Darina Allen: Back To College Recipes


Back to college has produced lots of nightmare stories, as students scramble to find affordable accommodation in a scarce and challenging market.
So let’s hope you have already found a comfy spot, with a little kitchen and a table large enough to gather your pals around for some exotic and comforting little feasts and why not….

The old cliché of students living on microwave frozen pizzas, burgers and soggy takeaways is fast becoming outdated. Cool, young people are running, cycling, exercising and are pretty determined to keep their brain cells sharp by eating healthily.

Everyone has got the taste for spicy food; Indian, Middle Eastern, Mexican….many of the college kids I know are keen to cook and aren’t afraid to experiment with new ingredients.
They are acutely aware of the benefits of eating well but want to know how to save money but still eat healthily. They want recipes for yummy, tasty food that doesn’t take too long to rustle up when they arrive home, ravenous with hunger in the evening.

People with little money have to be even more crafty and inventive. Lesser known cuts of meat are always cheaper, and need gentle cooking to transform them to melting tenderness. And don’t forget to pick up a slab of streaky bacon, it’s a fantastic standby, brilliant to add to pasta, sauces, casseroles, stews, omelettes; or just to make a few crispy lardons to sprinkle over a salad.

Clever spicing can turn even a few simple root vegetables into a feast. Both meat and vegetables can be delicious bulked up with beans and lentils – grains too; pearl barley, couscous and quinoa add irresistible nourishment and volume.
Don’t forget to soak the grains well first in lots of fresh, cold water. They’ll double in volume and be infinitely more digestible.

Buy a few packets of both spice blends and whole spices. Pestle and mortars are ‘two a penny’ nowadays – they were on sale recently for €10 in one of the discount shops. I bought a perfect little pestle and mortar made from lava rock. It’ll only take a few seconds to grind a few cumin, coriander or cardamom seeds. I can’t think of anything that adds so much magic to food for so little money than a few freshly ground spices.
Look out for ras el hanout, a North African blend spice. Green Saffron have a variety of Indian blends and provide recipes with each packet. www.greensaffron.com

Fresh herbs can easily be grown on a window sill in a variety of recycled cans and boxes; don’t forget to water them! Get together with your mates to bulk buy staples like rice, pasta, pulses and grains. With a stock of store cupboard standbys, spices and fresh herbs, you’re sorted. Pick up the phone and invite the pals around.

Isaac’s Frittata

Serves 1

Isaac makes individual frittatas that are light and fluffy, he says the secret is to add lots of milk and to whisk the eggs very well.

15g(1/2oz) butter.
2 eggs, free range, organic
55ml (2fl oz/1/4 cup) milk
45g (1 1/2ozs) grated Gruyere cheese
1-2 diced cooked potatoes, diced
30g(1oz) diced chorizo or cooked diced bacon or ham.
1 dessertspoon (2 American teaspoons) freshly chopped chives or parsley
salt and freshly ground pepper
a little butter for frying

20.5cm (8inch) heavy bottomed frying pan

Melt a knob of butter in the frying pan.

Break the eggs into a mixing bowl and season. (1 pinch of salt and 2 twists of pepper per egg is a good guide line if you are a little wary of tasting raw eggs.) Now add the milk and whisk thoroughly until the whites and yolk have completely blended together, add the grated cheese, diced potato and chorizo, chopped herbs and mix in gently.

When the butter is foaming pour all the mixture into the hot pan. Using a wooden spoon, scrap the cooked mixture from the bottom, filling its space with liquid. Do this just 5 or 6 times then allow the mixture to cook on a high flame for a further minute. Take the pan off the heat and place under a hot grill, continue cooking until the mixture has fluffed up nicely and is beginning to turn golden brown on top.
Using a metal pallet knife loosen the edges and slide onto a plate. Serve on its own with a green salad or with a little drizzle of basil pesto (see recipe).

Once you have the basic mixture and cooking technique right there are lots of lovely variations on the theme.

Irish Breakfast Frittata

Add to the basic egg mixture just before cooking.

25g (1oz) of sliced mushrooms. Fried in a little butter salt and pepper, and 2 streaky rashers cut into 1cm (1/2 inch) pieces and fried until crispy.

Frittata Ranchero

Add to the basic egg mixture just before cooking.

25g (1oz) chopped sweated onion
1 small tomato cut into 5mm (1/4 inch) dice
1 teaspoon chopped chilli or more to taste
1 dessertspoon (2 American teaspoons) chopped coriander (instead of parsley or chives)

Penny’s Sweet Potato and Rice or Quinoa Salad

Sweet potatoes are high in beta-carotene, a major antioxidant, which helps safeguard immune health. They aid digestion, reduce inflammation in ulcers and aid circulation.

Other sweet vegetables and roast peppers could also be used. Chickpeas or beans would also be a gorgeous addition.

Serves 6-8

1 big sweet potato
4 onions
3 tablespoons (3 American tablespoons + 3 teaspoons) extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

6-8ozs (175-225g) cooked brown basmati rice or quinoa

2 tablespoons (2 American tablespoons + 2 teaspoons) pumpkin seeds (toasted)
2 tablespoons (2 American tablespoons + 2 teaspoons) sunflower seeds (toasted)
1 tablespoon (1 American tablespoon + 1 teaspoon) sesame seeds (toasted)

juice and zest of 2 limes
same volume of extra virgin olive oil (or slightly less)
2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil
1 tablespoon (1 American tablespoon + 1 teaspoon) soy sauce
1 garlic clove, crushed
1 chilli, finely chopped (optional)
5 spring onions or lots of chives chopped finely
lots of chopped basil or coriander
1 teaspoon organic sugar

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

Peel the sweet potato and onion, cut into 3/4 inch (1.5cm) cubes. Mix the spices with the oil, toss the vegetables in the oil and spread out on a baking tray. Roast in the preheated oven for 20-25 minutes until golden and slightly caramelised.

Next make the vinaigrette.
Whisk all the ingredients together in a bowl.

To Serve
Put the cooled cooked rice or quinoa if using, roast vegetables and toasted seeds in a bowl. Drizzle with the vinaigrette, toss well. Taste and correct the seasoning.

Stirabout Bread

This is a more modern version of Soda Bread, couldn’t be simpler, just mix and pour into a well-greased tin. This bread keeps very well for several days and is also great toasted.

Makes 1 loaf or 3 small loaves

400g (14ozs/2 1/2 cups) wholemeal flour or a wholemeal flour of your choice
75g (3ozs/3/4 cup) white flour, preferably unbleached
1 teaspoon salt
1 level teaspoon (1/2 American teaspoon) bread soda, sieved (Bicarbonate of Soda/Baking Soda)
1 egg,
1 tablespoon (1 American tablespoon + 1 teaspoon)vegetable oil,
1 teaspoon honey or treacle
425ml (15fl ozs/scant 2 cups) buttermilk or sourmilk approx. (put all the milk in)

Sunflower or sesame seeds optional

Loaf tin 23×12.5x5cm (9x5x2in)

Preheat oven to 200ºC/400ºF/Gas Mark 6.

Put all the dry ingredients including the sieved bread soda into a large bowl, mix well. Whisk the egg, add the oil and honey most of the buttermilk. Make a well in the centre of the dry ingredients and pour in all the liquid, mix well and add more buttermilk if necessary. The mixture should be soft and slightly sloppy, pour into an oiled tin or tins. Sprinkle some sunflower or sesame seeds on the top. Bake for 60 minutes approx, or until the bread is nice and crusty and sounds hollow when tapped. Cool on a wire rack.

Health Bread

Add 1 tablespoon (1 American tablespoon + 1 teaspoon) of sunflower seeds, 1 tablespoon (1 American tablespoon + 1 teaspoon) of sesame seeds, 1 tablespoon (1 American tablespoon + 1 teaspoon) of pumpkin seeds, 1 tablespoon (1 American tablespoon + 1 teaspoon) of kibbled wheat to the dry ingredients. Keep a mixture to scatter over the top.

Meatballs with Spicy Tomato Sauce

Great with a teaspoon of ras el hanout or a mixture of cumin and coriander. Ask a few pals around, or fry off half as burgers and tuck them into a bun with lots of salad, sliced tomatoes, and cheese.

Serves 6

2 tablespoons (2 1/2 American tablespoons) extra virgin olive oil
1 onion, peeled and finely chopped
1 garlic clove, peeled and crushed
900g (2lbs) freshly minced beef (80% lean) or 700g (1 1/2lbs) beef/225g (8oz) pork
50g (2oz) soft breadcrumbs
50ml (2fl oz/1/4 cup) milk
2-4 tablespoons (2 1/2 – 5 American tablespoons) chopped fresh herbs, such as marjoram, or a mixture of parsley, chives and thyme leaves
1 organic egg, beaten
salt and freshly ground black pepper

Tomato Sauce
3 tablespoons (4 American tablespoons) extra virgin olive oil
225g (8oz) onion, peeled and sliced
1 garlic clove, peeled and crushed
900g (2lbs) ripe, peeled and chopped tomatoes or 2 x 400g (14ozs) tins chopped tomatoes
good pinch of crushed chilli flakes (optional)
salt, freshly ground black pepper and sugar

To serve
3 tablespoons (4 American tablespoons) extra virgin olive oil
150g (5ozs) Mozzarella and Parmesan, grated

450g (1lb) spaghetti

Rocket leaves (optional)

parsley leaves

First make the meatballs, heat the olive oil in a heavy, stainless-steel saucepan over a gentle heat and add the chopped onions and garlic. Cover and sweat on a gentle heat for 8-10 minutes until soft and slightly golden. Allow to cool.

Soak all the bread crumbs in milk.

Put the freshly minced beef into a bowl and breadcrumbs in a bowl. add the cold sweated onion and garlic, add the herbs (and chilli flakes if using) and the beaten egg. Season the mixture to taste. Fry a tiny bit to check the seasoning and adjust if necessary. Divide the mixture into about 24 round meatballs. Cover and refrigerate.

Meanwhile, make the tomato sauce. Heat the oil in a casserole or a stainless-steel saucepan. Add the sliced onion and crushed garlic, toss until coated, cover and sweat over a gentle heat until soft. Add the peeled and chopped tomatoes and chilli flakes, mix and season with salt, freshly ground pepper and a pinch of sugar (tinned tomatoes take more sweetening). Cover and simmer for 15 minutes, uncover and continue to cook for 15-20 minutes or until thick and unctuous.

Heat a frying pan over a medium heat, add 3 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil. Cook the meatballs for 8-10 minutes turning from time to time. When they are cooked, transfer to an ovenproof serving dish. Add to the hot tomato sauce, turn gently to cover. Pop into a preheated oven at 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4.
Sprinkle the grated cheese on top or place under a preheated grill to let the cheese melt. Serve immediately with cooked spaghetti, crusty bread and or just a green salad.

Meanwhile, cook the spaghetti in a pan of boiling water. Drain and turn into a hot serving dish. Spoon the meatballs and tomato sauce over the top, sprinkle with grated Mozzarella and Parmesan. Sprinkle with lots of flat parsley leaves.

Meatball Dogs

Split hot dogs rolls lengthwise down the centre. Insert 3 small meat balls smothered with tomato sauce into each. Top with a bit of rocket or flat parsley. Serve hot.


Meatball Sliders

Split 3 sliders in half, chargrill, drizzle with olive oil. Top with a meat ball and secure the lid with a bamboo cocktail stick. Eat as soon as possible and serve 3 per person as a starter.


Apple Fritters

Funny how one sometimes forgets a recipe; we hadn’t had these for ages, but I remembered them recently and they taste just as good as ever. As children we particularly loved fritters because they used to fry into funny shapes, which caused great hilarity. These can also be shallow-fried in a pan. You can add a teaspoon of cinnamon to the sugar to toss the apples in for extra flavour. So easy to make even in a tiny kitchen and the batter works for lots of other fruit even bananas.
Serves 6–8

110g (4oz) plain white flour
pinch of salt
1 organic egg
150ml (5fl oz) milk
good-quality vegetable oil, for frying
450g (1lb) cooking apples (about 4), Bramley’s Seedling or Grenadier
225g (4oz) caster sugar

Sieve the flour and salt into a bowl. Make a well in the centre and drop in the egg. Use a whisk to bring in the flour gradually from the edges, slowly adding in the milk at the same time. Leave the batter in a cool place for about 1 hour.
Heat the oil in a deep-fryer to 180°C (350°F). Peel and core the apples. Cut into rings, no thicker than 1cm (1⁄4in). Dip the rings into the batter and lift out with a skewer, allowing the surplus batter to drain off, then drop into hot fat, a few at a time. Fry until golden brown, drain well on kitchen paper. Toss each fritter in caster sugar. Serve immediately on hot plates with softly whipped cream.


Salacious salads-
Jason Carroll has quite a pedigree; he spent a stint in several of London’s most prestigious kitchens with Pierre Kaufmann, Anton Mosimann and Tom Aiken, then on to Asia.
Is it any wonder that his salads are so multi ethnic and morish.
You’ll find him at Wilton Farmers Market on Tuesdays and in Midleton on Saturday mornings.
He’ll have an irresistible array of salads and maybe chowder as well. Don’t miss the Kokoda, a Fijian ceviche, or you might want to try the potato ,chorizo ,red onion and mint or the freekah salad with apricot, date, spring onion, preserved lemon and feta or fresh pineapple, coconut, chilli and mint or…….. tempted?

Good Food Ireland Touring Map –

Good Food Ireland has just completed their up to the minute edition
Touring Map, in partnership with Hertz and Waterford Crystal.
This year, it is larger in size with more detail for touring visitors and indeed for ourselves here at home to navigate our way and find the very best artisan food producers, food shops, restaurants, cafes, cooking classes…..
Pick up your copy at any Hertz rental car location, Good Food Ireland
promotions and Tourism Ireland offices. www.goodfoodireland.ie

Date for your diary
Pizza Masterclass with Philip Dennhardt at Ballymaloe Cookery School – this half day course will take you through all the basics (choosing ingredients, making dough, getting the best results from your oven and so forth) before explaining how to produce both traditional and contemporary pizzas……
Friday 17th October – 2 -5pm. Booking essential. www.cookingisfun.ie

About the author

Darina Allen
By Darina Allen


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