Venice (Marcella Hazan)

Just spent a couple of days in Venice, I’ve been before but I’d forgotten just how magical it is.  I arrived late in the evening having taken a fast train across the top of Italy from Turin where I had been attending the Slow Food Salone del Gusto Terra Madre event.  This spontaneous visit came about because I was invited to participate in a documentary on the life of Marcella Hazan, an Italian cook who was deeply influential in my early career.  The year before the Ballymaloe Cookery School was established in 1983, I travelled to Bologna in Italy to take a weeklong course with Marcella to learn how to make handmade pasta, ragu, risotto zuccotto…

It was from Marcella that I first heard about balsamic vinegar and learned that olive oil was not just for earaches…!

Later in 1992, I invited her to teach at the Ballymaloe Cookery School and took a RTE crew to film a Simply Delicious Program in Venice.  Eventually in her later years, she and her husband Victor moved to Longboat Quay in Florida where I also visited them there.  The friendship spanned over several decades, and I still cook and pass on many of the recipes that Marcella taught me to the students here at the Ballymaloe Cookery School.

Despite being one of the most enchanting cities in the world, really good food is difficult to find in Venice and even more difficult on a Monday when many restaurants, shops and some museums are closed. 

During that action packed week in Italy with Marcella in the 1980’s, I had several eureka moments.  One occurred in the Rialto Market in Venice on the edge of the Grand Canal.  As we wandered through the stalls piled high with the most beautiful fresh vegetables, perfectly ripe berries and stone fruit.  I noticed that often there were two options, tomatoes, peaches, zucchini – the more expensive option always seemed to have nostrale or nostrana on the sign.  I was curious about this special place where all the choicest produce seems to come from….  I spoke no Italian…I tried to enquire from the stall holders, eventually one told me impatiently that nostrana or nostrale was not a place but meant local. At a time in Ireland when local was still actually regarded as a derogatory term, this was baffling…. why then I asked was it more expensive…

The stallholder was totally exasperated by the question.  He explained in broken English… Because it’s from the lagoon area, it’s fresher, better… of course it’s more expensive (as though I was an imbecile). 

It was a lightbulb moment… Of course, it should be more expensive…this was at a time when customers in Ireland would expect to pay less for beautiful eggs or freshly picked fresh apples if they were local…

Can you imagine how wonderful that everything has come full circle.  Local is now the sexiest word in food and the coolest term on menus, although it has to be said that many more restaurants talk the talk than walk the walk…. 

I had a particularly delicious meal at Da Fiori. Maurizio and Mara Martin’s Michelin starred restaurant with a little balcony on the edge of the canal where gondolas glide past. Their son, Damiano has now joined them. Mara specializes in beautiful, freshly caught fish and shellfish from the lagoon, simply cooked and packed with flavour.  There’s another reason to try to get to Venice before the end of November – the 59th International Biennale Art Exhibition – cinema, dance, theatre…Check out Al Cova. Alla Testiere, and Da Arturo also… and don’t miss the Rialto Market… 


I’ve been told that if you want to make your way to an Italian man’s heart it is essential to be able to make a good ragu.

It is a wonderfully versatile sauce – the classic Bolognese sauce for Tagliatelle alla Bolognese, indispensable for lasagne, and also delicious with polenta and gnocchi not to be confused with the well-known brand of the same name.  I have been making Marcella Hazan’s version for many years from her Classic Italian Cookbook (a book you would do well to seek out).  It is the most delicious and concentrated one I know.  Marcella says it should be cooked for several hours at the merest simmer but I find you get a very good result with 1 – 1 1/2 hours cooking on a diffuser mat.  Ragu can be made ahead and freezes very well.

Serves 6

45g (1 1/2oz) butter

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons onion, finely chopped

2 tablespoons celery, finely chopped

2 tablespoons carrot, finely chopped

350g (12oz) minced lean beef, preferably chuck or neck


300ml (10fl oz) dry white wine

110ml (4fl oz) milk

1/8 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg

1 x 400g (14oz) tin Italian tomatoes, roughly chopped with their own juice.

small casserole

In Italy they sometimes use an earthenware pot for making ragu, but I find that a heavy enamelled cast-iron casserole with high sides works very well. Heat the butter with the oil and sauté the onion briefly over medium heat until just translucent. Add the celery and carrot and cook gently for 2 minutes. Next add the minced beef, crumbling it in the pot with a fork. Add salt to taste, stir, and cook only until the meat has lost its raw red colour (Marcella says that if it browns it will lose its delicacy.)

Add the wine, turn the heat up to medium high, and cook, stirring occasionally, until all the wine has evaporated.  Turn the heat down to medium, add in the milk and the freshly grated nutmeg, and cook until the milk has evaporated, stirring every now and then. Next add the chopped tomatoes and stir well. When the tomatoes have started to bubble, turn the heat down to the very lowest so that the sauce cooks at the gentlest simmer – just an occasional bubble. I use a heat diffuser mat for this.

Cook uncovered for a minimum of 1 1/2 hours (better still 2 or even 3 hours), depending on how concentrated you like it, stirring occasionally. If it reduces too much add a little water and continue to cook. When it is finally cooked, taste and correct seasoning. Because of the length of time involved in cooking this, I feel it would be worthwhile to make at least twice the recipe.

Marcella Hazan’s Pappardelle or Noodles with Chicken Liver Sauce

It was Marcella Hazan who first introduced me to classic Italian cooking, she became a legend in her lifetime.  This recipe is one of my favourites from her Classic Italian Cookbook.

Serves 4

225g (8oz) fresh chicken livers

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

25g (1oz) butter

50g (2oz) diced pancetta, or prosciutto (I use unsmoked streaky bacon)

2 tablespoons chopped shallot or onion

1 clove garlic, peeled and finely chopped

1 1/2 teaspoons of fresh sage

110g (4oz) minced lean beef

6-8 twists freshly ground pepper

1 teaspoon concentrated tomato puree, dissolved in 4 tablespoons dry white vermouth

300g (10oz) pappardelle or fresh noodles

To serve

freshly grated Parmesan cheese (Parmigiano Reggiano is best)

Wash the chicken livers well, trim off any fat or traces of green and cut each lobe into 3 or 4 pieces.  Dry thoroughly on kitchen paper.

Heat the oil in a small saucepan, add the diced streaky bacon and fry gently until it begins to crisp, then remove to a plate.  Add the butter and sauté the onions over a medium heat until translucent, add the garlic, stir 2 or 3 times, add back in the bacon and the sage leaves, then add the minced meat, crumbling it with a fork, and cook until it has lost its red raw colour.  Season with salt and freshly ground pepper, turn the heat up to medium high and add the chicken livers. Stir and cook until they have lost their raw colour, add the tomato puree and vermouth and cook for 8-10 minutes. Taste.

Meanwhile, cook the pappardelle or noodles until al dente in boiling salted water – 4.5 litres (8 pints) to 1 tablespoon of salt.  If they are fresh, they will only take seconds after the water comes back to the boil.

The moment the pasta is drained, transfer to a warm dish, add the sauce (and a couple of tablespoons of pasta water if necessary – it should be moist and juicy).  Toss thoroughly and serve immediately.  Add a little grated Parmesan if desired.  This sauce is also delicious served with risotto.

Marcella Hazan’s Tortellini with Parsley and Ricotta and Sauce Alfredo

Also delicious served with Sage Butter (see recipe).

Serves 4-6

20g (3/4oz) finely chopped parsley, flat parsley

250g (9oz) fresh ricotta

100g (3 1/2oz) freshly grated Parmesan cheese


1 egg yolk

1/4 teaspoon nutmeg


225g (8oz) “00” white flour

pinch of salt

1 whole egg and 2 egg yolks, preferably free range

1 teaspoon olive oil

To Cook

4.5 litres (8 pints) water

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 tablespoon salt


150ml (5fl oz) double cream

3 tablespoons butter

50g (2oz) freshly grated Parmesan cheese

First make the pasta dough.

Sieve the flour into a bowl and add the salt. Make a well in the centre, add the eggs (no need to whisk the eggs) and oil. Mix into a dough with your hand. The pasta should just come together but shouldn’t stick to your hand – if it does add a little more flour.  (If it is too dry, add a little extra egg white.)  Knead for 10 minutes until it becomes elastic. It should be quite pliable, wrap in clingfilm and rest in the fridge while you make the filling.

Combine all the filling ingredients, parsley, ricotta, grated Parmesan cheese, salt, egg yolk and nutmeg – in a mixing bowl and mix well with a fork.  Check seasoning, then set aside.

Roll out the pasta as thinly as you possibly can.   Stamp out 7.5cm (3 inch) rounds, stuff and fold the circle in half to form a half moon.

Bring the water, containing 1 tablespoon of olive oil to the boil.  Add 1 tablespoon of salt, then drop in the tortellini.

While the tortellini are cooking, choose an enamelled cast iron or other flameproof dish that will later hold all the tortellini without stacking them too high.  Put in half the cream and all the butter, and simmer over moderate heat for less than a minute, until the cream and butter have thickened. Turn off the heat.

Fresh tortellini are done within 5 minutes after the water returns to the boil, while dry tortellini may take 15-20 minutes.  When done – they should be firm, but cooked throughout -transfer them  with a large, slotted spoon or colander to the pan containing the cream and butter and turn the heat on to low. Turn the tortellini to coat them all with the cream and butter sauce (add a little pasta water if necessary).  Add the rest of the cream and all the grated cheese and continue turning the tortellini until they are evenly coated and all the cream has thickened. Serve immediately from the same pan, with an extra bowl of grated cheese.

Sage Butter

110g (4oz) butter

32 – 40 sage leaves

Melt the butter in a saucepan.  Add the sage leaves and keep on the heat until they just start to crackle.  Pour over the pasta – it should lightly coat the pasta.

Chicken Roast with 2 Lemons

This recipe, given to me by Marcella Hazan when I did a cookery course with her in Bologna in 1982, is the simplest most delicious roast chicken recipe I know – no fat, no basting, no stuffing.

Serves 4

1 x 1.35-1.8kg (3-4lbs) free-range organic chicken


freshly ground black pepper

2 small organic lemons

trussing needle and string

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

Wash the chicken thoroughly with cold water. Remove any bits of fat from around the vent end. Drain the chicken well and dry thoroughly with a tea towel or kitchen paper.

Rub the salt and freshly ground black pepper with your fingers over all the body and into the cavity. Wash the lemons well and dry them with a tea towel, roll on the counter and prick each of the lemons in at least 20 places with a cocktail stick or skewer.

Put both lemons in the cavity. Close up the opening with cocktail sticks or with a trussing needle and string. Don’t make it absolutely airtight or the chicken may burst!

Put the chicken into a roasting pan, breast side down. Do not add cooking fat of any kind. This bird is  self-basting, so don’t worry it won’t stick to the pan. Place it in the upper third of the preheated oven. After 30 minutes, turn the chicken breast side up. Be careful not to puncture the skin. 

Cook for another 30-35 minutes then increase the heat to 200˚C/400˚F/Gas Mark 6 and cook for a further additional 20 minutes. Calculate between 20-25 minutes total cooking time for each 450g (1lb). There is no need to turn the chicken again.

Bring the chicken to the table whole, garnished with sprigs flat parsley and leave the lemons inside until it is carved. The juices that run out are perfectly delicious, so be sure to spoon them over the chicken  slices. The lemons will have shrivelled up but they still contain some juice; do not squeeze, they may squirt.

Serve immediately.

One Cookbook by Jamie Oliver

I’m just the biggest fan of Jamie’s – I don’t even need to write Oliver – you all know who I mean. 

I was first introduced to Jamie by the late Rose Gray of the River Café in London in the early 1980s.

When I raved about the exquisite lunch, a sublime spinach rotolo I had just eaten, Rose brought me into the kitchen to introduce the young chef with tousled hair and a mischievous grin who had cooked my lunch, saying, ‘Watch this boy, he’s going to go far…’

A few months later in 1999 Jamie hit our TV screens with his first series, The Naked Chef, it caused a sensation and suddenly it was ‘pukka’ rather than naff for young lads and lasses to cook. Soon after the series, the cook book The Naked Chef (which he wrote when he was 18), flew off the shelves, it sold over 1.2 million copies by the end of the year 2,000.

Jamie was on a mission….

In 2002 he established the Fifteen Foundation, a program that gave underprivileged youths the opportunity to experience a career in the culinary industry at his Fifteen Restaurant in London.

Jamie then turned his attention to the shocking quality of school dinners and the TV series Jamie’s School Dinners documented the challenges he faced training a group of school cafeteria workers but helped to launch the overwhelmingly successful Feed Me Better. 

On and on he went urging Governments both here, and in the US to feed our children healthy wholesome food. Jamie Magazine and twenty-five restaurants followed…

Sadly in 2019 the whole of the Jamie Oliver group became insolvent – a bruising experience for all concerned. Jamie may have lost a fortune but not his vision and capacity for hard work. His absolute passion to fight childhood obesity remains undimmed and has led to the UK Government’s new obesity strategy which he hopes will include banning junk food advertising.

There is so much more about this chap who started out as a special-needs kid in school and went on to write 30 cookbooks and to sell over 15 million.

But this article is to tell you about Jamie’s new book,  One, Simple One-Pan Wonders. It’s a cracker, as Jamie might say in his ever-punchy parlance. It’s packed with budget friendly recipes that you can rustle up any time.  Meals to get novice cooks started minimum prep and washing up, big on flavour, all cooked in just one pan or tray. This may well be Jamie’s most user-friendly cookbook and that’s saying something from an ‘aged’ fan girl.

Here are a few recipes to whet your appetite…

‘One, Simple One-Pan Wonders’ by Jamie Oliver, published by Penguin Michael Joseph

Buddy’s Pasta Bake

Broccoli, cheesy sauce and garlic bread crispy bits.

Serves 8

2 heads of broccoli – 375g (13oz) each

4 cloves garlic

1/2 – 1 teaspoon dried red chilli flakes

1.5 litres (2 1/2 pints) semi-skimmed milk

100g (3 1/2oz) baby spinach

100g (3 1/2oz) Cheddar cheese

500g (18oz) dried pasta shells

100g (3 1/2oz) garlic bread

Preheat the oven to 200˚C/400˚F/Gas Mark 6.

Cut off and discard the tough ends of the broccoli stalks, trim the green florets into 3cm (1 1/4 inch) pieces and put aside, then roughly chop all the remaining stalks and place in a food processor. Peel and add the garlic, then blitz until fine. Place a large shallow casserole pan on a medium heat. Once hot, go in with 1 tablespoon of olive oil and the chilli flakes, to taste. As soon as they start to sizzle, tip in the blitzed broccoli stalks. Cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, then pour in 1 litre (1 3/4 pints) of milk. Pour the remaining 500ml (18fl oz) of milk into the processor with the spinach and crumble in the cheese (I wanted this to be healthy, but now’s the time to add the extra cheese if you want it more indulgent). Blitz until smooth, pour into the pan, then bring to the boil and season to perfection. Stir the broccoli florets and pasta shells into the sauce and boil for 5 minutes, stirring regularly.

Tear the garlic bread into the processor (there’s no need to clean it first) and blitz into crumbs. Sprinkle over the pasta bake and transfer to the oven for 15 minutes, or until golden and bubbling. Delicious served with a fresh green salad.

Seasonal Swaps

Go festive and swap out the broccoli for Brussels sprouts – blitz half for the sauce and quarter the rest to add with the pasta. Embrace Christmas cheese board cheeses and try a cheeky crumbling of chestnuts in the garlic bread crispy bits.

Tender Glazed Lamb Shanks

Sweet peppers, new potatoes, olives, garlic and parsley.

Serves 4

4 lamb shanks – roughly 400g (14oz) each

1 bulb of garlic

6 mixed-colour peppers

1 lemon

800g (1lb 12oz) baby new potatoes

8 black olives, stone in

1 teaspoon runny honey

half bunch of flat-leaf parsley – 15g (3/4oz)

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

Place a large deep casserole pan on a high heat. Season the lamb shanks with a pinch of sea salt and black pepper, then fry in 1 tablespoon of olive oil, turning until browned all over. Meanwhile, halve the unpeeled garlic bulb across the middle and tear up the peppers into big chunks, discarding the seeds and stalks. Add both to the pan, then use a speed-peeler to add the lemon peel in strips. Go in with the potatoes, halving any larger ones, then squash, de-stone and add the olives, also stirring in a splash of liquor from their jar. Mix together well, cover, then transfer to the oven for 1 hour. Mix up again, and cook uncovered for another hour, or until the lamb is tender.

Remove from the oven. Mash the soft garlic cloves into the stew, discarding the skins, then season to perfection with salt, pepper and a thimble of red wine vinegar. Brush the honey over the lamb, then pick over the parsley leaves and serve.

Go Veggie

Simply swap the lamb for quarters of scrubbed celeriac, treating it in exactly the same way, and chuck in a jar of drained chickpeas.

Rosemary Roast Chicken

Sweet leeks, garlic, cider, butter beans, crème fraîche and Stilton.

Serves 4

1kg (2 1/4lbs) mixed chicken thighs and drumsticks, skin on, bone in

3 cloves of garlic

3 leeks

3 sprigs of rosemary

250ml (9fl oz) nice cider

1 x 400g (14oz) tin of butter beans

30g (1 1/4oz) Stilton cheese

3 tablespoons half-fat crème fraîche

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

Put the chicken into a large cold shallow casserole pan and place on a high heat. Fry for 10 minutes, or until golden all over, turning regularly, while you peel and finely slice the garlic, and wash, trim and very finely slice the leeks. Pick and roughly chop the rosemary leaves, then add to the pan with the garlic and leeks, season with sea salt and black pepper, mix well and cook for a couple of minutes to soften slightly. Make sure the chicken is skin side up, then pour in the cider, half drain and add the beans, and roast for 45 minutes or until the chicken pulls easily away from the bone.

Move the pan to a medium-high heat on the hob. Bomb in the little nuggets of Stilton and add the crème fraîche. Mix well, simmer for just a few minutes, then you’re ready to serve. I like it just as it is, or with a side of steamed greens.

Toffee Apple Buns

Soft and sticky with vanilla and cinnamon

Serves 12

500g (18oz) strong bread flour

1 x 7g (1/4oz) sachet of dried yeast

100g (3 1/2oz) dried apple slices

4 eating apples

1 level tablespoon ground cinnamon

1 tablespoon vanilla bean paste

100g (3 1/2oz) Demerara sugar, plus extra for dusting

100g (3 1/2oz) soft unsalted butter, plus extra for greasing

Mix the flour and 1 level teaspoon of sea salt in a large bowl and make a well in the middle.

In a jug, mix the yeast into 300ml (10fl oz) of lukewarm water and leave for a few minutes. Now, gradually pour the mixture into the well, bringing in the flour from the outside to form a dough. Knead on a flour-dusted surface, picking the dough up and slapping in back down, for 10 minutes, or until smooth and springy. Lightly oil the bowl, sit the dough back in, cover with a clean damp tea towel and leave in a warm place for 1 hour, or until doubled in size.

Finely chop the dried apple. Peel, quarter, core and finely slice the fresh apples. In a bowl, scrunch all the apples with the cinnamon, vanilla and sugar. Stretch the dough out on an oiled work surface to 30cm x 50cm (12 inch x 20 inch). Evenly spread over the soft butter, scatter over the sugared apples and drizzle over any juices. Starting from the long side closest to you, roll the dough up into an apple-filled sausage. Slice into 12 equal pieces. Generously butter the inside of a 28cm (11 inch) non-stick ovenproof frying pan and dust with a little sugar. Sit the rolls in the pan, swirl side up, cover with a clean damp towel and leave in a warm place until doubled in size again.

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

Dust the buns with a little sugar and bake at the bottom of the oven for 30 minutes, until golden and sticky. Turn out onto a board and serve.


We’re right bang in the middle of the Irish apple season and for some varieties it’s a bumper season- we’ve got so many, we can scarcely cope…..
There are big baskets brimming with apples in the hall of the cookery school with a sign saying ‘Delicious Home-grown Apples – Help Yourself’.
So many different old-fashioned varieties, the sort one can never find in a supermarket – Strippy, Irish Pitcher, Egremont Russet, Ard Cairn Russet, Pig’s Snout, Pitmaston Pineapple,  Ballinora Pippen…
We make every effort to pick up all the windfalls.

If like me you can’t bear to see the apples rotting on the ground, how about some ideas for using up a glut.  You’ll want to share some with your friends and if you have a Ukrainian refuge close by, a basket, brimming with apples will be warmly welcomed and you can share recipes, maybe discover the secret of a favourite Ukrainian apple tart.
So where to start?

You can juice, purée, pickle, dry, make jams and jellies or of course a myriad of chutneys and pies. Let’s start with juice. Homemade apple juice is infinitely tastier than any commercial variety – you’ll need a juicer. (Juice extractor). If you fancy making cider maybe invest in a traditional apple press and share with friends.  How fun would that be?
Freshly pressed juice will keep for a day or two in the fridge in dark sterilised bottles or it can be frozen. We use recycled litre milk containers. Don’t fill completely to the top to allow for expansion during freezing. They’ll stack neatly in a freezer. Alternatively, pasteurise the juice but it will lose its fresh flavour and many of its nutrients.
Dried apples slices make a terrific nibble. Kids love them and you may find yourself munching one or two instead of chocolate when you are hankering for something sweet.
Choose dessert apples, don’t even bother to peel. Just core and slice thinly. Dip them in a solution of freshly squeezed lemon juice and water and maybe a little honey to stop them oxidising.
One can dry apples in several ways:
Lay the dipped slices in a single layer on a wire rack over a baking tray.  Pop in a fan oven at the lowest heat, fan 50˚C or not more than 100˚C. Flip over after an hour and continue until dry. Store in cellophane bags. Alternatively, use a dehydrator, Nisbets, Lakeland or Amazon have them. They are a brilliant bit of Kitchen kit and can be used for drying everything from rose petals to orange or pineapple slices, mushrooms, jerky…it may also be worth trawling through eBay for a second-hand bargain.
Stewed apple or apple purée is a brilliant standby and can be used in a myriad of different ways. I love icy cold stewed apple with a dribble of Jersey cream. It brings childhood memories whooshing back and who doesn’t love stewed apples and custard and of course baked apples.  Make a delicious, puréed apple sauce and freeze in small containers to serve with roast duck or a pork chop.

How about making apple leather.  Just spread a thin layer of not too sweet apple purée onto a baking sheet lined with parchment. Cook as above in a fan oven at the lowest temperature or not higher than 80˚C. I do mine in the coolest oven of my ancient Aga. Leave it overnight and it will peel easily off the parchment. Next day, roll it up in parchment and store in an airtight tin – another irresistible nibble.
You might like to try this apple and cinnamon vodka too, you could gift it to a friend for Christmas but not sure you’ll have it that long…
Here’s a recipe for an apple and tomato chutneywe love and an apple and rosemary tart and don’t forget about apple jelly – a brilliant way to use up every last windfall apple and whatever wild berries you can find – elderberries, sloes, haws, blackberries, japonica, medlars…(See my column of 10th September for the recipe).
Enjoy the glut but try not to waste a single bit of nature’s bounty.
Check out my Forgotten Skills Book published my Kyle Books for lots and lots of recipes and suggestions…

Apple and Tomato Chutney

There are a million recipes for tomato chutney. This is definitely one of the best and has the advantage of using up a glut of windfall apples as well.

Makes 12 x 450g (1lb) pots

3.6kg (8lbs) ripe tomatoes, peeled and chopped

450g (1lb) onions, peeled and chopped

450g (1lb) eating apples, peeled and chopped

925g (2lbs 1oz) sugar

850ml (scant 1 1⁄2 pints) white malt vinegar

2 tablespoons salt

2 teaspoons ground ginger

3 teaspoons ground black pepper

3 teaspoons allspice

4 garlic cloves, crushed

1 level teaspoon cayenne pepper

350g (12oz) sultanas

Prepare all the ingredients and put into a large, wide stainless-steel saucepan. Bring to the boil. Simmer steadily, uncovered, for about 1 hour, until reduced by one-third and slightly thick. Pot in sterilised jars, cover with non-reactive lids and store in a cool, dry place.

Bramley Apple and Rosemary Pan Cake

Try this combination of apple and fresh rosemary, I think you’ll love it … you could add a little chopped rosemary to the softly whipped cream to for extra oomph…. 

Serves 10 – 12

150g (5oz) sugar

75ml (3fl oz) water

600g (1 1/4lbs) Bramley apples, peeled, cored and sliced into 7mm (1/3 inch) slices

150g (5oz) soft butter

175g (6oz) sugar

200g (7oz) self-raising flour

generous pinch of salt

3 eggs, free-range and organic

1-2 tablespoons milk

1 tablespoon rosemary, finely chopped

1 x 25cm (10 inch) stainless-steel sauté pan or a cast iron frying pan

Preheat the oven to 170°C/325°F/Gas Mark 3.

Put the sugar and water into the pan.  Stir over a medium heat until the sugar dissolves, then cook without stirring until the sugar caramelizes to golden brown (if the caramel is not dark enough the tart will be too sweet).

Meanwhile arrange the peeled and sliced apples in a pretty pattern over the caramel…. Careful not to burn your fingertips… Use a fork to place the apples so as not to touch the caramel.

Put the butter, sugar, flour and salt into the bowl of a food processor.   Whizz for a second or two, add the eggs and stop as soon as the mixture comes together, add the chopped rosemary and whizz for a second.  Add milk to soften the mixture.  

Bake in the preheated oven for approximately 40-45 minutes.   The centre should be firm to the touch and the edges slightly shrunk from the sides of the pan.   Allow to rest in the pan for 5-10 minutes before turning out.   Serve with crème fraiche or softly whipped cream and soft brown sugar…. 

Brambly Apple and Sweet Geranium Sauce

The secret of really good apple sauce is to use a heavy-based saucepan and very little water. The apples should break down into a fluff during the cooking. 

450g (1lb) cooking apples, (Brambley Seedling)

1-2 dessertspoons water

50g (2oz) sugar approx. depending on tartness of the apples

2-4 sweet geranium leaves

Peel, quarter and core the apples, cut pieces in two and put in a small stainless steel or cast-iron saucepan, with the sugar, water and sweet geranium, cover and put over a low heat, as soon as the apple has broken down, stir and taste for sweetness. Serve warm with the pork and gravy.

Apple Tarte Tatin

The ultimate French apple tart. The Tatin sisters ran a restaurant at Lamotte-Beuvron in Sologne at the beginning of the century.  They created this tart, some say accidentally, but however it came about it is a triumph – soft, buttery caramelised apples (or indeed you can also use pears) with crusty golden pastry underneath.  It is unquestionably my favourite French tart! One can buy a special copper tatin especially for this tart.

Serves 6-8

1.24kg (2 3/4lbs) approx. Golden Delicious, Cox’s Orange Pippin or Bramley Seedling cooking apples

175g (6oz) puff pastry or rich sweet shortcrust pastry

110g (4oz) unsalted butter

210g (7 1/2oz) castor sugar

a heavy 20.5cm (8 inch) tatin mould or copper or stainless-steel sauté pan with low sides

Preheat the oven to 220˚C/425˚F/Gas Mark 7 for puff pastry.  For shortcrust 180˚C/350˚F/Gas Mark 4.

First, roll out the pastry into a round slightly larger than the saucepan.  Prick it all over with a fork and chill until needed.

Peel, halve and core the apples.  Melt the butter in the saucepan, add the sugar and cook over a medium heat until it turns golden – fudge colour.  Put the apple halves in upright, packing them in very tightly side by side.  Replace the pan on a low heat and cook until the sugar and juice are a dark caramel colour. Hold your nerve otherwise it will be too pale.  Put into a hot oven for approx. 15 minutes.

Cover the apples with the pastry and tuck in the edges.  Put the saucepan into the fully preheated oven until the pastry is cooked and the apples are soft, 25-30 minutes approx.  For puff pastry reduce the temperature to 200°C/400°F/Gas Mark 6 after 10 minutes.

Take out of the oven and rest for 5-10 minutes or longer if you like.  Put a plate over the top of the saucepan and flip the tart on to a serving plate.  (Watch out – this is a rather tricky operation because the hot caramel and juice can ooze out).  Reshape the tart if necessary and serve warm with softly whipped cream.


Pear Tarte Tatin

Substitute pears for apples in the above recipe.

Apple and Cinnamon Vodka

Fill a sterilised glass jar with chopped apples, add a couple of cinnamon sticks and 200-250g (7-9oz) sugar depending on the variety of apple.  Cover in vodka, seal, shake and allow to infuse for 4-14 days. Strain and pour into sterilised bottles, cover tightly and enjoy over ice or with tonic water.

Ballymaloe Desserts Cookbook

‘Would you like to have a look at the sweet trolley’ is a familiar if rhetorical question in Ballymaloe House.  When the sweet trolley is wheeled into the dining room, there’s a spontaneous murmur of excitement from guests – it doesn’t matter what stage of their meal, whether they are just sipping a bowl of soup or finishing a delicious plate of main course.  They keep an eye in anticipation as it makes its way around the dining room piled high with delicious seasonal desserts. 

The Sweet Trolley has been a tradition at Ballymaloe House ever since Myrtle and Ivan Allen opened the doors of their country house on a farm in East Cork in 1964.  In the era of flamboyant dessert creations, the sweet trolley seemed a little outdated but then out of the blue in 2018, an email arrived to say that the Ballymaloe House  Sweet Trolley had been shortlisted for the Trolley of the Year Award in the highly-prestigious World Restaurant Awards in Paris and guess what, it won!  Suddenly, it was super cool to have a trolley again… Tons of press, radio and TV interviews – it was like the Oscars…

Pastry Chef, JR Ryall and his team in the ‘Sweets Section’  at Ballymaloe House create the irresistible selection on the sweet trolley every night.  From the age of 4 JR wanted to be a chef, he cooked and cooked in his Mum and aunts’ kitchens.  At the ripe old age of 13, he took his first cooking course at the Ballymaloe Cookery School– a present from his Mum.  Year after year, during his school holidays he worked in Ballymaloe Sweets and eventually having completed a Natural Science degree in Trinity College in Dublin, he accepted Myrtle Allen’s invitation to be head pastry chef at Ballymaloe House.  The rest is history…

JR travels widely and has worked in some of the most inspirations kitchens in the world – Ottolenghi, River Cafe, Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons, La Grotta Ices, Paul Young Chocolate…

JR loved and was totally inspired by Myrtle and soaked up every word she said. Now at last he has written a book on Ballymaloe Desserts. It is published by Phaidon and was launched at the Ballymaloe Grainstore on Sunday, 11th September. It’s packed full of recipes for the delicious desserts so loved by Ballymaloe House guests for over 50 years plus many new contemporary creations that are fast becoming new classics.

JR shared his thought process when planning what desserts to serve on the Sweet Trolley at Ballymaloe House.

‘I use a simple template: there are always five desserts that change each day, each fitting a category; the combination of dishes should strike a balance of flavour, texture and aesthetics; and one dessert will always contain chocolate.  This template has been used to plan almost every dessert trolley since the restaurant at Ballymaloe opened its doors. 

The five categories are:

– Fruit: fresh, cooked or preserved

– Meringue

– Mousse, jelly, set cream or fool

– Frozen: ice-cream, sorbet or granita

– Pastry, cake or pudding

This basic template is used throughout all four seasons to ensure the five dishes on the trolley each have a different quality, but if someone wants to try a little bit of everything, the desserts on their plate must balance and work together.  In addition to these five daily changing dishes, there is always one extra dessert on the trolley that never changes: Mrs. Allen’s Carrageen Moss Pudding, a silky soft-set seaweed dish that is a Ballymaloe speciality.  For most guests, it is the most intriguing dessert we serve.

Many of the desserts served on the sweet trolley are accompanied by a complementary sauce, or even a biscuit (cookie), to elevate that dish.  For example, coffee ice-cream is always served with Irish coffee sauce, while all fruit fools are accompanied by thin crisp shortbread biscuits.  In many of the recipes that follow, I indicate favourite pairings such as these.

At Ballymaloe I plan each dish when I know what fresh produce is available, so I often change the menu at the last minute.  Perhaps the plums that I was eagerly watching are just not ripe enough to pick on the day I thought they would be, and then an unexpected basin of wild blackberries arrives at the kitchen door.  Perfect, a blackberry dessert it is.  Then I look at the menu plan to see if anything needs to be altered to balance the last-minute change.  Reacting in this way and using which produce is best is what makes the Ballymaloe dessert trolley so unique.’

Here are a few to whet your appetite. 

Ballymaloe Desserts by JR Ryall is published by Phaidon. Photography by Cliodhna Prendergast

Lemon Meringue Roulade

This is one of the most popular meringue desserts I make at Ballymaloe, and it has several layers of lemon flavour that add up to a well-rounded experience: the sweet meringue is tempered with fresh lemon zest, the cream filling is rippled with tangy lemon curd and the decoration of fragrant crystallized lemon verbena leaves and thin strips of crystallized lemon zest bring it all together. If you feel like going one step further, spoon the pulp of a few passion fruits over the lemon curd before rolling the roulade.

Serves 8

For the Meringue

4 large egg whites

225g (8oz) caster sugar

finely grated zest of 1 large unwaxed lemon

icing sugar, for sprinkling

For the Filling and Decoration

300ml (10fl oz) whipped cream

4 tablespoons Lemon Curd 

crystallized lemon zest, to garnish (recipe on P53 in Ballymaloe Desserts)

12 crystallized lemon verbena leaves (recipe on P192 in Ballymaloe Desserts)

2 blue cornflower heads, separated into flowers

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

Line a low-sided 20 × 30cm (8 × 12 inch) rectangular pan with baking paper.

To make the meringue.

Check that the bowl of your electric mixer is dry, spotlessly clean and free from grease.  Place the egg whites and sugar into the bowl and whisk until the mixture forms stiff peaks, about 10 minutes.

Add the lemon zest to the meringue and gently fold through. Once the zest has been added to the meringue it will begin to wilt, so quickly spread the meringue in an even layer on the lined pan and place in the oven.  Bake for 20 minutes.  Allow to cool and lightly sprinkle the top with icing sugar.

To Fill and Decorate.
Invert the meringue, still in the pan, onto a sheet of baking paper so the crisp top of the meringue faces down.  Remove the pan and carefully peel off the baking paper.  Position the meringue so the long side is facing you.  Spread three quarters of the whipped cream over the meringue, leaving a 2cm (1 inch) edge on the long side furthest away from you.  Spoon the lemon curd in a line down the length of the cream.  Using the tip of a palette knife, spread the curd over the cream in a rippled effect.  Starting at the long side nearest you, and using the baking paper to assist, carefully roll the meringue into a log.  Unwrap the roulade and transfer to a long serving plate. Pipe the remaining cream on the top and decorate with the crystallized lemon zest, crystallized lemon verbena and individual cornflowers.

Lemon Curd

When making lemon curd, think of it as a custard – stir the mixture constantly on a medium–low heat until it thickens enough to coat the back of a spoon – once the curd has thickened it is ready.  The curd will continue to thicken as it cools, but if for any reason you want a very thick curd, add one extra egg yolk along with the eggs. Lemon curd is a short-term preserve and can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.

Makes approx. 300ml (10fl oz)

1 large egg yolk

2 large eggs

55g (2oz) butter

110g (4oz) caster sugar

finely grated zest and juice of 2 large lemons

In a small bowl, beat the egg yolk with the whole eggs to combine, and then set to one side.   Melt the butter in a small, heavy, non- corrodible pan on a low heat.  Add the sugar and lemon zest and juice to the pan followed by the beaten eggs.  Stir the mixture constantly with a whisk as it cooks on a low– medium heat.  Once the mixture thickens enough to coat the back of a spoon, remove the pan from the heat.  If you want to use a thermometer to monitor the temperature as the curd is cooking, it is ready when it reaches 82°C/180°F.  Pass the lemon mixture through a fine sieve to remove the lemon zest (at this point the zest has done its work and infused the mixture with its fragrant oil).  Store in a sterilized airtight jar in the refrigerator.

Panna Cotta with Espresso Jelly

The original version of this dessert came about for a special long-table dinner that Rory O’Connell, co-founder of the Ballymaloe Cookery School, and I used to collaborate on each summer.  It consisted of rich Jersey cream panna cotta topped with a single layer of intense coffee jelly.  Over time, I played around with the proportion of jelly in relation to the vanilla cream.  I set layers of the dark jelly through the panna cotta and eventually the recipe evolved into this striking stripy pudding.  The coffee jelly can be replaced with other flavours too; blackcurrant jelly works particularly well.  When I serve this dish on the dessert trolley at Ballymaloe, it is always accompanied by a tall glass of thin, crisp pistachio langues de chat.

Serves 10

For the Panna Cotta

600ml (20fl oz) fresh cream

1 vanilla pod, split lengthwise

pinch of salt

50g (2oz) caster sugar

2 gelatine leaves

For the Espresso Jelly

3 3⁄4 gelatine leaves

600ml (20fl oz) hot strong coffee

135g (4 1⁄2oz) caster sugar

To Serve

1 teaspoon cornflour, for dusting

Langues de Chat (recipe on P182 in Ballymaloe Desserts)

Place a 1.2 litre (2 pint) glass bowl in the refrigerator to chill.

To make the panna cotta.

Place the cream in a small heavy pan with the split vanilla pod, salt and sugar.  Put on a low heat and bring to below simmering point.

Meanwhile, soak the gelatine leaves in cold water for 5 minutes. Remove the gelatine leaves from the water, shaking off the excess, add to the hot cream mixture and stir to dissolve.  Strain the mixture through a fine sieve into a bowl and then scrape any remaining seeds from the vanilla pod and add them back into the cream.  Rinse the vanilla pod in warm water, allow to dry and save for decorating the finished dish.  Allow the cream mixture to cool to room temperature. I usually sit the bowl in an ice bath, stirring the cream frequently, to speed this up.  Cooling the cream brings it closer to its setting point. When it is close to setting it will thicken slightly and there is the added benefit that the vanilla seeds will now stay suspended in the mixture and not pool in a layer on the bottom of the bowl.  Ladle enough of the cream mixture into the glass serving bowl to make the layer 1cm (1⁄2 inch) deep.  Leave in the refrigerator to set.

To make the espresso jelly.

Soak the gelatine leaves in cold water for 5 minutes.  Meanwhile, add the sugar to the hot coffee and stir to dissolve.  Remove the gelatine leaves from the water, shaking off the excess, add to the coffee mixture while it is still hot and stir to dissolve.  Allow to cool to room temperature.  Again, I usually use an ice bath to speed up this process.  Remove from the ice bath, if using, and keep at room temperature.

Ladle the cooled coffee mixture on top of the set cream to a depth of 1cm (1⁄2 inch).  Allow to set; this does not take long.  Repeat the layering process, alternating between the vanilla cream and the coffee mixture, until both mixtures have been used up. Allow each layer to set before applying the next.

To Serve

Dust the dried vanilla pod in cornflour so it is white all over and rest the pod on the edge of the layered pudding.  The assembled dish can be kept in the refrigerator for up to three days.  Serve chilled with a plate of langue de chat to pass around.

Almond Tarts with Raspberries

Myrtle Allen began making these tarts and tartlets for the Ballymaloe dessert trolley over half a century ago.  The cases (shells) couldn’t be easier to prepare.  It literally takes one minute to mix the three ingredients together.  When baked, the tart cases can be stored in an airtight container for several days and the fruit can be arranged on top just before serving.

The crisp almond case (shell) is conveniently gluten free.  While this recipe is for a raspberry version of the tart, it can also be topped with strawberries, blueberries and even peeled grapes (pips removed). Ripe peaches or nectarines are also delicious: just peel, slice and fan the fruit over the caramelized almond case.

Makes 24 tartlets (or two 18cm/7 inch tarts)

For the Almond Case

110g (4oz) soft salted butter

110g (4oz) caster sugar

110g (4oz) ground almonds

To Serve

450g (1lb) raspberries

3 tablespoons Redcurrant Jelly, for glazing (recipe on P48 in Ballymaloe Desserts)

300ml (10fl oz) whipped cream

sweet geranium leaves or fresh mint leaves, to garnish

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

To make the almond case.

Place the butter in a bowl and cream well.  Add the sugar and ground almonds and stir until everything is evenly combined.  Don’t beat or over work the mixture.  Divide the mixture between two 17.5cm (7 inch) round pans or twenty-four shallow tartlet pans (I use two shallow, flat-bottom bun (muffin) pans that each have twelve wells).

Place the tarts in the oven and bake for about 25 minutes, until golden brown.  Tartlets will take 10–15 minutes.  Remove from the oven and allow to slightly cool before popping out of the pan.

If the tarts or tartlets appear to be sticking to the pan, and break when you attempt to pop them out, put the pan back in the oven for a minute.  When it warms up, the case should pop out easily.

To Serve

Arrange the raspberries over the surface of each tart or tartlet. Warm the redcurrant jelly in a small pan until it melts and gently brush over the fruit.  Take care that the glaze does not drip onto the case or you run the risk of it losing its nice crispness. Fill a canvas piping bag, fitted with a small star tip, with the whipped cream and pipe around the edge of each tart or tartlet. Garnish with sweet geranium or fresh mint leaves.

Wild Blackberry and Sweet Geranium Sorbet

Wild blackberries are plentiful and free, and in September local children pick vast quantities from the hedges around east Cork. Bucket after bucket of the dark berries arrive at our kitchen door, and for those few weeks, blackberries go into almost everything we make.  This recipe produces a richly coloured sorbet, making good use of some of those berries.  I like to serve this sorbet with a little softly whipped cream and some Puff Pastry Twists, crisp Langues de Chat or a nutty version of Bittersweet Cocoa Nib Nougatine (all of which are included in the Ballymaloe Desserts cookbook).

Serves 6

10 sweet geranium leaves

220g (8oz) sugar, plus extra to taste

300ml (10fl oz) cold water

450g (1lb) fresh or frozen blackberries

juice of 1⁄2 lemon, plus extra to taste

1 tablespoon kirsch, or to taste (optional)

Put the geranium leaves, sugar and cold water into a heavy pan, place on a medium heat and bring to a boil.  Simmer for 2 minutes, remove from the heat and leave to infuse for 10 minutes.

Remove the leaves and add the fruit.  Pour the fruit and syrup into a liquidizer and blend to a purée.  Pass the mixture through a fine sieve to remove the seeds. Add the lemon juice.

Taste and adjust with a little more lemon or sugar if required.  If the blackberry flavour needs a little encouragement, add a splash of kirsch to taste.  Pour the mixture into an ice-cream machine and churn according to the manufacturer’s directions. This sorbet is best enjoyed the day it is made.  Store in an airtight container in the freezer.

Cost of Living

For the past two years the ‘fear of God’ was struck into us by Covid and just as we thought life was coming back to normal at last, here comes the ‘cost of living’ crisis. Virtually every radio, newspaper headline and TV bulletin is full of doom and gloom with predictions of unimaginable price hikes in electricity, oil and gas and of course food.
Thousands of families who have already tightened their belts to combat the ‘back to school and college’ expenses are now faced with a winter of struggle and discontent. And to cap it all off, there’s talk of the possibility of no Christmas lights and fossil fuel shaming.
Everyone is hoping for some support in the upcoming Budget but nonetheless it’s going to be tough, all the more reason to focus on producing comforting, wholesome delicious food for the family to tuck into around the kitchen table.
We may need to shop differently, learn or relearn thrifty ways, how to use cheaper cuts of meat and off cuts of fish, use leftovers and completely eliminate food waste.

Just because one is short of funds is no excuse to resort to ultra-processed food.  Better to invest in wholesome, nourishing ingredients than spend your hard-earned cash on meds. 

So what to look out for.  I’ve already extolled the virtue of potatoes in several articles – go along to your local Farmers’ Market and buy chemical-free food directly from the farmer or producer and no it’s not true that Farmers’ Markets are way more expensive than supermarkets.  That sweeping statement is usually made by people who don’t visit Farmers’ Markets and are looking for an excuse not to go…

It’s true that some stallholders may not be able to compete with the ‘below cost selling’ of some of the discounters.  Do you know how long it takes to grow carrots or beets from seed to harvesting – three months at least.  Would you be happy to look after something for three months and then be paid less than a euro for a bunch of 5 or 6.  Doesn’t take much to work out that it can’t be done without a ton of artificial fertilisers and chemicals spray and screwing the farmers.

Sadly, if this low or below cost selling continues, there will be virtually no Irish vegetable growers in a year or two. 

Another thrifty tip – do a bit of research to find contacts for farmers who are selling their meat directly.  You’ll get a fine box of mixed cuts of beef, lamb, pork and a variety of game birds, very often organic and sometimes with a pack of well tested recipes included. 

Go along and have a chat with your local butcher too – ask which cuts are best value and while you are there, ask for some bones to make stock.  Start to experiment with lesser-known cuts – oxtail, ham hocks, lamb breasts, pork ribs…  Talk to the fishmongers, find out about the bargains on offer.  Learn what fruit and vegetables are in season – they will be at their cheapest and best then.

Irish apples are ripening now, your friends may have a glut – make lots of stewed apple and apple sauce and freeze for winter.

Cabbage is ridiculously cheap, but super nutritious, it’s brilliant for salads and soups as well as cooked with a bit of bacon or a ham hock. It’s so easy to make a fine tasty dinner from a few simple ingredients but the reality is you must be able to cook.  It’s not rocket science, just follow these simple recipes…

Carrot and Spring Onion Fritters

These vegetarian spiced fritters can be vegan if you omit the egg. Change the vegetables with the seasons: try cabbage, parsnips, celeriac or sprouts.

Makes 16/Servers 4

80g (3 1/4oz) chickpea (gram) flour

4 tablespoons self-raising flour

2 teaspoons ground coriander

2 teaspoons ground cumin

1/2 teaspoon paprika plus 1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika

1 organic, free-range egg (optional)

150g (5oz) carrots, grated

30g (1 1/4oz) spring onions, thinly sliced

extra virgin olive oil, for frying

flaky sea salt and pepper

Coriander Aioli, to serve

Mix together the flours, spices and a generous pinch of salt in a bowl. Whisk the egg with 110ml (4fl oz) water. (For a vegan version, omit the egg and increase the water to 150ml/5fl oz). Add to the dry ingredients and mix together – the batter should be the texture

of double cream. If it’s too thick, add a little more water. Cover loosely with a tea towel and leave to stand for 30 minutes.

Add the carrots and spring onions to the batter, stir and season until the vegetables are well coated.

Heat a little olive oil in a non-stick frying pan over a medium heat. Drop a tablespoon of the mixture into the pan. Fry for 2–3 minutes on each side until golden brown and crispy on the outside and cooked in the centre. Season to taste. Fry three or four at a time, depending on the pan size. Serve 3–4 fritters per person on hot plates with Coriander aioli alongside.

Coriander Aioli

225ml (8fl oz) homemade mayonnaise

1-3 cloves of garlic, depending on size

1–2 tablespoons of chopped coriander

Crush the garlic and add to the egg yolks just as you start to make the mayonnaise. Finally add the chopped coriander and taste for seasoning.

Ham Hock with Cabbage and Scallion Champ

They are delicious with so many things – cabbage and champ, lentils, a bean stew, shredded into a broth with diced vegetables or in a split pea soup. We also love to add chunks of quartered cabbages to the cooking water about half an hour before the end of cooking.

Serves 8 or more

4 fresh or smoked ham hocks

1 onion

4 garlic cloves

1 carrot, thickly sliced

2 celery ribs, chopped

1 bay leaf

1 teaspoon black peppercorns

1 cabbage, sliced

Scallion Champ (see recipe)

Put the ham hocks into a deep saucepan, add the vegetables and seasonings. Cover well with cold water, bring to the boil and simmer for 2– 2 1⁄2 hours or until the meat is virtually falling off the bones.

Add the sliced cabbage and cook for 10-15 minutes.  Save the cooking liquid as a base for tomato soup. 

Serve with accompaniments of your choice and lots of mustard.

Scallion Champ

A bowl of mashed potatoes flecked with green scallions with a blob of butter melting in the centre, add the butter just before serving so it melts into the centre. ‘Comfort’ food at its best.

Serves 4-6

1.5kg (3lbs) unpeeled ‘old’ potatoes e.g. Golden Wonders or Kerr’s Pinks

110g (4oz) chopped scallions or spring onions (use the bulb and green stem) or 45g (scant 2oz) chopped chives

300-350ml (10 – 12fl oz) milk

50-110g (2 – 4oz) butter

salt and freshly ground pepper

Scrub the potatoes and boil them in their jackets.

Chop finely the scallions or spring onions or chopped chives.  Cover with cold milk and bring slowly 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 onions, beat in the butter.  Season to taste with salt and freshly ground pepper.  Serve in 1 large or 6 individual bowls with a knob of butter melting in the centre.  Scallion mash may be put aside and reheated later in a moderate oven, 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4. * Cover with parchment paper while it reheats so that it doesn’t get a skin and add the lump of butter just before serving.

Beef and Oxtail Stew

Oxtail costs very little and make an extraordinarily rich and flavoursome winter stew, considering how cheap it is. This is another humble dish, which has recently been resurrected by trendy chefs who are capitalizing on their customer’s nostalgic craving for their Gran’s cooking.  Use the leftover stew as a sauce for pasta, sprinkle with lots of grated Parmesan cheese and chopped parsley. 

Serves 6-8

2 whole oxtails

450g (1lb) shin of beef or stewing beef, cut into 4cm (1 1/2 inch) cubes                                                        

110g (4oz) streaky bacon
25g (1oz) beef dripping or2 tablespoons olive oil
225g (8oz) finely chopped onion
225g (8oz) carrots, cut into 2cm (3/4 inch) cubes
55g (generous 2oz) chopped celery
1 tablespoon homemade tomato purée

1 bay leaf, 1 sprig of thyme and parsley stalks
salt and freshly ground pepper
150ml (5fl oz) red wine
450ml (16fl oz) homemade beef stock or 600ml (1 pint) all beef stock

175g (6oz) mushrooms (sliced)                                                                   

15g (generous 1/2oz) roux                                                            

2 tablespoons chopped parsley

First cut the oxtail into pieces through the natural joints – the joints are made of cartilage, so you won’t need a saw.  If this seems like too much of a challenge, ask your butcher to disjoint the oxtail for you.

Cut the bacon into 2.5cm (1 inch) cubes.      

Heat the dripping or olive oil in a frying pan, add the bacon and sauté for 1-2 minutes, add the vegetables, cook for 2 – 3 minutes, stirring occasionally. Transfer into a casserole. Add the beef and oxtail pieces to the pan, a few at a time and continue to cook until the meat is beginning to brown.  Add to the casserole. Add the wine and 150ml (5fl oz) of stock to the pan.  Bring to the boil and use a whisk to dissolve the caramelised meat juices from the pan, bring to the boil.  Add to the casserole with the herbs, stock and tomato purée. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper. Cover and cook either on top of the stove or in a preheated oven 160°C/325°F/ Gas Mark 3 very gently for 2 – 3 hours, or until the oxtail and vegetables are very tender.

Meanwhile, cook the sliced mushrooms in a hot frying pan in a little butter for 2 – 3 minutes. Stir into the oxtail stew and cook for about 5 minutes. Transfer the beef and oxtail to a hot serving dish and keep warm. Remove and discard the bay leaves, thyme and parsley stalks.

Bring the liquid back to the boil, whisk in a little roux and cook until slightly thickened. Add back in the meat and chopped parsley.  Bring to the boil, taste and correct the seasoning.  Serve in the hot serving dish with lots of champ.

Darina’s Favourite Apple and Blackberry Pie

Apple pie is virtually everyone’s favourite pudding. My famous break-all-the-rules pastry taught to me by my mum is made by the creaming method, so people who are convinced that they suffer from ‘hot hands’ don’t have to worry about rubbing in the butter.  I make this pie year-round with whatever fruits are in season: pears, plums and damsons are also in season now… Enjoy with a blob of softly whipped cream and soft brown sugar, it’s obligatory!

Serves 8-12

Break-all-the-Rules Pastry

225g (8oz) butter, softened

40g (1 1/2oz) caster sugar, plus extra for sprinkling

2 organic, free-range eggs

350g (12oz) plain flour, plus extra for dusting

1 organic, free-range egg, beaten with a dash of milk


600g (1lb 5oz) Bramley cooking apples, peeled and cut into large dice

110g (4oz) wild blackberries

150g (5oz) granulated sugar

To Serve

softly whipped cream

dark soft brown sugar

1 x 18cm x 30.5cm x 2.5cm (7 x 11 x 1 inch) deep square tin or 1 x 22.5cm (8 3/4 inch) round tin

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

To make the pastry, cream the butter and sugar together by hand or in a food processor.  Add the eggs one by one and beat for several minutes. Reduce the speed and mix in the flour slowly.  Turn out onto a piece of floured baking parchment, flatten into a round, then wrap and chill.  This pastry needs to be chilled for at least 2 hours otherwise it is difficult to handle – better still, make it the day before.

Roll out the pastry to about 3mm (1/8 inch) thick, then use about two-thirds of it to line the tin.

Fill the pie to the top with the apples and blackberries and sprinkle with the sugar – brush the edges with water.  Cover with a lid of pastry, press the edges together to seal.  Decorate with pastry leaves, brush with the beaten egg mixture and bake for 45 minutes – 1 hour until the apples are tender.  When cooked, sprinkle lightly with caster sugar, cut into pieces and serve with softly whipped cream and sugar.

A comforting and delicious Rice Pudding

A creamy rice pudding is one of the greatest treats on a chilly Autumn day and costs very little to make. You need to use short-grain rice, which plumps up as it cooks. This is definitely a forgotten pudding and it’s unbelievable the reaction we get to it every time we make it at the Cookery School.

Serves 6–8

100g (3 1⁄2oz) pearl rice (short-grain rice)

50g (2oz) sugar

small knob of butter

1. 2 litres (2 pints) milk

1 x 1. 2 litre (2 pint) capacity pie dish (it’s important to have the correct size dish)

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

Put the rice, sugar and butter into a pie dish. Bring the milk to the boil and pour over. Bake for 1 – 1 1⁄2 hours. The skin should be golden, the rice underneath should be cooked through and have soaked up the milk, but still be soft and creamy. Time it so that it’s ready just in time for pudding. If it has to wait in the oven for ages, it will be dry and dull and you’ll wonder why you bothered.  Serve with brown sugar and softly whipped cream. 


What a bumper crop of wild blackberries we have this year, I can’t quite remember when there was such an abundant harvest of plump and juicy FREE fruit.  They have also ripened earlier than usual after those glorious sunny days, now just a distant memory.  

It took me less than a half an hour to pick a huge bowl full…. My fingers were stained a delicious purple from the juice but it’s not just blackberries in the hedgerow, there are also lots of sloes and a promising crop of hazelnuts and crab apples too. 

After my foraging expedition, I popped into town to do a bit of shopping and there on the display shelf in the midst of the season were plastic punnets of cultivated blackberries – €4.50 for 200g!

Maybe picking fruit off the brambles in the hedgerows isn’t everyone’s ‘cup of tea’ but I love a blackberry picking expedition, particularly when the group is made up of all ages and bring a picnic along too. 

We show the children how to inspect the fruit and pick perfect berries.   If the central core is discoloured or stained with juice, it usually indicates that a maggot has moved in.  Nature provides for all of us…

Blackberries are high in Vitamin C and antioxidants and were traditionally used to soothe sore throats.  When picking, stick to hedgerows on country lanes or boreens and areas that haven’t been sprayed with chemicals, try to avoid busy roadsides….

Blackberries freeze brilliantly and are a wonderful standby during winter months for tarts, compotes, crumbles and jam.  We pay lots of eager local children pocket money to harvest for us.  There will certainly be a glut this year but what to do apart from freezing.  Of course, there is jam but it’s worth remembering that blackberries are low in pectin, so you’ll need to add some tart, pectin rich apples to help the set and cut the sweetness. I like to include some chopped rosemary or sweet geranium to add some extra magic and how about making a cordial, wild blackberry mousse or a chutney…

We also love a riff on the classic Eton mess with wild blackberries or a mixture of blackberries and autumn raspberries.  Maybe add a tablespoon or two of cassis if you have it. 

I scattered a few into the batter for a batch of ‘wee buns’ today, slathered lemon icing on top and decorated them with a few fresh blackberries and sweet geranium leaves.  I got showered with compliments while they disappeared like hot cakes. 

In fact, you can pretty much substitute blackberries for any other summer berries in recipes. 

Blackberry fool is also delish, try folding a few berries into your breakfast bircher muesli with a little grated tart apple.  How about sprinkling a fistful of frozen blackberries into a batch of muffins or clafoutis.  Sprinkle them with sweet geranium sugar.  Blackberry ice-cream and blackberry and sweet geranium granita are also exquisite.  Everyone should have a sweet geranium plant to add that hauntingly, beautiful lemony flavour to so many dishes but it has a particular affinity to blackberries. 

It’s also worth making a wild blackberry syrup, just mash equal parts of blackberries, sugar and cider vinegar in a sterilized Kilner jar and allow to sit for a couple of weeks in a cool spot.  Decant and dilute with sparkling water and lots of ice.

A more grown-up version…. blackberry gin or vodka is also super easy to make and use as a base for festive fizz or a perfect Christmas present.

So get gathering, it will be the game season soon, a fistful scattered into the pan when roasting pork, duck or game bird is delicious crushed into the gravy with lots of thyme.  Add a few squished blackberries to a mojito …there’s no end to the delicious ways to use your wild blackberry harvest. 

Here are a few recipes for you to enjoy…

Wee Blackberry Buns with Lemon Icing and Sweet Geranium Leaves

If you don’t have sweet geranium, substitute fresh mint leaves for these adorable ‘wee buns’.

Makes 10

175g (6oz) soft butter

150g (5oz) castor sugar

3 eggs, preferably free range

175g (6oz) self-raising flour

110g (4oz) wild blackberries 

Lemon Glacé Icing

225g (8oz) icing sugar

finely grated zest of 1 lemon

2-4 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

1 bun tray with 10-12 holes

 Line the base of the tins with small muffin papers or bun cases… 

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

Put the soft butter, castor sugar, eggs and self-raising flour into the bowl of a food processor. Whizz for a few seconds to amalgamate. Sprinkle the blackberries over the mixture, fold in gently, then – Divide evenly between the 10 or 12 cases depending on size.  I sometimes lay a geranium leaf on top of each bun.  Bake in the preheated oven for 20- 25 minutes approx. or until golden and well risen.

Cool on a wire rack.

Meanwhile make the Lemon Glacé Icing.

Sieve the icing sugar into a bowl.   Add the lemon zest and enough lemon juice to make a softish icing. Use a palette knife to spread a little icing on each bun, decorate the tops with fresh blackberries and a sweet geranium leaf if available, alternatively use a fresh mint leaf…

Beth’s Wild Blackberry Mouse

I loved this blackberry mousse which I tasted recently at a friend’s house.  I call it Beth’s wild blackberry mousse, but she was insistent that I tell you that the recipe originally came from the Times Cookery Book by Katie Stewart.  Not sure if it’s still in print but it’s a book well worth trying to get a copy of.  *Beth tells me she likes to use less gelatine which seems perfect to me.

Serves 4 to 6

450g (1lb) blackberries
110g (4oz) caster sugar
juice of 1 small lemon
3 tablespoons cold water

15g (1/2oz) gelatine *
150ml (5fl oz) double cream
2 egg whites

Pick over and wash the blackberries.  Place in a saucepan with the sugar and the strained lemon juice.  Place over a low heat, cover and gently simmer for 10 minutes.
Measure the water into a bowl and sprinkle with gelatine.  Leave for 5 minutes.
Draw the pan of fruit off the heat and stir in the soaked gelatine.
Pass this through a sieve into a large mixing bowl to make a purée, rubbing through as much fruit as possible and then discard the pips in the sieve.
Put the purée aside to get cold and start to thicken.
Lightly whip the cream and stiffly beat the egg whites.  Fold the cream in first and then the egg whites into the purée.  Pour into a serving dish and chill until set.
Serve with extra cream if liked, and a few fresh blackberries on top.

Blackberry, Bramley Apple and Rosemary Jelly

Makes 2.7 – 3kg (6-7lbs) approx.

2.7kg (6lbs) crab apples or windfall cooking apples

2.7L (4 3/4 pints) water

2 unwaxed lemons

900g (2lbs) blackberries

3 sprigs of rosemary


2-3 tablespoons rosemary, finely chopped at the last minutes

Wash the apples and cut into quarters, do not remove either peel or core. Windfalls may be used, but make sure to cut out the bruised parts. Put the apples into a large saucepan with the water and the thinly pared rind of the lemons, add the blackberries and 3 sprigs of rosemary.  Cook until reduced to a pulp, approx. 3/4 hour.

Turn the pulp into a jelly bag* and allow to drip until all the juice has been extracted – usually overnight.  Measure the juice into a preserving pan and allow 425g (15oz) sugar to each 600ml (1 pint) of juice*.  Warm the sugar in a low oven.

*We use 350g (12oz) of sugar, but if you wish to keep the jelly for 9 months or more, it may be preferable to use 425g (15oz) to each 600ml (1 pint).

Squeeze the lemons, strain the juice and add to the preserving pan. Bring to the boil and add the warm sugar and 3 tablespoons finely chopped rosemary. Stir over a gentle heat until the sugar is dissolved.  Increase the heat and boil rapidly uncovered without stirring for about 8-10 minutes.  Test, skim and pot immediately.

Blackberry Syrup

Base for a delicious fresh tasting super nutritious drink.

Dilute with sparkling water.

Equal quantities of:



cider vinegar

Mash the blackberries and sugar together, add the vinegar.  Put into a glass jar, cover and store in a cool dark cupboard for 2 weeks.  Strain and bottle.  Serve with sparkling water and lots of ice. 

Blackberry and Sweet Geranium Gin

Make this now and enjoy neat or as a base for a Blackberry and Sweet Geranium gin and tonic.

600g (1 1/4lbs) blackberries

600g (1 1/4lbs) sugar

600ml (1 pint) gin or vodka

4-6 sweet geranium leaves (pelargonium graveolens)

Put all the ingredients into a bottle for 2 – 3 months. Enjoy in small glasses. Damsons, sloes and haws also make delicious liqueurs. We’ve had excellent results with both gin and vodka. 

Blackberry and Sweet Geranium Sorbet

Sweet Geranium (Pelargonium Graveolens) has a wonderful affinity with blackberries.  Fresh mint or lemon verbena leaves could also be substituted – deliciously refreshing.

Serves 6

450g (1lb) wild blackberries

75g (3oz) sugar

150ml (5fl oz) water

4-6 large sweet geranium leaves (depending on size)

Put the sugar, water and sweet geranium leaves into a saucepan and bring slowly to the boil, boil for 3-4 minutes.  Allow to cool.  Meanwhile, liquidise and sieve the blackberries through a nylon sieve.  When the syrup is cold, mix with the blackberry purée, taste, it ought to taste a little too sweet at this stage, but add some fresh lemon juice if it’s cloying.  Freeze in a sorbetière for about 20 minutes.  Alternatively, put into a freezer until almost frozen, then take it out and break up the crystals with a whisk or in a food processor, return to the freezer and repeat once or twice more.  If you do not have a sorbetière you might like to fold half a stiffly beaten egg white into the sorbet to lighten the texture.

Serve a scoop of sorbet on chilled white plates, decorate with whole blackberries and sweet geranium leaves.

Going Back to School (Family Suppers)

Family suppers have got a whole lot more complicated in recent times, particularly during term with a variety of extracurricular activities at random times. However few things are more comforting than knowing that there will be a kitchen supper waiting when you come home. The smell of roast chicken with gravy and lots of roast spuds and juicy apple tart makes your heart skip… Don’t forget to give the cook a big hug and a hand with the washing up.

Many households now have a couple of vegetarian or vegan teens, then throw in the extra challenge of allergies and intolerances… and what used to be a relatively simple and fun exercise can turn into a ‘nightmare’ not to mention the many children who are picky and finicky.

One devastated Mum told me recently that she’d almost lost the ‘will to live’ because of the hassle. One can see how people give up the battle and just give in to readymade pizzas and burgers.

Let’s try to think of a few multipurpose ingredients and recipes that will be welcomed by virtually everyone.

So here are a few simple recipes that my children and grandchildren love.

Potatoes, super nutritious and Boy, can you cook them in a million different ways, vegetarian, vegan, gluten free, a meal in themselves, a side or filler to bulk out a stew.

Mac & Cheese is another family favourite, neither gluten free or dairy free but can be vegetarian. Equally, I like to add cubes of bacon or chorizo, maybe smoked mackerel or a bit of smoked salmon and lots of dill or parsley, the remains of a cooked chicken or roast and lots of fresh herbs…

Here’s a recipe for dahl, kids seem to love spices nowadays so stock up your pantry – start with coriander and cumin, turmeric, chili flakes then cardamom and you’ll probably have cloves anyhow for apple tarts. 

Frozen Chicken in a Pot, this delicious recipe was born out of desperation….

We’d invited all the family to Saturday for kitchen supper, we were running late so telephoned home to ask someone to slather the chicken with butter and chopped rosemary and pop it into the oven only to discover that they were still in the freezer….we’re now mid-afternoon – what to do!

I gave instructions to unwrap the bird, pop it into a deep saucepan with lots of chunks of onion and carrots, a few outside stalks of celery and a few sprigs of thyme and tarragon and a sprinkling of black peppercorns. Add a couple of inches of stock or failing that water. Cover the pot, put it on a medium heat, bring to the boil and simmer gently for about 1.5 – 2 hours or until the meat is tender and delicious and will virtually lift off the bones – the broth will be packed with flavour, continue on with the recipe and finish as you choose.

Pilaff rice – gorgeous with that chicken in a pot, is a doddle to make – It cooks itself and is much easier than risotto. Make it with vegetable or chicken broth and add whatever tasty bits you have to hand. Mind you the best pilaff is made with butter and has lots of grated cheese.

Faux Deep Pan Pizza is another gem and I’ll be amazed if it doesn’t become a go to recipe in your home too, always greeted with whoops of delight.

You’ll love Clafoutis, another easy pudding, comforting and delicious… We make it year-round with whatever fruit is in season. This recipe from my One Pot Feeds All book is made with plums or damsons but I recently enjoyed a delicious version with blackcurrants at Inis Meáin Suites on Inis Meáin, cooked by one of my favourite chefs, Ruari de Blacam. Omit the cinnamon and add a tablespoon of Cassis or a  scant teaspoon of pure vanilla extract instead… 

Remember the way to everyone’s heart is through their tummy and sitting down around the kitchen table, tucking into a yummy supper together is what memories are made of … so worth the effort… 

Frozen Chicken in a Pot

A brilliant recipe born out of desperation! You’ll need a really flavourful chicken,  use the very best organic bird you can find. We love to serve it with Tomato Fondue.  Not just for an emergency, it can  be prepared ahead and reheats well but do not add the liaison until just before serving. Two tablespoons of chopped tarragon and or a pan of sautéed mushrooms added to the sauce will make it even more special.. 

 Serves 8 

1 good free-range and organic chicken, can be frozen solid…. 2 kg (4 1/2lbs) approx.

2-3 carrots, sliced into chunks

2-3 onions, quartered

a couple of sticks of celery

6 black peppercorns

a sprig of thyme, a few parsley stalks, a tiny bay leaf, and a sprig of tarragon if available.. 

450-600ml (16fl oz – 1 pint) approx. water or water and white wine mixed or light chicken stock

30g (1 1/4oz) approx. roux

250-300ml (9-10fl oz) light cream or creamy milk

Liaison, an enrichment

1 egg yolk

50ml (2fl oz) cream

salt and freshly ground pepper

fresh watercress sprigs

Pilaff Rice

Put the frozen chicken into a deep saucepan or casserole with the carrot, celery, onion, herbs and peppercorns. Add a teaspoon of salt.  Pour in water, water and wine, or stock, (3/4 stock – 1/4 wine).  Cover and bring slowly to the boil and simmer either on top of the stove or in the oven for 1 1/2 – 2 hours, When the bird is cooked, remove from the casserole.  The meat should lift easily from the bone.

Strain and de-grease the cooking liquid and return to the casserole.  Discard the vegetables: they have already given their flavour to the cooking liquid.  Reduce the liquid in a wide uncovered casserole for 5-10 minutes until the flavour is concentrated.

Meanwhile make the pilaff rice.

Add cream, return to the boil and reduce again; thicken to a light coating consistency with a little roux.  Taste, add salt, correct the seasoning. 

Skin the chicken and carve the flesh into bite-sized pieces;  add  to the sauce and allow to heat through and bubble (the dish may be prepared ahead to this point).

Finally, just before serving mix the egg yolk and cream to make a liaison.  Add some of the hot sauce to the liaison then carefully stir into the chicken mixture.  Taste, correct the seasoning. Stir well but do not allow to boil further or the sauce will curdle. 

Serve with a simple Pilaff Rice. Turn the pilaff into a wide hot serving dish, top with the chicken pilaff.  Scatter with flat parsley and serve.

Alternatively serve the pilaff rice separately.

Pilaff Rice

Although a risotto can be made in 20 minutes it really entails 20 minutes of pretty constant stirring which makes it feel rather laboursome. A pilaff on the other hand looks after itself once the initial cooking is underway. Pilaff is super versatile – serve it as a staple or add whatever tasty bits you have to hand.

Serves 8

25g (1oz) butter

2 tablespoons finely chopped onion or shallot

400g (14oz) long-grain rice (preferably Basmati)

975ml (1 litre) well-flavoured homemade chicken stock

salt and freshly ground pepper

2 tablespoons freshly chopped herbs e.g. parsley, thyme, chives: optional

Melt the butter in a casserole, add the finely chopped onion and sweat for 2-3 minutes. Add the rice and toss for a minute or two, just long enough for the grains to change colour. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper, add the chicken stock, cover and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat to a minimum and then simmer on top of the stove or in the oven 160˚C/325˚F/Gas Mark 3 for 10 minutes approx. By then the rice should be just cooked and all the water absorbed. Just before serving stir in the fresh herbs if using.


Basmati rice cooks quite quickly; other types of rice may take up to 15 minutes.


110g (4oz/1 stick) butter

110g (4oz/1 cup) 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.

Everyone’s Favourite Mac and Cheese

Mac and cheese is a bit like apple crumble, simple fare but everyone loves it, plus you can add lots of tasty bits to change it up. Macaroni cheese was and still is one of my children’s favourite supper dishes. I often add some cubes of cooked bacon, ham or chorizo to the sauce.

Faux Deep Pan Pizza… 

Can’t tell you how many times this soda bread pizza base has come to the rescue when I need to whip up a dish of something filling and delicious in jig time.  Could be as simple as this with a topping of grated mature Cheddar cheese with a few spring onions.

Serves 6-8

450g (1lb) flour

level teaspoon bread soda (Bicarbonate of Soda/Baking Soda)

1 level teaspoon salt

375 – 400ml (13-14fl oz) buttermilk to mix

extra virgin olive oil

75g (3oz) spring onions – white and green, thinly sliced at an angle

175g (6oz) grated mature Cheddar cheese

12 black Kalamata olives (optional)

drizzle of extra virgin olive oil

flaky sea salt

1 roasting tin 31 x 23cm x 5cm (12 x 9 x 2 inch)

First fully preheat the oven to 230°C/Gas Mark 8.

Sieve the dry ingredients into a large wide bowl. Make a well in the centre. Pour the milk in all at once. Using one hand, mix in the flour from the sides of the bowl, adding more milk if necessary. The dough should be softish, not too wet and sticky. When it all comes together, turn it out onto a floured board, knead lightly for a few seconds, tidy it up and flip over.

Brush the tin with olive oil.  Roll the dough into a rectangle just large enough to fit the tin.  Sprinkle evenly with chopped spring onion and then grated Cheddar.  Stud with olives (optional).  Season with flaky sea salt.  Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil and bake in the preheated oven for 5 minutes.  Then reduce the temperature to 200˚C/400˚F/Gas Mark 6 for 20-25 minutes or until just cooked.  The cheese should be bubbly and golden on top.  Transfer to a wire rack to cool.  Cut into squares and served with drinks or with a steaming bowl of soup.

Other tasty toppings

50g (2oz) Parmesan and 4-6 tablespoons of your favourite Pesto – basil, kale, rocket or wild garlic

110 – 150g (4-5oz) Tapenade and 110-150g (4-5oz) soft goat cheese

110 – 150g (4-5oz) Nduja and 18-22 Bocconcini

Martha Rosenthal’s Red Lentil Dahl

Turmeric has major, scientifically-proven, anti-inflammatory properties (similar to anti-inflammatory medications). It also has anti-septic properties.

This is the quickest dahl to cook – it takes only 20 minutes without using a pressure cooker.  The orange/red colour of the lentils becomes pale yellow once it is cooked.  It keeps well.

Serves 6

225g (8oz) orange/red lentils

400ml (14fl oz) can of coconut milk plus 300ml (10fl oz) water

1 teaspoon turmeric

scant 1 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1 teaspoon garam masala


3 tablespoons oil

1 teaspoon cumin seeds

1/2 – 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1 teaspoon coriander powder


6 slices onion, sautéed until golden

a few chopped fresh coriander or mint leaves

Put the lentils in a heavy saucepan with the coconut milk and water, add the turmeric, bring to the boil and simmer for about 10-15 minutes by which time the lentils will be soft, almost mushy.  When cooked turn off the heat, add salt, lemon juice and garam masala.  Heat the oil, add cumin seeds, fry for 10 seconds and turn off the heat.  Add the cayenne and coriander, stir and pour over the cooked lentils.  Mix well and garnish.  Serve with Basmati rice and Tamarind Sauce

Martha’s Garam Masala

What adds flavour to this simple recipe is to make your own garam masala.

Punjabi-style Garam Masala

18g (3/4oz) cumin seeds

35g (1 1/2ozs) coriander seeds

1 1/2 teaspoons cardamon seeds

1 1/2 teaspoons black peppercorns

15 whole cloves

5cm (2 inch) piece cinnamon stick

3 tablespoons fennel seeds

1 tablespoon brown mustard seeds

1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes

Heat a heavy sauté pan over a medium-low heat.  Add all of the ingredients, dry roast the spices, stirring occasionally until they darken slightly, about 8-10 minutes.  Transfer to a coffee grinder or blender and grind to a powder.  Use while fresh or store in an airtight container for up to a month.

Tamarind Relish

Tamarind is high in the antioxidant vitamin C, B vitamins, flavonoids and vital minerals. It helps preserve vitamin C levels in the body, promotes heart health by lowering cholesterol. Tamarind juice can be used as a gargle to ease a sore throat.

4 teaspoons tamarind

200ml (7fl oz) boiling water

1 teaspoon freshly grated ginger

35g (1 1/2oz) chopped dates or raisins, or half and half

1/2 teaspoon dry roasted cumin seeds, crushed

1/4 – 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper, or to taste

salt to taste

Mix the tamarind with the boiling water, cover and soak for 30 minutes. Press the tamarind pulp through a fine sieve extracting all the paste, add the ginger, stir and then put the dates and/or raisins.  Mix well, then add the freshly ground cumin, cayenne and salt to taste.  Keeps for 3-4 weeks.

Tamarind Water

Tamarind lends a distinctive sour taste, helping to balance out the sweet, salty and hot flavours so often found in Asian cooking. I buy the whole pod, keep it in a sealed container in the fridge and break off little pieces as I need them. To use, the pieces are soaked in hot water to cover for 20 minutes. The water takes on the tamarind flavour and it is this that you use once it has been strained. Press the tamarind pulp in your strainer to extract as much flavour as possible.

Top Tip

Martha sometimes adds 2 quartered ripe tomatoes just before serving.

Soda Bread Deep Pan Pizza

The idea to use Soda Bread as a base for a pizza was born out of desperation one day when I needed to whip up a dish of something filling and delicious in no time at all for a few hungry lads.  It can be as simple as a topping of grated mature Cheddar cheese and scallions or well-seasoned cherry tomatoes, a few basil leaves and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil.  This recipe is taken from my ‘One Pot Feeds All’ published by Kyle Books. 

Serves 6-8

450g (1lb) plain white flour, plus extra for kneading and rolling

1 level teaspoon bicarbonate of soda

1 level teaspoon sea salt

375–400ml (13-14fl oz) buttermilk


extra virgin olive oil, for brushing

1/2 – 1 tablespoon chopped rosemary

50g (2oz) pepperoni or chorizo, diced into 5mm (1/4 inch)

350g (12oz) Tomato Fondue or chopped fresh or tinned tomatoes mixed with seasoning/spices

8 bocconcini, halved

15g (1/2oz) Parmesan cheese, grated

lots of snipped flat-leaf parsley

Fully preheat the oven to 230°C/450°F/Gas Mark 8.

Sift the flour, bicarbonate of soda and salt into a large bowl. Make a well in the centre. Pour in 375ml (13fl oz) of the buttermilk and, using one hand, mix in the flour from the sides of the bowl. Mix to a softish, not too wet and sticky consistency, adding more buttermilk if necessary. When it all comes together, turn out the dough onto a floured board, knead lightly for a few seconds, tidy it up and flip it over.

Brush a roasting tin, approx. 31 x 23 x 5cm (12 x 9 x 2 inch), with olive oil. Roll out the dough lightly to fit the tin and sprinkle with rosemary. Scatter the diced chorizo evenly over the surface. Spread a layer of tomato fondue over the chorizo and arrange some halved bocconcini on top. Sprinkle with grated Parmesan.

Transfer the tray to the fully preheated oven on a low rack and bake for an initial 15 minutes. Then reduce the heat to 200°C/400°F/Gas Mark 6 and bake for a further 20–25 minutes or until the dough is cooked and it’s golden and bubbly on top.

Sprinkle with the parsley sprigs and serve with a good green salad.

Other tasty toppings

’Nduja and Bocconcini

Follow the main recipe, omitting the rosemary and replacing the chorizo with 100g (31/2oz) ‘nduja mixed with 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, to make it easier to spread.   Sprinkle with fresh marjoram to serve.

Follow the main recipe, omitting the rosemary and replacing the chorizo.

Pesto and Parmesan

Follow the main recipe, omit the rosemary and chorizo and replace the tomato fondue with 3 tablespoons of loose basil or wild garlic pesto. Top with 110–150g (4-5oz) grated mozzarella or 110–150g (4-5oz) soft goat’s cheese and 15g (1/2oz) grated Parmesan.

Tapenade and Soft Goat’s Cheese

Follow the main recipe, omitting the rosemary and chorizo and replacing the tomato fondue with 3 tablespoons of tapenade, and the mozzarella with 110–150g (4-5oz) blobs of soft goat’s cheese.

Spiced Aubergine

Follow the main recipe, omitting the rosemary and chorizo and replacing with 6-8 tablespoons of Spiced Aubergine.

Cheddar Cheese and Spring Onion

Follow the main recipe, omitting the chorizo and replacing the rosemary with 4 tablespoons of sliced spring onions and the Parmesan with 100g (3 1/2oz) grated mature Cheddar cheese.

Plum or DamsonClafoutis

Clafoutis is a sort of fluffy custard, a base for whatever seasonal fruit you can lay your hands on: rhubarb or gooseberries are delicious, but you need to adjust the sugar. This one is made with stone-in plums or you can use damsons. I often have rose geranium or mint sugar in a jar – this also makes a delicious sprinkle. Use 500g (18oz) of blackcurrants… delicious… 

Serves 8

15g (generous 1/2oz) softened butter, for greasing

5 organic, free-range eggs

100g (3 1/2oz) caster sugar

75g (3oz) plain white flour

115ml (generous 4fl oz) double cream

420ml (scant 15fl oz) whole milk

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon or 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

750g (1lb 10oz) Mirabelle plums or damsons or cherries, peaches, nectarines

or greengages, in season

25g (1oz) pistachio nuts, coarsely chopped or flaked almonds

icing or caster sugar, to sprinkle

softly whipped cream, to serve

Preheat the oven to 180°C/350˚F/Gas Mark 4 and grease a 28cm (11 inch) round baking dish or similar with softened butter.

Whisk the eggs with the caster sugar in a mixing bowl. Sift in the flour, pour in the cream and milk, and add the cinnamon or vanilla extract. Whisk together to form a smooth batter
with no lumps.

Pour half the batter into the buttered dish. Scatter the Mirabelle plums or damsons on top. (I leave the stones in, but you could de-stone them if you wish. If using cherries or greengages, you can scatter them over whole, or stone them if you prefer; peaches or nectarines are best halved or quartered, depending on size.) Pour the remaining batter over the fruit.

Bake for 30–40 minutes, and then scatter with the pistachios or flaked almonds and continue to cook for a further 10 minutes until the clafoutis is puffed up and the nuts are golden. Sprinkle with icing or caster sugar and serve with lots of softly whipped cream.

Northern Ireland

Anyone who has experienced the chaos in so many airports this Summer, to get to their longed-for holiday destination, may well have questioned whether it’s really worth the effort.  Having battled to get there, many were sizzled alive at temperatures from mid-30˚C to 40˚C…

Been there, done that too so from now on, whenever I can snatch a few precious days, I’m determined to explore parts of Ireland hitherto not visited.  I haven’t been to the North since before the pandemic so let me tell you about a recent trip to the Mourne Mountain area in Co. Down.  It’s such a beautiful area, a hill walkers paradise but I was also on a food trail. 

The Northern Ireland artisan producer scene has exploded since peace was restored in 1998 and Government funded organisations in different regions have been generous in their support of those with a spark of entrepreneurial spirit. 
Mourne Mountains and Ring of Guillion plus Savour Mourne were also very supportive with information on where to visit in the area.  Killeavy Castle Estate has been saved from an advanced state of dereliction and restored by an Australian couple Mick and Robyn Boyle with a connection to the area.  It’s set in the midst of a 330-acre farm, woodlands and walled gardens.  Young chef, Darragh Dooley is super enthusiastic about local produce and is on a mission to use as much produce as possible from the estate – beef from the longhorn cattle, lamb from the flock of Cheviot sheep, vegetables, fruits, fresh herbs…a work-in-progress but an admirable aspiration… ( 

Darragh and his kitchen team cooked us a delicious lunch where I also met several local producers, Damien Tumulty rears Dexter cattle and sells online from Castlescreen Farm ( , Andrew Boyd makes a range of award-winning ciders at Kilmegan when he’s not teaching rowing ( ).  Another local entrepreneur Brendan Carty set up Killowen Distillery in 2019 – he makes whiskey, gin, rum, liqueurs and poitín.  There are so many good things to taste and explore in this area –

Ann Ward, a medic, set up meditation and mindfulness Xhale Experience Yoga and forest bathing – how about that for a fun and restorative experience (

We also tasted several Northern Ireland artisan cheeses – Young Buck – a delicious, feisty blue made by cheese pioneer, Mike Thompson and Ballylisk Tripple Rose made by the Wright family from the milk of their pedigree Holstein herd.  The sweet and nutty soda bread was served with local honey and treacle. 

A few miles along the road in Castlewellan, another highlight…this time, an artisan brewery tour.  The Whitewater Brewing Company was established in 1996 by Bernard and Kerrie Sloan – on a 5th generation family farm.  This dynamic, innovative couple are making some of the best artisan beer on the island of Ireland.  They have also been super courageous in their business decisions investing with ‘fingers crossed’ in a bottling plant and later a canning plant that has been a huge success and has opened up many more options.   Their completely natural beers are gluten-free and vegan friendly and have won top awards here and abroad are now exported not just to France, Italy and Sweden but also to Japan.  Their latest venture is an interesting range of Selzers which will be launched in September.  Their enthusiasm was irresistible and infectious.  Visit them when you are in the area or get 3 or 4 pals together to spend a day learning how to make a ‘wee brew’ together in the Brew School –

We enjoyed a spectacular dinner cooked by multi award-winning chef Paul Cunningham who cooks at secret locations.  He popped up at Carrick Cottage Café in Annalong.  Carrick Cottage Café is really worth seeking out on any day (

Apart from all of this, the rugged landscape and granite stone walls in the Mournes and the long drive along the coast is truly spectacular – an exciting new discovery for me as was the charming little Hillyard Hotel in Castlewellan (

Here are some of the recipes I enjoyed on my trip…

Granny Mary’s Wheaten Bread

Makes 18 x 7cm (2.5 inch) squares

Feel free to use half the recipe and use a smaller tin

1 large rectangular tin with edges 32cm/13 inch (length) x 23cm/9 inch (width) x 5cm/2 inch in depth

1kg (2 1/4lb) wholemeal flour

200g (7oz) porridge oats

25g (1 tablespoon) salt

15-20g (3-4 teaspoons) bread soda

2 eggs

100ml (3 1/2oz) olive oil

75ml (3 tablespoons) treacle

50g (3 tablespoons) caster sugar

110g (6 tablespoons) coarse pinhead oatmeal

1200ml (2 pints) buttermilk

75g (3oz) mixed sunflower and pumpkin seeds

Preheat the oven to 175˚C/325˚F/Gas Mark 3.

Oil the sides and base of the tin and line with parchment paper.

In a large bowl mix flour, oats, salt, bread soda, sugar and pinhead together and mix by hand until combined. In another bowl whisk the eggs add the treacle and olive oil and buttermilk.  Whisk to combine. Make a well in the centre of the dry ingredients, pour in the wet ingredients and mix to a soft dough.

Pour the mix into the lined tin. Sprinkle with 75g (3oz) of mixed seeds.

Bake in the preheated oven for 75 minutes.

Remove from oven take out of tin and bake for 10 more minutes.  Cool on a wire rack.

Best served warm with some unsalted butter.

Adapted from Killeavy Castle Estate (August 2022)


Darragh tells me ‘our wheaten bread is best eaten between 1 to 3 days after baking but it freezes brilliantly’.

Mourne Food Adventures Nana’s No Bake Fifteens

Makes 1 roll

A twist on the traditional Ulster traybake using local foraged and artisan ingredients. This recipe is handed down from my grandmother who emigrated to Wyoming USA in the 1930s when provisions were scarce.

gorse or whin bush flowers or cornflowers in Summer

40g (generous 1 1/2oz) handpicked rosemary

Homemade Shortbread made with:

125g (4 1/2oz) Aberthney butter

55g (2 1/4oz) caster sugar

180g (6 1/4oz) Morton’s plain flour

80g (3 1/4oz) NeargNogs old fashioned Irish chocolate – NearyNogs chocolate is a small batch crafted on the Mourne Coast

80g (3 1/4oz) hazelnuts, chopped

20ml (3/4fl oz) milk

100-125g (3 1/2 – 4oz) of white chocolate

Crumble the shortbread until it looks like fine crumbs.

Chop the hazelnuts and chocolate into small bites, mix with the shortbread.

Chop rosemary and whin petals (or cornflowers).

Add to shortbread mix.

Grate white chocolate and leave aside.

Stir in milk slowly and mix to soft dough.

Shape into sausage shape and chill.

Lay grated white chocolate onto greaseproof.

Remove the dough from the parchment.  Roll in the grated chocolate.  Slice into rounds.

Refrigerate until firm

Serve with a hot cup of tea!

Irish Bannock

A delicious fruity soda bread, traditional to both Scotland and Northern Ireland. It resembles a giant scone. Enjoy it freshly cooked, in thick slices, slathered with butter.

Most recipes I’ve come across include currants but some use raisins or sultanas.

Makes 1

450g (1lb) plain white flour, preferably unbleached

1 level teaspoon bicarbonate of soda

1 level teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons sugar

75g (3oz) currants or raisins or sultanas

1 organic egg

about 350 – 425ml (12-14fl oz) buttermilk

Preheat the oven to 220°C/425°F/Gas Mark 7.

In a large mixing bowl, sieve in the flour and bicarbonate of soda; then add the salt, sugar and sultanas. Mix well by lifting the flour and fruit up into your hands and then letting them fall back into the bowl through your fingers. This adds more air and therefore more lightness to your finished bread. Now make a well in the centre of the flour mixture. Break the egg into the base of a measuring jug and add the buttermilk to the 425ml (14fl oz) line (the egg is part of the liquid measurement). Pour most of this milk and egg mixture into the flour.

Using one hand with the fingers open and stiff, mix in a full circle drawing in the flour mixture from the sides of the bowl, adding more milk if necessary. The dough should be softish, but not too wet and sticky.

The trick with bannock like all soda breads, is not to over mix the dough. Mix it as quickly and gently as possible, thus keeping it light and airy. When it all comes together, turn it out onto a well-floured worked surface.  WASH AND DRY YOUR HANDS. Roll around gently with floury hands for a second, just enough to tidy it up. Flip over and flatten slightly to about 5cm (2 inches) approx. Transfer to a baking tray lightly dusted with flour.   Cut the surface with a deep cross and once again if you would like 8 wedges.  Let the cuts go over the sides of the bread to make sure of this inches deep.  Put into the oven and immediately reduce the temperature to 200°C/400°F/Gas Mark 6. Cook for 35-40 minutes. If you are in doubt about the bread being cooked, tap the bottom: if it is cooked it will sound hollow. This bread is cooked at a lower temperature than soda bread because the egg browns faster at a higher heat.

Serve freshly baked, cut into thick slices and smeared with butter and jam.

Diana Kennedy

Diana Kennedy, the famously feisty British born cook and food writer who  dedicated the great part of her career to seeking out and documenting the richness and diversity of Mexican cuisine has died at the age of 99. 

Diana whom I was fortunate to know always said that she didn’t want to live to be over 100.  I visited her in her beloved Michoacan in Western Mexico in 2013.  When she moved to Mexico City from New York in her 30’s, she met and fell in love with Paul Kennedy, the great love of her life who was the New York Times correspondent for Mexico.  She became intrigued by the diversity of Mexican food and when he died in 1967, she continued to travel and drove thousands of miles backwards and forwards across the country in her ancient ‘pick-up’ truck to research regional cuisine.  She’d talk to street vendors, stallholders in the markets and ask how do you do this or cook that.  She watched, cooked with them in their simple kitchens and always credited those who taught her dishes in many books.  Her books appealed both to home cooks and chefs.  She was described as ‘the Indiana Jones of Mexican Food’ by Spanish chef and philanthropist José Andréas.

Her first book ‘The Cuisines of Mexico’ was a revelation to those English-speaking readers who hitherto had only tasted the TexMex food.  Thanks to Diana, they discovered the extraordinary richness and biodiversity of regional Mexican food through her many books.

I met Diana several times, first in Oaxaca at an IACP (International Association of Culinary Professionals) regional conference.  She later came to Ireland in 2014 to speak and teach at the Ballymaloe Lit Fest.  People flew in from all over the world to attend her class.  At that time, she was 91, a force of nature dressed in black leather…

She loved Ireland but my happiest memories of Diana were several days spent at her beautiful adobe house, built around a boulder in the midst of her eco-garden and farm in Zitacuaro.  Even in her late 80’s and 90’s, she produced most of her own organic food, vegetables and fruit, grew her own fresh herbs, coffee, chillies, epazote (Mexican aromatic herb), watercress, raspberries…It was like the Garden of Eden on a very rugged site.

We went to the market, cooked together and then feasted at a little table in the garden close to the kitchen.  Her solar oven and plate warmer close by.  Plastic bags were drying on the branches of the shrubs.  Diana hated lots of things; she hated waste and reused plastic over and over again.  She hated pesticides, genetically modified food, industrialised tortillas…she was outraged that Mexico, the home of corn, was importing corn from the US.  She mourned the loss of taste, how right she was…

Her home was powered by solar and wind energy.  In ‘Nothing Fancy’, a documentary about her life made in 2020, she described her garden as her ‘jewel box’. 

Her influence was immense; she won many accolades including the Mexican Order of the Aztec Eagles, the country’s highest award for foreigners.  Like so many others, I feel fortunate that our paths crossed in  life – what a legacy she has left us all.  Her home in Michoacan will become a centre for Mexican food studies.

When she died, Arturo Sarukhán, a former Mexican Ambassador to the US, described her death as a huge loss for Mexico, the UK and Mexican gastronomy’.  She changed the narrative and perception of Mexican cuisine from a bland mish-mash of TexMex to a sophisticated tapestry of regional cuisines as rich as any in China, India, France or Italy.

Here are a few recipes Diana shared at the Ballymaloe Lit Fest in 2014. 

A Whole Fish with Mexican Spices

Pescado en Macum

It is much more common for a housewife to use a whole fish than fillets. You could use a whole grouper or snapper or thick fillets from either fish. They should be cooked in one layer.

Serves 6

1.1kg (2 1/2lbs) fillets of fish about 2.5cm (1 inch) thick, cut into 6 servings

125ml (4 1/2fl oz) fresh lime juice mixed with 225ml (8fl oz) water

1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds

12 peppercorns

1 tablespoon dried oregano

6 garlic cloves, peeled

2 teaspoons achiote paste

salt to taste

4 – 6 tablespoons of bitter orange juice or substitute (see recipe below)

6 tablespoons of olive oil

1 medium white onion, thinly sliced

450g (1lb) tomatoes, thinly sliced

2 x-cat-ik chiles, grilled

banana leaves to cover (optional)

Rinse the fish with the lime juice and water and pat dry. In a coffee or spice grinder, grind together the cumin, peppercorns and oregano. Crush 2 cloves of the garlic, add the ground spices and achiote paste with salt and mix well. Dilute to spreading consistency with the orange juice. Spread this on both sides of the fish and set aside to season for at least 30 minutes.

Heat the oil in a skillet that will hold the fish on one layer. Fry the remaining 4 cloves of garlic for about 30 seconds or until golden, remove from the oil and discard. Add the fish and fry for about 3 minutes on each side. Remove and set aside. Add the onions to the pan and fry for a few seconds – they should not brown – add the tomatoes and fry over fairly high heat for 3 minutes. Put the fish back into the pan, add the x-cat-ik chiles and cook, covered over a gentle heat for about 15 minutes or until the fish is just tender. I like to set it aside for about 10 minutes before serving to develop flavour.

Bitter Orange Substitute

Makes about 125ml (4 1/2fl oz)

2 tablespoons fresh grapefruit juice

2 tablespoons fresh orange juice

1 teaspoon finely grated grapefruit rind

65ml (2 1/2fl oz) fresh lime juice

Mix everything together thoroughly about 1 hour before using. Keep in the refrigerator, tightly sealed, no more than 3 or 4 days.

Recipe taken from ‘My Mexico’ – copyright Diana Kennedy

Chicken in Peanut Sauce

Pollo en Salsa de Cacahuate (Señora Letica Castro)

Central Mexico

I was having tea one afternoon with Señora Letica Castro, who has a great reputation as a cook. During a discussion of the food of Oaxaca, she called in one of her maids who was from Oaxaca and asked her to dictate some of her favourite recipes to us. This she did, without a moment’s hesitation and without needing to correct a quantity or ingredient. Here it is just as she gave it to us – a most interesting and delicious way of preparing chicken. The sauce is not very picante. There should be a pleasant “afterglow” from the chiles.

Serves 6

2kgs (4 1/2lbs) chicken parts

1 teaspoon salt, or to taste

freshly ground black pepper

4 – 5 tablespoons fresh lime juice

1 medium white onion, cut into 4 pieces

2 garlic cloves, unpeeled

2.5cm (1 inch) piece of cinnamon stick

6 peppercorns

6 whole cloves

315ml (10 1/2fl oz) raw (unroasted, unsalted) peanuts, measured shelled and with papery husks removed

450g (1lb) tomatoes, broiled

4 chipotle chiles en vinagre or adobo, or to taste

3 tablespoons vegetable oil or rendered chicken fat

500ml (18fl oz) water

Sprinkle the chicken with salt, pepper and the lime juice and set aside to season while you prepare the sauce.

Heat a small, ungreased frying pan and toast the onion and garlic until soft. Peel the garlic. Toss the spices in the hot pan to toast them lightly and then toast the peanuts until they are golden.

Put the unskinned tomatoes, chiles and the toasted ingredients, except the peanuts, into a blender and blend until quite smooth, gradually add the peanuts and add a little water only if necessary to release the blades of the blender. Heat the oil or chicken fat in a heavy casserole and fry the chicken pieces, a few at a time, until golden brown. Remove the chicken from the frying pan and set aside. There should be about 65ml (2 1/2fl oz) of oil in the pan. Remove or make up to that amount. Reheat the oil and fry the blended ingredients over medium heat for 3 minutes, constantly stirring and scraping from the bottom of the pan. Lower the heat and let the sauce cook for about 15 minutes longer, continuing to scrape the bottom of the pan from time to time.

Add the chicken pieces and the 500ml (18fl oz) of water. Adjust the seasoning and cook over low heat until the chicken is tender – 35 to 40 minutes. The sauce will thicken – it should lightly cover the back of a wooden spoon – and pools of oil will form on the surface.

Serve the chicken with plenty of sauce, accompanied by small, boiled potatoes.

Note: this dish can be prepared several hours ahead. Surprisingly it freezes very well and will keep for about 2 weeks.                                                                     

Recipe taken from ‘The Essential Cuisines of Mexico’ – copyright Diana Kennedy

Guacamole Chamacuero

Makes about 750ml (1 pint 5fl oz)

2 heaped tablespoons finely chopped onion (sharp not sweet)

2-3 (or to taste) serrano chiles, finely chopped

sea salt to taste

500ml (18fl oz) roughly crushed avocado pulp

188ml (3/4 cup) finely diced ripe, but not too soft, peeled peaches

125ml (1/2 cup) halved seedless grapes

1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lime juice

83ml (1/3 cup) pomegranate seeds

Crush the onion, chile and salt to a paste. Stir in the avocado pulp, peaches, grapes, lime juice and half the pomegranate seeds. Mix well and sprinkle the surface with the remaining seeds.

Ideally serve with warm corn tortillas.

Note: In Mexico we spell chile like this and not chilli.

Pineapple and Banana Dessert

Cajeta de Piña y Plãtano

Serves 6

This is a thick, dark paste of fruit with an unusual and refreshing flavour.  Whenever I make it, I think of Luz, our first Mexican maid.  Although she came only to clean for a few brief periods each week, somehow, she managed to give me my first Mexican cooking lesson.  At that time I didn’t think to ask her where she had come across this recipe, and I had never been able to find it in any cookbook, or find anyone else who knew of it, at least in Mexico City.  But one day, I was reading through a book I had just acquired, Recetas Prácticas para la Señora de Casa published in Guadalajara in 1895, and there it was.

375ml (13fl oz) dark brown sugar

750ml (1 pint 5fl oz) water

5cm (2 inch) piece of cinnamon stick

1 pineapple, about 1.8kg (4lbs)

900g (2lbs) bananas (not too ripe)

5cm (2 inch) piece of cinnamon stick, broken in half

juice and zest of 1/2 lime

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

Bring the brown sugar, water and cinnamon to the boil in a heavy pan and let them continue to boil fast for 20 minutes.  The liquid will have reduced to about 625ml (1 pint 1fl oz).  Remove the cinnamon stick. 

Clean and dice the fruit and blend it with the syrup to a medium texture.  Pour the mixture into a shallow ovenproof dish, ideally not much more than 7.5cm (3 inches) deep and stir in the broken cinnamon stick and lime juice and zest.  Place the dish in the oven and let the mixture cook for about 4 hours.  From time to time, scrape the mixture from the sides of the dish and stir it well.  This is particularly important towards the end of the cooking period.

When the mixture is thick, sticky and a rich, dark brown, transfer it to a small serving dish and glaze it quickly under the broiler (grill).  Set it aside to cool.  Serve the cajeta with queso fresco or thick sour cream.


This should keep for 10-15 days in the refrigerator – but I doubt whether that will be necessary.  I’m afraid I always dip a finger into it each time I open the refrigerator door.  I don’t suggest freezing. 

Recipe taken from ‘The Essential Cuisines of Mexico’ – copyright Diana Kennedy

Summer Foraging

I’m sitting in my little garden in an enormous Adirondack chair sipping a glass of watermelon lemonade, the birds are twittering in the trees and the sun is beaming down – a lovely moment to be treasured.

But it sounds like there are tough times ahead of us this winter.  The cost of everything seems to be skyrocketing, who knows what’s ahead, but it will certainly be challenging and as ever, those less fortunate will be most heavily impacted.  Tough decisions to be made on how to allocate the weekly budget but whatever happens, let’s try to continue to feed ourselves and our families wholesome, nourishing food but that doesn’t need to be fancy or expensive.

I’ve written many times in this column about the importance of learning to be thrifty and mastering practical life skills.  Already many of us are questioning virtually everything we do, not a bad idea, do we need to use the spin dryer, how about putting up a washing line – I love hanging clothes out in the breeze and dashing out to bring them in before it rains – a blast from the past…

Question everything in your shopping trolley too and tot up how much you save.  Learn to recognise foods from the wild, they are bursting with goodness, much flavourful and more nutritious than virtually anything on the supermarket shelf because they haven’t been adapted to produce maximum yield at minimum cost.  Buy a book on foraging or go for a ramble with a knowledgeable friend.  If you are fortunate to be within a reasonable distance of upland areas or dry woodlands or scrubby mountains, how about collecting some wild bilberries.  For years we got baskets of wild blueberries or fraughans at Ballymaloe from the Knockmealdown Mountains.  Traditionally, the Celtic festival of Lughnasa on the last weekend in July was known as Frauchán Sunday.

These wild bilberries are really worth seeking out, the berries are smaller and tarter but truly delicious crushed with sugar then smothered with cream.  We requested them as one of the desserts, with carrageen moss pudding for our ‘wedding breakfast’.  If you have a glut – remember they freeze brilliantly. 

Wild blueberries grow on scritchy low growing shrubs and boast nearly twice as many oxidants as their cultivated counterparts.  So seek out some of these free foods and let’s build resilience for times ahead, it’s not too late to grow some of your own food for the Autumn and Winter.  Even if you don’t have a garden or raised bed, you’ be surprised how much you can grow in large containers on your patio or balcony.  Check out GIY Ireland for a myriad of terrific tips. 

Wild watercress and sea spinach are easier to find and there will be damsons, sloes and wild hazelnuts in early autumn.  There’s a fantastic crop of nuts this year but they won’t be ripe until late September so keep an eye out and bring children with you so they can have fun learning the skills of recognising food in the wild – Nature’s bounty to all of us.

Sea Spinach and Rosemary Soup

The trick with these green soups is not to add the greens until the last minute, otherwise they will overcook, and the soup will lose its fresh taste and bright green colour. For a simple spinach soup, omit the rosemary and add a little freshly grated nutmeg with the seasoning.

Serves 6-8

50g (2oz) butter

110g (4oz) onion, peeled and chopped

150g (5oz) potatoes, peeled and chopped

600ml (1 pint) homemade chicken stock, vegetable stock or water

425-600ml (15fl oz – 1 pint) creamy milk (1/4 cream and 3/4 milk)

salt and freshly ground pepper

225-350g (8-12oz) sea spinach or sea beet, destalked and chopped

1 tablespoon fresh rosemary, chopped


2 tablespoons whipped cream (optional)

sprig of rosemary or rosemary flowers

Melt the butter in a heavy-bottomed saucepan. When it foams add the onions and potatoes and turn them until well coated. Sprinkle with salt and freshly ground pepper. Cover and sweat on a gentle heat for 10 minutes. Add the boiling stock and milk, bring back to the boil and simmer until the potatoes and onions are fully cooked. Add the sea spinach and boil with the lid off for about 4-5 minutes, until the sea spinach is tender. Do not overcook or the soup will lose its fresh green colour.  Add the chopped rosemary.

Liquidise and taste.  Serve in warm bowls garnished with a blob of whipped cream and a sprig of rosemary. If you have a pretty rosemary bush in bloom, sprinkle a few flowers over the top for extra pzazz.

Good to Know

If you need to reheat a green soup, do so at the last minute. If it sits in a saucepan or bain-marie for ages it will lose its lively colour.

Butterfly Sandwiches

Sounds very grand but they are simply Watercress sandwiches cut into triangles – a favourite supper or picnic food when we picked watercress in the Chapel Meadows behind the church outside the little village of Cullohill in County Laois where I spent my childhood.

Makes 2

a bunch of fresh watercress

4 slices of a good white pan loaf


flaky sea salt

Slather the thinly sliced bread generously with butter.  Wash, dry and chop the watercress coarsely. 

Spread an even layer of chopped watercress,  about 1cm (1/2 inch) thick onto the slice,  should be about the same thickness as the bread.  Sprinkle with flaky sea salt and a grind of black pepper.  Top with the second slice, press down, trim the crust and cut into triangles. 

Enjoy the butterfly sandwiches soon, also delicious with an extra layer of cucumber slices – perfect for afternoon tea…

Chicory, Watercress, Apple and Hazelnut Salad

The Irish apple season has begun, we’ve got an abundance of Beauty of Bath apples this year too.  I love to put them into salads.  The dressing for this salad doesn’t need a robust flavour, use a light olive oil.

a handful of whole unblanched hazelnuts

2 bunches watercress

2 bulbs chicory

4 medium sized tart/sweet crisp apples


2 tablespoons cider vinegar

pinch of salt

6 tablespoons light olive oil

To Serve

a small bunch of chives cut into inch or so lengths

Maldon sea salt

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

Toss the hazelnuts in a little oil and a sprinkle of salt and roast in a hot  oven until toasty brown.  Leave to cool. Break them into coarse pieces with a rolling pin

Make the dressing in a large mixing bowl; mix the vinegar and a pinch of salt along with the light olive oil.

Remove the more fibrous stalks from the watercress and separate the leaves of chicory. Cut the apples into slim wedges, removing the core with a sharp knife.

Just before serving.

Gently toss the chicory, watercress and apple in the dressing and transfer to a serving dish. Sprinkle liberally with the broken hazelnuts and chives and a pinch of Maldon sea salt. 

Pickled Samphire

Originally samphire was just pickled in a solution of 3 parts vinegar to 1 part water and a little salt, but of course one can add flavours, spices, herbs…

225g (8oz) fresh samphire

1 bay leaf

600ml (1 pint) wine or apple vinegar

1 dessertspoon sugar

10 peppercorns

2 teaspoons coriander seeds

1 sprig thyme

Put all the ingredients for the pickle into a stainless-steel saucepan, bring to the boil for 4-5 minutes.

Meanwhile, pick over and wash the samphire, blanch in boiling water for 1-2 minutes.

Pack in sterilized jars.  Cover with pickle, cover tightly. 

Store in a dark place and allow to mellow for 2 weeks before using.  It will keep for a year or more but its best eaten sooner.

Delicious with cold mutton or lamb, in sandwiches, add a little to mayonnaise to serve with fish.

Wild Blueberry and Rose Geranium Sugar Bites

Everyone should have a sweet geranium plant on their windowsill.  It’s got a haunting lemony scent and flavour and a variety of names.  Pelargonium Graveolens is the Latin name.   Cut this delectable ‘tray bake’ into bites.  This recipe will become a favourite. 

Makes 24

175g (6oz) soft butter

150g (5oz) caster sugar

2 large eggs, preferably free range

175g (6oz) self-raising flour

2 tablespoons freshly chopped sweet or rose geranium

225g (8oz) wild blueberries (blackberries or raspberries may also be used)

Rose Geranium Sugar

50g (2oz) caster sugar

1 tablespoon of freshly chopped rose or sweet geranium

25.5 x 18cm (10 x 7 inch) Swiss roll tin, well-greased or lined with parchment paper

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

Put the butter, caster sugar, eggs and self-raising flour and chopped sweet geranium into a food processor. Whizz for just a few seconds to amalgamate.  It should be softish – add a little milk if necessary.   Spread evenly in the well-buttered tin.  Sprinkle the blueberries (blackberries or raspberries if using) as evenly as possible over the top. 

Bake in the preheated oven for 25-30 minutes approx. or until golden brown and well risen.

Allow to cool slightly, sprinkle with caster sugar whizzed with leaves of rose geranium. Serve in squares.


In Winter when the butter is harder to cream, it may be necessary to add 2-3 tablespoons of milk to lighten the mixture and texture.

Ice-Cream with Crushed Blueberries

If you aren’t fortunate enough to find the wild ones, look out for the plump and delicious Irish cultivated blueberries which are in the shops at present.

Serves 6-8

350g (14oz) whole unsweetened natural yoghurt

75g (3oz) caster sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

125ml (4 1/2fl oz) cream

Put the yoghurt and sugar into a bowl. Add the vanilla extract and mix well.  Stir in the cream and freeze in an ice-cream machine if you have one. Otherwise an excellent result is achieved by simply freezing it as it is.  Serve with crushed blueberries. 

Crushed Fraughans or Blueberries

fraughans or blueberries

caster sugar

softly whipped cream

Crush the berries with a pounder or potato masher and sweeten to taste with caster sugar. 

Watermelon Lemonade

Serve well chilled. 

110g (4oz) sugar

110ml (4fl oz) water

600g (1 1/4lbs) cubed watermelon

675ml (1 pint 3fl oz) cold water

110ml (4fl oz) fresh lemon juice

Place the watermelon into a blender. Cover and purée until smooth, then strain through a fine mesh sieve.

Next bring the sugar and water to a boil in a saucepan over a medium heat until the sugar dissolves, about 5 minutes. Remove from the heat. Stir in the cold water and  lemon juice. Put lots of ice cubes into 12 glasses, scoop 2 or 3 tablespoons of watermelon purée over the ice, then top with the lemonade.

Gently stir before serving.


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