is what the real pros do! I also always have a bunch of fresh herbs from my garden sitting next to me in a bowl while I plate up. This helps make your plates look incredible and have a restaurant quality about them.
You can pre-order Clodagh’s new Weeknight Suppers book. Clodagh’s 100 interesting, simple recipes from meat-free meals to quick-fix dishes and store cupboard suppers offer the answers to all your weeknight dinner dilemmas. With her trademark twists, Clodagh’s inspirational but achievable dishes elevate the simple to something special.
Shop our Tableware collection for your own summer feasts.