Winter Walks


Ireland has so many exciting walks to choose from through the forest and woodlands, over the hills, by the seashore…
Songs have been sung and poems have been written about the joy of a winter walk through the frosty countryside. I love John Clare’s poem and Thoreau’s Winter Walk essay and then there’s the Canadian poet Lynette Robert’s ‘Winter Walk’ and Christina Umpfenbach’s poem of the same name.
When it’s frosty and cold outside, it’s tempting just to curl up by the fire, but good to remember that exposure to the cold conditions can actually boost the immune system and makes us more resilient to seasonal colds and flu provided we are well wrapped up, pull out those mitts and woolly hat…
Nature has a calming effect – I’m sure you’ve noticed how a good walk lifts your mood, boosts energy and appetite, and combats Winter blues…it’s a natural antidote to winter melancholy. And hey, think of all the calories we burn off, while our body works even harder to keep warm, no bad thing after Christmas. So, don’t let the cold deter you, let’s embrace the winter chill!
Grab your rucksack, pack a little picnic, how about filling a flask with something hot and comforting, could be a chunky soup or how about mulled wine or spicy mulled apple juice. I’ve got a simple formula, pour a 700ml bottle of pure apple juice into a stainless steel saucepan, followed by 750ml of water. Add thin strips of rind from an orange, preferably organic. Toss in 8 whole cloves, 3 small cinnamon sticks, 75g of golden caster sugar, 6 allspice of pimento berries, and a half teaspoon of freshly grated nutmeg. Warm gently, taste, it may need a little more sugar – pour it into a hot flask and off you go.  Leftovers will keep in the fridge and can of course be reheated for up to a week, but you’ll have drunk it by then!  Enjoy.
But now we also want something to look forward to when we arrive home, maybe chilled and ravenous from a bracing walk.
Here are three chunky one pot stews to look forward to, each benefit from being cooked ahead so you can also invite a few of your walking buddies to join you for a convivial supper around the kitchen table….

Lamb and Pearl Barley Stew and Fresh Herb Gremolata 

Just the thing to warm the cockles of your heart after a frosty walk. A substantial pot of stew fortified with pearl barley, this is really good with lots of gremolata sprinkled over the top. It is a variation of Irish stew, which is the quintessential one-pot dish – the pearl barley doesn’t just ‘spin out’ the stew but it also boosts the nutrient levels and the goodness. The recipe for the original Ballymaloe version can be found in my Forgotten Skills of Cooking book.

Serves 8-10

350g piece of green streaky bacon (blanched if salty)

1.8kg gigot or rack chops from the shoulder of lamb, not less than 2.5cm thick

well-seasoned plain flour, for dusting

a little extra virgin olive oil, for frying

350g mushrooms, thinly sliced

700g whole, small onions – baby ones are nicest

350g carrots, peeled and thickly sliced

150g parsnips, peeled and thickly sliced

350-400g pearl barley

approx. 2.8 litres homemade lamb or chicken stock

sprig of thyme

flaky sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the Gremolata

4 tbsp chopped mixed herbs, such as flat-leaf parsley, chervil and mint

2 garlic cloves, finely chopped

1 generous tsp grated or finely chopped organic lemon zest

flaky sea salt, to taste

Preheat the oven to 180°C/Gas Mark 4.

First make the stew. Cut the rind off the bacon and cut into approx. 1cm cubes. Divide the lamb into 8 pieces and roll in the well-seasoned flour.

Heat a little oil in a 25cm (3.2-litre casserole) over a medium heat and sauté the bacon until crisp. Remove to a plate. Sauté the mushrooms, season well and set aside. Add the lamb to the casserole in batches, with a little more olive oil if necessary, and sauté until golden. Heat control is crucial here: the pan mustn’t burn, yet it must be hot enough to sauté the lamb. If the pan is too cool, the lamb will stew rather than sauté and as a result the meat may be tough. Remove the lamb to a plate. Add another splash of olive oil to the pan and sauté the onions, carrots and parsnips until golden. Return the bacon and lamb to the casserole, together with the pearl barley. Season well, pour in the stock, add the thyme and bring to a simmer. Cover with a lid and transfer to the oven for 1-1 ¼ hours until meltingly tender; the cooking time will depend on the age of the lamb and how long it was sautéed for. Add the mushrooms about 30 minutes before the end.

Meanwhile, make the gremolata. Mix together the chopped herbs and garlic in a small bowl, add the lemon zest and season to taste with a little flaky salt.

Once the casserole is cooked, remove the thyme and season to taste. Leave the casserole to sit for 15-30 minutes to allow the pearl barley to swell. (If necessary, the casserole can be reheated later in the day, or the next day.) Serve bubbling hot, sprinkled with the gremolata.

Sausage, Haricot or Flageolet Beans with Tomato and Rosemary

A gorgeous pot of bean stew, so warm and comforting for an autumn or winter supper. Use your favourite juicy heritage pork sausages

Serves 4-6

225g dried haricot, cannellini or flageolet beans (or 2 x 400g tins of cooked beans)

bouquet garni

1 carrot, peeled

1 onion, peeled

3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil, plus extra for frying

450g fennel and chilli pork sausages or best pork sausages 

175g chopped onion

4 large garlic cloves, crushed

1 x 400g tin of plum tomatoes, chopped

1 tbsp chopped rosemary

flaky sea salt, freshly ground black pepper and sugar

flat-leaf parsley or chervil, to serve

Soak the beans overnight in a large pan with plenty of cold water. Next day, strain the beans, discarding the soaking liquid, and return them to the pan. Cover with fresh cold water and add the bouquet garni, carrot and onion. Cover the pan with a lid and simmer for 30 minutes – 1 hour until the beans are soft, but not mushy. Just before the end of cooking, season with salt. Remove the bouquet garni and vegetables from the pan and discard. Drain the beans, reserving the cooking liquid.

Fry the sausages in a few drops of oil over a medium heat until nicely coloured and remove from the pan and set aside.

Heat the oil over a lowish heat in the same saucepan and cook the chopped onion for 7-8 minutes until soft but not coloured. Add the garlic and cook for a further minute or two before adding the chopped tomatoes and their juice, the cooked beans and the rosemary. Add the sausages and simmer for 5-6 minutes, adding some of the bean liquid if the sauce starts to dry out. Season well with salt, freshly ground black pepper and sugar. Cook for a further 5-6 minutes or until the sausages are heated through. The mixture should be juicy, but not swimming in liquid ­­­- if it starts to dry out, add more of the bean liquid.

To serve, scatter with plenty of parsley and accompany with a salad of organic leaves or crusty bread, if you wish.

Riffs on this delicious stew…. 

Gratin of Sausage, Haricot or Flageolet Beans with Tomato and Rosemary

Spoon the finished stew into a shallow ovenproof dish and scatter over 50g breadcrumbs mixed with 25g butter and 50g grated Cheddar cheese. Flash under the grill until crisp and golden on top.

Chorizo, Haricot or Flageolet Beans with Tomato and Rosemary with Chorizo or ‘Nduja

Omit the sausages and add 125g sliced chorizo or pieces of ‘nduja to the tomato base with the beans and rosemary.

Venison and Parsnip Stew

This stew becomes even more delicious and unctuous if you cook it the day before and reheat it the next day – as well as enhancing the flavour, cooking the venison in advance ensures that it is meltingly tender. If you are racing against the clock, just mix all the ingredients in the casserole, bring to the boil and simmer slowly until cooked. Baked potatoes work brilliantly with venison stew, but a layer of potatoes on top provides a wonderfully comforting meal in one pot. Scatter lots of fresh parsley over the potatoes before tucking in.

Serves 8-12

1.3kg shoulder of venison, trimmed and cut into 4cm cubes

50g plain flour, for dusting

2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

225g piece of fatty salted pork or green streaky bacon, cut into 4cm cubes

2 large onions, chopped

1 large carrot, diced

2 large parsnips, diced

1 large garlic clove, crushed

450ml homemade beef stock

bouquet garni

8-12 medium potatoes, peeled (optional)

a squeeze of organic lemon juice

flaky sea salt and freshly ground black pepper


300-350ml gutsy red wine

1 medium onion, sliced

3 tbsp brandy

3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

bouquet garni

Horseradish Sauce (optional)

To Serve

lots of chopped flat-leaf parsley

green vegetables, such as Brussels sprouts, calabrese or cabbage

First marinate the meat.

Season the cubes of venison with salt and pepper. Combine all of the ingredients for the marinade in a large bowl, add the venison and set aside to marinate for at least 1 hour, or better still overnight.

Preheat the oven to 150°C/Gas Mark 2.

Drain the meat, reserving the marinade, and pat dry with kitchen paper. Tip the flour onto a plate and season well. Turn the cubes of venison in the seasoned flour to coat on all sides.

Heat the oil in a 25cm (3.2 litre) casserole pan over a low heat, add the salted pork or bacon and cook for 4-5 minutes, stirring, until it starts to release its fat. Increase the heat to medium and fry the salted pork or bacon until golden brown. Transfer to a plate and set aside.

Add the venison to the casserole in batches and fry over a medium heat until nicely coloured on all sides. Avoid the temptation to increase the temperature or the fat will burn. Remove and set the batch aside while you colour the rest.

Toss the vegetables in the casserole, stir in the garlic and then add the pork or bacon and venison.

Pour off any surplus fat from the casserole and remove the meat and veg and set aside. Deglaze the casserole by pouring in the strained marinade. Bring to the boil, stirring to dissolve the crusty bits on the base, add the pork or bacon and vegetables back in.

Pour over enough stock to cover the meat and vegetables and put in the bouquet garni. Bring the casserole to a gentle simmer on the hob, then cover with a lid and transfer to the oven for 1 ½ hours.

Remove the casserole from the oven and cover the surface of the stew with the peeled whole medium potatoes. Season with salt and pepper. Cover the potatoes with a circle of greaseproof paper, and then the lid of the saucepan. Return the casserole to the oven and cook for a further 1 hour or until both the venison and potatoes are cooked.

Season to taste. As well as adding salt and pepper, I find it often needs a bit of acidity in the form of lemon juice or crab apple jelly, if available.

Scatter with lots of freshly chopped parsley and serve with a nice big dish of Brussels sprouts, calabrese or cabbage and some homemade horseradish sauce.

Venison and Parsnip Pie

This makes a delicious pie. Fill the cooked stew into one or two pie dishes. Cover with a generous layer of mashed potato or puff pastry.

Cauliflower Cheese Soufflé

From The Secret of Cooking by Bee Wilson published by 4th Estate

The food writer Elizabeth David described ‘an omelette and a glass of wine’ as an ideal solitary meal.  She was right (she usually was).  But on days you feel like some gentle kitchen therapy, a soufflé and a glass of wine is even better.  It’s far less work than you imagine (assuming you have a cheap electric hand whisk) but the ethereal airiness of soufflé makes dinner for one feel like a grand occasion.  Adding cauliflower to a cheese soufflé makes it a meal in one, but it’s even better with a green salad and some baguette.  I like to make this in a little 20cm Falcon enamelware pie dish, but if you have a small soufflé dish that would also work. Soufflé sounds posh but it is actually no pricier or trickier to make than a macaroni cheese.

Serves 1 

butter for greasing the dish, plus 10g more 

100g cauliflower (white parts only), cut into very small florets 

1 tbsp plain flour

80ml milk 

1 bay leaf (optional)

40g any strong hard cheese such as Parmesan, Gouda, Cheddar or Gruyère, grated 

a grating of nutmeg 

a pinch of cayenne 

1 egg yolk 

2 egg whites 

a few black sesame seeds (optional)

Rub butter around the inside of your pie or soufflé dish.  

Preheat the oven to 200°C fan/Gas Mark 6. 

Cook the cauliflower in boiling salted water for 8 minutes, or until soft and slightly overdone.  As soon as the cauliflower has gone into the water, melt the 10g of butter in another small saucepan over a lowing heat and stir in the flour using a balloon whisk.  Cook for around 1 minute, stirring occasionally.  Off the heat, whisk in the milk, a bit at a time, still whisking thoroughly.  It will look lumpy but have faith.  If you give it time and enough whisking, the lumps should smooth away.  Return to a low heat, add the bay leaf (if using) and simmer for a minute, stirring constantly until it is thick.  Stir in the cheese until melted and season quite strongly with salt, nutmeg and cayenne. Soufflé mix always needs to be seasoned a tiny bit more than you think because the flavour will dilute when you add the whites.  Fish out the bay leaf.

Drain the cooked cauliflower and mash it into the sauce with a fork – a few pieces of cauliflower are nice.  Mix the yolk into the sauce.  In a clean mixing bowl, whisk the whites with a hand-held electric whisk until they are white and snowy.  Add a dollop of the whisked whites into the sauce to lighten it.  Now fold in the rest of the whites, using a large metal spoon or silicone spatula.  Pile the mixture into your prepared dish; sprinkle with a few sesame seeds (if using) and bake for 15 minutes, or until nicely risen and browned.  You can cut it in the middle to check if it is done but know that a perfect cheese soufflé will always look a little wet (but not sloshing) in the middle. Eat with a green salad and good bread or toast. 

About the author

Darina Allen
By Darina Allen


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