Winner dinners: Signature dishes from Irish Independent writers
From leisurely weekend cooks to the quick and easy mid-week staples, we all have go-to dishes in our culinary repertoires that are guaranteed to satisfy the biggest of appetites. Here, some of the Irish Independent's writers share their signature dishes and the stories behind them…
Pól Ó Conghaile
independent.ie and Weekend travel editor
This is a Sunday heart-warmer, a birthday request, a go-to dinner-party dish.
Every time I make it, I leave the kitchen looking like a scene from World War Z. Halfway through, I say "Never again". But then it goes in the oven. The smell creeps down the hallway. The Parmesan browns and the flavours seep. It is plonked down on the table still bubbling. There are mmms and ahhhs and silence and second helpings. There's a messy theatre to the whole thing.
The original recipe comes from Angela Hartnett, the Michelin-star chef, and it's a complete pain in the face to make. Not due to fripperies or fanciness (melanzane parmigiana is pure Italian soul food), but to the time and effort required. You need to allow a good three hours from start to finish. In fact, you should probably make it the focus of your day.
Don't be tempted by short cuts. If you don't draw moisture from the aubergines, or pre-cook them carefully in oil, the dish will be too watery and the rustic flavours undeveloped. And you must use full fat mozzarella (nothing else melts like it). You won't lose weight with this one.
The good news? Every iota of effort oozes through in big sloppy portions that are hoovered off the plates, and like all the best home-cooked dishes, its tastes even better the next day. In our experience, it goes best with zingy green leaves and roasties or homemade chips.
You will need
4 large (or 6 small) aubergines
500ml rapeseed oil
6 x pieces mozzarella (full fat)
Large bunch of basil
150g parmesan, grated
For the tomato sauce
1 large onion 2 cloves good garlic
1 tbsp rapeseed oil
3 tins chopped tomatoes
1 tsp sugar
Salt & pepper to taste
Thinly slice the aubergines lengthways. Lay the slices on kitchen towel, sprinkle with salt to draw out moisture and leave to rest for about 15 minutes. Flip and repeat, dabbing any excess moisture with kitchen towel. Shallow fry the aubergine slices in rapeseed oil until lightly browned (but not too crisp).
Dab the cooked slices with kitchen towel to remove excess oil. Set aside. For the tomato sauce, chop and sautée the onion and halved/crushed cloves of garlic in 1 tbsp oil until almost translucent. Add the tinned tomatoes and simmer until well reduced. Add a sprinkle of sugar (tomatoes can be a bit acidic) and season to taste. Make thin layers of tomato sauce, aubergine, mozzarella, fresh basil leaves and Parmesan in an oven dish - in that order. Repeat, building the layers like lasagne, until you reach the top. Finish with a good sprinkle of parmesan. Bake at 180˚C for approximately 30 mins until a bubbling brown crust has developed. Devour with green salad and crispy potatoes.
Weekend restaurant critic
Roast chicken followed by bread and butter pudding
My go-to easy dinner is roast chicken and I make it every week at least once. You need to start with a good quality chicken (I like Bertram Salter's Carlow Free-Range Chickens and Margaret McDonnell's organic birds).
I stuff the cavity with a lemon that I've rolled and pronged with a fork, a head of garlic, and a handful of thyme, rosemary or tarragon. I brush melted butter all over and season with sea salt and black pepper. Then I put it in the oven upside down at about 180˚C and cook it for about an hour and a quarter, before turning it the right way round for the last 15 minutes. While the bird is resting, I add a good glug of wine to the pan juices and make gravy on the hob, scraping away all the little caramelised bits and pieces for extra flavour. I serve the chicken with roast potatoes or short grain brown rice and a green salad. If I'm short of time, I get the butcher to spatchcock the chicken and it cooks in half the time. Even if there are just four of us eating, I'll usually cook two chickens so that I have leftovers for sandwiches and salads, and I always make stock out of the carcasses. The dog gets the bone broth with his kibble and it makes it a bit more interesting,
When I left home, my first apartment was in New York. It was on East 6th St between Avenues A and B, which is now considered smart but was then very dodgy. The upside of living in a bad neighbourhood was that the apartment was far bigger than it would have been in a safer but more expensive area, and so we took a dining table out of a skip and lugged it home. None of our friends had apartments big enough to entertain, so ours became the go-to gathering place and we began to host regular Sunday lunches for our friends and random Irish people who happened to be passing through. At the time, the Silver Palate 'gourmet food shop' on the Upper West Side was considered the height of sophistication and really it was ahead of its time. The owners, Julee Rosso and Sheila Lukins, published several cookbooks and I have been making their bread pudding, and several of their other recipes, since the 1980s. It's a variation on the theme of bread and butter pudding, with a whiskey sauce that would put hairs on your chest. When that seems too much, I make it with a salted caramel sauce instead. It's very quick and simple, and universally popular. So much so, that it's requested often by friends and family. I've made it so many times that I could make it in my sleep.
Bread and butter pudding
You will need
1 stick stale French bread
150g unsalted butter
200g granulated sugar (the original recipe uses more but I find it too sweet)
2 tbsp vanilla extract
115g icing sugar
4 tbsp whiskey
Crumble the bread into a bowl and pour the milk over it. Let it stand for an hour. Pre-heat the oven to 160˚C. Grease a 9 x 13 x 2in baking dish with butter. In another bowl beat together 3 eggs, the granulated sugar and the vanilla extract. Stir this mixture into the bread and add the raisins. Pour into the prepared dish, place on the middle rack of the oven and bake until browned and set, about an hour and 10 minutes. Cool to room temperature.
To make the sauce, stir the rest of the butter and icing sugar together in the top of a double boiler over simmering water until the sugar is dissolved and mixture is very hot. Remove from the heat. Beat the remaining egg well and whisk it into the sugar mixture.
Remove pan from base of double boiler and continue beating until the sauce has cooled to room temperature.
Add the whiskey to taste. Pre-heat the grill and cut the pudding into squares in the baking dish. Pour the sauce over the pudding and put under the grill until bubbling. This is good with vanilla ice-cream.
12-hour slow-roast pork shoulder in a sticky black gravy
It may not be the prettiest dish in the world, but for me there's none better.
Slow-cooked pork has become fashionable to the point of ubiquity in recent years, but for me it will always be the childhood staple I most looked forward to. An imaginative cook who made the best of the limited funds available to her, my mother encouraged me from a young age to mess around and experiment and it's where I learned a crucial life lesson - food is for fun, not just fuel.
One of the cheapest cuts you can get, shoulder of pork may not be quick, but it is easy, cooks itself and is unbelievably tasty.
I only ever get my meat from Ennis Butchers in Rialto, Dublin, and the shoulder in the picture cost €18, meaning you can feed six people for less than 25 quid - remember that the next time someone says they can't afford to feed their family on anything other than TV dinners and ready meals.
Prepping the pork is simple. First, place the joint, skin side up, in an oven dish half filled with hot water, garlic cloves and whole chillies (don't break them up - you want the flavour, not the seeds).
Stick that into a hot oven for an hour and once the skin has started to harden, it becomes easier to remove from the meat. Slice the skin off in one piece, sprinkle the fat side liberally with sea salt, then place that back on the top rack of the oven, skin side down, and leave it there until the rest of the meal is done. Trust me, this will give you the best crackling you've ever had - somewhere between pork scratchings and salty crisps.
Cover the still steaming meat with a mixture of brown sugar, cracked black pepper and a small amount of maple syrup. The sugar immediately begins to melt and blacken and spreads over the meat like a thick, unctuous sauce.
After about five hours, remove the stock, strain it, skim the fat and return the shoulder to a low oven, about 130˚C. Bring the stock to the boil. Let it simmer and reduce until it coats the back of a spoon. You can thicken it with flour, but I simply use a Knorr gravy pot. Crush the soft garlic cloves and mix through the mashed potatoes.
To know if the shoulder is done, just tug at the shoulder bone - if it comes out as smoothly as a sword from a scabbard, then it's good to go. For texture, I like a simple carrot salad: shave the carrot with a potato peeler, add diced red onion, soy sauce, the seeds from the chillies you did in the oven and give it plenty of salt.
Similarly, some crunchy cabbage with lots of back pepper and some chillies (yes, I know, I have a problem) cuts through the mash and gives the dish much needed crunch. Before serving, take lumps of pork and dip it into the pot of steaming, bubbling gravy. Plate it up, and get stuck in.
This is food that makes you happy, brings a smile to the face of everyone who eats it and can be made by anyone. It is, in fact, pork just like my mother used to make. Only better.
Lifestyle journalist Independent.ie
Whole roast chicken curry
When I lived in Prague during my Erasmus year, I was fortunate enough to live with a lovely girl from Denmark whose family was from Pakistan and she used to make such enviable recipes. She even used to stow away her mum's naan bread in her carry-on whenever she travelled home for a few days. The shop-bought varieties no longer cut it for me after that housemate match made in heaven. I have quite a big family at home and, when there's a gang around, this recipe is much requested, especially in the winter, and I often vary the heat of it, particularly if there's children around the table.
After much experimenting to try and replicate the curries I tried abroad, I think I've now found the winning combination, even if it is a little untraditional and a little bit time-consuming as I always use roast chicken. For the best results, I make a simple paste using oil, cumin, turmeric, garam masala and cinnamon and rub it on a whole chicken before roasting as normal.
I've also found that the trick to a good curry is to let your onions sweat in the pan with a teaspoon of each of your curry spices for a good hour on a low heat to make sure they're lovely and sweet before proceeding with the recipe. My sisters sometimes moan that the curry is a bit hot, so I never serve it without a dollop of natural yoghurt on top to cool down their protests.
You will need
Large roasted chicken
2 large onions, sliced
1 tsp garam masala
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp turmeric
1 tsp cumin
Thumb-sized piece of ginger, grated
1 potato, cut into cubes
1 red pepper, sliced
Tin of chopped tomatoes
2 tbsp of good quality curry paste
1 tbsp Mango Chutney
Salt/pepper to taste
2 handfuls of spinach, shredded
In a heavy-bottomed pan fry your onions in oil. Add the garam masala, cinnamon, turmeric and cumin as well as three tablespoons of water. Lower the heat and allow the onions to sweat for an hour, adding water in small amounts if they begin to stick to the bottom.
After one hour turn up the heat, and add the fresh ginger, potato and red pepper before adding the tomatoes and 2 tbsp of curry paste and the mango chutney.
Allow to simmer for a further half an hour on a medium heat. Taste the sauce at this point and season.
In the meantime, remove the meat from your roasted chicken, excluding the skin and add to the saucepan.
Allow to heat through before adding in the shredded spinach just before serving.
Serve up on a hot plate with basmati rice and add a dollop of natural yoghurt.
Deputy Farming Editor
Free-range pork chops and Ottolenghi's root mash with wine-braised shallots
It's hard to beat the "mate and two veg", especially when your neighbour happens to produce the most wonderful free-range pork and bacon in the world. Ann Dowling's saddleback pigs rummage around in her apple orchard, and farrow (that's pig-speak for giving birth) in kennels that the sows line with grass beforehand - you've got to see it to believe it.
It's pig meat the way its supposed to be - no antibiotics, no injected phosphates or fillers, and big fatty rinds that render down into a delicious gravy. And it fits my maxim on eating animals - treat meat as a treat.
In a way, it also fits with the dude that's the inspiration behind the veg in this recipe. Yotam Ottolenghi isn't a vegetarian, but he has opened up the wonders of vegetables to a much wider audience through his books and column in the Guardian. So if you don't fancy the meat, the shallots in this recipe have a lovely 'meatiness' to them that acts as a good substitute.
Ottolenghi is famous for his middle-eastern twist on recipes, so that's where the cumin and lentils come into the mash. I also like it because it uses veggies that are in season, and local substitutes such as parsnip for the sweet potato work perfectly.
One last thing that I like about this recipe - you don't have to think about prepping anything hours in advance or, worse, the day before. A good 1.5 hours gets you home and hosed.
You will need
4 chops (about 250g each)
For the mash
80g green lentils
½ celeriac (300g), peeled and cut into chunks
2 carrots (300g), peeled and cut into chunks
½ butternut squash (300g), peeled and cut into chunks
2 sweet potatoes (600g), peeled and cut into chunks
70g butter, diced
2 tbsp maple syrup
1½ tsp ground cumin
Salt and black pepper
For the shallots
2 tbsp olive oil
600g shallots, peeled
400ml red wine
200ml vegetable stock
2 bay leaves
1 tsp whole black peppercorns
4 sprigs fresh thyme
1 tbsp caster sugar
3 pinches of salt
Put the oil and shallots in a heavy pan and brown for five minutes. Add the rest of the ingredients for this element of the dish, bar the butter, cover and simmer for an hour. Remove the lid, raise the heat, and boil until the liquid is reduced to about 1-2cm.
Meanwhile, simmer the lentils in plenty of water until tender (about 25 minutes), drain and set aside.
Half fill a medium pan with water, bring to a boil, add the celeriac and carrot and, after 10 minutes, the squash and sweet potato. The veg should be just immersed. Ten to 15 minutes later, they should be done.
Drain the veg, and shake off as much liquid as possible (otherwise the mash can be a bit wet), and mash up with the butter, syrup, cumin and cooked lentils. Season with pepper and salt. Remove the shallots from the pan with a slotted spoon and keep warm. If necessary, reduce the sauce until there's 150ml left, stir in the butter and season.
I grill the chops. Take them out of the fridge 30 mins beforehand to get them up to room temperature. I dry off any surface moisture with a kitchen towel and rub in lots of salt and pepper. These chops (they were about 250g each) took about 30 minutes under the grill.
Health & Living and Choice Editor
Chicken and lentil casserole
My winner dinner comes from Derval O'Rourke's Food for the Fast Lane (Gill & Macmillan). I just love her cookbook, there are a few recipes in there that I make regularly, her Joggers Stew being another favourite, but the one that works for everyone in the family is her Chicken and Lentil casserole.
It is absolutely delicious - tasty and comforting enough for a Saturday night treat, and healthy and wholesome enough to eat any time. It's also a favourite with my husband and my three-year-old daughter, which means I make it a lot.
It is really easy to make - all you have to do is chop an onion, crush some garlic and pretty much throw everything else into a pot. It's very economical - the ingredients, once you buy them, last for about 10 dishes - chicken aside, of course.
The recipe says it feeds four, but I manage to get two adult dinners, two adult lunches and two toddler meals from one batch. I serve it with lots of steamed broccoli, or with some spinach heated through it. I find you don't really need the recommended rice as the lentils give it enough roughage.
I generally skip the toasted almond bit (pure laziness) and I leave out the apricots as I don't like the sweetness. I also add another tin of tomatoes and another couple of ml of water to Derval's recipe because I like a bit more sauce in my dishes.
You will need
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1 tbsp ground coriander
1 tbsp ground cumin
1 tsp paprika
4 skinless chicken breast fillets
2 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
100g chorizo, sliced into 2cm rounds
400g tin of chopped tomatoes
100g dried apricots, chopped
50g split red lentils
1 cinnamon stick
A handful of flaked almonds
A handful of mint leaves, chopped
Brown rice, to serve
Mix the garlic, coriander, cumin and paprika in a large bowl. Add the chicken and use your hands to massage the marinade into the meat. Cover and leave to marinate in the fridge for 1 hour. Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/gas 4.
Heat the olive oil in a large casserole dish over a medium heat. Add the onion and chorizo and cook for about 10 minutes. Add the tomatoes, apricots, lentils, cinnamon stick, water and marinated chicken and stir well. Cover the casserole and place it in the oven for 1ƒ hours. Meanwhile, spread the almonds on a baking tin and bake for 5-10 minutes or until toasted, turning halfway through. Ladle the cooked casserole into warmed serving bowls and sprinkle over the almonds and mint. Serve with brown rice.
What's your winner dinner?
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