Going back to Basics


The future is unquestionably rosy for Irish farmers and food producers. As we hear more about the challenges of sustainable food production and the need for food security, we begin to realise the fantastic opportunities we have in this country.

As the recent Harvard Report ‘Pathways for Growth’ for Bord Bia reminded us. “Ireland has an enviable agricultural situation that almost every other country would kill for. It has abundant fertile land, lots of water, and miles of coastline all situated in close proximity to a collection of 400 million affluent people. It is one of Europe’s largest dairy and beef exporters, and home to several world-class firms and hundreds of food artisans. All this comes at a time when the global demand for food is projected to increase by 70% over the next 40 years. The affluent world is demanding locally grown, non-polluting, traceable, transparent food. It rebels against “multinationals” who they think are adulterating the food we eat. Yet, of course, it wants that food at an affordable price.”

Thus recognising the opportunities for Ireland Inc., we need to encourage the brightest and best to pursue a career in all aspects of food production, distribution and marketing to drive the Irish food industry into the future.

Many would argue that there is a serious skills deficit in the food business at present. A mind set still prevails in education that a career in food production or the restaurant business is somehow of lesser value than an academic career. This attitude dates right back to the late fifties and early sixties when I was at school. The valiant nuns who educated me did their best to encourage ‘us girls’ to have a proper career – study law, medicine, architecture, the sciences… I sensed that my preference for cooking or horticulture was definitely a secondary career. The subliminal message was ‘why would you want to learn how to cook, sure you’re never really need that.” Furthermore, in the mid 60s, long before the era of celebrity chefs, cooks and chefs had little status. How things have changed and now many people who concentrated solely on a set of academic skills find themselves in changed circumstance and realise that they can’t even scramble a couple of eggs.

Shame on the Mammies of Ireland for letting so many of our little dotes out of our houses, helpless, without basic life skills. It was all grand and dandy during the decadent decade but now it’s all about austerity and thrift. However it’s difficult to be thrifty if one has no DIY skills.

In this weeks column I’ll concentrate on a few very basic skills but first you’ll need to buy a few bits of ‘kitchen kit.’

A couple of sharp knives and a sharpening steel. A box grater, a Microplane or a Cuisine Pro, a vegetable peeler, a nice big timber chopping board, a couple of heavy bottomed saucepans (good ones are definitely not cheap but will last a lifetime) a cast iron frying pan, a blender mixer or if your budget can reach on it a food mixer with a blender and spice grinding attachment. If you’d like to make the Lemon Drizzle Squares you will also need a Swiss roll tin but it can also double up as a small roasting tin or oven tray.

You can access the full list of Essential Kitchen Kit on the Ballymaloe Cookery School Website www.cookingisfun.ie/vpages/pages/kitchen/basic_kitchen_kit.html

Mornay Sauce or Cheddar Cheese Sauce


This cheese sauce is a brilliant basic, add some cooked pasta or macaroni and you have a macaroni cheese. It’s also good to spoon over cooked cauliflower, broccoli, leeks or chicory. It’s also an essential part of a good lasagne and if you omit the cheese and add lots of chopped parsley – hey presto you have delicious parsley sauce to serve with ham or bacon.

Makes 600ml (1 pint)

600ml (1 pint) milk

a few slices of carrot and onion

3 or 4 peppercorns

a sprig of thyme and parsley

50g (2oz) approx. Roux, (see recipe)

50g (2oz) grated Gruyere and 15g (½oz) grated Parmesan cheese

¼ teaspoon mustard preferably Dijon mustard but English mustard is also terrific

salt and freshly ground pepper

Put the cold milk into a saucepan with a few slices of carrot and onion, 3 or 4 peppercorns and a sprig of thyme and parsley. Bring to the boil, simmer for 4-5 minutes, remove from the heat and leave to infuse for 10 minutes if you have enough time.

Strain out the vegetables, bring the milk back to the boil and thicken by whisking in the roux to a light coating consistency. Add the grated cheese and mustard. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper, taste and correct the seasoning if necessary.

Cheddar Cheese Sauce

Substitute 110g (4oz) mature Cheddar cheese for Gruyere and Parmesan in the recipe above.




A brilliant stand by to have in your fridge – use it to thicken a sauce or gravy, can be fish meat or vegetable. It will keep in a covered box in the fridge for a month or more. The liquid must be boiling when the roux is added otherwise the roux will not thicken the liquid.

110 g (4 ozs) butter

110 g (4 ozs) 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


A Basic French Dressing

All you need for a good salad dressing is really good extra virgin oil and really good wine vinegar. Just whisk them together with a little seasoning and use it to drizzle over a salad or a mixture of leaves. If you want to add extra flavourings, a little mustard, some honey, maybe a few fresh herbs and a judicious amount of crushed garlic will add extra oomph – see below.

6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons white wine vinegar

sea salt and freshly ground pepper

Whisk all ingredients together just before the salad is to be eaten.

Ballymaloe French Dressing


2 fl ozs (55ml) Wine vinegar

6 fl ozs (150ml) olive oil or a mixture of olive and other oils. eg. sunflower and arachide

1 level teaspoon mustard (Dijon or English)

1 large clove of garlic

1 scallion or small spring onion

Sprig of parsley

Sprig of watercress

1 level teaspoon

Few grinds of pepper

Put all the ingredients into a blender and run at medium speed for 1 minutes approx. or mix oil and vinegar in a bowl, add mustard, salt, freshly ground pepper and mashed garlic. Chop the parsley, spring onion and watercress finely and add in. Whisk before serving.

Basic Vegetable Soup Technique


Well over half the soups we make at Ballymaloe are made on this simple formula. Doesn’t matter what you use to measure as long as you use the same for each ingredient – a cup or mug would be fine.

Serves 6

1 part onion

1 part potato

3 parts any vegetable of your choice, or a mixture

5 parts stock or stock and milk mixed


Water, chicken or vegetable stock may be used. Season simply with salt and freshly ground pepper.  Complementary fresh herbs or spices may also be added.

So one can make a myriad of different soups depending on what’s fresh, in season and available.

If potatoes and onions are the only option, it’s still possible to make two delicious soups by increasing one or the other and then adding one or several herbs.  We have even used broad bean tops, radish leaves and nettles in season.


50g (2ozs) butter

1 cup or 150g (5oz) chopped potatoes, one-third inch dice

1 cup or 110g (4oz) peeled diced onions, one-third inch dice

3 cups or 340g (12oz) chopped vegetables of your choice, one-third inch dice

5 cups or 1.2L (2 pints) homemade chicken stock or 1L stock and 150ml (1/4 pint) creamy milk

Melt the butter in a heavy bottomed saucepan. When it foams, add potatoes and onions and turn them until well coated. Sprinkle with salt and freshly ground pepper. Cover with a butter wrapper or paper lid and the lid of the saucepan. Sweat on a gentle heat for 10 minutes. Add the vegetables and stock, bring back to the boil and continue to cook until soft, liquidise, sieve or put through a mouli. Do not overcook or the vegetables will lose their flavour. Adjust seasoning. Couldn’t be simpler.

Ballymaloe Beef Stew


A good gutsy stew which can be made in large quantities – it reheats and freezes brilliantly.

Serves 6-8

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1.35kg (3 lb) well hung stewing beef or lean flank

2 large carrots cut into 1/2 inch (1cm) slices

285g (10 ozs) sliced onions

1 heaped tablespoon flour

150ml (5fl oz) red wine

150ml (5fl oz) brown beef stock

250ml (8fl oz) homemade Tomato Purée, otherwise use best quality tinned tomato -pureed and sieved

175g (6 oz) sliced mushrooms

1 tablespoon chopped parsley

salt and freshly ground pepper

Trim the meat of any excess fat, then prepare the vegetables. Cut the meat into 4cm

(1 1/2 inch) cubes. Heat the olive oil in a casserole; sweat the sliced onions and carrots on a gentle heat with a lid on for 10 minutes. Heat a little more olive oil in a frying pan until almost smoking.  Sear the pieces of meat on all sides, reduce the heat, stir in flour, cook for 1 minutes, mix the wine, stock and tomato puree together and add gradually to the casserole. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper. Cover and cook gently. Cook gently for 2 1/2-3 hours in a low oven, depending on the cut of meat, 160°C/325°F/gas mark 3. Meanwhile sauté the mushrooms and add with the parsley to the casserole, 30 minutes approx. before the end of cooking.  Serve with Polenta, mashed potatoes or noodles and a good green salad.

Lemon Drizzle Squares


Everybody loves these, they are great with a cup of coffee or as a dessert with berries or bananas in lime syrup, see recipe.

Makes 24


6 ozs (175g) soft butter

6 ozs (175g) castor sugar

2 eggs, preferably free range

6 ozs (175g) self-raising flour


freshly grated rind of 1 lemon

freshly squeezed juice of 1-2 lemons

4 ozs (110g) castor sugar

10 x 7 inch (25.5 x 18 cm) Swiss roll tin, well greased

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

Put the butter, castor sugar, eggs and self-raising flour into a food processor. Whizz for a few seconds to amalgamate. Or cream them altogether by hand with a wooden spoon in a bowl. Spread evenly in the well buttered tin. Bake in the preheated oven for 20-25 minutes approx. or until golden brown and well risen. Meanwhile mix the ingredients for the glaze. As soon as the cake mixture is cooked, pour the glaze over the top, leave to cool. Cut into squares.

Remove the biscuits from the tin if keeping for a few days unless the tin is coated with Teflon.


Fool Proof Food


Bananas in Lime Syrup


Serves 4

3 bananas

2 ozs (50g) sugar

4 fl ozs (110ml) water

1 lime

Put the sugar and water into a saucepan, stir over a gentle heat until the sugar dissolves, bring to the boil and simmer for 2 minutes, allow to cool.

Peel the mango and slice quite thinly down to the stone. Peel the banana into cut rounds.  Put the slices into a bowl and cover with cold syrup.

Meanwhile remove the zest from the lime either with a zester or a fine stainless steel grater and add to the syrup with the juice of the lime.  Leave to macerate for at least an hour. Serve chilled.


Join Debbie Shaw and Linn Thorstennson, qualified nutritionists and a Ballymaloe Chef for their 5 week Wellness Programme at the Fermoy Youth Centre, Tuesday nights, 7.30pm starting February 22nd, 2011. The course includes: healthy eating for permanent weight loss, spring detox, self motivation and relaxation and simple healthy recipes with yummy tastings. €80 handouts, recipes and tastings included. Booking essential

086-785 58 68 or email: linntwellness@gmail.com.

Penfold’s Winemaker visits Dublin & Cork

Tom Portet the Winemaker with Australian winery Penfolds will visit Ireland to host two wine dinners in Dublin and Cork. The venues are The Restaurant at Donnybrook Fair on Wednesday 23rd February at 7.45pm – €60 per person / €100 per couple. To book…01 6144849 restaurant@donnybrookfair.ie and Ballymaloe House, Shanagarry, Co Cork on Thursday 24th February at 8pm – €75 per person. To book 021 4652531 res@ballymaloe.ie   

Spring Planting and Cooking Class Saturday March 5th – 10am to 3pm

Karen Austin and Joy Larkom – author of Creative Vegetable Gardening and Grow Your own Vegetables are teaching this one day course that begins in the garden with information to inspire you to plant your own seeds and how to nurture the seedlings. The class will continue in the kitchen, cooking the spring vegetables that are beginning to appear. Lunch is included in the course price of €95.00. Phone 023 8836938 or 0238846251 to book www.lettercollum.ie.

About the author

Darina Allen
By Darina Allen


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