ArchiveJune 2021

World Microbiome Day

Celebrate World Microbiome Day on June 27th.
In our crazy world, many of us know far more about the lives of celebrities than we do about the source of the food we and our families eat.  Nonetheless, we have become increasingly paranoid, can’t eat this, can’t eat that…meanwhile in supermarkets, free-from and supplement aisles are gaining more space…

For the past year and a half, we’ve lived in a climate of fear. Covid-19 has made us even more paranoid about bacteria, microbes, viruses….
We sanitize from morning until night, carry little phials in our handbags and worry endlessly that there are bacteria waiting to pounce everywhere we go…Scientists and microbiologists are becoming ever more concerned. In our sanitizing frenzy, we have also eliminated many beneficial bacteria that help to protect us. Consequently, the pathogenic bacteria are becoming stronger and stronger because nature always triumphs in the end

Humans have co-evolved with microbes, bacteria, virus, fungi, archaea…since time began.  They are everywhere, on plants and animals, in water, soil, food and all over us humans.  Most are beneficial, a few are pathogenic.  They are also in the soils and oceans of the world, on every surface, there are trillions on the human body, on our skins in our mouths and 90-95% reside in our gut microbiome.   In Ayurvedic and Chinese healing traditions, the dialogue between the gut and the brain has long been recognised, however Western medicine failed until relatively recently to appreciate the complexity of how the brain, gut and microbiome communicate with each other.

Scientific study of the gut microbiome is relatively new.  A growing body of research worldwide, with much done in UCC in Cork, has proved beyond any doubt that the biodiversity of our gut microbiome, has a profound impact not just our physical but also on our mental health.

The invisible world of microbes is a fascinating one, filled with untapped potential, microbiologists say that much has still to be understood. 

But here’s a taste of what they’ve discovered so far:  

  • Marine microbes produce most of the oxygen we breathe and can absorb as much carbon dioxide as plants do on land.
  • Microbes in the soil fix nitrogen – changing it from a gas in the atmosphere to a form in the soil that plants can use to grow.
  • Some microbes even have the capacity to break down methane gas, helping to slow climate change.
  • In our homes, composting microbes help us recycle our green waste (plants, vegetables, fruits) and recover nutrients to enrich the soil in our gardens.
  • Up to a third of the food we consume is produced by microbes. We can use microbes to extend the shelf-life of our foods and prevent food waste by fermenting foods at home.
  • At a larger scale, microbes can contribute to the circular economy by converting waste (e.g. food production waste) into fuel and thus provide new and sustainable opportunities for the food and feed production.

But in this article, I will concentrate on how to boost our personal gut microbiome.  World Microbiome Day 2021 focuses on the potential of microbiomes for a sustainable future.  It’s all about biodiversity, the greater the variety of fresh organic food we eat, the more healthy and diverse our gut microbiome becomes.  Once again, it’s not rocket science, gut microbes love real food.  They are totally confused by fake food so let’s cut ultra-processed food totally from your diet and concentrate on sourcing as much seasonal produce as possible with lots of fresh vegetables for roughage.  Nature provides what we need year-round.  Let’s learn how to recognise beneficial and edible food in the wild, incorporate them into our diets.  They carry the antibodies of our area and have maximum nutrients because unlike many other foods they have not been manipulated to produce maximum yield at minimum cost, which is sadly the primary focus in mass food production these days to the detriment of our overall health.  

Biodiversity is the key, eat as wide a range of seasonal and chemical free range of foods as possible.  So, concentrate on boosting your gut-biome.  Local honey, local pastured eggs from organic free-range hens, local organic meat from free-ranging grass fed animals and organic raw milk also boost our microbiome. Fermented foods are another must have, sauerkraut, kimchi, kombucha, water and milk kefir. Try to make your own, they’ll be infinity more complex than most of what you can buy.  Thick unctuous yogurt preferably made from organic milk and collagen rich home-made home broths.  In fact, all real food will stimulate and delight the almost 2kg of microbes in our gut and you’ll feel the better for it both mentally and physically. Keep washing your hands but be careful of over sanitizing, you may well be doing more harm than good.

For World Microbiome Day on June 27th, APC Microbiome Ireland SFI Research Centre is hosting Microbiome Friendly Brunch Demonstration – Darina Allen in conversation with John Leech, an APC Microbiome Ireland SFI Research Centre, PhD student based in Teagasc Food Research and research officer with MASTER.

This very special online cookery demonstration will cover the following dishes – Water Kefir and Milk Kefir, Yoghurt- Labneh, Honey, Almonds, Porridge, Shakshuka with Sourdough, Granola and Pan Grilled Mackerel Miso. The cookery demonstration will commence at 11am on World Microbiome Day and be available on demand thereafter.

Darina and John will discuss how the various ingredients benefit the microbiome as the cookery demonstration progresses. They will also discuss sustainability – the theme for World Microbiome Day 2021 – and a cause which is high on the agenda for Darina Allen and Ballymaloe Cookery School.

Visit for more information, a recipe booklet and a link to book your free tickets via Eventbrite

Ballymaloe Cookery School Homemade Yoghurt

It’s really easy to make your own yoghurt, the end result will depend on the quality of the milk.  We make our natural yoghurt from the rich milk of our small Jersey herd.  First it is boiled, pasteurized and then allowed to cool to lukewarm.  This destroys any unwanted bacteria in the milk which could interfere with the bacterial action of the yoghurt bacillus.

600ml (1 pint) fresh milk

2-3 teaspoons live yoghurt or natural bacillus

Heat the milk to 90°C (194°F) in a heavy bottomed saucepan.  Allow to cool to 42°C (107.6°F).  Gently stir or whisk in the yogurt. Leave in the saucepan or pour into a deep terracotta bowl or a wide mouth flask works brilliantly.  Cover and put into a warm draught-free place until set.  This usually takes about 14 hours.  The cooler the temperature, the longer the yogurt will take to set, but too high a temperature will kill the bacillus and the yogurt will not form (over 50°C/122°F).

The simple aim is to provide steady even warmth to allow the bacillus to grow.  Remember to keep back 2 tablespoons of yoghurt as the starter of the next lot.

Yoghurt with Honey, Dates and Almonds

unsweetened natural yoghurt, very cold

runny honey

Medjool dates

thick cream

almonds (with the inner brown skin left on i.e unblanched)

  1. For each person half-fill a pudding bowl or glass with yoghurt.
  2. Stone dates and chop them roughly.  Put a few on the top of each helping of yogurt.
  3. Spoon a good dollop of thick cream over the top, then trickle over 1 teaspoon of runny honey.
  4. Scatter a few more coarsely chopped almonds on top.  Pistachio nuts are also delicious and perhaps a few shredded mint leaves.

Penny Allen’s Milk and Honey Kefir

Milk kefir is a probiotic drink a bit like a slightly effervescent yoghurt.

It is made with kefir grains and milk. The grains can be used again and again and will multiply if well looked after. The grains are not related to cereal grains and neither are they related to water kefir grains. The grains are a bio-matrix made by yeasts and bacteria. There are many ways to enjoy kefir. It can be added to smoothies, used as you would buttermilk, great as a marinade to tenderise meat or add spices to make lassi.

Basic Recipe

1 tablespoon milk kefir grains

250ml (9fl oz) milk

honey to taste, vanilla or spices

Put your grains into a glass jar.

Add the milk and stir gently with a non-metal spoon.

Cover the jar with a clean cloth and put somewhere out of direct sunlight.

Let it sit for 12-24 hours until it reaches the desired sourness.  Stir from time to time. This helps it to ferment evenly. Taste it after 12 hours.

When the kefir has reached the desirable taste, strain the kefir through a plastic sieve into a bowl. You might need to help it through with a plastic spoon. You will be left with the kefir grains in the sieve, ready to be reused. Don’t be tempted to wash them.

You can now make the basic recipe again. As the grains multiply you can make larger batches.

To the strained kefir you can now add something like honey, a vanilla pod or spices to add flavour.

If you want to take a break from brewing kefir just put the grains into a fresh cup of milk and put it in the fridge. This will slow down fermentation for a few days.

Penny Allen’s Basic Sauerkraut

At its basic sauerkraut is chopped or shredded cabbage that is salted and fermented in its own juice.  A preservation method that has existed in one form or another for thousands of years and sailors have carried it on ships to ward off scurvy because of its high Vitamin C content. 

800g (1 3/4lb) of cabbage


500g (18oz) of cabbage plus

300g (10oz) of mixture of any of the following: grated carrot, turnip, celeriac, onion

3 level teaspoons sea salt

1 x 1 litre Kilner jar or similar receptacle

1 x small jam jar to act as a weight inside the lid of the 1 litre jar

Wash the cabbage if it’s muddy. Take off any damaged outside leaves. Quarter the cabbage, core it and then finely shred each quarter.

Mix the cabbage and the rest of the ingredients together in a large bowl.  Using your hands, scrunch cabbage and other vegetables with the salt until you begin to feel the juices being released.  Continue for a few minutes. Pack a little at a time you’re your Kilner jar and press down hard using your fist – this packs the kraut tight and helps force more water out of the vegetables.  Fill the Jar about 80% full to leave room for liquid that will come out of the vegetables as it starts to ferment.

Place a clean weight on top of cabbage (a small jar or container filled with water works well).  This weight is to keep the vegetables submerged under the brine. This is the most important thing to get your ferment off to the right start. (Under the brine, all will be fine!)

Sit the jar on a plate just in case some brine escapes while it is fermenting. Place on a countertop and allow to ferment for at least 5 days. Ideally leave it for 10 days to 2 weeks.  As you eat the kraut make sure the remainder is well covered in brine by pushing the vegetables under the brine and sealing well.  It will keep for months, the flavour develops and matures over time. Once you have opened it, it’s best to keep it in the fridge where it will last for months.

Chicken Stock and Broth

This recipe is just a guideline. If you have just one carcass and can’t be bothered to make a small quantity of stock, why not freeze the carcass and save it up until you have six or seven carcasses and giblets, then you can make a really good-sized pot of stock and get the best value for your fuel.

Stock will keep for several days in the refrigerator. If you want to keep it for longer, boil it up again for 5–6 minutes every couple of days; allow it to get cold and refrigerate again. Stock also freezes perfectly. For cheap containers, use large yogurt cartons or plastic milk bottles, then you can cut them away from the frozen stock without a conscience if you need to defrost it in a hurry!

Makes about 3.5 litres (6 pints)

2–3 raw or cooked chicken carcasses or a mixture of both giblets from the chicken (neck, heart, gizzard – save the liver for a different dish)

1 onion, sliced

1 leek, split in two

2 outside celery stalks or 2 lovage leaves

1 carrot, cut into chunks

a few parsley stalks

sprig of thyme

6 peppercorns

Chop up the carcasses as much as possible. Put all the ingredients into a saucepan and cover with about 3.4 litres (7 pints) cold water. Bring to the boil. Skim the fat off the top with a tablespoon. Simmer very gently for 3–4 hours. Strain and remove any remaining fat. Do not add salt.


Continue to cook for a further hour or so.

Add a tablespoon of wine vinegar which helps to extract even more minerals and helps to breakdown the cartilage and other connective tissues in the bones of the chicken, which helps speed up the formation of gelatine in the stock. Store in the fridge for 3-4 days or freeze in convenient containers.

Chicken Broth with Julienne of Vegetables

1.5 litres (2 1/2 pints) of well-flavoured homemade chicken stock


50g (2oz) carrots

50g (2oz) celery

50g (2oz) white turnip

50g (2oz) leeks

flat parsley

4 spring onions, cut at an angle

First, julienne the vegetables.

Peel and cut the carrot, celery, turnip and leek into very thin strips

Heat the broth, season with salt and freshly ground black pepper.  Add the julienne, bring back to the boil and simmer gently until the vegetables are just cooked, 5-6 minutes. 

Ladle into bowls and scatter with parsley and spring onion.

Father’s Day

The second Father’s Day with a difference is coming up.  At least this year there seems to be light at the end of the tunnel.  It’s been such a crazy time for so many families and frazzled parents trying to adjust to both dad’s and mum’s working from home. This scenario has certainly brought its challenges.

In virtually every household, there have been highs and lows… tempers have flared from time to time as we all scrambled to adjust to the new reality and tried to seem, in control in the midst of the all the uncertainty and seemingly endless lockdown confusion.  It’s been a serious learning curve for each and every one of us.  Almost everything has changed in our COVID parallel universe.  Many dads have been confronted for the first time with what was hitherto the hidden labour of childcare and housekeeping.

It’s been an eye-opener and a serious behavioural challenge.

During lockdown, some dads had very little access to their children others had a lot more than they bargained for and for the first time discovered the highs and lows of parenting.  The joy of the first smile, first tooth, first steps, potty training…and having to let go of many firmly held parenting resolutions re: online access…it’s been quite the rollercoaster.  In desperation anything to keep them quiet! 

Today we celebrate dads who together with mums have had to rise to the gargantuan challenges of the past year and because we’re only human there were good days and bad days.  I chatted to lots of dads and asked what special treat they would love for Father’s Day.  It was so funny because they all complained that their partners hardly ever made them puddings nowadays.  It was so sweet, each hankered after the nursery puddings of their childhood.  Even though it is June, several wanted steamed puddings, particularly spotted dick and custard. Another wanted a jammy Bakewell tart.  Bread and butter pudding, old-fashioned rice pudding came up too as did queen of puddings, treacle tart and jelly and cream.  A new one on me was something called Manchester tart, which I had never heard of before, apparently a school meals favourite.  Jam and custard featured a lot and of course rhubarb and apple pies.  This apple and custard pie ticks several boxes and Bumble’s ginger roll is an all-time favourite.  

So give Dad a big ‘well-done’ hug and make his day by cooking his absolute favourite pud – the way to everyone’s heart…  

Happy Father’s Day.

Manchester Tart

A delicious ‘new’ discovery for me.  Apparently, it was a favourite school pudding based on an original Mrs. Beeton recipe – it’s delicious.

Serves 8-10


175g (6oz) plain white flour

50g (2oz) icing sugar

90g (scant 3 1/2oz) butter, cubed

1 egg yolk and 1 tablespoon water or 1 small egg

Custard Filling

4 large organic free-range eggs

75g (3oz) caster sugar

75g (3oz) custard powder

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

750ml (1 1/3 pints approx.) whole milk

180g (6 1/4oz) raspberry jam (approx.)

50g (2oz) desiccated coconut

1x 23cm (9 inch) tart tin with pop-up base

First make the pastry in the usual way.  Alternatively, put the sieved flour and icing sugar into a food processor.  Add the diced butter. Pulse until it resembles fine-ish breadcrumbs.  Add the beaten egg yolk and water or egg and pulse again for a few seconds until it begins to come together.  Turn out onto the work top and knead lightly to form a smooth pastry.  Cover and rest in the fridge for at least 15 minutes.  Roll out thinly, line the flan ring and chill for a further 15 minutes.

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

Line the pastry case with parchment and baking beans.  Cook for 25 minutes or until pale golden brown.  Remove the paper and beans and return to the oven for a further 5 minutes.  By then the pastry case should be crisp and fully cooked.

Cool in the tin on a wire rack.

Meanwhile, make the custard.

Whisk the eggs with the sugar, custard powder, vanilla extract and 50ml (2fl oz) of milk.

Heat the remainder of the milk to the shivery stage.  Whisk into the custard base.  Return to the saucepan and cook over a medium heat until the custard is thick and smooth.

Spread a layer of jam over the base of the cold tart.  Pour the custard evenly over the top.  Sprinkle with desiccated coconut.  Transfer the tart onto a serving plate.  Chill and serve with softly whipped cream.

Apple Custard Pie

The most delicious apple tart with a ‘built in’ custard topping.

Serves 4

900g (2lbs) Bramley cooking apples

2 or 3 cloves

110g (4oz) caster sugar

350g (12oz) approx. flaky pastry or shortcrust pastry (note different cooking temperatures)


1 large egg, preferably free range

1 tablespoon sugar

150ml (5fl oz) cream

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 pie dish, 900ml (1 1/2 pint) capacity

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

Peel and core the apples and chop into chunks put into a pie dish and add sugar and the cloves.

Roll the pastry into a sheet 1/8 inch (3mm) thick, cut several thin strips to fit onto the lip of the pie dish. Brush the ‘lip’ with cold water and press the strips of pastry firmly onto the dish. Brush the pastry strips with cold water and then press the lid of pastry firmly down onto the edges, trim off the excess pastry. Flute the edges and scallop with the back of a knife, cut some pastry leaves from the excess pastry, egg wash the pie, decorate with the pastry leaves. Make a hole in the centre and egg wash again.

For flaky pastry.

Bake in a preheated oven 230°C/450°F/Gas Mark 8 for 15-20 minutes, then turn down the heat to 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4.  Whisk the egg and sugar together then mix in the cream and vanilla extract. Make a hole in the centre of the pie and pour in the custard, put back into the oven for a further 20-30 minutes or until the custard sets and the apple is fully cooked.

For shortcrust pastry.

Bake in a preheated oven 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4 for 20 minutes. When the apple is almost cooked (test with a skewer). Whisk the egg and sugar together then mix in the cream and vanilla extract. Make a hole in the centre of the pie and pour in the custard, put back into the oven for a further 20-30 minutes or until the custard sets and the apple is fully cooked.

Sprinkle the pastry with a little caster sugar and serve.

Bumble’s Ginger Roulade

I spent a fun-filled weekend at Strathgarry House in Scotland doing a cooking class with Bumble and her sisters Jeannie Chesterton and Henrietta Thews.  Bumble demonstrated this recipe which we’ve been delighting our guests with ever since.

Serves 8-10

75g (3oz) butter

225g (8oz) golden syrup or treacle

50g (2oz) caster sugar (soft dark if you like)

110ml (4fl oz) hot water

110g (4oz) plain white flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon ground ginger

1 egg, preferably free-range and organic

300ml (10fl oz) pint softly whipped cream

50g (2oz) chopped crystallized ginger (optional)

icing sugar

Large Swiss roll tin 25.5cm (10 inch) x 38cm (15 inch) lined with silicone paper

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

Barely melt the butter, golden syrup or treacle and sugar with the water.  Mix flour and baking powder and spice together in a bowl.  When the liquids have melted and cooled, add the flour, spice and egg yolk.  Lastly whisk the egg white until they reach a stiff peak and fold gently into the other ingredients.  Pour into the lined Swiss roll tin and bake in the preheated oven for 12-15 minutes (12 minutes works in our ovens).  Remove from the oven, cover with a damp cloth and leave to cool. 

Turn out onto a sheet of silicone paper which has been dredged with icing sugar.  Fill with softly whipped cream and crystalized ginger and roll up.  Transfer to a serving plate, decorate with a few rosettes of whipped cream and crystallized ginger.

Frosted Ginger Roulade

Bumble’ Top Tip

Bumble discovered quite by accident that the ginger roulade freezes really well. You can pull it out when required and cut into thick slices and put into a gratin dish, sprinkle with Demerara sugar and heat through in a very hot oven for 8-10 minutes – try it, it’s super!

Spotted Dick

Oh my goodness, does this bring back memories or what?!  Serve a steamed pud for an Autumn or Winter dinner party and everyone of ‘our’ age will dissolve into a sepia tinted haze of nostalgia!

Serves 4

75g (3oz) fat yellow sultanas or 75g (3oz) stoned Valencia, Lexia or Muscatel raisins or fat yellow sultanas

110g (4oz) butter, at room temperature

110g (4oz) caster sugar

grated rind of 1/2 unwaxed and organic lemon

2 eggs, preferably free-range and organic

175g (6oz) plain white flour

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1-2 tablespoons milk

15g (1/2 oz) butter for greasing the pudding bowl

Homemade Custard

1/2 vanilla pod or a few drops pure vanilla extract

300ml (10fl oz) rich milk

2 egg yolks, preferably free-range and organic

1 tablespoon caster sugar

Scant 1 litre /2 pint (6 inch) pudding bowl

Brush the pudding bowl with melted butter.  Press some of the sultanas or seeded and split raisins around the sides.  Cream the butter, add the sugar and lemon rind and beat until light and fluffy.  Gradually add the eggs, beating well after each addition. Stir in the flour and baking powder and enough milk to make the mixture just loose enough to drop from a spoon, add the remainder of the fruit.  Spoon into the pudding bowl.  Cover with a pleated piece of double greaseproof paper or foil and tie down.  (The paper is pleated to allow for expansion.)  Bring a saucepan of water to the boil, put in the pudding bowl, the water should come halfway up the sides.  Cover and steam for 2 hours. 

(Check the water level regularly to make sure the water doesn’t boil off).

Meanwhile make the homemade custard.

Put the vanilla pod (if available) into the cold milk and bring slowly to the boil.   Whisk the egg yolks with the sugar in a bowl.   Remove the vanilla pod from the milk and pour the milk onto the yolks, whisking all the time, (add the pure vanilla extract if using), return to the saucepan.   Stir over a gentle heat until the mixture thickens just enough to coat the back of a spoon, careful it must not boil.  Pour into a cold bowl and stir occasionally as it cools.

Treacle Tart

An all-time favourite.  The pastry lattice can be optional for a simpler version.

Serves 8

Shortcrust pastry made with:

225g (8oz) white flour

110g (4oz) butter

1 egg or water or a combination of both


400g (14oz) golden syrup

150g (5oz) fine fresh white breadcrumbs

2 organic lemons, zest and juice

1 free-range egg, beaten, to use as egg wash

1 x 18cm (7 inch) round tart tin with removable base

First make the pastry.

Sieve the flour into a large bowl. Cut the butter into cubes, toss in the flour, rub in with the fingertips until the mixture resembles coarse breadcrumbs. Whisk the egg with 2 teaspoons of cold water and add enough to bind the mixture. But do not make the pastry too wet – it should come away cleanly from the bowl. Flatten into a round and wrap in cling film and rest in the fridge for 15 minutes.

Using 150g (5oz) of the pastry (save the rest for the lattice top, cover and chill until needed).  Roll out thinly on a lightly floured worktop and use it to line a 23cm (9 inch) flan tin. Line with kitchen or greaseproof paper and fill to the top with dried beans. Rest for 15 minutes in the fridge.

Preheat the oven to 180ËšC/350ËšF/Gas Mark 4.

Bake the tart base blind for about 25 minutes or until pale and golden, remove the beans and paper.  Brush the pre-baked tart shell with a little beaten egg and pop back into the oven for 3-4 minutes or until almost cooked. Cool.

Be careful not to overcook because if this pastry gets too brown, it will be bitter, hard and unappetizing.

Place the reserved pastry for the lattice top on cling film and roll out thinly. Egg wash the pastry and set aside to chill in the fridge (the cling film makes it easier to move later). Do not cut into strips at this stage. Do not egg wash the strips once they are on the tart as it will dribble into the treacle mixture.

Meanwhile, make the filling.  Heat the syrup gently in a sauté pan.

When the syrup has melted, add the breadcrumbs, lemon juice and the finely grated zest to the syrup. If the mixture looks too runny, add a few more breadcrumbs.  Cool for a few minutes. 

Pour the syrup mixture into the lined tin and level the surface.

Take the reserved pastry from the fridge and cut into 1cm (1/2 inch) wide strips.  Make them longer than the edges of the tart tin. 

Egg wash the edge of the pastry in the tin, lattice the top of the tart pressing each strip down at the edge to create a neat finish.

Bake in the pre-heated oven for about 30 – 40 minutes until the pastry is a deep golden and the filling is set.

Remove the tart from the oven and allow leave to firm up in the tin. Serve warm or cold.

‘Chasing Smoke, Cooking Over Fire Around The Levant’ (Cookbook by Sarit Packer & Itamar Srulovich)

Even if you didn’t know Sarit Packer and Itamar Srulovich, you’d have to be intrigued by this title and bright orange cover.  There are many cookbooks these days so it’s difficult to stand out from the crowd but this one certainly does.

It’s a third book from the ‘Honeys’ who own the much loved London restaurants, Honey and Co, Honey & Smoke and Honey & Spice. 

Where there is smoke, there is fire and this irrepressible couple have been following the trail of smoke all their lives.  They tell me that where there’s fire, food, friendships and memories are made. 

Their own fires burn brightly at their grillhouse Honey and Smoke at the northern end of Great Portland Street in London.  The irresistible smell of aubergines, onions, courgettes and squash charring over coal and wood smoke wafts out onto the street to tempt the passers-by to follow the trail to the source of the delicious smells.

This book takes us across the Levant as Sarit and Itamar visit their favourite cities in Alexandrea, Egypt, Amman, Jordan, Acre, Israel, Adana, Turkey and Thessaloniki in Greece.  They’ve really get a knack for ferreting out the most delicious simple, flavour packed dishes – could be a meal for two or a mouth-watering joyful feast for your family and a few friends.  Perfect timing…exactly the sort of food I want to eat now that we can have a little get together outdoors, lots of fresh air and tantalizing smells.

Sarit and Itamar really are masters of cooking over fire.  I love how they pass on many of the tips and tricks they’ve learned over decades of grilling both at home and in their restaurants – there’s even some rainy day advice.  In Chasing Smoke, they’ve put together a beautiful collection of recipes from all over the Middle East from the most famous grill houses to the humblest roadside kebab houses, even cooking over a circle of stones on the sea shore.

I also learned about balcony cooking, the reality for so many in high-rise apartments but it doesn’t matter where you live, one can cook safely over a little grill and reawaken the hunter gatherer within us all.

It was so difficult to choose just a few recipes.  Here are a few to tempt you and suggestions for cooking in the oven if the heavens open…Enjoy

Chicken Heart Skewers

Many people have never eaten heart, which is a shame as it is easy to cook and has a pleasant, subtle flavour. The heart is a muscle (of course) and benefits from quick cooking over a very high heat to avoid becoming tough or chewy. Strangely enough, these skewers tend to be a favourite with kids, although we are not sure whether they’re more drawn by the idea of the flavour. Finding chicken hearts for sale can sometimes be tricky, but if you ask your butcher nicely, I’m sure they will set some aside. It is a part of the bird that tends to get thrown away, but really it should be celebrated.

Makes 8 skewers (allow 2 per person)

500g (1lb 2oz) chicken hearts
2 tablespoons flaky sea salt
2 litres (3 1/2 pints) very cold water

For the cooking
1 bunch of parsley (about 40g/1 1/2oz)
2 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
1/2 teaspoon hot paprika (or a pinch of cayenne pepper)
a sprinkle of flaky sea salt

Clean the hearts, removing any white membrane and trimming away viable veins. Mix the salt and water in a large bowl, add the cleaned hearts and leave to soak for 30 minutes to draw out any impurities.

Pick and chop the parsley, mix with the minced garlic and set aside until needed.

Tip the soaked heats into a colander or sieve to drain, then pat them dry with kitchen paper. Thread five or six on each skewer. Stack the charcoal on your BBQ really high to get a good heat. Sear the hearts for 2 minutes on each side on a very hot grill, then dip each skewer in the parsley-garlic mixture before placing on a serving plate. Sprinkle with the salt and paprika (or cayenne) and serve immediately.

To cook without a BBQ
Use a lightly oiled, preheated griddle pan over a really high heat on your stove or hob and cook just as you would on the fire (but without the skewers).

From ‘Chasing Smoke, Cooking Over Fire Around the Levant’ by Sarit Packer and Itamar Srulovich published by Pavilion

Joojeh kebabs – Chicken in yogurt and saffron

Makes 4 large skewers (allow at least 1 per person)

8 large chicken thighs (boneless and skinless) – about 1.2kg (2lb 10oz net weight)

For the marinade
1 onion, peeled (about 150g/5 1/4oz)
3 garlic cloves, peeled
1 green chilli, halved and seeds removed
2 tablespoons ras el hanout spice mix (see recipe)
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
zest from 1 lemon
1 pinch of saffron strands
1 tablespoon rose water
80ml (3 1/4fl oz) water
200g (7oz) goats cheese

Purée the onion, garlic and chilli together in a food processor. Transfer to a large bowl, then combine with the rest of the marinade ingredients. Add the chicken thighs and mix really well to cost all over. Leave to marinate for at least 2 hours and up to 24 hours.

When you are ready to cook, use double skewers for each kebab (to keep the thighs as flat as possible) and thread with two pieces of marinated chicken. Keep any remaining marinade to baste the chicken as it is grilling.

Roast over good hot coals to caramelise the marinade and develop the sweetness, turning the kebabs every 5 minutes and brushing with leftover marinade after each turn. The chicken will take about 15-20 minutes to cook through. If your BBQ has a lid, covering it for 5 minutes will help the kebabs cook well without charring too much, however we tend not to do this as we really favour the taste of the charred marinade.

Serve with a small herb salad mixed with orange segments, for a freshness that goes really well with the robust marinade.

To cook without a BBQ
Roast the chicken thighs (no need to skewer them) in a very hot oven (240°C/220°C Fan/Gas Mark 9) for 15-20 minutes, or use a lightly oiled, preheated griddle pan on your store or hob and cook just as you would on the fire.

Ras el Hanout Spice Mix

There are as many versions of this spice mix as there are spice shops in the Middle East.  The literal translation of ras el hanout is ‘head of the shop’, meaning the best the shop has to offer, and can contain up to twenty different spices.  This is our version, which you can make yourself.

60g (2 1/4oz) cumin seeds

60g (2 1/4oz) coriander seeds

90g (3 1/4oz) fenugreek seeds

3 whole cloves

2 dried Persian limes

30g (1oz) whole cardamom pods

20g (3/4oz) dried rose petals

20g (3/4oz) curry leaves

1 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1 tablespoon ground white pepper

1 tablespoon ground turmeric

1 tablespoon ground cinnamon

1 tablespoon amchoor (mango powder)

1 tablespoon sweet paprika

Heat your oven to 190C/170°C fan/Gas Mark 5.

Place the cumin, coriander, fenugreek, cloves, dried limes and cardamom pods on a baking tray.  Roast for 5 minutes, then add the rose petals and curry leaves and roast for another 3 minutes.

Remove from the oven and cool before using a spice grinder to grind to a powder.  Mix with the pre-ground spices.  Store in a dry, airtight container, ideally in the freezer.  This will keep for up to 6 months, but I always think you should try to use it within 2 months to get the flavour at its best. 

From ‘Chasing Smoke, Cooking Over Fire Around the Levant’ by Sarit Packer and Itamar Srulovich published by Pavilion

Pork Chops with Spiced Butter

This invariably ends up being a staple dinner when we are on holiday. We buy a couple of chops and a local spice mix, light a small BBQ in the garden and cook this just for the two of us.

Serves 2

2 large potatoes
2 large pork chops on the bone
juice of 1 lemon

For the spiced butter
50g (2oz) butter (or ghee)
1 teaspoon sweet paprika
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice (pimento)
a pinch of freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
zest of 1 lemon
1 garlic clove, peeled and crushed
1/2 teaspoon salt

Build a BBQ and let it settle to nice hot embers. Wrap the potatoes in foil and pop them in the coal about 45 minutes before you want to eat.

Melt the butter in a small pan and stir in the spices, oregano, olive oil, lemon zest, garlic and salt. Remove from the bear and leave to infuse for 5 minutes.

Brush the chops on one side with the spiced butter and lay them buttered-side down on the BBQ. Grill for 5 minutes, brushing butter on the top (previously unbuttered) side of the chops as they cook. Flip them over to grill for 5 minutes on the other side, again brushing the top side with butter. Remove to a plate.

Pull the softened potatoes from the embers and leave to cook for a few minutes until you can easily unwrap them. Slit them down the middle and pour the rest of the seasoned butter over them. Serve with the chops and drizzle the lemon juice all over.

To cook without a BBQ
Bake the potatoes in a hot oven (220°C/200°C Fan/Gas Mark 7) for 45-60 minutes until soft. Use a preheated griddle pan on your stove or hob and cook the chops just as you would on the fire.

From ‘Chasing Smoke, Cooking Over Fire Around the Levant’ by Sarit Packer and Itamar Srulovich published by Pavilion

Fire-top knafe

There aren’t many Middle Eastern recipes for sweet things cooking on the fire.  The tradition is only to serve fresh or dried fruit to end a meal or maybe tiny, very sugary baklavas, mini doughnuts or halva, if you want to spoil your guests.  Fire-top knafe is an exception to this rule.  This combination of desiccated kadaif pastry, stringy cheese, rich syrup and a hint of smoke was celebrated in Jordan more than in any other place we visited.  I didn’t understand why the pastry was desiccated until I got back to London, started experimenting, and jammed one mincer after another with fresh pastry.  The heat in Jordan dries the pastry, making it brittle and requiring a new method to make it delicious again.  You will need to open a packet of fresh kadaif pastry and leave it on a try in a warm room for a day or two to dry out completely.  You can make the sugar syrup and kadaif crust in advance, so you just need to prepare the filling and cook this on the day of serving.

Fills a 28cm (11 inch frying pan) (or a knafe pan, if you own one)

Sugar Syrup

400g (14oz) granulated sugar

230ml (8 1/4fl oz) water

a squeeze of lemon juice

2 teaspoons orange blossom water (you can use more or less, to taste)

For the crust

375g (13oz) kadaif dough, air-dried until crisp

100ml (3 1/2fl oz) sugar syrup (the rest is poured over the cooked knafe)

45ml (1 1/2fl oz) water

100g (3 1/2oz) melted ghee

For the filling

250g (9oz) fresh Mozzarella

250g (9oz) hard Mozzarella (the stuff you can grate)

To cook and serve

30g (1oz) melted ghee to brush the pan

ground pistachios to garnish (optional)

Combine the sugar, water and lemon juice for the syrup in a medium saucepan, set on the BBQ over a high heat and bring to the boil.  Move to a low heat and let it simmer very gently for about 10 minutes.  Remove from the heat and stir in the orange blossom water.  You could, of course, prepare this on the stove if you prefer. 

Break up the dried kadaif pastry, then mince in a meat mincer or grind in a coffee grinder until you have a fine powder.  Place in a bowl, pour over 100ml (3 1/2fl oz) of sugar syrup, the water and the ghee, and mix until the pastry is well-coated and resembles cooked couscous.  Bake in the oven at 170°C/150°C Fan/Gas Mark 3-4 for 15 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes until dry and crumb-like, but still pale.  Allow to cool and store in an airtight container until needed.

Drain the fresh Mozzarella and roughly tear apart.  Place in a bowl, roughly grate in the hard Mozzarella and stir to combine.

Brush the base of your frying pan (or knafe pan) with the ghee.  Set aside 4 tablespoons of the toasted pastry crumbs and press the rest into the base of the pan to form a crust.  Spread the cheese mixture over the crust, leaving a 1cm (3/8 inch) border uncovered around the edge.  Set the pan over a mellow, low heat and cook for 10-12 minutes, rotating the pan every 2 minutes, until the outermost edge of the crust turns deep golden brown and the cheese has started to melt.  Sprinkle the reserved crumbs over the melting cheese layer, cover, remove from the heat and leave to rest for 5 minutes.  Then take a large plate that can easily fit the diameter of the frying pan and place it on top.  Very carefully, holding the two together, flip them over so the knafe is on the plate.  The cheese will now be the base, and the crispy crust will be on top.  Douse with all the remaining sugar syrup, sprinkle with pistachios (if you wish) and serve hot.

From ‘Chasing Smoke, Cooking Over Fire Around the Levant’ by Sarit Packer and Itamar Srulovich published by Pavilion

World Oceans Day

Have you watched Seaspiracy on Netflix?  I watched it recently and am still reeling from it.  I reckon to know a little about the crisis in the world’s oceans but I had no idea just how shockingly serious the picture is nor did I fully realise that the future of mankind depends even more on the state of the seas and fish stocks than on what happens on land. 

I now understand that the ocean absorbs over 90 percent of the heat that enters the atmosphere, it provides over half of the oxygen we breathe, it supplies over 3 billion people with 20 percent of their daily protein needs, it enables global trade and transport, and provides healthy food and a livelihood to millions, if not billions of people. Without the ocean, humans could not exist on Earth.

I’m trying to pick up courage to watch David Attenborough’s Blue Planet series and Seaspiracy again so I can try to glean some hope from the depressing facts.  It’s difficult not to come to the conclusion that we should not be eating any fish or shellfish at all but life is rarely black and white…It’s a very challenging  time for the fishing industry with Brexit, fish quotas and EU policies…fishing is worth over €1 billion  to the Irish economy and employs 16,000.

Local communities around the world rely on fishing for their livelihoods, the skills have been handed down in many families through the generations.  My preferred option is day boat fish but there are few enough day boats still fishing around our coasts for a variety of reasons.

The bigger boats can go further out and stay longer at sea.  They target the fish shoals with sophisticated technology.  The ‘unintended’ consequences often result in copious amounts of by-catch and decimation of the ocean floor and breeding grounds.  Many species have been overfished almost to the point of extinction which impacts on many other species and habitats in the complex web.

As consumers, we really want to source ‘sustainable’ fish.  According to Ali Tabrizi in Seaspiracy, this area also appears to be problematic with many unanswered questions.

n 1987, the then Prime Minister of Norway, Harlem Brundtland defined sustainability as ‘Meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs’ which could be parsed into ‘balancing the needs of today with the needs of tomorrow’.  Marine ecologist and fisheries biologist Bryce D. Stewart from the University of York, strongly disputed that sustainable fisheries don’t exist.  He maintains that 65.8 percent of fish stocks are harvested sustainably and that 78.7 percent of all landings of marine fisheries come from biologically sustainable stocks. However, this doesn’t mean there are no problems; approximately 34 percent of fish stocks are now overfished and this proportion has increased from only 10 percent in 1990.

So, let’s do our best to seek out non-threatened species and strive to support our local fishing communities.   Be prepared to pay more for day boat fish if you are fortunate enough to source it.

So what species are sustainable in Irish waters?

Look out for hake, rock salmon, sometimes called coley or saithe and mackerel.  There’s also lots of squid which can be either tossed in the pan for seconds or else cooked long and slowly to melting tenderness.  Squid also makes delicious fish cakes.  Prawn stocks are healthy in some areas as is monkfish but for more detail check out the Marine Institute website – it’s a very large file but scroll down to Table 3 on Page 19 for a summary – red, green or white indicates the MSY of the species (Max Sustainable Yield). 

Meanwhile, here are some of my favourite fish recipes, eat them slowly and enjoy every morsel.

Hot-Smoked Mackerel Tostadas

These tostadas are delicious combining the smoky flavour of mackerel and chipotle, lightened with a vibrant, citrusy tomato salsa and finished with a slice of creamy avocado and a sprinkling of deep-fried shallots.

Serves 4

8 x 10cm (4 inch) corn tortillas

300g (10oz) hot-smoked mackerel fillet (look out for Frank Hederman’s smoked mackerel at Midleton Farmers Market or online)

1 x fresh Tomato Salsa (see recipe)

1 cos lettuce, shredded

For the deep-fried shallots (optional)

4 shallots, finely sliced

100ml (3 1/2fl oz) olive oil or vegetable oil for frying

To Serve

Chipotle Mayonnaise (see recipe)

1 avocado sliced

freshly squeezed lime juice (optional)

Fry or bake the tortillas until crisp and golden.

To make the crispy shallots, pour the olive oil into the frying-pan and heat until it is shimmering.  Add the shallots and shallow fry them until they are crisp and golden, trying not to burn them.  Fish out with a slotted spoon and drain on kitchen paper to absorb the oil (you can keep the oil and re-use it for frying). 

Flake the hot-smoked mackerel with a fork and mix into the fresh tomato salsa. 

Spread each tostada generously with chipotle mayonnaise and top with shredded lettuce.  Spoon over the hot-smoked mackerel salsa and top with a slice of avocado.  Squeeze over a little lime juice and if you like and sprinkle with deep-fried shallots.


This is delicious with any type of smoked fish and also with very fresh raw mackerel, cut as for sushi.

Tomato and Coriander Salsa

Bestin Summer and early Autumn when tomatoes are ripe and juicy.

This sauce is ever present on Mexican tables to serve with all manner of dishes. Salsas of all kinds both fresh and cooked have now become a favourite accompaniment to everything from pan-grilled meat to a piece of sizzling fish.

Serves 4-6

4 very ripe tomatoes, chopped

1 tablespoon red or white onion, chopped

1 clove garlic, crushed

1/2-1 chilli, deseeded and finely chopped Jalapeno or Serrano

1-2 tablespoons chopped fresh coriander

squeeze of fresh lime juice

salt, freshly ground pepper and sugar

Mix all the ingredients together. Season with salt, freshly ground pepper and sugar.

Taste and adjust the seasoning if necessary.

Chipotle Mayonnaise

225ml (8fl oz) homemade Mayonnaise (see recipe)

1 1/2 tablespoons puréed chipotle chillies in adobo

juice of 1 lime

1 tablespoon chopped coriander

pinch of salt

Make the mayonnaise in the usual way (see recipe).

Add the chilli adobe, lime juice and coriander.


I know it is very tempting to reach for the jar of ‘well-known brand’ but most people don’t seem to be aware that Mayonnaise can be made even with a hand whisk, in under five minutes, and if you use a food processor the technique is still the same but it is made in just a couple of minutes. The great secret is to have all your ingredients at room temperature and to drip the oil very slowly into the egg yolks at the beginning. The quality of your Mayonnaise will depend totally on the quality of your egg yolks, oil and vinegar and it’s perfectly possible to make a bland Mayonnaise if you use poor quality ingredients.

2 egg yolks, preferably free range

1/4 teaspoon salt

pinch of English mustard or 1/4 teaspoon French mustard

1 dessertspoon white wine vinegar

225ml (8fl oz) oil (sunflower or olive oil or a mixture) – We use 175ml (6fl oz) sunflower oil and 50ml (2fl oz) olive oil, alternatively use 7/1

Serve with cold cooked meats, fowl, fish, eggs and vegetables.

Put the egg yolks into a bowl with the mustard, salt and the white wine vinegar (keep the whites to make meringues). Put the oil into a measure. Take a whisk in one hand and the oil in the other and drip the oil onto the egg yolks, drop by drop whisking at the same time. Within a minute you will notice that the mixture is beginning to thicken. When this happens you can add the oil a little faster, but don’t get too cheeky or it will suddenly curdle because the egg yolks can only absorb the oil at a certain pace. Taste and add a little more seasoning and vinegar if necessary.

If the Mayonnaise curdles it will suddenly become quite thin, and if left sitting the oil will start to float to the top of the sauce. If this happens you can quite easily rectify the situation by putting another egg yolk or 1-2 tablespoons of boiling water into a clean bowl, then whisk in the curdled Mayonnaise, a half teaspoon at a time until it emulsifies again.

Pan-grilled Mackerel with Green Gooseberry Sauce

This is a master recipe for pan-grilling fish.

The simplest and possibly the most delicious way to cook really fresh mackerel.  I love a pat of simple parsley or herb butter melting over the top but I’ve been enjoying them with the first of the green gooseberries – they cut the richness of the mackerel deliciously.

Serves 1 or 2

2-4 fillets of very fresh mackerel (allow 175g (6oz) fish form main course, 75g (3oz) for a starter)

seasoned flour

small knob of butter



Dip the fish fillets in flour which has been seasoned with salt and freshly ground pepper. Shake off the excess flour and then spread a little butter with a knife on the flesh side, as though you were buttering a slice of bread rather meanly. When the grill is quite hot but not smoking, place the fish fillets butter side down on the grill; the fish should sizzle as soon as they touch the pan. Turn down the heat slightly and let them cook for 4 or 5 minutes on that side before you turn them over. Continue to cook on the other side until crisp and golden. Serve on a hot plate with a little bowl of green gooseberry sauce.  Garnish with a sprig of fresh parsley or with some gooseberry leaves if available.

Green Gooseberry Sauce

Use the tart hard green gooseberries on the bushes at the moment, they make a delicious sauce.

275g (9 1/2oz) fresh green gooseberries

approx. 175ml (6fl oz) stock syrup to cover made with 110ml (4fl oz) of water and 75g (3oz) of sugar boiled together for 2 minutes

a knob of butter (optional)

Top and tail the gooseberries, put into a stainless steel saucepan, barely cover with stock syrup, bring to the boil and simmer until the fruit bursts.  Taste.  Stir in a small knob of butter if you like but it is very good without it.

Carpaccio of Mackerel with Ginger and Sesame Dressing

Love this recipe kindly shared by Ruairi de Blacam from Inis Meáin Suites.

This dressing makes a lot and keeps well.  It is also delicious with noodles or pan-grilled fish.  It is only worth doing this dish if the mackerel is super fresh, less than 5 hours out of the sea.  Ruairi makes a large batch of the dressing and uses it with many fresh fish and for a seaweed salad.  Store the dressing in a glass jar in the fridge for a couple of weeks or make less.    

Super fresh mackerel filleted – 1 mackerel serves 2 as a starter

Ginger Sesame Dressing

600ml (1 pint) sesame oil

600ml (1 pint) sunflower oil

150ml (5fl oz) soy sauce

75g (3oz) garlic, grated

100g (3 1/2oz) ginger, grated

150g (5oz) sesame seeds toasted


spring onions, thinly sliced at an angle

coriander leaves

Fillet the spanking fresh mackerel and remove all the bones.  Slice each fillet into 3mm (1/8 inch) thick slices, arrange in a circle on a chilled plate.  Spoon a little dressing over each portion.  Sprinkle with thinly sliced spring onions and coriander seeds.

Spicy Haddock and Squid Cakes with Thai Dipping Sauce

Curry Paste can vary in intensity, so be careful and add more or less as needed.

Serves 4 as a starter

2cm (3/4 inch) cube fresh ginger, peeled and grated

2 garlic cloves, roughly crushed

1 large bunch of fresh coriander, roots attached, roughly chopped

1-2 tablespoons Thai green curry paste

250g (9oz) fresh haddock fillet, skin and bone free cut in cubes

250g (9oz) squid, cleaned and roughly chopped

freshly squeezed juice of a lime

1 1/2 – 2 tablespoons) fish sauce (Nam pla)

lime wedges to serve

sunflower oil for frying

To Serve

Thai Dipping Sauce (see recipe)

Arjard (Cucumber Salad) (see recipe)

Maldon sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Put the ginger, garlic, coriander and curry paste into a food-processor.  Whizz until the mixture is very well processed.  Stir and re-blend if necessary.

Next add the fresh haddock, squid, lime and fish sauce.  Pulse – the mixture should not be completely smooth.

Heat oil in a deep fry or about 5cm (2 inches) in a deep frying pan, cook a little piece to check the seasoning.  Divide the mixture into patties roughly 4cm (1 1/2 inches) in diameter. The mixture will make 14-16.

Deep fry the fish cakes in batches of about six for 3-4 minutes until golden.  Drain well on kitchen paper and keep warm while you cook the rest.

Serve with Thai Dipping Sauce, a wedge of lime and maybe a few fresh coriander leaves.

Thai Dipping Sauce

A version of this sauce is ever present on restaurant tables in Thailand and Vietnam. A great dipping sauce to use with grilled or deep-fried meat or fish and of course spring rolls.

Serves 4

3 tablespoons Nam pla, fish sauce

3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime or lemon juice

3 tablespoons warm water

2 tablespoons sugar or more to taste

1 clove of garlic, crushed

1 red or green chilli (to taste)

Put the fish sauce, freshly squeezed lime or lemon juice, sugar and 3 tablespoons of warm water into a jar, add the crushed garlic. Mix well and pour into 4 individual bowls. Cut the chillies crossways into very thin rounds and divide them between the bowls.

For the Arjard (Cucumber Salad)

2 shallots, peeled and thinly sliced lengthways

1 red chilli, deseeded and sliced into rings

1 green chilli, deseeded and sliced into rings

4 tablespoons sugar

6 tablespoons water

6 tablespoons malt vinegar

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 cucumber, quartered lengthways and thinly sliced

Put all the ingredients except the cucumber in a heavy-bottomed saucepan. Bring to the boil and simmer for 3–5 minutes. Set aside to cool. Once cold, pour the marinade over the slices of cucumber and set aside to marinate in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.

Hake or Haddock with Piperonata and Buttered Crumbs

Piperonata sounds very grand but it’s really just a pepper, tomato, onion and basil stew, gorgeous with fresh fish. 

A crunchy topping in a creamy sauce is always tempting.

Serves 6-8

1.1kg (2 1/4lbs) hake, ling, haddock, grey sea mullet or pollock

salt and freshly ground pepper

15g (1/2oz) butter

Piperonata (see recipe)

Mornay Sauce

600ml (1 pint) whole milk

a few slices of carrot and onion

3 or 4 peppercorns

a sprig of thyme and parsley

50g (2oz) approx. Roux

150-175g (5-6oz) grated Cheddar cheese or 75g (3oz) grated Parmesan cheese

1/4 teaspoon mustard preferably Dijon mustard

salt and freshly ground pepper

Buttered Crumbs

25g (1oz) butter

50g (2oz) soft, white breadcrumbs

900g (2lbs) mashed potato (optional)

First make the Piperonata (see recipe), while it’s cooking make the Mornay sauce. 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 with roux to a light coating consistency. Add the mustard and two thirds of the grated cheese, keep the remainder of the cheese for sprinkling over the top. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper, taste and correct the seasoning if necessary. Add the parsley if using.

Next make the Buttered crumbs. Melt the butter in a pan and stir in the breadcrumbs. Remove from the heat immediately and allow to cool.

Skin the fish and cut into portions: 175g (6oz) for a main course, 75g (3oz) for a starter. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper.  Lightly butter an ovenproof dish, coat with the Mornay sauce.  Put a layer of Piperonata on the base of the dish.  Lay the pieces of fish on top. Top with another layer of sauce. Mix the remaining grated cheese with the buttered crumbs and sprinkle over the top. Pipe a ruff of fluffy mashed potato around the edge if you want to have a whole meal in one dish.

Cook in a moderate oven, 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4, for 25-30 minutes or until the fish is cooked through and the top is golden brown and crispy. If necessary flash under the grill for a minute or two before you serve, to brown the edges of the potato.

Note: Haddock with Piperonata and Buttered Crumbs may be served in individual dishes. Scallop shells are very attractive, are completely ovenproof and may be used over and over again.


This is one of the indispensable trio of vegetable stews that we always reckon to have to hand. We use it not only as a vegetable but also as a topping for pizzas, as a sauce for pasta, grilled fish or meat and as a filling for omelettes and pancakes.

Serves 8-10

2 tablespoons olive oil

225g (8oz) onion, sliced

a clove of garlic, crushed

2 red peppers

2 green peppers

6 large tomatoes (dark red and very ripe) (use tinned if fresh are out of season)

salt, freshly ground pepper and sugar

a few leaves of fresh basil

Heat the olive oil in a casserole, add the onion and garlic, 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 cut the pepper flesh into 2-2 1/2cm (3/4 – 1 inch) squares.  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.


110g (4oz) butter

110g (4oz) 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.


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