Darina’s Saturday Letter

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Wild Foods

Wild foods have never been so much in vogue, they are all over restaurant menus and we love it…..

Foraging has virtually become a national sport, young and old are scurrying about in woodlands and along the hedgerows in search of nuts, berries and wild mushrooms. It’s been a fantastic year for fungi,  we got baskets and baskets of wild mushrooms, not just field mushrooms, but porcini, yellow legs, chanterelles and even a huge cauliflower mushroom proudly delivered by a particularly knowledgeable local forager. I’d never cooked one before so that was super exciting.

We used field mushrooms in every conceivable way, mushroom soup, mushrooms on toast, mushroom a la crème, mushroom risotto and we made mushroom ketchup for the first time in over a decade. Our farm around the Cookery School has been managed organically for over 20 years now and this year Mother Nature rewarded us with a bounty of field mushrooms. We couldn’t collect them fast enough, several of the fields were literally white with mushrooms.  we had such fun showing our grandchildren how to recognise and gather field mushrooms. For the first time in almost a decade the conditions were perfect – warm moist weather and chemical free fields.

There’s also a bumper crop of blackberries, not sure I’ve ever seen so many eager foragers scrabbling around in the brambles. Local children have been collecting the plump berries and we’re thrilled to buy them both for the Cookery School and the restaurant. There are a million delicious ways to use them. We all know that blackberry and Bramley apple is a winning combination on their own but add a few leaves of rose geranium and you have something sublime.

Earlier this year, 15 year old Simon Meehan from Ballincollig was declared Young Scientist of the Year for his discovery that blackberries contain a non-toxic, organic, original antibiotic which is effective in killing Staphylococcus aureus, a bug that infects humans and is increasingly resistant to antibiotic treatment especially when it comes in the form of the common hospital acquired infection MRSA. So gorge yourself on blackberries while they last, they also contain loads of vitamin C, vitamin A, iron, magnesium and calcium.

My youngest grandchild Jago, (2 years old), can’t get enough of them, he’s like a kid in a candy shop gobbling them up like smarties off the blackberry bushes, ignoring the prickles in an effort to reach every last one.

Maria Walsh’s Blackberry Tincture

Blackberries are a rich source of antioxidants. Tinctures are easy and convenient to use.


recycle an old jam jar – 290ml

Three quarter fill the jar with  wild blackberries, picked on a dry day.

Cover the berries with alcohol – vodka or brandy. For a non-alcoholic version use apple cider vinegar or kombucha vinegar.

Place the tincture in a dark cupboard.  Shake the jar once a day and leave for 6-8 weeks.

When ready, one could take a teaspoon every day or add to water, jazz up cocktails or add to water kefir.


Wild Mushroom a la Crème on toast

Mushroom à la crème is a fantastic all-purpose recipe, and if you’ve got a surplus of wild mushrooms, use those instead of cultivated ones. You can even use dried mushrooms. Mushroom à la crème keeps well in the fridge for 4–5 days and freezes perfectly.



Serves 8


50g (2oz) butter

175g (6oz) onion, finely chopped

450g (1lb) wild mushrooms (chanterelles, morels, ceps, false chanterelles or the common field mushroom), sliced

salt and freshly ground pepper

good squeeze of lemon juice

225ml (8fl oz) cream

freshly chopped parsley

1 tablespoon freshly chopped chives (optional)



Melt half the butter in a heavy saucepan until it foams. Add the chopped onion, cover and sweat over a gentle heat for 5–10 minutes or until quite soft but not coloured; remove the onions to a bowl.


Meanwhile cook the sliced mushrooms in a hot frying pan in the remaining butter, in batches if necessary. Season each batch with salt, freshly ground pepper and a

tiny squeeze of lemon juice. Add the mushrooms to the onions in the saucepan, then add the cream and allow to bubble for a few minutes. Taste and correct the seasoning, and add the chopped herbs.


Toast or pan-grill the bread and pile the hot creamy mushroom mixture on top.

Enjoy immediately.



Grandpoppy’s Mushroom Ketchup


It only makes sense to make mushroom ketchup on the rare years when there’s a glut of wild mushrooms in the fields. This is becoming less and less common because of the level of pesticides used in conventional farming. Occasionally, though, when the weather at the end of the summer is warm and humid as it was this year, we get a flush of mushrooms, and we can’t bear to waste any of them. make a supply of mushroom ketchup, which keeps for years. You can dash it into game, beef, lamb and chicken stews and casseroles, shepherd’s pie, or just use it as you would soy sauce.


as many wild field mushrooms as you can gather



For each 1.2 litres (2 pints) of ketchup, use:

10g (1⁄2oz) whole peppercorns

7g (1⁄2oz) whole ginger

1/2 teaspoon allspice

1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

1/2 teaspoon mace

50ml (2fl oz) whiskey or, if you prefer, omit the whiskey and add 1 tablespoon of best brandy to each bottle before sealing


Put the mushrooms into a large basin. Sprinkle salt between each layer to extract juice. Steep for 24 hours, occasionally stirring and breaking the mushrooms. Allow to stand for a further 12 hours to settle the sediment.


Pour into another vessel, leaving behind the sediment. Measure, strain and to every 1.2 litres (2 pints) of ketchup add the above ingredients. Bottle and seal.


Mushroom ketchup keeps for years: I have some that is over 5 years old and is still perfect. The steeped mushrooms themselves can be composted or fed to the hens.



Wild Mushroom and Thyme Leaf Tart


Serves 6


A really flavoursome tart, one of the few that tastes super warm or cold. Use cream! Both the flavour and texture are quite different if you substitute milk. Flat cultivated mushrooms also work well when field mushrooms are not available


Rich Shortcrust Pastry

110g (4oz) plain white flour

50-75g (2-3oz) butter

water to bind or a mixture of water and beaten egg


225g (8oz) wild mushrooms, flats if possible

15g (½ oz) butter

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves

225ml (8fl oz) cream

2 eggs and 1 egg yolk, free range if possible

50g (2oz) freshly grated Parmesan cheese or preferably Parmigiano Reggiano

flaky sea salt

freshly ground black pepper

a good pinch of cayenne


1 x 7 inch (18cm) flan ring or tin with pop up base (low sided)


Make the shortcrust pastry in the usual way.


Sieve the flour, cut the butter into cubes and rub into the flour with the fingertips. Keep everything as cool as possible; if the fat is allowed to melt, the finished pastry may be tough. When the mixture looks like coarse breadcrumbs, stop. Whisk the egg or egg yolk and add some water. Take a fork or knife, (whichever you feel most comfortable with) and add just enough liquid to bring the pastry together, then discard the fork and collect it into a ball with your hands, this way you can judge more accurately if you need a few more drops of liquid. Although rather damp pastry is easier to handle and roll out, the resulting crust can be tough and may well shrink out of shape as the water evaporates in the oven. The drier and more difficult -to-handle pastry will give a crispier shorter crust.


Cover the pastry with cling film and leave to rest in the fridge for a minimum of 15 minutes. This will make the pastry much less elastic and easier to roll.


Allow to rest, line the flan ring and bake blind for 25 minutes.

Meanwhile chop the mushrooms finely, melt the butter, add the oil and fry the mushrooms on a very high heat. Add thyme leaves and season with salt and freshly ground pepper. Cook until all the juice has evaporated and then allow to cool.


Preheat the oven to 180ºC/350ºF/Gas Mark 4.


Whisk the cream in a bowl with the eggs and the extra egg yolk, stir in the cool mushrooms and the Parmesan cheese. Taste, add the pinch of cayenne and more seasoning if necessary. Pour into the pre-baked pastry case.


Bake in the preheated oven for about 30-40 minutes or until the filling is set and the top delicately brown.


Serve with a good green salad


Note: Tiny mushroom quiches may be served straight from the oven as appetisers before dinner or for a drinks party.




Apple, Sloe and Sweet Geranium Jelly


This apple jelly recipe is the most brilliant mother recipe to add all sorts of flavours. If you have lots of sloes increase the quantity to half apples and sloes. Serve on scones, with game, pork, duck or guinea fowl.


Makes 6-7 pots


2.2kg crab apples or Bramley Seedlings

450g sloes

2.7 litres water

6-8 large sweet geranium leaves (Pelargonium Graveolens)

plus extra as needed.

2 lemons, unwaxed organic



Wash the apples and cut into quarters, no need to peel or core.  Windfalls may be used, but make sure to cut out the bruised parts.   Put the apples in a large saucepan with the sloes and geranium leaves, the water and the thinly pared rind of the lemons, cook until the apples and sloes dissolve into a ‘mush’, approx. 2 hours.

Turn the pulp into a jelly bag and allow to drip until all the juice has been extracted – usually overnight.  Measure the juice into a preserving pan, allow 450g sugar to each 600ml of juice.   Heat the sugar in a moderate oven 180C/Gas Mark 4 for about 10 minutes. Squeeze the lemons, strain the juice and add to the preserving pan, add a few more geranium leaves if the flavour is still very mild.   Bring to the boil and add the sugar.   Stir over a gentle heat until the sugar is dissolved.   Increase the heat and boil rapidly without stirring for about 8-10 minutes.  Remove the geranium leaves.   Skim, test and then pour the jelly into sterilized jars, put a sweet geranium leaf in each jar.  Cover and seal immediately.




Blackberry and Lime Scones


For lime scones, just roll out the dough to 1 inch (2.5cm) thick and stamp or cut into scones and dip the egg – washed tops in lime sugar.


Makes 18-20 scones, using a 3 inch (71/2 cm) cutter


2lb (900g) plain white flour

6oz (175g) butter

pinch of salt

2oz (50g) castor sugar

3 heaped teaspoons baking powder

3 free-range eggs

15fl oz (450ml/) approx. full cream milk to mix (not low fat milk)


egg wash


Lime Sugar

2oz (50g) granulated or Demerara sugar mixed with 1 teaspoon lime zest for the top of scones


Lime Butter

150g (5oz) butter

250g (9oz) pale brown sugar

2 teaspoons lime zest


Preheat the oven 250ºC/475ºF/Gas Mark 9.


First make the Lime Butter.

Cream the butter, sugar and lime zest together and beat until light and fluffy.


Sieve the flour into a large wide bowl, add a pinch of salt, the baking powder and castor sugar.  Mix the dry ingredients with your hands, lift up to incorporate air and mix thoroughly.


Cut the butter into cubes, toss well in the flour and then with the tips of your fingers, rub in the butter until it resembles large flakes.  Make a well in the centre.  Whisk the eggs with the milk, pour all at once into the centre.  With the fingers of your ‘best

hand’ outstretched and stiff, mix in a full circular movement from the centre to the outside of the bowl.  This takes just seconds and hey presto, the scone dough is made.  Sprinkle some flour on the work surface.  Turn out the dough onto the floured board.  Scrape the dough off your fingers and wash and dry your hands at this point.  Tidy around the edges, flip over and roll or pat gently into a rectangle about 3/4 inch (2cm) thick.


Spread the soft lime butter over the surface. Roll up lengthwise and cut into pieces about 2 inches (5cm) thick.


Brush the tops with egg wash (see below) and dip the tops only in lime sugar.  Put onto a baking sheet fairly close together.


Bake in a preheated oven for 10-12 minutes or until golden brown on top.


Egg Wash

Whisk one egg thoroughly with about a dessertspoon of milk.  This is brushed over the scones to help them brown in the oven.



Darina Allen Simply Delicious The Classic Collection


Darina Allen Simply Delicious The Classic Collection has just landed on my desk and I couldn’t be more excited – 29 years after the original little paperback was published to accompany the television series of the same name- I had red glasses and brown hair at that time and little did I know how Simply Delicious would change the course of the rest of my life.

It was terribly scary making the programmes, I had never seen a TV camera and had no idea how to go about it at first. I almost didn’t….. I was so scared it would be a complete flop and sure I’d make a total fool of myself. I tossed the idea backwards and forwards in my head, a mixture of apprehension and excitement. After much toing and froing I decided it would be easier to live with the series not being a huge success than with the eternal question of ‘What if…..?’

After the first few programmes people poured into local bookshops to buy the little 78 page Simply Delicious paperback. For many, it was the first cookbook they ever owned, the recipes well-tested for the Ballymaloe Cookery School worked, so as the Gill & Macmillan representative put it one night after a book signing, the book was selling in ‘telephone numbers’ and shops quickly ran out of copies. It went into a second printing immediately and there was a paper shortage, so for several of the eight weeks the programme was on air there was hardly a copy of Simply Delicious to be had in the country. Furthermore, the success was fuelled by another unlikely element. RTE didn’t anticipate the appeal of this new cookery series and ran it opposite Coronation Street. This was at a time when most houses would have been proud to own just one television and long before any form of playback, so there was many a family ‘fracas’ about which programme to watch. Viewers wrote to RTE and rang into chat shows to complain that it was causing ‘strife’ within the family. The repeat was rescheduled…

Simply Delicious went on to make Irish publishing history, topping the best sellers for months in a row and selling more copies than any previously published cookbook in Ireland: 115,000 copies in the first year of publication.


I’ve often been told that ‘dog-eared’ copies of these books are treasured possessions in many households and have in many cases been passed on to the next generation.


The Simply Delicious books have been out of print for many years but people regularly ask where they can find a copy of one or another, so this edition is especially for you. I’m delighted to be republishing this collection of 100 classic recipes from Simply Delicious I and 2 and Simply Delicious Vegetables. Choosing the recipes was a fascinating experience, so many have stood the test of time and are still perennial favourites. Some we have tweaked over the past 30 years or added more contemporary garnishes or complementary spices as the range of ingredients available has expanded considerably in the time since the recipes were first published.


People regularly complain that a friend borrowed their copy of Simply Delicious and didn’t return it. Others bring me well worn, gravy splashed copies for signing that are obviously well used and loved.

Many of our happiest childhood memories are connected to food. I hope you will enjoy this selection of recipes. For me it’s such a joy to know that for many, these simply delicious dishes have become treasured favourites to share with family and friends around the table. And I’m hoping that many of these time-honoured recipes will still be relished and enjoyed in 30 years’ time…

A Warm Salad with Irish Blue Cheese


Some ripe, crumbly Cashel Blue cheese now made by Jane and Louis Grubb’s daughter Sarah would be wonderful for this salad.  A few little cubes of ripe pear are of course delicious here too.  We also love their Crozier Blue cheese.


Serves 4


A selection of organic salad leaves, eg watercress, radicchio, endive, rocket, oakleaf and butterhead

12 round croutons, 1/4inch (5mm) thick, cut form a thin French stick.

45g soft butter

A clove of garlic, peeled

140g smoked streaky bacon, cut into 5mm lardons

50g Irish farmhouse blue cheese


Vinaigrette Dressing

1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

1 tablespoon arachide or sunflower oil

2 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

Salt and freshly ground pepper

2 teaspoon chopped chervil and 2 teaspoon chopped tarragon  or

4 teaspoon chopped parsley




1 heaped tablespoon of chervil sprigs or freshly chopped parsley


Whisk together the ingredients for the Vinaigrette Dressing.

Wash and dry the mixture of lettuces and salad leaves and tear into bite-sized pieces.

Spread both sides of the rounds of bread with softened butter.  Put onto a baking sheet and bake in a moderate oven, 180˚C/Gas Mark 4, until golden and crisp on both sides, 20 minutes approx.  Rub them with a clove of garlic and keep hot in a low oven with the door slightly open.

Blanch and refresh the bacon, dry well on kitchen paper.

Just before serving, sauté the bacon dice in a little extra virgin olive oil until golden.

To serve:

Dress the lettuces with some vinaigrette in a salad bowl.  Use just enough to make the leaves glisten. Crumble the cheese with a fork and add it to the salad, tossing them well together.  Divide between 4 plates.  Scatter the hot crispy bacon over the top, put 3 warm croutons on each plate and sprinkle sprigs of chervil or chopped parsley over the salad. Serve immediately.




Ballycotton Fish Pie


How fortunate are we to live close to the little fishing village of Ballycotton in East Cork.  Everyone loves fish pie, the combination depends on the fish catch. Omit mussels and shrimps if they are not available.



Serves 6–8


1.1kg (2½lb) cod, hake, haddock
or grey sea mullet fillets or a mixture

salt and freshly ground pepper

15g (½oz) butter

600ml (1 pint) milk

110g (4oz) cooked mussels, out of shells

110g (4oz) cooked and peeled shrimps

55g (2oz) roux, approx.

¼ teaspoon mustard, preferably Dijon

140–170g (5–6oz) grated Irish Cheddar cheese or 85g (3oz) grated Parmesan cheese

2 tablespoons chopped parsley

800g (1lb 2oz) fluffy mashed potato or champ (optional)



30g (1oz) butter

55g (2oz) soft white breadcrumbs


Skin the fish and cut into portions: 170g (6oz) for a main course, 85g (3oz) for a starter. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper. Lay the pieces of fish in a lightly buttered sauté pan and cover with the cold milk. Bring to the boil, simmer for 4–5 minutes, or until the fish has changed colour. Remove the fish to a serving dish or dishes with a perforated spoon. Scatter the mussels and shrimps over the top.


Bring the milk back to the boil and thicken with roux to a light coating consistency. Add the mustard, two-thirds of the grated cheese and a couple of tablespoons of chopped parsley. Keep the remainder of the cheese for sprinkling over the top. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper, taste and correct the seasoning if necessary.


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


Coat the fish with the sauce. Mix the remaining grated cheese with the buttered crumbs and sprinkle over the top. Pipe a ruff of fluffy mashed potato or champ around the edge for a more substantial dish.


Cook in a preheated moderate oven (180°C/350°F/gas mark 4) for 15–20 minutes or until heated through and the top is golden brown and crispy. If necessary, place under the grill for a minute or two before you serve, to brown the edge of the potato.


Note: This dish may be served in individual dishes: scallop shells are particularly attractive, are completely ovenproof and may be used over and over again.




Chocolate Meringue Gateau

Serves 6


This recipe makes two layers of meringue but you can double the ingredients for a celebration cake or make individual little meringues.


2 egg whites

125 g (4½oz) icing sugar

2 rounded teaspoons cocoa powder, (we use Valrhona)


Chocolate and Rum Cream

30 g (1 oz) best quality dark chocolate

15 g (½ oz) unsweetened chocolate

1 tablespoon Jamaican rum

1 tablespoon cream

300 ml (½ pint) softly whipped cream


Preheat the oven to 150ºC/300ºF/regulo 2


Mark two 7½ inches (19 cm) circles on parchment paper.


Check that the bowl is dry, spotlessly clean and free of grease.  Put the egg whites into the bowl and add 110g (4oz) icing sugar all at once; whisk until the mixture forms stiff, dry peaks, 10 minutes approx.  Sieve together the cocoa and the remaining 15 g (½ oz) icing sugar and fold in very gently.  Spread and bake immediately in the preheated oven for 45 minutes or until just crisp.  Allow to get completely cold then peel off the paper.

Meanwhile, very gently melt the chocolate with the rum, and 1 tablespoon of cream in a very cool oven, or in a bowl over simmering water.  Cool and add 2 tablespoon of cream into the chocolate. Mix well, then fold that into the remaining softly whipped cream to avoid a blockage; don’t stir too much or it may curdle.

Sandwich the two meringue discs together with Chocolate and Rum Cream and decorate with chocolate wafers.



Chocolate Wafers

55 g (2 ozs) best quality dark chocolate


Meanwhile make the chocolate wafers.  Melt the chocolate in a bowl over barely simmering water.  Stir until quite smooth.  Spread on a flan piece of heavy, white notepaper or light card.  Put into a cold place until stiff enough to cut in square or diamond shapes.


Good to know

The chocolate and rum cream can be tricky to make so stir well with the rum and cream, cool a little and fold in the softly whipped cream.



Lemon Fluff with Limoncello Cream


Serves 4-6


This is a gorgeous old-fashioned family pudding which separates into two quite distinct layers when it cooks; it has a fluffy top and a creamy lemon base, provided it is not overcooked.


40g (1½oz) butter

225g (8oz) castor sugar

3 organic free range eggs

75g (3oz/) plain flour

2 organic, unwaxed lemons

300ml (10fl oz) whole milk


icing sugar


To Serve

300ml softly whipped cream flavoured with Limoncello or crème fraiche


1 x 1.2L (2 pint) pie dish

Preheat the oven to 180ºC/Gas Mark 4,


Cream the butter until really soft, then add the castor sugar and beat well.

Separate the egg yolks and add whisk in one by one, then stir in the flour. Grate the rind of 2 lemons on the finest part of the grater. Squeeze and strain the juice and add the rind and the juice, then add the milk.


Whisk the egg whites stiffly in a bowl and fold gently into the lemon mixture. Pour into the pie dish, place in a bain-marie and bake in a moderate oven, 180ºC/Gas Mark 4,for 35-40 minutes approx.

Dredge with icing sugar.


Serve immediately alongside the softly whipped cream flavoured to taste with Limoncello, or some crème fraîche.


Slow Food Grandmothers Day

On Sunday 30th September, we celebrate Slow Food Grandmothers Day at the Ballymaloe Cookery School.

Grandparents from all over will gather their grandchildren around to share their favourite memories and experiences and to pass on some of their valuable life skills, to have fun and show them how to bake a cake, sow a seed, knit a scarf…

Grandparents are the guardians of inherited wisdom – this is the perfect opportunity to pass these skills onto our grandchildren.

Slow Food International has celebrated Grandmothers Day since 2009.

Now that I’m a grandmother 11 times over I’m even more aware of the special bond between grandparents and grandchildren.

It’s even more important than ever nowadays. Years ago at a time when many families lived in multi-generational groups the skills were effortlessly passed from generation to generation this situation is more unusual nowadays. The myriad of pressures of modern living mean that both parents are working.


We hope Slow Food Grandmothers’ Day will encourage grandmothers to get together not only once a year but once a month with their grandchildren to have fun together in the kitchen.

From 12 noon to 5.30pm Sunday 30th September we’ll have all sorts of events…

Rebecca O’Sullivan of Granny Skills, Australia will demonstrate how to make flower petal tote bags and edible skin care. She will also talk about how to use edible flowers and herbs for health.


Maria Walsh, our Dairy Queen and Lydia Hugh-Jones will show us how to make butter and have a ‘disco butter making’ session with the children.  Maria also plans to pass on her knowledge of how to make tinctures, teas and natural cleaners. Penny Porteous will introduce us to ferments and demonstrate how to make kombucha and kefir.

There will also be a talk on bees to encourage young bee keepers.


Karen O Donoghue of GIY, co-star of Grow Cook Eat on RTE will show how to sow seeds in pots to take home.

Bill Frazer will talk about heritage apples and provide tempting tastings.

Rupert Hugh-Jones will set up an apple press so bring along some of your windfall apples (and bottles) to make your own apple juice.


Granny Rosalie Dunne will show us how to make glamorous and crazy hats.


Saturday Pizzas will be open on Sunday for this special Grandmothers Day and there will be lots of food stalls.


Guided walks around the organic farm and gardens, a foraging walk for children and grandparents with Pat Brown and Lydia Hugh-Jones to teach them to recognise wild and edible foods, a treasure hunt with your granny and much, much more.

Check out our Grandmothers Day competition on page ?????? today.

Here are some favourite recipes from our local grannies.

Macaroni with Cheddar Cheese

Macaroni cheese is one of my grandchildren’s favourite supper dishes. We occasionally add a few cubes of cooked bacon or ham to the sauce with the cooked macaroni. The little ones are deeply suspicious of green bits in the sauce so you may want to omit the parsley

Serves 6

225g (8oz) macaroni

3.4 litres (6 pints) water

2 teaspoons salt

50g (2oz) butter

50g (2oz) white flour, preferably unbleached

850ml (1½ pints) boiling milk

1/4 teaspoon Dijon or English mustard

1 tablespoon freshly chopped parsley, (optional)

salt and freshly ground pepper

150g (5oz) grated mature Cheddar cheese

25g (1 oz) grated Cheddar cheese for sprinkling on top


1 x 1.1 litre (1 x 2 pint) capacity pie dish

Bring a large pot of water to the boil, add the salt. Sprinkle in the macaroni and stir to make sure it doesn’t stick together. Cook until just soft, 10-15 minutes approx. drain well.

Meanwhile melt the butter, add in the flour and cook on a medium heat, stirring occasionally for 1-2 minutes.  Remove from the heat. Whisk in the milk gradually; bring back to the boil, stirring all the time. Add the mustard, parsley if using and cheese, season with salt and freshly ground pepper to taste. Add the cooked macaroni, bring back to the boil, taste, correct seasoning and serve immediately.


Macaroni cheese reheats very successfully provided the pasta is not overcooked in the first place.  Turn into a pie dish, sprinkle grated cheese over the top.  Reheat in a preheated moderate oven – 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4 for 15-20 minutes. It is very good served with cold meat particularly ham.


Top Tip: Macaroni soaks up an enormous amount of sauce.  Add more sauce if making ahead to reheat later.




Scalloped Potato with Steak and Kidney

I’m sure all of you have a favourite recipe that you might ask your grandmother or mother to cook, have bubbling on the stove or in the tin when you came home for the weekend from college or after a hard week at work. Mine was scalloped potato, a layered casserole of beef, kidney and potatoes. We ate plates and plates of this comforting dish with lots and lots of butter.

Serves 4–6

1 beef kidney, about 450g (1lb)

salt and freshly ground pepper

450g (1lb) well-hung stewing beef (I use round, flank or even lean shin)

1.3kg (3lb) ‘old’ potatoes – Golden Wonders or Kerr’s Pinks, thickly sliced

350g (12oz) onions, chopped

50g (2oz) butter, or more

370ml (13fl oz) beef stock (see recipe) or hot water


freshly chopped parsley

large, oval casserole, 2.3 litre (4 pint) capacity

Preheat the oven to 150ºC/300ºF/ gas mark 2.

Remove the skin and white core from the kidney and discard. Cut the flesh of the kidneys into 1cm (1⁄2 in) cubes, put them into a bowl, cover with cold water and sprinkle with a good pinch of salt. Cut the beef into 5mm (1⁄4 in) cubes. Put a layer of potato slices at the base of the casserole. Drain the kidney cubes and mix them with the beef slices, then scatter some of the meat and chopped onions over the layer of potato.

Season well with salt and freshly ground pepper, dot with butter, add another layer of potato, more meat, onions and seasoning and continue right up to the top of the casserole. Finish with an overlapping layer of potato. Pour in the hot stock or water. Bring to the boil, cover and transfer to the oven, and cook for 2–21⁄2 hours or until the meat and potatoes are cooked. Remove the lid of the saucepan about 15 minutes from end of the cooking time to brown the top slightly.

Sprinkle with chopped parsley and serve in deep plates with lots of butter.




Ballymaloe Sausage Rolls with Bramley Apple Sauce

Makes 8 – 16 depending on size

Homemade Sausages or best quality bought

Homemade Sausages:

Makes 16 Small or 8 large sausages


450g (1lb) good, fat streaky pork (rindless)

2 tablespoons mixed fresh herbs (e.g. parsley, thyme, chives, marjoram, rosemary and sage)

60g (2½oz) soft white breadcrumbs

1 large garlic clove

1 teaspoon salt and freshly ground pepper

1 organic egg (optional – helps to bind – reduce breadcrumbs to 50g/2oz if omitting egg)

dash of oil for frying

50g (2oz) natural sheep or hog casings (optional)


450g (1lb) Puff Pastry


First make the homemade sausages. Mince the pork at the first or second setting, depending on the texture you like. Chop the herbs finely and mix through the breadcrumbs. Crush the garlic to a paste with a

little salt. Whisk the egg, and then mix into the other ingredients thoroughly. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper. Fry off a little knob of the mixture to check the seasoning. Correct if necessary. Fill the mixture into natural sausage casings and tie. Twist into sausages at regular intervals. Alternatively, divide into 16 pieces and roll into lengths to make skinless sausages. Cover and chill. Homemade sausages are best eaten fresh but will keep refrigerated for 2–3 days.


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


Roll the pastry into a rectangle about 4mm (1/6 inch) thick.  Lay the sausage along the wider side 5cm (2 inch) from the edge.  Brush with egg wash or water.   Fold over the excess pastry, press to seal and cut along the edge.  Flake the edge with a knife or seal with a fork. Brush the top of pastry with egg wash and prick the surface with a fork at 1” (2cm) intervals.  Cover and chill.  Repeat with the remainder.  Before cooking cut into 8’s or 16’s .


Cook for 20-25 minutes depending on size.  Serve with Bramley Apple Sauce.




Great Grandmother’s Butter Sponge with Summer Berries

This is the best sponge cake you’ll ever taste. The recipe has been passed from my great grandmother through the generations in our family and now I delight on passing it on to my grandchildren and their friends.

175g (6oz) flour

175g (6oz) castor sugar

3 eggs, organic and free-range

125g (4½oz) butter check

1 tablespoon milk

1 teaspoon baking powder



110g (4oz) homemade raspberry jam or 110g (4ozs) strawberries, sliced or raspberries

300ml (10fl oz) whipped cream


castor sugar to sprinkle


2 x 7 inch (18cm) sponge cake tins


Preheat the oven to 190C/375F/regulo 5.


Grease the tine with melted butter, dust with flour and line the base of each with a round of greaseproof paper. Cream the butter and gradually add the castor sugar, beat until soft and light and quite pale in colour. Add the eggs one at a time and beat well between each addition. (If the butter and sugar are not creamed properly and if you add the eggs too fast, the mixture will curdle, resulting in a cake with a heavier texture). Sieve the flour and baking powder and stir in gradually. Mix all together lightly and add 1 tablespoon of milk to moisten.


Divide the mixture evenly between the 2 tins, hollowing it slightly in the centre. Bake in the preheated oven for 20-25 minutes or until cooked – the cake will shrink-in slightly from the edge of the tin when it is cooked, the centre should feel exactly the same texture as the edge.  Alternatively a skewer should come out clean when put into the centre of the cake. Turn out onto a wire tray and allow to cool.


Sandwich together with homemade raspberry jam and whipped cream. Sprinkle with sieved castor sugar. Serve on an old fashioned plate with a doyley.



Blackberry, Apple and Sweet Geranium Jam

We’ve had lots of fun for the last few weeks picking blackberries and making jam with the children – what a fantastic crop this year. The grandchildren love chopping some of the sweet geranium leaves into the jam to give it a haunting lemony flavour.



Makes 9-10 x 450 g jars approx.


All over the countryside every year, blackberries rot on the hedgerows.  Think of all the wonderful jam that could be made – so full of Vitamin C!  This year organise a blackberry picking expedition and take a picnic.  You’ll find it’s the greatest fun, and when you come home one person could make a few scones while someone else is making the jam.  The children could be kept out of mischief and gainfully employed drawing and painting home-made jam labels, with personal messages like “Lydia’s Jam – keep off”!, or “Grandma’s Raspberry Jam”. Then you can enjoy the results of your labours with a well-earned cup of tea.


Blackberries are a bit low in pectin, so the apples help it to set as well as adding extra flavour.


2.3 kg blackberries

900 g cooking apples (Bramley, or Grenadier in season)

1.8kg sugar (use 225g) less if blackberries are sweet) – since Ireland has gone over to cane sugar which appears to be more intensely sweet we reduced the sugar to 1kg.  The intensity of sugar varies in different countries.

8-10 sweet geranium leaves


Wash, peel and core and slice the apples.  Stew them until soft with 300ml of water in a stainless steel saucepan; beat to a pulp.


Pick over the blackberries, cook until soft, adding about 150ml of water if the berries are dry.  If you like, push them through a coarse sieve to remove seeds.  Put the blackberries into a wide stainless steel saucepan or preserving pan with the apple pulp and the heated sugar. Destalk and chop sweet geranium leaves and add to the fruit.  Stir over a gentle heat until the sugar is dissolved.


Boil steadily for about 15 minutes.  Skim the jam, test it for a set and pot into warm spotlessly clean jars.





Jam Tarts and Starlets


One of course can make jam tarts from start to finish, but I usually make these with the trimmings when I’m making other pies and tarts, I can’t bear to waste any scraps. When the grandchildren are around, get them involved, they love making jam tarts so it teaching the children about the important of not wasting s scrap of any precious scraps of food.

Makes about 36


Sweet Shortcrust Pastry OR ‘Break all the Rules’ Shortcrust Pastry OR Shortbread Biscuit mixture


homemade jam of your choice or Lemon Curd


1–2 shallow non-stick bun trays


6cm (21⁄2in) round or 8.5cm (31⁄2in) star-shaped cutter


Make the pastry as directed in the recipe. Cover and chill for at least 1 hour; or better still make the pastry the day before.

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

Roll the pastry out thinly to about 2.5mm (1⁄8 in) and stamp into rounds or star shapes. Use to line the bun trays.

Put a small teaspoon of jam or lemon curd into the tartlets and bake for 14–18 minutes, until the pastry is a pale golden colour.

Alternatively, bake the empty tartlets (no need to use beans). Leave them to cool. Fill the centres with a teaspoonful of jam or lemon curd.

School Days


Yet, another special day, one more of our little dotes had her hair brushed, (no mean feat), donned her school uniform, shiny new shoes and school bag for the very first time, always a bitter sweet moment and an anxious one.

She’s really excited now but how will she take to school? Her big sister and brother will take special care of her so she will hopefully settle in a couple of days….

In the UK and US children are provided with a school lunch, a subject of much controversy.

Jamie Oliver did much to highlight the poor quality of the school food in the UK. A few schools do a brilliant job and where extra effort is made, the teachers find a tangible difference in the children’s behaviour and concentration levels in the classrooms. Some are convinced that this results in happier kids who miss less school days through colds and flus.

One way or another, school lunch is vitally important for children’s health and wellbeing yet it seems to be very low on many governments list of priorities. In the US, Alice Waters original Edible School Yard Project in Berkley in California has been an inspiration for many more initiatives across the country and indeed the world.

Each school has a school garden where the children learn how to grow some of their own food, then cook it and sit down at the table with their friends to enjoy the fruits of their labour.

They love the experience, learn lots of skills and get credits for eating school lunch- what’s not to love about that model.


Stephanie Alexander’s Kitchen Garden project is similar and has been rolled out into over 650 schools in Australia and still counting….

I have visited both these projects and several others,  and have been blown away by the enthusiasm of both children and teachers, as well as the deeply grateful parents.

Most recently at the MAD food Symposium in Copenhagen I attended two sessions on school food given by Dan Giusti who was originally sous chef in Noma (the top restaurant in the world). After years of feeding 45 or 50 privileged guests a night, he felt the need for a change and yearned to feed more people. So after much thought and consideration, he decided to create a school lunch project called Brigade, www.chefsbrigaid.com based in a small town in Connecticut called New London where 1 in 4 children are below the poverty line. Many are certified homeless so the food they eat on Friday  at school is most probably the last meal they will eat until the following Monday…..

The challenge for Dan and his team  on the Brigaid project is not easy. There are 85 pages of government nutritional guidelines, allergies, ethnic preferences, logistics…

Plus the budget for each child’s food is $3.31, which must include a glass of milk and cover other expenses so  $1.25 in real terms.

In that case one has to let go of deeply held preferences for local sustainable produce and do ones very best within the restrictions. Dan has gradually changed the system to do ‘from scratch’ cooking and uses plates as opposed to disposable moulded plastic containers. The kids have become much more engaged and now it will be rolled out in some schools in the South Bronx in New York City, where a million kids get a free school lunch every day.

I asked Dan what was the kids favourite lunch – he told me barbequed bone-in chicken with warm corn bread and potato salad.

So back to the reality in Ireland – where like everywhere else much depends on the quality of our children’s school lunch. It’s a constant concern and hassle for parents, it needs to be nutritious, delicious and not too nerdy. It’s quite a tight rope to navigate. If it is too different from the norm, we run the risk of our kids being teased or ridiculed by their friends which may be ‘water off a ducks back’ to parents but can devastate a child and may well result in them skipping lunch altogether.

It’s fun to involve older children in making their own packed lunches, many are now becoming very adventurous, hummus, wraps, dips, chunky soups, yoghurts, rice bowls and salad jars are becoming the norm but ham sandwiches are still the favourite so the quality of bread is super important, ditch the processed ham for a piece of thinly sliced home-cooked bacon and a piece of good cheddar. A  mixture of nuts or spiced seeds make a delicious nibble, chunks of melon with berries tossed in honey, lemon juice and a shred of mint – delicious.

A little rainbow salad in a jar or hummus pots are easy to transport and eat. A grated carrot and apple salad is another winner and if your child likes avocado, it’s a brilliant option or you might like to try a guacamole dip. Alternatively, sticks of raw vegetables and a little pot of aioli (garlic mayo) may make an irresistible nibble. A hard-boiled egg is full of protein, a super easy option and also great with a dollop of mayo.

When the weather gets a little colder, think how your child would enjoy a warm glass of soup and a little buttered brown scone.

One Dad who take his kids foraging on a regular basis, told me how they love to have wild sorrel and sprigs of purslane and pennywort in their salad – how wild and cool is that and super nutritious. Fortunately their school friends and teachers are curious rather than dismissive, so gently does it.

Dan Giusti made another interesting observation, when they sliced the apples particularly for younger children, they ate the slices rather than throwing away the apple after taking a bite or two- obvious when you think about it (slice and tightly wrap the  apple or half apple again)

Here are a few suggestions that I hope will prove enticing…




Hummus Bi Tahina

Hummus bi Tahina is a very inexpensive and delicious source of protein, this recipe makes quite a lot but you could half it. It can be stored in the fridge for a couple of days


Serves 4-8 (depending on how it is served)


170g (6oz) chickpeas, cooked, save the cooking liquid

freshly squeezed juice of 2-3 lemons, or to taste

2-3 large or small cloves garlic, crushed

150ml (5fl oz) tahini paste (available from health food shops and delicatessens)

1 teaspoon ground cumin




pitta bread or any crusty white bread, raw vegetables cut in to batons.


Drain the chickpeas, save the cooking liquid. Whizz up the remainder in a food processor with the freshly squeezed lemon juice and a little cooking water if necessary. Add the crushed garlic, tahini paste, cumin and salt to taste. Blend to a soft creamy paste. Taste and continue to add lemon juice and salt until you are happy with the flavour. Pop a lunch-box sized serving into little jars. Layer up the hummus with a selection of fresh vegetables in the jar, could be diced carrot, diced cucumber, maybe a few peas whatever you have to hand but make sure it tastes delicious


Rachel’s Bulgur Wheat Salad

Rachel likes to serve this bulgur wheat salad with roast chicken as an alternative to roast vegetables. It does a great job of soaking up the chicken juices and the ruby-like pomegranate seeds bring their gorgeous sweet-sour flavour. Any leftover chicken and salad can be simply mixed together for a divine school lunch the next day.


200g (7oz) bulgur wheat

finely grated zest and juice of 1 lemon

1 pomegranate, seeds and any juices, see tip below

1 tablespoon chopped mint

1 tablespoon chopped parsley

50ml (2fl oz) olive oil

salt and pepper


Cover the bulgur wheat in boiling water and allow to soak for 10-15 minutes until just soft. Drain well.


Mix the lemon juice and zest, pomegranate seeds and any juice, herbs and olive oil. Stir through the bulgur wheat and season with salt and pepper to taste.


Rachel’s Tip: There is a smart trick to quickly removing the seeds of a pomegranate without removing much pith and avoiding any fiddly peeling. Cut the pomegranate in half, then hold in the cupped palm of your hand, cut side down over a large bowl. Use the back of a wooden spoon to hit the pomegranate and let the seeds fall through your fingers. Keep hitting the back of the pomegranate and you’ll soon have a bowl full of pomegranate seeds. Remove any small bits of pith then repeat with the other half.




See-in-the-Dark Soup

Carrot and Sweet Potato Soup

Serves 6 approx.


This soup may be served either hot or cold, don’t hesitate to put in a good pinch of sugar, it brings up the flavour.


450g (1lb) carrots, preferably organic, chopped

45g (1½oz) butter

110g (4oz) onion, chopped

140g (5oz) potatoes, chopped

140g (5oz) sweet potatoes, chopped

salt, freshly ground pepper and sugar

sprig of spearmint

1.1Litre (2 pints) home-made light chicken or vegetable stock

62ml (2½fl oz) creamy milk, (optional)

3 teaspoons freshly chopped spearmint


a little lightly whipped cream or crème fraiche

sprigs of spearmint


Melt the butter and when it foams add the chopped vegetables, season with salt and freshly ground pepper and sugar. Add a sprig of mint, cover with a butter paper (to retain the steam) and a tight fitting lid. Leave to sweat gently on a low heat for about 10 minutes approx. Remove the lid, add the stock and boil until the vegetables are soft. Pour the soup into the liquidiser. Add 3 teaspoons of freshly chopped mint, puree until smooth. Add a little creamy milk if necessary. Taste and adjust seasoning

Garnish with a swirl of lightly whipped cream or crème fraiche and a sprig of fresh mint.

Tip: Buy unwashed local carrots whenever possible, they have immeasurably better flavour and keep longer  Heirloom seeds are said to have more  vitality and food value than F1 hybrids.


A Little Brown Soda Bread Loaf

The buttermilk in the shops is low fat but if you have access to rich, thick buttermilk, there is no need to add butter or extra cream.


This little loaf of brown soda bread is mixed in minutes and then just poured into a tin.  A few seeds can be sprinkled over the top or added to the dough for extra nourishment. Why not weigh up x 5 times the amount of flour and salt (but not bread soda).  Mix well and each time just scoop out 450g (16oz), add bread soda and buttermilk – mix and pour into the tin.

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

450ml (16fl oz) buttermilk plus 2 tablespoons cream

A selection of sesame, pumpkin, sunflower and poppy seeds (optional)


1 loaf tin 13x20cm (5x8inch) approx. brushed with sunflower oil


First preheat the oven to 200°C/400°F/Gas Mark 6


Mix all the dry ingredients together in a large wide bowl, (if using cream, add to the buttermilk).  Make a well in the centre and pour all of the buttermilk. Using one hand, stir in a full circle starting in the centre of the bowl working towards the outside of the bowl until all the flour is incorporated. The dough should be soft. When it all comes together, a matter of seconds, turn it into the oiled tin – slide a knife down the centre of the loaf.  Sprinkle with a mixture of sesame, sunflower, pumpkin and poppy seeds.

 Bake in the preheated oven for 60 minutes approximately.

(In some ovens it is necessary to turn the bread upside down on the baking sheet for 5-10 minutes before the end of baking) It will sound hollow when tapped.  Cool on a wire rack, wrapped in a clean tea-towel while hot if you prefer a softer crust.

Note:One could add 12g (1/2oz) fine oatmeal, 1 egg, and rub in 25g (1oz) butter to the above to make a richer soda bread dough.

 Note:  Bread should always be cooked in a fully pre-heated oven, but ovens vary enormously so it is necessary to adjust the temperature accordingly.



Easy even for the kids to make, a delicious dip for home made crisps, corn chips or raw vegetable sticks
1 ripe avocado

1-2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime or lemon juice

1 tablespoon olive oil

sea salt and freshly ground pepper

1 tablespoon fresh coriander or flat parsley


Scoop out the flesh from the avocado.  Mash with a fork, add lime juice, olive oil, chopped coriander, salt and freshly ground pepper to taste.

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



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 180ºC/350ºF. 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.


Stewed Bramley Apple Pots

The trick with stewed apple is to cook it covered on a low heat with very little water. Pop it into little pots and maybe top with a dollop of cream and a sprinkling of soft dark brown sugar…

Also great with flapjack dips… see below
Serves 10 approx.


450g (1 lb) cooking apples, e.g. Bramley Seedling or Grenadier

1-2 dessertspoons water

55g (2 ozs) sugar, depending on how tart the apples are


Peel, quarter and core the apples. Cut the pieces into two and put in a stainless steel or cast iron saucepan with sugar and water. Cover and cook over a low heat. As soon as the apple has broken down, beat into a puree, stir and taste for sweetness. Serve warm.


These nutritious oatmeal biscuits keep very well in a tin. Children love to munch them with a banana. Don’t compromise – make them with butter, because the flavour is immeasurably better. This is the recipe that I use when I want to prove to people who swear they can’t boil water that they can cook. We often drizzle them with melted chocolate as an extra treat. Makes about 24


350g (12oz) butter

1 tablespoon golden syrup

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

225g (8oz) caster sugar

450g (1lb) rolled oatmeal (porridge oats)


Swiss roll tin 25 x 38cm (10 x 15in)


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

Melt the butter, add the golden syrup and vanilla extract, stir in the sugar and oatmeal and mix well. Spread evenly into the Swiss roll tin.

Bake until golden and slightly caramelised, about 30 minutes. Cut into squares while still warm – they will crisp up as they cool.



Oatmeal and coconut flapjacks

substitute 50g (2oz) desiccated coconut for 50g (2oz) oatmeal in the above recipe.


Rachel’s Drop Scones

Makes 12

110g (4ozs) self-raising flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

25g (1oz/1/8 cup) caster sugar

pinch of salt

1 egg

110ml (4fl ozs/) milk

drop of sunflower oil, for greasing

Sift the flour and baking powder into a bowl, add the sugar and salt and stir to mix.  Make a well in the centre, crack in the egg and whisk, gradually drawing in the flour from the edge.  Add the milk gradually, whisking all the time, to form a smooth batter.

Lightly grease a frying pan and warm it over a moderate heat.  Drop 3 tablespoons (3 American tablespoons + 3 teaspoons) of the batter into the pan, keeping well apart so they don’t stick together. Cook for about 2 minutes or until bubbles appear on the surface and begin to burst and the drop scones are golden underneath, then flip them over and cook on the other side for a minute or until golden on this side as well.

Remove from the pan and serve warm with butter and jam, apple jelly, lemon curd or if you are like my children, chocolate spread! (If you wish, wrap the drop scones in a clean tea towel to keep warm while you make the rest.)


Ambling though the Burren

For me, ambling slowly through the Burren in Co. Clare is almost a spiritual experience – the prehistoric landscape feels sooo ancient,  I can virtually feel the spirit of those who chipped away patiently to build the drystone walls that still provide enduring shelter for the little fields.

It’s like driving through the Garden of Eden, fields of wild flowers interspersed with an occasional elderberry or hawthorn bush scattered here and there, a flock of sheep grazing contentedly, even a few cattle.

Can you imagine how delicious the meat of the animals reared on this bio-diverse pasture must be.  Looks like there will be lots of sloes and hazelnuts too, the blackberries are just ripening on the brambles pleading to be picked.

We’re on our way to Ennistymon to eat at Little Fox, a newly opened, super cool café on a corner of Main Street.  A short menu of delicious food, a red lentil and turmeric soup with masala yoghurt and toasted seeds was delicious as were all the salads and the Gubeen sambo on flatbread

Just across the road is a cheese shop called The Cheese Press owned by the inimitable Sinead Ni Ghairbhith. Locals get 30 cents off their coffee if they bring their own cup to reduce plastic use.

Just across the street, a little further up,  Pot Duggan’s is also rocking so set aside a little time to visit Ennistymon and beautiful Co. Clare.

Then on to Galway, Mayo, Sligo and Roscommon to visit a variety of inspirational farms.  First, Ronan Byrne aka The Friendly Farmer who rears free-range turkeys and geese and has a farm shop on his 35 acre farm at Knockbrack close to Athenry. Ronan also sells at the Moycullen Farmers Market on Friday and the Galway Farmers Market on Saturday where his growing number of devotees often queue up to buy his produce.

Near Ballymote in Co Sligo, we came upon Clive Bright’s enterprise,


known as Rare Ruminare, Clive has a most beautiful herd of Hereford and Shorthorn cattle which he ‘mob grazes’ on lush,  organic pastures on his family farm near Ballymote in Co  Sligo. Loved his paintings too –detailed drawings of insects and plant life, beautifully observed.


From there we popped in to Drumanilra Farm Kitchen Café in Boyle and met owners Liam and Justina Gavin whose beautiful farm overlooks Lough Kee,  I won’t easily forget the few minutes I spent leaning on a farm gate watching Drumanilra’s herd of gentle Dexter cattle grazing naturally and contentedly on the nourishing pasture.  These cattle will have an honourable end on a plate in the café in their much sought after Dexter burgers or for local people to buy in the farm shop, look out for their rashers and sausages too.


Clive Bright’s Hereford and Shorthorn meat can be bought in chilled boxes insulated with lambs’ wool, directly from www.rareruminare.  I can certainly vouch for the flavour having eaten Clive’s beef cheeks for lunch – this young farmer cooks brilliantly as well.

We covered a lot of ground over a couple of days…. On our way south, we detoured to Birr to catch up on Ballymaloe Cookery School alumni, Hannah Ward at Woodfield Café just outside the town.  Another cool café – delicious brunch and a wander around the tempting Woodfield Garden Centre at the rear.  A lovely surprise to find Mueller, O’Connell sourdough bread from Abbeyleix for toasted bacon and Mossfield cheese sandwiches.

Our next stop, the Eco-Village at Cloughjordan in Co Tipperary to meet Joe Fitzmaurice in his Riot Rye bakery, wonderful smells….we had the opportunity to watch Joe shaping and baking his sour dough loaves in the  wood-burning oven – beautiful crusty bread to nourish his community which for him is a major priority. Check out his sour bread classes, www.riotrye.ie.

Just outside the town we found Mimi and Owen Crawford whose rich and beautiful organic raw milk and butter, people flock to buy at Limerick Milk Market and locally.

They also rear and sell their own plump Ross free-range organic chickens, lamb, bacon and pork.  Their small 20-acre holding is super-productive with a little tunnel and vegetable patch bursting with fresh product.

That was the last stop on this short reconnaissance

trip – so many inspirational people.  We ran out of time to visit Sodalicious in Limerick, a recent start-up owned by another Ballymaloe Cookery School allumni Jane Ellison – we hear it’s worth a detour.


Orange Lentil Soup with Turmeric, Masala, Yoghurt and Toasted Seeds and Coriander

Serves 6


225g (8oz) onions – chopped

extra virgin olive oil or butter

2 teaspoons turmeric, peeled and freshly grated

225g (8oz) orange lentils

flaky sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

2 pints of vegetable of chicken stock

6 tablespoons yoghurt

1 teaspoon coriander seeds

1 teaspoon cumin seeds

2 teaspoons pumpkin seeds

2 teaspoons sunflower seeds

1 teaspoon each of black and white sesame seeds

4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

freshly squeezed lemon juice to taste

fresh coriander leaves



Bring a saucepan of the chicken or vegetable stock to the boil.


Meanwhile heat the oil and/or butter in a heavy saucepan. Add the freshly chopped onion, toss, cover and sweat on a gentle heat until soft but not coloured.


Uncover, add turmeric, cook for a minute or two, add the lentils. Season generously with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.  Add the boiling stock. Bring back to the boil and simmer for 8-10 minutes until the lentils are soft.


Meanwhile, toast the seeds by stirring continuously on a dry pan over a low to medium heat until they smell toasty, 3-4 minutes, turn into a bowl,  add 4 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil and cool.


Heat the cumin and coriander in a dry pan over a medium to high heat until it starts to smell aromatic. Turn into a mortar and grind to a fine powder. Add to the natural yoghurt, add salt to taste.


Whizz the soup to a coarse puree. Taste and add a squeeze of lemon juice. Correct the seasoning.


Ladle into wide soup bowls, drizzle some masala yoghurt on top. Sprinkle with an assortment of seeds and some fresh coriander leaves and serve


Braised Beef Cheeks with Colcannon and Swede Turnips


Gary Masterson from Fire and Ice Café in Midleton served delicious beef cheeks with a gutsy red wine sauce and sea spinach at a Winter Slow Food event – perfection.  He shared the recipe with us.


Serves 6


6 beef cheeks

dripping or oil

1 head garlic, cut in half

2 onions, chopped

3 carrots, peeled and chopped

3 celery sticks, chopped

4 ripe tomatoes, cut in half

sprig of thyme and a bay leaf

1 bottle full bodied red wine

2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar

hot chicken or veal stock

salt and freshly ground pepper


Scallion or Parsnip Champ


Marinate the beef cheeks in half the red wine, vinegar, chopped vegetables and herbs for a minimum of 12 hours, up to 48 hours if you are organised enough.


Before cooking, take the meat out of the marinade and pat dry.  Heat a frying pan, add the dripping, season the beef cheeks with the salt and freshly ground pepper and sear the cheeks in the hot oil, allowing them to colour on both sides.  Remove from the pan and transfer to a casserole.  Add the vegetables to the oil and sauté until brown, then deglaze the pan with the marinade, scraping off all the flavour from the bottom.  Bring to the boil and skim off any impurities that rise to the top as it boils.  Reduce by half and pour over the beef and add the other half of the wine and enough hot stock to cover the cheeks.  Cover the casserole and cook in a low oven at 130°F/250°F/gas mark 1/2 for 3-4 hours or until the meat is soft and meltingly tender.


When cooked, remove from the sauce and keep aside.  Strain the sauce, pushing hard through the sieve to extract as much flavour as possible from all the vegetables.  If the sauce is too thin, put back into the saucepan and reduce until the required consistency is reached.  Check the seasoning, it may also need a touch of sugar and a dash of Worcestershire sauce.  Gently reheat the cheeks in the sauce and serve in bowls with a few crispy smoked bacon lardons on top.


We like to serve with Colcannon and Swede turnips.


Reynard’s Buckwheat Pancake with Chocolate and Toasted Hazelnuts

Serves 6


Buckwheat Batter

25g (1oz) butter

65g (2 1/2 oz) buckwheat flour

50g (2oz) plain white flour

1 large free range egg

175ml (6fl oz) milk

110ml (4fl oz) cold water

a pinch of salt

2 tablespoons sugar


To Serve

best quality organic chocolate and hazelnut spread

toasted hazelnuts, roughly chopped

Maldon sea salt (optional)


First make the batter.

Melt the butter on a low heat – cool.  Sieve both flours and a pinch of salt into a bowl.  Make a well in the centre, add an egg, gradually whisk in the milk and water drawing in the flour from the outside.  Finally whisk in the melted butter. Cover and allow to rest for 15- 30 minutes.


Heat a non-stick pan on a high heat.  Pour in a small ladle-full of batter just enough to cover the base of the pan.  Cook for about a minute, flip over and cook for a further 30-45 seconds.  Slide onto a hot plate.


Spoon a couple of generous tablespoons of chocolate spread onto the centre.  Fold in the four edges, once, twice to form a square with chocolate in the centre.  Sprinkle with toasted hazelnuts and a few flakes of Maldon sea salt.

Buckwheat Pancakes with Smoked Salmon, Crème Fraîche and Crispy Capers


Buckwheat is deliciously nutty, rich in minerals and B vitamins and naturally gluten-free.


Serves 8


8 buckwheat pancakes (see recipe)

16 thin slices of smoked salmon (approximately 225g/8oz)

8 tablespoons of crème fraîche (see recipe)

56 capers, drained and fried until crisp in a little hot oil

4 tablespoons of finely chopped scallions or chives, cut at an angle

Freshly ground black pepper


To serve: place the pancakes on warm plates, divide the smoked salmon between the pancakes.


Drizzle 1 tablespoon crème fraîche over each pancake.


Sprinkle 7 capers and 1/2 tablespoon of chopped scallions or chives over the crème fraîche.


Season with freshly ground black pepper and serve immediately.


Buckwheat Pancake Batter


Makes twelve 18cm (7 inch) pancakes


2 tablespoons butter

225ml (8fl oz) milk

1 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon sugar

60g (21/2oz) rice flour

21/2 tablespoons buckwheat flour

11/2 teaspoon vegetable oil

2 small free-range eggs

40ml (11/2fl oz) sparkling mineral water


Melt the butter in a small saucepan.

Add the milk, salt, and sugar, stir well, and turn off the heat.


Put both flours in a mixing bowl, make a well in the centre and pour in the vegetable oil and eggs. Mix the eggs and oil with a whisk, gradually bringing in flour from the sides until it begins to thicken. Add the milk mixture little by little until all has been incorporated and the batter is smooth. Whisk in the water.


Pour the batter through a medium strainer into a bowl and refrigerate for at least 2 hours before using.  (This resting time will allow the batter to relax and the flour to absorb the liquids fully.) Pancake batter may be made a day ahead and refrigerated.


To cook: Heat a 15-18cm (6-7in) frying pan.


Add a very little oil. When the pan is hot, pour in just enough batter to cover the base of the pan.

Allow to cook on one side for a minute or two, flip over onto the other side and continue to cook, until speckled and slightly golden.


Slide onto a plate, repeat with the other pancakes.


Stack one on top of the other, they can be peeled apart later but are best eaten fresh off the pan.



Wild Blackberry and Rose Petal Sponge

When the first blackberries ripen in the autumn we use them with softly whipped cream to fill this light fluffy sponge.   The recipe may sound strange but the cake will be the lightest and most tender you’ve ever tasted.


Serves 6-8

melted butter, for greasing

140g plain flour, plus extra for dusting

3 organic eggs75ml water

225g granulated sugar

1 teaspoon baking powder




110ml cream

2 teaspoons icing sugar, plus extra for dusting

½ teaspoon rosewater, optional

225-350g wild blackberries


pale pink rose petals, fresh or crystallized


2 x 20.5cm sandwich tins


Preheat the oven to 190C/Gas mark 5.

Brush the cake tins evenly with melted butter and dust with flour.  I usually take the precaution of lining the base with a circle of greaseproof paper for guaranteed ease of removal later.


Separate the eggs. In a food mixer whisk the yolks with the sugar for 2 minutes, then add in the water. Whisk until light and fluffy, 10 minutes approx. Fold the sieved flour and baking powder into the mousse in batches. Whisk the egg whites until they hold a stiff peak. Gently fold them into the fluffy base. Pour into prepared sandwich tins and bake in a moderately hot oven 190C/Gas mark 5 for 20 minutes approx.  Remove from the tins and cool on a wire rack.


Whip the cream, add the icing sugar and a few drops of rosewater.


Sandwich the sponge together with whipped cream and blackberries. Sieve a little icing sugar over the top. Sprinkle with fresh or crystallized rose petals – it will look and taste enchanting.





Do you know about purslane? I’m crazy about it. For those who are not familiar, it’s a little succulent that spreads like wildfire and is considered by many gardeners to be just a weed. But if it has been romping around your greenhouse or tunnel since June, don’t just moan, harvest and eat it instead. It’s super tasty, will still be in season until September and there are a million things you can do with it.

Its juicy leaves are delicious raw in salads, or lightly tossed as a vegetable or ‘side’. Purslane also pickles well and can be used in ferments or added to a soup or stew. For the purpose of identification you may want to know that the Latin name is Portulaca Oleracea. A hugely nutritious and highly esteemed vegetable, from Iran to the Cacuses as well as in the Eastern Mediterranean, Mexico and India. Purslane is a powerhouse of nutrition, lots of Omega three fatty acids, minerals, vitamins and anti-oxidants. It has notable amounts of calcium, iron, magnesium and potassium as well as vitamins A B C and E in fact it has six times more Vitamin E than spinach and seven times more beta carotene than carrots. Those who have difficulty snoozing may like to know that purslane has high levels of melatonin, a hormone that helps to regulate sleep…

In his ground breaking book ‘In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto, Michal Pollan called purslane one of the two most nutritious plants on the planet (the other being Lambs quarters).

Interestingly both of these plants are considered by many to be a nuisance in the garden. Purslane has pinkish stems; its leaves are crunchy and slightly mucilaginous with a flavour reminiscent of lemon and freshly ground pepper.

In urban areas it even grows up through cracks in the footpaths or at the base of walls.

Purslane has been grown since ancient times and thrives in hot climates so no doubt it will be considered to be even more important in the future.

Meanwhile seek it out and enjoy it often in as many ways as possible, here are a few ideas to get you started….


Jacob Kennedy’s Tomato and Purslane Salad


Serves 4 as a starter or side


500 g (18oz) delicious tomatoes

½ small red onion

1 teaspoon red wine vinegar (optional)

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

100 g (3½ oz) picked purslane leaves and tips


Quarter the tomatoes and slice the red onion very thinly across the grain. Macerate these with the vinegar, oil and plenty of salt and pepper for 5 minutes, then toss in the leaves and have a crust of bread on hand to mop the bowl afterwards.



Rory O’ Connell’s Purslane, Avocado and Cucumber Salad


The contrast of textures and flavours in this simple salad is really delicious.  The crisp cucumbers complement the creamy avocado and the juiciness of the succulent purslane. Rory sometimes adds a few green grapes for an extra touch of sweetness.



Serves 6-8


3-4 handfuls of purslane

2 avocados

1 cucumber

flaky sea salt and freshly cracked pepper




3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 tablespoon Forum Chardonnay wine vinegar

flaky sea salt and freshly cracked pepper



Top, tail and halve the cucumber.  Unless it’s very fresh scoop out the seeds, a melon baller or ‘pointy’ teaspoon is good for this.   Cut into 1cm diagonal slices and transfer to a wide bowl.

Halve the avocado, remove the stone, peel and cut into haphazard dice, about 7mm.  Add to the cucumber.   Season with flaky sea salt and add some freshly cracked pepper.  Add the sprigs of purslane.  Drizzle with dressing.  Toss gently.  Taste and correct the seasoning.  Arrange on individual plates and serve as soon as possible.


Purslane Soup from Naomi Duguid


Springtime in Kurdistan means “paipina”, a thick soup of lentils (nisik in Kurdish) Purslane is a wild green with small, thick, succulent leaves and reddish stems. It’s often treated as a weed in North America, but it’s a much-valued vegetable from Iran to the Caucasus, as well as in the eastern Mediterranean region, where it’s used raw in salads. Some farmers are starting to cultivate it in North America, so it should soon become easier to find.


Serves 8


225g (8oz) brown lentils, rinsed and picked over

55g (2oz) finely chopped onion

100g (3½oz) Arborio or other short-grain rice, washed and drained

1.5 to 1.8 litres (2½ to 3 pints) water or unsalted light chicken or vegetable broth, or as needed

3 tablespoons tomato paste

1 teaspoon ground cumin

¼ teaspoon turmeric

2 to 3 teaspoons sea salt, to taste

285g (10½ oz) finely chopped purslane leaves and stems

freshly ground black pepper




Fresh goat’s- or sheep’s-milk cheese

A generous Herb Plate: tarragon, chervil, mint, lovage, and scallion greens (use two or more)



Place the lentils, onion, and rice in a large pot, add 7 cups of water or broth, and bring to a vigorous boil. Skim off any foam, cover, reduce the heat to maintain a low boil, and cook until the lentils are tender, 35 to 45 minutes; add more water or broth if needed.


Stir in the tomato paste, cumin, turmeric, and 2 teaspoons salt, then add the purslane and stir thoroughly. Cook until the purslane is very soft and flavours have blended, about 30 minutes; add more liquid if the soup gets too thick. Taste and adjust the seasoning if needed. Ladle into individual bowls and sprinkle with black pepper. Put out the flatbreads, cheese, and herb plate, and invite your guests to sprinkle a little cheese onto their soup.



Summer Purslane with Tahini and Sesame seeds


Serves 2



½ or 1 small garlic clove

2 tablespoon of freshly squeezed lemon juice

1 teaspoon local honey

2 tablespoons of tahini

Water as needed…

350g (12oz) fresh purslane


To serve:

sesame seeds


Peel and grate the garlic on a micro-plane, put into a bowl with the freshly squeezed lemon juice and honey. Stir to dissolve.


Bring a saucepan of water to a fast rolling boil. Drop the sprigs of purslane into the pan and cook for just 30 seconds. Drain and refresh under cold water. Drain again and dry gently.

Lay on a serving plate.

Put the tahini into a bowl. Stir in the lemon mixture. It will thicken at first but go on stirring and add a little water if necessary. It should be a thick pouring consistency.

Drizzle a little tahini dressing over the purslane. Sprinkle with a sesame seeds, (optional).

Serve as a side or as an accompaniment to grilled meats or aubergines.


Note: Roast Hazelnut dressing or tomato and chilli jam is also delicious drizzled over purslane.


Kemp Minifie’s Purslane and Avocado Tacos with Pico de Gallo  

Purslane has long been considered a weed, but it is increasingly showing up for sale in bunches at farmers markets. Meanwhile, Mexicans have known about its healthful properties for hundreds of years and they eat it both raw and cooked. In Mexico it’s called verdolagas. Cooking mellows its tang and shrinks it, which means you can eat more of it! Paired with avocado and a tomato relish, this is a super-healthy vegetarian snack or main dish.


For Pico de Gallo:

600ml (1 pint) grape tomatoes, quartered

50g (2oz) chopped white onion

1 tablespoon lime juice, or to taste

2 teaspoons minced fresh Serrano chilli, or to taste

(1oz) chopped coriander

sea salt and freshly ground pepper


For Tacos:

2 large garlic cloves, finely chopped

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

450g (1 lb) purslane, including tender upper stems, chopped

8 fresh corn tortillas

2 avocados

(3oz) crumbled cotija cheese or to taste


coriander sprigs and lime wedges for serving


12-inch heavy skillet



Makes 8 tacos (4 servings)


Make Pico de Gallo:

Combine tomatoes, onion, lime juice, chilli, and coriander in a bowl and season with salt and pepper. Let it stand while assembling the tacos.


Cook garlic in oil in a 12-inch heavy skillet over medium heat, stirring, until pale golden. Add purslane with salt to taste and cook, stirring, until wilted and tender, about 3 minutes. Transfer to a sieve set over a bowl and let it drain.


Have a folded kitchen towel ready for the tortillas. Heat a 10-inch cast-iron skillet over medium heat until hot, then heat a tortilla, keeping the others covered, flipping it occasionally with tongs, until it puffs slightly and gets brown in spots, 1 to 1 1/2 minutes. Transfer tortilla, as toasted, to towel, enclosing it, and repeat with remaining tortillas. Keep them warm in towel.


Quarter avocados lengthwise and remove pit, then peel. Cut each section into thin slices (lengthwise or crosswise, it doesn’t matter) and season with salt.


Assemble tacos by spooning some purslane into a folded taco and topping it with avocado slices, cotija cheese, coriander sprigs, and pico de gallo. Serve with lime wedges.




Summer Purslane, Tomato, Cucumber and Sumac Salad

A little sliced red onion is also delicious added to this salad. Omit the sumac if difficult to source.



Serves 2-4

2 generous fistfuls of purslane sprigs

½ – 1 cucumber, seeded and diced 1.7cm (2/3  inch)

4 ripe tomatoes roughly chopped in a similar size

flaky sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper

½ – 1 fresh chilli seeded and chopped

2 tablespoons fresh squeezed lemon juice

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 teaspoon local honey

1 – 2 tablespoons sumac


Wash the purslane spring and drain. Put in a wide bowl with the cucumber and tomato dice. Season with flaky sea salt and freshly cracked pepper.



Put the chili into a bowl with lemon, extra virgin olive oil and honey.

Whisk with a fork


Drizzle over the salad. Toss gently and taste. Sprinkle with sumac and serve.


Note: You can imagine how a few slices of avocado are also a yummy addition.




Pickled Purslane


Use this tasty pickle in salads or with goat cheese; pan grilled fish, lamb chops or even a burger.


Makes 4 x 7oz jars


250g (9oz) purslane

200g (7oz) cider white wine vinegar

10g (1/2oz) pure salt

1 teaspoon sugar or a dessertspoon honey

2 cloves of garlic peeled and thinly sliced

1 organic lemon,

600ml (1 pint) water approx.


4 sterilised glass jars and lids (160°C/310°F/Mark 3, for ten minutes in the oven)



Wash the purslane under cold water. Drain.


Put the vinegar, salt, sugar or honey and sliced garlic into a stainless steel saucepan

Bring to the boil for a minute or two; add the juice of the lemon.


Meanwhile bring a saucepan of water to the boil, add the purslane in batches for just 30 seconds. Drain, but save the liquid. Add the purslane to the hot pickle. Spoon into the hot jars, divide the liquid pickle evenly between the jars and top each one up with the purslane blanching water if necessary.


Cover and seal the jar immediately with a sterilised lid. Cool and store in a dark place. Use in two days or within 2 months.





KAUKASIS by Olia Hercules



For some time now I’ve become more and more intrigued by the food of the Caucasus  – Ukraine, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Armenia…..

I haven’t managed to get there yet, but it’s high on my list of places to visit just as soon as I can. My interest has been sparked by Olia Hercules, a beautiful, enchanting young cook who was born in Ukraine and came to London via Cyprus. She writes evocatively about the food of her homeland and the surrounding countries, rich beautiful peasant food, the sort of food I love to eat.

In this part of the world, where the home cooks have learned the skills from their parents, grandparents and great grandparents, they value every morsel of food and know how to use every scrap of seasonal produce deliciously. Foraging, pickling, fermenting and preserving is an innate part of their food culture. I long to taste some of the dishes Olia described so evocatively in her books – the result of many research trips to the Caucuses where she visited peoples’ farms and went into their kitchens to learn from traditional  home cooks. No fluffs or foams or skid marks going on here but beautiful real food, sometimes utterly traditional and other recipes where Olia has created a delicious twist on the original.  I met her recently at the Oxford Food Symposium where she cooked a delicious dinner Wild East Feast.

I’ve invited her to do a guest chef appearance here at The Ballymaloe Cookery School. I’ll keep you posted as soon as we finalise the date. I’m also hoping that she will do a Pop-Up dinner at Ballymaloe House in the Autumn and perhaps an East Cork Slow Food Event – all to be confirmed – you can see I’m smitten by this young cook whom the Observer Food Magazine named Rising Star of the Year in 2015 when her first cookbook Mamushka was published. Several of the recipes that follow come from her second book Kaukasis published by Octopus Books. I’ve especially picked delicious Summery recipes to use the bounty of fruit and vegetables that nature is providing for us at present.


Olia Hercules’s Tomato and Raspberry Salad

This salad came about when Ének, a first-generation Hungarian who had settled in Georgia, picked out some extremely good tomatoes at a market in Tbilisi. Inspired by Hungarian-rooted chefs from Bar Tarrine in San Francisco who do a version of this salad with sour cherries, she made one with raspberries, toasty unrefined sunflower oil and some green coriander seeds and flower heads. I know tomatoes and raspberries sound like a combination that should just be left alone, but it actually really works if you use excellent tomatoes, although not with hard, flavourless supermarket tomatoes. The tomatoes need to be ripe, sweet, flavoursome and juicy fruit so that they almost equal the raspberries in texture and juiciness. Strong, savoury, soft herbs also go very well here. Try marjoram or oregano mixed with mint or coriander leaves, dill or tarragon —you are going for intensity here. And make sure you season it really well with good flaky sea salt.


Serves 4 as a side

4 large super-ripe tomatoes

10 firm yellow, green and red cherry tomatoes

8 raspberries

5 black olives, pitted and torn

3 tablespoons unrefined sunflower oil

a few coriander flower heads or 3 sprigs of marjoram, leaves picked

1 sprig of mint, leaves picked and large ones torn

4 sprigs of dill, chopped

1/4 mild onion, thinly sliced

sea salt flakes and freshly ground black pepper



Cut the tomatoes into sections. Your tomatoes should be so ripe that you will end up with loads of juice on your chopping board. Don’t throw it away but add it to a bowl to use as part of the dressing.


Pop the tomatoes on to a serving plate and scatter over the raspberries and olives.


Whisk the unrefined sunflower oil into the reserved tomato juices and pour over the salad Season generously with some salt and pepper, and sprinkle over the herbs and onion. The juices remaining at the bottom of the salad are made for bread-mopping.


Tip:  If you can’t find the correct sunflower oil, try another nutty oil. Mix a little sesame oil with some avocado or rapeseed oil, or try walnut oil if you can find the good stuff.

From Kaukasis, the Cookbook by Olia Hercules published by Octopus Books



Olia Hercules’s Savoury Peach & Tarragon Salad

We are used to tarragon in creamy sauces in the West but mainly just with chicken, and it remains such an under-used herb, often declared as too strong and dominant. But Georgians love it and it finds its way into many, many dishes. We made this in Tbilisi in June, inspired by the gorgeous local produce. A savoury salad made only with fruit may seem unusual, but it works. Sour gooseberries or grapes combined with sweet peaches (or nectarines) along with savoury tarragon and salt makes a dream accompaniment to some grilled pork or iamb chops, or roasted meaty summer squashes.



Serves 2 as a side


2 peaches, stoned and sliced

50g (1¾ oz) gooseberries or grapes (or 4 tart plums, stoned and sliced)

1/2  small bunch of tarragon, leaves picked (or a few fennel fronds)

2 tablespoons lemon juice

1/4 small red chilli, deseeded and diced

1/2, teaspoon caster sugar or honey

1 small garlic clove, grated

sea salt flakes and freshly ground black pepper


Arrange the peaches and gooseberries or grapes on a plate. Mix the tarragon leaves with the lemon juice, fresh chilli, sugar or honey, garlic, some salt and a generous pinch of pepper then pour the dressing over the fruit and serve.


Variation: Mix a handful of pumpkin seeds with ½ tablespoon of maple syrup, a pinch of chilli flakes and some salt, spread them out on to a lined baking sheet and roast in the oven at 180°C (350°F), Gas Mark 4 for 5 minutes. Remove from

The oven, leave to cool, then use as a savoury topping.

From Kaukasis, the Cookbook by Olia Hercules published by Octopus Books



Olia Hercules’s Courgettes & Garlic Matsorii

This dish is simplicity itself. It used to be made with mayonnaise throughout the ex-Soviet Union, but thank goodness that’s all over and we can now use traditional premium dairy. As with all simple recipes, this is particularly tasty if you can source great home-grown or good-quality courgettes and make your own matsoni. If your courgettes are not the greatest, try using a mixture of all the soft herbs you like best to give them a bit of a lift. But if you have amazing vegetables and your own homemade yogurt, use just a little dill and let them sing their sweet, gentle song. And I love borage for its subtle cucumber flavour overtones.


Serves 4 as a side

2 large courgettes

4 tablespoons vegetable oil

100 (3½ oz) Homemade Matsoni or good-quality natural yogurt

2 garlic cloves, crushed

1 tablespoon of your favourite mixture of soft herbs, roughly chopped

sea salt flakes


Slice the courgettes lengthways into 5mm (14 inch) strips.

Hear the oil in a large frying pan and fry the courgette slices on each side until deep golden. Remove and drain them on kitchen paper.

Mix the matsoni or yogurt with the garlic and add some salt, then taste – it should be really well seasoned, so add more salt if necessary. Drizzle the mixture over the courgettes and sprinkle over the herbs.


Try lightly coating the courgettes in flour before frying – it will give them a bit more body. Buckwheat flour adds a nice nuttiness to the flavour.

From Kaukasis, the Cookbook by Olia Hercules published by Octopus Books





Olia Hercules’s Herb Kükü OPTIONAL     

“I tried an Azerbaijani herby omelette called kükü I announced excitedly. “That dish was originally Iranian!” was Sabrina Ghayour’s response – there is no escaping her intensely Persian focus. While I agree with her that this dish definitely has Persian roots, it is also treasured in neighbouring Azerbaijan. I really love the name (it sounds so playful), love how herby it is (it’s mostly herbs held together by a little egg) and love the sprinkling of sumac on top. You can fry it in oil if you wish, but I do love soft herbs cooked in butter – there is so much satisfaction to be had from a combination of fresh, fragrant flavour, creamy dairy and eggs. Play around with the combination of soft herbs; there are endless variants to enjoy – I often use watercress, spring onion, sorrel, spinach or wild garlic. Serve with flatbreads, a simple tomato salad and some natural yogurt with chopped cucumber, chilli, salt and a tiny bit of garlic.


Serves 4

150g mixture of soft herbs, such as coriander, dill, purple or green basil, tarragon and chives

4 eggs

1 garlic clove, finely grated

3 spring onions, finely chopped

20g (3/4oz) Clarified Butter or ordinary butter and a drop of vegetable oil

½ teaspoon ground sumac

sea salt flakes

23cm (9 inch) diameter frying pan


Remove any tough stalks from your mixture of herbs, then finely chop the softer stalks together with the leaves.

Whisk the eggs with some salt and the garlic, then stir in all the chopped herbs and spring onions.

Heat the Clarified Butter in a 23cm (9 inch) diameter frying pan and add the herby eggs. Cook, without touching it, over a medium-low heat for about 5 minutes until the eggs are just set and the underside develops a golden crust.

Now comes the tricky bit. To flip the kükü, cover the pan with a big plate, turn it upside-down plate, then slide the kükü back into the pan. Continue cooking for 1 minute until other side is golden then remove from the heat and slide it on to a serving plate. Sprinkle the sumac on the top and serve.


VARIATION You can also add a handful of lightly toasted and crushed walnuts to the kuku. For a winter version of the dish, use thinly sliced Swiss chard or beetroot tops or sweet white cabbage instead of the herbs.

From Kaukasis, the Cookbook by Olia Hercules published by Octopus Books



Olia Hercules’s Tarragon & Cucumber Lemonade

Instead of cola and fizzy orange drinks, us ex-Soviet children grew up drinking a fizzy fluorescent green pop called “tarkhun”, meaning “tarragon”. It was poisonous-green, very sweet yet somehow delicious. Tarragon is extremely popular in Georgia – they do not shy away from its strong flavour. I do love the addition of cucumbers like they do in the Pheasant’s Tears restaurant in Signagi, a town in the Kakheti region of eastern Georgia,  which makes this summer drink even fresher.

Makes about 3 litres (51/4 pints)

500ml (18fl oz) water

200g (7oz) caster sugar

finely grated zest and juice of 4 (preferably Sicilian) lemons

2 bunches of tarragon

2 cucumbers, sliced

2 litres (31/2 pints) cold sparkling mineral water


Put the still water into a saucepan with the sugar and heat over a low heat, stirring often, until the sugar has completely dissolved. Leave to cool completely, then stir in the lemon zest and juice.

Blitz the tarragon (reserving a few sprigs) and half the cucumber in a blender or food processor (easier and less splashy than using a pestle and mortar, although you can do it that way). Strain the mixture through a fine sieve.

Mix the lemony cordial with the tarragon and cucumber juice and dilute it as you would with any cordial – topped up with sparkling or still water. This is not too bad with a dash of gin, too.

From Kaukasis, the Cookbook by Olia Hercules published by Octopus Books



Olia Hercules’s Buckwheat Ice Cream

1 really, really wanted to use Marina’s pine cones in a dessert of my own, as they are just so unusual, a chef’s dream. But because they are so tannic and taste so strongly of pine, only a tiny bit could be used. I also really wanted to make buckwheat ice cream, as when we were children, mum used to boil buckwheat in salted water and then dress it with melted butter and sugar. That flavour was haunting me, just like I imagine the cereal milk would for those who grew up eating sweet cereal. My friend Alissa and I threw a Kino Vino supper club during Russian filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky Week in London, showing his 1975 film called Mirror, followed by a feast inspired by the movie. One of the last scenes depicted a buckwheat field bordering a malachite-hued pine forest. Bingo. The two came together. So this is my poetic nostalgic dessert, although don’t worry about trying to find pine cones, as I’ve suggested using fresh bay leaves instead here to add savouriness.


Serves 6-8

100g (3 ½ oz) raw buckwheat groats (or use ready-toasted)

10 fresh bay leaves, crushed

250m1 (9fl oz) milk

250g (9oz) double cream

generous pinch of salt

150g (5½ oz) caster sugar (optional)

4 egg yolks

100-150g (3½ -5½ oz) granulated sugar poached rhubarb, to serve

You will also need (ideally) an ice-cream machine and a large piece of muslin



If using raw buckwheat, heat a large, frying pan over a medium heat, toss in the buckwheat and toast, wiggling the pan about from time to time, until it becomes golden but not burnt. Taste it and check that it is crunchy and edible – it’s very important that you get this right. Leave the buckwheat to cool.


Wrap the crushed bay leaves and buckwheat in the muslin and tie securely. Add it to the milk and cream in a large saucepan over a medium heat. Add the salt and taste the mixture – you should be able to detect the salt ever so slightly. If you intend to serve the ice cream with something tart, add 150g (5½ oz) caster sugar.

When the milk mixture is almost boiling, turn the heat off and leave to infuse for an hour.

Beat the egg yolks and sugar together in a large heatproof bowl.

Remove the muslin and squeeze out all the flavour, then discard. Bring the milk mixture back up to almost boiling. Pour it on to the egg yolk mixture, stirring constantly, then pour back into the pan and cook over a low heat, stirring, for about 5 this mixture minutes or until slightly thickened.

Cover the surface of the custard with clingfilm to prevent a skin from forming and leave the custard to cool.

Churn the ice cream in an ice-cream machine according to the manufacturers instructions, then serve with some simple poached rhubarb.

Tip If you don’t have an ice-cream machine, create a semifreddo with the custard. Make the custard as instructed above and leave to cool, then fold  through  egg whites, whisked until firm peaks form. Freeze for 2 hours and serve slightly soft.

From Kaukasis, the Cookbook by Olia Hercules published by Octopus Books





Edible flowers 



Corn flowers, primroses, forget-me-nots, day lilies, marigolds, roses, lavender, nasturtiums, dahlias, chrysanthemum…

I love to scatter flower petals over desserts, cakes and biscuits. Judiciously used they also add a little magic to starter plates and salads. Of course the flowers must be edible but a wide variety of blossoms are, as well as the flowers of broad beans, scarlet runners, sun chokes, peas and sea kale, but remember they will  eventually grow into the vegetables so pick sparingly.


The canary yellow zucchini and squash blossoms are also irresistible not just to tear into salads but also to dip into a tempura batter – stuffed or unstuffed.


Even the cheery little nasturtium flower with its peppery taste are both cute and delicious stuffed with a little herby cream cheese. We also chop the gaily coloured nasturtium blossom and add them into a lemony butter to serve with a piece of spanking fresh fish.


Fennell and dill flowers have a delicious liquoricey, aniseed flavour. They too add magic to fish dishes and broths but also to some pastas and of course salads.

Dahlia flowers are gorgeous sprinkled over salads, I particularly love them scattered over an heirloom tomato or potato salad.


Thyme flowers are various shades of blue and purple – we love to use them to garnish little pots of pate or to sprinkle over a bowl of silky onion and thyme leaf soup.

Sage and hyssop flowers are even more intensely blue and they two give a vibrant and perky flavour to salads and summer vegetable dishes.

The kombuchas and water kefirs that we serve at the school every day also include edible flowers which introduce the yeast of the area into the gut enhancing drink.


This freekeh salad makes a wonderful vehicle for a variety of edible flowers. Pomegranate molasses is now widely available and now has become a favourite ingredient for those of us who have developed a passion for Middle Eastern flavours.


Heritage Tomato Salad with Flowers, Za’atar and Freekeh

This is a pretty salad with lots of edible flowers from the garden and the tomatoes are particularly good. Freekeh is a Lebanese wheat. It’s picked while still under ripe and set on fire to remove the husk, which smokes and toasts the grain.


Serves 4


100g (3½ oz) freekeh or farro

sea salt

extra virgin olive oil

1 tablespoon pomegranate molasses

12 cherry tomatoes

2 teaspoons za’atar

lots of edible flowers, perhaps marigolds, cornflowers, violas, rocket flowers, or borage (remove furry calyx from behind the flower), chive or coriander or fennel blossom depending on what’s available in Summer.


Put the freekeh or farro into a saucepan with cold water, bring to the boil and simmer for 4-6 minutes, depending on the freekeh (some are broken grains, others whole). It should be soft but still slightly chewy. Drain, season with salt and drizzle with extra virgin olive oil and toss.  Taste and correct the seasoning.


In a little bowl, whisk the pomegranate molasses with 3 tablespoons  extra virgin olive oil to emulsify.


Cut the tomatoes into wedges. Season with salt and a little extra virgin olive oil. Lay the tomatoes on a plate, scatter with the freekeh, then sprinkle over the za’atar and edible flowers. Finish the plate by drizzling with the pomegranate molasses mixture.  Taste and add a few more sea salt flakes if necessary.



Freekeh cooking times vary quite dramatically depending on the type and age of the freekeh.

Onion, Thyme Leaf  and Thyme Flower Soup

Sprinkle thyme flowers over the top to add a little “je ne sais quoi”


Serves 6 approximately


450g 1lb (1lb) chopped onions

225g (8oz) chopped potatoes

45g (1 1/2oz) butter

1-2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves

salt and freshly ground pepper

1 litre (1 3/4 pints) homemade chicken stock or vegetable stock

150ml (5fl oz) cream or cream and milk mixed, approx.



fresh thyme leaves and thyme or chive  flowers

a little whipped cream (optional)


Peel and chop the onions and potatoes into small dice, about one third inch.  Melt the butter in a heavy saucepan. As soon as it foams, add the onions and potatoes, stir until they are well coated with butter. Add the thyme leaves, season with salt and freshly ground pepper.  Place a paper lid on top of the vegetables directly to keep in the steam. Then cover the saucepan with a tight fitting lid and sweat on a low heat for 10 minutes approx. The potatoes and onions should be soft but not coloured. Add the chicken stock, bring it to the boil and simmer until the potatoes are cooked, 5-8 minutes approx. Liquidise the soup and add a little cream or creamy milk. Taste and correct the seasoning if necessary.


Serve in soup bowls or in a soup tureen garnished with a blob of whipped cream, sprinkle with thyme leaves and thyme or chive flowers.



Stuffed Nasturtium Flowers

Nasturtiums are the flower that keeps on giving – super easy to grow. This charming little bite, also good served with a little smoked mackerel alongside, a delicious little starter or a nibble to go with a glass of wine.

Children love helping to fill the flowers.




12 whole nasturtium flowers, freshly picked (+ 1 for tasting)

110g (4oz) fresh ricotta or goat cheese

2 teaspoons of chopped chives

1 teaspoon lemon thyme

1 teaspoon chervil, chopped

a little honey, optional

½ teaspoon sea salt and freshly ground pepper



2 chive blossoms

12 pickled nasturtium capers


Mix the freshly chopped herbs gently with the cheese.  Taste, add a little honey and seasoning if necessary.

Open a flower, use a piping bag or teaspoon to fill the centre.  Almost cover with the petals.  (Taste to make sure the balance of flavours is good)

Tweak if necessary and continue to stuff the remainder of the flowers.

Cover a serving plate with nasturtium leaves, lay the flowers on top.

Garnish with a sprinkling of chive blossom and nasturtium capers.


Pan-grilled Fish with Vietnamese Cucumbers and Fennell Flowers


Pan-grilling is one of my favourite ways to cook fish, meat and vegetables.  Square or oblong cast-iron pan-grills can be bought in virtually all good kitchen shops and are a ‘must have’ as far as I am concerned.  In this recipe you can use almost any fish – mackerel, grey sea mullet, cod, sea bass, haddock – provided it is very fresh.


Serves 8-10


8 x 175g (6oz) of very fresh fish fillets

seasoned flour

small knob of butter (soft)



Vietnamese Cucumbers (see below)

Fennell flowers


Heat the pan grill. Dry the fish fillets well. Just before cooking but not earlier dip the fish fillets in flour which has been well seasoned with salt and freshly ground pepper. Pass the floured fillet between the palms of your hands to shake off the excess flour and then spread a little soft butter evenly over the entire surface of the flesh side, as though you were buttering a slice of bread rather meanly. When the grill is hot but not smoking, place the fish fillets butter side down on the grill; the fish should sizzle as soon as they touch the pan. Turn down the heat slightly and let them cook for 4 or 5 minutes (time depends on the thickness of the fish). Turnover and cook on the other side until crisp and golden. Serve on a hot plate with the Vietnamese cucumbers and fresh herbs on the side.

Sprinkle a few fennel flowers on top.



Be sure to wash and dry the grill-pan each time between batches.



Vietnamese Cucumbers


Serves 8-10


4 cucumbers

salt and freshly ground black pepper

Fish Sauce (Nam pla)

2.5cm (1 inch) piece of ginger, peeled and cut into fine julienne

2 tablespoons palm sugar

1-2 Serrano or Jalapeno or fresh Thai chillies

juice of 2 or 3 limes


fistful of fresh mint sprigs

fistful basil sprigs

thinly sliced scallions or onion


Peel the cucumbers, cut them lengthwise in half, and remove the seeds with a spoon if they are large.  Slice the cucumbers into thickish half-moons and put them in a large bowl.  Season with salt and pepper, sprinkle lightly with fish sauce, then add the ginger and palm sugar.  Toss well, and let the cucumbers sit for 5 minutes or so.


Add a good spoonful of the chopped Serrano or Jalapeno chillies (seeds removed, if desired) or finely slivered Thai chillies.  Squeeze over the juice of 2 limes and toss again, then cover and refrigerate until ready to serving.


Just before serving add a fistful of roughly chopped mint and basil leaves.  Taste and adjust the seasoning with lime juice as well as salt and pepper.  Garnish with thinly sliced scallions or paper-thin slices of onion.




Honey and Lavender Ice-Cream

Honey and lavender is a particularly delicious marriage of flavours. We make this richly scented ice cream when the lavender flowers are in bloom in early Summer.  Lavender is at its most aromatic just before the flowers burst open.  Serve it totally alone on chilled plates and savour every mouthful.


Serves 8-10


250ml (9floz) milk

450ml (16floz) cream

40 sprigs of fresh lavender or less of dried (use the blossom end only)

6 organic egg yolks

175ml (6floz) pure Irish honey, we use our own apple blossom honey, although Provencal lavender honey would also be wonderful


sprigs of lavender


Put the milk and cream into a heavy bottomed saucepan with the lavender sprigs, bring slowly to the boil and leave to infuse for 15-20 minutes. This will both flavour and perfume the cream deliciously.  Whisk the egg yolks, add a little of the lavender flavoured liquid and then mix the two together.  Cook over a low heat until the mixture barely thickens and lightly coats the back of a spoon (careful it doesn’t curdle).  Melt the honey gently, just to liquefy, whisk into the custard.  Strain out lavender heads.


Chill thoroughly and freeze, preferably in an ice-cream maker.


Serve garnished with sprigs of fresh or frozen lavender (see recipe)

Frosted Lavender

Frosted lavender sprigs are adorable and delicious to use for garnish.  Pick lavender in dry weather while the flowers are still closed.  Whisk a little egg white lightly, just enough to break it up, brush the entire lavender sprig with the egg white, sprinkle all over with sieved, dry castor sugar.  Lay on a sheet of silicone paper.  Allow to dry and crisp in a warm spot – hot press or near a radiator until dry and crisp.  Store in an airtight tin.


Honey Mousse with Lavender Jelly

JR Ryall, head pastry chef at Ballymaloe House, loves to make this dessert in June using the lavender from the walled garden at Ballymaloe, just before the flowers open.  Using only the best quality local Irish honey will make this feather light mousse truly unforgettable.


Serves 6


For the honey mousse:


1 egg

1 teaspoon gelatine

1½ tablespoons cold water

350ml (12 fl oz) whipping cream

75g (30z) best quality local Irish honey

1 tablespoon Grand Marnier, to taste


Whip the cream to soft peaks and keep in the fridge.  Sprinkle the gelatine over the cold water in a small bowl and allow to ‘sponge’.  Once fully rehydrated, melt the gelatine by placing the bowl over hot but not boiling water.  Add the honey and Grand Marnier to the melted gelatine and stir until the mixture is an even consistency and allow to return to room temperature.   Whisk the egg to a pale mousse, using an electric mixer, then gently fold the mousse into the whipped cream.   Now fold the cream mixture into the honey and gelatine in three stages.   Pour the mousse into its serving dish and chill until set.   Now prepare the lavender jelly.


For the Lavender Jelly


6 fresh lavender heads

225ml (8fl.oz) water

110g (4oz) sugar

1½ teaspoon gelatine

2½ tablespoon cold water


Put the sugar and the 225ml/8fl.oz water in a heavy bottomed saucepan and bring slowly to the boil. Once the syrup has boiled remove the saucepan from the heat and drop in the lavender heads.  Enjoy the wonderful lavender perfume as the syrup cools to room temperature.   Meanwhile sprinkle the gelatine over the 2½ tablespoon cold water in a small bowl and allow to ‘sponge’.   Once fully rehydrated, melt the gelatine by placing the bowl over hot but not boiling water.   Strain the cooled syrup through a sieve, add to the melted gelatine and mix well.   Arrange 6 lavender heads on top of the set mousse and carefully spoon over enough liquid jelly to cover the lavender and chill until the jelly is set.







  1. Globe Artichokes with Melted Butter   Serves 6   In season:   Whole Globe artichokes are quite fiddly to eat. First you pull off each leaf separately and dip in the sauce. Eventually you are rewarded for your patience when you come to the heart! Don’t forget to scrape off the tickly ‘choke’; then cut the heart into manageable pieces, sprinkle with a little sea salt before you dip it into the remainder of your sauce.  Simply Delicious!   6 globe artichokes 1.1 litres (2pints) water 2 teaspoons salt 2 teaspoons approx. white wine vinegar   Melted Butter 175g (6oz) butter 1-2 tablespoons freshly squeezed   Some restaurants do very complicated preparation but I merely trim the base just before cooking so the artichokes will sit steadily on the plate, rub the cut end with lemon juice or vinegar to prevent it from discolouring.   Have a large saucepan of boiling water ready, add 2 teaspoons of vinegar and 2 teaspoons of salt to every 2 pints of water, pop in the artichokes and bring the water back to the boil. Simmer steadily for about 25 minutes. After about 20 minutes you could try testing to see if they are done.  I do this by tugging off one of the larger leaves at the base, it should come away easily, if it doesn’t continue to cook for another 5 – 10 minutes. Remove and drain upside down on a plate.   While they are cooking simply melt the butter and add lemon juice to taste.   To Serve Put each warm artichoke onto a hot serving plate, serve the sauce or melted butter in a little bowl beside it.  Artichokes are eaten with your fingers, so you might like to provide a finger bowl. A spare plate to collect all the nibbled leaves will also be useful.   Bocconcini, Olive, Heriloom Cherry Tomatoes and Pesto on Skewers   Bocconcini are baby mozzarella – great fun for salads, finger food and some pasta dishes however they need a little bit of help from the flavour perspective.  Pesto is an obvious choice.   Makes 20   20 bocconcini Extra virgin olive oil Pesto (see Hot Tips)   20–40 basil leaves 20 Kalamata olives 20 heirloom cherry tomatoes   bamboo cocktail sticks or short satay sticks   Drain the bocconcini and pop them into a bowl, drizzle with extra virgin olive oil and a generous tablespoon of homemade pesto. Toss to coat. Cover closely, leave to marinade for at least 5 minutes.

We need to talk about ‘no shows’. Some may not even understand the term used by restaurants when guests who have booked a table do not show up on the night or cancel at the last minute when it’s too late to refill the table.

We are fortunate that this is a rare occurrence at Ballymaloe House but this practice is rampant around the country and appears, as on restauranteur put it , to have become ‘a national sport’. I’m quite sure those who lightly book two or three restaurants on the same night and then decide after a few drinks where they’ll actually go don’t realise the devastating impact they are having on the restaurant industry where the margins are very tight and no shows can and do make the difference between profit and loss, survival or not.

The Restaurant Association of Ireland in support of its members earlier this year urged them to take non-refundable deposits which would be deducted from the final bill in an effort to raise awareness of the impact of ‘no shows’. This decision was made after an average of 15% to 20% of bookings over the Christmas period turned out to be ‘no shows’. This is not just an Irish phenomenon, restaurants in the US and UK are also experiencing similar challenges and are responding by charging non-refundable booking deposits.

This practice seems to enrage many Irish customers yet, where else can we expect to book something without paying – a theatre or concert ticket – no way…

The BBC Radio 4 Food Programme recently did an entire segment on the problem with several chefs, owners and restaurant critics discussing the impact. Interestingly, the problem seemed to be considerably less among the restaurants who answer the phone rather than take bookings on a ‘booking engine’ or ‘answering machine’. Not surprisingly personal contact, a friendly human voice and a little chat, creates a bond and somehow seems to make it more difficult for customers not to show up. Some restaurants don’t even have a telephone number any longer so you must book on line. At a time when costs are soaring, business rates are increasing dramatically, particularly in cities, investment and growth in the industry is slowing down and there are acute labour shortages, no shows, are the last straw for many hard pressed restaurateurs.


Some restaurants in cities have opted to have a no-booking policy, guests just show up, take their chance and must be prepared to queue, that at least eliminates the ‘no show’ problem, but only works in a densely populated area where there are enough customers who are prepared to queue and the food must be worth the wait….

In just one small seasonal restaurant in West Cork last Summer, there were over 60 ‘no shows’ during the month of August which eliminated the profit for the entire month. Sadly several were regulars who would have been quite affronted at the suggestion that they should pay a non-refundable booking deposit.   In our busy lives we often don’t realize the impact of our actions – but this is not OK….

Of course plans change for a variety of reasons, some totally unavoidable but at the very least, let’s pick up the phone and cancel at the earliest opportunity so the restaurant has the opportunity to refill the table. Few restaurants will hold a deposit in the case of unexpected death or a misfortunate accident.


So now for something more cheerful – some of the dishes we have been enjoying with the delicious fresh summer produce from the garden, glasshouses and local area.




Hummus with Spiced Lamb, Pinenuts and Coriander

Serves 6-8 (depending on how it is served)

450g (1lb) lamb, shoulder or fillet



1 garlic clove, crushed

extra virgin olive oil

1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice

1 teaspoon sumac

½ teaspoon marjoram or oregano, coarsely chopped

½ teaspoon ground turmeric

A pinch of Aleppo pepper (pul biber) or cayenne pepper

sea salt and freshly ground black pepper




170g (6oz) chickpeas, cooked, save the cooking liquid

freshly squeezed juice of 2-3 lemons, or to taste

2-3 large or small cloves garlic, crushed

150ml (5fl oz) tahini paste

1 teaspoon ground cumin



2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, for frying

30g Italian pine nuts


To garnish:

fresh coriander leaves, coarsely, chopped

1-2 teaspoons sumac

extra virgin olive oil

a few fresh pomegranate seeds (optional)

Chop the lamb fillet into 1cm-thick pieces.

Mix all the ingredients of the marinade in a bowl.

Add to the marinade and allow to soak up the flavours for 30 minutes to an hour.


Meanwhile make the hummus, drain the chickpeas, save the cooking liquid. Whizz up the remainder in a food processor with the freshly squeezed lemon juice and a little cooking water if necessary. Add the crushed garlic, tahini paste, cumin and salt to taste. Blend to a soft creamy paste. Taste and continue to add lemon juice and salt until you are happy with the flavour.



Toast the pine kernels over a gentle heat in a frying pan or under a grill tossing regularly. Set aside


Heat a little olive oil in a pan and fry the lamb for 3-4 minutes over a medium heat until it is just cooked through.


When you are ready to eat, transfer the hummus to individual serving bowls, use the back of a spoon to make a shallow well in each. Spoon the lamb over, finishing with a sprinkling of coriander, the toasted pine nuts and a pinch of sumac. Serve with pitta bread or any white crusty bread, we love to use the Alsham Bakery Syrian flat bread, made in Cork city.


Drizzle with a little extra virgin olive oil and sprinkle a few fresh pomegranate seeds over the top if you like.

Globe Artichokes with Melted Butter


Serves 6


In season:


Whole Globe artichokes are quite fiddly to eat. First you pull off each leaf separately and dip in the sauce. Eventually you are rewarded for your patience when you come to the heart! Don’t forget to scrape off the tickly ‘choke’; then cut the heart into manageable pieces, sprinkle with a little sea salt before you dip it into the remainder of your sauce.  Simply Delicious!


6 globe artichokes

1.1 litres (2pints) water

2 teaspoons salt

2 teaspoons approx. white wine vinegar


Melted Butter

175g (6oz) butter

1-2 tablespoons freshly squeezed


Some restaurants do very complicated preparation but I merely trim the base just before cooking so the artichokes will sit steadily on the plate, rub the cut end with lemon juice or vinegar to prevent it from discolouring.


Have a large saucepan of boiling water ready, add 2 teaspoons of vinegar and 2 teaspoons of salt to every 2 pints of water, pop in the artichokes and bring the water back to the boil. Simmer steadily for about 25 minutes. After about 20 minutes you could try testing to see if they are done.  I do this by tugging off one of the larger leaves at the base, it should come away easily, if it doesn’t continue to cook for another 5 – 10 minutes. Remove and drain upside down on a plate.


While they are cooking simply melt the butter and add lemon juice to taste.


To Serve

Put each warm artichoke onto a hot serving plate, serve the sauce or melted butter in a little bowl beside it.  Artichokes are eaten with your fingers, so you might like to provide a finger bowl. A spare plate to collect all the nibbled leaves will also be useful.


Bocconcini, Olive, Heriloom Cherry Tomatoes and Pesto on Skewers


Bocconcini are baby mozzarella – great fun for salads, finger food and some pasta dishes however they need a little bit of help from the flavour perspective.  Pesto is an obvious choice.


Makes 20


20 bocconcini

Extra virgin olive oil

Pesto (see Hot Tips)


20–40 basil leaves

20 Kalamata olives

20 heirloom cherry tomatoes


bamboo cocktail sticks or short satay sticks


Drain the bocconcini and pop them into a bowl, drizzle with extra virgin olive oil and a generous tablespoon of homemade pesto. Toss to coat. Cover closely, leave to marinade for at least 5 minutes.

Note; The pesto will discolour if the bocconcini are tossed too far ahead.



Buffalo Mozzarella with Caponata

Love this as a starter with some crusty sourdough.  We use the fresh tender Irish mozzarella made near Macroom in West Cork.

Serves 4


4 buffalo mozzarella

4-6 tablespoon Caponata, see below

6-8 leaves fresh basil

Extra virgin olive oil

Flaky sea salt



To serve:


Cut each of the mozzarella into quarters. Arrange four wedges on a large plate.   Spoon a generous tablespoon of caponata on top.   Drizzle extra virgin olive oil.   Sprinkle with a chiffonade of basil and a few flakes of sea salt.   Serve immediately with good crusty bread.



Serves 4-6


1 large aubergine, dice in 1/2- 3/4inch (1cm-2cm) but not peeled


5 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

5-6 stalks of celery, chopped

1 large onion, chopped

1 x 400g (14oz) tin chopped tomatoes

1 – 1 1/2 tablespoons caster sugar

4 tablespoons red wine vinegar

1/2-1 teaspoon freshly ground coriander

1 teaspoon capers

12 black olives, pitted and roughly chopped

2 tablespoons coarsely chopped flat parsley, chopped

salt and pepper


Cut the aubergine into 1-2cm (1/2-3/4inch) dice. Sprinkle with salt. Leave to drain for 30 minutes approximately. Rinse and gently dry with a clean tea towel or kitchen paper.
Heat 4 tablespoons) extra virgin olive oil in a wide sauté pan. Add the celery and cook slightly until browned. Transfer to a plate. Add the aubergine to the pan; add more oil if necessary, sauté until golden and tender, sauté. Leave to cool.


Add another tablespoon oil to the pan and sauté the onion until golden. Chop the tomatoes and add with the juice. Simmer for 15 minutes or so until thick. Add sugar, wine, vinegar and coriander. Cook for a further 10 minutes. Stir in the capers, olives, parsley, aubergine and celery. Season with salt and plenty of pepper. Taste and adjust seasoning, pour into a serving dish.

Serve warm or cool.


Carpaccio of wild salmon with fennel flowers and pollen

A rare and special treat enjoyed during the few weeks a year when we can get a precious wild salmon.


Serves 4


175g spanking fresh wild salmon

homemade mayonnaise

freshly squeezed lemon juice

extra virgin olive oil

fennel pollen

fennel flowers

fennel fronds

freshly cracked pepper



Chill the salmon for several hours or pop into the freezer for 30 minutes.

Chill the plates.


Just before serving:

Slice the salmon as thinly as possible.  Spread a very little homemade mayonnaise on the base of each chilled plate.   Lay a single layer of salmon on top.  Sprinkle with a few drops of freshly squeezed lemon juice and a tiny drizzle of extra virgin olive oil.

Sprinkle some fennel pollen over each plate.  Snip some fennel flowers and fronds on top and finally a little sprinkling of freshly cracked pepper.

Serve as soon as possible with Ballymaloe Brown Yeast Bread – sublime.






Loganberry Jellies with Fresh Mint Cream


Makes 9-10


200g (7oz) sugar

225ml (8fl oz) water

4 sprigs fresh mint

1 dessertspoon Framboise

1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice


3 teaspoons gelatine

3 tablespoons water


450g (1lb) fresh loganberries

Mint Cream

15 mint leaves approximate

1 tablespoon lemon juice

150ml (5fl oz) cream

mint leaves and loganberries for garnish


9-10 round or oval moulds – 75ml (3fl oz) capacity

(2 1/2 x 1 1/4 inches/6.6 x 3cm)


Make a syrup by bringing sugar, water and mint leaves slowly to the boil. Simmer for a few minutes, allow to cool, add the Framboise and lemon juice.


Meanwhile brush the inside of the moulds with non-scented oil, I use light peanut or sunflower oil


Sponge the gelatine in the water, then place the bowl in a pan of simmering water until the gelatine completely dissolved.


Remove the mint leaves from the syrup, then pour the syrup onto the gelatine.  Add the loganberries and stir gently. Fill immediately into the lined moulds. Smooth them over the top so they won’t be wobbly when you unmould them onto a plate.  Put them into the fridge and leave to set for 3-4 hours.



Meanwhile make the Mint cream.

Crush the mint leaves in a pestle and mortar with the lemon juice, add the cream and stir, the lemon juice will thicken the cream.  If the cream becomes too thick, add a little water.


To Serve

Spread a little mint cream on a chilled a white plate, unmould a loganberry jelly and place in the centre. Place five mint leaves on the mint cream around the jelly. Decorate with a few perfect loganberries, repeat with the other jellies.  Serve chilled.




Preserve your gluts…

Basil Pesto Homemade Pesto takes minutes to make and tastes a million times better than most of what you buy.  The problem is getting enough basil, those of you grow your own will have plenty of basil this year.  If you have difficulty, use parsley, a mixture of parsley and mint or parsley and coriander – different but still delicious.

Serve with pasta, goat cheese, tomato and mozzerella.

4ozs (110g) fresh basil leaves

6 – 8fl oz (175 – 225ml) extra virgin olive oil

1oz (25g) fresh pine kernels (taste when you buy to make sure they are not rancid)

2 large cloves garlic, peeled and crushed

2oz (50g/) freshly grated Parmesan cheese (Parmigiana Reggiano is best)

salt to taste


Whizz the basil with the olive oil, pine kernels and garlic in a food processor or pound in a pestle and mortar.  Remove to a bowl and fold in the finely grated Parmesan cheese. Taste and season.


Pesto keeps for weeks, covered with a layer of olive oil in a jar in the fridge. It also freezes well but for best results don’t add the grated Parmesan until it has defrosted. Freeze in small jars for convenience.

The Currants are in….

The Currant and Berry garden here at the Ballymaloe Cookery School is bursting with ripe, juicy organic fruit and so are the Farmers Markets. Check out the Country Markets too and try to find chemical free fruit if at all possible. We can no longer say that we don’t know the damage that pesticides and herbicides are doing to our health and the environment….

So let’s make the most of these few weeks, sadly because strawberries are available from January to December as are raspberries, they are no longer considered quite the treat they were. Neither do they generate the excitement they used to, that’s unless they are the naturally smaller, intensely flavoured home-grown berries from your garden. When you taste one of these you remember or discover what they can taste like, although the dry conditions this year made it really challenging. In this column I’m going to concentrate on currants, black, white and red…

The latter can also be found in the shops pretty much year round coming in from as far away as Peru all over the world but black and white currants are a rarer treat as are gooseberries. Blackcurrant fool is one of my all-time favourite puddings made in minutes, sublime made with freshly picked currants but also pretty good made with frozen berries. All the currants freeze brilliantly so buy as much as you can and freeze them in convenient amounts. Don’t bother to string them, just shake the bags when they are frozen and all the strings will fall off. I discovered this a few years ago when I was too busy to string the currants before they went into the freezer….

Red and white currants have a deliciously sweet flavour and are very high in pectin so are excellent for jams or jellies. Redcurrant jelly is super versatile; use it to glaze tarts, to serve with pâtés or terrines, as a base for Cumberland sauce, good with lamb and a glazed ham too. I love this recipe for redcurrant jelly, a real gem that gives me double value from each batch of redcurrants. I use the redcurrant pulp, left over from the jelly making process to make a redcurrant bakewell slice or to add to strawberry jam to enhance the pectin content. Also delicious sugared on this frosted redcurrant and lemon verbena cake. White currants can be used in similar recipes – they too, make a sublime white currant jelly, which I particularly love, with a soft goat’s cheese and rocket or purslane leaves. White currants are also enchanting frosted.
This Blackcurrant and Rose Geranium Slice can be a pudding or an irresistible nibble to enjoy with a cup of tea or coffee.

Try poached blackcurrants with beetroot and duck breast, it’s a surprisingly good combination and best of all sprinkle them onto softly whipped cream in a meringue roulade. The tartness of the currants makes a perfect foil for the sweetness of the meringue and last but not least, if you have a few currants left over make some blackcurrant whiskey for Christmas, a delectable recipe from Darina Allen’s Irish Traditional Cooking, which I will include in a another column.





Duck Breast with Beetroot, Blackcurrant and Dahlia Salad


Beetroot and blackcurrant are as surprisingly good combination – they complement the duck deliciously

Serves 4-6


4 duck breasts

extra virgin olive oil

red wine vinegar

flaky sea salt and freshly ground pepper

Beetroot, Blackcurrant and Dahlia Salad (see recipe below)

flat parsley

First make the Beetroot, Blackcurrant and Dahlia Salad, see below.

Fifteen minutes or more before cooking, score the fat on the duck breasts in a criss-cross pattern.  Season on both sides with salt and allow to sit on a wire rack.

When ready to cook, dry the duck breasts with a clean tea towel or kitchen paper.

Put fat side down on a cold pan-grill, turn on the heat to low and cook slowly for 15-20 minutes, or until the fat has rendered and the duck skin is crisp and golden.

Flip over and cook for a couple of minutes, or transfer to a preheated moderate oven, 180C/Gas Mark 4, until cooked to medium rare or medium, 5-10 minutes, depending on the size of the duck breasts.  Allow to rest for 5 minutes or more.

Put a portion of the beetroot, blackcurrant and dahlia salad. Thinly slice, cut or dice (8mm), the duck breasts and arrange or scatter on top.  Sprinkle with sprigs of flat parsley and dahlia petals.

Add a few flakes of sea salt and serve.

Beetroot, Blackcurrant and Dahlia Salad

Such an obvious combination but one I hadn’t tried until I tasted it in Sweden. We already love the marriage of raspberries and beetroot. This recipe can be served as a starter or an accompanying salad.

Serves 8

450g (1lb) cooked beetroot

200g (7oz) sugar

450ml (16fl oz) water

1 onion, peeled and thinly sliced (optional)

225ml (8fl oz) white wine vinegar

¼ – ½lb blackcurrants


Wine coloured dahlias and maybe a few marigold petals.

Roast or boil the beetroot. Leave 5cm (2 inches) of leaf stalks on top and the whole root on the beet. Hold it under a running tap and wash off the mud with the palms of your hands, so that you don’t damage the skin; otherwise the beetroot will bleed during cooking. Cover with cold water and add a little salt and sugar. Cover the pot, bring to the boil and simmer on top, or in an oven, for 1-2 hours depending on size. Beetroot are usually cooked if the skin rubs off easily and if they dent when pressed with a finger.  If in doubt test with a skewer or the tip of a knife.

Meanwhile, make the pickle. Dissolve the sugar in water, bringing it to the boil. Add the sliced onion and simmer for 3-4 minutes. Add the vinegar, pour over the peeled sliced (diced or cut into wedges) beet and leave to cool. Add the blackcurrants bring back to the boil and then turn off the heat.

Note: The onion can be omitted if desired.

Allow the pickle to cool completely.

To serve:- surround the plate with blackcurrant leaves. Pile the salad into the centre, decorate with flowers and serve.


Blackcurrant and Lemon Verbena Sugar Squares

Makes 24


6ozs (175g) soft butter

5ozs (150g) castor sugar

2 eggs, preferably free range

6ozs (175g) self-raising flour

2 tablespoons freshly chopped sweet or rose geranium

8ozs (225g) blackcurrants

2ozs (50g) castor sugar

1 tablespoon of freshly chopped lemon verbena

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

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

Put the butter, castor sugar, eggs and self-raising flour and chopped sweet geranium into a food processor. Whizz for a few seconds to amalgamate. Spread evenly in the well-buttered tin. Sprinkle the blackcurrants as evenly as possible over the top.

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

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


Almond Cake with Frosted Currants

We serve tiny slices of this delicious moist cake with a cup of China tea or Expresso coffee.  A mixture of frosted red, black and white currants are so beautiful adorning this simple cake.   If you only have one type of currant it will still be pretty and delicious.

Serves 10

110g ground almonds

110g icing sugar

75g plain white flour

3 egg yolks, free-range if possible

125ml melted butter

Filling: 2-3 tablespoons Redcurrant or Blackcurrant Jelly (see recipe) optional



175g icing sugar

1½ tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice – sieved


9-12 bunches frosted red, black and white currants (see below)

Candied angelica

18cm round tin with shallow sides – A pop up base is handy but is not essential.

Preheat the oven to 180C/regulo 4

Grease the tin evenly with melted butter and dust with a little white flour.

Mix the ground almonds, icing sugar and flour in a bowl.  Make a well in the centre; add the egg yolks and the cooled melted butter, stir until all the ingredients are thoroughly mixed. Spread the cake evenly in the prepared tin, make a little hollow in the centre and tap on the worktop to release any large air bubbles.

Bake in the preheated oven for 20 minutes.  It should still be moist but cooked through.  Allow to sit in the tin for 5 or 6 minutes before unmoulding onto a wire rack.

Allow to cool.

Optional – Split the cake in half and spread with Redcurrant Jelly, sandwich the two pieces together.

To make the icing:

Sieve the icing sugar into a bowl, mix to a thickish smooth icing with the sieved lemon juice.  Pile onto the cake using a palette knife dipped in the boiling water and dried to spread it gently over the top and sides of the cake.

Decorate with the frosted redcurrants and little diamonds of angelica.

 Frosted Redcurrants

Take about 12 perfect bunches of black, white or redcurrants attached to the stem.

Whisk one egg white in a bowl until broken up and slightly fluffy.

Spread 115g castor sugar onto a flat plate.

Dip a bunch of redcurrants in the egg white, ensure that every berry has been lightly coated, drain very well.

Lay on the castor sugar and sprinkle castor sugar over the top.   Check that every surface is covered.

Arrange carefully on a tray covered with silicone paper and put into a dry airy place until crisp and frosted.

Redcurrant or Whitecurrant Jelly

Redcurrant jelly is a very delicious and versatile product to have in your larder.  It has a myriad of uses. It can be used like a jam on bread or scones, or served as an accompaniment to roast lamb, bacon or ham. It is also good with some rough pâtés and game, and is invaluable as a glaze for red fruit tarts.

This recipe is a particular favourite of mine, not only because it’s fast to make and results in delicious intensely flavoured jelly, but because one can use the left over pulp to make a fruit tart, so one gets double value from the redcurrants.  Unlike most other fruit jelly, no water is needed in this recipe.

We’ve used frozen fruits for this recipe also, stir over the heat until the sugar dissolves, proceeds as below.  You can use white currants – which will be difficult to find unless you have your own bush. The white currant version is wonderful with cream cheese as a dessert or makes a perfect accompaniment to lamb or pork.

Makes 3 x 450g (1lb) jars

900g (2lbs/8 cups) redcurrants or white currants

790g (1lb 12oz) granulated sugar

Remove the strings from the redcurrants either by hand or with a fork. Put the redcurrants and sugar into a wide stainless steel saucepan and stir continuously until they come to the boil. Boil for exactly 8 minutes, stirring only if they appear to be sticking to the bottom. Skim carefully.

Turn into a nylon sieve and allow to drip through, do not push the pulp through or the jelly will be cloudy. You can stir in gently once or twice just to free the bottom of the sieve of pulp.

Pour the jelly into sterilised pots immediately. Redcurrants are very high in pectin so the jelly will begin to set just as soon as it begins to cool.

White Currant and White Peach Tart

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


225g (8oz) butter

40g (1 1/2oz) castor sugar

2 eggs, preferably free range

350g (12ozs) white flour, preferably unbleached


675g (1 1/2 lbs) white peaches

 225g (½lb) blackcurrants

150g (5oz) sugar

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

castor sugar for sprinkling

To Serve

softly whipped cream

Barbados sugar

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

Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/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 and beat for several minutes. Reduce speed and mix in the flour. 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. Peel, stone and dice the peaches into the tart, sprinkle with sugar and blackcurrants. 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.

Blackcurrant Fool


Serves 6

350g (12oz) fresh or frozen blackcurrants

200ml (7fl ozp) stock syrup (see recipe)

600ml (1 pints) very softly whipped cream


Cover the blackcurrants with stock syrup. Bring to the boil and cook for about 4–5 minutes until the fruit bursts. Liquidize and sieve or purée the fruit and syrup and measure it. When the purée has cooled, add the softly whipped cream. Serve with

shortbread biscuits.

An alternative presentation is to layer the purée and softly whipped cream in tall sundae glasses, ending with a drizzle of thin purée over the top.


Frozen blackcurrants tend to be less sweet. Taste – you may need

to add extra sugar. A little stiffly beaten egg white may be added to lighten the fool. The fool should not be very stiff, more like the texture of softly whipped cream. If it is too stiff, stir in a little milk rather than more cream.


Stock Syrup

Makes 825ml (20fl oz)

450g (16oz) sugar

600ml (1 pint) water

Dissolve the sugar in the water and bring to the boil. Boil for 2 minutes, and then leave it to cool. Store in the fridge until needed.



Blackcurrant Ice-Cream/Parfait

Leftover fool may be frozen to make delicious ice cream. Serve with coulis made by thinning the blackcurrant purée with a little more water or stock syrup.

Blackcurrant Popsicles

Add a little more syrup.  It needs to taste sweeter than you would like because the freezing dulls the sweetness.  Pour into popsicle moulds, cover, insert a stick and freeze until needed.  Best eaten within a few days.


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