Three great convertibles

Some readers of my books will already be familiar with our three great convertibles – Tomato Fondue, Piperonata and Mushroom a la Crème. These three incredibly versatile recipes appear in virtually all of my 12 cookery books despite the fact that each has a different theme and I am careful to have as little repetition as possible. They earn their place in every single volume because they not only star as a vegetable in their own right but also form the basis of many delectable dishes.
Lets start with Tomato Fondue. This juicy melted tomato stew can be flavoured with just one herb – say basil, mint or marjoram, or it can be embellished with a mixture of fresh herbs in season. It can be made ahead and frozen as indeed can Piperonata and Mushroom a la crème.
Its delicious served as a vegetable with fish, chicken, guinea fowl, pork, particularly if the recipe includes a creamy sauce. 
Serve it as a sauce with chicken breast or with a piece of pan-grilled wild Irish salmon – one can easily imagine that it makes a perfect sauce for pasta, either on its own or with chorizo or kabanossi sausage and lots of freshly grated Desmond, Coolea or Baylough farmhouse cheese. Slather it across the centre of an omelette with a little knob of pesto for extra excitement or use it as a base to add beans or chick peas for a delicious bean stew. You can add it to your favourite recipe for mince to make it even more tasty.

If you’d rather make a fish stew, add a mixture of fish and shellfish, some chilli to add a little extra zing and lots of fresh dill or maybe coriander, a little grated ginger is terrific too, as is a can of coconut milk and so on.
All one needs is a pot of Tomato fondue and a sprinkling of imagination – in the Caribbean they add spinach and lots of freshly chopped dill and serve it with fish – truly delicious.

Piperonata - the Italian Pepper and Tomato stew can also be used in a myriad of ways. It too is delicious with fish, and when paired with poached eggs it becomes the classic piperade. 
The sweetness of the peppers is particularly delicious with swordfish, tuna or monkfish. Piperonata, unlike the tomato fondue and mushroom a la crème can be eaten cold and is delicious with goat cheese or mozzarella. Drizzle with a little tapenade or pesto.

Deliciously rich and creamy, mushroom a la crème is irresistible with a succulent steak or juicy hamburger. Its also good with chicken breast and makes a perfect filling for a vol au vent or omelette. It makes the best mushrooms on toast and acts as a basis to use up little morsels of cooked chicken and ham. Add some cooked salmon and a few mussels or other shellfish, some chopped herbs, and hey presto you have a filling for pancakes or a pie which can be topped with pastry or potato. This mixture is also delicious as a filling for filo parcels.

Ring the changes by adding some freshly grated ginger and some toasted chopped almonds. We also spread a basic mushroom a la crème over a pizza base with lots of marjoram to make one of the most delectable of all pizzas.
Mushroom a la crème can also be made with wild mushrooms or a mixture of cultivated and wild.

So now you’ll understand why we virtually always have Tomato Fondue, Piperonata and Mushroom a la Crème in a fridge and also in the freezer – here are the recipes and I’m sure you will find even more exciting ways to use these great convertibles.


Serves 8-10
1 onion, sliced
2 red peppers
2 green peppers
6 large tomatoes (dark red and very ripe)
2 tablespoons olive oil
Salt, freshly ground pepper and sugar
A clove of garlic, crushed
A few leaves of fresh basil
Heat the olive oil in a casserole, add the garlic and cook for a few seconds, then add the sliced onion, toss in the oil and allow to soften over a gentle heat in a covered casserole while the peppers are being prepared. Halve the peppers, remove the seeds carefully, cut into quarters and then into strips across rather that lengthways. Add to the onion and toss in the oil; replace the lid and continue to cook.

Meanwhile peel the tomatoes (scald in boiling water for 10 seconds, pour off the water and peel immediately). Slice the tomatoes and add to the casserole, season with salt, freshly ground pepper, sugar and a few leaves of fresh basil if available. Cook until the vegetables are just soft, 30 minutes approx. 

Mushroom a la Creme

Serves 4
½-1 oz (15-30 g) butter
3 ozs (85 g) onion, finely chopped
½ lb (225g) mushrooms, sliced
4 fl ozs (100ml) cream
Freshly chopped parsley
½ tablespoon freshly chopped chives (optional)
A squeeze of lemon juice
Salt and freshly ground pepper

Melt the butter in a heavy saucepan until it foams. Add the chopped onions, cover and sweat on a gentle heat for 5-10 minutes or until quite soft but not coloured; remove the onions to a bowl. Meanwhile cook the sliced mushrooms in a hot frying pan in batches if necessary. Season each batch with salt, freshly ground pepper and a tiny squeeze of lemon juice . Add the mushrooms to the onions in the saucepan, then add the cream and allow to bubble for a few minutes. Taste and correct the seasoning, and add parsley and chives if used.

Note: Mushroom a la creme may be served as a vegetable, or as a filling for vol au vents, bouchees or pancakes or as a sauce for pasta. It may be used as an enrichment for casseroles and stews or, by adding a little more cream or stock, may be served as a sauce with beef, lamb, chicken or veal. A crushed clove of garlic may be added while the onions are sweating.
Mushroom a la Creme keeps well in the fridge for 4-5 days.

Stuffed Zucchini Blossoms with Goats Cheese, Pesto and Tomato Fondue

In the Summer we grow zucchini (courgettes) in both the Kitchen garden and the Green House, they produce hundreds of canary yellow blossoms. The female flowers produce the fruit but we use the male flowers in our salads, as a container for sauces and in soups. They are also utterly delicious stuffed with a few melting morsels, then dipped in a light batter and deep fried until crisp and golden. 

Serves 6-8 
Batter (excellent for fish fillets also) 
140g (5ozs) plain flour 
12 tablespoons olive oil 
1-12 egg whites
Sea salt 
Sunflower oil for deep frying 
12 - 16 courgette flowers (or less) 
175g - 225g (6 - 8ozs) fresh Irish goat=s cheese (I use St Tola, Croghan or Ardsallagh, each wonderful but different) 
3-4 teaspoons Pesto 
3-4 tablespoons Tomato fondue – see recipe
Tomato sauce or tomato fondue

First make the batter. Sieve the flour into a bowl, make a well in the centre, pour in the olive oil, stir and add enough water to make a batter about the consistency of thick cream. Allow to stand for at least 1 hour if you can. 
Just before cooking, whisk the egg whites to a stiff peak and fold into the batter. Add salt to taste.
Heat the oil in the deep fryer until very hot. Remove the >thorns= from the base of the zucchini flowers and the stamens from the center. Hold a zucchini flower upright, open slightly and carefully. Put about 15g (2oz) goat=s cheese, 2 teaspoon pesto and 1 teaspoon of Tomato fondue into each. Twist the tip of the petals to seal. Dip in batter and drop into the hot oil. Fry on one side for about 2 minutes and then turn over. They=ll take about 4 minutes in total to become crisp and golden. 
Drain on kitchen paper and serve immediately - just as they are or with hot Tomato Sauce or a little extra Tomato fondue. 

Crunchy Chicken and Mushroom Filo Pies 
Serves 6 as a main course – but these pastries can be made in different sizes and used as a canapé or starter also. 
1 packet filo pastry - use what you need and carefully freeze the remainder
Clarified Butter or melted butter
Mushroom a la Crème (see recipe)
340g (12oz) cooked chicken, diced 
225g (8oz) cooked ham or bacon, diced 
egg wash 
First make the Mushroom a la Crème. Add some coarsely chopped cooked ham or bacon and cooked chicken to the mushrooom a la creme. Taste and correct seasoning.
Defrost the filo pastry if necessary and unfold.
For Filo Parcels.
Brush the top sheet with melted butter. Put 1-2 tablespoons of the filling in the centre of the sheet in about 6.5cm (2½inch) from the narrow end. Fold the pastry over the filling twice and then fold in one of the edges, roll over and then fold in the other side so there is even thickness of pastry at both sides. Continue to roll over to enclose the filling. 
Brush with egg wash and melted butter.
Bake in a preheated oven at 200C/400F/regulo 4 for 15-20 minutes depending on size.
For filo triangles
Cut each sheet in 4 lengthwise, brush each strip with melted butter, put a heaped teaspoon of filling near the end of the strip. Fold over and over from side to side to form a triangle. Brush with melted butter and egg wash. 
Serve with a good green salad and some spicy greens. 

Darina’s back to basics  

Tomato Fondue
Serves 6 approximately
115g (4ozs) sliced onions
1 clove of garlic, crushed 
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
900g (2lbs) very ripe tomatoes in Summer, or 2½ tins (x 14oz) of tomatoes in Winter, but peel before using
Salt, freshly ground pepper and sugar to taste
1 tablespoon of any of the following;
freshly chopped mint, thyme, parsley, lemon balm, marjoram or torn basil
Heat the oil in a non reactive saucepan. Add the sliced onions and garlic toss until coated, cover and sweat on a gentle heat until soft but not coloured. It is vital for the success of this dish that the onions are completely soft before the tomatoes are added. Slice the fresh tomatoes or tinned and add with all the juice to the onions. Season with salt, freshly ground pepper and sugar (tinned tomatoes need lots of sugar because of their high acidity). Add a generous sprinkling of herbs. Cook uncovered for just 10-20 minutes more, or until the tomato softens. Cook fresh tomatoes for a shorter time to preserve the lively fresh flavour. Tinned tomatoes need to be cooked for longer depending on whether one wants to use the fondue as a vegetable, sauce or filling. Note: A few drops of Balsamic vinegar at the end of cooking greatly enhances the flavour.

Tomato Fondue with Chilli
Add 1 - 2 chopped fresh chilli to the onions when sweating.

Hot Tips
Bord Bia have just brought out new beef and lamb recipe cards- ‘Great beef for the Grill or Barbecue’ and ‘Its so Easy’ Lamb recipes. Look out for the cards in the supermarket and at the butchers shop – all recipes are available on line at
Cork’s English Market has been listed among Europe’s top ten food markets in the current issue of the Observer Food Monthly, in the company of Borough Market in London, Les Halles de Lyons, The Pescheria in Venice and others.

About the author

Darina Allen
By Darina Allen


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