Happy St Patricks Day! While you read this column I’ll be in New York celebrating….How fortunate are we in Ireland that our National Feast Day is celebrated all over the world, often even more flamboyantly than we do in Ireland.
I’ve been promoting my latest book, Darina Allen’s Simply Delicious The Classic Collection which has so many nostalgic memories for lots of people and the recipes have really stood the test of time. I’ve also been promoting Ireland, enthusiastically spreading the news of the food revolution and boasting about the Cork food scene and the award winning restaurants and artisan and speciality food producers. I’m also happy to remind everyone I meet that we have a brilliantly friendly and super efficient airport right here in Cork with flights direct from Boston with Norwegian Air and a warm Irish welcome on arrival.
On Thursday, Ballymaloe Cookery School alumni Clare de Boer and Jess Shadbolt and their team at King in Manhattan cooked a lunch with dishes from my Simply Delicious Classic Collection, they incorporated Lydia’s Traditional Irish Salad, Dingle Pie, Irish Bacon and Cabbage with Parsley Sauce and Country Rhubarb Cake, all went down a storm…
For the past few weeks I have taken lots of calls from food writers and journalists from all over the world who are honing their own copy for their St Patricks Day columns. The word is out about the exciting contemporary Irish food that so many of our Michelin starred restaurants are serving their guests…They are all loving that but also want some simple recipes for home cooked dishes that their readers can reproduce easily in their own kitchen to share a taste of Ireland on St Patricks Day.
My Irish Traditional Cooking first published in 1995 and republished in 2012 with 100 extra recipes from the hand written manuscripts and cookbooks of many of Ireland’s great houses, is packed with traditional recipes.
High on the list of requests from food writers are our Irish soda breads, spotted dog, porter cakes and scones, as are comforting potato dishes like, champ, colcannon, boxty, and Fleurrie Knox’s potato cakes dripping in good Irish butter.
Irish apple or rhubarb cake, served with a good dollop of cream is also irresistible and of course the classic Ballymaloe Irish Stew, the quintessential ‘one pot feeds all’ dish that everyone around the table will not only enjoy but also want second or third helpings.
Meanwhile, embrace the spirit, dress up in your green ‘glad rags’, have a competition in the office for the best St Patricks Day rigout, illuminate your building in green. Both Ballymaloe House and Ballymaloe Cookery School participated in the ‘greening’ in 2018, joining an illustrious list of buildings worldwide – the Colosseum, the Empire State Building, the Chicago River, the Great Wall of China….
Traditional White Soda Bread
Soda bread only takes 2 or 3 minutes to make and 30 – 40 minutes to bake. It is certainly another of my ‘great convertibles’. We have had the greatest fun experimenting with different variations and uses. It’s also great with olives, sun dried tomatoes or caramelized onions added, so the possibilities are endless for the hitherto humble soda bread.
1lb (450g) white flour, preferably unbleached
1 level teaspoon salt
1 level teaspoon breadsoda
sour milk or buttermilk to mix – 12-14fl oz (350-400ml) approx.
First fully preheat your oven to 230ºC/450ºF/Gas Mark 8.
Sieve the dry ingredients into a large bowl. Make a well in the centre. Pour most of the milk in at once. Using one hand, mix in the flour from the sides of the bowl, adding more milk if necessary. The dough should be softish, not too wet and sticky. When it all comes together, turn it out onto a well floured worked surface. WASH AND DRY YOUR HANDS. Tidy it up and flip over gently. Pat the dough into a round about 1 1/2 inches (4cm) deep and cut a cross on it to let the fairies out! Let the cuts go over the sides of the bread to make sure of this. Bake in a hot oven, 230ºC/450ºF/Gas Mark 8 for 15 minutes, then turn down the oven to 200ºC/400ºF/Gas Mark 6 for 30 minutes or until cooked. If you are in doubt, tap the bottom of the bread: if it is cooked it will sound hollow.
Lydia’s Traditional Irish Salad
We serve this delightful traditional salad as a starter at Ballymaloe House, with this delicious time-honoured dressing, popular before the days of mayonnaise. The original recipe for salad dressing, came from Lydia Strangman, the last occupant of our house.
2 organic free-range eggs
1 butterhead lettuce (the ordinary lettuce that one can buy everywhere)
4 tiny scallions or spring onions
2–4 ripe tomatoes, quartered
16 slices of crisp cucumber
4 tablespoons Pickled Beetroot and Onion
4 sliced radishes
Coarsely chopped parsley
Lydia Strangman’s Cream Dressing
2 eggs, free-range if possible
1 tablespoon dark soft brown sugar
pinch of salt
1 level teaspoon dry mustard
1 tablespoon brown malt vinegar
50–125ml (2–4fl oz) cream
Hard-boil the eggs for the salad and the dressing (4 in total). Bring a small saucepan of water to the boil, gently slide in the eggs and boil for 10 minutes (12 if they are very fresh). Strain off the hot water and cover with cold water. Peel when cold.
Wash and dry the lettuce, scallions and watercress.
Next make the cream dressing. Cut 2 of the eggs in half and sieve the yolks into a bowl. Add the sugar, a pinch of salt and the mustard. Blend in the vinegar and cream. Chop the egg whites and add some to the sauce. Keep the rest to scatter over the salad. Cover the dressing until needed.
To assemble the salads, first arrange a few lettuce leaves on each of 4 plates. Scatter with a few tomato quarters and 2 hard-boiled egg quarters, a few slices of cucumber and a radish on each plate, and (preferably just before serving) add a slice of beetroot to each. Garnish with scallions and watercress. Scatter the remaining egg white (from the dressing) and some chopped parsley over the salad.
Put a tiny bowl of cream dressing in the centre of each plate and serve immediately, while the salad is crisp and before the beetroot starts to run.
Alternatively, serve the dressing from one large bowl.
Mutton and lamb pies were and still are traditional in many parts of Co Kerry, including Dingle and Listowel. Cumin was not part of the original recipe but was an addition by Myrtle Allen, which Ballymaloe House guests loved. The original pastry was made with lamb suet but Myrtle substituted butter with delicious results.
450g (1lb) boneless lamb or mutton (from the shoulder or leg; keep bones for stock)
250g (9oz) chopped onions
250g (9oz) chopped carrots
2 good teaspoons cumin seed
300ml (10fl oz) mutton or lamb stock
2 tablespoons flour
salt and freshly ground pepper
lamb bones from the meat
outside stalk of celery
a bouquet garni made up of a sprig of thyme, parsley stalks
a small bay leaf
350g (12oz) plain white flour
175g (6oz) butter
110ml (4fl oz) water
a pinch of salt
a pinch of salt
2 tins x 15cm (6 inch) in diameter, 4cm (1 1/2 inch) high or 1 x 17.5cm (7 inch) tart tin.
If no stock is available, put the bones, carrots, onions, celery and bouquet garni into a saucepan. Cover with cold water and simmer for 3-4 hours to make a stock. Trim all the surplus fat from the meat, dice the meat into small, neat pieces about the size of a small sugar lump. Render down the scraps of fat in a hot, wide saucepan until the fat runs. Discard the pieces. Cut the vegetables into slightly smaller dice and toss them in the fat, leaving them to cook for 3-4 minutes. Remove the vegetables and toss the meat in the remaining fat over a high heat until the colour changes.
Dry roast the cumin seed in a hot frying pan for a few minutes and crush lightly. Stir the flour and cumin seed into the meat. Cook gently for 2 minutes and blend the stock in gradually. Bring to the boil, stirring occasionally. Add back the vegetables, season with salt and freshly ground pepper and leave to simmer in a covered pot. If using young lamb, 30 minutes will be sufficient; an older animal may take up to 1 hour.
Meanwhile, make the pastry. Sieve the flour and salt into a mixing bowl and make a well in the centre. Dice the butter, put it into a saucepan with water and bring to the boil. Pour the liquid all at once into the flour and mix together quickly; beat until smooth. At first the pastry will be too soft to handle but as soon as it cools it may be rolled out 2 1/2 – 5mm (1/3 – 1/4 inch) thick, to fit the two tins. The pastry may be made into individual pies or one large pie. Keep back one-third of the pastry for lids.
Fill the pastry- lined tins with the meat mixture which should be just cooked and cooled a little. Brush the edges of the pastry with the water and put on the pastry lids, pinching them tightly together. Roll out the trimmings to make pastry leaves or twirls to decorate the top of the pies; make a hole in the centre. Egg-wash the lid and then egg-wash the decoration also.
Bake the pies for 40 minutes approx. at 220°C/425°F/Gas Mark 7. Serve with a salad of seasonal leaves.
Puff Pastry (see recipe) can be substituted for the hot water crust pastry, proceed as is in master recipe.
Traditional Irish Bacon, Cabbage and Parsley Sauce
Ireland’s national dish of bacon and cabbage can be a sorry disappointment nowadays, partly because it is so difficult to get good-quality bacon with a decent bit of fat on it. Traditionally, the cabbage was always cooked in the bacon water. People could only hang one pot over the fire at a time, so when the bacon was almost cooked, they added the cabbage for the last half hour or 45 minutes of cooking. The bacon water gives a salty, unforgettable flavour, which many people, including me, still hanker for. You will need to order the loin well in advance, especially with rind on.
about 2.25kg (5lb) loin, collar or streaky bacon, either smoked or unsmoked with the rind on and a nice covering of fat
1 Savoy or 2 spring cabbages
50g (2oz) butter
freshly ground pepper
Parsley Sauce (see recipe)
Cover the bacon in cold water in a large pot and bring slowly to the boil. If the bacon is very salty there will be a white froth on top of the water, in which case it is preferable to discard the water and start again. Cover with hot water and the lid of the pot and simmer until almost cooked, allowing 20 minutes for every 2.2kg (1lb).
Meanwhile, trim the outer leaves of the cabbage and cut it into quarters, removing the core. Discard the core and outer leaves. Slice the cabbage across the grain into thin shreds. If necessary, wash it quickly in cold water. About 20 minutes before the end of cooking the bacon, add the shredded cabbage to the water in which the bacon is boiling. Stir, cover and continue to boil gently until both the cabbage and bacon are cooked – about 13⁄4 hours.
Lift the bacon onto a plate and remove the rind if you like. When the bacon is fully cooked it will peel off easily. Strain the cabbage and discard the water (or, if it’s not too salty, save it for soup). Add a generous lump of butter to the cabbage. Season with lots of ground pepper; it’s unlikely to need more salt, but add some if necessary. Serve the bacon with the cabbage, parsley sauce and floury potatoes.
You may want to double this recipe if you love parsley sauce as much as I do.
600ml (1 pint) full-cream milk
a few parsley stalks
sprig of thyme
a few slices of carrot (optional)
a few slices of onion (optional)
salt and freshly ground pepper
50g (2oz) roux
about 50g (2oz) curly parsley, freshly chopped
Put the cold milk into a saucepan and add the herbs and vegetables (if using). Bring the mixture to simmering point, season and simmer for 4–5 minutes. Strain the milk, bring it back to the boil and whisk in the roux until the sauce is a light coating consistency. Season again with salt and freshly ground pepper. Add the chopped parsley and simmer on a very low heat for 4–5 minutes. Taste and correct the seasoning.
Country Rhubarb Cake
This traditional rhubarb cake, based on an enriched bread dough, was made all over Ireland and is a treasured memory from my childhood. It would have originally been baked in the bastible or ‘baker’ over the open fire. My mother, who taught me this recipe, varied the filling with the seasons – first rhubarb, then gooseberries, later in the autumn, apples and plums.
340g (12oz) plain flour, plus extra for dusting
pinch of salt
½ teaspoon bread soda (bicarbonate of soda)
55g (2oz) caster sugar
85g (3oz) butter
1 egg, free-range if possible
165ml (5½fl oz) milk, buttermilk or sour milk
680g (1½lb) rhubarb, finely chopped
170–225g (6–8oz) granulated sugar
beaten egg, to glaze
caster sugar, for sprinkling
softly whipped cream
soft brown sugar
25cm (10in) enamel or Pyrex pie plate
Preheat the oven to 180ºC/350ºF/gas mark 4
Sieve the flour, salt, bicarbonate of soda and caster sugar into a bowl and rub in the butter. Whisk the egg and mix with the milk, buttermilk or sour milk. Make a well in the centre of the dry ingredients. Pour in most of the liquid and mix to a soft dough; add the remainder of the liquid if necessary.
Sprinkle a little flour on the work surface. Turn out the soft dough and pat gently into a round. Divide into two pieces: one should be slightly larger than the other; keep the larger one for the lid.
Dip your fingers in flour. Roll out the smaller piece of pastry to fit the pie plate. Scatter the finely chopped rhubarb all over the base and sprinkle with granulated sugar. Brush the edges of the pastry with beaten egg. Roll out the other piece of dough until it is exactly the size to cover the plate, lift it on and press the edges gently to seal them. Make a hole in the centre for the steam to escape. Brush again with beaten egg and sprinkle with a very small amount of caster sugar.
Bake in the oven for 45 minutes to 1 hour or until the rhubarb is soft and the crust is golden. Leave it to sit for 15–20 minutes before serving so that the juice can soak into the crust. Sprinkle with caster sugar. Serve still warm, with a bowl of softly whipped cream and some moist, brown sugar.