Claudia Roden Teaches at Ballymaloe

One of the great joys of owning a cookery school is that I have an excuse to indulge myself occasionally and invite some of my heroes to teach a guest chef class. Throughout the years there have been many, among them the late Jane Grigson, Marcella Hazan, Rose Grey and Ruth Rogers of the River Café, Diana Kennedy, Madhur Jaffrey, Frances Bissell, Sophie Grigson, Rick Stein, Rick Bayless, Nina Simonds, Peter Gordon, Ursula Ferrigno, Sam Clark, Antony Worrall Thompson, Deh-ta-Hsiung, Skye Gyngell, Alicia Rios, Alastair Little, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, Maggie Beer, …. looking back, the long list reads like a who’s who of the culinary world.
Recently, Claudia Roden thrilled us with a glimpse into a world of food that I knew far too little about. Claudia has accepted an invitation to the school twice before but on this occasion on the suggestion of Rabbi Julia Neuberger she cooked not the Middle Eastern food for which she is perhaps best known, but Jewish food. We had a wonderful day where Claudia combined history and recipes with stories and personal anecdotes gleaned from the years of research that went into her Book of Jewish Food, published in 1997.
This marathon achievement told the history of the diaspora through its cuisine. The book’s recipes reflect the many cultures and regions of world, from the Jewish quarter of Cairo where Claudia spent her childhood to the kitchens of Asia, Europe and the Americas. To those of us less familiar with Judaism, she explained the dietary laws and intriguing culture of the Ashkenaz and Sephardi Jews. 
The Ashkenazim are the Jews whose origin lies in Western and Eastern Europe and Russia. Their culture developed in a Christian world. The Sephardi world stretched from the Atlantic to the Indian Ocean. With the exception of Christian Italy and Spain and parts of India, almost all the lands where the Sephardim lived before the seventeenth century were under Islamic rule. 
Food takes on enormous importance in Jewish households, it defines the identity of the family and is part of every ritual, festival and celebration. Many dishes are imbued with symbolism and tradition and for Orthodox Jews the food must be strictly Kosher.
Claudia hasn’t confined herself to Jewish or Middle Eastern food, Jane Kramer aptly described her in the New Yorker (September 3rd 2007), as “the youngest of a triumvirate of hungry, highly literate and ethnographically indefatigable women who helped transform how the British cooked”.
Beautiful and gentle, at 70 Claudia is still an indefatigable researcher and one of the most revered cookery writers of our time. At present she is finishing her long awaited 11th book on the Food of Spain to be published by Penguin/Michael Joseph.
During her day at the school she cooked a variety of mostly Sephardic dishes from many parts of the world, the flavours were delicious and intriguing. Each dish had a story, I’ve chosen a few recipes to whet your appetites – for almost 800 more you will have to seek out Claudia’s wonderful Book of Jewish Food (published by Alfred A. Knopf –New York 1997), which was awarded the Glenfiddich Cookbook of the Year, The Andre Simon Memorial Fund Food book, and the Jewish Quarterly/Wingate Book prize for non-fiction.

Roast Chicken with Onion Sauce and Couscous Stuffing

Most “Jewish” dishes are Sabbath (Saturday) dishes because the Sabbath was the only time during the week Jews prepared special dishes. They could be local dishes that they glamourised for the Sabbath. Stuffing a dish made it grand and there was always more stuffing on the side. Birds were often pot roasted because most people in Morocco did not have ovens. The onion sauce takes time because a large quantity of onions take about an hour to cook down.
Serves 6

1 large chicken
Juice of ½ a lemon
1 ½ tablespoons olive oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper

For the Sauce
1kg (2 lb) onions, sliced 
4 tablespoons sunflower oil
Salt and pepper
Pinch of saffron (powder or pistils)
¼ teaspoon ginger
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 tablespoon honey

For the Couscous Stuffing
250g (9ozs) packet couscous
400ml (14fl ozs) chicken stock (you can use 1 stock cube)
Salt
½ teaspoon cinnamon
4 tablespoons sunflower oil
100g (4ozs) blanched almonds, toasted and coarsely chopped
50g (2ozs) pistachios, coarsely chopped
50g (2ozs) pine nuts, toasted
50g (2ozs) raisins soaked in water for 30 minutes 

In a wide baking dish rub the chicken with a mixture of olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper. Put it breast-side down so that the fat runs down and prevents the breasts from drying out, and pour into the dish about a small teacup of water. 

Cook in an oven pre-heated to 200°C/400°F/Gas Mark 6 for 40 minutes per kilo. Turn the chicken breast-side up after about 50 minutes. Test to see that it is ready by cutting into a thigh with a pointed knife. The juices should run clear, not pink. 

For the onion sauce, put the onions in a wide pan with 4 tablespoons of sunflower oil, and cook, covered, over very low heat for 30 – 45 minutes until they are very soft, adding salt and pepper and stirring occasionally. They will stew in their own juice. Remove the lid and continue to stir occasionally until the onions are melting soft and golden. Add cinnamon, saffron, ginger and honey and cook for a few more minutes. In all it should take about 1 hour.
Put the couscous in a bowl. Warm the stock, adding a little salt (take into account the saltiness of the stock) and the cinnamon. Pour 300ml (10fl ozs) of the stock - the same measured volume as the couscous - over the couscous, mix very well and leave for 20 minutes until the couscous has absorbed the stock. Then stir in the oil and break up any lumps with a fork. Rub the grain between your hands, to air it and make it light and fluffy. Stir in the chopped almonds and pistachios (you can chop them in the food processor), the pine nuts and raisins, and mix well. Cover the dish with foil. All you will need is to heat it through for 20 minutes in a 200ºC/400°F/Gas Mark 6 oven before serving. Pour the remaining stock on top.

Cut the chicken into 6 serving pieces, remove the carcass arrange them in a wide serving dish and pour the onion sauce on top and let it mix with the gravy. Heat through at the same time as the couscous stuffing. 

Serve the two separately or the chicken and sauce on top of the couscous stuffing. 

Creamy Cheese Flan with Filo – Boghatcha

Few people know about this dish. The name means “drunkard” in Judeo – Spanish – perhaps because the pastry is soaked in milk. It is a curious and wonderful pie – a version of the Turkish sutlu borek. The filo pastry with a sharp cheese filling, baked in a light creamy custard, becomes soft, like sheets of ever-so-thin pasta.
250g (½ lb) filo – 7 sheets about 46cm x 32cm (18 by 12 ½ inches)
3 tablespoons butter, melted
500g (1lb) feta, mashed
350g (¾ lb) Gruyère cheese, grated
75g (3 ozs) grated Kashkaval or Parmesan 
6 eggs
1 pint (600ml) milk

For the filling, mix the feta, Gruyère, and about ¾ of the Kashkaval or Parmesan with 2 of the eggs.

Open out the sheets of filo, leaving them in a pile. Brush the top one with melted butter and put a line of filling about 1 inch (2 ½ cm) thick along one long side. Roll up, making a long thin roll, folding in the ends about halfway to stop the filling from oozing out. Crease the roll like an accordion by pushing the ends towards the centre with both hands. Place it in the middle of a round baking dish about 12 inches (30cm) in diameter, curving it like a snail. Do the same with the other sheets and place the rolls end to end to form a long coil like a snake. Lightly beat the remaining 4 eggs with the milk and pour over the cheese-filled coil (you do not need to add salt, because the feta cheese is very salty).

Sprinkle with the remaining Kashkaval or Parmesan and bake at 180°C (350°F/Gas Mark 4) for about 1 hour, or until the cream is absorbed and set and the top of the pastry is brown. Serve hot or cold, cut into wedges.

Burghul Pilav
Bulgar Wheat with Almonds, Raisins and Pine Nuts.
In many communities in the Arab and Ottoman worlds, cracked wheat is served as an alternative to rice and as a filling or accompaniment to poultry such as pigeons, chickens, and turkey. The raisins and nuts turn the grain into a festive dish. This way of preparing it is quick and easy. Serve with chicken or lamb.
1 litre (1¾ pints) stock or water
500g (18oz) coarse burghul (cracked wheat) 
About 1¼ teaspoons salt
Pepper
100g (3½ oz) blanched almonds
5 tablespoons sunflower or light vegetable oil
75g (3oz) pine nuts
50g (2oz) cup raisins, soaked in water for ½ hour

Bring the water or stock to the boil in a pan. Add the cracked wheat, salt and pepper and stir, then cook, covered on a very low heat for about 10 minutes, or until the liquid is absorbed. Turn off the heat and leave covered for 10 minutes or until the grain is tender. 

Fry the almonds in 1 tablespoon of oil, stirring and turning them until beginning to colour. Add the pine nuts and stir until golden. Stir the nuts, the drained raisins and the remaining oil into the cracked wheat in the pan and heat through. 

Foolproof Food

Almond and Chocolate Cupcakes – Mustacchioni

These little Almond and Chocolate Cupcakes from Trieste were particularly delicious and have the added bonus of being gluten free.
They are extremely easy to make, with no melting of chocolate or separating of eggs. You just blend everything together in a food processor.

200g (7oz) dark, bittersweet chocolate broken into pieces
200g (7oz)) lightly roasted blanched almonds
3 eggs
(90g (3¼oz) sugar
2 tablespoons rum (optional)

Put everything into the food processor and blend to a soft, creamy paste. Drop into little paper cups by the heaping teaspoonful. Bake in a preheated 3500F (1800C) oven for 25 minutes, or until slightly firm. They are meant to be soft and moist.

Variation:

For a version from Padua, use only 50g (2oz) of chocolate and add 50g (2oz) of chopped candied citrus peel.


Hot Tips

Pig Out Day Courses with Frank Krawczyk
Frank, one of Ireland’s best known salami and sausage makers, will share the secrets of his art during a one-day action packed demonstration – he will use every single part of a pig to produce a huge range of pork delicacies – brawn, pate, sausages, bacon, salamis, speck, smoked ham and much, much more. Dates – October 19th and December 7th this year. Enquiries to Frank at Derreenatra, Schull, Co Cork, tel 028 28579 email- westcorksalamis@gmail.com  

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