ArchiveNovember 3, 2018

Food Scene in Rural Ireland

Super excited to have three new Michelin Star restaurants in County Cork, The Mews in Baltimore, West Cork under Chef Ahmet Dede, Ichigo Ichie in Cork City owned by Chef Takashi Miyazaki and Chestnut in Ballydehob with Chef Rob Krawczyk (a Ballymaloe Cookery School alumni). It focuses attention on the culinary scene outside the capital and hugely boosts the confidence of the many young chefs who are working tirelessly to raise standards in a time of tiny profit margins on food.

In the midst of all the euphoria came the budget and the reintroduction of the 13.5% VAT rate on restaurants, a whopping 4.5% increase from the 9% rate that enabled many, but not all to survive the recession. The hotel and restaurant scene in the capital is booming and profitable overall. The food scene in most of rural Ireland is quite a different scenario, the tourist season can be as short as 10 – 12 weeks. Many restaurants are just beginning to recover, from the crippling recession, starting to reinvest and were hoping to start a ‘rainy day fund’ to prepare for the inevitable next downturn which may not be too far away….

It’s all very disheartening….. To maintain standards, continue to pay staff and local food producers, prices will have to increase significantly to enable restaurants to even stand still – a 2% increase was anticipated – 4.5% has totally knocked the ‘wind out of the sails’ of an industry that does so much to create employment, put Ireland on the global food map and boost tourism. I’m truly saddened and apprehensive – this can only result in dumbing down of standards, loss of jobs and closures – I so hope I’m wrong…

Back to our home kitchens and let’s cook up some comforting food to cheer us up and ‘warm the cockles of our hearts’ as Autumn settles in. What better than a delicious pot of stew. Here are two of my current favourites. Lamb with a pearl barley risotto and gremolata and the other a veggie feast, spicy pumpkin or squash and coconut curry.

Must give a shout out to the recently published Currabinny Cookbook by super enthusiastic young foodies James Kavanagh and William Murray (ex Ballymaloe Cookery School). The book exudes a love of food and their mission to encourage other cool young people like themselves (they have a huge fan base on social media), to discover the joy and larks to be had around the kitchen stove, doing pop-ups, selling at Farmers Markets and sharing the yummy food they’ve cooked with friends.

Lots of good things to explore inside the covers of the Currabinny Cookbook (love the graphics too). I’ve chosen Parsnip and Fennel Soup with Macroom Brown Soda Bread, Ruby Chard Korma, and Lemon and Lavender Cake to tempt you to whizz out to buy the book published by Penguin Ireland.

Lamb Stew with Pearl Barley Pilaff and Fresh Herb Gremolata 


Serves 4-6

For the Stew

1.8kg (4lb) gigot or rack chops from the shoulder of lamb not less than 2.5cm (1 inch thick)

350g (12oz) green streaky bacon (blanch if salty)

seasoned white flour, preferably unbleached

a little butter or oil for sautéing

450g (1lb) onions, (baby ones are nicest)

30g (12oz) carrot, peeled and thickly sliced

750ml (1 3/4 pints) approx. lamb or chicken stock

sprig of thyme

roux Рoptional, mushroom a la cr̬me (optional)

For the Pilaff

25g (1oz/1/4 stick) butter

450g (1lb) pearl barley

3 pints lamb stock

salt and freshly ground black pepper

350g (12oz) mushrooms, finely diced

450g (1lb) shallots, peeled and quartered


Gremolata is a fresh tasting mix of chopped herbs, garlic and lemon zest. We use it to sprinkle over roast or braised meats, pastas or anything pan-grilled – delicious!


4 mixture of flat parsley, chervil and mint, chopped

2 garlic cloves, finely chopped

1 generous teaspoon grated or finely chopped lemon zest

flaky salt to taste

First make the stew.

Cut the rind off bacon and cut into approx. 1/2 inch (1cm) cubes blanch if salty and dry in kitchen paper. Divide the lamb into 8 pieces and roll in seasoned flour. Heat a little oil in a frying pan and sauté the bacon until crisp, remove and put in a casserole. Add the lamb to the pan and sauté until golden then add to the bacon in the casserole. Heat control is crucial here, the pan mustn’t burn yet it must be hot enough to sauté the lamb. If it is cool the lamb will stew rather than sauté and as a result the meat may be tough. Then quickly sauté the onions and carrots, adding a little butter if necessary, and put them into the casserole. Degrease the sauté pan and deglaze with the stock, bring to the boil, pour over the lamb.

Add a sprig of thyme and bring to simmering point on top of the stove, cover the pot and then put into the oven for 45-60 minutes, 180˚C/350˚F/Gas Mark 4. Cooking time depends on how long the lamb was sautéed for.

When the casserole is just cooked, remove the thyme sprig, strain off the cooking liquid, degrease and return degreased liquid to the casserole and bring to the boil. Thicken with a little roux if necessary. Add back in the meat, carrots, onions and potatoes, bring back to the boil.

The casserole is very good served at this point, but it’s even more delicious if some mushroom a la crème is stirred in as an enrichment. Serve bubbling hot, sprinkled with chopped parsley and the pearl barley pilaff.

Meanwhile, make the pilaff.

Melt the butter in a deep saucepan, add the pearl barley, toss the grains in the butter.  Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper.  Add the stock, bring to the boil, cover and continue to cook until the pearl barley is fully cooked – 45-60 minutes approximately.

Meanwhile, chop the mushrooms, both stalks and caps.  Heat a little butter or oil in a frying pan, add all of the mushrooms, season with salt and freshly ground black pepper, cook over a medium heat stirring occasionally.  The mushrooms will exude liquid at first but continue to cook until all the liquid has been reabsorbed and the mushrooms have developed a deeper flavour.  Keep aside.

Peel the shallots, quarter, toss in 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil and cook in a saucepan over a medium heat until soft and caramelised.  Alternatively, roast in the oven at 200C/400F/Gas Mark 6 until soft and caramelised.

Fold both the mushrooms and the shallots into the pilaff.  Keep aside.  Taste and correct the seasoning.

While the stew and pilaff are being reheated, make the Gremolata.  Chop the herbs and garlic together, add the lemon zest, season to taste with a little flaky salt.

To Serve 

If necessary, reheat the stew and pilaff.  Taste and correct the seasoning.  Spoon a serving of both stew and pilaff into a deep wide serving bowl, serve immediately.  Sprinkle some fresh herb gremolata over the top.


Spicy Butternut Squash or Pumpkin and Coconut Curry


A chunky stew with Asian flavours.  Squashes are brilliant vegetables to soak up Asian flavours and bulk up curries.


Serves 8


2 tablespoons sunflower oil

1 large onion, finely chopped, 185g (6 1/4oz)

3 lemongrass stalks, outer leaves removed and finely sliced

2 garlic cloves, crushed

5 spring onions, chopped

grated zest and freshly squeezed juice of 2 limes

2 kaffir lime leaves, shredded (use dried if fresh are unavailable)

2 teaspoons coriander seeds, roasted and ground

2 teaspoons cumin seeds, roasted and ground

4cm (1 1/2 inch) piece of fresh ginger, peeled and grated

1-3 small red chillies, deseeded and thinly sliced

1 tablespoon fish sauce (nam pla)

1 tablespoon fresh basil, torn

1 tablespoon roughly chopped fresh coriander

1 tablespoon crunchy peanut butter

1 x 400g (14oz) can coconut milk

1/2 teaspoon salt

2kg (4 1/2lbs) squash or pumpkin, deseeded, peeled and cut into 4cm chunks (1.5kg/3lb 5oz) flesh after peeling and deseeding)


To Serve

2 tablespoons toasted cashew nuts

fresh coriander leaves

Jasmine Rice

Mango Chutney or Mango Sambal (see recipe)


Preheat the oven to 200°C/Gas Mark 6.


Heat a sauté pan over a medium heat and add the oil.  Stir-fry the onion for 1-2 minutes before adding the lemongrass and garlic. Add all the remaining ingredients.   Stir gently. Bring to the boil, cover and simmer for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Remove the lid for 5 minutes before the end of cooking time.


The coconut milk may separate but this won’t affect the flavour.  Taste and add more fish sauce if necessary.  Pour into a warm serving dish.

Garnish with the toasted cashew nuts and fresh coriander leaves and serve with jasmine rice and mango chutney.

Mango Sambal


Serves 6 – 8


1 mango, diced finely (1 x 1 cm)

2 – 3 tablespoons finely chopped red onion

2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice

2 tablespoons Nam pla – fish sauce

1 teaspoon sugar

1 – 2 teaspoons freshly chopped rosemary

salt and freshly ground pepper


Gently mix all the ingredients together in a bowl. Season and taste.  Allow the flavours to blend for at least 15 minutes before serving



Five Spice Powder contains ground star anise/cloves/cinnamon/Sichuan pepper and fennel seeds.


Currabinny Cookbook Parsnip and Fennel Soup

In this soup the natural sweetness of parsnip combines beautifully with the delicate aniseed flavour of fennel. The result is smooth, velvety and very elegant.


Serves 4–6

1 medium-sized onion

4 medium-sized parsnips

2 large fennel bulbs, stalks removed

1 stick of celery

15g fresh flat-leaf parsley

70g butter

sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

1½ litres vegetable stock

200ml milk


To serve:

fresh cream

fresh fennel fronds


Peel the onion and parsnips. Chop finely, together with the fennel bulbs and celery, to roughly the same size dice. Roughly chop the parsley leaves.

Melt the butter in a large pot or casserole dish. Add the onion, parsnips, fennel and celery, and season well with salt and pepper. Stir so that everything in the pot is well coated in the butter.

Construct a cartouche by cutting a circle of greaseproof paper which perfectly covers the inside of your pot. Press this down on the vegetables, sealing them in to cook. Put the lid on the pot and cook for around 10 minutes on a gentle heat. Check and stir at least once to make sure nothing is catching on the bottom.

Meanwhile, in another pot, heat up your vegetable stock until it comes to the boil. This will shorten the cooking time considerably.

When it’s boiling, remove the cartouche from the other pot and pour your hot stock over the vegetables, stirring the contents to make sure nothing is stuck to the bottom.

Simmer on a medium heat for around 20 minutes until the vegetables are completely soft and tender.

Add the milk and parsley, and blend with a stick blender until completely smooth and creamy.

Check the seasoning and serve with a swirl of cream and some fennel fronds sprinkled on top of each bowl.

From the Currabinny Cookbook, by James Kavanagh & William Murray. Published by Penguin Ireland.


Currabinny Cookbook Macroom Brown Soda Bread

Could there be anything more Irish and down-to-earth than a classic soda bread made with wholewheat flour from the legendary Walton’s Mill in Macroom, Co. Cork, Ireland’s only surviving stone mill? We don’t think so!



Makes 8–10 slices

Butter, for greasing

180g cream flour

340g Macroom Stoneground Wholewheat Flour (extra coarse)

2 teaspoons bicarbonate of soda

1 teaspoon sea salt

70g Macroom Oatmeal

1 medium organic egg

575ml buttermilk


Preheat the oven to 180ºC fan/gas 6. Butter a 450g loaf tin.

In a large mixing bowl, mix the flours, bicarbonate of soda, salt and oatmeal to combine, then make a well in the centre.

Whisk together the egg and buttermilk in a jug, and pour into the dry mix. Using your hand as a claw, mix the ingredients together in a circular motion until well combined.

Pour the mixture into the loaf tin and bake in the oven for 40 to 50 minutes, until a skewer comes out clean. When you remove the loaf from the tin, make sure to tap the bottom too, listening for that hollow sound just to be sure. Cool on a wire rack.

From the Currabinny Cookbook, by James Kavanagh & William Murray. Published by Penguin Ireland.


Currabinny Cookbook Ruby Chard Korma

William suggests keeping the stalks for another dish but we loved them finely shredded and added them as we were pouring in the water.

Serves 4–6

3 onions

3 cloves of garlic

a thumb-sized piece of fresh ginger

700g chestnut mushrooms

a large knob of butter

sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

seeds from 10 cardamom pods, crushed

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon ground turmeric

a few pinches of ground cinnamon

a few pinches of chilli powder

3 bay leaves

200ml water

350g ruby chard

200g natural yoghurt

150g crème fraîche


To serve:

toasted flaked almonds

pomegranate seeds

basmati rice


Peel the onions, garlic and ginger. Slice the onions and mushrooms, grate the ginger and crush the garlic with some salt. Melt the butter in a large pan and add the onions, garlic and ginger with some salt and pepper.

When the onions have softened a bit, add the cardamom, cumin, turmeric, cinnamon, chilli powder and bay leaves. Now add the sliced mushrooms to the pan and cook for a couple of minutes, stirring regularly. Pour in the water, stir, and simmer for 15 minutes, then check the seasoning.

Meanwhile, remove the stalks from the chard* and add the leaves in batches to the pot until it is all wilted. Turn the heat to low and gently stir in the yoghurt and crème fraîche.

Serve with rice and top with the almonds and pomegranate seeds.

From the Currabinny Cookbook, by James Kavanagh & William Murray. Published by Penguin Ireland.


Currabinny Cookbook Lemon and Lavender Cake

Combining lavender with lemon and yoghurt makes this cake sticky, subtle and utterly delicious.


Makes 8–10 slices

butter, for greasing

1 tablespoon dried lavender flowers

250g caster sugar

175g cream flour

½ teaspoon baking powder

½ teaspoon bicarbonate of soda

a pinch of sea salt

2 medium organic eggs

250g Greek yoghurt

125ml rapeseed oil

finely grated zest and juice of 1 lemon

dried lavender sprigs, to decorate


For the icing:

200g icing sugar

juice of 1 lemon

1 medium egg white


Preheat the oven to 160ºC fan/gas 4. Butter a 20cm springform cake tin and line with baking parchment.

Crush the lavender in a pestle and mortar. Put the caster sugar into a large bowl and mix the lavender through. Add the flour, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda and salt, and stir to combine.

In another bowl, mix the eggs with the yoghurt and rapeseed oil and pour this into the dry ingredients, stirring well. Add the lemon zest and juice.

Pour the mixture into the cake tin and bake in the oven for around 50 minutes until golden brown and firm to the touch. Leave to cool in the tin for a minute, then turn the cake out to cool fully on a wire rack.

Sieve the icing sugar into a bowl and add the lemon juice, whisking until smooth. Add the egg white gradually to loosen the mixture until it is quite runny and pourable. The icing should be extremely sharp and lemony. Spoon this icing over the top of the cake until it covers the top and starts to drip down the sides.

Arrange some dried lavender sprigs on the top as decoration.

From the Currabinny Cookbook, by James Kavanagh & William Murray. Published by Penguin Ireland.


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