ArchiveFebruary 2022

Guest Chef Mary Jo McMillin

It all happened so suddenly in the end – not sure about you but I’m still trying to come to terms with the ‘new normal’.  I seem to be holding my breath, afraid that if I wake up, I’ll find that we are still in the midst of the pandemic and ‘opening up’ is just a dream…

In fact, those two years have almost become a blur, I seem to have blocked out the roller coaster of experiences we endured to keep our business going and our team employed.  I’m having to make a list of all the extra things we did here at the Ballymaloe Cookery School pre-Covid – afternoon demonstrations were open to the public, school tours to visit artisan producers, guests for lunch, garden and kitchen interns, gap year students, Slow Food events, garden tours, children’s farm walks, guest chefs, Pop-Up dinner, Ballymaloe Lit Fest, oh and I almost forgot the long table dinner in the glasshouses…

I long to get all of those things underway again but to my astonishment, I find that I am not quite brave enough to launch into each one immediately.  I need to ease back in gradually and I’m still wary enough of big crowds.

However, we’re gradually getting things underway.  A dear friend of Ballymaloe for over 40 years, Mary Jo McMillin hopped onto a plane in Chicago and made her way to Cork via Dublin.  Mary Jo has been coming to Ballymaloe, first to Ballymaloe House and then the Ballymaloe Cookery School for over 40 years.  For many decades, her idea of a holiday from her busy restaurant kitchen was to come to Ballymaloe kitchen to work during her precious break to learn and share.  Now in her 80’s, she’s like a 40-year-old, super fit, she exercises and stands on her head for 20 breaths every day!  She cooks from scratch and eats fresh, delicious food daily knowing how important it is for her wellbeing.  She’s a joy to have as a house guest, for many reasons not least that she trawls through the fridges, wanders through the gardens and glasshouse, picking salad leaves and edible greens and then cooks endless, delicious meals for all of us.  The students love her and she loves passing on her skills and tips to them during the few short weeks that she’s with us. 

On every trip, she teaches a special cooking class to the students – here are some of the recipes she shared this time…

Moroccan Lamb Shanks

A robust, inexpensive, deliciously spiced lamb stew that reheats brilliantly – you may want to double the recipe and freeze some for another easy meal.

Serves 4

4 lamb shanks

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 large onion, peeled and diced

5 garlic cloves, peeled and minced

1 heaped tablespoon grated fresh ginger (use a pestle and mortar)

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 tablespoon ground coriander

1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper (or Aleppo pepper)

1 medium cinnamon stick

1/2 to 1 preserved lemon, rinsed and diced

4 – 6 prunes

1 x 400g (14oz) tinned tomatoes, crushed or chopped

salt to taste

lemon or lime (optional)

Preheat the oven to 170˚C/325˚F/Gas Mark 3.

Brown the lamb shanks in the little olive oil in a frying pan over a medium-high heat.  Remove to a heavy, casserole dish – pour off the excess fat.  Add the sliced onion to the lamb fat and sauté gently until soft and golden.  Add the garlic, ginger and sauté until fragrant.  Add the cumin, coriander and crushed red pepper and sauté for a few seconds more.  Add the cinnamon stick, preserved lemon and prunes to the casserole dish with the lamb.  Add the tomatoes to the onion mixture.  Bring to a simmer and pour over the lamb.  Deglaze the frying pan with 2-4 tablespoons of water and pour over the stew.  Add salt to taste.  Cover with parchment paper and the lid of the casserole dish and cook slowly in the preheated oven for 1-3 hours or until tender.  Thin the sauce, if necessary, with water or stock.  Taste for seasoning and tweak if necessary.  Add a squeeze of lemon or lime juice if desired. 

Serve with steamed rice or potatoes. 

Fragrant Rice

Serves 4-6

200g (7oz) Basmati rice

1 tablespoon butter

1 tablespoon olive or vegetable oil

1 shard cinnamon stick

pinch coriander seeds (optional)

1/2 bay leaf (optional)

110g (4oz) chopped onion

1/2 tablespoon grated fresh ginger (optional)

1/8 teaspoon turmeric

1/8 teaspoon garam masala (optional)


350ml (12fl oz) of the soaking water

Place the rice in a deep bowl, cover with cool water and swirl gently with your fingertips until the water grows cloudy. Pour off the water and repeat the rinsing process twice more. Cover the rinsed rice with cool water and soak while preparing the base.

Melt the butter and oil in a heavy pot with tight-fitting lid. Add the cinnamon stick, coriander and bay leaf, along with the chopped onion. Sauté gently until onion is translucent. Add the turmeric, garam masala and salt. Drain the rice reserving 350ml (12fl oz) of the soaking water.  Tip the rice into the sautéed base. Stir to combine with the seasonings. Add the measured water, salt and stir again making sure all the grains of rice are covered with water. Cover, bring to a boil, reduce to the lowest heat and simmer for 10-12 minutes. Turn off the heat and steam with the lid on for at least 10 minutes. Place a tea-towel over the top of the pot and replace with the lid until ready to serve.  Fluff with a fork before serving. 

Beetroot with Yogurt

Another of Mary Jo’s delicious recipes – she likes to serve it as a dip with flat brad – a brilliant way to use up Winter beets. 

Serve as a side with pork, chicken or even sausages. 

Serves 6-8

2-3 small beets, roasted or boiled, peeled and grated or diced

350g (12oz) thick yogurt

1 garlic clove, mashed with salt

2 tablespoons chopped mint (optional)

2 tablespoons olive oil

salt to taste

1-2 teaspoons red wine vinegar

2 tablespoons finely chopped spring onion) (optional)

Mix all the ingredients together, taste and tweak the seasoning if necessary.    Mary Jo likes this quite sharp and perky but one could add a little honey to taste in Winter when the beets are less sweet.

Mary Jo’s Date and Coffee Loaf

We are loving this date and coffee loaf, which keeps in an airtight tin for up to 1 week.

Yields 12-14 slices

250g (9oz) stones dates

225g (8oz) strong coffee

1 level teaspoon bread soda

25g (1oz) soft butter

60g (scant 2 1/2oz) caster sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 egg

150g (5oz) plain flour

1 level teaspoon salt

110g (4oz) pecans or walnuts

1 x 20.5 x 10cm (8 x 4 inch) loaf tin, lined with parchment paper

Preheat the oven to 180˚C/350˚F/Gas Mark 4.

Dice the stoned dates.  Cover with hot coffee, cover and allow to soak until soft.  Sprinkle with bread soda. 

Cream the soft butter and sugar in a bowl; beat in the egg and vanilla extract. Mix in the sifted flour, salt, nuts and date mixture. Place in the prepared tin and bake in the preheated oven for 1 hour.  Cool in the tin, slice when fully cold – better on the second day and is delicious eaten with butter.

Almond Dacquoise with Praline Buttercream

Mary Jo says these are particularly lovely for a Summer afternoon tea party but the students polished them off as soon as she made them and begged for more…Best make the day before, so brilliant for entertaining or catering. 

Serves 20-40

Makes 40 sandwiched pieces

175g (6oz) icing sugar

100g (3 1/2oz) ground almonds

45g (scant 2oz) corn flour

1/4 teaspoon salt

4 large egg whites

130g (generous 4 1/2oz) castor sugar

1/4 teaspoon almond extract

Praline Butter (see recipe)

Preheat the oven to 120˚C/250˚F/Gas Mark 1/2 (Fan)

Mix the sieved icing sugar, ground almonds and corn flour together.

In a dry bowl, whisk the egg whites with salt gradually adding castor sugar and beat to a stiff meringue. Fold in almond extract and the ground almond mixture. Pipe small rounds onto two parchment lined baking trays. Bake in the preheated oven for about 40 minutes or until they lift off the parchment paper.  Turn off the heat and allow to cool in the oven until dry.

Sandwich two almond dacquoise with praline butter cream and roll the edge in additional crushed praline. Store in a tin in a cool place overnight to soften.  Serve in small petit fours cases. 

Praline Butter

150g (5oz) sugar 

50ml (2fl oz) water

2 teaspoons light corn syrup (glucose syrup) or pinch cream of tartar (optional)

2 eggs plus 1 egg yolk

350 (12oz) butter at room temperature – I use 225g (8oz) unsalted and 110g (4oz) salted butter

1 teaspoon vanilla plus 1/2 – 1 teaspoon coffee essence or rum

In a small saucepan swirl the sugar, water and syrup together. Cover and cook over a moderately high heat swirling to make sure all the sugar is dissolved. Leave on the cover until all the sugar crystals are steamed off the side of the pan. Uncover and rapidly boil to the strong thread stage (106 – 112˚C/223 – 234˚F).

Meanwhile beat the eggs and yolk in a large mixing bowl (or use a stand mixer). When the sugar is ready, immediately pour the syrup slowly into the beaten eggs continuing to whisk all the time.

Beat the egg custard until it lightens and cools to lukewarm.  (At this point, make sure the butter and the custard are approximately the same temperature.)

Beat the butter into the custard, 1 1/2 tablespoons  at a time. The cream may be stiff enough with 300g (10oz) of butter, and it will easily absorb 350g (12oz).  Flavour with vanilla and coffee essence or rum.


Makes approximately 190g (6 1/2oz)

110g (4oz) whole almonds

110g (4oz) sugar

Put the unskinned almonds with the sugar into a heavy saucepan over a low heat until the sugar gradually melts and turn a caramel colour. Stir if necessary. When the caramel stage is reached and not before, carefully rotate the pan until the nuts are all covered with caramel.  When the nuts go ‘pop’, pour this mixture onto a lightly oiled Swiss roll tin. Allow to get quite cold. When the praline is hard, crush in a food processor or with a rolling pin, the texture should be coarse and gritty

To assemble the praline butter.

Add 6 tablespoons of praline to the buttercream and beat well to combine.    

Fresh Apple Cake with Brown Butter Icing

The brown butter icing is a real find.

Serves 6-8

400g (14oz) cooking apples, peeled and grated

75g (3oz) butter (6 tablespoons)

250g (9oz) caster sugar

2 large eggs

225g (8oz) plain flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 level teaspoon baking soda

2 rounded teaspoons cinnamon

grating fresh nutmeg

50g (2oz) lightly toasted walnuts, optional

2 x 20.5cm (8 inch) round cake tins OR 1 x 20.5cm (8inch) wide x 5cm (2 inch) deep genoise tin

First, prepare the baking tins.

Line the tins with parchment paper.  Brush with melted butter or sunflower oil.  Sprinkle with flour and tip out excess flour.

Preheat the oven to 180˚C/350°F/Gas Mark 4.

Peel the apples, grate on the large holes of a box grater.

Mix the flour, salt, sieved bread soda, cinnamon and nutmeg together.

In a large mixing bowl, cream butter and sugar.  Whisk in eggs one at a time and whip to a soft, billowy mixture. If using a food mixer, remove the bowl from the stand. Using a flexible spatula, fold the grated apples and walnuts alternately with the flour into the creamed mixture.  

Divide the cake mixture evenly between the prepared tins.

Bake in the preheated oven for 25-40 minutes, depending on the size, or until they are nicely browned – a skewer inserted into the cakes should come out clean when cooked.  

Cool for 5 minutes in the tins before turning onto a cooling rack. 

Meanwhile, make the Brown Butter Icing.

Brown Butter Icing

75g (3oz) butter

175g (6oz) icing sugar, sieved

3-4 tablespoons milk

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Melt the butter and simmer until it turns very lightly brown and smells nutty, remove from the heat.  Add in the icing sugar, stirring well to combine.  Thin with milk to a spreading consistency – reheat and add drops of water to maintain emulsion if necessary.  Finally add the vanilla extract and spread over the apple cake when cold.  

Valentine’s Day

Who doesn’t get an Oops in their tummy at the thought of Valentine’s Day even if it’s just a trip down memory lane!  Back to boarding school, when one waited for days in a mixture of apprehension and excitement for the post to be delivered on Valentine’s Day hoping for at least one card to giggle about and muse over who the anonymous sender might be?  One year, I got several Valentine’s cards, my class were mightily impressed and a touch jealous, I was the envy of all my pals, a very sweet memorable moment!

No question of romantic dinners or Valentine’s Day Balls on Valentine’s Day last year, we were in the midst of Lockdown.  So this year, let’s ramp up the excitement.  I love bunting and it’s so easy to make (or buy) a few strands to drape across the office or kitchen, add a few balloons and sparklers and you’ve already created the vibe and livened up everyone’s day. 

How about making a few heart-shaped cookies or maybe a gorgeous cake to share at work.  That’ll get everyone’s attention, it’s all about the fun…

If you are short of ideas, just take to the internet to be inspired and amused – there are a million suggestions…whatever ‘floats your boat’…how about a romantic hill hike or cycle and a picnic.  Maybe ice skating or whale watching followed by cocktails and a romantic dinner for two!

If you haven’t already booked a special table at your favourite restaurant or café, it’s probably too late now but how about a Valentine’s Day Cook-in with a group of friends, I know Valentine’s Day is supposed to be all about couples but first the fun and laughs, the romance can come a little later.  So into the kitchen for a bit of communal cooking.  The ‘refusers’ can make the cocktails and pour the fizz, then lay the table and sprinkle on the confetti (bit early) or sparklers. 

Oysters have long been considered an aphrodisiac, all that zinc does the trick…it’s so fun opening them and if you’ve never tried one, now’s the time.

I’m also going to suggest a chunky vegetable soup as a starter, it’s super delicious, comforting.  A few friends working together will make short work of all the vegetable chopping.  Add a can of cannellini beans and a few rounds of chorizo to make it even more substantial and delicious, and a slick of parsley oil for a ‘cheffy’ touch. 

Definitely, make some bread, even a few cheesy scones, everyone will love the magic and they are made in minutes.  For the main course, I’m going to suggest roast chicken, who doesn’t love roast chicken and even total beginners can slather a bit of herbs or spices over the breast and legs and pop it into the oven.  Chop a few potatoes into wedges and maybe sprinkle them with smoked paprika or some gutsy Winter herbs and a pinch of chilli for extra excitement.  Add a few chunks of carrot, parsnip and Jerusalem artichokes (or maybe not!) for a one-dish side.  All you’ll need then, is a good green salad to make way for some sweet treats.  Radicchios are all the rage on New York and London menus so look out for some pink radicchio, tardivo and some bitter leaves to add to your salad. 

For pudding, I’m going to break all my rules, around season and suggest a raspberry fool with some heart-shaped cookies.  It’s so easy to make, beyond delicious even when made with Winter raspberries and you can ‘zhuzh’ it up in lots of cute ways – it will become a favourite ‘go to’ dessert. 

And finally, how about a little heart-shaped cheese.  Pop along to Sheridans Cheesemongers or On The Pig’s Back in the English Market to pick up a Coeur de Neufchâtel, an adorable, soft heart-shaped goat cheese from Normandy in France.  Sit around the table and tuck in. 

What fun you’ll have and yet again you’ll find, there’s something in the old saying ‘the way to everyone’s heart is through their tummy’…

But, if you’re not wanting to be ‘coupled up’ why not spread the joy, drop a Valentine’s card or a bunch of flowers into a family member or a lonely neighbour to bring a smile to their day.  Happy Valentine’s Day to you all….

Oysters with Asian Vinaigrette

Even though Pacific oysters are available year-round, they are best in winter.  I love native oysters au nature just with a squirt of lemon juice but this dressing really adds excitement to the gigas oysters. 

Serves 4-6 as a starter

24 Pacific oysters

1 clove garlic, crushed

1 teaspoon freshly ginger, grated

2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar

2 tablespoons mirin

2 tablespoons soy sauce

4 spring onions, cut at an angle

1 teaspoon red chilli, cut at an angle

3 tablespoons sesame oil

6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 tablespoon finely chopped chives

To Serves

fresh seaweed (if available)

segments of lime

To make the Asian vinaigrette, mix all the ingredients in a glass jar, seal and shake well. If you can get some, place a little fresh seaweed on each plate.  Arrange 4-5 oysters per person on top and spoon a little vinaigrette over each one.  Serve on a bed of seaweed with  segments of lime.

Top Tip

If you can find some fresh seaweed e.g. bladderwrack, dip the fonds into boiling water for a second or two, they will turn bright green. Drop it straight into a bowl of iced water to prevent it cooking and to set the colour.  It will make an attractive garnish, which you could eat if you were very hungry but it doesn’t taste delicious!  Use it soon otherwise it will go slimy.

Chunky Valentine’s Vegetable Bean and Sausage Soup

Have fun chopping together, you’ll love tucking into this chunky soup.

Serves 8

225g (8oz) rindless streaky bacon, cut into 5mm (1/4 inch) lardons

2 tablespoons olive oil

225g (8oz) onions, chopped

300g (10oz) carrot, cut into 5mm (1/4 inch) dice

215g (7 1/2oz) celery, chopped into 5mm (1/4 inch) dice

125g (4 1/2oz) parsnips, chopped into 5mm (1/4 inch) dice

200g (7oz) white part of 1 leek, 5mm (1/4 inch) slices thick approx.

1 Kabanossi sausage, cut into 3mm (1/8 inch) thin slices

400g (1 x 14oz) can of tomatoes, chopped

salt, freshly ground pepper and sugar

1.7 litres (3 pints) good homemade chicken stock,

225g (8oz) haricot beans, cooked * (see recipe) or use a 400g (14oz) can


2 tablespoons parsley, freshly chopped

extra virgin olive oil (optional)

Prepare the vegetables. Put the olive oil in a saucepan, add the bacon* (see note at bottom of recipe) and sauté over a medium heat until it becomes crisp and golden, add the chopped onion, carrots and celery. Cover and sweat for five minutes, next add the parsnip and finely sliced leeks. Cover and sweat for a further 5 minutes. Slice the Kabanossi sausage thinly and add. Chop the tomatoes and add to the rest of the vegetables and the beans. Season with salt, freshly ground pepper and sugar, add the chicken stock. Allow to cook until all the vegetables are tender, 20 minutes approx. Taste and correct the seasoning. Sprinkle with chopped parsley and drizzle with extra virgin olive oil, serve with lots of crusty bread.

* Soak the beans overnight in plenty of cold water.  Next day, strain the beans and cover with fresh cold water, add a bouquet garni, carrot and onion, cover and simmer until the beans are soft but not mushy – anything from 30-60 minutes.  Just before the end of cooking, add salt.  Remove the bouquet garni and vegetables and discard.

Cheddar Cheese Scones

These cheddar cheese scones are delicious served as an accompaniment to soup and made in minutes!

450g (1lb) white flour, preferably unbleached

1 level teaspoon salt

1 level teaspoon bread soda (bicarbonate of soda/baking soda)

sour milk or buttermilk to mix – 350-375ml (12-13fl oz) approx.

egg wash

110g (4oz) grated mature Irish Cheddar cheese

First fully preheat the oven to 230°C/450°F/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 floured board, knead lightly for a second, just enough to tidy it up.  Pat the dough into a square about 2.5cm (1 inch) deep, brush with egg wash, cut into 12 square scones.  Dip the top of each scone into the grated cheddar cheese, place on a baking sheet.  Bake in a hot oven for 230°C/450°F/Gas Mark 8 for 15 minutes, then turn down the oven to 200°C/400°F/Gas Mark 6, for 5-10 minutes or until cooked.  Serve with soup as a snack.

A Roast Chicken with Winter Herbs and Gravy

Buy a gorgeous organic chicken for a treat, slather the breast and legs with a gutsy Winter herb or spice butter and tuck in. 

Serves 4-6

1.5 – 2.3kg (4 1/2 – 5lbs) free range chicken, preferably organic

1 lemon, cut into slices

sprig of thyme (optional)

75g (3oz) butter

2 teaspoons smoked paprika and 1 tablespoon chopped parsley or 2 tablespoons chopped rosemary


600-900ml (1 – 1 1/2 pints) of stock from giblets or chicken stock


sprigs of flat parsley

First remove the wishbone from the neck end of the chicken, this is easily done by lifting back the loose neck, skin and cutting around the wishbone with a small knife – tug to remove, this isn’t at all essential but it does make carving much easier later on. Tuck the wing tips underneath the chicken to make a neat shape. Put the wishbone, giblets, carrot, onions, celery and herbs into a saucepan. Cover with cold water, bring to the boil, skin and simmer gently while the chicken is roasting.  This is the basis of the gravy.

Pop the lemon slices and sprig of thyme into the cavity of the chicken.

Mix the soft butter with the freshly chopped herbs or smoked paprika and chopped parsley.  Slather over the breast and legs.  Sprinkle with salt and freshly ground black pepper. 

Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4. Weigh the chicken and allow about 20 minutes to 450g (1lb) and 20 minutes over – put it on middle shelf in the oven. Baste a couple of times during the cooking with the buttery juices. The chicken is done when the juices are running clear or when the internal temperature reaches 75 – 80°C (165 – 175°F) on a meat thermometer.

Alternatively, to test prick the thickest part at the base of the thigh, hold a spoon underneath to collect the liquid, examine the juices – they should be clear.

Remove the chicken to a carving dish, keep it warm and allow it to rest while you make the gravy.

To make the gravy, tilt the roasting tin to one corner and spoon off the surplus fat from the juices and return the roasting pan to the stove. Deglaze the pan juices with the fat free stock from the giblets and bones (you will need 600-900ml (1 – 1 1/2 pints) depending on the size of the chicken). Using a whisk, stir and scrape well to dissolve the caramelized meat juices in the roasting pan. Boil it up well, season and thicken with a little roux if you like (the gravy should not be thick). Taste and correct seasoning, serve in a hot gravy boat.

Pop the chicken onto a nice carving dish surrounded by crispy roast potatoes and vegetables and a few sprigs of flat parsley, arm yourself with a sharp knife and bring it to the table. Carve as best you can and ignore rude remarks if you are still practicing but do try to organise it so that each person gets some brown and some white meat. Serve with the delicious gravy.

Autumn Raspberry Fool with Shortbread Biscuits

A Valentine’s Day present from Rory O’Connell, so easy to make even kitchen ‘newbies’ will be thrilled with the result of their efforts.  Any leftovers can be frozen to make a delicious raspberry ice-cream. 

Serves 4-5

250g (8oz) raspberries, fresh or frozen
60-75g (2 1/2 – 3oz) caster sugar
300ml (10fl oz) of whipped cream

Valentine’s Biscuits

Lay the raspberries out flat on a dish. Sprinkle on the caster sugar and allow to macerate for 1 hour. If you are using frozen berries this should be long enough for them to defrost. Puree the fruit in a liquidiser or blender. Pass the puree through a sieve to remove the seeds. Discard the seeds. Gently fold in the whipped cream. If you wish to create a “swirly” effect, just be a little light handed with the folding in of the cream. The fool is now ready to be served or can be chilled for serving later.  Serve with shortbread biscuits.

Valentine’s Biscuits

Note: This recipe was originally in imperial measurements, to get best results, weigh in oz.

Makes 12 approx.

3oz (75g) white flour or spelt flour

2oz (50g) butter

1oz (25g) caster sugar

Put the flour and sugar into a bowl, rub in the butter as for shortcrust pastry. Gather the mixture together and knead lightly. Roll out to 1cm (1/2 inch) thick.  Cut into rounds with a 6cm (2 1/2 inch) cutter or into heart shapes.  Bake in a moderate oven 170˚C/325˚F/Gas Mark 3 to pale brown, 10-15 minutes, depending on the thickness of the biscuits. Remove and cool on a rack.  Sprinkle with caster or icing sugar.

Delicious biscuits to nibble but we also serve with fruit fools, compotes and ice-creams.

Note: Watch these biscuits really carefully in the oven. Because of the high sugar content they burn easily. They should be a pale golden – darker will be more bitter.

However if they are too pale they will be undercooked and doughy.  Cool on a wire rack.

Winter Roots (Savoury)

You are loving those root veggie cakes in last week’s column, so staying with those delicious Winter roots this week, some savoury recipes…Several are new discoveries; others are old favourites.

Thinking about what to include made me realise just how much we rely on root vegetables as a foundation for so many dishes.  Potatoes are, of course, a powerhouse of nutrients, but also carrots, parsnips and swedes are inexpensive and produce so many delicious, nutritious and Wow-making dishes.  Not just comforting favourites – after all, who doesn’t love a time-honoured carrot and parsnip mash with lots of chopped parsley and a big dollop of butter. 

But have you been roasting your carrots?  This has been a revelation for me since I first tasted a delicious roast carrot, labne, pistachio and watercress dish at a restaurant in New York a couple of years ago.  Since then, I’ve been roasting roots in a myriad of different ways, not just a tray of diced vegetables, delicious as they can be when flavoured with gutsy Winter herbs, anointed with a good olive oil, and most importantly, served immediately.  Wizendy roast vegetables lose their charm very quickly when left in a warming oven.

Jerusalem artichokes are a ‘must have’ Winter root – if you haven’t already planted them in your garden or veg patch, do!  Anyone and I mean, anyone can grow them.  Where you plant one this year, you’ll dig up 8 or 10 next year.  Meanwhile, check out your Farmers Market or greengrocer or ask your supermarket to stock them and start to experiment.  They make delicious soups, gratins, purées and are sublime roasted.  Furthermore, they are magic from the nutritional point of view – the highest inulin of any vegetable so they stimulate beneficial microbes in your gut-biome – brilliant for both your physical and mental health…and that’s not a myth…

And don’t forget the humble Swede, many of our recipes elevate this ridiculously inexpensive Winter root to new heights.  Rory O’Connell slathers a delicious puree of Swedes with extra virgin olive oil and a sprinkling of freshly grated Parmesan.  We also love a gratin of Swedes with Thyme Leaves and Bacon and how about Persian Chickpea Stew which includes the aquafaba (cooking liquid from the tin) which gives the bean stew a delicious texture. 

Add some chunks to an Irish stew to up the vegetable content and boost the flavour even further.

Let’s not forget parsnips, now even sweeter after those few nights of frost – a simple salad of grated parsnips, dressed with lemon and honey is a revelation, fresh tasting and delicious and made in minutes.  We also love them roasted as a side or in combination with other vegetables, peppery rocket and winter greens in a salad.  Split them in half lengthways, then into manageable size pieces for extra impact. 

The possibilities are endless – here are a few suggestions and there are lots more in many of my cookbooks.  Have you come across my latest book ‘How To Cook’?  It’s got 100 simple recipes everyone should know and is getting lots of very positive feedback – thank you all.

Roast Carrots with Labneh, Pistachio and Watercress

Roast the carrots.  This salad is a game changer, inspired by a dish I enjoyed during my last visit to New York…

Serves 6

600g (1 1/4lbs) whole young carrots

4-6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

a generous tablespoon of honey

1 teaspoon cumin, roasted and coarsely ground

1 teaspoon coriander, roasted and coarsely ground

salt and freshly ground black pepper

1-2 tablespoons Aleppo pepper

75-175g (3-6oz) Labneh (see recipe)

watercress or rocket leaves

50-75g (2-3oz) pistachio nuts, very coarsely chopped

sea salt flakes

extra virgin olive oil

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

Scrub the carrots, dry, split in half lengthwise, if too big.  Put into a large bowl.  Drizzle with the extra virgin olive oil and honey.   Mix the roast and coarsely ground cumin and coriander together.  Sprinkle over the carrots.  Season with salt and freshly ground pepper, toss gently to coat evenly.  

Spread out in a roasting tin.   As soon as you put the trays into the oven reduce the heat to 200°C/400°F/Gas Mark 6.

Roast for 10-15 minutes, turning occasionally until the carrots are almost tender and caramelized at the ends and edges.

Remove from the oven.  Sprinkle with Aleppo pepper and toss.

To Serve

Put a few watercress springs on a plate.  Top with 3-5 pieces of roast carrot.  Add a few blobs of labneh and scatter with a sprinkling of coarse pistachio nuts, a few flakes of sea salt and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil.

Serve soon, best when the carrots are still slightly warm.

Soft Yoghurt Cheese – Labneh

This thick, creamy, soft cheese from the Middle East is so easy to make and so wonderfully smooth that your friends will be mightily impressed if you produce it for a dinner party. This is an old recipe. I believe that dairy items like these were once made everywhere in Europe and elsewhere over many centuries and then forgotten at some stage, probably during industrialisation, so I have borrowed from those places where the traditions survived. Labneh is a real treat and an easy way to dabble in cheesemaking. It is also much-loved by children and is a good way for you to pass on your knowledge of old skills to them. It can be used for sweet or savoury dishes.

Use whole-milk yogurt for a creamier cheese – this can be made from cow’s, sheep’s or goat’s milk. You can also use commercial yogurt.

Makes 500g (18oz) labneh approx.

1kg (2 1/4lbs) natural yoghurt

Line a strainer with a double thickness of sterilised cheesecloth. Place it over a bowl. Pour in the yogurt. Tie the four corners of the cheesecloth to make a loose bundle and suspend this bag of yogurt over a bowl. Leave it in a cool place to drip into the bowl for 8 hours. Then remove the cheesecloth and put the labneh in a bowl. Refrigerate overnight, and store until needed in a covered glass or plastic container. The liquid whey that has drained off can be fed to pigs or hens.


The labneh should be like softly whipped cream.  If thicker, simply stir back in some whey. 

Jerusalem Artichoke Soup with Avocado and Roasted Hazelnuts

Jerusalem artichokes are a sadly neglected winter vegetable. They look like knobbly potatoes and are a nuisance to peel, but if they are very fresh you can sometimes get away with just giving them a good scrub. Not only are they a smashing vegetable but they are also delicious in soups and gratins. They are a real gem from the gardeners point of view because the foliage grows into a hedge and provides shelter and cover for both compost heaps and pheasants!

Serves 8-10

50g (2oz) butter

1.1kg (2 1/2lbs) Jerusalem artichokes, scrubbed, peeled and chopped

600g (1 1/4lbs) onions, chopped

salt and freshly ground pepper

1.2L (2 pints) light chicken stock (you may need a little more)

600ml (1 pint) creamy milk approx.


2 avocados, peeled and diced

4 tablespoons chopped roasted hazelnuts

4 tablespoons hazelnut oil

4 tablespoons chopped chives

Melt the butter in a heavy-bottomed saucepan, add the artichokes and onions. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper, cover and sweat gently for 10 minutes approx.  Add the stock and cook until the vegetables are soft. Liquidise and return to the heat. Thin to the required flavour and consistency with creamy milk and adjust the seasoning. This soup may need more stock depending on the thickness required.

Serve in soup bowls or in a soup tureen. Season the diced avocados with salt and pepper, then sprinkle the diced avocado and chopped roasted hazelnuts over the soup. Drizzle with a little hazelnut oil and chopped chives and serve.

Avocado and Roast Hazelnut Salsa

1 ripe avocado, halved, stone removed, peeled and diced into neat scant 1cm (1/2 inch) dice

3 tablespoons of hazelnuts, roasted, skinned and coarsely chopped

3 tablespoons of hazelnut or olive oil

1 tablespoon of chopped flat parsley

Maldon sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Mix the ingredients for the avocado and hazelnut garnish. Taste and correct seasoning. This mixture will sit quite happily in your fridge for an hour as the oil coating the avocado will prevent it from discolouring.

Persian Chickpea Stew

A veggie take on Khoresh Gheymeh which is usually made with beef.

Serves 4-6

100ml (3 1/2fl oz) extra virgin olive oil

400g (14oz) onions, peeled and finely chopped

2 cloves garlic, crushed

1/2 teaspoon turmeric

1 teaspoon cumin, finely roasted and ground

1 teaspoon freshly roasted and ground coriander

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

400g (14oz) very ripe tomatoes, skinned, deseeded and diced or 1 tin of chopped tomatoes in Winter

2 x 400ml (14fl oz) coconut milk

200ml (7fl oz) vegetable stock

100ml (3 1/2fl oz) aquafaba (liquid from tin of chickpeas)

175g (6oz) swede turnip, diced into 2cm (3/4 inch)

100g (3 1/2oz) potato, diced into 2cm (3/4 inch)

50g (2oz) sultanas

a generous pinch of saffron

1 x 400g (14oz) tin of chickpeas

salt and freshly ground black pepper and a pinch of sugar

freshly squeezed juice of 1 lime


1 large ripe tomato, deseeded and diced

50g (2oz) almonds, toasted and halved

100g (3 1/2oz) frozen desiccated coconut

1 generous handful of fresh coriander sprigs

Heat the extra virgin olive oil.  Add the onion and cook for 10-15 minutes on a medium heat until it starts to caramelize.  Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute, then add all of the spices except the saffron and cook for a further 2 minutes.  Add the chopped tomatoes.  Cook for 5 minutes then add the coconut milk, stock and aquafaba.  Bring to the boil, add the swede turnip and diced potatoes, sultanas and saffron.  Season with salt and pepper and cook for 10-15 minutes or until the vegetables are tender.  Add the chickpeas.  Bring back to the boil and season with salt, freshly ground pepper and a pinch of sugar.  Taste, correct the seasoning and add the juice of 1 lime or more to taste.  Garnish with the diced fresh tomato, toasted flaked almonds, frozen desiccated coconut and lots of fresh coriander.

Rory O’Connell’s Gratin of Swede Turnips, Potatoes, Thyme Leaves and Bacon Gratin

This is a robust warming gratin made with one of my favourite winter vegetables, the cheap and cheerful swede turnip.

Serves 8-10

450g (1lb) swede turnip, peeled and sliced into 4 mm slices

450g (1lb) potatoes, peeled and sliced into 3mm thick slices

110g (4oz) lardons of smoked or unsmoked bacon

1 tablespoon olive oil

110g (4oz) grated parmesan

1 teaspoon thyme leaves

350ml (12fl oz) cream or chicken stock (see recipe)

salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 x 1.5 litre (2 1/2 pints) ovenproof gratin dish

Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4.

Bring a large saucepan of water to the boil and season with a good pinch of salt. Drop in the sliced turnips, bring back to the boil and simmer for 5 minutes. The turnips will have tenderized slightly but will not be fully cooked. Strain out the turnips, reserving the water for cooking the potatoes. Place the turnips on a tray lined with a tea towel.

Bring the water back to the boil and add the sliced potatoes. Bring to a simmer and cook for 1 minute only. Strain and rinse under the cold tap and place on a tray lined with a tea towel like the turnips.

Heat the 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a frying pan and add the bacon lardons. Cook, stirring until the bacon is crisp and golden.  Strain out the bacon and place on a piece of kitchen paper towel to drain.

To assemble the gratin, grease the gratin dish with a light smear of butter. Place on a layer of the turnips and potatoes, followed by a sprinkle of thyme leaves, a sprinkle of lardons of bacon and a sprinkle of the grated parmesan. Season with salt and pepper. Splash on a little of the cream. Repeat the process finishing the gratin with a final sprinkle of the cheese.

Place the gratin in a bain-marie in the preheated oven and cook for 60-80 minutes. After 60 minutes, test the gratin with a skewer to see if the potatoes and turnips are tender. The skewer should go through the vegetables with no resistance and the top of the gratin should be a rich golden colour. The cooked gratin will sit happily in the oven for an hour before serving with the temperature reduced to 50°C/120°F/Gas Mark 1/4.

Roast Parsnip, Apple and Toasted Hazelnut Salad

Roast walnuts or pecans are also a good combination if hazelnuts are not available.  Swap out roast parsnips for Jerusalem artichokes here – also a delicious combo.

Serves 8

2 large or 4 medium sized parsnips

4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil or rapeseed oil

4 dessert apples, cut into eighths, cores removed

6 good handfuls of salad – tiny beetroot and kale leaves

75g (3oz) lightly toasted hazelnuts

sea salt and freshly ground black pepper


1 garlic clove, crushed to a paste with a little salt

1 teaspoon English mustard

2 teaspoons honey

1 tablespoon lemon juice

4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil or rapeseed oil

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

Peel and quarter the parsnips, remove the woody cores, then chop them into roughly 4cm (1 1/2 inch) pieces.

Put the parsnips on a large roasting tray in a single layer. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper, drizzle with olive oil and toss to coat them. Roast for 10 minutes, take them out of the oven and add the apple pieces and return to the oven for about 15 minutes or until everything is tender, golden and slightly caramelised.

Meanwhile, make the dressing by whisking all the ingredients together. 

When the parsnip and apple pieces are fully cooked, transfer them to a salad bowl and toss them in the dressing.  Taste and correct the seasoning.

Arrange a pile of salad leaves on a plate, top with the warm, dressed parsnip and apple.  Scatter with roughly chopped toasted hazelnuts.  Serve with crusty bread.

Winter Roots (Sweet)

A few days ago, someone asked me, out of the blue, how we managed for homegrown vegetables in Winter – was there anything in season in the garden or greenhouse?  Somehow the perception is that there’s nothing to enjoy during the Winter season – well how about all the wonderful Winter roots – carrots, parsnips, swede’s, celeriac, Jerusalem artichokes, sweet potatoes and beetroots,  they all grow underground and are packed with the vitamins, minerals and trace elements that we need to get us through the Winter…I haven’t even mentioned the greens such as kale, leeks, chard….

Nature always provides what we need in season.  A touch of frost concentrates the sugars and sweetens them further.  Sweet potatoes usually imported although they will grow in Ireland are packed with Vitamin A and beta-carotene.  They are a powerful antioxidant, lots of Vitamin B too and of course lots of fibre as do all the root vegetable.  Fibre is super important to keep our digestive systems functioning and to save us from constipation….

Virtually all the root vegetables can be used in sweet as well as savoury dishes.  Think of your favourite carrot cake, ‘angel hair’ (carrot) jam, then there’s parsnip cake with a cream cheese and maple syrup icing and parsnip crisps – always a surprise.  Grated beetroots make a morish little loaf that disappears in a flash, I even tried a Jerusalem artichoke cake recipe I found recently online.  Sweet potatoes too are all delicious roasted and paired with cinnamon and honey or how about a favourite American Thanksgiving combo sweet potato and marshmallow – now that’ll take a leap of faith but best to keep an open mind – all in the way of research!

This week, I’ve decided to include sweet Winter root recipes but next week, I’ll share some of my favourite savoury root vegetables dishes.  Meanwhile, look out for knobbly Jerusalem artichokes at your local Farmers Market or greengrocers – they are the most exciting Winter vegetable of all, in fact, they deserve a whole column to themselves…

Parsnip and Maple Syrup Cake with Parsnip Crisps

The cutest cake and also delicious with parsnip crisps piled on top.

Serves 8

175g (6oz) butter, plus extra for greasing

110g (4oz) Demerara sugar

100ml (3 1/2fl oz) maple syrup or honey

3 large organic eggs

250g (9oz) self-raising flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

2 teaspoons mixed spice

175g (6oz) parsnips, peeled and grated

1 medium eating apple, peeled, cored and grated

50g (2oz) pecans or hazelnuts, roughly chopped

zest of 1 small orange

1 tablespoon orange juice


parsnip crisps

icing sugar, to serve


300g (10oz) cream cheese

2 tablespoons maple syrup

2 x 20cm (8 inch) deep sandwich tins buttered and lined with parchment paper

Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4.

Melt the butter, sugar and maple syrup in a pan over a gentle heat, then cool slightly.  Whisk the eggs into the mixture, then stir into the flour, baking powder and mixed spice.   Next add the grated parsnip, apple, chopped pecans, orange zest and freshly squeezed juice.  Divide between the two tins or pour into the loaf tin and bake in the preheated oven for 35-40 minutes or until just starting to shrink from the sides of the tin.

Cool on a wire rack. 

Just before serving, mix the cream cheese and maple syrup together.  Spread over the base of one cake and top with the other.  Alternatively, if making in a loaf tin, spread icing  over the top of the cake to decorate.

Garnish with parsnip crisps.  Dust with icing sugar just before serving.

Parsnip Crisps

Here I pile them onto a cake but we also serve these delicious crisps on warm salads, as a garnish for roast pheasant or guinea fowl and as a topping for Parsnip or root vegetable soup.  Also a welcome school lunch snack.

Delicious crisps may be made from other vegetables apart from the much-loved potato.  Celeriac, beetroot, leek and even carrots are also good.

Serves 6 – 8

1 large parsnip

sunflower oil


Heat good quality oil in a deep fryer to 150°C/300°F.

Notice the lower frying temperature because of the high sugar content in root vegetables. 

Scrub and peel the parsnips.  Either slice into wafer thin rounds or peel off long slivers lengthways with a swivel top peeler.   Allow to dry out on kitchen paper.

Drop a few at a time into the hot oil, they colour and crisp up very quickly.  Drain on kitchen paper and sprinkle lightly with salt.

Beetroot and Walnut Cake

This recipe comes all the way from the Sun House in Galle on the south coast of Sri Lanka.  I’ve adapted it slightly for our ingredients (dairy-free).

Serves 10

3 free-range organic eggs

150ml (5fl oz) sunflower oil

25g (1oz) soft brown sugar

150g (5oz) white or spelt flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

pinch of salt

100g (3 1/2oz) beetroot, grated

60g (2 1/4oz) sultanas

60g (2 1/4oz) walnuts, coarsely chopped


175g (6oz) icing sugar

zest of 1 lemon

3-4 tablespoons lemon juice to bind

To Decorate

deep-fried beetroot (see end of recipe)

toasted pumpkin seeds

1 loaf tin 13 x 20cm (5 x 8inch)

Preheat the oven to 180˚C/350˚F/Gas Mark 4.

Line a loaf tin with a butter paper or baking parchment. 

In a bowl, whisk together the eggs, oil and sugar until smooth.   Sift in the flour and baking powder, add a pinch of salt and gently mix into the egg mixture.  Stir in the grated beetroot, sultanas and walnuts.   Pour into the prepared tin.  Bake for 45-50 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean.  Cool on a wire rack. 

Next, make the icing.

Sieve the icing sugar, add the lemon juice gradually to a stiff but spreadable consistency. Spread evenly over the cake, allow to drizzle down the sides, leave for 5 minutes and scatter with deep-fried beetroot (see below) and pumpkin seeds and a little grated lemon zest.

To Deep-fry Beetroot

Peel the outer skin off the beetroot.  Using a peeler, slice thin rounds off the beetroot.  Allow to dry on kitchen paper for 20 minutes.  Deep-fry until crispy (no higher than 150°C/300°F).  Dry on kitchen paper. 

‘Angel Hair’ Jam

An enchanting name for carrot jam.  Sophie Grigson shared this recipe when she taught a course at the Ballymaloe Cookery School in 1993.  I’m loving Sophie’s new book ‘A Curious Absence of Chickens: A journal of life, food and recipes from Puglia’.

600g (1 1/4lbs) carrots

500g (18oz) caster sugar

zest of 2 large lemon, cut into strips

freshly squeezed juice of 2 large lemon

6 cardamom pods, split

Trim and scrape the carrots.  Grate on a medium sized grater.  Put into a pan with the sugar, lemon zest and juice and the cardamom pods.  Heat gently until the sugar dissolves, then boil hard until the mixture is very thick. 

Place into a warmed, sterilised jar and seal tightly. 

Serve on scones, wee buns or with goat’s cheese.

Sweet Potato and Marshmallow Casserole

Jared Batson, Ballymaloe Cookery School alumni from Chicago shared this recipe from Prairie Grass Café. They piped a meringue mixture on the top of individual ramekins for each guest during Thanksgiving time. They loved it…

Serves 8-10

1.1kg (2 1/2lb) sweet potatoes, washed with skin on (OR use half sweet potatoes and half butternut squash)

2 eggs

75g (3oz) butter (melted)

2 tablespoons dark brown sugar

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon ground allspice

1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

pinch of ground clove

salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

2 cups miniature marshmallows

25g (1oz) pecans, roughly chopped (optional)

Preheat the oven to 200˚C/400˚F/Gas Mark 6.

20.5cm x 20.5cm (8 x 8 inch) baking dish

Pierce the skins of the sweet potatoes with a fork. Bake sweet potatoes (whole) (and squash flesh side down if using) on a baking tray with parchment paper for 45-60 minutes or until a small knife easily pierces through the flesh without resistance. Cooking time will depend on the size of the potatoes.

Meanwhile, lower the oven to 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4.

Allow the potatoes to cool to room temperature. Scoop out the flesh of the potatoes being careful not to include any parts of the skins. Pass through a mouli and whip in the beaten eggs, melted butter, sugar and spices. Season to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Pour the mixture into a greased baking dish. Top with the marshmallows and then with chopped pecans if desired. Bake for about 20-30 minutes or until the top is golden-brown and the mixture is nice and hot. Serve immediately.

Jerusalem Artichoke Cake with Cream Cheese Icing

This cake keeps really well.  The crisps softened but it was still moist and delicious almost a week after it was made.  One could of course omit the Jerusalem artichokes crisps but they’re delicious when the cake is freshly made. 

Serves 8-10

2 tablespoons brandy

120g (scant 4 1/2oz) sultanas

80g (3 1/4oz) hazelnuts

200g (7oz) Jerusalem artichokes – scrubbed & peeled

150g (5oz) unsalted butter

150g (5oz) light Muscovado sugar

3 large eggs

200g (7oz) plain flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda

large pinch of sea salt

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

good grating of nutmeg – about 1/2 teaspoon

50g (2oz) milk chocolate drops – 36% cocoa

3 tablespoons milk

Cream Cheese Icing

180g (6 1/4oz) cream cheese

40g (1 1/2oz) light Muscovado sugar

freshly squeezed juice of 1 organic lemon

2 teaspoons chopped rosemary, optional


Jerusalem Artichoke Crisps (see recipe)

1 x 20.5cm (8 inch) round spring-form tin

Line the tin on the base and sides with parchment paper.

Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4.

Soak the sultanas in the brandy in covered bowl for at least one hour, but better still overnight.

Toast the hazelnuts in a dry frying pan for a few minutes until the nuts brown a little and the skins loosen.  Allow to cool, rub the nuts in a piece of kitchen towel to remove the skins then roughly chop.

Grate the Jerusalem artichokes.

Cream the soft butter with the sugar until pale and fluffy, add in the plumped-up sultanas.  Beat in the eggs, one by one, alternating with a little of the flour.  Sieve in the remainder of the flour, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda, salt and spices, stir gently into the mixture, add the nuts and chocolate then fold in the artichokes.  Add 2 tablespoons of milk to make a dropping consistency.  Spoon the mixture into the lined cake tin.  Bake for 50 minutes approx. until well risen.  A skewer inserted into the cake will come out almost clean when cooked.

Allow to cool in the tin for 15 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack to cool completely.

Cream Cheese Icing

Whip the cream cheese and sugar together.  Grate in the lemon zest and nearly half of the freshly squeezed lemon juice.  Add the chopped rosemary, stir and beat it all together then slather over the top of the cooled cake.

Decorate with artichoke crisps (see recipe) and sprigs of rosemary. 


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