ArchiveSeptember 2022

Ballymaloe Desserts Cookbook

‘Would you like to have a look at the sweet trolley’ is a familiar if rhetorical question in Ballymaloe House.  When the sweet trolley is wheeled into the dining room, there’s a spontaneous murmur of excitement from guests – it doesn’t matter what stage of their meal, whether they are just sipping a bowl of soup or finishing a delicious plate of main course.  They keep an eye in anticipation as it makes its way around the dining room piled high with delicious seasonal desserts. 

The Sweet Trolley has been a tradition at Ballymaloe House ever since Myrtle and Ivan Allen opened the doors of their country house on a farm in East Cork in 1964.  In the era of flamboyant dessert creations, the sweet trolley seemed a little outdated but then out of the blue in 2018, an email arrived to say that the Ballymaloe House  Sweet Trolley had been shortlisted for the Trolley of the Year Award in the highly-prestigious World Restaurant Awards in Paris and guess what, it won!  Suddenly, it was super cool to have a trolley again… Tons of press, radio and TV interviews – it was like the Oscars…

Pastry Chef, JR Ryall and his team in the ‘Sweets Section’  at Ballymaloe House create the irresistible selection on the sweet trolley every night.  From the age of 4 JR wanted to be a chef, he cooked and cooked in his Mum and aunts’ kitchens.  At the ripe old age of 13, he took his first cooking course at the Ballymaloe Cookery School– a present from his Mum.  Year after year, during his school holidays he worked in Ballymaloe Sweets and eventually having completed a Natural Science degree in Trinity College in Dublin, he accepted Myrtle Allen’s invitation to be head pastry chef at Ballymaloe House.  The rest is history…

JR travels widely and has worked in some of the most inspirations kitchens in the world – Ottolenghi, River Cafe, Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons, La Grotta Ices, Paul Young Chocolate…

JR loved and was totally inspired by Myrtle and soaked up every word she said. Now at last he has written a book on Ballymaloe Desserts. It is published by Phaidon and was launched at the Ballymaloe Grainstore on Sunday, 11th September. It’s packed full of recipes for the delicious desserts so loved by Ballymaloe House guests for over 50 years plus many new contemporary creations that are fast becoming new classics.

JR shared his thought process when planning what desserts to serve on the Sweet Trolley at Ballymaloe House.

‘I use a simple template: there are always five desserts that change each day, each fitting a category; the combination of dishes should strike a balance of flavour, texture and aesthetics; and one dessert will always contain chocolate.  This template has been used to plan almost every dessert trolley since the restaurant at Ballymaloe opened its doors. 

The five categories are:

– Fruit: fresh, cooked or preserved

– Meringue

– Mousse, jelly, set cream or fool

– Frozen: ice-cream, sorbet or granita

– Pastry, cake or pudding

This basic template is used throughout all four seasons to ensure the five dishes on the trolley each have a different quality, but if someone wants to try a little bit of everything, the desserts on their plate must balance and work together.  In addition to these five daily changing dishes, there is always one extra dessert on the trolley that never changes: Mrs. Allen’s Carrageen Moss Pudding, a silky soft-set seaweed dish that is a Ballymaloe speciality.  For most guests, it is the most intriguing dessert we serve.

Many of the desserts served on the sweet trolley are accompanied by a complementary sauce, or even a biscuit (cookie), to elevate that dish.  For example, coffee ice-cream is always served with Irish coffee sauce, while all fruit fools are accompanied by thin crisp shortbread biscuits.  In many of the recipes that follow, I indicate favourite pairings such as these.

At Ballymaloe I plan each dish when I know what fresh produce is available, so I often change the menu at the last minute.  Perhaps the plums that I was eagerly watching are just not ripe enough to pick on the day I thought they would be, and then an unexpected basin of wild blackberries arrives at the kitchen door.  Perfect, a blackberry dessert it is.  Then I look at the menu plan to see if anything needs to be altered to balance the last-minute change.  Reacting in this way and using which produce is best is what makes the Ballymaloe dessert trolley so unique.’

Here are a few to whet your appetite. 

Ballymaloe Desserts by JR Ryall is published by Phaidon. Photography by Cliodhna Prendergast

Lemon Meringue Roulade

This is one of the most popular meringue desserts I make at Ballymaloe, and it has several layers of lemon flavour that add up to a well-rounded experience: the sweet meringue is tempered with fresh lemon zest, the cream filling is rippled with tangy lemon curd and the decoration of fragrant crystallized lemon verbena leaves and thin strips of crystallized lemon zest bring it all together. If you feel like going one step further, spoon the pulp of a few passion fruits over the lemon curd before rolling the roulade.

Serves 8

For the Meringue

4 large egg whites

225g (8oz) caster sugar

finely grated zest of 1 large unwaxed lemon

icing sugar, for sprinkling

For the Filling and Decoration

300ml (10fl oz) whipped cream

4 tablespoons Lemon Curd 

crystallized lemon zest, to garnish (recipe on P53 in Ballymaloe Desserts)

12 crystallized lemon verbena leaves (recipe on P192 in Ballymaloe Desserts)

2 blue cornflower heads, separated into flowers

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

Line a low-sided 20 × 30cm (8 × 12 inch) rectangular pan with baking paper.

To make the meringue.

Check that the bowl of your electric mixer is dry, spotlessly clean and free from grease.  Place the egg whites and sugar into the bowl and whisk until the mixture forms stiff peaks, about 10 minutes.

Add the lemon zest to the meringue and gently fold through. Once the zest has been added to the meringue it will begin to wilt, so quickly spread the meringue in an even layer on the lined pan and place in the oven.  Bake for 20 minutes.  Allow to cool and lightly sprinkle the top with icing sugar.

To Fill and Decorate.
Invert the meringue, still in the pan, onto a sheet of baking paper so the crisp top of the meringue faces down.  Remove the pan and carefully peel off the baking paper.  Position the meringue so the long side is facing you.  Spread three quarters of the whipped cream over the meringue, leaving a 2cm (1 inch) edge on the long side furthest away from you.  Spoon the lemon curd in a line down the length of the cream.  Using the tip of a palette knife, spread the curd over the cream in a rippled effect.  Starting at the long side nearest you, and using the baking paper to assist, carefully roll the meringue into a log.  Unwrap the roulade and transfer to a long serving plate. Pipe the remaining cream on the top and decorate with the crystallized lemon zest, crystallized lemon verbena and individual cornflowers.

Lemon Curd

When making lemon curd, think of it as a custard – stir the mixture constantly on a medium–low heat until it thickens enough to coat the back of a spoon – once the curd has thickened it is ready.  The curd will continue to thicken as it cools, but if for any reason you want a very thick curd, add one extra egg yolk along with the eggs. Lemon curd is a short-term preserve and can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.

Makes approx. 300ml (10fl oz)

1 large egg yolk

2 large eggs

55g (2oz) butter

110g (4oz) caster sugar

finely grated zest and juice of 2 large lemons

In a small bowl, beat the egg yolk with the whole eggs to combine, and then set to one side.   Melt the butter in a small, heavy, non- corrodible pan on a low heat.  Add the sugar and lemon zest and juice to the pan followed by the beaten eggs.  Stir the mixture constantly with a whisk as it cooks on a low– medium heat.  Once the mixture thickens enough to coat the back of a spoon, remove the pan from the heat.  If you want to use a thermometer to monitor the temperature as the curd is cooking, it is ready when it reaches 82°C/180°F.  Pass the lemon mixture through a fine sieve to remove the lemon zest (at this point the zest has done its work and infused the mixture with its fragrant oil).  Store in a sterilized airtight jar in the refrigerator.

Panna Cotta with Espresso Jelly

The original version of this dessert came about for a special long-table dinner that Rory O’Connell, co-founder of the Ballymaloe Cookery School, and I used to collaborate on each summer.  It consisted of rich Jersey cream panna cotta topped with a single layer of intense coffee jelly.  Over time, I played around with the proportion of jelly in relation to the vanilla cream.  I set layers of the dark jelly through the panna cotta and eventually the recipe evolved into this striking stripy pudding.  The coffee jelly can be replaced with other flavours too; blackcurrant jelly works particularly well.  When I serve this dish on the dessert trolley at Ballymaloe, it is always accompanied by a tall glass of thin, crisp pistachio langues de chat.

Serves 10

For the Panna Cotta

600ml (20fl oz) fresh cream

1 vanilla pod, split lengthwise

pinch of salt

50g (2oz) caster sugar

2 gelatine leaves

For the Espresso Jelly

3 3⁄4 gelatine leaves

600ml (20fl oz) hot strong coffee

135g (4 1⁄2oz) caster sugar

To Serve

1 teaspoon cornflour, for dusting

Langues de Chat (recipe on P182 in Ballymaloe Desserts)

Place a 1.2 litre (2 pint) glass bowl in the refrigerator to chill.

To make the panna cotta.

Place the cream in a small heavy pan with the split vanilla pod, salt and sugar.  Put on a low heat and bring to below simmering point.

Meanwhile, soak the gelatine leaves in cold water for 5 minutes. Remove the gelatine leaves from the water, shaking off the excess, add to the hot cream mixture and stir to dissolve.  Strain the mixture through a fine sieve into a bowl and then scrape any remaining seeds from the vanilla pod and add them back into the cream.  Rinse the vanilla pod in warm water, allow to dry and save for decorating the finished dish.  Allow the cream mixture to cool to room temperature. I usually sit the bowl in an ice bath, stirring the cream frequently, to speed this up.  Cooling the cream brings it closer to its setting point. When it is close to setting it will thicken slightly and there is the added benefit that the vanilla seeds will now stay suspended in the mixture and not pool in a layer on the bottom of the bowl.  Ladle enough of the cream mixture into the glass serving bowl to make the layer 1cm (1⁄2 inch) deep.  Leave in the refrigerator to set.

To make the espresso jelly.

Soak the gelatine leaves in cold water for 5 minutes.  Meanwhile, add the sugar to the hot coffee and stir to dissolve.  Remove the gelatine leaves from the water, shaking off the excess, add to the coffee mixture while it is still hot and stir to dissolve.  Allow to cool to room temperature.  Again, I usually use an ice bath to speed up this process.  Remove from the ice bath, if using, and keep at room temperature.

Ladle the cooled coffee mixture on top of the set cream to a depth of 1cm (1⁄2 inch).  Allow to set; this does not take long.  Repeat the layering process, alternating between the vanilla cream and the coffee mixture, until both mixtures have been used up. Allow each layer to set before applying the next.

To Serve

Dust the dried vanilla pod in cornflour so it is white all over and rest the pod on the edge of the layered pudding.  The assembled dish can be kept in the refrigerator for up to three days.  Serve chilled with a plate of langue de chat to pass around.

Almond Tarts with Raspberries

Myrtle Allen began making these tarts and tartlets for the Ballymaloe dessert trolley over half a century ago.  The cases (shells) couldn’t be easier to prepare.  It literally takes one minute to mix the three ingredients together.  When baked, the tart cases can be stored in an airtight container for several days and the fruit can be arranged on top just before serving.

The crisp almond case (shell) is conveniently gluten free.  While this recipe is for a raspberry version of the tart, it can also be topped with strawberries, blueberries and even peeled grapes (pips removed). Ripe peaches or nectarines are also delicious: just peel, slice and fan the fruit over the caramelized almond case.

Makes 24 tartlets (or two 18cm/7 inch tarts)

For the Almond Case

110g (4oz) soft salted butter

110g (4oz) caster sugar

110g (4oz) ground almonds

To Serve

450g (1lb) raspberries

3 tablespoons Redcurrant Jelly, for glazing (recipe on P48 in Ballymaloe Desserts)

300ml (10fl oz) whipped cream

sweet geranium leaves or fresh mint leaves, to garnish

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

To make the almond case.

Place the butter in a bowl and cream well.  Add the sugar and ground almonds and stir until everything is evenly combined.  Don’t beat or over work the mixture.  Divide the mixture between two 17.5cm (7 inch) round pans or twenty-four shallow tartlet pans (I use two shallow, flat-bottom bun (muffin) pans that each have twelve wells).

Place the tarts in the oven and bake for about 25 minutes, until golden brown.  Tartlets will take 10–15 minutes.  Remove from the oven and allow to slightly cool before popping out of the pan.

If the tarts or tartlets appear to be sticking to the pan, and break when you attempt to pop them out, put the pan back in the oven for a minute.  When it warms up, the case should pop out easily.

To Serve

Arrange the raspberries over the surface of each tart or tartlet. Warm the redcurrant jelly in a small pan until it melts and gently brush over the fruit.  Take care that the glaze does not drip onto the case or you run the risk of it losing its nice crispness. Fill a canvas piping bag, fitted with a small star tip, with the whipped cream and pipe around the edge of each tart or tartlet. Garnish with sweet geranium or fresh mint leaves.

Wild Blackberry and Sweet Geranium Sorbet

Wild blackberries are plentiful and free, and in September local children pick vast quantities from the hedges around east Cork. Bucket after bucket of the dark berries arrive at our kitchen door, and for those few weeks, blackberries go into almost everything we make.  This recipe produces a richly coloured sorbet, making good use of some of those berries.  I like to serve this sorbet with a little softly whipped cream and some Puff Pastry Twists, crisp Langues de Chat or a nutty version of Bittersweet Cocoa Nib Nougatine (all of which are included in the Ballymaloe Desserts cookbook).

Serves 6

10 sweet geranium leaves

220g (8oz) sugar, plus extra to taste

300ml (10fl oz) cold water

450g (1lb) fresh or frozen blackberries

juice of 1⁄2 lemon, plus extra to taste

1 tablespoon kirsch, or to taste (optional)

Put the geranium leaves, sugar and cold water into a heavy pan, place on a medium heat and bring to a boil.  Simmer for 2 minutes, remove from the heat and leave to infuse for 10 minutes.

Remove the leaves and add the fruit.  Pour the fruit and syrup into a liquidizer and blend to a purée.  Pass the mixture through a fine sieve to remove the seeds. Add the lemon juice.

Taste and adjust with a little more lemon or sugar if required.  If the blackberry flavour needs a little encouragement, add a splash of kirsch to taste.  Pour the mixture into an ice-cream machine and churn according to the manufacturer’s directions. This sorbet is best enjoyed the day it is made.  Store in an airtight container in the freezer.

Cost of Living

For the past two years the ‘fear of God’ was struck into us by Covid and just as we thought life was coming back to normal at last, here comes the ‘cost of living’ crisis. Virtually every radio, newspaper headline and TV bulletin is full of doom and gloom with predictions of unimaginable price hikes in electricity, oil and gas and of course food.
Thousands of families who have already tightened their belts to combat the ‘back to school and college’ expenses are now faced with a winter of struggle and discontent. And to cap it all off, there’s talk of the possibility of no Christmas lights and fossil fuel shaming.
Everyone is hoping for some support in the upcoming Budget but nonetheless it’s going to be tough, all the more reason to focus on producing comforting, wholesome delicious food for the family to tuck into around the kitchen table.
We may need to shop differently, learn or relearn thrifty ways, how to use cheaper cuts of meat and off cuts of fish, use leftovers and completely eliminate food waste.

Just because one is short of funds is no excuse to resort to ultra-processed food.  Better to invest in wholesome, nourishing ingredients than spend your hard-earned cash on meds. 

So what to look out for.  I’ve already extolled the virtue of potatoes in several articles – go along to your local Farmers’ Market and buy chemical-free food directly from the farmer or producer and no it’s not true that Farmers’ Markets are way more expensive than supermarkets.  That sweeping statement is usually made by people who don’t visit Farmers’ Markets and are looking for an excuse not to go…

It’s true that some stallholders may not be able to compete with the ‘below cost selling’ of some of the discounters.  Do you know how long it takes to grow carrots or beets from seed to harvesting – three months at least.  Would you be happy to look after something for three months and then be paid less than a euro for a bunch of 5 or 6.  Doesn’t take much to work out that it can’t be done without a ton of artificial fertilisers and chemicals spray and screwing the farmers.

Sadly, if this low or below cost selling continues, there will be virtually no Irish vegetable growers in a year or two. 

Another thrifty tip – do a bit of research to find contacts for farmers who are selling their meat directly.  You’ll get a fine box of mixed cuts of beef, lamb, pork and a variety of game birds, very often organic and sometimes with a pack of well tested recipes included. 

Go along and have a chat with your local butcher too – ask which cuts are best value and while you are there, ask for some bones to make stock.  Start to experiment with lesser-known cuts – oxtail, ham hocks, lamb breasts, pork ribs…  Talk to the fishmongers, find out about the bargains on offer.  Learn what fruit and vegetables are in season – they will be at their cheapest and best then.

Irish apples are ripening now, your friends may have a glut – make lots of stewed apple and apple sauce and freeze for winter.

Cabbage is ridiculously cheap, but super nutritious, it’s brilliant for salads and soups as well as cooked with a bit of bacon or a ham hock. It’s so easy to make a fine tasty dinner from a few simple ingredients but the reality is you must be able to cook.  It’s not rocket science, just follow these simple recipes…

Carrot and Spring Onion Fritters

These vegetarian spiced fritters can be vegan if you omit the egg. Change the vegetables with the seasons: try cabbage, parsnips, celeriac or sprouts.

Makes 16/Servers 4

80g (3 1/4oz) chickpea (gram) flour

4 tablespoons self-raising flour

2 teaspoons ground coriander

2 teaspoons ground cumin

1/2 teaspoon paprika plus 1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika

1 organic, free-range egg (optional)

150g (5oz) carrots, grated

30g (1 1/4oz) spring onions, thinly sliced

extra virgin olive oil, for frying

flaky sea salt and pepper

Coriander Aioli, to serve

Mix together the flours, spices and a generous pinch of salt in a bowl. Whisk the egg with 110ml (4fl oz) water. (For a vegan version, omit the egg and increase the water to 150ml/5fl oz). Add to the dry ingredients and mix together – the batter should be the texture

of double cream. If it’s too thick, add a little more water. Cover loosely with a tea towel and leave to stand for 30 minutes.

Add the carrots and spring onions to the batter, stir and season until the vegetables are well coated.

Heat a little olive oil in a non-stick frying pan over a medium heat. Drop a tablespoon of the mixture into the pan. Fry for 2–3 minutes on each side until golden brown and crispy on the outside and cooked in the centre. Season to taste. Fry three or four at a time, depending on the pan size. Serve 3–4 fritters per person on hot plates with Coriander aioli alongside.

Coriander Aioli

225ml (8fl oz) homemade mayonnaise

1-3 cloves of garlic, depending on size

1–2 tablespoons of chopped coriander

Crush the garlic and add to the egg yolks just as you start to make the mayonnaise. Finally add the chopped coriander and taste for seasoning.

Ham Hock with Cabbage and Scallion Champ

They are delicious with so many things – cabbage and champ, lentils, a bean stew, shredded into a broth with diced vegetables or in a split pea soup. We also love to add chunks of quartered cabbages to the cooking water about half an hour before the end of cooking.

Serves 8 or more

4 fresh or smoked ham hocks

1 onion

4 garlic cloves

1 carrot, thickly sliced

2 celery ribs, chopped

1 bay leaf

1 teaspoon black peppercorns

1 cabbage, sliced

Scallion Champ (see recipe)

Put the ham hocks into a deep saucepan, add the vegetables and seasonings. Cover well with cold water, bring to the boil and simmer for 2– 2 1⁄2 hours or until the meat is virtually falling off the bones.

Add the sliced cabbage and cook for 10-15 minutes.  Save the cooking liquid as a base for tomato soup. 

Serve with accompaniments of your choice and lots of mustard.

Scallion Champ

A bowl of mashed potatoes flecked with green scallions with a blob of butter melting in the centre, add the butter just before serving so it melts into the centre. ‘Comfort’ food at its best.

Serves 4-6

1.5kg (3lbs) unpeeled ‘old’ potatoes e.g. Golden Wonders or Kerr’s Pinks

110g (4oz) chopped scallions or spring onions (use the bulb and green stem) or 45g (scant 2oz) chopped chives

300-350ml (10 – 12fl oz) milk

50-110g (2 – 4oz) butter

salt and freshly ground pepper

Scrub the potatoes and boil them in their jackets.

Chop finely the scallions or spring onions or chopped chives.  Cover with cold milk and bring slowly to the boil.  Simmer for about 3 – 4 minutes, turn off the heat and leave to infuse.  Peel and mash the freshly boiled potatoes and while hot, mix with the boiling milk and onions, beat in the butter.  Season to taste with salt and freshly ground pepper.  Serve in 1 large or 6 individual bowls with a knob of butter melting in the centre.  Scallion mash may be put aside and reheated later in a moderate oven, 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4. * Cover with parchment paper while it reheats so that it doesn’t get a skin and add the lump of butter just before serving.

Beef and Oxtail Stew

Oxtail costs very little and make an extraordinarily rich and flavoursome winter stew, considering how cheap it is. This is another humble dish, which has recently been resurrected by trendy chefs who are capitalizing on their customer’s nostalgic craving for their Gran’s cooking.  Use the leftover stew as a sauce for pasta, sprinkle with lots of grated Parmesan cheese and chopped parsley. 

Serves 6-8

2 whole oxtails

450g (1lb) shin of beef or stewing beef, cut into 4cm (1 1/2 inch) cubes                                                        

110g (4oz) streaky bacon
25g (1oz) beef dripping or2 tablespoons olive oil
225g (8oz) finely chopped onion
225g (8oz) carrots, cut into 2cm (3/4 inch) cubes
55g (generous 2oz) chopped celery
1 tablespoon homemade tomato purée

1 bay leaf, 1 sprig of thyme and parsley stalks
salt and freshly ground pepper
150ml (5fl oz) red wine
450ml (16fl oz) homemade beef stock or 600ml (1 pint) all beef stock

175g (6oz) mushrooms (sliced)                                                                   

15g (generous 1/2oz) roux                                                            

2 tablespoons chopped parsley

First cut the oxtail into pieces through the natural joints – the joints are made of cartilage, so you won’t need a saw.  If this seems like too much of a challenge, ask your butcher to disjoint the oxtail for you.

Cut the bacon into 2.5cm (1 inch) cubes.      

Heat the dripping or olive oil in a frying pan, add the bacon and sauté for 1-2 minutes, add the vegetables, cook for 2 – 3 minutes, stirring occasionally. Transfer into a casserole. Add the beef and oxtail pieces to the pan, a few at a time and continue to cook until the meat is beginning to brown.  Add to the casserole. Add the wine and 150ml (5fl oz) of stock to the pan.  Bring to the boil and use a whisk to dissolve the caramelised meat juices from the pan, bring to the boil.  Add to the casserole with the herbs, stock and tomato purée. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper. Cover and cook either on top of the stove or in a preheated oven 160°C/325°F/ Gas Mark 3 very gently for 2 – 3 hours, or until the oxtail and vegetables are very tender.

Meanwhile, cook the sliced mushrooms in a hot frying pan in a little butter for 2 – 3 minutes. Stir into the oxtail stew and cook for about 5 minutes. Transfer the beef and oxtail to a hot serving dish and keep warm. Remove and discard the bay leaves, thyme and parsley stalks.

Bring the liquid back to the boil, whisk in a little roux and cook until slightly thickened. Add back in the meat and chopped parsley.  Bring to the boil, taste and correct the seasoning.  Serve in the hot serving dish with lots of champ.

Darina’s Favourite Apple and Blackberry Pie

Apple pie is virtually everyone’s favourite pudding. My famous break-all-the-rules pastry taught to me by my mum is made by the creaming method, so people who are convinced that they suffer from ‘hot hands’ don’t have to worry about rubbing in the butter.  I make this pie year-round with whatever fruits are in season: pears, plums and damsons are also in season now… Enjoy with a blob of softly whipped cream and soft brown sugar, it’s obligatory!

Serves 8-12

Break-all-the-Rules Pastry

225g (8oz) butter, softened

40g (1 1/2oz) caster sugar, plus extra for sprinkling

2 organic, free-range eggs

350g (12oz) plain flour, plus extra for dusting

1 organic, free-range egg, beaten with a dash of milk


600g (1lb 5oz) Bramley cooking apples, peeled and cut into large dice

110g (4oz) wild blackberries

150g (5oz) granulated sugar

To Serve

softly whipped cream

dark soft brown sugar

1 x 18cm x 30.5cm x 2.5cm (7 x 11 x 1 inch) deep square tin or 1 x 22.5cm (8 3/4 inch) round tin

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

To make the pastry, cream the butter and sugar together by hand or in a food processor.  Add the eggs one by one and beat for several minutes. Reduce the speed and mix in the flour slowly.  Turn out onto a piece of floured baking parchment, flatten into a round, then wrap and chill.  This pastry needs to be chilled for at least 2 hours otherwise it is difficult to handle – better still, make it the day before.

Roll out the pastry to about 3mm (1/8 inch) thick, then use about two-thirds of it to line the tin.

Fill the pie to the top with the apples and blackberries and sprinkle with the sugar – brush the edges with water.  Cover with a lid of pastry, press the edges together to seal.  Decorate with pastry leaves, brush with the beaten egg mixture and bake for 45 minutes – 1 hour until the apples are tender.  When cooked, sprinkle lightly with caster sugar, cut into pieces and serve with softly whipped cream and sugar.

A comforting and delicious Rice Pudding

A creamy rice pudding is one of the greatest treats on a chilly Autumn day and costs very little to make. You need to use short-grain rice, which plumps up as it cooks. This is definitely a forgotten pudding and it’s unbelievable the reaction we get to it every time we make it at the Cookery School.

Serves 6–8

100g (3 1⁄2oz) pearl rice (short-grain rice)

50g (2oz) sugar

small knob of butter

1. 2 litres (2 pints) milk

1 x 1. 2 litre (2 pint) capacity pie dish (it’s important to have the correct size dish)

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

Put the rice, sugar and butter into a pie dish. Bring the milk to the boil and pour over. Bake for 1 – 1 1⁄2 hours. The skin should be golden, the rice underneath should be cooked through and have soaked up the milk, but still be soft and creamy. Time it so that it’s ready just in time for pudding. If it has to wait in the oven for ages, it will be dry and dull and you’ll wonder why you bothered.  Serve with brown sugar and softly whipped cream. 


What a bumper crop of wild blackberries we have this year, I can’t quite remember when there was such an abundant harvest of plump and juicy FREE fruit.  They have also ripened earlier than usual after those glorious sunny days, now just a distant memory.  

It took me less than a half an hour to pick a huge bowl full…. My fingers were stained a delicious purple from the juice but it’s not just blackberries in the hedgerow, there are also lots of sloes and a promising crop of hazelnuts and crab apples too. 

After my foraging expedition, I popped into town to do a bit of shopping and there on the display shelf in the midst of the season were plastic punnets of cultivated blackberries – €4.50 for 200g!

Maybe picking fruit off the brambles in the hedgerows isn’t everyone’s ‘cup of tea’ but I love a blackberry picking expedition, particularly when the group is made up of all ages and bring a picnic along too. 

We show the children how to inspect the fruit and pick perfect berries.   If the central core is discoloured or stained with juice, it usually indicates that a maggot has moved in.  Nature provides for all of us…

Blackberries are high in Vitamin C and antioxidants and were traditionally used to soothe sore throats.  When picking, stick to hedgerows on country lanes or boreens and areas that haven’t been sprayed with chemicals, try to avoid busy roadsides….

Blackberries freeze brilliantly and are a wonderful standby during winter months for tarts, compotes, crumbles and jam.  We pay lots of eager local children pocket money to harvest for us.  There will certainly be a glut this year but what to do apart from freezing.  Of course, there is jam but it’s worth remembering that blackberries are low in pectin, so you’ll need to add some tart, pectin rich apples to help the set and cut the sweetness. I like to include some chopped rosemary or sweet geranium to add some extra magic and how about making a cordial, wild blackberry mousse or a chutney…

We also love a riff on the classic Eton mess with wild blackberries or a mixture of blackberries and autumn raspberries.  Maybe add a tablespoon or two of cassis if you have it. 

I scattered a few into the batter for a batch of ‘wee buns’ today, slathered lemon icing on top and decorated them with a few fresh blackberries and sweet geranium leaves.  I got showered with compliments while they disappeared like hot cakes. 

In fact, you can pretty much substitute blackberries for any other summer berries in recipes. 

Blackberry fool is also delish, try folding a few berries into your breakfast bircher muesli with a little grated tart apple.  How about sprinkling a fistful of frozen blackberries into a batch of muffins or clafoutis.  Sprinkle them with sweet geranium sugar.  Blackberry ice-cream and blackberry and sweet geranium granita are also exquisite.  Everyone should have a sweet geranium plant to add that hauntingly, beautiful lemony flavour to so many dishes but it has a particular affinity to blackberries. 

It’s also worth making a wild blackberry syrup, just mash equal parts of blackberries, sugar and cider vinegar in a sterilized Kilner jar and allow to sit for a couple of weeks in a cool spot.  Decant and dilute with sparkling water and lots of ice.

A more grown-up version…. blackberry gin or vodka is also super easy to make and use as a base for festive fizz or a perfect Christmas present.

So get gathering, it will be the game season soon, a fistful scattered into the pan when roasting pork, duck or game bird is delicious crushed into the gravy with lots of thyme.  Add a few squished blackberries to a mojito …there’s no end to the delicious ways to use your wild blackberry harvest. 

Here are a few recipes for you to enjoy…

Wee Blackberry Buns with Lemon Icing and Sweet Geranium Leaves

If you don’t have sweet geranium, substitute fresh mint leaves for these adorable ‘wee buns’.

Makes 10

175g (6oz) soft butter

150g (5oz) castor sugar

3 eggs, preferably free range

175g (6oz) self-raising flour

110g (4oz) wild blackberries 

Lemon Glacé Icing

225g (8oz) icing sugar

finely grated zest of 1 lemon

2-4 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

1 bun tray with 10-12 holes

 Line the base of the tins with small muffin papers or bun cases… 

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

Put the soft butter, castor sugar, eggs and self-raising flour into the bowl of a food processor. Whizz for a few seconds to amalgamate. Sprinkle the blackberries over the mixture, fold in gently, then – Divide evenly between the 10 or 12 cases depending on size.  I sometimes lay a geranium leaf on top of each bun.  Bake in the preheated oven for 20- 25 minutes approx. or until golden and well risen.

Cool on a wire rack.

Meanwhile make the Lemon Glacé Icing.

Sieve the icing sugar into a bowl.   Add the lemon zest and enough lemon juice to make a softish icing. Use a palette knife to spread a little icing on each bun, decorate the tops with fresh blackberries and a sweet geranium leaf if available, alternatively use a fresh mint leaf…

Beth’s Wild Blackberry Mouse

I loved this blackberry mousse which I tasted recently at a friend’s house.  I call it Beth’s wild blackberry mousse, but she was insistent that I tell you that the recipe originally came from the Times Cookery Book by Katie Stewart.  Not sure if it’s still in print but it’s a book well worth trying to get a copy of.  *Beth tells me she likes to use less gelatine which seems perfect to me.

Serves 4 to 6

450g (1lb) blackberries
110g (4oz) caster sugar
juice of 1 small lemon
3 tablespoons cold water

15g (1/2oz) gelatine *
150ml (5fl oz) double cream
2 egg whites

Pick over and wash the blackberries.  Place in a saucepan with the sugar and the strained lemon juice.  Place over a low heat, cover and gently simmer for 10 minutes.
Measure the water into a bowl and sprinkle with gelatine.  Leave for 5 minutes.
Draw the pan of fruit off the heat and stir in the soaked gelatine.
Pass this through a sieve into a large mixing bowl to make a purée, rubbing through as much fruit as possible and then discard the pips in the sieve.
Put the purée aside to get cold and start to thicken.
Lightly whip the cream and stiffly beat the egg whites.  Fold the cream in first and then the egg whites into the purée.  Pour into a serving dish and chill until set.
Serve with extra cream if liked, and a few fresh blackberries on top.

Blackberry, Bramley Apple and Rosemary Jelly

Makes 2.7 – 3kg (6-7lbs) approx.

2.7kg (6lbs) crab apples or windfall cooking apples

2.7L (4 3/4 pints) water

2 unwaxed lemons

900g (2lbs) blackberries

3 sprigs of rosemary


2-3 tablespoons rosemary, finely chopped at the last minutes

Wash the apples and cut into quarters, do not remove either peel or core. Windfalls may be used, but make sure to cut out the bruised parts. Put the apples into a large saucepan with the water and the thinly pared rind of the lemons, add the blackberries and 3 sprigs of rosemary.  Cook until reduced to a pulp, approx. 3/4 hour.

Turn the pulp into a jelly bag* and allow to drip until all the juice has been extracted – usually overnight.  Measure the juice into a preserving pan and allow 425g (15oz) sugar to each 600ml (1 pint) of juice*.  Warm the sugar in a low oven.

*We use 350g (12oz) of sugar, but if you wish to keep the jelly for 9 months or more, it may be preferable to use 425g (15oz) to each 600ml (1 pint).

Squeeze the lemons, strain the juice and add to the preserving pan. Bring to the boil and add the warm sugar and 3 tablespoons finely chopped rosemary. Stir over a gentle heat until the sugar is dissolved.  Increase the heat and boil rapidly uncovered without stirring for about 8-10 minutes.  Test, skim and pot immediately.

Blackberry Syrup

Base for a delicious fresh tasting super nutritious drink.

Dilute with sparkling water.

Equal quantities of:



cider vinegar

Mash the blackberries and sugar together, add the vinegar.  Put into a glass jar, cover and store in a cool dark cupboard for 2 weeks.  Strain and bottle.  Serve with sparkling water and lots of ice. 

Blackberry and Sweet Geranium Gin

Make this now and enjoy neat or as a base for a Blackberry and Sweet Geranium gin and tonic.

600g (1 1/4lbs) blackberries

600g (1 1/4lbs) sugar

600ml (1 pint) gin or vodka

4-6 sweet geranium leaves (pelargonium graveolens)

Put all the ingredients into a bottle for 2 – 3 months. Enjoy in small glasses. Damsons, sloes and haws also make delicious liqueurs. We’ve had excellent results with both gin and vodka. 

Blackberry and Sweet Geranium Sorbet

Sweet Geranium (Pelargonium Graveolens) has a wonderful affinity with blackberries.  Fresh mint or lemon verbena leaves could also be substituted – deliciously refreshing.

Serves 6

450g (1lb) wild blackberries

75g (3oz) sugar

150ml (5fl oz) water

4-6 large sweet geranium leaves (depending on size)

Put the sugar, water and sweet geranium leaves into a saucepan and bring slowly to the boil, boil for 3-4 minutes.  Allow to cool.  Meanwhile, liquidise and sieve the blackberries through a nylon sieve.  When the syrup is cold, mix with the blackberry purée, taste, it ought to taste a little too sweet at this stage, but add some fresh lemon juice if it’s cloying.  Freeze in a sorbetière for about 20 minutes.  Alternatively, put into a freezer until almost frozen, then take it out and break up the crystals with a whisk or in a food processor, return to the freezer and repeat once or twice more.  If you do not have a sorbetière you might like to fold half a stiffly beaten egg white into the sorbet to lighten the texture.

Serve a scoop of sorbet on chilled white plates, decorate with whole blackberries and sweet geranium leaves.

Going Back to School (Family Suppers)

Family suppers have got a whole lot more complicated in recent times, particularly during term with a variety of extracurricular activities at random times. However few things are more comforting than knowing that there will be a kitchen supper waiting when you come home. The smell of roast chicken with gravy and lots of roast spuds and juicy apple tart makes your heart skip… Don’t forget to give the cook a big hug and a hand with the washing up.

Many households now have a couple of vegetarian or vegan teens, then throw in the extra challenge of allergies and intolerances… and what used to be a relatively simple and fun exercise can turn into a ‘nightmare’ not to mention the many children who are picky and finicky.

One devastated Mum told me recently that she’d almost lost the ‘will to live’ because of the hassle. One can see how people give up the battle and just give in to readymade pizzas and burgers.

Let’s try to think of a few multipurpose ingredients and recipes that will be welcomed by virtually everyone.

So here are a few simple recipes that my children and grandchildren love.

Potatoes, super nutritious and Boy, can you cook them in a million different ways, vegetarian, vegan, gluten free, a meal in themselves, a side or filler to bulk out a stew.

Mac & Cheese is another family favourite, neither gluten free or dairy free but can be vegetarian. Equally, I like to add cubes of bacon or chorizo, maybe smoked mackerel or a bit of smoked salmon and lots of dill or parsley, the remains of a cooked chicken or roast and lots of fresh herbs…

Here’s a recipe for dahl, kids seem to love spices nowadays so stock up your pantry – start with coriander and cumin, turmeric, chili flakes then cardamom and you’ll probably have cloves anyhow for apple tarts. 

Frozen Chicken in a Pot, this delicious recipe was born out of desperation….

We’d invited all the family to Saturday for kitchen supper, we were running late so telephoned home to ask someone to slather the chicken with butter and chopped rosemary and pop it into the oven only to discover that they were still in the freezer….we’re now mid-afternoon – what to do!

I gave instructions to unwrap the bird, pop it into a deep saucepan with lots of chunks of onion and carrots, a few outside stalks of celery and a few sprigs of thyme and tarragon and a sprinkling of black peppercorns. Add a couple of inches of stock or failing that water. Cover the pot, put it on a medium heat, bring to the boil and simmer gently for about 1.5 – 2 hours or until the meat is tender and delicious and will virtually lift off the bones – the broth will be packed with flavour, continue on with the recipe and finish as you choose.

Pilaff rice – gorgeous with that chicken in a pot, is a doddle to make – It cooks itself and is much easier than risotto. Make it with vegetable or chicken broth and add whatever tasty bits you have to hand. Mind you the best pilaff is made with butter and has lots of grated cheese.

Faux Deep Pan Pizza is another gem and I’ll be amazed if it doesn’t become a go to recipe in your home too, always greeted with whoops of delight.

You’ll love Clafoutis, another easy pudding, comforting and delicious… We make it year-round with whatever fruit is in season. This recipe from my One Pot Feeds All book is made with plums or damsons but I recently enjoyed a delicious version with blackcurrants at Inis Meáin Suites on Inis Meáin, cooked by one of my favourite chefs, Ruari de Blacam. Omit the cinnamon and add a tablespoon of Cassis or a  scant teaspoon of pure vanilla extract instead… 

Remember the way to everyone’s heart is through their tummy and sitting down around the kitchen table, tucking into a yummy supper together is what memories are made of … so worth the effort… 

Frozen Chicken in a Pot

A brilliant recipe born out of desperation! You’ll need a really flavourful chicken,  use the very best organic bird you can find. We love to serve it with Tomato Fondue.  Not just for an emergency, it can  be prepared ahead and reheats well but do not add the liaison until just before serving. Two tablespoons of chopped tarragon and or a pan of sautéed mushrooms added to the sauce will make it even more special.. 

 Serves 8 

1 good free-range and organic chicken, can be frozen solid…. 2 kg (4 1/2lbs) approx.

2-3 carrots, sliced into chunks

2-3 onions, quartered

a couple of sticks of celery

6 black peppercorns

a sprig of thyme, a few parsley stalks, a tiny bay leaf, and a sprig of tarragon if available.. 

450-600ml (16fl oz – 1 pint) approx. water or water and white wine mixed or light chicken stock

30g (1 1/4oz) approx. roux

250-300ml (9-10fl oz) light cream or creamy milk

Liaison, an enrichment

1 egg yolk

50ml (2fl oz) cream

salt and freshly ground pepper

fresh watercress sprigs

Pilaff Rice

Put the frozen chicken into a deep saucepan or casserole with the carrot, celery, onion, herbs and peppercorns. Add a teaspoon of salt.  Pour in water, water and wine, or stock, (3/4 stock – 1/4 wine).  Cover and bring slowly to the boil and simmer either on top of the stove or in the oven for 1 1/2 – 2 hours, When the bird is cooked, remove from the casserole.  The meat should lift easily from the bone.

Strain and de-grease the cooking liquid and return to the casserole.  Discard the vegetables: they have already given their flavour to the cooking liquid.  Reduce the liquid in a wide uncovered casserole for 5-10 minutes until the flavour is concentrated.

Meanwhile make the pilaff rice.

Add cream, return to the boil and reduce again; thicken to a light coating consistency with a little roux.  Taste, add salt, correct the seasoning. 

Skin the chicken and carve the flesh into bite-sized pieces;  add  to the sauce and allow to heat through and bubble (the dish may be prepared ahead to this point).

Finally, just before serving mix the egg yolk and cream to make a liaison.  Add some of the hot sauce to the liaison then carefully stir into the chicken mixture.  Taste, correct the seasoning. Stir well but do not allow to boil further or the sauce will curdle. 

Serve with a simple Pilaff Rice. Turn the pilaff into a wide hot serving dish, top with the chicken pilaff.  Scatter with flat parsley and serve.

Alternatively serve the pilaff rice separately.

Pilaff Rice

Although a risotto can be made in 20 minutes it really entails 20 minutes of pretty constant stirring which makes it feel rather laboursome. A pilaff on the other hand looks after itself once the initial cooking is underway. Pilaff is super versatile – serve it as a staple or add whatever tasty bits you have to hand.

Serves 8

25g (1oz) butter

2 tablespoons finely chopped onion or shallot

400g (14oz) long-grain rice (preferably Basmati)

975ml (1 litre) well-flavoured homemade chicken stock

salt and freshly ground pepper

2 tablespoons freshly chopped herbs e.g. parsley, thyme, chives: optional

Melt the butter in a casserole, add the finely chopped onion and sweat for 2-3 minutes. Add the rice and toss for a minute or two, just long enough for the grains to change colour. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper, add the chicken stock, cover and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat to a minimum and then simmer on top of the stove or in the oven 160˚C/325˚F/Gas Mark 3 for 10 minutes approx. By then the rice should be just cooked and all the water absorbed. Just before serving stir in the fresh herbs if using.


Basmati rice cooks quite quickly; other types of rice may take up to 15 minutes.


110g (4oz/1 stick) butter

110g (4oz/1 cup) flour

Melt the butter and cook the flour in it for 2 minutes on a low heat, stirring occasionally.  Use as required.  Roux can be stored in a cool place and used as required or it can be made up on the spot if preferred.  It will keep at least a fortnight in a refrigerator.

Everyone’s Favourite Mac and Cheese

Mac and cheese is a bit like apple crumble, simple fare but everyone loves it, plus you can add lots of tasty bits to change it up. Macaroni cheese was and still is one of my children’s favourite supper dishes. I often add some cubes of cooked bacon, ham or chorizo to the sauce.

Faux Deep Pan Pizza… 

Can’t tell you how many times this soda bread pizza base has come to the rescue when I need to whip up a dish of something filling and delicious in jig time.  Could be as simple as this with a topping of grated mature Cheddar cheese with a few spring onions.

Serves 6-8

450g (1lb) flour

level teaspoon bread soda (Bicarbonate of Soda/Baking Soda)

1 level teaspoon salt

375 – 400ml (13-14fl oz) buttermilk to mix

extra virgin olive oil

75g (3oz) spring onions – white and green, thinly sliced at an angle

175g (6oz) grated mature Cheddar cheese

12 black Kalamata olives (optional)

drizzle of extra virgin olive oil

flaky sea salt

1 roasting tin 31 x 23cm x 5cm (12 x 9 x 2 inch)

First fully preheat the oven to 230°C/Gas Mark 8.

Sieve the dry ingredients into a large wide bowl. Make a well in the centre. Pour the milk in all 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 few seconds, tidy it up and flip over.

Brush the tin with olive oil.  Roll the dough into a rectangle just large enough to fit the tin.  Sprinkle evenly with chopped spring onion and then grated Cheddar.  Stud with olives (optional).  Season with flaky sea salt.  Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil and bake in the preheated oven for 5 minutes.  Then reduce the temperature to 200˚C/400˚F/Gas Mark 6 for 20-25 minutes or until just cooked.  The cheese should be bubbly and golden on top.  Transfer to a wire rack to cool.  Cut into squares and served with drinks or with a steaming bowl of soup.

Other tasty toppings

50g (2oz) Parmesan and 4-6 tablespoons of your favourite Pesto – basil, kale, rocket or wild garlic

110 – 150g (4-5oz) Tapenade and 110-150g (4-5oz) soft goat cheese

110 – 150g (4-5oz) Nduja and 18-22 Bocconcini

Martha Rosenthal’s Red Lentil Dahl

Turmeric has major, scientifically-proven, anti-inflammatory properties (similar to anti-inflammatory medications). It also has anti-septic properties.

This is the quickest dahl to cook – it takes only 20 minutes without using a pressure cooker.  The orange/red colour of the lentils becomes pale yellow once it is cooked.  It keeps well.

Serves 6

225g (8oz) orange/red lentils

400ml (14fl oz) can of coconut milk plus 300ml (10fl oz) water

1 teaspoon turmeric

scant 1 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1 teaspoon garam masala


3 tablespoons oil

1 teaspoon cumin seeds

1/2 – 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1 teaspoon coriander powder


6 slices onion, sautéed until golden

a few chopped fresh coriander or mint leaves

Put the lentils in a heavy saucepan with the coconut milk and water, add the turmeric, bring to the boil and simmer for about 10-15 minutes by which time the lentils will be soft, almost mushy.  When cooked turn off the heat, add salt, lemon juice and garam masala.  Heat the oil, add cumin seeds, fry for 10 seconds and turn off the heat.  Add the cayenne and coriander, stir and pour over the cooked lentils.  Mix well and garnish.  Serve with Basmati rice and Tamarind Sauce

Martha’s Garam Masala

What adds flavour to this simple recipe is to make your own garam masala.

Punjabi-style Garam Masala

18g (3/4oz) cumin seeds

35g (1 1/2ozs) coriander seeds

1 1/2 teaspoons cardamon seeds

1 1/2 teaspoons black peppercorns

15 whole cloves

5cm (2 inch) piece cinnamon stick

3 tablespoons fennel seeds

1 tablespoon brown mustard seeds

1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes

Heat a heavy sauté pan over a medium-low heat.  Add all of the ingredients, dry roast the spices, stirring occasionally until they darken slightly, about 8-10 minutes.  Transfer to a coffee grinder or blender and grind to a powder.  Use while fresh or store in an airtight container for up to a month.

Tamarind Relish

Tamarind is high in the antioxidant vitamin C, B vitamins, flavonoids and vital minerals. It helps preserve vitamin C levels in the body, promotes heart health by lowering cholesterol. Tamarind juice can be used as a gargle to ease a sore throat.

4 teaspoons tamarind

200ml (7fl oz) boiling water

1 teaspoon freshly grated ginger

35g (1 1/2oz) chopped dates or raisins, or half and half

1/2 teaspoon dry roasted cumin seeds, crushed

1/4 – 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper, or to taste

salt to taste

Mix the tamarind with the boiling water, cover and soak for 30 minutes. Press the tamarind pulp through a fine sieve extracting all the paste, add the ginger, stir and then put the dates and/or raisins.  Mix well, then add the freshly ground cumin, cayenne and salt to taste.  Keeps for 3-4 weeks.

Tamarind Water

Tamarind lends a distinctive sour taste, helping to balance out the sweet, salty and hot flavours so often found in Asian cooking. I buy the whole pod, keep it in a sealed container in the fridge and break off little pieces as I need them. To use, the pieces are soaked in hot water to cover for 20 minutes. The water takes on the tamarind flavour and it is this that you use once it has been strained. Press the tamarind pulp in your strainer to extract as much flavour as possible.

Top Tip

Martha sometimes adds 2 quartered ripe tomatoes just before serving.

Soda Bread Deep Pan Pizza

The idea to use Soda Bread as a base for a pizza was born out of desperation one day when I needed to whip up a dish of something filling and delicious in no time at all for a few hungry lads.  It can be as simple as a topping of grated mature Cheddar cheese and scallions or well-seasoned cherry tomatoes, a few basil leaves and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil.  This recipe is taken from my ‘One Pot Feeds All’ published by Kyle Books. 

Serves 6-8

450g (1lb) plain white flour, plus extra for kneading and rolling

1 level teaspoon bicarbonate of soda

1 level teaspoon sea salt

375–400ml (13-14fl oz) buttermilk


extra virgin olive oil, for brushing

1/2 – 1 tablespoon chopped rosemary

50g (2oz) pepperoni or chorizo, diced into 5mm (1/4 inch)

350g (12oz) Tomato Fondue or chopped fresh or tinned tomatoes mixed with seasoning/spices

8 bocconcini, halved

15g (1/2oz) Parmesan cheese, grated

lots of snipped flat-leaf parsley

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

Sift the flour, bicarbonate of soda and salt into a large bowl. Make a well in the centre. Pour in 375ml (13fl oz) of the buttermilk and, using one hand, mix in the flour from the sides of the bowl. Mix to a softish, not too wet and sticky consistency, adding more buttermilk if necessary. When it all comes together, turn out the dough onto a floured board, knead lightly for a few seconds, tidy it up and flip it over.

Brush a roasting tin, approx. 31 x 23 x 5cm (12 x 9 x 2 inch), with olive oil. Roll out the dough lightly to fit the tin and sprinkle with rosemary. Scatter the diced chorizo evenly over the surface. Spread a layer of tomato fondue over the chorizo and arrange some halved bocconcini on top. Sprinkle with grated Parmesan.

Transfer the tray to the fully preheated oven on a low rack and bake for an initial 15 minutes. Then reduce the heat to 200°C/400°F/Gas Mark 6 and bake for a further 20–25 minutes or until the dough is cooked and it’s golden and bubbly on top.

Sprinkle with the parsley sprigs and serve with a good green salad.

Other tasty toppings

’Nduja and Bocconcini

Follow the main recipe, omitting the rosemary and replacing the chorizo with 100g (31/2oz) ‘nduja mixed with 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, to make it easier to spread.   Sprinkle with fresh marjoram to serve.

Follow the main recipe, omitting the rosemary and replacing the chorizo.

Pesto and Parmesan

Follow the main recipe, omit the rosemary and chorizo and replace the tomato fondue with 3 tablespoons of loose basil or wild garlic pesto. Top with 110–150g (4-5oz) grated mozzarella or 110–150g (4-5oz) soft goat’s cheese and 15g (1/2oz) grated Parmesan.

Tapenade and Soft Goat’s Cheese

Follow the main recipe, omitting the rosemary and chorizo and replacing the tomato fondue with 3 tablespoons of tapenade, and the mozzarella with 110–150g (4-5oz) blobs of soft goat’s cheese.

Spiced Aubergine

Follow the main recipe, omitting the rosemary and chorizo and replacing with 6-8 tablespoons of Spiced Aubergine.

Cheddar Cheese and Spring Onion

Follow the main recipe, omitting the chorizo and replacing the rosemary with 4 tablespoons of sliced spring onions and the Parmesan with 100g (3 1/2oz) grated mature Cheddar cheese.

Plum or DamsonClafoutis

Clafoutis is a sort of fluffy custard, a base for whatever seasonal fruit you can lay your hands on: rhubarb or gooseberries are delicious, but you need to adjust the sugar. This one is made with stone-in plums or you can use damsons. I often have rose geranium or mint sugar in a jar – this also makes a delicious sprinkle. Use 500g (18oz) of blackcurrants… delicious… 

Serves 8

15g (generous 1/2oz) softened butter, for greasing

5 organic, free-range eggs

100g (3 1/2oz) caster sugar

75g (3oz) plain white flour

115ml (generous 4fl oz) double cream

420ml (scant 15fl oz) whole milk

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon or 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

750g (1lb 10oz) Mirabelle plums or damsons or cherries, peaches, nectarines

or greengages, in season

25g (1oz) pistachio nuts, coarsely chopped or flaked almonds

icing or caster sugar, to sprinkle

softly whipped cream, to serve

Preheat the oven to 180°C/350˚F/Gas Mark 4 and grease a 28cm (11 inch) round baking dish or similar with softened butter.

Whisk the eggs with the caster sugar in a mixing bowl. Sift in the flour, pour in the cream and milk, and add the cinnamon or vanilla extract. Whisk together to form a smooth batter
with no lumps.

Pour half the batter into the buttered dish. Scatter the Mirabelle plums or damsons on top. (I leave the stones in, but you could de-stone them if you wish. If using cherries or greengages, you can scatter them over whole, or stone them if you prefer; peaches or nectarines are best halved or quartered, depending on size.) Pour the remaining batter over the fruit.

Bake for 30–40 minutes, and then scatter with the pistachios or flaked almonds and continue to cook for a further 10 minutes until the clafoutis is puffed up and the nuts are golden. Sprinkle with icing or caster sugar and serve with lots of softly whipped cream.


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