Darina Allen's food guide to Clare

Darina Allen's food guide to Clare

I just love to take short breaks in Ireland. This time it was west Clare. There’s much to be excited about. 

In Lahinch we found Hugo’s Deli, a tiny bakery-cum café, where Hugo Galloway, a brilliant young baker was turning out dark and crusty natural sourdough loaves, warm sausage rolls, focaccia and warm Portuguese custard tarts to die for. 

Hugo is self-taught, learned by trial and error.

The counter is made from recycled packing cases, a few wooden seats around the edges. 

A non-stop stream of cool young hipsters, surfers and grateful locals poured in for a focaccia sandwich that looked properly delicious, while I was sipping a double espresso and nibbling one of the best pastéis de nata (Portuguese custard tarts) I’ve ever eaten.

Bravo Hugo and team.

Another exciting discovery for me was Moy Hill Community Farm where Fergal and a whole group of friends and volunteers have developed an inspirational food-producing project on 70 acres which supply 13 restaurants, and two farmers’ markets and a ‘fair consumption’ group in Ennis at 9, Lower Market Street, Clonroad Beg.

Customers meet producers and pay cash to collect their spanking fresh food. 

The energy and enthusiasm was palpable when we visited unannounced as preparations were being made for the Farm Gathering — three days of workshops, music, food, foraging farm tours, regenerative agriculture talks, crafts and dancing, a wonderful celebration on the harvest equinox.

Moy House, a Blue Book property overlooking Lahinch Bay also had a beautiful garden bursting with fresh produce grown by Sarah Noonan and her team Matt Strefford to make magic in the kitchen.

On the main street in Ennistymon you’ll find Niamh Fox, chef and owner of The Little Fox, a super cool spirited café serving fresh creative plates. 

We washed it down with Thalli Kombucha made by Avery Maguire a brilliant young forager whom you’ll occasionally find in The Aloe Tree Health food shop on Main Street or on her stall at the Milk Market in Limerick on Saturdays.

We were there for lunch but check out Little Fox delicious dinners and pop ups.

Bespoke handmade knife lovers, of which I am, certainly one should link up with Niamh’s partner Sam Gleeson (also a furniture maker) to explore the options. 

While we are on the subject of handmade, just across the road under the stone arch you’ll find Eamon O’Sullivan who carves handmade spoons and will give his next course in Ballymaloe cookery School on November 16.

Just next door you’ll find The Cheese Press run by Sinead Ní Ghairbith where you’ll find among other temptations the superb St Tola goat cheese in its many variations made by her sister Siobhan Ní Ghairbith.

If you have a little more time to linger in Co Clare, drive across the Burren, treat yourself to a stay at lovely Gregan’s Castle and eat Robert McAuley’s food. 

Swing by Flaggy Shore for some oysters, then on up to Hazel Mountain Chocolate, the most remote chocolatier in Europe which makes chocolate from the bean to the bar. 

And check out where Julia’s Lobster Truck will be that evening (maybe Bell Harbour). 

You absolutely mustn’t miss Julia Hemmingway’s barbequed lobster, lobster roll, steamed clams and mussels, traditional fish and chips and briny Flaggy Shore oysters.

How about that for a quick taste of Co Clare and there’s so much more to see.

Native Irish Oysters

Serves 4

Darina Allen's food guide to Clare

24 Oysters

Garnishes

Crushed ice and/or seaweed

1 lemon, cut into wedges

Accompaniments

Brown Soda bread

Guinness or Champagne

Scrub and rinse the oysters well. Open them carefully with an oyster knife — try not to spill the juices.

To serve: Cover a large platter with crushed ice or seaweed (or both). 

Carefully arrange the oysters and lemon wedges around the platter. 

Serve with bread and a glass of Guinness.

Lobster Rolls

Serves 4

Darina Allen's food guide to Clare

A recipe of a delicious lobster roll with homemade mayo but buttered lobster is also sublime tucked into a brioche roll.

4 long brioche rolls

Extra virgin olive oil

225-350g (8-12oz) lobster meat cut into 1cm (½ inch) dice

4 tbsp mayonnaise or mayonnaise and natural yoghurt mixed

2 sticks of celery, finely chopped

3 tbsp scallions, chopped

Lemon juice to taste

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

4-8 lettuce leaves or watercress depending on size

To Serve

Cucumber Pickle (optional)

Mix the mayonnaise and yoghurt in a bowl with the diced celery, scallions and lobster meat. 

Fold gently, season with salt, freshly ground black pepper and lemon juice.

Just before serving

Heat a cast iron grill-pan on a high heat. Split the rolls lengthwise, brush with extra virgin olive oil. 

Char on a hot grill-pan. Fill with lettuce and lobster filling. 

Serve immediately with thick cucumber pickle.

St Tola Goat Cheese Croquettes with Rocket Leaves, Roast Pepper, and Tapenade Oil

Serves 5

Darina Allen's food guide to Clare

285g (10oz) St Tola goat cheese (or a similar fresh mild goat cheese)

Seasoned flour

Beaten egg

Flaked almonds

White breadcrumbs

2 large red peppers

Extra virgin olive oil

Tapenade Oil

110g (4oz) stoned black olives

1 tbsp capers

1 tsp lemon juice

Freshly ground pepper

175ml (6fl oz/¾ cup) extra virgin olive oil

selection of lettuces and rocket leaves

Dressing

4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

1 tbsp balsamic vinegar

½ clove garlic crushed

Salt and freshly ground pepper

Garnish

wild garlic flowers in season

First divide the St Tola or similar goat cheese into 25 balls, chill.

Coarsely chop the stoned black olives and capers, add the freshly squeezed lemon juice.

Whisk in the olive oil and process to a course or smooth puree as you prefer. Season with freshly ground pepper.

Coat the cheese in seasoned flour, beaten egg, flaked almonds, breadcrumbs. 

Arrange in a single layer on a flat plate. Cover and chill well.

Roast the peppers in a preheated oven (200C/400F/gas mark 6) for approx 20 minutes until soft/tender. 

Put into a bowl, cover the top with cling film and allow to steam for 5 or 10 minutes. 

Peel, remove seeds and cut into strips.

For the dressing, whisk all the ingredients together in a bowl.

Heat the oil in a deep fry or a pan to 200C/400F/Gas Mark 6.

Fry the goat cheese croquettes in batches until crisp and golden. Drain on kitchen paper.

Toss the lettuces and salad leaves in a bowl with just enough dressing to make the leaves glisten.

Divide between the six plates. Put five croquettes on each plate, decorate with strips of red pepper, rocket leaves, and a drizzle of tapenade oil.

Scatter some wild garlic flowers over the top and serve immediately.

Crab Apple or Bramley Apple Jelly

Makes 2.7–3.2kg (6–7lb)

Darina Allen's food guide to Clare

Making jellies is immensely rewarding. This is a brilliant master recipe that can be used for many combinations. 

A jelly bag is an advantage, but by no means essential. Years ago, we strained the juice and pulp through an old cotton pillow and hung it on an upturned stool. 

A couple of thicknesses of muslin will also do the job. Place a stainless-steel or deep pottery bowl underneath to catch the juice. 

Tie with cotton string and hang from a sturdy cup-hook. 

If you can’t get enough crab apples, use a mixture of crab apples and windfall cooking apples, like Bramley’s Seedling, Grenadier, or any other tart cooking apple.

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

2.7 litres (5 3/4 pints) water

2 organic lemons

425g (15oz) granulated sugar to every 600ml (1 pint) of juice

Wash the apples, cut into quarters, but do not remove either the peel or core. 

Windfalls may be used, but be sure to cut out the bruised parts. 

Put the apples into a large, stainless-steel saucepan, with the water and the thinly pared zest of the lemons, and cook for about 30 minutes, until reduced to a pulp.

Pour the pulp into a jelly bag and allow to drip until all the juice has been extracted, usually overnight. (The pulp can later go to the hens or compost. The jelly bag or muslin can be washed, and reused over and over again.)

Measure the juice into a preserving pan and allow 425g (15oz) of sugar to each 600ml (1 pint) of juice. 

Warm the sugar in a low oven. Squeeze the lemons, strain the juice, and add to the pan. 

Bring to the boil and add the warm sugar. Stir over a gentle heat, until the sugar is dissolved. 

Increase the heat and boil rapidly, without stirring, for about 8–10 minutes. 

Skim, test and pot immediately. 

Flavour with rose geranium, mint, sage, or cloves.

Portuguese Custard Tarts

Makes 24

Darina Allen's food guide to Clare

Try these, but Hugo’s tarts are worth a detour…

1 large egg

2 egg yolks

115g golden caster sugar

2 tbsp cornflour

400ml whole milk

2 tsp vanilla extract

900g (2lb) puff pastry

Lightly grease 2 x 12 muffin tins.

Pre-heat the oven to 230C/450F/Gas Mark 8.

Put the egg, yolk, sugar and cornflour in a saucepan and whisk, gradually add the milk and whisk until smooth.

Cook on a medium heat and stirring constantly with a whisk until the mixture thickens and comes to the boil, continue to cook for two minutes. 

Remove the saucepan from the heat, stir in the vanilla extract.

Transfer to a Pyrex bowl, allow to cool. Cover with cling film to prevent a skin from forming – prick here and there to allow steam to escape.

Roll the chilled puff pastry into a 3mm (1/8 inch) thick sheet, stamp out 7.5cm (3 inch) discs. 

Press into the muffin tins.

Spoon a generous dessertspoon of the cool custard into each pastry case. 

Bake in the pre-heated oven for 16-20 minutes or golden on top. 

Allow to cool in the tins for five minutes then remove to a wire rack. 

Eat warm or at room temperature.

Hot Tips

Apples, apples, everywhere

Darina Allen's food guide to Clare

Crab Apple: There’s a bumper crop of crab apples and haws this autumn.

My grandfather would have said that this was a sign that we were in for a hard winter, nature’s way of providing for the herds and wildlife.

Who knows, but in the meantime let’s make a few batches of crab apple jelly, add a few fistfuls of blackberries, sloes, mountain ash damsons, haws, elderberries — whatever you can forage.

Follow the recipe above and you’ll have a cupboard full of jars of glistening forager’s jelly.

Heirloom Apple Varieties: You can find a selection of Heirloom apples at the Ballymaloe Cookery School Organic Farm Stall at the Midleton Farmers Market for the next few Saturdays, from 9am to 2pm.

Varieties include Pig’s Snout, Ellison’s Orange, Laxton’s Superb, Epicure and many more.

Buy a selection, and mix and match.

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