ArchiveNovember 2007

Saturday November 24th

It’s a few years ago now since a chap called Paddy Daly from Dublin arrived to do a one week Introductory Course at the Cookery School. When he arrived into the car park in his camper van it took him all the courage he could muster to actually walk into the school. Paddy, a man in his 60’s was going through a harrowing time, he was nursing his much-loved wife through a long illness. He was bereft and had lost his will to live. She had been a wonderful cook – Paddy missed her delicious food so much and was becoming more and more despondent when he was unable to cook tasty delicious food to cheer her up as her health deteriorated.

In a concerted effort to provide new hope and enthusiasm in his life, his family had clubbed together to give him a present of a cooking course.

Paddy himself wasn’t at all keen but he was dispatched to Cork and felt he had to make the effort in response to their family’s generous gesture.

He eventually picked up courage to venture in to the school and somehow the experience changed his life. It renewed his zest for living and the skills he learned enabled him to brighten his wife’s last months and have given both him and his family and friends endless pleasure ever since. He has made several return visits over the years.

Paddy telephones us periodically and I was particularly touched by our most recent conversation, Paddy is now ‘seventy-five going on seventeen’. He noticed many other people who are alone in his neighbourhood so he and some friends have started something on the SOS – ‘share your skills principle’ that is quietly making a difference to many people’s lives. He invites and welcomes the person into his house and teaches them how to make a loaf of bread, a pot of stew, a soup ….. then they sit down and eat it together and chat.

The ‘student’ can then make it at home and pass on the skill to someone else. No money changes hands, Paddy says the reward is in sharing and the delight of the recipient. What a beautiful idea – those of us who have learned how to cook can make such a difference to people’s lives by passing on our skills to those less fortunate – Paddy you are a shining example to us all.

Simply Nutritious Brown Bread

This is a more modern version of Soda Bread, couldn’t be simpler, just mix and pour into a well-greased tin.

This bread keeps very well for several days and is also great toasted.

Makes 1 loaf or 3 small loaves

400g (14ozs) stone ground wholemeal flour

75g (3ozs) white flour, preferably unbleached

1 teaspoon salt

1 level teaspoon bread soda, sieved (Bicarbonate of Soda/Baking Soda)

1 egg, preferably free range

1 tablespoon arachide or sunflower oil, unscented

1 teaspoon honey

425ml (15fl ozs) buttermilk or sourmilk approx. (put all the milk in)

Sunflower or sesame seeds optional

Loaf tin 23×12.5x5cm (9x5x2in)

Preheat oven to 200ºC/400ºF/gas mark 6.

Put all the dry ingredients including the sieved bread soda into a large bowl, mix well. Whisk the egg, add the oil and honey most of the buttermilk. Make a well in the centre of the dry ingredients and pour in all the liquid, mix well and add more buttermilk if necessary. The mixture should be soft and slightly sloppy, pour into an oiled tin or tins. Sprinkle some sunflower or sesame seeds on the top. Bake for 60 minutes approx, or until the bread is nice and crusty and sounds hollow when tapped. Cool on a wire rack.

Health Bread

Add 1 tablespoon of sunflower seeds, 1 tablespoon of sesame seeds, 1 tablespoon of pumpkin seeds, 1 tablespoon of kibbled wheat to the dry ingredients. Keep a mixture to scatter over the top.

Shanagarry Chicken Casserole

A good chicken casserole even though it may sound ‘old hat’ always gets a hearty welcome from my family and friends, sometimes I make an entire meal in a pot by covering the top with whole peeled potatoes just before it goes into the oven.

Serves 4-6

1 x 3½ lbs (1.57kg) chicken (free range if possible)

A little butter or oil for sauteeing

12 ozs (340g) green streaky bacon (blanch if salty)

12 ozs (340g) carrot, peeled and thickly sliced (if the carrots are small, leave whole. If large cut in chunks)

1 lb (450g) onions, (baby onions are nicest)

Sprig of thyme

Homemade chicken stock – 1¼ pints (750ml) approx.

Roux – optional (see below)

Mushroom a la créme (see recipe)

Garnish

2 tablesp. parsley, freshly chopped

Cut the rind off the bacon and cut into approx. 1 inch (2 cm) cubes, (blanch if salty). Dry in kitchen paper. Joint the chicken into 8 pieces. Season the chicken pieces well with salt and freshly ground pepper. Heat a little oil in a frying pan and cook the bacon until crisp, remove and transfer to the casserole. Add chicken pieces a few at a time to the pan and sauté until golden, add to the bacon in the casserole. Heat control is crucial here, the pan mustn’t burn yet it must be hot enough to saute the chicken. If it is too cool, the chicken pieces will stew rather than sauté and as a result the meat may be tough. Then toss the onion and carrot in the pan adding a little butter if necessary, add to the casserole. Degrease the pan and deglaze with stock, bring to the boil and pour over the chicken etc. Season well, add a sprig of thyme and bring to simmering point on top of the stove, then put into the oven for 30-45 minutes, 180ºC/350ºF/regulo 4.

Cooking time depends on how long the chicken pieces were sautéed for.

When the chicken is just cooked, strain off the cooking liquid, degrease, return the degreased liquid to the casserole and bring to the boil. Thicken with a little roux if necessary (see below). Add the meat, carrots and onions back into the casserole and bring to the boil. Taste and correct the seasoning. The casserole is very good served at this point, but it’s even more delicious if some mushroom a la crème is stirred in as an enrichment. Serve sprinkled with chopped parsley and bubbling hot.

Roux

4 ozs (110g) butter

4 ozs (110g) flour

Melt the butter and cook the flour in it for 2 minutes on a low heat, stirring occasionally. Use as required. Roux can be stored in a cool place and used as required or it can be made up on the spot if preferred. It will keep for at least a fortnight in a refrigerator.

Lamb Stew with bacon, onions and garden herbs

Serves 4-6

The word stew is often associated in these islands with not very exciting mid week dinners. People tend to say almost apologetically, oh its only stew, no matter how delicious it is.

Well, let me tell you they smack their lips in France at the mere mention of a great big bubbling stew and now these gutsy, comforting pots are appearing on many of the smartest restaurant menus.

4 lb (1.8kg) shoulder of lamb or thick rack chops

12 ozs (340g) green streaky bacon (blanch if salty)

seasoned white flour, preferably unbleached

a little butter or oil for sauteeing

1 lb (450g) onions, (baby ones are nicest)

12 ozs (340g) carrot, peeled and thickly sliced

13 pints (750ml) approx. lamb or chicken stock

8-12 ‘old’ potatoes (optional)

sprig of thyme

roux – optional, Mushroom a la Creme (optional)

Garnish

1 dessertsp. freshly chopped parsley

Cut the rind off bacon and cut into approx. 2 inch (1cm) cubes blanch if salty and dry in kitchen paper. Divide the lamb into 8 pieces and roll in seasoned flour. Heat a little oil in a frying pan and sauté the bacon until crisp, remove and put in a casserole. Add the lamb to the pan and sauté until golden then add to the bacon in the casserole. Heat control is crucial here, the pan mustn’t burn yet it must be hot enough to sauté the lamb. If it is cool the lamb will stew rather than sauté and as a result the meat may be tough. Then quickly sauté the onions and carrots, adding a little butter if necessary, and put them into the casserole. Degrease the sauté pan and deglaze with the stock, bring to the boil, pour over the lamb.

Cover the top of the stew with peeled potatoes (if using) and season well. Add a sprig of thyme and bring to simmering point on top of the stove, cover the pot and then put into the oven for 45-60 minutes, 180C/350F/regulo 4. Cooking time depends on how long the lamb was sautéed for.

When the casserole is just cooked, strain off the cooking liquid, degrease and return degreased liquid to the casserole and bring to the boil. Thicken with a little roux if necessary. Add back in the meat, carrots, onions and potatoes, bring back to the boil.

The casserole is very good served at this point, but it’s even more delicious if some Mushroom a la Crème is stirred in as an enrichment. Serve bubbling hot sprinkled with chopped parsley.

Variations

1. Add 2 lb (225g) of precooked haricot beans to the stew about two-thirds of the way through cooking, omit the potatoes.

Foolproof Food

Mushroom a la Crème

Serves 4

½-1 oz (15-30 g) butter

3 ozs (85 g) onion, finely chopped

½ lb (225g) mushrooms, sliced

4fl 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. Meanwhile cook the sliced mushrooms in a little butter, 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 crème 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 Crème keeps well in the fridge for 4-5 days.

Potato and Leek Champ

Serves 4-6

6-8 unpeeled ‘old’ potatoes e.g. Golden Wonders or Kerrs Pinks

Cold water

4 medium sized leeks ( you could use scallions if you prefer)

40g (1½ozs) butter

Salt and freshly ground pepper

1 tablespoon water if necessary

300-350ml (10-12 fl ozs) milk

1 tablespoon chopped chives

55g (2ozs) approx. butter

Scrub the potatoes, cover with cold water and boil them in their jackets. Half way through cooking, pour off half the water, cover and steam until fully cooked.

Cut off the dark green leaves from the top of the leeks (wash and add to the stock pot or use for making green leek soup). Slit the leeks about half way down the centre and wash well under cold running water. Slice into ¼ inch (5mm) rounds. Melt the butter in a heavy saucepan; when it foams add the sliced leeks and toss gently to coat with butter. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper and add 1 tablespoon water if necessary. Cover with a paper lid and a close fitting saucepan lid. Reduce the heat and cook very gently for 10-15 minutes approx., or until soft, tender and juicy. Check and stir every now and then during cooking.

Bring the milk with the chives to the boil, simmer for about 3-4 minutes, turn off the heat and leave to infuse. Peel and mash the freshly boiled potatoes and while hot, mix with the boiling milk and chives, add the drained leeks and beat in the butter. Season to taste with salt and freshly ground pepper. It should be soft and melting.

Leek champ may be put aside and reheated later in a moderate oven 180ºC/350ºF/regulo 4. Cover with tin foil while it reheats so that it doesn’t get a skin over the top.

Old Fashioned Rice Pudding

A creamy rice pudding is one of the greatest treats on a cold Winter’s day.

2 ozs (55g) pearl rice (short grain rice)

1 oz (30g) sugar

1 pint (600ml) milk

knob of butter

1 x 1 pint (600ml) capacity pie dish

Put the rice, sugar and a little knob of butter into a pie dish. Bring the milk to the boil and pour over. Bake in a moderate oven 180C/350F/regulo 4 for 1-1½ hours. Its quite tricky to catch it at exactly the right stage. The skin on top should be golden, the rice underneath should be cooked through and have soaked up the milk but still be soft and creamy underneath. Time it, so that its ready just in time for dessert. Serve with cream and soft brown sugar. If it has to wait in the oven for ages it will be dry and dull and you’ll wonder why you bothered.

Apple Crumble

Serves 6-8

Crumbles are comfort food, vary the fruit according to the season.

1 1/2 lbs (675g) Bramley Seedling cooking apples

1 1/2-2 ozs (45-55g) sugar

2 tablesp. water

Crumble

4 ozs (110g) white flour, preferably unbleached

2 ozs (55g) butter

2 ozs (55g) castor sugar

2 pint (1.1L) capacity pie dish

Stew the apples gently with the sugar and water in a covered casserole or stainless steel saucepan until about half cooked.

Taste and add more sugar if necessary. Turn into a pie dish. Allow to cool slightly while you make the crumble.

Rub the butter into the flour just until the mixture resembles coarse bread crumbs, add the sugar. Sprinkle this mixture over the apple in the pie dish. Bake in a preheated moderate oven 180C/350F/regulo 4, for 30-45 minutes or until the topping is cooked and golden. Serve with whipped cream and soft brown sugar.

Hot Tips for November 24th

Cork Free Choice Consumer Group – Thursday 29th November, 7.30pm at the Crawford Gallery Café, Emmet Place, Cork

Fruit – the Best to buy – Alan Sloane, Organic fruit importer – will tell us about the best fresh and dried fruits available during the Christmas season and also throughout the year. €6 including tea, coffee and tastings.

Georgina Campbell’s Ireland – The Guide 2008

All the best places to eat, drink and stay – dubbed ‘the glovebox bible, this is the 10th annual edition of the indispensable guide for independent travelers. A truly comprehensive guide to the most delightful places for the discerning traveler in Ireland to eat, drink and stay – north and south. Provides the perfect reference for planning holidays and short breaks in Ireland in the most enchanting surroundings – an ideal gift for the discerning traveler.

Kingswood Country House

Just off the Naas Road and M50 and only 20 minutes from the city centre, this is one of Dublin’s hidden gems. Kingswood Country House Bar and Restaurant has re-opened. This large 300 year old Georgian house is beautifully located in a unique setting, surrounded by stunning landscaped gardens. It offers superb food throughout the day – lunch each day in the contemporary bar, afternoon tea in the lounge, more formal dining upstairs in Josef’s restaurant (the house was once the home of well known tenor Josef Locke). www.kingswoodhouse.ie info@kingswoodcountryhouse.ie Tel 01-4595250

Local Food

Local is now the sexiest word in food from California to Stuttgart, Matakana to Macroom. Attitudes have come a wonderful full circle from when I was a child growing up in a country village in Ireland. At that stage in the late fifties and early sixties, local was looked on as second rate. A few surplus fresh eggs sold by a farmer’s wife to the local shop would be sold for less than the battery equivalents which were just coming on stream, same with currant cake or an apple tart.

Even though it didn’t seem right it was the way it was. Not so in Italy as I discovered on my first trip to the Rialto Market in Venice in the early eighties. Many of the stalls had two lots of certain fruits and vegetables. In each case the one labelled nostrana or nostrale always seems to be more highly prized and expensive. My grasp of the language was non-existent. Eventually an impatient stallholder explained that nostrale was not a place (-twit!) it meant the produce had come from the lagoon area – it was local hence it was fresher and better, so of course it was more expensive. Oops – for me this was a eureka moment. I loved the Italians for valuing local, artisan and craft and it gave me the courage to follow my convictions.

And how the food scene in Ireland has changed within a few years. Recently I attended the launch of two splendid books both celebrating local producers – the farmers, fishermen and artisan producers of County Cork who have helped to change the dull and stodgy image of Irish food both at home and abroad. This group of producers who are passionate about quality (first and foremost) have created the raw materials that enable restaurants and cooks and chefs to produce real food. Both authors Denis Cotter and Dianne Curtin are Slow Food members and live the ethos in their everyday life. Denis has already established an international reputation for his earlier books The Café Paradiso Cookbook and Paradiso Seasons and for the vegetarian food at the now legendary Café Paradiso in Cork city.

At the packed launch of his new book ‘Wild Garlic, Gooseberries and me’, he spoke in evocative terms of his obsession with vegetables, his passionate pursuit of quality and his good fortune connecting with producers like Ultan Walsh the grower who provides much of the local produce for Café Paradiso. …. To finish this book which has been bubbling around in his head for some time now he locked himself away in Don and Joy Larkcom’s garden house for several peaceful weeks. The vegetables he chose to write about are not listed in alphabetical order nor arranged in a pattern that reflects the seasons of a year. Instead, they are grouped according to shared characteristics, whether that be their colouring, as in the opening chapter ‘It’s a green thing’, or their habitat as in both ‘Wild pickings’ and ‘Growing in the dark’.

No other book on vegetables in my library is so beautifully written or so connected to the good earth and so thought provoking. The recipes as ever are intriguing and original, but even if you never cook as single thing out of this book (which would be a crying shame), its worth buying for Denis’s beautiful prose – you’ll never think of vegetables in the same way again!

The book is movingly dedicated to his father whose guiding presence Denis said he felt very strongly as he went back to his roots as he wrote this book.

Dianne Curtin’s book ‘The Creators’ celebrates the work of farmers, fishermen, and artisan producers of County Cork who have helped secure Ireland’s reputation as a gourmet destination. Excellent quality fresh produce, fine artisan specialities, and traditional delicacies unique to Ireland are only achieved as a result of the dedication and patience of the passionate people who bring them to our tables. All share a passion to attain the best possible culinary results. Dianne’s book is divided into three main chapter: From Land and Field; From the Waters; Special Delicacies. Each chapter contains profiles of the food producers as well

Wild Garlic, Gooseberries and me’ by Denis Cotter, published by Collins.
The Creators – individuals of Irish food’ by Dianne Curin, published by Atrium.

Chard with Couscous, Raisins, Pine Nuts and Lemon Oil

From Wild Garlic, Gooseberries and me by Denis Cotter

This can be a side dish or a simple meal. Or make it the centre of a mezze or tapas-style meal with some marinated feta, olives, fresh tomato salad, roasted sweet potatoes and the like. A chilli kick from the Moroccan harissa sauce, served on the side, would be fun too.

Serves 4

85g (3oz) golden raisins

300g (10 ½ oz) couscous

280ml (9 ½ fl oz) warm vegetable stock

1kg (2 ¼ lb) chard, including stalks

olive oil

1 medium red onion halved and thinly sliced

2 garlic cloves, finely chopped

2 tsp cumin seeds

1 tsp fennel seeds

1 tsp turmeric

2 tbsp pine nuts, lightly tossed

Salt and pepper

For The Lemon Oil

finely grated zest and juice 1 lemon

200ml (7fl oz) olive oil

Soak the raisins in just enough water to cover them for 10 minutes. Place the couscous in a large bowl, pour over the warm vegetable stock and stir once. Leave for 15 minutes before fluffing up the couscous with a fork. Separate the chard leaves and stalks. Slice the stalks across about 5mm ( ¼ in) thick. Cook the leaves in boiling water for 5 minutes, until soft, then drain, cool under the cold running water, drain again and chop coarsely.

Heat some olive oil in a large pan and cook the chard stalks, onion and garlic for 5 minutes over a medium heat. Add the spices and cook for a few minutes more, then stir in the chard leaves, pine nuts raisins with their soaking liquid. Add a little extra stock or water to keep the dish quite moist, then stir in the couscous and turn off the heat. Season with salt and pepper.

Whisk or blend the lemon zest and juice and the olive oil together. Mix two tablespoons into the couscous, and then serve immediately. Divide the couscous between four warmed serving plates, sprinkle some more lemon oil over the top and put the rest of the oil on the table in a jug or bottle for people to help themselves.

Fresh Tagliolini with Shredded Brussels sprouts,

Sage and Pine Nuts

From Wild Garlic, Gooseberries and me by Denis Cotter

Serves 4

250g (9oz) Brussels sprouts

2 tbsp olive oil

150g (5 ½ oz) shallots thinly sliced

12 fresh sage leaves, sliced

4 canned tomatoes, finely chopped

finely grated zest of 1 orange

1 tbsp pine nuts, lightly toasted

salt and pepper

450g (1lb) fresh tagliolini or other pasta

50g (2oz) butter

50g (2oz) Desmond Parmesan or other hard cheese, finely grated

Quarter the sprouts, cut out the core and separate the leaves. In a wide pan, heat the olive oil and cook the sprouts, shallots, sage and garlic over a medium heat for 2 minutes. Add the tomatoes, orange zest and pine nuts and season with salt and pepper. Simmer for 2 minutes more.

At the same time, bring a large saucepan of water to the boil, add the tagliolini and cook for 2 – 3 minutes until just tender. Drain well.

Add the butter, cheese and cooked pasta to the sprouts and mix well. Serve immediately.

West Cork Cheese Fondue

From The Creators by Dianne Curtin

Best enjoyed with a handful of close friends who don’t mind getting the dribbles down their chins! Gabriel or Desmond cheeses, or a mixture of both, work well in this recipe.

Serves 4-6

1 clove garlic, peeled and halved

300ml (½ pint) dry white wine

450g (1lb) rinded weight of Desmond or Gabriel cheese, or half and half, grated

1 tablesp. cornflour

1-2 tablesp Kirsch (optional)

Freshly ground black pepper

Cubes of crusty bread, steamed asparagus tips, broccoli and cauliflower florets and sautéed whole button mushrooms to serve.

Rub fondue pot with cut sides of garlic. Add wine and heat gently to almost bubbling. Turn down heat. Gradually add cheese, with cornflour, stirring to melt. Continue like this until all cheese is added, stirring until smooth. Add Kirsch and season with freshly ground black pepper. Serve in the pot with a heap of crusty bread cubes, steamed asparagus tips, broccoli and cauliflower florets and sautéed mushrooms for each guest to dip in on the end of a fork. Get everyone to take a turn stirring the fondue while eating.

Fresh Mussels with Chilli and Coconut

From The Creators by Dianne Curtin

This recipe uses the Far Eastern flavourings of fresh chilli, Thai Green curry paste and coconut milk to give a fabulous kick of spice. Serve with some fragrant, boiled Jasmine rice, which you can stir into the bowls of spiced sauce after eating the mussels and slurp up from a spoon.

Serves 2

1kg fresh tightly closed mussels

2 tbsp sunflower oil

1 onion, peeled and finely chopped

2 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed

1 small red chilli, seeded and finely chopped

1 tbsp Thai green curry paste

150ml (¼ pt) fish stock

150ml (¼ pt) coconut milk

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Squeeze of lemon juice

1 tbsp coriander leaves, roughly torn

Prepare, clean and de-beard the mussels in the usual way. It is essential that they are all absolutely fresh and tightly closed.

Once the mussels are ready to cook, set to one side. Heat oil in a deep saucepan and add onion, garlic and chilli. Cook gently until softened. Stir in Thai green curry paste. Cook for another minute. Add fish stock and bring to bubbling. Simmer for a few minutes. Add cleaned mussels, cover with a lid and simmer until all shells have opened. Stir once or twice during cooking. Pick out and discard any mussels that do not open. Stir in coconut milk and bring back to bubbling for a minute. Season and add lemon juice and coriander. Ladle mussels and their sauce into warmed bowls and serve with Jasmine rice.

Hot Tips

The Chocolate Show –Dublin’s first ever Chocolate Show will take place at the RDS in Ballsbridge on 29th February, 1st and 2nd March 2008. This 3 day event will be the first annual celebration of the finest chocolate the country and the world has to offer. It will include the first Irish Chocolate Awards competition. The Show will be open to the public and will also have a dedicated trade only time. For further information or to book exhibition space contact Olivia O’Reilly on 01-2407203 or Olivia.oreilly@rds.ie or check out www.chocolateshow.ie

Transition Town Kinsale (TTK)

Is a voluntary, community based venture supported by the Town Council. It is actively working towards finding community solutions to climate change and diminishing energy supplies. Ireland currently imports a large proportion of its food, which will make it very vulnerable to increasing energy costs in the future, as food will become significantly more expensive unless sourced locally – food miles are just one of the issues considered by TTK – www.transitiontowns.org/Kinsale

Ireland’s Blue Book

2008 edition recently launched – Ireland’s Blue Book is an exclusive listing of luxury Irish accommodation in Irish Country House Hotels, Manor Houses, Castles and Gourmet Restaurants, whose qualities combine charm, style, character and individuality.

New entry this year is Ballyvolane House in Castlelyons, Co Cork, home to the Green family, Ballyvolane has been welcoming guests for over two decades. Visit www.irelandsbluebook.com – Blue book can be bought at major bookstores and tourist board offices and is free of charge through their head office and member properties

as inspirational and practical recipes and cookery tips to make the most of the featured products and ingredients.

Marcella Hazan

A few months ago we had a wonderful letter from Italian cook Marcella Hazan who had been guest chef at the Ballymaloe Cookery School in July 1992.

She and her husband Victor spent five or six days with us and among other things we took them to dinner at John and Elmary Desmond’s restaurant on Hare Island off Baltimore in West Cork. We all got drenched to the skin both on the open boat trip and as we walked up the lane to the restaurant. The normally beautifully coiffed and poised Marcella was reduced to the same disheveled state as the rest of us, but despite the fact that she is unlikely to have been subjected to this kind of experience in her entire life before or since then we all had great fun. She entered into the spirit and we of course had a delicious dinner. It transpired that this experience and several others on her trip to Ireland are forever etched in her memory and will be included in her autobiography to be published in October 2008.

Marcella and Victor lived for most of their married life in Italy, first in Bologna from where they ran a very successful cookery school and later in Venice. In March 1999 they moved to Florida to be closer to their son Giuliano and two little grand-daughters Gabriela and Michela.

They return to Italy from time to time but now Marcella is 83 and the purpose of this letter was to tell us that she and Victor were coming back to Italy probably for the last time. They planned to stay at the lovely Cipriani Hotel on the Guidecca in Venice for 3 weeks and so were inviting friends from all over the world who had been part of their lives at various stages to come and join them for a few days. Such a lovely idea and the perfect excuse to take a break.

The weather in Venice can be perfect in late September although nothing is predictable any longer (fortunately we missed the torrential rain and hailstones). Apart from all the perennial attractions, the Biannale continues until the end of November, Tracy Emin’s controversial pieces are this year’s talking point.

For lovers of art, music and culture, Venice is a feast for all the senses, food lovers however need to do some careful planning. Unless you are prepared to endure the worst kind of reheated pasta and tired salads, avoid the tourist spots like the plague. Easier said than done in a town where thousands of tourists pour in every day and several hundred others disgorge from cruise ships. Most people only visit Venice once so there is a feeling that some businesses are out for the main chance. Nonetheless there are lots of gems. Any guide book will steer you to the usual haunts where you will pay dearly to sip an espresso or a bellini (white peach purée and prosecco), but surely its worth the exorbitant price to sit at the Florian or Quadre Cafes in Piazza San Marco to listen to the strains of Vivaldi or Puccini being played by the orchestra.

A bellin or martini at Harry’s Bar is also a must do. Sip it slowly, enjoy the ambiance and watch the buzz at the bar where head waiter Claudio Ponzio has been mixing cocktails for over 30 years. Many of the old reliables feel tired and dull, but not so Da Fiore which rightly deserves its reputation as the finest restaurant in Venice. You’ll need to book well ahead to taste Maurizio and Mara Martin’s sublime food. No twiddles and bows and smarties on top here – just exquisite fresh fish simply cooked, a triumph of ingredients. Don’t miss the puds or artisan cheeses either. Superb wine list to complement the menu, a worthy recipient of a Michelin star which not everyone agrees can be said for the Met where chef Carado Fasolato serves an experimental cuisine with diverse influences from Gaultiero Marchesi to Ferran Adria.

For traditional Venetian food book a table at the deservedly hyped Osteria ? or Alla Testiere. The latter has just six tables and the menu changes daily depending on the market finds.

Some new hot spots worth checking out are La Naranzaria where Stefano Monti gives his Japanese chef carte blanche to create a fusion of sushi and Italian dishes, fun and fashionable with a sunny terrace overlooking the Grand Canal.

Alla Zucca (meaning pumpkin) has an exciting menu of Italian vegetarian dishes as well as some good meat and fish.

The best food in Venice is all about local and seasonal, don’t miss the bustling Rialto Market on the edge of the Grand Canal which has been the city commercial centre for centuries. What was once a bazaar for exotic spices, jewels and silks from the Orient is now a bountiful market teeming with fish and sea creatures from the lagoon and the Adriatic and gorgeous fresh vegetables, fruit and fungi from regions all over Italy, Artichokes and red radicchio from the island of Saint Erasmo, beetroot from Chioggia, zucchini blossoms, bunches of chillies, new season Muscat grapes ……

If you make an early start you can see the motopi (work barges) arriving with the day’s produce (no roads in Venice, everything arrives by boat).

At the fish market I watched the vendors prepare tiny little cuttlefish and save the ink sacs, skin eels, dole out tiny razor shells, soft shell crabs and sea snails and a myriad of the freshest fish I’ve seen in many a long day. Visit before you leave and buy a gorgeous piece of fruit, artisan cheeses and cured meat from the nearby shops to make a picnic for the plane.

Ristorante Da Fiore, San Polo, 2202/A – 30125 Venezia – Italy

Tel 0039 041 721308 www.dafiore.net ristorantedafiore@hotmail.ie

Butternut Squash Risotto Drizzled with Aged Balsamic Vinegar

From the da Fiore Cookbook by Damiano Martin

Risotto di Zucca e Parmigiano con Aceto Balsamico

Makes 6 first course servings

1 small butternut squash or 1 Kabocha squash (about 1 pound/450g)

¾ cup (6fl.oz) mild oil, preferably sunflower oil

¼ small onion, diced

Salt

1½lb(3 cups/700g) Carnaroli or Vialone Nano rice

4 pints (2.4litres) hot Vegetable broth*

1 cup (4oz/110g) grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

Aged balsamic vinegar for drizzling

Trim the ends from the butternut squash. Using a vegetable peeler, remove the skin. Cut the squash in half lengthwise and scoop out the seeds and fibres. Divide each squash half in quarters. Using a knife or mandoline on a fine slicing setting, cut the squash pieces into ⅛ inch thick slices.

In a medium, heavy-bottomed saucepan, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring, until soft, about 3 minutes. Add the butternut squash, season with salt, and cover with water. Cook, simmering, until the squash easily breaks apart, about 20 minutes. Stir in the rice, then add a cup of the hot vegetable broth. Cook at an aggressive boil, stirring often, for 8 minutes, adding a cup of broth at a time, as necessary; the rice should almost completely absorb the broth between additions. Add the Parmigiano, stirring to incorporate, then continue cooking, adding broth as necessary, until the rice is al dente and the mixture moist but not watery, about 8 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat. Stir in the butter and adjust the seasoning with salt if necessary. Divide the rice among serving plates and drizzle with balsamic vinegar. Serve immediately.

*Vegetable Broth

2 celery stalks, halved

2 medium carrots, halved

1 small onion, halved

5 pints (3 litres) water

Combine all the ingredients in a pot. Bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer, uncovered, for 30 minutes. Strain and discard the vegetables. Cool and refrigerate for up to 4 days.

Scallops in their shells with thyme from the da Fiore Cookbook

Cappesante Gratinate al Timo

Serves 6

Coarse salt to line serving plates

18 fresh scallops in their shells

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Leaves from 2 thyme sprigs

3 tablespoons finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

3 tablespoons finely ground fresh breadcrumbs

3 tablespoons olive oil

Preheat the oven to 475F/250C/gas9

Line the bottoms of 6 serving plates with ½ inch coarse salt. This will create an attractive presentation for the scallop shells and prevent them from sliding on the plate. Set aside.

Using an oyster knife or small, strong (but not sharp) knife, carefully pry open the shells. Run the knife under the bottom shell to detach the scallop. Scoop out the scallop, discarding the white muscles and the dark organs and keeping the orange coral in place. Keep the decorative shells to use as ‘serving dishes’. Thoroughly rinse the scallops of all sand and residue. Pat dry with paper towels and set aside.

Wash and dry the shells. Place on 2 large baking pans. Return the scallops to the centres of the shells. Season the white part with salt and pepper. Sprinkle the scallops with the thyme leaves, lightly dust them with the cheese and breadcrumbs, and drizzle with olive oil. Bake until the tops are lightly brown, 4 to 5 minutes. Using tongs, transfer three scallops in their shells to each serving plate, lightly pressing the shells into the salt to secure them. Serve immediately.

Pomegranate Sorbet – from Marcella’s Kitchen by Marcella Hazan

Sorbetto di Melagrana

Serves 6

4 large pomegranates, about 1.4kg (3lb)

Yielding about 1.5litres (2½ pints) of juice and seeds

3 tablespoons granulated sugar

1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice

6 or 7 medium-size fresh mint leaves, torn by hand into 2 or 3 pieces each

Remove the pomegranate rind to extract the seeds.

Mash the flesh coated seeds through a food mill fitted with the disc with the smallest holes, collecting the juice in a bowl.

To the bowl, add the sugar, lemon juice and torn mint leaves. Stir until the sugar has fully dissolved. Let the mixture rest for about 30 minutes.

Pour the mixture through a strainer with a fine mesh to separate from it the mint and any tiny pomegranate seeds that may have passed through the food mill.

Freeze in an ice-cream machine, following the manufacturer’s instructions.

Foolproof Food

Apple Fritters

Funny how one sometimes forgets a recipe, we hadn’t had these for ages but I remembered them recently and they taste just as good as ever. When we were children we particularly loved fritters because they used to fry into funny shapes, which caused great hilarity.

1 lb (450g) cooking or eating apples

Batter:

4 ozs (110g) flour

pinch of salt

1 egg, preferably free range

¼ pint (150ml) milk

good quality oil for frying

castor sugar

To make the batter, sieve the flour and salt into a bowl. Make a well in the centre and drop in the egg, using a whisk bring in the flour gradually from the edges, slowly adding in the milk at the same time. Leave the batter in a cool place for about an hour. Heat the oil in a deep fry to 180C/350F/regulo 4.

Peel and core the apples. Cut into rings not more than ½ inch (1cm) thick. Dip the apple rings into the batter, drain off excess and lift out with a skewer, allow any surplus batter to drain off, then drop into hot fat. Don’t put too many fritters into the fat at the same time. Fry until golden brown, drain well on kitchen paper. Toss each fritter in castor sugar. Serve immediately with softly whipped cream. * They can also be shallow-fried in a pan if that is more convenient.

Hot Tips

Slow Food Event – Festive Food for Christmas – Cookery Demonstration with Darina and Rachel Allen at Ballymaloe Cookery School, Shanagarry, Co Cork on Wednesday 14th November at 7.00pm

€25 for Slow Food members and €45 for non members, booking essential – call Helen on 021-4646785 or email library@cookingisfun.ie

Boyle Rally Festival Plans are well under way for the Boyle Festival, a series of entertainments and exhibitions on Friday, November 16th in Boyle, Co Roscommon, to mark the World Rally Local Stages in this area. The Official Opening takes place at 6pm in The Pleasure Grounds when The Art of Sound, a spectacular Sound & Light Show, takes place. From 6pm-10pm in the Public Car Park, Shop Street, a Micro Cam state of the art 16x12ft Outdoor Screen will be showing rally footage and children’s films. From 5pm-9pm in the grounds of King House and along River Walk there will be a Christmas Market. This outdoor craft market (where the Saturday morning Farmers’ Market is usually held) should have something for everyone. Specialised hot food stalls with a large selection of hot foods made to eat alfresco, including roasted pig on a spit, crepes, wraps, home-made soups, home-made sausages and burgers and lots more, will be lined up along RiverWalk. www.unabhan.net unabhan@indigo.ie

Darina wins Euro-toque Cavan Crystal Award

Darina wins Euro-toque Cavan Crystal Award, seen here with her mother Elizabeth O'ConnellLast week brought an unexpected announcement, Euro-toque Cavan Crystal Awards honoured my “outstanding contribution to the Irish Culinary Sector”.
The citation read – “Darina Allen’s award was given in recognition of her exceptional work in providing an outstanding level of culinary education at Ballymaloe Cookery School, for her involvement in the Slowfood movement and her activities as a lobbyist for the artisan food industry, and for her commitment and passion in protecting and promoting traditional Irish and local food. Her contribution has been invaluable in creating the high standard of artisan food production and culinary expertise which exists in Ireland today.”

Was that not a lovely surprise on a Monday morning.

As a friend wryly remarked in her congratulatory note – great to get a pat on the back while you’re still alive, they (not Euro-toques) usually wait till you’re pushing up the daisies.

Euro-toques – The European Community of Cooks, was established in 1986 in Brussels as a guardian of European culinary heritage and as a lobby group addressing the concerns of Europe’s top chefs and cooks about food quality and the future of food.

Every year they honour artisans and food producers who produce real quality. Speaking on behalf of Euro-toques, Founder member Myrtle Allen of Ballymaloe House commented “We cannot do our job as cooks without top-quality ingredients and recognizing and promoting the people who provide these is central to what Euro-toques is all about. We are delighted to have here today, a group of people who have championed traditional and local products and production methods and have carried on and developed their businesses in the face of great challenges.

One of our grave concerns in recent years has been the shutting down of small abattoirs right across the country, so we are delighted to recognize a butcher who has continued to raise, slaughter and sell his own animals on his own premises – this is the true meaning of traceability. We also see the depletion of native fish stocks as one of the major food threats currently and are therefore awarding a fisherman who has taken a special interest in conservation. All these people contribute in a small, but vital way, to ensuring a viable and diverse food supply into the future.”

This year, a butcher, a baker, a fisherman, a miller and a dairy farmer were amongst those commended by top Irish chefs for their contribution to Irish food.

The annual event is sponsored by the Cavan Crystal Hotel and this year’s awards were presented by Cavan Euro-toques chef, cookbook author and TV personality Neven Maguire.

Awards were presented to five outstanding food producers/suppliers:

  • Glenilen Dairy, Drimoleague, West Cork
    Recognised for diversifying a traditional dairy farm into production of quality dairy-based products including traditional country butter, clotted cream and yoghurt, as well as a range of cheesecakes, mousses and desserts.
  • Michael McGrath Butcher, Lismore, Co Waterford
    A fourth generation butcher recognized for maintaining traditional methods, above all for retaining their on-premises abattoir and slaughtering their own cattle, as well as providing a slaughtering service for local farmers.
  • Flahavan Mills, Kilmacthomas, Co Waterford
    The well-known producer of Flahavan’s Oats, recognized for maintaining high production standards in keeping with traditional methods and environmental concerns.
  • Terry Butterly, Coastguard Seafoods, Annagassan, Co Louth
    A fisherman for 35 years, Terry Butterly now processes seafoods for supply to some of the top restaurants on the east coast. He was recognized for his special interest in conservation and the service he provides in informing chefs about the seasonality and availability of fish.
  • Ditty’s Home Bakery, Castledawson, Northern Ireland.
    A third generation bakery producing traditional Ulster breads, using ingredients from local artisan suppliers. Recognised for promoting regional diversity and developing new artisan products.

These awards are unique in that nominations are made by the Euro-toque members, and winners are then carefully selected by the Euro-toques Food Committee, made up of chefs from all over the country. Therefore, these awards give producers recognition from the top industry chefs and cooks in the country.

Each award winner was presented with a specially commissioned engraved piece by Cavan Crystal Design.

Glenilen Yoghurt and Cardamom Cream with Pomegranate Seeds perfumed with Rose Blossom Water
Serves 8-10

425ml (15 fl ozs) Glenilen natural yoghurt
230ml (8 fl ozs) milk
200ml (7 fl ozs) cream
175g (6 ozs) castor sugar (could be reduced to 5oz)
¼ teaspoon cardamom seeds, freshly ground – you’ll need about 8-10 green cardamom pods depending on size
3 rounded teaspoons powdered gelatine

Pomegranate Seeds with Rose Blossom Water
1-2 pomegranates depending on size
a little lemon juice
1-2 tablespoons castor sugar
Rose blossom water to taste

Garnish: Sweet geranium or mint leaves
Euro-toque Cavan Crystal Awards
Remove the seeds from 8-10 green cardamom pods, crush in a pestle and mortar.

Put the milk, sugar and cream into a stainless steel saucepan with the ground cardamom, stir until the sugar has dissolved and the mixture is warm to the touch. Remove from the heat and leave to infuse while you dissolve the gelatine.

Put 3 tablespoons of cold water into a small bowl, sprinkle the gelatine over the water, allow to ‘sponge’ for a few minutes. Put the bowl into a saucepan of simmering water until the gelatine has melted and is completely clear. Add a little of the cardamom infused milk mixture, stir well and then mix this into the rest. Whisk the yoghurt lightly until smooth and creamy, stir into the cardamom mixture.

Pour into a wide serving dish or a lightly oiled ring mould and allow to set for several hours, preferably overnight.

Meanwhile, cut the pomegranates in half around the Equator! Carefully separate the seeds from the membrane. Put the seeds into a bowl, sprinkle with just a little freshly squeezed lemon juice, add castor sugar and rose blossom water to taste. Chill.

If the cardamom cream has been set in a ring mould, turn out onto a chilled white plate. Fill the centre with chilled rose-scented pomegranate seeds. Garnish with sweet geranium or mint leaves or even prettier, garnish with crystallized rose petals. I’ve got a wonderful Irish rose called ‘Souvenir de St Anne’s” in Lydia’s garden. This rose has a bloom even in the depths of winter so I steal a few petals and crystallize to decorate this and other desserts.

Irish Stew made with Michael McGrath’s Lamb
Serves 4-6

2½ – 3 lbs (1.35kg) lamb chops (gigot or rack chops) not less than 1 inch (2.5cm) thick
8 medium or 12 baby carrots
8 medium or 12 baby onions
8 -12 potatoes, or more if you like
salt and freshly ground pepper
1½-1¾ pints stock (lamb stock if possible) or water
1 sprig of thyme
1 tablesp. roux, optional – see recipe

Garnish
1 tablesp. freshly chopped parsley
1 tablesp. freshly chopped chives

Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/regulo 4.

Cut the chops in half and trim off some of the excess fat. Set aside. Render down the fat on a gentle heat in a heavy pan (discard the rendered down pieces).

Peel the onions and scrape or thinly peel the carrots (if they are young you could leave some of the green stalk on the onion and carrot). Cut the carrots into large chunks, or if they are small leave them whole. If the onions are large, cut them into quarters through the root, if they are small they are best left whole.

Toss the meat in the hot fat on the pan until it is slightly brown. Transfer the meat into a casserole, then quickly toss the onions and carrots in the fat. Build the meat, carrots and onions up in layers in the casserole, carefully season each layer with freshly ground pepper and salt. De-glaze the pan with lamb stock and pour into the casserole. Peel the potatoes and lay them on top of the casserole, so they will steam while the stew cooks. Season the potatoes. Add a sprig of thyme, bring to the boil on top of the stove, cover with a butter wrapper or paper lid and the lid of the saucepan. Transfer to a moderate oven or allow to simmer on top of the stove until the stew is cooked, 1-1½ hours approx, depending on whether the stew is being made with lamb or hogget.

When the stew is cooked, pour off the cooking liquid, de-grease and reheat in another saucepan. Slightly thicken by whisking in a little roux if you like. Check seasoning, then add chopped parsley and chives. Pour over the meat and vegetables. Bring the stew back up to boiling point and serve from the pot or in a large pottery dish.

Roux
4 ozs (110g) butter
4 ozs (110g) flour

Melt the butter and cook the flour in it for 2 minutes on a low heat, stirring occasionally. Use as required. Roux can be stored in a cool place and used as required or it can be made up on the spot if preferred. It will keep at least a fortnight in a refrigerator.

Irish Stew with Pearl Barley

Add 1-2 tablespoons pearl barley with the vegetables.
Increase the stock to 2 pints (1.2L) as the pearl barley soaks up lots of liquid.

Flahavan’s Oatmeal Biscuits
These nutritious biscuits keep very well in a tin. Children love to munch them with a banana. Don’t compromise – make them with butter, because the flavour is immeasurably better.

Makes 24-32

1 lb (450g) Flahavan’s rolled oatmeal (porridge oats)
12 ozs (340g) butter
1 tablespoon golden syrup
1 teaspoon pure vanilla essence
8 ozs (225g) castor sugar

Swiss roll tin, 10 inches (25.5cm) x 15 inches (38cm)

Melt the butter, add the golden syrup and pure vanilla essence, stir in the castor sugar and oatmeal and mix well. Spread into a large Swiss roll tin and bake in a preheated moderate oven, 180C/350F/regulo 4, until golden and slightly caramelised – about 30 minutes. Cut into 24-32 squares while still warm.

Note: Make half the recipe if a 9 inch (23cm) x 13 inch (33cm) Swiss roll thin is used.

Gratin of Haddock with Imokilly Cheddar and Mustard with Piquant Beetroot
This is one of the simplest and most delicious fish dishes we know. If haddock is unavailable, cod, hake or grey sea mullet are also great. We use Imokilly mature Cheddar from our local creamery at Mogeely.

Serves 6 as a main course

175g (6 x 6oz) pieces of haddock
Salt and freshly ground pepper
225g (8ozs) Irish mature Cheddar cheese, grated
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
4 tablespoon cream

Piquant Beetroot

1½ lbs (675 g) beetroot cooked
½ oz (15 g) butter
Salt and freshly ground pepper
A few drops of freshly squeezed lemon juice (optional)
A sprinkling of sugar (if necessary)
5-6 fl ozs (140-175ml) cream
1-2 tsp finely chopped chives.

Peel the beetroot, use rubber gloves for this operation if you are vain!. Chop the beetroot flesh into cubes. Melt the butter in a saute pan, add the beetroot toss, add the freshly squeezed lemon juice and cream, allow to bubble for a few minutes. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper and sugar. Taste and add a little more lemon juice if necessary. Serve immediately.

Ovenproof dish 8½ x 10 inches (21.5 x 25.5cm)

Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/regulo 4. Season the fish with salt and freshly ground pepper. Arrange the fillets in a single layer in an ovenproof dish (it should be posh enough to bring to the table.) Mix the grated cheese with the mustard and cream and spread carefully over the fish. It can be prepared ahead and refrigerated at this point. Cook in a preheated oven for about 20 minutes or until the fish is cooked and the top is golden and bubbly. Flash under the grill if necessary. Serve with hot Piquant Beetroot.

Irish Farmhouse Cheese with Ditty’s Oatcakes or Gubbeen Cheese Oatcakes

Choose a piece of perfect Irish farmhouse cheese made from cow, goat or ewe’s milk – Milleens, Gubbeen, Durrus, Cashel Blue, Baylough, Desmond, Croghan, Ardsallagh, Knockalara, Kerry, Cooleeney, Coolea, Abbey Blue, Killorglin, Chetwynd, Ardrahan, Lavistown, Ring, Boilie … there are over 80 to choose from and serve with Ditty’s Oatcakes.

Hot Tips
The winners

Glenilen Farm Artisan Foods www.glenilen.com glenilen@eircom.net
Flahavans www.flahavans.com oatmail@flahavans.com
Coastguard Seafoods, Annagassan, Co Louth – Tel 042-9372527
Michael McGrath Butcher, Main St. Lismore, Co Waterford –
Tel 058-54350

Ditty’s Home Bakery, www.dittysbakery.com dittysbakery@tiscali.co.uk

Ummera Smoked Products are now available in London at
Tom’s Deli, 226 Westbourne Grove, W11 2RH – Smoked Dry Cured Bacon/Rashers, Organic Salmon and if you’re lucky some Organic Gravlax – Call Sophie Taylor at Tom’s Deli – 0207 221 8818 to reserve a little taste of Ummera if you have a longing for a taste of West Cork.

LE CRUNCH HEALTH HEROES COMPETITION IS ON AGAIN!
One of the most popular Primary school campaigns, organised by Le Crunch French Apples, is back!

Schools around the country will focus on a healthy approach to eating and lifestyle when they return from the mid-term break as the students paint, draw, photograph or otherwise create posters depicting how they and their classmates get active and become health heroes.

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