From a very young age, one of Neven's favourite pastimes was to shadow his mother in the kitchen, watching her cook; his pastime soon became ...
8 thin slices cooked ham
5 small wedges irish cheese ( knockdrinna, cashel blue, glebe brethan and mileens)
450 g (1lb) small shallots or pearl onions
350 ml (12fl oz) white wine vinegar
50 ml (2fl oz) olive oil
50 g (2oz) golden caster sugar
1 tsp maldon sea salt
0.25 tsp cracked black pepper
small handful fresh small basil leaves
2 tblsp balsamic vinegar (good quality)
crusty bread, to serve
Tip the shallots or pearl onions into a bowl and pour over a kettleful of boiling water. Leave to stand for 1 minute and then drain. When cool enough to handle, peel away the skins and trim down the roots.
Place the white wine vinegar into a large pan with the olive oil, sugar, salt, basil leaves and 200ml (7fl oz) of water. Bring to the boil, then lower the heat and give it a good stir. Simmer for 3 minutes until the sugar has completely dissolved. Tip in the peeled shallots and simmer for 8-10 minutes until just tender. Use a slotted spoon to scoop of the shallots and basil and pack into a large sterilised jar.
Bring the remaining pickling liquid to the boil and boil fast for 5 minutes, then remove from the heat and stir in the balsamic vinegar. Pour enough over the shallots to cover. Seal the jars and leave for at least 3 days before using. These will keep very well stored in a cool dark place for 3 months.
To serve, arrange the ham on a nice platter with a nice selection of Irish cheeses that have been left at room temperature for at least an hour. Drain the balsamic pickled shallots and plate in a small serving dish on the platter. Serve straight to the table with plenty of crusty bread and serving plates so that guests can help themselves.