Much depends on dinner

Much depends on dinner! Our health, vitality, ability to concentrate, all depend to a great extent on the food we eat, consequently its well worth putting as much effort as possible into sourcing good, fresh naturally produced food in season – after all as our much-loved GP, the late Dr Derry McCarthy was fond of saying ‘If you don’t put the petrol in the tank, the car won’t go’. Food is after all the fuel to nourish our bodies.

Nowadays many of us spend our time racing from one thing to the next, always in a mad hurry – in many ways its just a habit – easy to acquire but so difficult to kick. When life takes on this frenetic quality cooking or even stopping to eat meals properly is one of the first things to be sidelined. Easy to get into the mindset that there are more important things to do than stopping to cook or even to eat a meal properly. A great mistake- apart from the obvious importance of the food we eat, one misses out on the relaxation and satisfaction of doing something different and dare I say creative. Allow yourself the time to relax and have fun in the kitchen. One of the greatest pleasures in life and the one that so many memories are made of is sitting down together with family and friends around the kitchen table. When we share a meal a bond is formed, doesn’t have to be an elaborate feast, could just be a boiled egg and soldiers or a bowl of saucy pasta.

Its particularly important to keep the tradition of family meals, this takes tremendous effort nowadays when family members are involved in so many activities, sports, classes, work commitments, are all reasons why family meals have to be eaten at different times, often on the run, but its worth making an effort to have a family meal where everyone sits down together, at least couple of times a week – even if everyone just argues occasionally it keeps the lines of communication open and it may turn into a fun time. A quick message for those of you who are being cooked for – don’t forget to at least offer to help with the washing up and remember a big hug for the cook – it makes the world of difference!

A well stocked store cupboard is even more important than ever nowadays when so many people are trying to keep so many balls in the air simultaneously. If you have lots of pasta, beans, cheese, some salami, a few tins of tomatoes, maybe a piece of chorizo, then one can whip up a myriad of dishes in a few minutes. Combine it with a freezer containing a few judiciously frozen items and you’ll never be stuck. I would always have Tomato fondue, Piperonata and Mushroom a la crème in the freezer. Next week I will give lots of ideas for these three brilliant standbys, but this week I include some delicious and nutritious dishes that can be quickly assembled from your store cupboard.

Busy people who want to be able to whizz up meals in minutes will need to ensure that their store cupboard is always well stocked. The following are some suggestions for items that we find invaluable. Apart from the obvious basic dairy products, butter, milk and eggs (free-range if possible), and items like potatoes, carrots, onions and garlic, flour (plain, self-raising, strong brown, strong white, coarse brown) and oatmeal, you’ll find some or all of the following useful - 

Pasta/noodles/ spaghetti/macaroni/ shells/penne etc... Grains, Cous cous, Bulgar, Quinoa, 
Rice, Basmati, Arboria, Thai fragrant .... Sardines, Tuna fish, Anchovies, Tinned Sweetcorn, Tinned Tomatoes, Olives, Avocadoes.
Tinned beans, Chick Peas, Flagolets, Kidney beans, Black-eyed beans and baked beans in tomato sauce. 
Mature Cheddar Cheese, Parmesan cheese
Chicken stock/cube
Extra virgin olive oil, Ground nut and sunflower oil, Red and White wine vinegar, Balsamic vinegar.
English mustard powder and Dijon mustard, Maldon Sea Salt
Harissa or Chilli sauce
Some whole spices eg. Coriander, Cardamon, Nutmeg, Cumin, Cloves, Chilli flakes
Good quality chocolate
Nuts, eg. hazelnuts, walnuts and almonds
Dried Fruit eg currants, sultanas, raisins and Apricots
Homemade jam, Irish Honey, Marmalade
Tortillas – freezer, Pitta Bread - freezer
Cream Cracker or Carrs Water Biscuits
Ballymaloe Tomato Relish, Jalapeno relish and a few chutnies
Soy Sauce - Kikkoman
Nam pla - Fish Sauce
Sweet Chilli Sauce, Oyster Sauce,Thai Curry Paste, Plum Sauce,
Chillies and Chilli flakes
Sesame Oil
Salami, Chorizo, and Kabanossi sausage
Good ice cream
Frozen fruit e.g. raspberries, blackcurrants, gooseberries etc, 

Cannellini Bean, Tomato and Chorizo Stew with Rosemary

Omit the chorizo for a delicious vegetarian meal

Serves 8-10
115g (4ozs) sliced onions
1 clove of garlic, crushed 
½ - 1 teaspoon chilli flakes
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
900g (2lbs) very ripe tomatoes in Summer, or 2 tins (x 14oz) of tomatoes in Winter, but peel before using
Salt, freshly ground pepper and sugar to taste
2 x 400g (14oz) tins haricot or cannellini beans
8-12ozs (225-350g) chorizo, sliced
1 teaspoon chopped rosemary

Heat the oil in a non reactive saucepan. Add the sliced onions and garlic and chilli flakes, 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 rosemary. Cook covered for just 10 minutes. Uncover and continue to cook for another 10 minutes, or until the tomato softens. (Cook fresh tomatoes for a shorter time to preserve the lively fresh flavour). Add the beans and chorizo, continue to cook, add chopped fresh rosemary and serve. Alternatively, add lots of chopped parsley and coriander instead of the rosemary for a milder flavour.

Butterbean, Kabanossi and Cabbage Soup

Serves 6
2 tablespoons Extra Virgin olive oil
6oz (170g) onion, chopped
6 oz (170g) kabanossi sausage, sliced
¼ Savoy cabbage
14oz (400g) tin of tomatoes
2 pints (1.15L) Home-made Chicken stock
1 x 14oz (400g) butter beans, haricot beans or black eyed beans
salt, freshly ground pepper and sugar
4 tablespoons chopped parsley

Heat the oil in a saute pan over a medium heat, add the onion, cover and sweat until soft but not coloured. Slice the kabanossi and toss for 2-3 minutes or until it begins to crisp slightly – the fat should run. Chop the tomatoes fairly finely in the tin and add with all the juice to the pan, season with salt, freshly ground pepper and sugar. Bring to the boil and cook on a high heat for 5-6 minutes, add the boiling stock and butter beans. Bring back to the boil, thinly slice the cabbage and add. Cook for another 2 or 3 minutes, add the chopped parsley. Taste and correct the seasoning and serve with lots of crusty bread.

Risotto alla Parmigiana

Serves 6
Risotto is a brilliant standby, made in just 30 minutes, it can be basic with some freshly grated Parmesan or Pecorino, and it can include peas, broad beans, rocket leaves, roast tomatoes, shrimps, courgettes, mushrooms, smoked salmon, and much more besides can be added to enhance or embellish the risotto.

1-1.3L (1¾ - 2¼ pints) broth or or light chicken stock 
30g (1oz) butter
1 onion, finely chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil
400g (14oz) Arboria or Carnaroli rice
30g (1oz) butter
50g (2oz) freshly grated Parmesan (Parmigiano Reggiano is best)
sea salt

First bring the broth or stock to the boil, turn down the heat and keep it simmering. Melt the butter in a heavy bottomed saucepan with the oil, add the onion and sweat over a gentle heat for 4-5 minutes, until soft but not coloured. Add the rice and stir until well coated (so far the technique is the same as for a pilaff and this is where people become confused). Cook for a minute or so and then add 150ml (¼pint) of the simmering broth, stir continuously and as soon as the liquid is absorbed add another 150ml (¼pint) broth. Continue to cook, stirring continuously. The heat should be brisk, but on the other hand if its too hot the rice will be soft outside but still chewy inside. If its too slow, the rice will be gluey. Its difficult to know which is worse so the trick is to regulate the heat so that the rice bubbles continuously. The risotto should take about 25-30 minutes to cook. 

When it is cooking for about 20 minutes, add the broth about 4 tablespoons at a time. I use a small ladle. Watch it very carefully from there on. The risotto is done when the rice is cooked but is still ever so slightly 'al dente'. It should be soft and creamy and quite loose, rather than thick. The moment you are happy with the texture, stir in the remaining butter and Parmesan cheese, taste and add more salt if necessary. Serve immediately.
Risotto does not benefit from hanging around.

Darina’s back to basics–

Pan grilled chicken breast
Pan Grilled Chicken breasts with Sweet Chilli Sauce 
Seek out free-range and organic poultry whenever possible.
Use skinless chicken breasts.

Separate the fillet from the underneath side of the meat, cook separately or slice thinly at an angle and quickly stir-fry. The chicken breast cooks more evenly when the fillet is removed.

Serves 4
4 Chicken breasts
olive oil
salt and freshly ground pepper
Sweet Chilli Sauce

Just before serving cook the chicken breasts. 
Heat a cast iron grill pan until quite hot. Brush each chicken breast with olive oil and season with salt and freshly ground pepper. Place the chicken breasts on the hot grill for about a minute, then reverse the angle to mark attractively, cook until golden brown on both sides. The grill pan may be transferred to a moderate oven, 180C/350F/regulo 4. Be careful not to overcook the chicken breasts, they will take approx. 15 minutes in total.
Serve with Sweet Chilli Sauce.

Darina's Hot tips

2nd National Food Forum and Food Fair will take place at Brook Lodge, Macreddin Village, Co Wicklow on Sunday 6th July, entitled ‘Diversity- the future of Food Production’ – organised by Euro-Toques Ireland – contact Brid Banville at 01-6779996,  

Denis Cotter of Café Paradiso in Cork has recently published his second cookbook -‘Paradiso Seasons’ (Cork University Press) focussing on his favourite vegetables at their prime moment and creating sumptuous recipes from them – currently book of the month at Waterstones – more on this later.

Ballybrado Ltd of Cahir, Co Tipperary have just launched their new bacon rashers – not only organic, but cured without nitrates – certified by the Organic Trust. Available from Tesco nationwide. 

Coming up soon at Ballymaloe Cookery School –
A Taste of California - 30th June
A Day in Tuscany – 1st July
Jams and Preserves – 2 July (½ day)
Introductory Courses Parts 1 & 2 - 7-11 July, 14-18 July.
Course Schedule 2003  Tel 021-4646785

About the author

Darina Allen
By Darina Allen


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