Saturday 18 November 2017

The joy of local Irish ingredients

Rachel Allen shows us a few ways to enjoy some of our local produce.

Rachel Allen
Rachel Allen
Rachel Allen cooking up a storm
Harissa and red pepper couscous

Rachel Allen

On each 12-week cookery course at Ballymaloe, we take a full day off to tour some of the wonderful food producers we have in Cork and its surrounds. It's a proper school tour. Warm jackets, wellies, a big bus, the lot. Thankfully, no soggy sandwiches, though, as we're plied with delicious food throughout the day.

Last week, I had the pleasure, along with my brother-in-law, Toby, of accompanying 60 students on their gastronomic trip. We began the day early, at the smokehouse of Bill Casey, who smokes salmon on the farm at the cookery school. Bill, who uses only Irish organic farmed salmon, has been in the business for a few decades, and supplies many restaurants here and overseas with his consistently impressive salmon. Then we headed for Mahon Point farmers' market.

There's Jack Crotty, of the Rocket Man salads. Jack makes such fabulous, healthy salads. Think beetroot and farro salad with caramelised onions and preserved lemons; or roasted butternut squash with ginger, chickpeas and coriander.

Leo, from Green Saffron, was there with his red lentil dahl, chicken korma and chicken jalfrezi, and Simon Mould was cooking pizzas on his wood-fired oven. You can't help but feel virtuous after a juice from Derek Hannon, of Greenfield Farm. Kale, beetroot, apples, carrots – all fresh from the farm!

Next stop was Cashel Blue, in Fethard, Co Tipperary, where, for the last 30 years, the Grubb family have been making the award-winning Cashel Blue cheese, which is made from cow's milk and, in the last 10 years, the sheep's milk cheese, Crozier Blue. We had a delicious picnic of blue cheese, and even more blue cheese, then set off on the road again for Mitchelstown and the Eight Degrees Brewing Company, where Cameron Wallace and his head brewer, Mike, showed us the brewing process and did a tasting with us of their four main brews.

The name comes from the fact that the line of longitude that runs down the centre of Ireland is eight degrees west, but eight degrees is also the perfect temperature for storing their beer. After the tasting, a very happy (and even more talkative) group boarded the bus again to Castlelyons for Ballyvolane House.

At Ballyvolane, we were greeted by Justin Green who, along with his wife, Jenny, run the romantic country pile as a guest house. After a great tour and a glass of elderflower fizz, it was finally time to return to Ballymaloe, so the students all got back on the bus, inspired by the producers and their offering, including the harissa and red pepper couscous from Jack Crotty, the Rocket Man, below.


Harissa and red pepper couscous


Harissa and red pepper couscous from Jack Crotty, the Rocket Man

Serves 6-8.

The crunch of proper spring radish with the smoky hit of harissa has converted many of our anti-couscous customers. It's also not too complex and a great one to whip together at the last minute.

You will need:

500g (1lb 2 oz) couscous

450mls (16fl oz) boiling chicken or vegetable stock, or water

3 tablespoons olive oil

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

100g (3½oz) of flaked almonds

1 onion, peeled and sliced into 3mm rings

1 teaspoon of salt

1 teaspoon of ground cumin

10-12 radishes

1 roasted red pepper, tinned or freshly roasted and peeled (see my Tip, above)

½ teaspoon harissa

½ teaspoon tomato puree

½ teaspoon smoked paprika

½ teaspoon honey

A healthy fistful of rocket leaves – of course!

Preheat the oven to 150°C, 300°F, Gas 2. Sprinkle the couscous into a bowl and pour over the boiling chicken stock or vegetable stock, or the water, whichever you are using. Add 2 tablespoons of the olive oil, season with some sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, then cover the bowl with clingfilm. Allow to soak for 10 minutes or so, and, while the couscous is still hot, use a fork to break it up until it's fluffy and aerated.

Spread the flaked almonds on to a baking tray and bake them in the oven for 10-15 minutes, until they are browning in parts.

Fry the onion rings in a pan with the salt, the ground cumin and 1 tablespoon of olive oil over a medium heat until they're brown and glistening. Put them aside to cool.

Ideally, use a Chinese mandolin to slice the radishes into ½mm disks (but a knife will do). In the meantime, put the roasted red pepper, the harissa, the tomato puree, the smoked paprika and the honey in a food processor and blitz to a paste (a hand blender does a good job, too). Gently massage the harissa paste through the couscous.

Put the rocket leaves on a large plate. In a bowl, combine the couscous with the fried onion rings and the sliced radishes, and turn it out on to the plate. Finish with a scattering of the toasted flaked almonds.

Mussels cooked in beer

Serves 4.

You will need:

2kg (4lb 7oz) fresh mussels

A good knob of butter

1 onion, finely chopped

3 garlic cloves, finely grated

6 rashers streaky bacon, finely chopped

300ml (11fl oz) Howling Gale Ale from Eight Degrees Brewing, or similar well-balanced ale

100ml (3½fl oz) cream

2 tablespoons parsley, finely chopped

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Crusty bread, to serve

Scrub the mussels thoroughly and remove the beards. Discard any with open shells that do not close when they are sharply tapped. Place a large saucepan – big enough to hold all the mussels – on a medium heat.

Add the butter and, when it has melted, add the finely chopped onion, the finely grated garlic and the finely chopped bacon. Cook gently for 4-6 minutes, until the onion is softened. Add the beer and bring to a simmer, cook for a minute, then add the mussels. Cover the saucepan with a tight-fitting lid, increase the heat to high and cook for 3-4 minutes, while stirring occasionally, until all the mussels have opened.

Remove the mussels, discarding any that haven't opened. Leave the cooking liquid in the pan, then stir in the cream and the chopped parsley. Bring to the boil, add some sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, then divide the mussels between four bowls and pour over the sauce. Serve immediately with some crusty bread to mop up the juices.




Salad with beets, toasted hazelnuts, and Cashel Blue dressing

Serves 4.

For the salad, you will need:

4 small beetroots (about 150g (5oz) in total)

40g (1oz) hazelnuts, toasted and coarsely chopped

4 handfuls of salad leaves

Finely grated zest of ½ lemon

For the dressing, you will need:

125ml (4fl oz) extra-virgin olive oil

1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice

½ teaspoon honey

75g (3oz) Cashel Blue cheese, coarsely crumbled

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Wash the beetroots carefully under a cold tap. Don't scrub them, just rub off any dirt with your fingers. You don't want to damage the skin or cut off the top or tails, otherwise the beetroots will 'bleed' while cooking.

Put the beetroots in a saucepan, cover them with cold water and bring to a simmer over medium heat.

Cover the saucepan with a lid and continue to simmer for 30 to 45 minutes, depending on the size and age of the beetroots.

They are cooked when their skins rub off easily, and a knife can be inserted easily into the centre. Peel each beetroot by rubbing off and discarding the skin. Then cut each one into 8 wedges.

To make the dressing, mix together the extra-virgin olive oil, the lemon juice, and the honey in a bowl, then add the crumbled Cashel Blue cheese and taste, adding some sea salt and freshly ground black pepper as needed.

Combine the beetroot wedges and the toasted chopped hazelnuts in a bowl, drizzle with three-quarters of the dressing, season, and toss.

Put the salad leaves on one big serving plate, or divide them among individual plates, and drizzle them with the remaining dressing.

Scatter the dressed beetroot wedges and hazelnuts over the greens, then sprinkle over the grated lemon zest.

Rachel's tip

Roasting your own red peppers is really easy and such a good way of bringing out their sweetness. Put a few peppers on a tray and put in an oven at 220°C, 425°F, Gas 7 for 20-25 minutes, until the skins are blackened and blistered. Remove from the oven, put in a bowl and cover it with clingfilm so they steam in the heat. Then, when they're cool enough to handle, peel off the skins, remove the core and discard it, along with the skins. I find it useful to rinse the peppers in a little cold water to make sure they're free of the bitter skin and seeds.

Rachel recommends

If anyone ever needed proof that super-healthy food makes a huge difference to your energy levels, immune system and general vitality, then one look at the ever-effervescent Susan Jane White would tell you everything you need to know. With recipes such as F%*k Me Salad and Kate Moss Quinoa (because you'll feel like a supermodel if you eat this), Susan Jane's first cookbook, The Extra Virgin Kitchen, is jam-packed full of recipes for everyone, but, happily, for those with wheat, sugar and dairy intolerances, too.

'The Extra Virgin Kitchen', published by Gill & Macmillan, €27.99. LIFE readers can get 20 per cent off, plus free p&p, by entering EVKFREE at the checkout at

Rachel's clothes, Brown Thomas

Jewellery, Seoidin

Make-up by Roisin Derrane for Lancome, using the Lancome Spring 2014 Colour Collection

Hair by Amanda Darcy-Sloan, Sugar Cubed

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