Ballinteer’s main culinary attraction used to be Superquinn, and I really was fairly devastated when it was turned into a SuperValu earlier this year. It was a huge part of my childhood and I genuinely still have dreams about the old layout (don’t ask, I don’t know why); about when the checkouts were beside the painted-tile meat and fish counters, and the yoghurts were at the back, where the frozen food is now.
For years we used to go to the shop en masse, all five of us trailing round every Saturday morning, picking a cereal for the week, picking a bar for Friday, and I remember being kept quiet with lumps of Vienna bread when I was still small enough to fit in the trolley seat. I can also remember getting stuck in the trolley seat, and then the inevitable progression to being able to seek out my own tasters once released – tiny tin dishes of hot chicken goujons at 9am, a small plastic spoon and a lady in white asking if my mother had given me permission. I remember all of the different locations of the customer service desk, and I can remember when there was a crèche in Superquinn, but I think I only went once or twice.
I remember how they used to pile the aisles higher than usual with boxes of Tayto crisps at Christmas (all of the dark-haired bosses out stacking boxes to beat the band in pink and lilac shirts) and how many giant wrapped turkeys they used to buy in. I remember Dolmio lasagne dish giveaways and Uncle Ben’s woks. I remember Fyffes competition boxes with tear-off entry sheets and circles to fill in with banana stickers, and the amazing displays of nuts and ghouls and sweets that they would set up in the fruit section every Hallowe’en. I remember when they had a coffee bean grinder down aisle…three?, and when they still had gaps between each, so that you could run through if you were sent back to get something.
I remember equally how exciting it was to go up to the butcher’s counter to order 50 chicken nuggets on the morning of a birthday party, and how embarrassed I was the day I dropped a bottle of 2-litre 7UP and it whizzed down the empty aisle – I went and hid in the bathroom till it was time to go. I remember Phileas Fogg and Matey bubble bath and Bernard Matthews and Angel Delight and Laughing Cow and Waifos smoked ham and turkey and Country Crisp and toffee cake and and Ripples crisps and Lilt and Danone prize yoghurts and crawling in to hide behind stacks of toilet rolls when they sold them at ground level. I remember when we bought mascarpone for a Greek salad recipe because we didn’t know the difference. I remember mini smoked cheese sausages in a tight brown plastic casing. (I still like those).
I remember the bread and all the bakers. I remember how exotic Superquinn’s exotic fruit section was back then, with kumquats (never as good as they looked, vile in fact), lychees and cape gooseberries, in a small, round, plastic mesh bowl. I remember how the eggs and the potatoes were basically outside because the service door at the back was always left flapping open. I remember sawing the ends of cauliflower and broccoli into a wooden box, which had a sign offering the contents to pet owners, with a sketchy little image of a rabbit.
I remember the day Feargal Quinn came in and gave out £1 vouchers for the bakery, which was behind the checkouts for a while. My brother got one, and I was incredibly jealous, because he got a donut or an eclair, I can’t remember which, but I know he ate it in front of us in the car and I can still remember exactly where we were parked. I remember big wet bunches of daffodils at the tills for Mother’s Day, GOAL badges, bag packers, signs in Irish about ‘milseain‘ and the Superquinn charter (‘If it doesn’t scan it’s free!’ and the bowl with ‘Take a Penny or Leave One, That’s Why They’re There’).
I remember when Superquinn introduced their soup range (modernity approaching), and how grown up it felt to pick the broccoli and cheddar flavour and not wince at how strong the flavour was.
And it was all a mixture of exotic and novelty and fun, in a way that no supermarket could be now. It really was a nice place to shop, and although the quality was excellent from the outset, it never took itself too seriously.
It’s a strange thing to say, but there was a sort of sense of humour about it which I think is hard to find in supermarkets nowadays – it was droll and playful and good-natured rather than glib; it didn’t poke fun; it didn’t play on clichés. It was very much its own thing.
Although it’s definitely not the same, buying food in Ballinteer has become fun again. We have a great new delicatessen on Ballinteer Avenue, Fresh Avenue, which is connected to ‘Get Fresh’ in Rathfarnham, that other great parish of my childhood.
This one sells an amazing array of fruit and vegetables, lots of which is homegrown or even foraged – keep an eye out for their plastic bag of fresh wild garlic in the spring. I’ve seen baby Irish cucumbers, gooseberries, samphire and all sorts of squash there. They have a huge pantry, selling all sorts of herbs and grains and spices under their ‘Get Fresh’ label, and they also sell lots of Irish cheeses and meats, including the lovely Toons Bridge mozzarella that I mentioned here a month or two ago.
There’s also a very well-established Saturday morning market in Marlay Park, with all of the usuals – nice olives, good bread, hot food stalls, a coffee cart, an organic vegetable stall and Jane Russell sausages, which are worth making the trip for alone. But what I find even more inspiring is the kitchen garden in the walled garden behind the market, which has been planted with the most amazing array of fruits, vegetables and herbs.
It’s amazing how few people know about this lovely little oasis – it’s free in (you just walk through the café), and it’s a great place for identifying and tasting different herbs. You aren’t technically supposed to pick anything in the garden, but since these two figs fell while I was taking a picture I felt like no one would mind if I carefully and respectfully wrapped them up in a napkin and brought them home (a sort of food blogger’s Jainism).
Anyway. With my tin of tomatoes from Fresh Avenue, a couple of figs from Marlay and some courgettes and basil from our garden, I decided that the obvious thing to make would be pizza.
For once I didn’t make the dough myself, as we had pizza bases in the fridge from the Artisan Pizza Company, which is based in Rathmines. I used Jamie Oliver’s recipe for the tomato sauce and then piled sliced figs, serrano ham, and fresh mozzarella on one and sliced courgettes, cooked potato, basil and parmesan on the other.
FIG & SERRANO HAM PIZZA
Serves 2. Double or triple quantities as required, and experiment with lots of other flavours
2 figs, sliced into eighths
5 slices of serrano ham, torn into slivers
1 mozzarella ball, water drained off and torn
3tbsp homemade tomato sauce (see below)
1 base, either homemade or bought
Salt and pepper
Good quality balsamic vinegar
If you’re making bases, start these ahead of time. Preheat the oven to 190 degrees c. Then start the tomato sauce (see below). Spoon about three tablespoons of sauce onto the base, then add the figs. Drape the ham around the figs and then add the mozzarella, torn into strips. Drizzle the figs with a little balsamic and then drizzle a few drops of olive oil over the whole thing. Season and drop some basil leaves over the top. Bake for about ten minutes, or until the cheese has melted and turned golden. Serve with a few more basil leaves.
HOMEMADE TOMATO SAUCE
2tbsp olive oil
2 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
25g basil, leaves picked and torn; stalks finely chopped
1 tin of good quality tomatoes
Heat the oil in a large pan and fry the garlic and basil stalks for a couple of minutes over a low heat. Stir in the basil leaves and tomatoes, breaking them with the back of a wooden spoon as you stir. Continue to cook until the sauce has reduced down, about ten minutes, and remove any lingering lumps as you spoon it onto the pizzas.
I only learned this after I took the pictures, but apparently if you put a little sugar into a glass of beer it foams up and photographs better.