'When he died, he left behind an unfinished symphony' - Cornucopia's Deirdre McCafferty on loss and legacy
When Deirdre McCafferty and her husband Neil moved home to Dublin from Boston in 1984, it was a return to a country whose culinary backbone revolved mainly around meat and two veg. The pair could only dream of making a go of their small vegetarian restaurant on Dublin's Wicklow Street.
Their ambition was captured in the restaurant's name. The Latin word Cornucopia refers to a symbol of food and abundance - a mythical horn of plenty, or harvest cone, that dates back to the fifth century BC.
Sadly, Neil died in 1993, so for the last 26 years, Deirdre has being driving their vision and raising the couple's two daughters, Dairíne and Roisín, while keeping her husband's vegetarian dream on the road.
"In dying at the young age of 40, Neil left behind an unfinished symphony, one that we had been composing together. It was up to me to finish it and build upon his legacy," she explains.
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Deirdre's two daughters had a front-row seat when it came to watching the restaurant grow and expand. Its first cookery book, Cornucopia at Home, was published in 2008 and its follow-up, The Green Cookbook, is published this weekend and is dedicated to "a greener future".
Dairíne studied business and nutrition and has now come on board as general manager and a director at Cornucopia, meaning her mum can spend more time being a besotted grandmother, doting on Dairíne's three-week-old daughter Riadh. Her other daughter Roisín, a doctor, and her husband Eoin, have a two-year-old son named Neil.
Deirdre and Dairíne worked closely with the restaurant's head chef, Tony Keogh, and food writer Aoife Carrigy to compile the vegan book, which also has contributions from chefs currently or previously working in their kitchen. They include Liadan Taylor, who devised the brilliant banoffee pie recipe included here. The duo also share a restaurant favourite, Roast Pepper and Puy Lentil Lasagne, which is always the first dish to sell out when it's on the menu.
Dairíne was just five when her father died but through working in Cornucopia still has retained a sense of her dad.
"He was an unmistakable character: tall with dark, curly hair, a strong Derry accent and a black leather eye patch!"
Taking over the reins now, Dairíne says she is proud of the impact her parents have had on many lives.
The 346-page book identifies simple, moderate and complex recipes, depending on your cooking abilities.
Chef Tony, who grew up on a Dublin diet of coddles, spice burgers and over-cooked veg, says the book came about as a direct result of their customer's collective shift away from dairy and eggs. With the book, you can easily recreate diverse plant-based alternatives, vegan treats and nutritious and satisfying dishes.
With its lovely coconut flavours, this moreish banoffee pie is the creation of one of the very talented chefs, Liadan Taylor. As well as being vegan, it also happens to be gluten-free - though perhaps not altogether guilt-free, as one portion does tend to lead to a second. It's that good.
Serves 8-10. Moderate skill.
Gluten-free, wheat-free, contains nuts [almond]
200g ground almonds
70g rice flour
50g full-fat vegan spread, melted
40g caster sugar
For the topping:
2 x 400ml tins of full-fat coconut milk, refrigerated overnight
2 heaped tbsp icing sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
For the caramel sauce:
200g caster sugar
200g full-fat vegan spread
350ml unsweetened soya milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
3 level tsp agar powder
You will need:
23cm springform tin
Electric hand-held whisk
Sugar thermometer (optional but very helpful)
1. Pop the tins of coconut milk into the fridge the night before, or at least three to four hours before using. Line the base of the springform tin with parchment and prepare another slightly smaller circle to cover the base.
2. Preheat the oven to 180ºC.
3. To make the base, combine the ground almonds, rice flour, melted spread and caster sugar in a large mixing bowl. Press the mixture into the base of the lined springform tin. Put the other parchment circle on to the inside of the base and bake on the middle shelf of the oven for 15-18 minutes. Remove from the oven, remove the parchment and set the base aside to cool.
4. Combine all the caramel ingredients except the agar in a large saucepan. Bring the mixture to a boil until it rises about three quarters of the way towards the edge of the pot, then reduce the heat just enough to prevent it boiling over. Keep it boiling at this steady ferocity, without stirring, to reduce considerably and until the caramel begins to change colour to a golden yellow and the bubbles become very large; this will take about 10-15 minutes (but usually about 12 minutes - if using a thermometer, you're aiming for 112ºC). Lower the heat, add the agar and whisk for 30-60 seconds to cook out the agar. Remove from the heat.
5. Slice the bananas and spread evenly over the almond base. Cover with the caramel and set aside to cool to at least room temperature before topping (otherwise the topping will melt).
6. Open the chilled coconut milk tins upside down to allow you to pour off the liquid (discard this). Scoop the remaining cream into a mixing bowl and whisk until light and fluffy. Add the icing sugar and vanilla extract and whisk further. Spoon this cream on to the banoffee, using a spatula to distribute it evenly.
7. Chill for at least two hours to firm up before serving. This will keep well for at least three days.
Roast pepper and Puy lentil lasagne
The origins of lasagne are subject to debate - some scholars trace it back to Ancient Greece while others attribute its inception to Naples in the Middle Ages - but it's safe to say that it has been with us for some time, in one form or other. What we think of as lasagne today has changed considerably over the years; our version combines an earthy Puy lentil base with the lush indulgence of a creamy béchamel sauce and the sweetness of rich tomatoes and roast peppers cooked with red wine and herbs.
4 red peppers, deseeded and cubed
3 red onions, diced
2 leeks, rinsed well, halved lengthways and sliced into 2cm pieces
150g Puy lentils, well rinsed
12-14 lasagne sheets
50g flaked almonds
Extra virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
For the tomato sauce:
2 large white onions, diced
1 stick of celery, finely sliced (optional)
1 medium carrot, grated (optional)
6 garlic cloves, smashed and peeled
2 x 400g tins of peeled plum tomatoes
100g tomato purée (optional)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
150ml red wine and 4 small sprigs fresh (10g) rosemary, leaves picked (added at the start)
1 large handful (20g) fresh basil (added at the end)
For the béchamel sauce:
700ml unsweetened soya milk
70ml rapeseed oil
40g plain flour
20g tapioca flour
15g Dijon mustard
1 tsp cider vinegar
10g nutritional yeast
50ml brine strained from a jar of sauerkraut (optional)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper You will need: Large parchment-lined baking tray
Deep oven dish (approx. 25cm x 32cm)
High-speed blender and a stick blender
1. Preheat the oven to 200ºC. Toss the peppers, onions and leeks in a little extra virgin olive oil and spread them out on the parchment-lined tray. Roast in the preheated oven for about 30 minutes, then set aside and reduce the temperature to 190ºC.
2. Meanwhile, in a small saucepan, cover the rinsed lentils in three times their volume of water. Bring to the boil, lower the heat and cook for about 30 minutes on a medium simmer until tender.
3. For the tomato sauce, heat two or three tablespoons of oil in a large heavy-based saucepan over a medium heat, add the onions and sauté until browned. Blitz the garlic in a high-speed blender with the red wine and rosemary and pour this into the onions. (Alternatively, finely chop the solids and add directly with the liquids.) Cook over a medium heat for another 10-15 minutes or so to soften further. Add the tomatoes with 300ml water and simmer to reduce. After about 20 minutes, add the basil and another 100ml water. Blend with a stick blender until velvet smooth, adding a little more water if the blender is struggling. Season to taste.
4. When the lentils are cooked, drain them and add to the tomato sauce along with the roast vegetables. Season to taste.
5. For the béchamel sauce, in one small saucepan, bring the soya milk to a simmer. In a second saucepan, heat the rapeseed oil and then stir in both flours to the hot oil. Cook this roux for a couple of minutes, stirring frequently. When the milk comes to a boil, whisk it into the roux little by little and continue whisking as the sauce simmers to cook out the flour. Add the mustard, vinegar, nutritional yeast and optional sauerkraut juice. Season to taste.
6. To assemble the lasagne, pour a third of the tomato-lentil sauce into your deep oven dish and top with lasagne sheets, snapping them if necessary to ensure the whole layer is covered. Press the sheets in firmly, and repeat this twice so that you have three layers in total. Pour the béchamel evenly over the top layer of sheets, ensuring everything is submerged. Sprinkle over the flaked almonds and bake the lasagne on a lower shelf of the preheated oven for about 35 minutes or until nicely browned and bubbling, and piping hot throughout. Allow to rest for 10 minutes before serving.
Extractedfrom Cornucopia: The Green Cookbook, published by Gill Books, priced at €29.99. Photography by Leo Byrne