For me it was a wonderful surprise that my latest book 30 Years at Ballymaloe won the Avonmore Cookbook of the Year award at the Bord Gais Irish Book Awards – and it really was a surprise, I was in very good company Rachel’s Everyday Kitchen and Catherine Fulvio’s The Weekend Chef were also shortlisted as were Neven Maguire’s The Nation’s Favourite Food, Kevin Dundon’s Modern Irish Food and Ross Lewis for his beautifully produced Chapter One – An Irish Food Story.
But for me the best cookbook of the year was unquestionably Master It – How to Cook Today by Rory O’Connell. Yes, he’s my brother and you may well be thinking ‘well she would say that wouldn’t she’ but that’s what I truly believe.
It’s a fine tome and by the way, long overdue. Rory has spent his life in food ever since he came to Ballymaloe for a Summer job after his first year at University. Myrtle in her perceptive way noticed that he had a particular interest so she invited him into the kitchen to ‘try his hand’ for a couple of weeks. After no more than ten days she decided he was a natural…
Rory cooked in the kitchens at Ballymaloe House and Arbutus Lodge for many years. He spent several years with the legendary Nico Ladenis at Chez Nico in London, a stint in Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons with Raymond Blanc, a month with Alice Waters in Chez Pannise in Berkeley California and in the inspirational kitchens of the American Academy in Rome. He was head chef at Ballymaloe House for many years.
Rory and I co-founded the Ballymaloe Cookery School in 1983 and we now run the Cookery School together with my son Toby and our ace team.
Master It is a culmination of all those years of cooking and teaching both of which Rory really really loves. “This is not a ‘chuck it in and see how it goes’ book. I find that approach irksome and unfair, as unless the cook is utterly instinctive and much practised, this approach is fraught with pit falls. Food is too precious and expensive for that sort of game of chance. So many times, I have witnessed the wide eyed amazement and delight of a cook who, when finally cajoled into reading, weighing, heating and timing a set of ingredients, has produced a dish that has previously eluded them. My approach to cooking is simple and not new. Use the best ingredients you can find, get organised and follow the recipe.”
Master It was one of just a handful of cookbooks chosen by BBC4 Radio Food Programme as one of the outstanding books of 2013, quite an honour and they are definitely not a ‘pushover’.
To the students here at Ballymaloe Cookery School he is a hero, his creativity and presentation are inspirational and they love it.
Follow any of the recipes in Master It you will be guaranteed success and a bucketful of compliments.
We are very excited about New Seasons Capezzana Extra Virgin Olive Oil that has just arrived in the Ballymaloe Cookery School Farm Shop – 021 4646785
Rory O’Connell’s Carrot, Coconut and Lemongrass Soup
I tasted a soup with these ingredients in Laos a few years ago, and when I came home I set about recreating that delicious flavour. Carrot soup is a funny thing – you imagine it would be easy, but in fact it can be difficult to achieve a really flavoursome result. However, with
this lovely combination of flavours I think it works really well. It is worth noting that lemongrass grows successfully in this country in a glasshouse or conservatory, or even just on a south-facing windowsill. If possible buy carrots with the earth still on them, as generally they have much more flavour than pre-washed ones.
I like to make this soup with big carrots that have been sold with some earth still on them, and preferably after the first frosts, when they seem to become deeper in flavour, so this becomes a late autumn and winter soup.
Lemongrass is easy to source now and is a lovely ingredient with its sweet, scented and astringent flavour. Bright green when fresh, it dulls to a pale straw colour when dried, which is the way it is sold generally in the West. Here it needs to be sliced as finely as you can, so that it will cook down and disappear into the puréed soup. Be careful when running your hands over the grass, as its leaves can be razor sharp. If you have not cooked with it before, give it a go, as it will open up a world of different recipes to you.
Coconut milk, like lemongrass, is an essential ingredient in the cooking of south-east Asia and indeed all of southern India. Like lemongrass, using it is an entry ticket to a repertoire of dishes bigger than you can imagine. The first time you open a can, you may be surprised
by the rather grey-white colour of the contents. That’s fine, that’s the way it looks. Apart from the colour, the general appearance can also vary. Sometimes there will be a thick and solid layer on top, which is the richer cream, with a thinner, watery milk-like liquid underneath. If the can has been shaken, the two different consistencies can appear rather curdled, and again that’s all quite all right. Just stir the two liquids together to mix. Some brands of coconut milk have been emulsified to prevent the two liquids from separating and to give the coconut a creamy appearance. I avoid these brands, because apart from the fact that in some recipes the
thick and the thin are added separately, I really just want the coconut and water that is used as part of the process and don’t want the stabilisers and emulsifiers. The quality of tinned coconut milk varies quite a bit, so search out a good brand such as Chaokoh.
700g carrots, peeled and thinly sliced
225g onions, peeled and thinly sliced
1 clove of garlic, peeled and chopped
2 stalks of lemongrass
Maldon sea salt, freshly ground black pepper
and sugar, to taste
850ml chicken stock
500ml coconut milk
Fresh coriander leaves, to garnish
Melt the butter in a heavy-based saucepan and allow it to foam. Add the carrots, onions and garlic and stir to coat in the butter. Remove the coarse outer leaves and the tough ends from the lemongrass. Slice the trimmed stalk finely against the grain and add to the vegetables. Tie the tough outer leaves together with string and add to the pan. Season with salt, pepper and a pinch of sugar. Cover with a greaseproof paper lid and the saucepan lid and cook on a low heat for about 20 minutes, or until the carrots are beginning to soften.
Add the chicken stock, return to a simmer and cook, covered, until the vegetables are completely tender. Remove and discard the tied up lemongrass stalks. Purée the ingredients to achieve a smooth and silky consistency. Heat the coconut milk to a simmer, add to the carrot purée and mix well. Return the soup to a simmer. The consistency will be slightly thick. Taste and correct the seasoning, bearing in mind that carrots sometimes benefit from a small pinch of sugar to really lift the flavour. Serve hot, garnished with coriander leaves.
Rory O’Connell’s Fish Fillets Bakes ‘au gratin’
Keys to Success
Measure all the ingredients accurately, so as to ensure the correct amount of sauce and flavourings for the amount of fish being cooked.
The cooked gratin should be a rich golden colour and bubbling hot when ready to be served.
Gratin of Hake with Tomatoes, Basil, Olives and Parmesan
The firm texture of hake is perfect for this dish, although cod, Pollock and salmon are also good here. Really ripe tomatoes are essential to add sweetness and depth of flavour to the sauce.
The final addition to the dish of the strong-tasting chopped olive and basil pulls the flavours together. The cooked gratin should arrive at the table bubbling hot, with a rich golden colour.
Hake is a firm-textured white-fleshed fish with great flavour. Freshness, as ever, is the key to a delicious result.
Fat, black and briny Kalamata olives are the preferred choice for this dish.
2 teaspoons olive oil, plus 2 tablespoons
600g ripe tomatoes, peeled and sliced 5mm thick
Maldon sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 large clove of garlic, peeled and very thinly sliced
4x150g pieces of hake fillet, skin removed
10 basil leaves
100ml regular or double cream
16 fat black olives, such as Kalamata, stoned removed and finely chopped
8 small basil leaves, for serving
Preheat the oven to 180°C / 350 °F / gas 4
Rub an ovenproof gratin dish with the 2 teaspoons of olive oil. Place the sliced tomatoes in the dish and season with salt and pepper. Sprinkle with the sliced garlic. Lay the pieces of fish on next. Tear the basil leaves and scatter over the fish. Whisk the cream and Parmesan together and season to taste with salt and pepper. Spoon the cream directly over the fish.
The dish can now be cooked immediately or covered and refrigerated for up to 2 hours. To cook, place in the preheated oven and bake for 20-25 minutes, until the fish is just cooked through and the cream and tomatoes have become a bubbling light sauce with a golden hue.
Mix the chopped olives with the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil and drizzle over the dish.
Scatter the small basil leaves over and serve.
Rory O’Connell’s Roast Loin of Pork with Fennel Seeds
Watch out for pork from old breeds such as Gloucester Old Spot, Saddleback, Red Duroc and Black Berkshire for juicy and flavoursome meat.
Fennel seeds have a sweet and aniseed-like flavour and are lovely with pork.
Dried chillies, with their deep and slightly smoky heat, enliven this dish.
Bitter Bramley-type cooking apples and dark red plums are best for the accompanying sauce.
Star anise is a beautiful, sweet and aromatic spice but needs to be used with restraint. Too much can result in an over-the-top, pot-pourri type flavour.
2.25kg loin or belly of pork, on the bone, with the rind on
1 tablespoon fennel seeds
2-4 cloves of garlic, peeled
2 dried chillies or 2 teaspoons chilli flakes
Maldon sea salt and freshly ground pepper
500ml chicken stock
2 tablespoons finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
Preheat the oven to 190°C/375°F / gas 5
Score the pork rind at 1cm intervals, running with the grain of the meat. If you are worried about this, ask your butcher to do it for you. Grind the fennel seeds to a coarse powder with the pestle and mortar. Add the garlic and chilli and a pinch of sea salt and continue to grind to a paste. Season the pork with a pinch of salt and black pepper. Place it on a wire rack in a roasting tin and roast the loin for 1 hour or if using belly for 40 minutes. Remove from the oven and spread on the spice paste. Replace in the oven and roast for a further 40 minutes. By now the juices should be running clear, and if you do the ‘skewer test’ on the pork, the skewer will be hot. Baste the pork several times during the cooking.
Remove the pork from the oven and place it in another roasting tin. Increase the oven temperature to 230°C / 450°F/ gas 8 and return the pork for a further 10 minutes to give the rind a final crisping. Remove from the oven and lower the temperature to 100°C/200°F/ gas ¼. Put the pork on a plate and return it to the oven to keep warm and rest for at least 15 minutes before carving.
To make the gravy, degrease the first roasting tin thoroughly, saving the fat if you wish. Deglaze the tin with the chicken stock, scraping the tin to dislodge any caramelised meat juices. Strain the liquid though a sieve into a small saucepan. Taste and correct the seasoning, and if necessary continue to cook the gravy to reduce and to concentrate the flavour. Add the parsley just before serving.
Carve the pork into neat slices and serve on hot plates, with the bubbling gravy and the apple sauce on the side.
Rory O’Connell’s Chocolate Biscuits
These biscuits are particularly festive-looking at Christmas when you can shower them with all manner of shiny edible decorations – hundreds and thousands, coloured sugars and so on. They cut beautifully into different shapes, so this may be the moment to use your fanciest biscuit cutters. During the summer months these biscuits are delicious sandwiched
together with lightly sweetened berries such as raspberries, loganberries or tayberries, and vanilla ice cream or whipped cream.
Cocoa powder, another important ingredient in the sweet kitchen, should be dark and completely unsweetened.
The pure vanilla extract used here should not be confused with vanilla essence. The extract is pure, dark, perfumed and low in sugar, indeed sometimes with no sugar at all. Generally, the pure extracts contain at least 35% alcohol. The essences tend to be low in vanilla and alcohol and high in sugar, a pale imitation of the real thing. It is quite easy to make your own extract by macerating slashed vanilla beans in water and brandy, bearing in mind the 35% of alcohol as a general rule.
140g salted butter, at room temperature, but not hot and oily
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
125g caster sugar
1 egg, beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
225g plain flour
35g cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking powder
Place the butter, oil and caster sugar in a bowl. By hand with a wooden spoon, or with the aid of a machine, cream together until light and fluffy in consistency and pale in colour. Add the egg and vanilla and continue to beat until well blended and smooth. Sieve the flour, cocoa and baking powder on to the mixture and blend in until it comes together and no longer looks streaky. Do not overmix. Chill the mixture for at least 30 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/gas 4.
Roll out half the mixture at a time to about 5mm thick, using a little flour to prevent it from sticking. Alternatively, roll it between sheets of baking parchment. Cut out the biscuits with your cutter of choice (you should get about 36 if you use a 5cm cutter), then, using a palette
knife, place on a baking sheet lined with baking parchment. Leave a little space between the biscuits, as they swell slightly when cooking. Bake in the preheated oven for about 8 minutes. The biscuits will rise slightly and feel gently set to the touch. They crisp up as they cool. Place the baking sheet on a wire rack and allow them to cool, still on the baking parchment.
Serve dusted with a little icing sugar or caster sugar, or ice with one of the icings suggested below. If you are using the icing and wish to sprinkle the biscuits with edible decorations, make sure to do that as soon as the biscuits are iced so that the decorations will stick on to the still slightly moist icing.
Best eaten on the day they’re made, but they will keep for 2–3 days in
an airtight box or biscuit tin.
Rory O’Connell’s Chocolate, prune and Armagnac Puddings with Chocolate Sauce
These puddings are delicious and without doubt made for chocolate lovers. Although not molten in the centre, they are soft and yielding. The combination of ingredients is a classic one but has timeless appeal. The cooked puddings will sit happily in a warm oven for at
least an hour before serving, and indeed could be made ahead of time, allowed to cool and reheated in a bain-marie in a warm oven. The prunes in the recipe can be replaced with cherries, a delicious variation, in which case I would soak them in kirsch. Cognac can
replace the slightly dryer Armagnac with the prunes.
The pudding can be cooked in a large dish, or in individual ramekins or even teacups.
Best-quality chocolate, 62% cocoa solids, is best for this pudding.
I use Valrhona.
Prunes vary in quality, so look out for juicy-looking ones with their stones still in. I get the ones known as Agen prunes, grown in the Aquitaine region in the south-west of France. The same variety is grown successfully in California as well.
Armagnac, a brandy from the Armagnac region, which is close to Aquitaine, is dryer than the brandy from Cognac and seems to have an affinity with the flavour of the prunes, though either will do. Cream of tartar, or tartaric acid, adds stability to the beaten egg whites, resulting in a more luscious texture in the cooked pudding.
225g prunes, weighed after removing the stones
4 tablespoons Armagnac or brandy
150g best-quality chocolate, 62% cocoa solids
150g unsalted butter
150ml warm water
110g caster sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
110g plain white flour
Pinch of cream of tartar
A dusting of icing sugar
Softly whipped cream
Put the prunes into a bowl with the brandy and leave to soak overnight.
Preheat the oven to 200°C/400°F/gas 6 and get ready either a 2 litre ovenproof pie or gratin dish, or ten 200ml ramekins or teacups of a similar volume. If you plan to serve the individual puddings unmoulded from their containers, you will need to paint them with
melted butter before adding the mixture. You will also need a roasting tin about 4cm deep, large enough to accommodate the ramekins or dish.
Cut the chocolate into small pieces and put it into a Pyrex bowl with the butter. Place over a saucepan of cold water, making sure the bottom of the bowl does not touch the water. Place on a low heat – don’t let the water do more than simmer. While the chocolate is melting, tear or chop the Armagnac-soaked prunes into smaller pieces, about 1cm, and either divide them between the ramekins or spread them over the base of the large dish. If there is some Armagnac that has not soaked into the prunes, save it for adding to the cream later.
When the chocolate is nearly melted, remove the bowl from the saucepan and stir with a flexible rubber spatula to blend the chocolate with the butter. Add the water, sugar and vanilla and mix with a whisk until smooth. Separate the eggs, placing the whites in a spotlessly clean bowl for whisking later. Whisk the yolks into the chocolate mixture, followed by the sieved flour.
Whisk the egg whites with a pinch of cream of tartar until holding soft but definite peaks. Do not allow them to over-whip and take on a grainy appearance. Stir a quarter of the egg white into the chocolate mixture and fold in the remainder with a heavy flexible spatula, making sure no lumps of egg white remain unblended.
Divide the mixture between the ramekins, or put it all into the one dish, and immediately place in the roasting tin. Pour boiling water into the tin, to come halfway up the sides of the ramekins or dish. Cook in the oven for 10 minutes, then lower the temperature to 160°C/325°F/gas 3 for a further 10 minutes if using individual dishes or a further 20 minutes for a large dish. The puddings will appear cooked on top but will feel a little soft and molten in the centre. Remove the roasting tin carefully from the oven and allow the puddings
to sit for at least 10 minutes before serving.
The individual puddings can be turned out on to warmed plates for serving. The large dish can be brought to the table as it is. Regardless, I dust the puddings with a little sieved icing sugar just before serving.
Pass softly whipped cream separately. I sometimes serve chocolate sauce with these as well.
Rory O’Connell’s Salad of Oranges, Dates and Mint
This is a lovely refreshing salad which I like to serve when the new season oranges from Italy and dates from Morocco arrive in the shops in December. I scramble around in the garden trying to find a few surviving mint leaves to freshen it up. If the mint has all been scorched by the frost, I just use a sprinkling of pomegranate seeds.
This dish can be served on its own with perhaps a little yoghurt.
In the shops here, oranges start to get good in early December, as the Italian ones arrive on the market. These oranges are usually around for a couple of months and are sweet and full of juice, light years away from the hard little scuds we have to put up with for most of the rest of the year. Colour in oranges is not an indication of quality, and avoid rock-hard light ones in favour of firm and heavyfeeling fruit.
Medjool dates, fat, meaty and shiny, arrive in the shops in December, usually the same time as the good oranges, a fortuitous bit of timing. Watch out for another wonderful variety of date called Barhi, which Alice Waters introduced me to at the Berkeley farmers’ market in California.
Orange flower or orange blossom water is a perfumed distillation from the fresh blossoms of Seville oranges and can be found in good food shops and chemists.
1 tablespoon caster sugar or 1 dessertspoon honey
2 tablespoons orange flower water
1 tablespoon mint leaves
2 tablespoons pomegranate seeds (optional)
Remove the zest from one of the oranges with a fine grater or a Microplane. Juice the zested orange and put into a bowl with the zest. With a sharp knife, remove the skin and pith from the remaining oranges. Slice or segment the oranges and add to the juice and zest with the caster sugar or honey.
Halve the dates lengthways, remove the stones and add to the oranges. Sprinkle on the orange flower water. Chop the mint leaves and gently mix all the ingredients together, being careful not to break up the orange pieces. If using the pomegranate seeds, add now. Cover and chill before serving.
Rory O’Connell’s Brown bread Ice Cream
I think this is a brilliant recipe – it’s really simple and tastes great. I use it year round. In autumn and winter I serve it with poached pears or citrus fruit, and in spring and summer I serve it with all of the different fruits as they arrive in season. It works really well with the first rhubarb, then with gooseberries and so on, and it’s heavenly when paired with roast peaches or nectarines in high summer.
Wholemeal bread, lightly processed into coarse crumbs about the
size of peas, is ideal here.
175g coarse wholemeal breadcrumbs (brown soda
breadcrumbs are ideal)
600ml regular, double or whipping cream
125g soft light brown sugar (or icing sugar)
2 egg yolks
1 tablespoon dark rum, or whiskey or brandy
2 egg whites
Preheat the oven to 190ºC/375ºF/gas mark 5. Spread the breadcrumbs out on a baking tray and toast in the oven for about 20 minutes. They should become crisp and slightly browned.
Meanwhile, beat the cream with the sugar until softly whipped. Mix the egg yolks with the rum, if using, and add to the cream mixture, beating it in well.
When the breadcrumbs are cool, fold them into the cream mixture gently and thoroughly, so that they are evenly distributed. Lastly, whip the whites of the eggs stiffly and fold into the mixture. Freeze in the usual way, in a covered container. There is no need to stir up this ice cream.