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Donal Skehan's grandmother’s best-loved recipe - fall-off-the-bone roast lamb

We’ve reclaimed our kitchens while resurrecting old family favourites, like this fall-off-the-bone roast lamb dish from my grandmother Elizabeth Ryan


Grandmother’s Kleftiko

Grandmother’s Kleftiko

Grandmother’s Kleftiko

The pandemic has seen many of us reclaim our kitchens. In 2020, baking aisles were decimated and comfort food classics reigned supreme, but once all the banana bread was baked and the flour dust had settled, it seemed there was a real resurgence of people using their kitchens. For our family, we’ve been attempting to keep up little routines that shape our week.

Meal plans keep our weeks ticking by but on the weekends food and cooking becomes more of an occasion.

Friday night feasts with a glass of wine to celebrate the end of the week, Saturday morning baking sessions and Sunday family dinner are all key to how our weekend flows and these little moments are quickly becoming part of traditions for our young family. With that in mind, this week I wanted to share a recent Sunday meal we sat down to.

My grandmother Elizabeth Ryan was the real cook in our family and over the years wrote all her recipes in a collection of notebooks filled with newspaper clippings and children’s drawings.

They were tried and tested dishes that she cooked for family and friends, and which are now part of our family’s culinary heritage.

While I was researching recipes for my TV show, I sent a text out to my mum and aunts, asking them for the dishes they most remember her cooking. The answer was kleftiko, a roast lamb dish steeped in Greek history.

The Klephts were bandits who rebelled against the Ottoman empire and were said to steal sheep and cook them in underground pits. The result is a slow-cooked meat that falls off the bone and makes a beautiful centrepiece for a weekend family dinner.

For sides you can serve it with couscous or the Greek salad I’ve suggested or if you want something a little more special, a roast potato dish with addictive maple bacon and a creamy herb dressing.

Something sweet is essential on the weekend too and my all-in-one spiced yoghurt and pear loaf cake is especially moist and fragrant.

My grandmother’s Kleftiko

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Cook time: 3 hrs plus marinating. Serves 6

A classic roast lamb dish from Greece that wound up becoming a regular staple of my grandmother’s kitchen repertoire. It’s one of those simple dishes that is more than the sum of its parts and with minimal effort you are left with mouth-watering results; tender lamb shoulder with a rich cooking liquor that is ideal to douse the meat with. Here as a means to cut through the richness of the roast, I’ve added a Greek salad but you could also serve with couscous for more substance.

750g waxy potatoes, cut into chunks
2 large onions, divided in 4
1 red pepper, deseeded and cut into chunks
1 bay leaf
5 sprigs fresh oregano
1 bulb of garlic cut in half through the middle
300g medium vine tomatoes, quartered
4tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 x 2kg lamb shoulder, bone in
200ml white wine
200ml chicken stock
Pared zest of a lemon and juice of half
For the salad:
200g Greek feta
100g black olives
3 small cucumber, halved lengthwise and sliced
250g cherry tomatoes, halved
1 red onion, thinly sliced
1 tbsp red wine vinegar
3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper


1. Preheat the oven to 1600c.
2. Line a large ovenproof casserole dish with parchment so it hangs over all sides. Put the potatoes in the dish along with the onions, pepper, bay, oregano, garlic, tomatoes and 2 tablespoons of olive oil.
3. Add the lamb, wine and stock with the remaining oil, then wrap the sides of the baking parchment over the top.
4. Cover the whole tray with foil and roast for 2.5 hours then uncover the dish and increase the oven
to 2200c, add the lemon and roast for a further 30 minutes until really tender and juicy.
5. For the salad. Add the ingredients in a large bowl and toss to combine.
6. Serve the lamb on a platter alongside the salad and allow everyone to help themselves.

Roast Potato, Maple Bacon & Herbed Yoghurt Dressing

Cook time: 40 minutes. Serves: 4

A potato side dish with a difference. Little roast potato boats go nice and crisp in the oven slathered in a herby dijon oil before being assembled with addictive sweet maple bacon with flecks of black pepper. Finished with a dill and chive spiked yoghurt dressing.

For the potatoes:
1kg small rooster potatoes, halved lengthwise
2 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
A few fresh thyme sprigs
A few fresh rosemary sprigs, finely chopped
1 tbsp dijon mustard
4 tbsp olive oil, plus extra for drizzling
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
For the bacon:
8 slices bacon
3 tbsp maple syrup
Freshly ground black pepper
For the dressing:
2 tbsp plain Greek yoghurt
2 garlic cloves minced
2 tbsp chopped fresh
chives plus more for garnish
2 tbsp chopped fresh dill plus more for garnish
1-2 tbsp hot sauce

To serve:
Pickled red onions

1. Preheat oven to 200°C.
2. Bash the garlic and herbs in a pestle and mortar with salt for the potatoes, once fine, add the dijon, pepper and oil to this.
3. Arrange the potatoes on a large baking tray, drizzle with the pestle and mortar mix and shake the tray to combine. Bake in the oven for 35-40 minutes until golden and crisp then serve immediately.
4. While the potatoes are roasting, line a baking sheet with parchment paper and lay the bacon on top, sprinkle with pepper. Place in the oven for 5 minutes or until the bacon is almost cooked. Remove from the oven and brush on all sides with the syrup. Return the tray to the oven for another 2-3 minutes, until the bacon is glossy and browned. Remove and set aside to cool, then break into bite size pieces.
5. Place the onion in a bowl, add in the lemon juice and 1 tbsp salt and massage gently until slightly tender. Set aside.
6. For the dressing, whisk together the ingredients and season to taste.
7. Assemble a platter with the potatoes scattered with bacon bits, pickled onions, herbs and drizzle with dressing.


Roast potato, maple bacon & herbed yoghurt dressing

Roast potato, maple bacon & herbed yoghurt dressing

Roast potato, maple bacon & herbed yoghurt dressing

Spiced Pear and Yoghurt Loaf

Cook time: 50 minutes, Makes: 1 x 2lb loaf

A warm and comforting, moist winter cake that gets a serious flavour upgrade from cardamom and mixed spice. Yoghurt provides great richness to this cake/loaf.

For the cake:
50ml sunflower oil
2 medium free range eggs
150ml yoghurt
2 tbsp treacle
2 pears, peeled and diced
250g self-raising flour
200g light brown sugar
1 tsp mixed spice
6 cardamom pods, seeds crushed
1 tsp baking powder
Pinch sea salt

For the icing:
125g mascarpone
50ml yoghurt
2 tbsp maple syrup

For the syrup:
1 vanilla pod
1 cup/ 200g caster sugar
150ml water

1. Preheat oven to 180°C.
2. Grease a 2lb loaf tin, line with baking parchment.
3. Whisk together the oil, eggs, yoghurt and treacle in a jug.
4. In a large bowl toss the pears through the remaining cake ingredients. Make a well in the centre, pour the jug contents in and stir to combine.
5. Pour into the prepared tin and bake in the oven for 45-50 minutes. Leave to cool in the tin for at least 15 minutes then remove to a wire rack.
6. Scrape the seeds from the vanilla pod, pop into a pot with the pod and the remaining syrup ingredients. Bring to a boil and simmer for 8-10 minutes over a low to medium heat until it has thickened. It shouldn’t crystallise. Allow to cool.
7. For the icing, mix the mascarpone, yoghurt and syrup in a bowl. Spread and swirl the icing over the top of the cake, drizzle over the syrup and serve.


Spiced pear and yoghurt loaf

Spiced pear and yoghurt loaf

Spiced pear and yoghurt loaf

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