Stunningly beautiful New Zealand

I never quite got camping out of my system in my teens, so for at least 25 years I’ve been fantasising about hiring a camper van and disappearing into the sunset to wander, potter and cook over a camp fire. I had a little taste of this kind of lifestyle in the mid eighties when I filmed my Simply Delicious television series on location in France and Italy. The crew and I piled into a Dormobile as it was then called, for a two week stint. It was a wonderful adventure, visiting markets, food producers and restaurants. In Provence we called in to see Roger Vergé at Moulin des Mougins near Cannes, he obligingly showed me his vegetable garden and walked up the garden path with a wheelbarrow full of vegetables for the cameras. In Burgundy we encountered the full force of the mistral as we tried to make our way to Paul Avril’s vineyard in Chateauneuf – des – Papes, his lovely wife Monique showed us how to cook a succulent shoulder of lamb, stuffed with Tapenade and a delicious fresh apricot tart. On to Venice where Marcella Hazan, the doyenne of Italian food, showed us around the Rialto market on the edge of the grand canal and then brought us back to her apartment to make a tagliatelle bolognaise in her own kitchen. We cooked delicious breakfasts and pots of pasta on the little gas stove in the Dormobile.
Almost twenty years later I again took the plunge and hired a camper van for a couple of weeks. I searched in vain for a company that provided a cook’s camper – one that had an oven – no such thing – all the companies thought it was hilarious. Eventually I settled for a four berth with a four ring cooker, grill and microwave oven. No doubt you’re wondering what’s the problem – well, I’ve always been hopeless and not a little scared of microwaves. I used it to store food and concentrated on stove top dishes using the most basic equipment. It was a delicious challenge and I loved it.
Driving through the stunningly beautiful New Zealand countryside from Christchurch to Dunedin, it was a cook’s paradise, every second farm had a roadside sign offering produce for sale, free range eggs, freshly picked fruit and vegetables, bacon, and occasionally we found Jane’s organic beef and lamb.
Bread was a problem. Once or twice we found a local bakery with mediocre to passable bread – mostly it was soft and squidgy , the kind of bread with a long list of additives that really spooks me.
Then we found buttermilk and baking soda, so I had lots of fun and considerable success making griddle bread on the frying pan. Along the coast it is still very possible to catch your supper without too much effort. A little chat to the locals always resulted in a tip as to where to forage for lots of mussels and pipis. It was the whitebait season so we bought bags of them from local fishermen, we tossed them in seasoned flour and cooked them crispy in New Zealand olive oil. Locals make them into whitebait patties, a kind of whitebait pancake or flat omelette.
The back to front seasons take a bit of getting used to – we picked elderflowers to flavour a syrup for poached apricots and green gooseberries and ‘shelled peas on Christmas Day – weird to have apricots and new potatoes and fresh asparagus in December. 
Now its back to business again, our new batch of students have arrived for the January 12 week course – seven nationalities all eager to learn to cook – life goes on.

Roast Shoulder of Lamb Stuffed with Tapenade

Serves 16-20
1 shoulder of lamb (82 lbs/3.6kg with bones and 7 lbs/3.2kg without bones
Tapenade stuffing
170g (6oz) black olives, stoned
2 large cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
2 anchovies
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

cotton string

900ml (12 pint) Home-made lamb or chicken stock 

Ask your butcher to bone the shoulder of lamb for you or do it yourself if you are handy with a knife. Use the bones to make stock for the gravy.
Put the olives, garlic, anchovies and olive oil into a food processor and whizz for a few seconds - just long enough to chop the olives fairly coarsely it shouldn't be a puree. Score the fat of the lamb lightly then put the meat skin side down on your worktop remove surplus fat from the inside, spread the olive mixture over the lamb and roll lengthways, tying at regular intervals with the string. Sprinkle lightly with salt and roast in a preheated moderate oven, 180C/350F/regulo 4, for 13 hours approx. This will produce lamb with a faint pink tinge. Remove to a carving dish and allow to rest while you make the gravy in the usual way. Carve at the table and serve with a little gravy, some roast vegetables and Rustic Potatoes.
1 pint (600ml) stock (preferably homemade beef stock)
roux, optional

To make the gravy. Spoon the fat off the roasting tin. Pour the stock into the cooking juices remaining in the tin. Boil for a few minutes, stirring and scraping the pan well to dissolve the caramelised meat juices (I find a small whisk ideal for this). Thicken
very slightly with a little roux if you like, (years ago flour would have been sprinkled over the fat in the tin but I prefer to use roux). Taste and add salt and freshly ground pepper if necessary. Strain and serve in a warm gravy boat.

Tagliatelle alla Bolognese

(Tagliatelle with Bolognese Sauce)
Serves 6

Italians wince when we talk about Spaghetti Bolognese. They say there=s no such thing - that Bolognese sauce should not be served with spaghetti but with tagliatelle instead.

450g (1lb) Tagliatelle or noodles – preferably homemade
Ragu, (see recipe)
25g (1oz) butter
45-50g (12-2oz) freshly grated Parmesan cheese (Parmigiano Reggiano is best)

Bring 4.5L (8pints) of water to a fast rolling boil. Heat the ragu, adding a little water if it is too thick. Add a generous tablespoon of salt to the boiling water and then add in the homemade tagliatelle or noodles. The pasta should be cooked within 30 seconds after the water comes back to the boil -taste a strand and as soon as it is al dente, strain immediately.
Put a little sauce in a warm serving dish, top with the hot tagliatelle or noodles and pour the remainder of the sauce on top. Dot with butter, sprinkle with Parmesan cheese, toss well, and serve immediately with an extra bowl of Parmesan.

Bolognese Sauce

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

It is a wonderfully versatile sauce – the classic bolognese sauce for Tagliatelle alla Bolognese, indispensable for lasagne, and also delicious with polenta and gnocchi. I have been making Marcella Hazan’s version for many years from her Classic Italian Cookbook. It is the most delicious and concentrated one I know. Marcella says it should be cooked for at least 32 hours at the merest simmer and that 5 hours would be better, but I find you get a very good result with even 12 hours cooking on a diffuser mat. Ragu can be made ahead and freezes very well.

Serves 6

12 ozs (45g) butter
2 tablespoons finely chopped onion
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons finely chopped celery
2 tablespoons finely chopped carrot
12 ozs (340g) minced lean beef, preferably chuck or neck
2 pint (300ml) dry white wine
4 fl ozs (120ml) milk
One-eight teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
1 x 14 oz (400g) tin Italian tomatoes, roughly chopped with their own juice.

Small casserole

In Italy they sometimes use an earthenware pot for making ragu, but I find that a heavy enamelled cast-iron casserole with high sides works very well. Heat the butter with the oil and saute the onion briefly over medium heat until just translucent. Add the celery and carrot and cook gently for 2 minutes. Next add the minced beef, crumbling it in the pot with a fork. Add salt to taste, stir, and cook only until the meat has lost its raw red colour (Marcella says that if it browns it will lose its delicacy.
Add the wine, turn the heat up to medium high, and cook, stirring occasionally, until all the wine has evaporated. Turn the heat down to medium, add in the milk and the freshly grated nutmeg, and cook until the milk has evaporated, stirring every now and then. Next add the chopped tomatoes and stir well. When the tomatoes have started to bubble, turn the heat down to the very lowest so that the sauce cooks at the gentlest simmer – just an occasional bubble. I use a heat diffuser mat for this.
Cook uncovered for a minimum of 12 hours (better still 2 or even 3), depending on how concentrated you like it, stirring occasionally. If it reduces too much add a little water and continue to cook. When it is finally cooked, taste and correct seasoning. Because of the length of time involved in cooking this, I feel it would be worthwhile to make at least twice the recipe.

Griddle Bread

You don’t need an oven to bake this bread, a frying pan works perfectly.
Serves 4-8

½ lb (225g) plain white flour
½ level teaspoon salt
½ level teaspoon bread soda
6-7 fl ozs (175ml) buttermilk

1 non-stick griddle or iron frying pan (10 inch diameter) on medium heat

Preheat the griddle or a non stick pan. Sieve the dry ingredients. Make a well in the centre. Pour most of the milk in together. Using one hand, mix in the flour from the sides of the bowl, add more milk if necessary. The dough should be softish, not too wet and sticky. When it all comes together, turn it out onto a floured board knead lightly for a second, just enough to tidy it up. Roll out the bread to about 1 inch (2.5cm) thickness, put onto a hot griddle and cook on a medium heat for about 15 minutes on one side then turn over and continue to cook on the other side for a further 15 minutes until nicely browned and cooked through. Serve warm with butter and jam or local honey.

Plum, or Apricot Tart

Serves 10-12
Makes 1 x 11 inch (28cm) or 2 x 7 inch (18cm) tarts

8 ozs (225g) flour
4 ozs (110g) butter
2 tablesp. icing sugar
1 large egg, preferably free range
1 tablesp. approx. water
18-20 plums, greengages or apricots depending on size
1 oz (25g) butter
3-4 tablesp. castor sugar
redcurrant jelly or apricot glaze –optional 

Make the pastry in the usual way. Cover and allow to rest for 30 minutes in a refrigerator. Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/regulo 4. Roll out the pastry, line the tart tin or tins, fill with kitchen paper and dried beans and bake blind for 15-20 minutes. Remove the beans and paper. 
Cut the plums or apricots in half, (discard the stones) and arrange cut side up on the tart, packing them in quite tightly at an angle because they will shrink in cooking. Sprinkle with castor sugar and dot with butter. Cook in a moderate oven for 30-45 minutes until the fruit is really soft and slightly scorched. Serve the tart warm just as it is with some softly whipped cream or paint with redcurrant jelly or apricot glaze thinned out with some of the juices.
Apricot Glaze

350g (12 ozs) apricot jam
Juice of 1/4 lemon
2 tablespoons water.

Makes 1/2 pint approx.

In a small stainless steel saucepan, melt the apricot jam with 1 - 2 tablespoons of juice or water. Push the hot jam through a nylon sieve and store in a sterilized airtight jar. 
Melt and stir the glaze before use of necessary. 

Foolproof Food

Oven-Roasted Winter Root vegetables

About equal volume of:
Swede Turnips
Onions, red or white, quarters
Pumpkin, optional
Extra Virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper, whole
a few cloves of garlic, optional
freshly chopped winter herbs - Thyme, Rosemary, Chives and Parsley

Preheat the oven to 200C/400F/regulo 6.

Peel the vegetables and cut into similar sized pieces - 1½ inch (4cm) cubes are a good size. Put all the vegetables into a large bowl. Drizzle generously with olive oil and season well with salt and freshly ground pepper. Spread them in a single layer on one or several roasting tins. Roast, uncovered, stirring occasionally until they are fully cooked and just beginning to caramelize. Be careful, a little colour makes them sweeter, but there is a narrow line between caramelizing and burning. If they become too dark they will be bitter.
Serve sprinkled with freshly chopped Winter herbs, eg. Thyme, Rosemary, Chives and Parsley.

Hot Tips

Cookery Demonstration by Darina Allen of Ballymaloe Cookery School, in aid of Tsunami Disaster Fund at Garryvoe Hotel on Thursday 3rd February at 8pm. Tickets €20 on sale at Ballymaloe Cookery School (Tel 021-4646785) Garryvoe Hotel (Tel 021-4646718) and the following outlets – Cork – The Crawford Art Gallery Café, Midleton – Hurleys Newsagents, Main St. Midleton, Shanagarry- Brodericks Supermarket, Garryvoe – Murray’s Shop, Castlemartyr – The Village Greengrocer.

What’s in season–
Savoy Cabbage – delicious and full of vitamins – cook buttered cabbage, use in stir-fries or finely shredded into a crunchy green salad.
Seville Oranges – now in the shops – time to get out the marmalade recipes or freeze for use later.
Root Vegetables – see recipe for oven-roasted Winter Vegetables in Foolproof food – or make delicious economical comforting soups and serve with freshly made soda bread for a nutritious lunch or supper on cold evenings.

The Irish Food Market Traders Association is hosting a Conference in conjunction with the Farmers Journal – ‘Farmers Markets – a Positive Story’ at the Silver Springs Hotel, Cork on Monday 14th February 2005. Contact Caroline Robinson for further information –  

About the author

Darina Allen
By Darina Allen


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