You may not be aware of this, but rugby is one of my favorite sports. Not for playing as such, though I’d like to think that I have what it takes to be a good scrum half (short, fast and with terrier-like persistence). This time of year European rugby fans have something special to follow: the Six Nations tournament takes Place across Europe, from Edinburgh to Rome.
The six nations in question are England, France, Ireland, Italy, Scotland and Wales. As a side note, there is plenty of interesting trivia to share as well: this may be the only team game where the Ireland team includes both Northern Ireland and Republic of Ireland.
Played annually in its current form since 2000, the tournament was expanded southwards from the “5 nations”, which had been played since 1910, with the addition of Italy. The format of the Championship is quite simple: each team plays every other team once, with home field advantage alternating from one year to the next. So for instance this year Scotland will play Italy in Scotland while in 2016 the match will be in Italy. Scotland played France in Paris this year and France in turn will travel to Edinburgh next year etc. I will not go into details as to the rules, but the points system is simple: two points are awarded for a win, one for a draw and none for a loss. Unlike most other rugby union competitions the bonus point system is not used. (Source: wikipedia.)
While the six nations in question include some of my personal favorite nations across Europe and some great cooking nations, too, I must admit Wales has remained a mystery to me – I’ve actually never been there. It was therefore only logical I should start my investigative cooking with Wales, to make most of the weekend while it lasts…
I thought it safe to start with an easy one: leak and potato soup.
While fully aware that Wales has some spectacular fresh produce (great farming conditions), delicious fresh lamb, great cheese etc., stereotypically thinking of Wales and food, I thought of leeks. Thus leek and potato soup with (if available – preferably Welsh) cheese was the first “Welsh entry” into my cooking the 6 nations.
You may not need a recipe for the leek and potato soup at all, as it is rather delightfully simple to make, but if you do, good candidates are provided By Julia Child, Jamie Oliver or James Martin.
I made the soup with 2 leeks, 5 potatoes, 2 onions, 1 garlic clove, some oil and 5 dl stock. Once these had been cooked , I added 1,25 dl vegetable stock and 1,5 dl grated cheese. The whole soup was purred and lots of chopped parsley added on top. Easy to make and delicious. (On a critical note, if anything, the soup could have done with more leeks and less cheese.)
The soup is delicious served with a great Irish recipe: soda bread. Tastes great and super easy to make, even for a lazy baker such as me.
Perfect Welsh accompaniment to the soup would have been Glamorgan sausage – more cooking with leeks and a sausage that even vegetarians can enjoy. The Guardian had an excellent recipe for this: http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/wordofmouth/2014/may/15/how-to-make-perfect-glamorgan-sausages.
Lots of fresh parsley always works…
As for my choice of Irish soda bread, it surely is a classic, and there are few things more rewarding than baking bread.
I used a recipe By James Martin:
170g/6oz self-raising wholemeal flour
170g/6oz plain flour
½ tsp salt
½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
290ml/½ pint buttermilk
Preheat the oven to 200C
- Tip the flour, salt and bicarbonate of soda into a large mixing bowl and stir.
- Make a well in the centre and pour in the buttermilk, mixing quickly with a large fork to form a soft dough. (Depending upon the absorbency of the flour, you may need to add a little milk if the dough seems too stiff but it should not be too wet or sticky.)
- Turn onto a lightly floured surface and knead briefly.
- Form into a round and flatten the dough slightly before placing on a lightly floured baking sheet.
- Cut a cross on the top and bake for about 30-40 minutes or until the loaf sounds hollow when tapped.
(Source: BBC Food, http://www.bbc.co.uk/food/recipes/irishsodabread_67445)
Butter milk is easy to come by in Finland, as it is a kind of “PIIMÄ” (great Finnish word that!). It can also be made at home, simply by mixing milk with a tiny amount of vinegar or lemon juice.
For more information on the 6 nations tournament, see the official homepage: http://www.rbs6nations.com/en/news/index.PHP. This year the final results will be revealed on the 21st March. Until then watch this space for more recipes and food musing from the 6 nations. 🙂
PS: Unfortunately due to some very bad planning on my part, only now realised that Scotland are playing Italy in Scotland the weekend I’ll be in Rome. Better luck next year…