AuthorDarina Allen

Sustainability

This week’s column will focus on sustainable food and how each of us can do our bit to make a difference.  The question of what we should eat to combat climate change and environmental degradation has never been more urgent, however, the term sustainable has become quite a buzz word, bandied around and abused in many different contexts – all very confusing.

Having a better understanding of what makes food sustainable could help us all to make more informed food choices.  Sustainable food is not just about the food itself, it’s a combination of factors.  How it’s produced, distributed, packaged and consumed (or wasted).  Sustainable farming practices, environmental impact, animal welfare, biodiversity, working conditions and a living wage are all factors.

Intensive agricultural food production systems are responsible for 11-20% of all greenhouse gases depending on  which research one references…Sustainable agriculture on the other hand supports organic, regenerative farming and low carbon food production methods including crop rotation and avoids the use of artificial fertilizers, pesticides as well as GM organisms. 

A lot to think about in our busy lives…As we navigate the aisles of the supermarket, our decisions are usually based on price, convenience, maybe taste but in the words of Margaret Visser, ‘much depends on dinner’.  Our food choices and every bite we put in our mouths has consequences on our health and the health of our planet, awareness is growing but time is fast running out…

I’m convinced that each of us genuinely wants to make a difference so we can pass on a liveable planet to the generations who follow us… Here are a few tips to help us source more mindfully and live more sustainably.

1.    Choose foods that are in season – less air miles, no need for artificial ripening…

2.    Seek out meat, dairy and eggs from less intensive production systems. 

3.    Spend a little more and pay a fair price to support local farmers and food producers who farm sustainably and trade fairly.

4.    Support your local Farmers Market, a NeighbourFood branch – www.neighbourfood.ie and/or join a vegetable box scheme then the money goes directly to the producer to enable them to continue.  The greatest threat to food security is the low and often below-cost price of food at the farm gate.

5.    Grow some of your own food – herbs, vegetables, fruit… If you have the space, plant a few currant and berry bushes, a couple of apple trees which go on giving year after year and create habitats for birds and pollinating insects.  Plant a bee friendly garden.

6.    Reduce the amount of plastic packaging and continue to lobby for less.  Packaging is so energy intensive to make and recycle. 

7.    Learn to use up leftovers so you can work towards Zero Waste.  Think nose-to-tail eating and use every scrap of each vegetable. 

8.    Get a few hens, three or four in a movable chicken coup in your garden will eat up your food scraps, provide you with enough eggs for all your needs and chicken manure for your compost heap to make your soil more fertile. 

9.    Make stock from meat, fish bones and vegetables as a basis for soups, stews and tagines.

10.                       Use every scrap of each vegetable, cauliflower – roast the leaves as well as the curds.  Use the fresh radish leaves in salads and soups, really delicious.  The stalks and leaves of beets as well as the roots themselves…

Ballymaloe Strawberry Muesli

Organic oats grown in Ireland are far more sustainable than breakfast cereals made from imported maize. 

This is a huge favourite with all our family and friends – it’s such a good recipe to know about because it’s made in minutes and so good. We vary the fruit through the seasons – strawberries, raspberries, loganberries, blueberries and grated Cox’s Orange Pippin apples or Ergemont Russet in the Autumn.

Serves 6

6 tablespoons rolled oatmeal (Quaker Oats)

8 tablespoons water

250g (8oz) fresh strawberries

2-4 teaspoons honey

Soak the oatmeal in the water for 8-10 minutes. 

Meanwhile, mash the strawberries roughly with a fork and mix with the oatmeal.  Sweeten to taste with honey, a couple of teaspoons are usually enough but it depends on how sweet the strawberries are.

Serve with pouring cream and soft brown sugar.

Spinach Stalks

People usually chuck out the spinach stalks after they’ve strung the spinach, but they’re delicious and it’s a pity to waste them after all the hard work of growing them.

Chop the spinach stalks you have reserved into 2.5cm (1 inch) pieces. Cook in boiling salted water – use 1 teaspoon salt for every 600ml (1 pint) water – until tender, about 3–4 minutes.

Drain well. Toss in a little butter or extra virgin olive oil. I sometimes toss in a few chilli flakes and freshly chopped herbs. If you feel like an Asian flavour, substitute soy sauce or oyster sauce for the butter or olive oil.

Beetroot Tops (Stalks and Leaves)

Young beetroot tops are full of flavour and are often unnecessarily discarded; but if you grow your own beetroots, remember to cook the stalks as well. When the leaves are tiny, they make a really worthwhile addition to the salad bowl, both in terms of nutrition and flavour. This isn’t worth doing unless you have lovely young leaves. When they become old and slightly wilted, feed them to the hens or add them to the compost.

Serves 4

450g (1lb) fresh beetroot tops

salt and freshly ground pepper

butter or olive oil

Keeping them separate, cut the beetroot stalks and leaves into rough 5cm (2 inch) pieces. First cook the stalks in boiling salted water (1.8 litres/3 pints water to 1 1⁄2 teaspoons salt) for 3–4 minutes or until tender. Then add the leaves and cook for a further 2–3 minutes. Drain, season and toss in a little butter or olive oil. Serve immediately.

Gratin of Potato, Spring Onions and Bacon, Chorizo or Lamb

Grass fed beef and lamb are highly nutritious and in a mixed farming system are absolutely sustainable restoring carbon to the soil which is an invaluable carbon sink.

Potato gratins are nourishing and economical one-pot dish to feed lots of hungry friends on a chilly evening.  This recipe could also include little tasty pieces of bacon, chorizo or a lamb chop cut into dice, so it can be a wholesome main course or a delicious accompaniment.

Serves 4 as a main course

Serves 6 as an accompaniment

25g (1oz) butter

1.3kg (3lbs) ‘old’ potatoes, e.g., Golden Wonders or Kerr’s Pinks

2 bunches of spring onions, sliced

75-150g (3-5oz) mature Cheddar cheese, grated

salt and freshly ground pepper

300-450ml (10-16fl oz) homemade chicken, beef or vegetable stock

For a non-vegetable version, add:

175g (6oz) bacon lardons, chorizo dice or a cooked and diced lamb chop

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

Oval ovenproof gratin dish – 31.5cm (11 1/2 inch) long x 5cm (2 inch) high

Rub an oven proof dish thickly with half the butter

Slice the peeled potatoes thinly, blanch and refresh. Trim the spring onions and chop both the green and white parts into approx. 5mm (1/4 inch) slices with a scissors or a knife.

Scatter with some of the spring onions, then a layer of potatoes and then some grated cheese.  Season well with salt and freshly ground pepper.  Scatter with the bacon, chorizo or lamb here if using.  Continue to build up the layers finishing with an overlapping layer of potatoes, neatly arranged. Pour in the boiling stock, scatter with the remaining cheese.

Bake in a preheated oven for 1 – 1 1/4 hours or until the potatoes are tender and the top is brown and crispy.

Watch Point

 It may be necessary to cover the potatoes with a paper lid for the first half of the cooking.

Rory’s Delicious Mussels with Spices and Coconut

Bivalves such as oysters, mussels, clams and scallops are brilliant at sequestering carbon and purifying sea water.

This is a great recipe in that most of the work can be done early in the day or even the day before.

The mussels can be replaced with clams, shrimp or monkfish and a combination of fish and shellfish may be used. Thick pieces of pollock also work well as do salmon and mackerel.

Plain boiled rice can be served with this dish or just crusty bread to mop up the delicious broth.

Serves 6

72 mussels or 700g (1 1/2lbs) monkfish in neat collops

a 2.5cm (1 inch) piece of fresh ginger, peeled and chopped

8 cloves of peeled garlic

110ml (4fl oz) of water

4 tablespoons of vegetable oil

200g (7oz) onion, peeled and chopped

1-2 fresh chilies, sliced into fine rounds

1/2 teaspoon of turmeric

2 teaspoons of ground cumin

1 1/2 tins (600ml/1 pint) of coconut milk

salt

fresh coriander leaves

Wash the mussels, removing any loose beards. Put the ginger, garlic and water into a blender and blend to a smooth purée.

Heat the oil in a large pot and add the onions. Cook until translucent. Add the ginger and garlic purée, chillies, turmeric and cumin. Stir and cook for a minute. Add the coconut milk and a pinch of salt and bring to a boil. This broth can now be put aside for later.

When you want to serve the dish, put the mussels into the pan with the broth. Cover and place on a moderate heat and allow to come to the boil. Shake the pan occasionally and cook for approx.6 minutes. Check to see that all the mussels have popped open. Serve immediately with lots of fresh coriander leaves.

If using monkfish, bring the broth to the boil and add the collops of monkfish.  If using any of the other suggested fish, cut into 5cm (2 inch) pieces. Cover and simmer gently for approximately 5 minutes or until the fish is just cooked. It will no longer look opaque but will have a white and creamy appearance.  Serve in deep bowls garnished with coriander leaves.

Irish Seaweed and Sesame Salad with Ginger Dressing

Seaweeds are definitely a sustainable superfood.  Like all plants, they absorb CO2 but can also reduce acidification of the ocean helping microorganisms to thrive, they can convert pollutants into nutrients.  We ought to incorporate more sea vegetables into our diet, they are infinitely more nutritious than anything grown on the land.

Serves 6

500g(18oz) selection of fresh seaweed:

sea lettuce

kelp (sugar and regular)

pepper dillisk

dillisk

rack (channel/bladder/egg)

corulina

1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger

1 tablespoon rice vinegar

1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil

1 tablespoon soy sauce

1 tablespoon sugar

1/2 teaspoon salt (to taste)

1 tablespoon sesame seeds

1 spring onion, finely chopped

Put the seaweed in a large bowl.

Grate a small amount of ginger into the bottom of a salad bowl and mix together with the vinegar, sesame oil, soy sauce, sugar and salt.

Toast the sesame seeds briefly in a dry pan, and then add along with the finely chopped spring onion. Toss the seaweed together in the salad dressing.

Offal

What are we like?  We’re happy to eat a steak, a chicken breast or a chop but present someone with a salad of gizzards and hearts, or a spleen sandwich and they’d rather starve – where’s the logic but offal certainly engenders a feeling of disgust in many.  I’ve just had a delicious bit of flash fried lambs’ liver with lots of fresh sage leaves for supper. 

It’s wonderful to see that A O’Reilly’s Tripe and Drisheen Stall in the English Market in Cork City still survives at a time when people seem to be more and more squeamish.  I love tripe too but not so much of a fan of the traditional Cork tripe and onions, I rather prefer the Spanish or Italian way of cooking it to melting tenderness in a rich tomato sauce.   

Cork has been a trading port right back to the time of the Phoenicians, the last port of call to stock up before the ships crossed the Atlantic.  Many of those employed in the provisioning trade and abattoirs were part paid in offal SO up to relatively recently Cork people ate more offal than any other part of the country.

Wander through the lanes in the English Market and you’ll find tripe and drisheen, the traditional blood pudding, skirt, kidneys and bodices and tongue, pigs, trotters, tails and ears, livers, hearts, kidney and sweetbreads in season.
But as impressive as that sounds, we’ll lap up cheap sausages, cured meats and pâtes and yet turn our noses up at liver, kidneys, not to speak of a juicy bit of pig’s snout.  In London however, sweetbreads are now three times the price of steaks and quite rightly so.

Fortunately the Eastern Europeans and now Ukrainians appreciate the variety of meat and have many treasured ways to cook it.  Well I love offal; in our house we didn’t look down on offal, we celebrated it like any other cut of meat.  This is the best time of the year for lambs’ liver, kidney and sweetbreads so rush to your butcher, get their advice and have a delicious feast for a few euros, twice as much nourishment for half the price of a steak.  Organ meats are some of the most nutrient dense foods on the planet.

Tripe and Trotters with Chorizo

There are loads of people who don’t like tripe, but the Spanish influence of chorizo and tomatoes in this recipe lend the dish flavours that woo many tripe-haters.

Serves 6–8

2 fresh pig trotters

1kg (2 1⁄4lb) honeycomb beef tripe, cut into thin strips

salt

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 large onion, chopped

1 garlic clove, chopped

1 large red pepper, sliced

salt and freshly ground pepper

2 tomatoes, peeled, deseeded and chopped

1⁄2 teaspoon chilli powder

250g (9oz) cooked ham, chopped

250g (9oz) chorizo, sliced 5mm (1⁄4 inch) thick

4 tablespoons parsley, chopped

Put the pig trotters into a deep saucepan. Cover with cold water and bring to the boil, then cover and simmer for 2 1⁄2 hours. Drain. Put the trotters back into the saucepan with the tripe, barely cover with fresh water, add some salt and cook for 1 1⁄2 – 2 hours, or until tender and the meat is almost falling from the bones.

Remove the trotters from the liquid. When cool enough to handle, remove the bones and discard. Chop the meat coarsely and add back to the tripe.

Heat the olive oil in a saucepan. Add the onion, cover and sweat for 4 – 5 minutes. Add the chopped garlic and pepper, season with salt and freshly ground pepper. Add the tomatoes and cook for 5-6 minutes, or until soft. Add the chilli powder, ham and chorizo. Stir well and cook for about 20 minutes. Add this mixture to the tripe and trotters – add a little more cooking liquid, if necessary, it should be soft and juicy. Taste, correct the seasoning, add the chopped parsley and serve.

Salade de Gésiers

When I go to Paris, one of the first things I do is seek out a little bistro or brasserie that serves salade de gésiers.  The French could teach us a thing of two about using every scrap.  Chicken gizzards or hearts are also super tasty. 

Serves 4

8 duck gizzards cooked in duck fat *

100g (3 1/2oz) French beans

duck fat for frying

4 duck hearts (optional)

salt and freshly ground pepper

a selection of salad leaves

For the Dressing

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 tablespoon red wine vinegar

1 small garlic clove, crushed

salt and freshly ground pepper

1⁄4 teaspoon Dijon mustard

To Garnish

sprigs of chervil and wild garlic or chive flowers (if in season)

Remove 8 pieces of duck gizzard from the duck fat.

Whisk together the ingredients for the dressing. Blanch the French beans in boiling salted water for 2–3 minutes; drain, refresh in cold water and drain again well.

Heat a little duck fat in a frying pan over a medium heat. Remove the gizzards from the fat. Slice each one into 2–3 pieces and toss in the hot fat until hot through and slightly brown at the edges. Slice the duck hearts, if using. Season with salt and pepper and cook quickly in the duck fat.

To serve, add the French beans to the salad leaves. Toss in some dressing to coat the leaves. Divide between four plates and scatter the hot duck gizzards and hearts (if using) on top with the garnish.

*Duck Gizzards Cooked in Duck Fat

Cooking gizzards in duck fat gives them extra succulence.

duck gizzards

duck fat

Cut the lobes off the gizzards and wash and dry.  Put into a casserole and cook with duck fat.  Cook on the lowest possible heat (use a heat diffuser mat on a gas jet) for about 2 hours, until a knife goes through the meat easily.  Store in a sterilised Kilner jar or bowl covered with duck fat for several weeks in a cold place. 

Lamb’s Liver with Crispy Sage Leaves

The robust flavour of sage is great with lamb or veal liver, so keep a sage plant in a pot near your kitchen door. Sage leaves crisped in olive oil make an irresistible garnish.

Serves 4

450g (1lb) very fresh spring lamb’s liver, cut into 1cm (1⁄2 inch) slices

plain flour, seasoned with salt and freshly ground pepper

4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

12 fresh sage leaves

Lamb’s liver toughens very quickly once cooked and it really just needs to be shown to the pan, so wait until your guests are sitting around the table before you start to cook.

Toss the liver in well-seasoned flour and pat off the excess. Heat half the olive oil in a frying pan and add the slices of liver. Sauté gently for 2 – 3 minutes on each side. Remove the slices while they are still slightly pink in the centre.

Put the remaining olive oil in the pan, add the sage leaves and allow to sizzle for a few seconds until crisp. Pour the oil, juices and sage leaves over the liver and serve immediately. Even if liver is perfectly cooked, it toughens very quickly if kept hot

Salad of Warm Sweetbreads with Potato Crisps, Anchovies and Wild Garlic

The elongated sweetbreads that are found near the throat and the more esteemed round ones found next to the heart, which are sometimes called heartbreads, are connected to form the thymus gland, which disappears in mature animals.

Calf’s sweetbreads are the most highly prized; they may be sautéed, deep-fried or briefly braised.  Lamb’s sweetbreads are cooked in the same way.

Sweetbreads are definitely a forgotten treat.

The salty tang of the anchovies in this recipe gives another dimension and adds lots of complementary flavour without compromising the sweetness of the sweetbreads.

Serves 4

4 lamb or 2 veal sweetbreads

1 small carrot

1 onion

2 celery stalks

25g (1oz) butter

bouquet garni

600ml (1 pint) homemade chicken stock 

a selection of salad leaves (little gem, oakleaf, sorrel, watercress and wild garlic leaves and flowers)

plain flour, well-seasoned with salt and freshly ground pepper

beaten organic egg

butter and oil for sautéing

For the Dressing

1 tablespoon white wine vinegar

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1⁄4 teaspoon Dijon mustard

salt and freshly ground pepper

To Serve

homemade potato crisps (see recipe)

4 anchovies

wild garlic flowers (or chive flowers depending on the season)

To prepare sweetbreads.

Put the sweetbreads into a bowl, cover with cold water and let them soak for 3 hours. Discard the water and cut away any discoloured parts from the sweetbreads.

Dice the carrot, onion and celery and sweat them in butter; add the bouquet garni. Then add the chicken stock and bring to the boil.

Poach the sweetbreads gently in the simmering stock for 3–5 minutes or until they feel firm to the touch. Cool, then remove the gelatinous membranes and any fatty bits carefully.  Press between 2 plates and top with a weight not more than 1kg (2lb) or they will be squashed.

Prepare the salad.

Wash and dry the lettuces and salad leaves and whisk together the ingredients for the dressing.

Slice the sweetbreads into escalopes, dip in well-seasoned flour and then in beaten egg. Sauté in a little foaming butter and oil in a heavy pan until golden on both sides.

Toss the salad leaves in the dressing, divide between 4 plates and lay the hot sweetbreads and then potato crisps on top of the salad. Sprinkle with chopped anchovy and wild garlic flowers or chive flowers and serve immediately.

Homemade Potato Crisps or “Game Chips”

Making chips at home is definitely worthwhile – a few potatoes produce

a ton of crisps and nothing you buy in any shop will be even half as delicious. A mandolin is well worth buying for making chips – but mind your fingers! When these are served with roast pheasant, they are called game chips.

Serves 4

450g (1lb) large, even-sized potatoes

extra virgin olive oil or beef dripping for deep-fat frying

salt

Wash and peel the potatoes. For even-sized crisps, trim each potato with a swivel-top peeler until smooth. Slice them very finely, preferably with a mandolin. Soak in cold water to remove the excess starch (this will also prevent them from discolouring or sticking together). Drain off the water and dry well.

In a deep-fat fryer, heat the oil or dripping to 180˚C/350˚F.

Drop in the dry potato slices a few at a time and fry until golden and completely crisp. Drain on kitchen paper and sprinkle lightly with salt. Repeat until they are all cooked.

If they are not to be served immediately, they may be stored in a tin box and reheated in a low oven just before serving.

A Warm Salad of Lamb Kidneys with Oyster Mushrooms and Pink Peppercorns

Spring lambs’ kidneys are mild, tender and delicious.  If you can’t find pink peppercorns, don’t fret, the well-seasoned tomato dice also embellish the salad.

Serves 4

2-3 lamb kidneys

110g (4oz) oyster mushrooms

1 tablespoon freshly chopped annual marjoram, optional

30 pink peppercorns OR

2 tablespoons of tomato concasse

Selection of lettuces and salad leaves, e.g.  butterhead, iceberg, radicchio, Chinese leaves, lambs’ lettuce or rocket leaves

Vinaigrette Dressing

1 tablespoon sunflower oil

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 tablespoon wine vinegar

1/4 teaspoon Dijon mustard

salt and pepper

Remove the skin and fatty membrane from the centre of the kidneys, and cut the kidney into small cubes 1cm (1/2 inch) approx.

Trim the stalks from the mushrooms and slice lengthways.  Wash the lettuces and dry carefully. Heat a little olive oil in a frying pan until it smokes, toss in the mushrooms, season and fry quickly for about 3-4 minutes, add the marjoram, remove to a hot plate, add the kidneys to the pan and fry quickly for about 2 minutes.  While the kidneys are cooking, toss lettuce in a little of the dressing, divide between the plates.  Spoon the hot kidneys and the mushrooms over the salad immediately they are cooked and if liked, scatter salads with pink peppercorns or with tomato concasse and serve immediately.

Auntie Florence

My Auntie Florence was quite the character, tiny in stature but a huge presence.  We used to call her Mrs. Tiddywinkle after the famous character in Beatrix Potter’s tales in the Lake District.

In her later years she seems to have shrunk in stature but certainly not in personality.

When she passed away recently at the age of 88, tributes poured in from all over the world from people whose paths had crossed with her in life and particularly from the students for whom she was a familiar presence at the Cookery School.

Numerous mentions of ‘a warm welcome from this colourful character’, ‘always ready to party’, ‘always up to mischief with a glint in her eye’. ‘A much-loved social butterfly’.

Always beautifully dressed in her imitable quirky style, she loved bright colours – pink, orange, rose, colourful beads, stripy socks, jaunty scarves, sun hats in Summer, furry hats in Winter, she even had a pink one…

All her life she had a passion for horses and the races – even in her last days, a mention of Cheltenham brought a smile to her face.

Her interests were wide and varied – she loved to entertain, play bridge, the archaeological society, the Georgian society, watching the stormy seas…

She travelled all over the world rekindling treasured friendships, making new friends everywhere she went and always genuinely interested in people.  She had an uncanny way, particularly in later life, of managing to get people to do things for her.  In one of the many memorable messages on Instagram, a past student wrote she even ‘had him and his friend washing her Yaris outside the school on the last day of exams’!. My response was ‘Just as well I didn’t catch her’!

Auntie Florence will be remembered for many things, but we’ll also remember her through her recipes, she loved to cook.  Auntie Florence’s Orange cake is the stuff of legends – it was chosen to celebrate the anniversary of the European Parliament and is a favourite Birthday cake for many.  I can still see her standing by the Aga, flipping her famous crumpets, the standby treat for any unexpected guests.  She even made the occasional loaf of Soda Bread up to a few weeks before she passed away.

Back in the 1950’s, before electricity had arrived in the village of Cullohill in County Laois where I was born, she would peddle her little bike all the way from Johnstown (8 miles) with a brick of HB Ice-cream carefully wrapped in layers of newspaper and a pack of wafers.  You can’t imagine the joy and excitement when we saw her coming over the hill.  Later we’d made raspberry buns from ‘All in the Cooking’ together at the kitchen table, a perfect first cooking lesson for a child eager to cook.  There are so many memories connected to food.

I remember helping to clean the wild field mushrooms we collected together and then watching her stewing them in milk on the old ESSE cooker – I can still taste the flavour….

Another random thought – she loved lambs’ kidneys and would sidle up to the students during butchery class here at the school and say, ‘I’ll have those please’!  She loved them dipped simply in seasoned flour, seasoned with salt, a few blobs of butter, a little water and cooked in the oven between two Pyrex plates.  Try it – delicious! 

And of course broth, Auntie Florence loved broth and certainly knew the value of it, she made a few attempts to die in recent years but each time, we brought her back from ‘near dead’ with organic chicken broth.  Sadly it didn’t work this time, but, when we see the stock pots bubbling, they will always remind us of Auntie Florence as will these recipes which I joyfully share with you.

Aunt Florence’s Orange Cake

Here it is, the recipe for the legendary orange cake.

Serves about 8–10

225g (8oz) butter

200g (7oz) caster sugar

finely grated zest of 1 organic orange

4 organic eggs

225g (8oz) plain white flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 tablespoon freshly squeezed orange juice

Orange Butter Cream

110g (4oz) butter

225g (8oz) icing sugar

finely grated zest of 1 organic orange

1 tablespoon freshly squeezed orange juice

Orange Glacé Icing

juice of 1 orange

300g (10oz) icing sugar

1 or 2 pieces of homemade orange candied peel, optional

2 x 20cm (8 inch) round cake tins or 1 x 28cm (11 inch) in diameter and 5cm (2 inch) deep

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

Grease and flour the cake tins. Line the base of each with silicone paper.

Cream the soft butter and gradually add the caster sugar. Whisk until soft and light and quite pale. Add the orange zest followed by the eggs one at a time, whisking well between each addition.

Sieve the flour and baking powder together and stir in gradually. Mix lightly, then stir in the orange juice.

Divide the mixture evenly between the tins, hollowing it slightly in the centre. Bake for 35 minutes or until cooked. Turn out onto a wire tray and leave to cool.

Meanwhile, make the orange cream. Cream the soft butter; add the sieved icing sugar and orange zest. Whisk in the orange juice little by little.

To make the icing, simply add enough orange juice to the icing sugar to make a spreadable icing.

When the cakes are cold, use a serrated bread knife to split each one in two halves.  Spread with a little filling and then sandwich the two bases together.

Spread the icing over the top and sides and decorate the top with little diamonds or heart shaped pieces of orange candied peel.

Variation

Single Orange Cakes

We sometimes just ice the top and sides of each layer with orange buttercream or glacé icing.  Decorate the sides with toasted flaked almonds and the top with candied orange peel – two cakes for the price of one…

Auntie Florence’s ‘Crumpets’

Another great standby, ‘Crumpets’ are made in minutes with ingredients you’d probably have in your pantry.  A perfect solution if you’ve got nothing ‘in the tin’ when a friend drops in for tea. The problem is one always eats too many!  If you can’t find Bextartar, substitute self-raising flour and 2 teaspoons of baking powder.

Makes 15 approx.

225g (8oz) plain white flour

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon bread soda (bicarbonate of soda)

1 teaspoon Bextartar (cream of tartar)

2 eggs, preferably free range

225ml (8fl oz) milk

50g (2oz) castor sugar

25g (1oz) butter

To Serve

butter

homemade jam or apple jelly

or

lemon juice and castor sugar

Sieve the dry ingredients into a bowl and rub in the butter. Drop the eggs into the centre, add a little of the milk and stir rapidly with a whisk allowing the flour to drop gradually in from the sides. When half the milk is added, beat until air bubbles rise. Add the remainder of the milk and allow to stand for one hour if possible. *  Drop a good dessertspoonful into a hottish pan and cook until bubbles appear on the top. It usually takes a bit of trial and error to get the temperature right. Flip over and cook until golden on the other side. Serve immediately with butter and homemade jam or better still apple jelly.  Alternatively crumpets can also be served with warm lemon juice and sprinkled with castor sugar.

* They are usually lighter if the batter is allowed to stand but I’ve often cooked them immediately with very acceptable results!

Auntie Florence’s Soda Bread

Florence sometimes added an egg to the buttermilk for extra deliciousness.

Makes 1 loaf

225g (8oz) brown wholemeal flour (preferably stone-ground)

225g (8oz) plain white flour

1 teaspoon salt

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

1 tablespoon of fine oatmeal or bran or wheat germ

25g (1oz) of butter or 2 tablespoons fresh cream

1 organic and free-range egg

400-425ml (14-15fl oz) sour milk or buttermilk

wholemeal flour for the work top and baking sheet

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

Mix all the dry ingredients together in a large wide bowl, rub in the butter.  Add the cream (if using) and beaten egg to the sour milk or buttermilk to measure 425ml (15fl oz).  Make a well in the centre and pour all of the buttermilk mixture. Using one hand, stir in a full circle, starting in the centre and working towards the outside of the bowl until all the flour is incorporated. The dough should be soft but not too wet and sticky. When it all comes together, in a matter of seconds, turn it out onto a well-floured board (use wholemeal flour).

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. Sprinkle a little of the spare wholemeal flour from the worktop onto a baking tray.  Lay the loaf on top of the flour. Mark the surface with a deep cross and prick in each corner to let the fairies out of the bread. 

Bake in the preheated oven for 10 minutes, then reduce the temperature to 200°C/400°F/Gas Mark 6 and cook for a further 30 minutes approximately.   Turn the bread upside down on the baking tray and continue to cook for 5-10 minutes.  The bread will sound hollow when tapped on both sides.  Cool on a wire rack, wrapped in a clean tea-towel while hot if you prefer a softer crust.

Raspberry Buns

These buns were the very first thing I remember helping my Auntie Florence to bake. My grandchildren love filling the holes in the centre with jam, just as I did – I seem to recall that the recipe came from ‘All in the Cooking’.

Makes about 10

200g (7oz) self-raising flour and 25g (1oz) ground rice

OR

225g (8oz) self-raising flour

75g (3oz) caster sugar

75g (3oz) butter diced

1 organic egg

1 tablespoon full cream milk

homemade raspberry jam

egg wash

caster sugar

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

Put the flour and ground rice, if using, into a bowl and add the caster sugar. Toss, add in the diced butter to the flour. Then rub into the dry ingredients with the tips of your fingers until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. Whisk the egg with the milk and then use a fork to mix it with the dry ingredients until you have a softish dough.

Divide the mixture in two, roll each half into a thick rope and then divide each into five pieces. Form each piece into a round and transfer to a baking tray.  Dip your thumb in flour and make an indentation in the centre of each bun.

Drop a little spoonful of raspberry jam into the hole, then pinch the edges of dough together to almost cover the jam.

Brush the top of each raspberry bun with egg wash and bake for 10 – 12 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack, sprinkle with caster sugar and eat while nice and fresh.

Kidneys on a plate

Another of Auntie Florence’s favourites.

Serves 2

4 young lambs’ kidneys

plain white flour well-seasoned with salt and freshly ground black pepper

20g (3/4oz) butter

2 tablespoons water

2 Pyrex plates

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

Half the kidneys and remove the ‘plumbing’.  Dip each piece into well-seasoned flour.  Arrange in a single layer on a Pyrex plate, dot with little pieces of butter and add a couple of tablespoons of cold water.  Cover with a second Pyrex plate and cook for 15-20 minutes or until no trace of pink remains. Serve with bread and butter to mop up the delicious juices.  

Stop Food Waste Day 2022

Stop Food Waste Day on April 27th this year is all about raising awareness, igniting change and identifying more ways to change our behaviour and minimise food waste.  

You’ll all be familiar with at least some of the statistics.  33% of all the food produced globally is lost or wasted but did you know that 45% of all root crops grown never reach the table. 

Just 25% of all the food wasted could feed all the 95 million undernourished people in the world and 8% of all the greenhouse gas emissions each year are due to food loss or waste.  Shameful statistics – a massive issue for the planet and each and every one of us. 

Here at the Ballymaloe  Cookery School, even though we’ve got a strong focus on Zero Waste, we’ve still on a journey, gradually discovering and sharing more innovative ways to avoid food waste, we continue to encourage students to be mindful about simple things like throwing the veg peelings and herb stalks into the stock pot rather than the bin.  Scraps that don’t qualify for the stock pot go into the hen’s bucket in every kitchen to be recycled by the hens to come back as beautiful fresh eggs a few days later.  The shells go back into the hen’s bucket to add calcium to the shells of future eggs (and no it doesn’t encourage them to peck the shells of freshly laid eggs!). 

For many, unconscious wasting has become an acceptable way of life – it may surprise many to realise that this is a relatively new phenomenon.  When I was a child in the 1950’s, waste was not an option, all leftover scraps were used up deliciously, clothes and machinery were mended rather than discarded and built-in obsolescence was not a thing.  Hopefully as public opinion becomes more intolerant of the mantra ‘better to buy new than to fix, companies will be forced to rethink their policies. 

But back to food and what we can do in our homes and restaurants.   Cheap food is certainly part of the problem – ‘easy come, easy go’ but with cost spiralling, working towards a ‘Zero Waste’ policy in our homes or businesses was never more timely.  It may take a fundamental change in mindset for all the family or team but quite quickly it can become part of the ethos with everyone entering into the spirit.  There’s also a brilliant feel-good factor – good for the environment, your pocket and your business….

Start to cast an ‘eagle eye’ over what’s going into the bins.  Ideally plates should be empty after a meal.  If not, ask yourself, WHY? 

Are portions too large or perhaps it doesn’t taste good.  Zone in on the cause and remedy…  We need to view waste as ‘tearing up bank notes’.  Every morsel of waste matters…and in restaurants, the head chefs’ attitude to waste can quite easily be the difference between profit and loss in a business where margins are already tight. 

At home, you’ll be astonished how much money can be saved weekly once you focus on food waste.   We need to be conscientious ourselves and lead by example.  Chefs can scrutinise the menu, examine every single dish and ask – are we using every scrap of each ingredient, from ‘nose to tail’ and ‘root to shoot’.  Choose recipes that won’t result in waste.  Often though not always, fine dining restaurants are the most wasteful.  Long tasting menus that only utilize the choicest of morsels can result in the trimmings being dumped.  

Make stock with meat, fish bones, poultry carcasses and vegetable trimmings. This ought to be part of the work ethic.  Use as a base for soups, broths and sauces.

Stock can be frozen in recycled plastic gallon cream containers.

Both at home and in restaurants, listen to requests.  If someone asks for a small helping…. one piece of toast for breakfast or one slice of bread with a soup – that is what they want, don’t give them two!  One can always offer a second helping…

Relearn and teach your family and team the almost ‘forgotten skill’ of using leftovers to make delicious new dishes.

Leftover bread can be used in a myriad of ways to make other dishes such as bread and butter pudding, strata, French toast, breadcrumbs, croutons, pangrattato, croutini, crostini…

Link in with local farmers/vegetable growers to buy ‘ugly’ fruit and vegetables and gluts in season, use all parts of the vegetable.  Make it a priority to pay them a fair price.   It’s possible to get 2 or 3 uses from many vegetables – e.g. beets – one can use the roots, stalks and young leaves in different ways.  It’s a valuable and fun exercise to educate yourself and your team by visiting the producers and learning about their process.

Encourage supermarkets and local shops to sell ‘less than perfectly shaped and sized fruit and vegetables.  They are just as delicious and can be sold for 30% less.  This minimises the waste on the farm and increases the farmers income.  According to the WHO, over 15% of food is lost before leaving the farm in great part due to supermarkets criteria for perfect produce. 

Reducing waste is one of the most immediate and impactful actions we as individuals can do to fight climate change.

Top tips

Have a stock box in your freezer (broth).

Cheese rind.

Whizz leftover Parmesan cheese rind in the food-processor and use in a Béchamel Sauce.

Leftover cooked fish.

Leftover cooked fish can be used in a myriad of ways – in salads, pastas, grain bowls, sandwiches, rice paper rolls, fish cakes.  If you have leftover raw fish, it’s really best to slowly poach it either in olive oil or fish stock, that way it keeps way better.  Once it’s carefully poached, it’s less time sensitive and can be used in all kinds of recipes for several days.

How about a simple salad.  Just flake the fish ‘confit’, mix gently with mayo or aioli, lots of freshly chopped herbs – chives, parsley, chervil, maybe fennel, a little pinch of mild chilli flakes, maybe piment d’ espelette or Aleppo pepper and a squeeze of lemon juice.  Taste, season and pile onto toast or crackers to enjoy with a glass of dry white wine.

Alternatively, if you like crudo or lightly pickled fish.  Sprinkle lightly with salt and refrigerate for a few hours or overnight if it’s a thick piece.  For extra excitement, add a sprinkling of fennel seeds, maybe paprika or chilli flakes or freshly squeezed lemon juice – experiment.  One could also cook it lightly and add to pasta or a salad.  Have fun. 

Crispy Rice Cakes with Salmon, Avocado and Pickled Ginger

Ordinary cooked rice works perfectly too, though it’s not as sticky. 

leftover sushi rice or sticky rice

flaky sea salt

extra virgin olive oil

smoked salmon or gravlax

wedges of avocado

horseradish sauce or wasabi

pickled ginger

coriander sprigs (optional)

Line the base and sides of a small ‘lasagne’ dish with parchment paper.  Press the cooked rice into the dish so it’s about 1cm (1/2 inch) deep.  Cover and pop the block into the freezer for about 45 minutes.

Then unwrap, season with flaky sea salt.  Dust both sides with a little seasoned flour or cornflour.  Cut into fingers about 6 x 4cm (2 1/2 x 1 1/2 inch).

Heat a little extra virgin olive oil in a wide, heavy frying pan.  Cook until crisp and golden on all sides (4-5 minutes).  Cool a little, spread a little horseradish sauce on each, add a strip of smoked salmon or gravlax, a wedge of avocado and a little pickled ginger and maybe a sprig of coriander.  Alternatively, use raw wild salmon when available and a dash of wasabi.  Dip in soy sauce and Enjoy!

Basic Sushi Rice

Easy to do but just follow the instructions.

450g (1lb) sushi rice “No 1 Extra Fancy”

600ml (1 pint) water

Vinegar Water

50ml (2fl oz) rice wine vinegar

1 1/2 tablespoons sugar

2 1/2 teaspoons salt

Rinse the rice for 8-10 minutes in a colander or sieve under cold running water or until the water becomes clear.

‘Wake up’ the rice by sitting it in 600ml (1 pint) cold water for 30 to 45 minutes.   In the same water, bring to the boil and then cook for 10 minutes until all the water has been absorbed.  Do not stir, do not even take off the lid. Turn up the heat for 10 seconds before turning the heat off.  Remove the lid, place a tea towel over the rice, replace the lid and sit for 20 minutes.

Mix the rice wine vinegar, sugar and salt together in a bowl until dissolved.  Turn the rice out onto a big flat plate (preferably wooden).  While the rice is still hot, pour the vinegar solution over the rice and mix the rice and vinegar together in a slicing action with the aid of a wooden spoon.  Don’t stir.  You must do it quickly, preferably fanning the rice with the fan.  This is much easier if you have a helper.  Allow to cool on the plate, cover with a tea towel and use as desired.  (It will soak up the liquid as it cools.)

Mashed Potato Pizza

Of course one can make potato cakes or croquettes but how about this potato pizza.

Serves 1

Leftover mashed potato

chorizo or pepperoni, diced

Tomato Fondue or homemade tomato sauce

Mozzarella or bocconcini

grated cheese, Parmesan, Pecorino or a mature Irish Cheddar cheese

flaky sea salt

oregano, basil or parsley sprigs to sprinkle

Preheat the oven to 250˚C/500˚F/Gas Mark 10.

Spread the well-seasoned mashed potato into a well-oiled, hot metal dish or iron pan.  Sprinkle with little cubes of chorizo or pepperoni or ‘nduja.  Top with a layer of tomato fondue.  Add a few blobs of Mozzarella or bocconcini and sprinkle with grated cheese.  Pop into an oven and cook for 8-10 minutes until hot throughout and bubbling and golden.  Sprinkle with sprigs of fresh herbs and a few flakes of sea salt. 

Slide onto a hot plate and enjoy.  Needless to say, one can do all kinds of riffs on this theme depending on what looks enticing in your fridge.  I also love Turkish lamb mince made with:

1 tablespoon  extra virgin olive oil

1 large onion, finely chopped

225g (8oz) freshly minced lamb

4 ripe tomatoes, finely diced

2 tablespoons flat leaf parsley, chopped

salt and pepper

1/2 teaspoon cumin or pinch of cayenne (optional)

Sweat the onion in a little butter or oil and allow to cool completely.  Mix all the ingredients together and season well with salt and pepper.

Potato Peel Crisps

A brilliant and super tasty way to use potato peelings – you’ll never chuck them out again. 

Main crop potatoes are best for this recipe.  Scrub the potatoes well. Heat the oil (dripping/beef fat) in a deep fat fryer or in a pan with at least 4cm (1 1/2 inch) of oil if unavailable. Dry the peelings as best you can.

Drop one into the hot oil to check the temperature, it should bubble and rise to the surface if the oil is hot enough.

Cook the remainder of the peelings in batches until golden brown and crisp. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on kitchen paper, or a towel.

Sprinkle with pure salt and maybe a little chilli powder or dry roasted cumin powder for extra fizz.

Scones or Hot Cross Bun French Toast

A super delicious way to use up those stale scones or buns, you discover in the bottom of the bread bin!

Serves 2

2 stale scones or hot cross buns

3 organic free-range eggs

150ml (5fl oz) cream

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground cinnamon (optional)

To Serve

crème fraiche or softly whipped cream

mint sprigs or shredded mint leaves

Whisk the egg with the cream and add a pinch of cinnamon if using.  Pour onto a deep plate.  Split the scones or hot cross buns.  Put cut side down and allow to soak up the mixture.  Flip over and wait until both sides are saturated.

Meanwhile, melt a little butter on a medium heat, cook gently on both sides until golden.

Serve on hot plates with a blob of crème fraiche or softly whipped cream and a sprig of mint or some shredded fresh mint if available. 

Moroccan Style Stew

A scrummy way to use leftover lamb, beef, pork or chicken.

Serves 8

15g (generous 1/2oz) butter


olive oil


2 onions, finely chopped


2 garlic cloves, finely chopped


1 x 400g (14oz) tin of chickpeas, drained and rinsed


1 x 400g (14oz) tin of tomatoes, chopped

1 teaspoon ground turmeric

1 teaspoon honey


1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon salt (or to taste)

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper


juice of 1 lemon (or lime)


450ml (16fl oz) homemade vegetable or chicken stock (plus more if needed)


1 large bunch of fresh coriander or parsley, finely chopped (or a mixture of both)


1 tablespoon shredded mint


1 teaspoon paprika


1/4 teaspoon or more cayenne pepper or chilli flakes depending on how feisty you’d like the flavour


leftover roast lamb (beef, pork or chicken), diced

Heat the butter and oil mixture in a large saucepan. Add the onion and gently fry for about 10 minutes until soft and slightly golden. Add the garlic and stir a couple of times.

Add the drained chickpeas and chopped tomatoes. Stir, then add the turmeric, honey, ginger, cinnamon, salt and freshly ground black pepper and the freshly squeezed lemon juice.

Add the stock, bring to the boil and then simmer for about 20 to 30 minutes, until the liquid has reduced but not dried out completely. Top up with more liquid if necessary.

About 10 minutes before the end, add the chopped coriander and/or parsley, 1 tablespoon of fresh mint, paprika and cayenne or chilli flakes.

About 5 minutes before the end, add the leftover diced roast lamb, beef, pork or chicken.

Check the seasoning, adding more salt and pepper if necessary.

Sprinkle with lots of fresh herbs.

Tip: Add additional vegetables such as red peppers or cooked potatoes.

Easter Sunday

Happy Easter to you all.

Hope you are having a joyful holiday with all your family and friends.  If you have children around the house, there will probably be Easter eggs everywhere.  I have to say, I’m nostalgic for the days when I nibbled my one precious Easter egg slowly, enjoying every little morsel over several days.  I even kept the packaging and smoothed out the shiny, silver foil carefully with my fingers to bring into school to make a collage at art class.  Can you imagine…

Well, I’m going to dedicate this week’s column to using up leftovers from the Easter feast.  Do you have some lamb?  Spring lamb is delicious cold, provided it’s not refrigerated, I just cover the entire dish carefully with a tea-towel and keep it in a cool place.  My favourite way to enjoy morsels of leftover lamb is in white bread sandwiches with lots of butter, thinly sliced lamb, a few crisp slices of cucumber, a slick of apple and mint jelly and a few little flakes of sea salt – a delicious combination.  We use the handmade Family Pan we make in the Ballymaloe Bread Shed which tastes like a pan loaf used to taste like before the Chorley Wood method for bakeries became the norm. 

If you have more cold lamb, how about making a nice, big dish of my Moussaka for tomorrow’s supper.  Season it up well and use lots of chopped marjoram or oregano.  It reheats and freezes brilliantly and if anything, it even improves.  The only accompaniment needed is a green salad of Spring leaves and soft herbs. 

I adore devilled eggs.  If, like me you have hens, you’ll notice that they have got their ‘mojo’ back now that Spring has arrived and have gone into overdrive recently.  So, if you have a glut of eggs, they’ll pair deliciously with a few scraps of smoked salmon or mackerel and a little cucumber pickle to make a gorgeous little starter or a light lunch plate.

Now how about all that chocolate, collect up all the bits of Easter egg.  There are lots of ways to use us all those morsels.  Add it to scones or muffins as you might chocolate chips.  Alternatively, melt them in cream to make a chocolate ganache, which can be slathered over a chocolate cake, drizzled over vanilla ice-cream or whipped up into a Rum or Grand Marnier laced mousse.  It may also work well when melted or grated into your favourite chocolate cake but do reduce the sugar in the recipe because most Easter eggs are made from inexpensive chocolate that tends to be super sweet.

It’s also fun to make an Easter rocky road by adding a terrifying, combination of mini marshmallows, coarsely chopped speckled eggs, broken digestive biscuits and some Crunchie or honeycomb.  I love to add a few raisins and some whole, toasted nuts to the melted chocolate – a little freshly chopped mint adds extra zing and cuts the sweetness somewhat.

Leftover hot cross buns made a totally delicious bread and butter pudding.  Chop up frozen hot cross buns into chunks and add to chocolate chip cookies for a brilliant riff on the original.

Some chopped chocolate can be added to that too or you could pop a hot cross bun back into the oven to reheat, split it in half, add a dollop of chocolate ganache and a scoop of vanilla bean ice-cream or just a dollop of Jersey cream – a decadent treat with the extra feel-good factor of using up leftovers deliciously.

Slow Roast Shoulder of Spring Lamb with Wild Garlic Aioli and Fresh Mint Chutney

When wild garlic is not in season, double the quantity of parsley, it will still be delicious… 

Serves 8-10

1 whole shoulder of Spring lamb on the bone, weighing approximately 3.6kg (8lb)

Maldon sea salt and freshly ground pepper

Wild Garlic Aioli

Homemade Mayo

1-4 cloves of garlic, depending on size

2 teaspoons chopped parsley

2 teaspoons chopped wild garlic leaves (Allium ursinum)

4 -6 tablespoons lamb cooking juices

Fresh Mint Chutney

1 large cooking apple (we use Grenadier or Bramley Seedling), peeled and cored

a large handful of fresh mint leaves, Spearmint or Bowles mint

50g (2oz) onions

20-50g (1-2oz) castor sugar (depending on tartness of apple)

salt and cayenne pepper

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

Place the lamb shoulder in a wide roasting tin or oven tray with the skin side up. Score the skin to encourage the fat to run out during the cooking and to crisp up the skin. Season with sea salt and freshly cracked pepper. Place in a roasting tin, transfer to the oven and roast for 30 minutes before turning the temperature down to 160°C/325F/Gas Mark 3 for a further 2 1/2 to 3 hours or until the meat is soft and succulent and will lift off the bones… 

Meanwhile make the aioli.

Note:  the crushed garlic may be mixed into the mayonnaise for the aioli.   Finally add the chopped parsley and wild garlic.  Taste for seasoning and correct if necessary.

This sauce cannot be finished until we have the juices from the cooked lamb.

Next make the fresh mint chutney.

Whizz all the ingredients in a food processor, season with salt and a little cayenne pepper.  Cover and keep cool. 

To test if the lamb is cooked to a melting tenderness, pull the shank bone and it and some of the meat should come away easily from the bone.

When the lamb is cooked, remove from the oven. There will be plenty of fatty cooking juices. Strain these through a sieve into a bowl. Keep the lamb warm in the oven with the temperature reduced to 100°C/200°F/Gas Mark 1/4.

When the fat has risen to the surface of the lamb cooking juices, skim carefully and thoroughly with a spoon.

Thin out the garlic mayonnaise with 4-6 tablespoons of the degreased juice to achieve a consistency similar to softly whipped cream or in other words the mayonnaise should now just lightly coat the back of a spoon. Taste and correct the seasoning. 

Bring the remaining juices to a simmer and taste and correct seasoning.

To serve the lamb, a tongs or serving fork and spoon are the best implements to remove the meat from the bones.  Prise largish pieces off the bones and serve on hot plates with some of the hot cooking juices, Wild Garlic Aioli and the Fresh Mint Chutney drizzled over the top… 

Greek Moussaka

Serves 8

This Greek peasant recipe, served in almost every taverna in Greece is one of the best ways to use up leftover lamb.  There are many variations on the theme, some include a layer of cooked potato slices and raisins. I’m sure it’s not my imagination, but I sometimes feel that moussaka is even better on the second day.

350g (12oz) aubergines

350g (12oz) courgettes

1 x 400g (14oz) tin tomatoes (use at this time of year) but very ripe fresh tomatoes are best in summer

1 tablespoon olive oil plus extra for frying

1 onion, finely chopped (include some green part of spring onion if you have it)

1 large garlic clove, crushed

450g (1lb) cooked minced lamb

1 tablespoon chopped fresh marjoram or thyme

2 teaspoons chopped fresh parsley

1 bay leaf

pinch of grated nutmeg

2 teaspoons plain white flour

salt and freshly ground pepper

50g (2oz) raisins, plumped up in hot water while you prepare the other ingredients (optional)

For the topping

45g (1 1/2 oz) butter

45g (1 1/2 oz) plain white flour

600ml (1 pint) whole milk

1 bay leaf

2 egg yolks

2 tablespoons cream

110g (4oz) grated Gruyère or mature Cheddar cheese or a mixture

salt and freshly ground pepper

earthenware dish 25.5 x 21.5cm (10 x 8 1/2 inch)

Slice the aubergines and courgettes into 1cm (1/2 inch) slices, score the flesh lightly with a sharp tip of a knife, sprinkle with salt.  Leave for half an hour. Roughly chop the tinned tomatoes. Peel and chop the fresh tomatoes finely if using. Keep the juices.

Heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a heavy saucepan over a gentle heat, add the onions and garlic and cover and sweat for 4 minutes. Add the meat, herbs, bay leaf and nutmeg to the onions. Stir in the flour, cook for 1 minute then pour in the tomatoes and their juice. Bring to the boil, stirring, and simmer for 2-3 minutes. Season well.

Dab the aubergines dry with kitchen paper. Heat a pan-grill over a fairly high heat.  Brush both sides of the aubergines generously with extra virgin olive oil, cook until richly coloured on each side. Brush both sides of the courgettes with olive oil, pan-grill until richly coloured on each side. As the courgettes are ready, transfer into the bottom of a shallow casserole. Tip the meat mixture onto the courgettes, sprinkle with the drained raisins if using, then lay the fried aubergines on top. See that the top is as flat as possible.

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

Melt the butter in a saucepan. Stir in the flour. Cook, stirring for 1 minute, then draw off the heat, add the milk slowly, whisking out the lumps as you go. Add the bay leaf. Return the pan to the heat and stir until boiling. Season with salt and pepper and simmer for 2 minutes until thickened.  Whisk the egg yolk with the cream in a medium sized bowl. Pour the sauce on to this mixture whisking all the time. Add half the cheese and pour over the aubergines in the casserole. Sprinkle the rest of the cheese on top and bake for 30-35 minutes in the preheated oven until completely reheated and nicely browned on top.  Serve with a good green salad.

Moussaka can be made up in large quantities ahead of time, cooled quickly and frozen after it has been closely covered with parchment paper.

Note

In Autumn, if using fresh tomatoes at the end of the season, it may be necessary to use about 65ml (2 1/2fl oz) of stock to make the mince juicy enough.

Devilled Eggs with Smoked Salmon, Cucumber Pickle and Watercress

Smoked mackerel, trout or eel also works well here instead of the smoked salmon.

Serves 8

Devilled Eggs

4 free-range eggs

3-4 tablespoons homemade Mayonnaise

1/2 teaspoon finely chopped chives

salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

110g (4oz) smoked Irish salmon

Cucumber Pickle (see recipe)

Garnish

watercress or flat parsley or chervil

First make the cucumber pickle (see recipe).

For the egg mayonnaise, hard boil the eggs for 10 minutes in boiling salted water, drain and put immediately into a bowl of cold water. (Eggs with a black ring around the yolk have been overcooked).

When cold, shell, slice in half lengthways and sieve the yolks into a bowl. Mix the sieved yolk with mayonnaise, add chopped chives and salt and pepper to taste. Fill into a piping bag and pipe into the whites. Garnish with a chive or a sprig of parsley or chervil.

To assemble

Slice the smoked salmon into 3mm (1/8 inch) thick slices straight down onto the skin, arrange 3 or 4 pieces on one side of the plate, place the stuffed egg beside it and then add some cucumber pickle to the plate. Garnish with a sprig of watercress or flat parsley or chervil and we like to serve it with Ballymaloe Brown Yeast Bread.

Egg Sandwiches

Coarsely chop the peeled eggs, season generously with flaky sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, mix with mayonnaise and finely chopped chives. Add a little smoked paprika if you fancy.

Cucumber Pickle

You won’t need all of this, but it keeps well and is a brilliant store cupboard standby.

Serves 10-12

1kg (2 1/4lb) thinly sliced unpeeled cucumber

3 small onions thinly sliced

200g (7oz) sugar

2 level tablespoons salt

225ml (8fl oz) cider vinegar

Combine the cucumber and onion sliced in a large bowl.  Mix the sugar, salt and vinegar together and pour over cucumbers.  Place in a tightly covered container in refrigerator and leave for at least 4-5 hours or overnight before using. 

Keeps well for up to a week in the refrigerator.

Chocolate Ganache

A brilliant multi-purpose recipe.  Use as a sauce over ice-cream, to ice a chocolate cake or allow to cool and whisk up into a mousse for feather-light chocolate truffles.

225g (8oz) plain chocolate, chopped – we use 52% (Valrhona or Callebaut) but one could use up leftover chocolate

175ml (6fl oz) cream

1-2 teaspoons rum or orange liqueur (optional)

Put the chocolate in a large bowl. Bring the cream to the boil, pour over the chocolate, add the booze if using.  Leave for 8-10 minutes or until cool.  Pour over ice-cream as a sauce or use to ice a cake.

For chocolate truffles, whisk the chocolate and cream together gently until it reaches really soft peaks – careful not to over whisk or it will be too stiff to roll and may turn into chocolate butter. Roll into balls and coat with cocoa or praline to make delicious little chocolate truffles. 

An After Easter Rocky Road

Scary stuff but addictive – an inspired way to use up leftovers!

This recipe is not carved in stone so use what you have access to…

Makes 24-36 depending on size

125g (4 1/2oz) unsalted butter

300g (10oz) chocolate

300g (10oz) mini marshmallows

110g (4oz) cherries, cut in half or a mixture of cherries and Crunchie

110g (4oz) raisins

110g (4oz) hazelnuts (toasted and skinned)

110g (4oz) biscuits, chopped or broken

150g (5oz) mini speckled eggs – leave 75g (3oz) whole and cut the remaining in halves.

23cm (9 inch) square tin (5cm/2 inch depth) lined with silicone paper

Melt the butter and chocolate gently in a Pyrex bowl sitting over a saucepan of tepid water, allow to cool but while still liquid stir in the marshmallow, halved cherries, Crunchies (if using), raisins, hazelnuts, biscuits and mini speckled eggs. Toss gently to coat in the melted chocolate. Pour into a lined tin and allow to set for 2 hours or over overnight.

Cut into 4 x 7.5cm (1 1/2 x 3 inch) squares or whatever you fancy.

Easter Baking

For intrepid and enthusiastic bakers, Easter is a super exciting time of the year.  Every country around the world has its Easter baking traditions – from Finland to Greece, Spain to Romania, Italy, Ukraine and indeed Russia too!

Many of the Nordic and Eastern countries have elaborate egg painting traditions, and dyed hard-boiled eggs are incorporated into enriched braided yeast breads in Greece, Italy and Spain.  Using up as many of the surplus eggs accumulated during the Lenten session was definitely a priority in country households. 

All manner of celebration cakes were baked, not just to mark Easter itself but also the arrival of Spring, Our Lord’s resurrection and in Finland, Pääsiäisleipä, a festive cylindrical bread flavoured with orange, lemon, lots of dried fruit and cardamom, traditionally baked in milking pails was made to celebrate the arrival of new calves!

Germany and Austria still have a rich baking tradition.  Families bake a wide variety of delicious Easter biscuits to share with family and friends.  I first tasted a variety of these little biscuits in the late 1960’s when I was invited to my first ever Easter Bunny hunt by Irene Bauer, she and her mother, refugees from the Second World War lived at Ballymaloe for over 20 years.  They brought their cherished traditions and customs with them from their native Bavaria and shared the recipes with us.  Everyone had their favourites, I remember loving Terrassen (triple butter shortbread cookies sandwiched with jam) and Haselnussmakronen (hazelnut macaroons) too.  The latter are naturally dairy and gluten-free – made just from egg whites, ground hazelnuts, a little cinnamon and sugar.  I also remember butter cookies which had sprinkles on top.  They could be made in a variety of shapes including bunnies for Easter and fir trees for Christmas.

Our Easter traditions are Simnel Cake, a gorgeous rich fruit cake iced with toasted marzipan with an extra layer of marzipan baked into the centre and of course hot cross buns.  The children make chocolate Rice Krispie nests and fill them with speckled eggs and lots and lots of Easter bunny biscuits to hide in the garden and share with their friends.  Making Easter biscuits is time consuming but fun when it becomes a family activity, that’s what memories are made of…Let’s keep all the customs going and pass both traditions and recipes onto the next generation. 

* All these biscuits keep for several weeks in an airtight container if you can resist them. 

Easter Butter Biscuits (Buttergebad)

These biscuits can be made into any shape you fancy – bunnies, Easter eggs….

Makes 60-70 biscuits

400g (14oz) soft butter

200g (7oz) sugar

5 egg yolks – save the egg whites for macaroons

500g (18oz) plain white flour

Glaze

1 egg yolk

2 teaspoons cream

sprinkles

Line some baking sheets with parchment paper.

In a bowl, cream the butter, sugar and egg yolks.  Beat until light and fluffy.  Sieve and stir in the flour, turn out onto a board and knead the mixture until it comes together.  Rest for 30 minutes in a fridge to firm up. 

Mix the egg yolk and cream together for the glaze.

Preheat the oven to 160˚C/325˚F/Gas Mark 3.

Roll out the dough into scant 5mm (1/4 inch) approx. thick and stamp out into Easter shapes – bunnies etc. 

Brush the top with glaze and scatter with sprinkles.  Put on a baking sheet and bake for 15-20 minutes approx. making sure to keep an eye on them.  Cool on a wire rack. 

Mrs Bauer’s Terrassen Biscuits

The Bauer’s were a German refugee family that my father-in-law gave a home and a job to in 1947.

Makes 10 – 15

You will need three different size biscuit cutters: 6cm (2 1/2 inch), 5cm (2 inch), 4cm (1 1/2 inch) of the same shape – bunnies, hearts, stars, teddy bears or whatever is your fancy

350g (12oz) white flour

110g (4oz) caster sugar

225g (8oz) cold butter

raspberry jam

icing sugar for dusting

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

Put the flour and sugar into a bowl; rub in the cold butter as for shortcrust pastry. Gather the mixture together and knead lightly. Roll out to 5mm (1/4 inch) thick.  Cut into biscuits of whatever shape you choose of equal numbers.  Bake in the preheated oven until they are pale brown, 10 – 15 minutes. Remove and cool on a rack.

You may need to gather the pastry together a couple of times and reroll it after each cutting.

When the biscuits are cold place the largest one on a sheet of parchment paper, take the medium-size biscuit and butter some jam on the base, then place down in the centre of the larger biscuit, then take the smallest biscuit and butter some jam on the base of that and places carefully into the centre of the medium size biscuit then dust with icing sugar.  Repeat with the rest of your biscuits.

Easter Almond Crisps

Makes 30 biscuits

110g (4oz) self-raising flour

pinch of salt

50g (2oz) caster sugar

50g (2oz) butter, diced

2 egg yolks, preferably free-range and organic

Icing

1 egg white, preferably free-range and organic

110g (4oz) icing sugar, sieved

Decoration

40g (1 1/2oz) almonds, roughly chopped

Sieve the flour and salt into a bowl and add the caster sugar.   Rub in the butter until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs.  Add the egg yolks and mix to a firm dough. Wrap in parchment paper and chill for 30 minutes.

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

Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. 

Roll out the pastry on a lightly-floured worktop or between 2 pieces of parchment paper.  Cut the pastry with a floured 5cm (2 inch) round fluted cutter.  Place the biscuits on the prepared baking sheets.

To make the icing, whisk the egg whites to the soft peak stage and gradually add in the icing sugar.  Put a small teaspoon of icing in the centre of each biscuit, smooth it slightly and sprinkle the chopped almonds on top of the biscuits. 

Bake in the preheated oven for 15-18 minutes, until light golden brown.  Cool on a wire rack.

Easter Hazelnut Macaroons

Makes 50 approx.

250g (9oz) hazelnuts

250g (9oz) vanilla sugar

a pinch of pure cinnamon (optional)

4 egg whites, preferably free-range and organic

50 whole hazelnuts, toasted for garnish

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

Cover 2 or 3 baking sheets with silicone paper.

Place the whole hazelnuts on a baking tray and roast in the oven for 10-15 minutes, or until the skins loosen (keep an eye on them so that they don’t burn).  Remove from the oven and rub off the skins in a tea towel.  Grate the peeled hazelnuts in a nut mill or whizz with a little of the sugar in a food processor until quite fine – add cinnamon if using.

Whisk the egg with the caster sugar until they hold a stiff peak.

Fold in the grated hazelnuts.  Drop a teaspoon of the mixture onto the baking sheets and top each one with a toasted whole hazelnut.  Bake in the preheated oven for 40 minutes approx.  Cool on a wire rack.

Easter Coconut Meringues

Easy peasy to make, can be tiny bites or adapted to make two x 18cm (7 inch) coconut meringue discs for a delectable pudding (bake the meringues for 45 minutes or until set and crisp and allow to cool).  I’ve also made these with frozen desiccated coconut, even more delicious – reduce the coconut to 50g (2oz). 

Makes 30 approx.

2 egg whites, preferably free-range and organic

125g (4 1/2oz) vanilla castor sugar

75g (3oz) unsweetened desiccated coconut

Preheat the oven to 150°C/300°F/Gas Mark 2.

Line 2 or 3 baking sheets with silicone. 

Whisk the egg whites with the vanilla sugar until very stiff and gently fold in the desiccated coconut gently.  Drop teaspoons of the mixture onto the baking sheets and bake in the preheated oven for 40 minutes approx. 

Cool on a wire rack. 

Easter Hazelnut Sticks

This is another hazelnut biscuit but quite different to the macaroons.

Makes 45 approx. 

150g (5oz) plain flour 
125g (4 1/2oz) cold butter
125g (4 1/2oz) ground hazelnuts
125g (4 1/2oz) vanilla caster sugar 

Glaze
1 egg white, preferably free-range and organic 
75g (3oz) icing sugar, sieved 

Sieve the flour into a bowl.  Grate the cold butter into tiny pieces and toss in the flour so they won’t stick together. Mix in the ground hazelnuts and vanilla caster sugar and knead until it forms a dough. Cover and leave to rest in a fridge for 1 hour.

Preheat the oven to 150°C/300°F/Gas Mark 2.
Line 2 or 3 baking trays with parchment paper.

Divide the dough in half.  Roll on parchment paper to 5mm (1/4 inch) thick.  Transfer to a baking sheet.  Cut into strips 2cm (3/4 inch) wide and 7.5cm (3 inch) long.  Space apart to allow enough room for expansion. 

Repeat with the rest. 

Whisk the egg white lightly and stir into the icing sugar. Spread the glaze over the dough. 

Bake for approximately 20 minutes until the glaze is pale, coffee colour.  Cool on a wire rack.

Easter Egg Nests

Super easy and fun to make – decorate with fluffy Easter chicks.

Makes 24

4ozs (110g) Rice Krispies or Cornflakes

6ozs (175g) Chocolate

72 speckled mini eggs

cupcake papers or ring moulds

Put the chocolate in a Pyrex bowl over a saucepan of hot water.  Bring just to the boil, turn off the heat immediately and allow to melt in the bowl.  Stir in the Rice Krispies or Cornflakes.

Spoon into cupcake cases.  Flatten a little and make a well in the centre.  Fill with three speckled chocolate mini eggs.  Allow to set. 

World Health Day

World Health Day is on Thursday, 7th April this year.  There’s a special day for virtually everything nowadays but it’s definitely worth reflecting on the source of good health.

It may come as a surprise to many but the reality is our health comes from the soil, from healthy living soil, not from labs, factories or anywhere else.  We are what we are from the moment of conception, a mixture of genes from our ancestors, an accident of birth that we have no control over but we can certainly influence our health and wellbeing by nourishing ourselves with vital living chemical-free food rather than with ultra-processed food that we now know damages our health and, in many cases, causes disease.   

Every bite of food we eat has consequences, not just on our health but also the environment and the livelihood of our farmers and food producers.  I trawled through the references on the World Health Day website and Wikipedia but I failed to find any reference to the importance of the soil.  Perhaps I missed something but I so wish this basic fact could be better understood and highlighted.  We are totally dependent on the varying layer of topsoil around the world for our very existence.  Sadly much of that soil is now seriously degraded.  Here in Ireland where we are fortunate overall to have a high percentage of good land, a recent Teagasc report concluded that 90% of Irish soils are deficient in one or more main soil nutrients.   Minerals come from the earth’s crust, if they are not there, they cannot be in our food.  The ‘green’ revolution unintentionally damaged the soil and contributed to the decrease in mineral density in many crops, not just wheat.

Numerous peer reviewed studies in the US, Canada and UK clearly show the steady decline in nutrient density in a wide variety of conventionally grown fruit and vegetables since the mid 1900’s. At present because of the ‘cheap food policy’, the price at farm gate is rarely enough to enable the farmers to produce the kind of healthy wholesome food we say we want. Farmers are paid for volume and yield rather than nutrient levels.  If this emphasis were to change and it urgently needs to , it would be a complete game changer – better to pay the farmers to keep us healthy than have to pay the doctors for a cure.

Agribusiness is called agribusiness for a reason; the primary focus is on making money…New varieties are bred and selected for particular characteristics that impact the bottom line.  Cultivars are chosen for disease resistance, high yields and physical appearance rather than maximum nutrient density.  Intensive farming methods strip the soil of nutrients, chemical pesticides are formulated to kill specific weeds and/or pests but they also kill beneficial microorganisms in the soil.  Microbes recycle and release nutrients into the soil, they are crucial to nutrient density.  Just as our health depends on what we eat, vegetables and plants depend on what they absorb from the soil – so in the words of Lady Eve Balfour whom I have quoted many times in this column ‘The health of soil, plant, animal and man is one and indivisible.’ 

Nutritionally deficient food, and that applies to much of the food we consume nowadays unless we are fortunate to have access to organic or chemical-free food, grown on rich, fertile soil, does not satisfy…This may well explain why even after eating big portions of food, one still feels hungry and can crave more contributing to the growing obesity problem…

Someone recently asked, ‘Why do I still feel hungry when I eat four pieces of sliced pan but when I eat one slice of natural sourdough made from organic wheat, I somehow feel satisfied?’  I don’t have to spell out the answer…

Many studies confirm that we are fortunate if fruit or veg contain 50% of the nutrients they did in the 1950’s.  Apparently, one needs to eat 7 or 8 oranges nowadays to get the same amount of vitamins and minerals one did several decades ago.  

So what to do…?

1. Seek out and support the small farmers and food producers at your local Farmers’ Market

2. Join an organic box scheme – Check your local area first but Green Earth Organics based in Co. Galway deliver to every county in Ireland.

3. Join your local branch of NeighbourFood.  If there isn’t one in your area, start one.  Founders Jack Crotty and Simone Crotty will generously share the model information with you – contact details,  jack@neighbourfood.ie

4. Incorporate some wild and foraged foods that contain far more vitamins, minerals and trace elements into your diet – they are more nutritionally complex than many cultivated foods.

5. So as we move closer to the growing season, let’s redouble our efforts to grow some of our own food, even if it’s just one or two items. Get together with your pals and make a plan – you grow beets and scallions,  someone else grows tomatoes, cucumber, courgettes…Everyone grows salad leaves and radishes then share…

Listen to the excellent BBC Food Programme Podcast on the True Price of Food – unmissable and thought provoking. 

Check out the Sustainable Food Trust podcasts… inspirational… 

The food is medicine movement has been around for decades advocating that healthy, wholesome foods could be prescribed in many instances to prevent, limit or even reverse illness by changing people’s diets.  However, many doctors feel that they are not being equipped at medical school with the knowledge on nutrition they need to advise their patients to change their diet rather than resort to supplements. 

Here are a few inexpensive and delicious recipes to boost your family’s immune system and spread joy.

Potato and Wild Garlic Soup

At present,  the air in our local woods  is heavy with the smell of wild garlic. Both the bulbs and leaves of wild garlic are used in this soup and the pretty flowers are divine, sprinkled over the top of each soup bowl. Gather some on your next walk… 

Serves 6

45g (scant 2oz) butter

150g (5oz) peeled and chopped potatoes

110g (4oz) peeled and chopped onion

salt and freshly ground pepper

900ml (1 1/2 pints) water or home-made chicken stock or vegetable stock

300ml (10fl oz) creamy milk

125g (4 1/2oz) chopped wild garlic leaves, (Allium ursinum)

Garnish

wild garlic flowers

Melt the butter in a heavy bottomed saucepan, when it foams, add the potatoes and onions and toss them until well coated. Sprinkle with salt and freshly ground pepper. Cover and sweat on a gentle heat for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile prepare the wild garlic leaves. When the vegetables are almost soft but not coloured add the stock and milk, bring to the boil and cook until the potatoes and onions are fully cooked. Add the wild garlic and boil with the lid off for 4-5 minutes with the lid off approximately until the wild garlic is cooked. Do not overcook or the soup will lose its fresh green colour. Puree the soup in a liquidiser or food processor. Taste and correct seasoning.  Serve sprinkled with a few wild garlic flowers.

Everyday Dahl

Taken from ‘How To Cook’ by Darina Allen published by Kyle Books

This truly delicious dahl comes from Ahilya Fort in Maheshwar, one of my favourite places to stay and eat in all of India.  They call it Usha Mem Sahib’s dahl.  A delicious vegetarian option or serve with pan grilled fish or a lamb chop or just with flatbreads…

Serves 6

900ml (1 1/2 pints) water

200g (7oz) split red lentils

3 large garlic cloves, thinly sliced on a mandolin

1 ripe tomato, peeled and chopped

110g (4oz) finely chopped onion

2 tablespoons tamarind water (see method in recipe)

3 teaspoons ground coriander

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon ground turmeric

1 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice

2 teaspoons granulated sugar

3 tablespoons fresh coriander, coarsely chopped

To Serve

natural yoghurt and cooked rice

Tamarind Water

40g (1 1/2oz) tamarind

150ml (5fl oz) warm water

Tempering

50g (2oz) clarified butter or ghee

3 teaspoons cumin seeds

1 dried red chilli, broken into 5mm (1/4 inch) pieces, or 1 teaspoon chilli flakes

1/4 teaspoon, ground coriander

1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice

3 tablespoons fresh coriander, coarsely chopped

natural yogurt

To make the tamarind paste, soak the tamarind in the warm water for at least 30 minutes or several hours or overnight if possible, until softened.  Push through a sieve and discard the pips.  Save any leftover tamarind water in a covered jar in the fridge for another recipe – it keeps for up to 3 months.

Put the water, lentils, garlic, tomato, onion, tamarind water, ground coriander, cumin, turmeric and salt into a saucepan on a medium heat.  Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and cook for 18-20 or until the lentils are completely soft. 

For the tempering.

Melt the clarified butter in a pan over a medium heat and add the cumin seeds.  When the cumin pops, add the chilli and cook for a minute. Stir in the ground coriander.

Carefully pour the tempering over the lentils as it will sizzle and splash. Cook over a low heat for 3 minutes, add the lemon juice, sugar and chopped coriander and season to taste.  Serve with a dollop of natural yogurt on top and some rice alongside.

Gratin of Potato and Mushroom

If you have a few wild mushrooms e.g. chanterelles or field mushrooms, mix them with ordinary mushrooms for this gratin. If you can find flat mushrooms, all the better, one way or the other the gratin will still be delectable on its own or as a side… Mushrooms are super nutritious. 

Serves 6

1kg (2 1/4lbs) ‘old’ potatoes, e.g. Golden Wonders or Kerr’s Pinks

225g (8oz) mushrooms or a mixture of cultivated mushrooms, brown mushrooms, oyster mushrooms and shitake

butter

1 clove garlic, finely chopped

salt and freshly ground pepper

300ml (10fl oz) light cream (200ml (7fl oz) of cream and 100ml (3 1/2fl oz) of milk)

3 tablespoons grated Parmesan (Parmigiano Reggiano), or Irish mature Cheddar cheese

Ovenproof gratin dish 25.5cm (10 inch) x 21.5cm (8 1/2 inch)

Slice the mushrooms. Peel the potatoes and slice thinly into 5mm (1/4 inch) slices.   Bring a large saucepan of water to the boil.  Add the potato slices to the boiling water.  As soon as the water returns to the boil, drain the potatoes.  Refresh under cold water.  Drain again and arrange on kitchen paper or a clean tea towel. 

Grease a shallow gratin dish generously with butter and sprinkle the garlic over it. Arrange half the potatoes in the bottom of the dish, season with salt and freshly ground pepper.  Cover with the sliced mushrooms. Season again and finish off with a final layer of overlapping potatoes.

Bring the cream almost to boiling point and pour over the potatoes. Sprinkle the cheese on top and bake for 1 hour approx. at 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4, until the gratin becomes crisp and golden brown with the cream bubbling up around the edges.

This gratin is terrifically good with a pan-grilled lamb chop or a piece of steak.

Slow-Cooked Lamb with Cannellini Beans, Tomatoes and Rosemary

Bean stews make the perfect one-pot meal – comforting, filling and inexpensive. Gremolata is a fresh-tasting mix of chopped parsley, garlic and lemon zest. I use it to sprinkle over roast or braised meats, pastas or anything pan-grilled – delicious! If you’re short of time, you could replace it with some
chopped parsley instead.

Serves 6

500g (18oz) boned shoulder of lamb, trimmed of fat and cut into 3cm (1 1/4 inch) cubes

plain flour, for dusting

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

50g (2oz) onions, finely chopped

2 garlic cloves, finely chopped

225g (8oz) carrots, finely diced

1 stick of celery, finely diced

2 bay leaves

a couple of sprigs of fresh rosemary

2 x 400g (14oz) tins of Italian tomatoes, chopped

300ml (10fl oz) white wine

300ml (10fl oz) homemade lamb stock or water

2 x 400g (14oz) tins of cannellini beans, rinsed in cold water and drained (*see note at end of recipe)

flaky sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the Gremolata

4 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley

1 generous teaspoon grated or finely chopped organic lemon zest

2 garlic cloves, finely chopped

flaky sea salt, to taste

Dust the cubes of lamb with flour seasoned with salt and pepper. Heat the olive oil in a casserole and fry the lamb in batches until brown. Remove the lamb to a plate and set aside.

Add the onions, garlic, carrots and celery to the casserole and cook over a medium heat for 3–4 minutes until the onions are beginning to soften and are slightly golden. Add the lamb.

Reduce the heat to low and put in the bay leaves, rosemary, tomatoes, white wine and lamb stock or water. Bring slowly to the boil, cover the pan with a lid and simmer very gently for about 1 1/2 hours, or until the lamb is tender. Add the cannellini beans 15 minutes before the end.  Remove the rosemary sprigs and bay leaves from the lamb and check the seasoning.

To make the gremolata, mix all of the ingredients in a small bowl, season to taste with salt and serve soon.

Serve sprinkled with the gremolata and a big bowl of buttery scallion champ. 

*Note

If time isn’t a problem, soak 400g (14oz) of cannellini beans in lots of water overnight, they will double in volume.  Drain, add to the pot with the tomatoes, wine and stock and continue to cook until both the beans and lamb are fully cooked.

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 (3lb) 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

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.

Darina’s Favourite Rhubarb Tart with Custard

This is a gem of a recipe – a real keeper. The pastry 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.

Serves 8-12

Pastry

225g (8oz) soft butter

50g (2oz) castor sugar

2 eggs, preferably free range

350g (12oz) white flour, preferably unbleached

Filling

900g (2lbs) sliced red rhubarb (about 1cm thick)

200g – 370g (7 – 12oz) granulated sugar depending on whether you are using forced or garden rhubarb

egg wash-made with one beaten egg and a dash of milk

castor sugar for sprinkling

To Serve

softly whipped cream

Barbados/soft dark brown sugar

custard

tin, 18cm x 30.5cm x 2.5cm (7 x 12 x 1 inch) deep

Preheat the oven to 180°C/Gas Mark 4.

First make the pastry. Cream the butter and sugar together by hand or in a food mixer (no need to over cream). Add the eggs one by one and beat for several minutes. Reduce speed and mix in the flour slowly. Turn out onto a piece of floured greaseproof paper, flatten into a round wrap and chill. This pastry needs to be chilled for at least 2 hours otherwise it is difficult to handle.

To make the tart

Roll out the pastry 3mm (1/8 inch) thick approx. and use about 2/3 of it to line a suitable tin. Place the sliced rhubarb into the tart, sprinkle with sugar. Cover with a lid of pastry, seal edges, decorate with pastry leaves, egg wash and bake in the preheated oven until the apples are tender, approx. 45 minutes to 1 hour. When cooked cut into squares, sprinkle lightly with castor sugar and serve with softly whipped cream and Barbados sugar and/or with lots and lots of custard.

Crème Anglaise (Custard Sauce)

This basic sauce is usually flavoured with vanilla but can be made with any number of other ingredients, such as lemon or orange rind or mint.  It is used in many recipes including ice-cream, though in that case the proportion of sugar is much higher than usual because unsweetened cream is added during the freezing. 

600ml (1 pint) milk

vanilla pod or other alternative flavouring

6 egg yolks

50g (2oz) sugar

Bring the milk almost to the boil with the vanilla pod.  In a Pyrex bowl, beat the egg yolks with the sugar until thick and light.  Whisk in the hot milk in a slow and steady stream.  Replace in a clean saucepan and cook over very low heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until the custard thickens slightly.  Your finger should leave a clear trail when drawn across the back of the spoon.

Remove from the heat at once and strain.  Cool, cover tightly and chill.  The custard can be kept for up to 2 days in the refrigerator. 

Note: The mixture is replaced in a clean saucepan to avoid the mixture catching on the bottom of the pan).

Ukraine

Not sure about you but I can scarcely enjoy a meal without feeling guilty at present.  I feel so fortunate and thank the good Lord to be able to wake up in the morning in my warm bed secure in the thought that it is unlikely that our house will be bombed before nightfall – I can’t get the images out of my head….  Cold and hungry people trudging towards the border with the few possessions they can carry in sub-zero temperatures clutching a shivering cat or a terrified child. 

No doubt, like you too, we were desperate to do something to help in some way so Rory, Rachel and I did an online cookery demonstration and raised over €13,000 for the Irish Red Cross Ukraine Appeal.  One of our students, Grainne O’Higgins baked brownies, invited people to help themselves and perhaps donate – her little project raised €128.00.  Tessa Lomas who has spent many years on the south coast of Sri Lanka showed her fellow students how to make Sri Lankan roti filled with curried mince or cheese and tomato as well as tasty hoppers and several sambals.  They were all super delicious and once again raised just over €200 for the Irish Red Cross.  Let’s all ask ourselves what we can do.  Every little helps, companies all over the country are donating food.  Ballymaloe Relish has sent a palette of pasta sauce to Ukraine.  The Sheridan brothers have mobilised the cheesemakers and cheese factories who have generously donated tons of cheese, Flahavan’s porridge oats and a palette of Barry’s tea is also winging its way to the Ukraine.  Many of us didn’t even know where Ukraine was until a few weeks ago, now we know the names of all its major cities, the colour of its flag and the sound of its national anthem…get the kids involved as well – they’ll come up with lots of ideas.

We have learned so much about the food of Ukraine, thanks to Olia Hercules, the beautiful, young Ukrainian cook living in London whose parents and brother are trapped in Kyiv at present.  For the cookery demonstration, Rachel cooked Ukrainian ‘Angel Wings’ with Black Cardamom and homemade dulce de leche (called Anna’s Sweet Milk).  Rory cooked Spatchcock Chicken with Blackberry and Grape Sauce served with Olia’s Roast Beetroot and Plums with Radicchio and Soft Herbs.  Both Rory and Rachel’s recipes were inspired by Olia’s cookbooks ‘Mamushka’ and ‘Kaukasis The Cookbook’ published by Mitchell Beazley. I myself cooked Chicken Kyiv and Pancakes with Ricotta and Dill, both delicious.  Chicken Kyiv is definitely having its moment once again.  Most of us hadn’t had it for years and had forgotten how delicious it was.  Here’s my recipe from the early 80’s but it’s just as delicious as ever…

Chicken Kyiv

A long-time favourite – having a poignant moment once again…

Serves 6

3 whole chicken breasts

110g (4oz) softish butter

2 garlic cloves, peeled and made into a paste

1 tablespoon finely chopped parsley

1 tablespoon finely chopped basil or tarragon or thyme

2 beaten eggs

110g (4oz) flour, seasoned with salt and freshly ground black pepper

75-110g (3-4oz) fine breadcrumbs

oil for deep frying

Blend the butter with the garlic and herbs, either by beating them together with a wooden spoon or by putting everything in the food processor and processing until thoroughly mixed. Divide the seasoned butter into 6 equal pieces, shape them into long, tapered fingers and put into the freezer covered with parchment paper, until frozen hard.

Skin each breast and cut in half lengthwise, so you have 6 half breasts. Put the chicken breasts between sheets of parchment paper and flatten with a meat pounder, pushing down and outwards as you pound. The chicken must be almost translucent. Put a finger of frozen butter in the centre of each pounded breast.  Roll the chicken around the butter, tucking in the ends, so the rolled-up breast makes a neat sausage shaped package. The butter must be completely sealed in so that it cannot leak out during the cooking.

Dip the rolled breasts first in seasoned flour, then in beaten egg and finally roll in fine breadcrumbs. Arrange on a parchment covered baking tray.  Cover with another sheet of parchment paper and chill in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours. Alternatively, make them the day before you plan to serve them and chill until ready to fry.

Heat the oil in a deep-fryer to 190˚C/375˚F.

Fry the chicken Kyiv rolls, two or three at the time, until golden brown, 4-5 minutes depending on size*. Drain on kitchen paper, serve immediately with a salad of Winter leaves.

* Alternatively, shallow fry in a little clarified butter over a medium heat until golden on both sides.

Spatchcock Chicken with Blackberry and Grape Sauce

Serves 6-8

1 whole free-range organic chicken

sea salt and freshly ground pepper

chopped rosemary or thyme leaves

extra virgin olive oil or butter

a few cloves of garlic

Blackberry and Grape Sauce

100g (3 1/2oz) seedless grapes

300g (10oz) blackberries

1 tablespoon pomegranate molasses

2 cloves of garlic peeled and crushed

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1 teaspoon chopped marjoram

1 tablespoon chopped coriander leaves and stalks

pinch of chopped dill

sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

extra sprigs of coriander and dill for garnish

Insert a heavy chopping knife into the cavity of the chicken from the back end to the neck. Press down sharply to cut through the backbone. Alternatively place the chicken breast side down on the chopping board, using poultry shears cut along the entire length of the backbone as close to the centre as possible.

Open the bird out as much as possible.  Slash each chicken leg two or three times with a sharp knife. Season with flaky sea salt and freshly ground pepper, sprinkle with chopped rosemary or thyme and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil.


Transfer to a roasting tin. Turn skin side upwards and tuck the whole garlic cloves underneath. Roast on the barbeque or in a preheated oven 180˚C/350˚F/Gas Mark 4 for 40 minutes approximately. Check the colour of the juices between the thigh and the breast – they should run clean if the chicken is cooked.

To make the sauce.

Place the grapes and blackberries in a blender and render to a smooth purée. Pass through a sieve and place in a small saucepan. Add the pomegranate molasses, season with salt and pepper and bring to a bare simmer. Add in the garlic, cayenne and marjoram and simmer gently for a further 5 minutes. Finally add the coriander and dill. Taste and correct seasoning.

To Serve

Serve the sauce hot with the carved chicken and its cooking juices and sprinkled with  a few sprigs of coriander and dill.

Roast Beetroot and Plums with Radicchio and Soft Herbs

Serves 4-6

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

500g (18oz) beetroot, peeled, halved and cut into wedges

5 plums, stoned and quartered

pinch of sugar

1 tablespoon red wine vinegar.

150g (5oz) radicchio

1/2 – 1 red chilli, seeds in and sliced

2 teaspoons honey

2 cloves of garlic, crushed

1 teaspoon sesame seeds, toasted

a small handful of soft herbs such as dill and coriander

sea salt

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

Put the oil, beetroot and plums in a bowl, season with salt and pepper and toss to mix. Transfer to a roasting tray spreading them out in a single layer. Sprinkle on the vinegar, cover with a sheet of dampened and squeezed parchment paper and put in the oven to roast for 30 – 40 minutes. The beets should be nearly cooked by now and if not, allow to cook for longer before adding the remaining ingredients.

Cut the radicchio into wedges, retaining the stalk to hold the pieces together. Add them to the beetroot tray along with the chilli and the honey drizzled over. Stir to gently mix the ingredients and cook for a further 10 minutes.

Add in the garlic and cook for 2 more minutes.

Remove the tray from the oven and carefully transfer the vegetables, fruit and cooking juices to a serving dish.  sprinkle on the sesame seeds.

Serve immediately or while still warm with a scattering of sprigs of dill and coriander.

Ukrainian Kuchmachi

Taken from ‘Kaukasis The Cookbook’ by Olia Hercules published by Mitchell Beazley

Serves 2

3 tablespoons vegetable oil

200g (7oz) chicken hearts, trimmed

200g (7oz) chicken gizzards, trimmed (trimmed weight)

1 large onion, sliced

1 large garlic clove, sliced

30g (1 1/4oz) hazelnuts or walnuts, finely chopped

1/2 teaspoon coriander seeds, toasted and ground

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1/2 teaspoon dried wild thyme or za’atar herb (optional)

1 teaspoon pomegranate molasses

seeds of 1/4 pomegranate

sea salt flakes and freshly ground black pepper

Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a frying pan until very hot.  Add the hearts and gizzards and leave to cook for about 2 minutes on each side until caramelized, meaning that it’s important not to stir them too often.  When a lovely golden crust has formed, take them out of the pan.

Add the remaining tablespoon of oil to the pan and then the onion and cook over a medium-low heat for about 10-15 minutes until softened and started to turn golden.  Add the garlic, nuts, spices and herbs and cook for a further 5 minutes.

Return the meat to the pan, add the pomegranate molasses, a splash of water and season well with salt and pepper, then cover with a lid and cook over a low heat for 20-30 minutes until the meat is as soft as you like it (I don’t mind it being a tiny bit chewy, so I only cook it for 15 minutes). 

Stir through the pomegranate seeds and serve with some rice or bread.

Tip

You can also add some chicken livers – fry them in the pan with everything else, but only add them back in to braise for the last 5 minutes of the cooking time so that they don’t become too dry and chalky. 

Pancakes with Ricotta and Dill

As in many countries, pancakes are served with sweet and savoury fillings – this is a particularly delicious savoury version.  In Ukraine, they also love to drizzle pancakes with pine honey (see note at end of recipe). 

Makes 12 crêpes

Serves 6

Crêpe Batter

175g (6oz) white flour

good pinch of salt

2 large organic eggs and 1 – 2 egg organic egg yolks, lightly beaten

450ml (16fl oz) milk, or for very crisp, light delicate crêpes, half milk and half water

1-2 tablespoons melted butter

175g-225g (6-8oz) Urdu or fresh ricotta

caster sugar, to taste

1-2 tablespoons dill, chopped

4-5 tablespoons dill flowers and sprigs

lemon wedges, to serve

First make the batter.

Sift the flour and salt into a bowl, make a well in the centre and drop in the lightly beaten eggs. With a whisk or wooden spoon, starting in the centre, mix the egg and gradually bring in the flour. Add the liquid slowly and beat until the batter is covered with bubbles. Cover and leave in a cold place for an hour or so – longer will do no harm. Just before you cook the crêpes, stir in the melted butter. This will make all the difference to the flavour and texture of the crêpes and will make it possible to cook them without greasing the pan each time.

Meanwhile, mix the ricotta with sugar to taste and stir in the chopped dill.

Heat a 28cm (11 inch) heavy cast-iron crêpe pan or a non-stick pan until very hot, then pour in just enough batter to cover the base of the pan thinly.  Loosen the crêpe around the edge, flip over with a spatula, cook for a second or two on the other side, and slide off the pan onto a plate. Repeat with the remaining batter.

To serve, spread the ricotta and dill filling onto a pancake, leaving a 5mm border around the edge. Lay another pancake on top. Press down gently and cut into quarters. Decorate with dill flowers and sprigs (if using) and serve at room temperature.

Alternatively, spread one pancake with the ricotta and dill filling, fold into quarters, garnish and serve with lemon wedges.

Note: The unfilled pancakes will keep in the fridge for several days and also freeze perfectly. If they are to be frozen it is probably a good idea to put a disc of silicone paper between each for extra safety.

Pine Honey

Good to make later in the year. 

Use equal weight of young pine cones (flower buds – Pinaecae) and wild-flower honey

Mince or finely chop the young pine cones.  Half fill one or two jars and top with honey.  Cover and store in a cool place for a few weeks before using.  Drizzle the honey over crêpes, pancakes, crumpets, choux…

‘Angels Wings’ – Ukrainian Fried Pastries with Black Cardamom

Taken from ‘Mamushka’ by Olia Hercules published by Mitchell Beazley

These are Ukrainian ‘angel wing’ pastry crisps.  Originally, they used to be fried in lard (think of Portuguese pastel de nata lard pastry).  I add some ground black cardamom seeds to the sugar, but feel free to use vanilla sugar instead.

Makes 40 pasties

250g (8oz) plain flour, plus extra for dusting

pinch of bicarbonate of soda

50g (2oz) butter, cubed and chilled

1 egg

1 egg yolk

25g (1oz) caster sugar

1 tablespoon white wine vinegar

50g (2oz) soured cream

1 tablespoon vodka

pinch of salt

250ml (9fl oz) sunflower oil

50g (2oz) icing sugar, sifted

5 black cardamom pods, crushed and seeds extracted, then ground into a powder

dulce de leche or chocolate sauce, to serve

To make the dough, mix the flour and bicarbonate of soda together, then run in the butter with your fingertips until well combined.

Make a well in the centre of the flour mixture and pour in the egg, egg yolk, sugar, vinegar, soured cream, vodka and salt, then mix well into a firm pastry dough.

Flour your work surface really well and divide the dough into two pieces.   Roll one piece of dough out as thinly as you can.  Slice the dough into 4cm (1 1/2 inch) strips and then diagonally across so that you end up with 20 diamonds.  Make a 3cm (1 1/4 inch) slash in the centre of each diamond and pull one of the ends through the slash.  Repeat with the second piece of dough.

Heat the sunflower oil in a medium saucepan until very hot – be very careful with hot oil, placing it at the back of the hob if you have kids or crazy pets.  Line a large plate with some kitchen paper.

Drop the diamonds in carefully and fry them briefly until they float to the surface.  Lift them out with a slotted spoon and drain them on the kitchen paper.

Mix the icing sugar with the cardamom and sprinkle over the pastries.  I also like to treat these as nicely as I treat churros, dipping them into dulce de leche or chocolate sauce before devouring. 

Anna’s Sweet Milk

Taken from ‘Kaukasis The Cookbook’ by Olia Hercules published by Mitchell Beazley

A lady I met called Zhuzhuna Bardzimadze from Akhaltsikhe had the kindest face and tastiest pickles.  She lives, like so many others in Georgia, with her son and Kakhetian daughter-in-law Anna.  Anna makes the sweetest milk – a proper homemade dulche de leche, and by that I don’t mean boiling shop-bought condensed milk!  This is the real deal.  I loved that she knew that the amount the recipe made would vary depending on the season, due to the difference in the fat content of the milk.  In August, for instance, her yield was always bigger, as the milk is fattier.  The Georgians make cakes with this or just eat it spread on a bit of bread.  

Makes approx. 700ml (1 1/4 pints)

2 litres (3 1/2 pints) cows’ milk or goats’ milk

350g (12oz) cater sugar

1 vanilla pod, split lengthways and seeds scraped out

1 teaspoon sea salt flakes

1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda

Bring the milk and sugar to the boil in a large saucepan (it needs to be a tall saucepan, as the milk will rise and froth once the soda is added).

Take the pan off the heat and add the bicarbonate of soda.  Stir it and it will start to foam and rise rapidly (tap the base of the pan with a wooden spoon to stop it).

When it calms down, put the pan back on the heat and continue to boil over a low heat, stirring from time to time to ensure it doesn’t catch on the bottom, and taking care not to let it boil or the milk can curdle.  Cook for 30-40 minutes until the milk turns darker in colour (it should look like café au lait colour at this point).  When the mixture thickens and is the consistency of double cream, really watch it and start whisking continuously to prevent curdling.  As it thickens, keep whisking until it reduces right down.  Once the mixture has become viscous and brown like toasted hazelnuts, it’s ready.

Tip

If the mixture looks curdled, it can be saved by reheating and whisking in a couple of tablespoons of milk. 

Morocco

Morocco is mesmerising, the closest country where the culture is intriguingly different.  So tempting for those craving a change after almost two years of isolation – barely 3 1/2 hours by plane and 1-hour time change…

Where to go?  Castleblanca, Rabat, Fez, Essaouira, Tangiers…The latter though charming is still pretty nippy at this time of the year, so how about Marrakech with its date palms and cactus, souks and bazaars and the incomparable Jemaa el-Fnaa square in the heart of the medina, a magnet for both Moroccans and visitors flocking to be fed, watered and entertained.  Drink freshly squeezed juices (no alcohol) and watch hypnotic musicians like swirling dervishes, swirling jugglers, snake charmers…Have a pic taken with a monkey on your shoulder or with colourful tea sellers who make more money from having photos taken than by selling tea.  Donkeys weave in and out through the narrow lanes of the medina with carts full of oranges.

There are henna artists, soothsayers, a frenzy of merchants selling their wares from sparklers and balloons to little bowls of snails in broth and a selection of false teeth should you need them…  At night, local cooks and chefs set up long tables on the side of the square selling steaming bowls of harira with fresh dates, grilled fish, tagines, every conceivable type of offal.   A wonderfully convivial experience and the food overall is above average.

But my absolute favourite is mechoi, the meltingly tender milk-fed lamb, cooked slowly for hours in underground clay ovens until the succulent meat is virtually falling off the bones.  You’ll find it from noon to about 4pm along Mechoi Alley – a little lane on the east side of the square.  Look out for Haj Mustapha, he was the last Hassan’s (Kings) private chef who now owns Chez Lamine and several stalls selling not just mechoi but also goat’s heads, and tangia, a lamb stew in a clay pot, traditionally cooked in the ashes of the fire that heats the water for the hammans.  I even tasted karaein – cow’s hooves with chickpeas.  Been there, done that – don’t need to do it again…

The medieval city of Marrakech with its ten kilometres of ochre coloured adobe, ramparts and seven awe-inspiring ornamental gates has many landmarks.  The minarat of the Koutoubia Mosque dominates the city.  Like most mosques in Morocco, it’s closed to non-muslims but is still a mightily impressive building.  

Marrakech was the destination for merchants, camel traders and caravans who had crossed the desert and the snow-capped Atlas mountains with their wares.  It’s steeped in history…and if you only eat in one restaurant, it has to be Al Fassia, the women’s restaurant in Gueliz and how about Al Baraka, a petrol station on Rue de Fez, about 15 minutes outside Marrakech – inexpensive but delicious food. 

The highlight of my trip was a morning food tour with Plan-It Morocco.  And even though I’ve been to Marrakech many times, I discovered many new places with Bilal, my deeply knowledgeable guide.  We started at the Kasbah, originally a posh neighbourhood close to the royal palace, now a commercial area with lots of little shops, bakeries and stalls.  First stop – a little stall selling sfeng, the famous deep-fried breakfast doughnuts eaten plain or sometimes with an egg in the centre and a sprinkling of crunchy sea salt and cumin.  Actually these doughnuts are served all day but are sprinkled with sugar in the afternoon.  We wandered through the narrow alleys and watched women making a variety of different breads.  Every neighbourhood has an underground wood-fired oven which doubles up as a community bakery.  Women bake traditional round flat breads in their homes, lay them on a cloth covered board to rise.  It’s bought through the streets to be baked in the oven when the baker has finished cooking his daily loaves.  In Morocco, there are more than seven types of Moroccan bread – all delicious.

Stalls were piled high with beautiful fresh vegetables and fruit, I watched a beautiful old lady in a patterned black and white kaftan removing the fibres from long cardoon stalks.  First with a knife and then a coarse nylon brush.  I bought a bag back to Tarabel Riad and asked the cook to prepare them for my dinner in a delicious tagine of cardoons and potatoes.  

In the Jewish quarter, we sat at a little tin table to have another traditional Moroccan breakfast – Bissara, a thick bean soup sprinkled with cumin and chilli pepper, drizzled with olive oil. It comes with a basket of bread for dipping.

I could write several columns on the bread alone.

On past the once famous Sugar Market to watch the warka makers working at the speed of knots, dabbing the dough onto hot saucepan lids over boiling water to make the paper-thin sheets of warka used for chicken and pigeon pastilla and a myriad of other pastries. 

Next stop, Belkabir, the most famous pastry shop in the medina with 40 or more sticky sugar laden pastries from horns de gazelle to briwat (triangle shaped pastries filled with marzipan, deep-fried and dipped in honey). 

We continued to meander through the souks, with its stalls piled high with everything from Moroccan slippers, fake bags and ‘designer’ clothes, metal work, hand carved wooden spoons and boards, brassy trinkets, hand blown glass…and finally into a little secret corner called Talaa, to Chez Rashid, a favourite haunt of the locals.  I loved their sardine ‘meat balls’ with cumin and coriander – so delicious with chopped raw onion or with tomato sauce. 

We continued to walk through the souk – then back to the beautiful Tarabel Riad where Kahil picked oranges from the trees in the inner courtyard to make some freshly squeezed orange juice to quench my thirst…Sure where would you get it but in lovely Morocco.

Rory O’Connell’s Moroccan Harira Soup

In Morocco this soup is traditionally served with dates to break the fast during the holy month of Ramadan which starts on the 2nd April 2022.  There are thousands of different recipes for the soup, with each household adding their own particular twist to suit tastes and preferences. Chickpeas, lentils and sometimes beans, meat, either beef or lamb, vegetables, herbs and spices are the basic ingredients.

Serves 8

100g (3 1/2oz) dried chickpeas, soaked overnight in cold water

110g (4oz) Puy lentils

450g (1lb) lamb, trimmed of all fat and cut into 1cm (1/2 inch) cubes

1 large onion, finely chopped

1 teaspoon turmeric

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon each of ground ginger, saffron strands and paprika

salt and pepper

50g (2oz) butter

100g (3 1/2oz) long grain rice

4 large ripe tomatoes, skinned, seeded and chopped

salt and pepper

2 tablespoons chopped fresh coriander

4 tablespoons chopped flat leaved parsley

lemon wedges to serve with the soup

Drain the chickpeas and discard the soaking water. Place in a saucepan with the lentils. Add the lamb, onion, turmeric, cinnamon, ginger, saffron and paprika. Cover with 1.5 litres (2 1/2 pints) of water and stir gently to mix. Season lightly with salt and pepper. Bring to the boil and skim off any froth that rises to the surface. Add in half of the butter.

Turn the heat down and simmer the soup covered, for 1 – 1 1/2 hours until the chickpeas are tender. Keep an eye on the level of liquid in the pan and add a little more water if necessary.

Towards the end of cooking time, prepare the rice. Bring 850ml (scant 1 1/2 pints) water to the boil in a saucepan. Add the rice, stir gently and cook until tender. Drain the rice, reserving the cooking liquid.

Cook the chopped tomatoes in 3 tablespoons  of the rice cooking water.  Season with salt, pepper and a pinch of sugar. The tomatoes should have a “melted” appearance. Add the cooked rice, tomatoes and the remainder of the butter to the soup and simmer for a further 5 minutes. Taste and correct seasoning, if necessary, adding some of the reserved rice cooking water to thin out the soup a little. Add the chopped herbs and serve with lemon wedges on the side.

Moroccan Semolina Bread

A traditional disc-shaped flat bread can be white or have some wholemeal added.  I use Raglan Irish organic semolina flour from Monaghan and get delicious results.  www.irishorganicmill.ie

This version was given to me by Eric Treuille and Ursula Ferrigno from their cookbook ‘Bread’.

Makes 2 loaves

2 teaspoons dried yeast

175ml (6fl oz) water

250g (9oz) semolina

250g (9oz) strong white flour

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

125ml (4 1/2fl oz) extra virgin olive oil

egg glaze, beat 1 egg yolk with 1 tablespoon (of water and a pinch of salt

4 tablespoons sesame seeds

Sprinkle the yeast into 100ml (3 1/2fl oz) of the water in a bowl.  Leave for 5 minutes; stir to dissolve.  Mix the semolina, flour and salt together in a large bowl.  Make a well in the centre and pour in the yeasted liquid and the olive oil.

Mix in the flour.  Stir in the remaining water, as needed to form a stiff, sticky dough.

Turn out onto a floured work surface.  Knead the dough until smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes. 

Put the dough in a clean, oiled bowl and cover with a tea towel.  Leave to rise until doubled in size, about 1 – 1 1/2 hours.  Knock back, then leave to rest for 10 minutes.

Divide the dough into two pieces.  On a lightly floured work surface, shape each piece into a flattened round, 18cm (7 inch) across and 2.5cm (1 inch) thick.

Place the dough rounds onto oiled baking trays, then cover with a tea towel.  Leave to rise until doubled in size, about 30-45 minutes.

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

Brush the top of the dough rounds with the egg glaze and sprinkle evenly with sesame seeds.  Prick gently all over with a skewer to prevent air bubbles.

Bake in the preheated oven for 30 minutes until golden brown – it should sound hollow when tapped underneath.  Cool on a wire rack.

Lamb Tagine with Cardoons, Lemon and Olives

Taken from The Food of Morocco by Paula Wolfert published by Bloomsbury

Cardoons are domesticated thistles found in markets all over Marrakech, Italy and other parts of Europe.  We grow them here in our garden in Shanagarry.  They have a taste similar to globe artichokes and an appearance similar to that of celery. 

Serves 6

1kg (2 1/4lbs) boneless lamb shoulder chops, trimmed of excess fat

2 garlic cloves, peeled

salt

3/4 teaspoon ground ginger

1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric

2 tablespoons saffron water * (see note at end of recipe)

115g (generous 4oz) grated red onion

4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

20g (3/4oz) flat-leaf parsley leaves, chopped

3 bundles cardoons (about 15-18 tender stalks)

juice of 2 lemons

1 1/2 preserved lemon, pulp removed, rind rinsed and divided into 6 wedges

12 green-ripe, midway or red olives, rinsed and pitted

About 5 hours before serving, rinse the lamb chops, cut each into six pieces and place in a 28 – 30cm (11 – 12 inch) tagine.  Crush the garlic to a paste with 1 teaspoon salt.  Add the ginger, turmeric, saffron water, grated onion and oil and turn to coat the lamb on all sides.  Leave to marinate for 2 hours.

Set the tagine on a heat diffuser over a medium-low heat and slowly cook the meat for about 15 minutes or until it turns golden brown.  Add 180ml (generous 6fl oz) hot water and the parsley, raise the heat to medium and bring to the boil.  Reduce the heat to medium-low again, cover and simmer for 2 hours, turning the lamb often in the sauce.

Meanwhile, separate the cardoon stalks and cut away the tough bottom parts and the leaves.  Wash the inner stalks well.  With a paring knife or a vegetable peeler, remove the strings.  Cut the stalks into 7.5cm (3 inch) lengths and keep in acidulated water (with vinegar or lemon juice) to prevent discolouration.

After the lamb has cooked for 2 hours, push the meat to one side and slide in the rinsed and drained cardoons.  Add enough hot water to cover them.  (For the first 15-20 minutes of cooking, the cardoons must be covered by liquid).  Place the lamb pieces side by side on top of the cardoons and cook for a further 40 minutes. 

Add 4 tablespoons of the lemon juice to the sauce.  Then continue adding the lemon juice by the tablespoon, tasting before adding more each time.  Simmer gently, uncovered, to allow the sauce to reduce and the flavours to blend.  If there’s a lot of liquid left when the meat is cooked, tilt the tagine, spoon the liquid into a saucepan and boil rapidly to reduce the liquid to a sauce with a coating consistency.

Rearrange the pieces of lamb and cardoons in the tagine so the meat is completely covered with the cardoons.  Garnish with the preserved lemon rind wedges and the olives.  Taste the sauce for seasoning and add more lemon juice, if you like.  Serve at once. 

*Saffron Water

Dry 1/2 teaspoon crumbled saffron strands in a warm (not hot) pan.  Crush again, then soak in 240ml hot water and store in a small jar in the refrigerator.  This will keep for up to a week. 

Deglet Noor Date, Almond and Goat Cheese Salad

One of the many delicious salads from L’Hôtel Marrakech – a favourite Riad on the edge of the medina.

Serves 4

50g (2oz) toasted hazelnuts, very coarsely chopped

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 1/2 tablespoons pomegranate molasses

salt and freshly ground black pepper

110g (4oz) Delget Noor dates, chopped

4 handfuls of mixture of fresh leaves – rocket, spinach, flat-parsley

75-110g (3-4oz) soft goat’s cheese – St. Tola

First toast the unskinned almonds in a preheated oven 180˚C/350˚F/Gas Mark 4 for 10-15 minutes and chop coarsely lengthwise.

Whisk the extra virgin olive oil together with the pomegranate molasses, season with salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Stone the dates and cut each in three so the pieces are still chunky.

Put the fresh leaves into a bowl, drizzle with dressing, toss to coat the leaves.  Add the dates to the leaves with the almonds and toss again gently.

Divide between 4 wide salad bowls.  Put a few blobs of goat cheese on each one.  Drizzle a little more dressing on top.  Taste, sprinkle with a few grains of flaky sea salt and enjoy.

Moroccan Snake

One of the glories of Moroccan confectionery, great for a party.  Individual “snakes” can be made with a single sheet of filo.

Serves 10-15 people

1 packet best quality filo pastry

75-110g (3-4oz) melted butter

Filling

450g (1lb) ground almonds

325g (11oz) castor sugar

1 tablespoon cinnamon

75-110ml (3-4fl oz) orange flower water

Mix all the filling ingredients together in a bowl to form a paste.

To Assemble

Lay one sheet of filo on the work top, brush with melted butter. Take a fist full of the paste and make into a snake about 2.5cm (1 inch) thick. Lay this along the long side of the sheet of filo, about 2.5cm (1 inch) in from the edge. Roll up and bend into an accordion shape and then roll up into a ‘snail’. Put a sheet of tin foil on a baking sheet and lay the snail on top, continue with the rest of the filo and paste. Press the ends together to seal the joining and continue to make the snake. Brush with egg wash and then with melted butter. Bake in a preheated moderate oven 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4 for approx. 30 minutes or until crisp and golden. Cool.

Dust with icing sugar and perhaps a little sweet cinnamon.

Rekindling the Fire, Food and the Journey of Life

Food On The Edge held in October last year at Airfield Estate in Dublin was a beacon of light and hope in a deeply challenging year.  Chef JP McMahon from Anair and Tartare in Galway gathered an impressive line-up of speakers from around the world to encourage and inspire us.  The theme was Social Gastronomy with the stated aim of gathering ‘a network of like-minded chefs together to build long term partnerships around the world using the power of food as a vehicle for change and development at a grass roots level’.

In an open sided tent on the Airfield Estate in Dundrum, I heard many inspirational speakers.  Some were online, others there in person, shared their pandemic experiences, insights and hopes for the future.  Many iconic names such as Alice Waters, Anissa Helou, David and Stephen Flynn of The Happy Pear, Eoin Clusky of Bread 41, Joshua Evans, May Chow…and also a couple of speakers whose names I had not been familiar with previously.  I particularly remember Martin Ruffley and Anna King who shared the stage and gave a riveting talk.  Anna has a doctorate in Philosophy (ethnography from NUI in Galway and a lifelong interest in mindful meditation.  She became hooked on the healing benefits of eating seasonal, natural foods, she has lived and studied on a number of organic farms, both in the UK and France, who follow the philosophy of Mahatma Gandi and Rudolf Steiner.

Martin Ruffley, a recovering alcoholic, spoke with enormous courage about his lifelong struggle with addiction and his long and convoluted journey from ‘dark to light’.  He told how cooking and sharing food became a vitally important part of a cathartic process of exorcising his demons and finding peace.  Martin, now a chef lecturer at NUI Galway, has travelled and ‘staged’ in top restaurants around the world, fuelling his passion and honing his craft in pursuit of culinary excellence.  In 2020 he received the prestigious President’s Award for Teaching Excellence.  He spoke humbly and honestly, the audience were riveted, there was scarcely a dry eye in the tent and at the end there was a unanimous standing ovation.

Fast forward to March 2022, he and Anna King have collaborated to produce a cookbook entitled ‘Rekindling the Fire, Food and the Journey of Life’ – it is dedicated to all those still struggling with addiction…. ‘May the light of loving kindness illuminate your path, and the darkness of the night inspire your wildest dreams’.

Anna and Martin hope that this collaboration will inspire anyone who reads their book to cook.  ‘The recipes offer home-cooks, amateurs and seasoned chefs alike an opportunity to experiment with both new and old techniques, through easy-to-follow, concise instructions that will really ‘up anyone’s game’ in the kitchen.  ‘You will learn how to create some magical dishes, as well as discover invaluable insider tips that will transform a meal from the ordinary to the exceptional’.    The title is a combination of Anna’s beautiful prose and Martin’s eclectic recipes gleaned from 40 years of experience and his travels around the world.  Martin believes as I do that travel is an essential element of any chef’s education – I’ve chosen to share some recipes that are accessible to home cooks but there are also many tantalising recipes for professional chefs between the black covers of this unique cookbook – from darkness to light. 

‘Rekindling the Fire, Food and the Journey of Life’ published by Austin MaCauley Publishers

Goi Cuon: Spring Roll with Pork Belly

Serves 4

100g (3 1/2oz) pork belly

4 baby gem lettuce leaves

a few mint leaves

1 tablespoon chives

1 pack of rice paper wrappers

10g (scant 1/2oz) mooli (julienne)

10g (scant 1/2oz) carrot (julienne)

Dipping Sauce

2 tablespoons sunflower oil

a dash of sesame oil

2 garlic cloves, crushed to a paste

6 tablespoon hoisin sauce

2-3 tablespoons peanut butter

a splash of water

1 red chilli, finely diced

Slow roast the pork belly for 3 hours at 140˚C.

To construct the roll.

Soak the rice paper in cold water for a few seconds until it is soft and

pliable.

Lay out the rice paper and add your prepared ingredients and the

sliced pork.  Don’t be tempted to add too many ingredients because

it will be harder to roll.

For the dipping sauce, add all the ingredients except the water.  Check for consistency, then add water to achieve the desired consistency.  It should be thick enough so that it adheres to the Goi Cuon.

To Serve

Place the spring rolls onto a plate and serve the dipping sauce on the side.

Note

The traditional Goi Cuon includes pork and shrimp.  However, you can construct your own versions with different ingredients. 

Beetroot Risotto

Serves 4

200g (7oz) Arborio rice

1kg (2 1/4lb) beetroot

1 litre beetroot stock/juice

70g (scant 3oz) butter

100g (3 1/2oz) shallots, finely diced

60g (scant 2 1/2oz) Smoked Gubbeen Cheese

salt and pepper

Bake one whole beetroot (*see Darina’s top tip at end of recipe) and juice the remaining beetroot.

Add some of the butter to a suitable pan and sweat the diced shallot until slightly translucent.  Add the rice and stir until each grain of rice has been coated in the butter.  Add a ladle full of hot beetroot juice into the rice until the rice has absorbed the beetroot juice.

Repeat this procedure until the rice has swollen and is almost tender.

The rice should be soft but not chalky.  It is usually cooked in 20 minutes.  Remove from the heat and add the diced beetroot, butter and half of the grated Gubbeen.  Check for seasoning, cover and allow to rest for 3-4 minutes.

Eat immediately with some grated Gubbeen on the side.

*Darina’s Top Tip: Bake the beetroot in a preheated oven 200˚C for 1 hour approx., by which time the skin will rub off easily.

Grilled Spiced Chicken

The Lebanese are a very hospitable people and would often welcome us into their homes.  This recipe is a take on a dish that I had in the village of As Sultaniyah, just north of Tibnine, where we were treated to an excellent lunch of chicken cooked on a charcoal grill with salad, followed by a glass of chai on the veranda. 

Serves 4

12 chicken thighs

zest and juice of 2 lemons

120ml (scant 4 1/2fl oz) olive oil

4 garlic cloves

2 teaspoons smoked paprika

5g (scant 1/4oz) cumin seeds

5g (scant 1/4oz) coriander seeds

10 green cardamom pods

1 teaspoon chilli powder

1-2 teaspoons sea salt

300g (10oz) Greek or plain yoghurt

Toast the coriander and cumin seeds on a dry pan to release the oils and pass through a spice grinder.  Alternatively, pound in a pestle and mortar.

Grate and juice the 2 lemons.

Transfer the chicken pieces into a bowl (or a zip lock bag) with the lemon juice and zest, olive oil and all the dry ingredients.  Mix well and refrigerate overnight.

To Cook

Remove the chicken from the refrigerator at least 30 minutes before cooking.  The chicken pieces can be skewered and grilled on a BBQ or can be transferred to a suitable dish and roasted in a hot oven for 25-30 minutes.

To Serve

Drizzle with yoghurt and serve with manoushi bread or pitta bread.

Note

Chicken breast can also be used.  Butterfly the chicken breast and bat it out, then marinade (as above).  This will cook on a grill in 8 to 10 minutes. 

Watermelon and Rosewater Ice with Barazek

This dish is inspired by the generous nature of the locals, who so kindly gave us watermelon to quench the thirst from the hot summer sun while on checkpoint duty at Tibnine Bridge.  To this day, I have never tasted a watermelon as sweet.

And of course barazeks are wonderful biscuits that are found all over Lebanon.  They are utterly delicious.

Serves 4

1kg (2 1/4lb) watermelon

150g (5oz) caster sugar

50g (2oz) glucose

a dash of rosewater (can be purchased in any Middle-Eastern store)

juice of 2 lemons

5g (scant 1/4oz) watermelon seeds

Chop the watermelon and put the seeds aside. 

Blitz the watermelon to a purée.

Add the sugar to a pan with the glucose and heat gently until dissolved.  Cool down and all the watermelon purée.

Add rosewater and lemon juice to taste.

Churn in an ice-cream machine or place into a container and cover with a lid and freeze.

To Serve

Transfer into a cocktail glass or bowl, sprinkle with watermelon seeds and serve with barazeks (see recipe).

Barazek Sesame and Pistachio Biscuits

Yields 20 to 25 biscuits

20g (3/4oz) brown sugar

20g (3/4oz) icing sugar

75g (3oz) unsalted butter

1 medium egg

a few drops of vanilla essence

100g (3 1/2oz) flour

20g (3/4oz) pistachio nuts

20g (3/4oz) sesame seeds

Cream the butter, icing sugar and brown sugar together until light and fluffy.  Add the vanilla essence and slowly add the beaten egg and then the flour.  Scale into small pieces and mould with your hand into little balls.  Shape into discs 1cm (1/2 inch) thick.  Press one side of the biscuit into sesame seeds and the other side onto the finely chopped pistachios.  Bake for 8 to 10 minutes in a hot oven at 180˚C.  Transfer to a wire rack to cool and serve. 

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