Darina Allen: The best bolognese and the secret to ultimate roast chicken

‘Local’ is now the sexiest word in food and the coolest term on menus
Darina Allen: The best bolognese and the secret to ultimate roast chicken

hot sauce Bolognese in a frying pan and fresh ingredients close-up on the table. horizontal

I just spent a couple of days in Venice, I’ve been before but I’d forgotten just how magical it is. 

I arrived late in the evening having taken a fast train across the top of Italy from Turin where I had been attending the Slow Food Salone del Gusto Terra Madre event.

This spontaneous visit came about because I was invited to participate in a documentary on the life of Marcella Hazan, an Italian cook who was deeply influential in my early career.

The year before the Ballymaloe Cookery School was established in 1983, I travelled to Bologna in Italy to take a weeklong course with Marcella to learn how to make handmade pasta, ragu, risotto zucchetto.

It was from Marcella that I first heard about balsamic vinegar and learned that olive oil was not just for earaches.

Later in 1992, I invited her to teach at the Ballymaloe Cookery School and took an RTÉ crew to film a Simply Delicious episode in Venice.

Eventually, in her later years, she and her husband Victor moved to Longboat Quay in Florida where I also visited them.

The friendship spanned several decades, and I still cook and pass on many of the recipes that Marcella taught me to the students here at the Ballymaloe Cookery School.

Despite being one of the most enchanting cities in the world, really good food is difficult to find in Venice and even more difficult on a Monday when many restaurants, shops and some museums are closed.

During that action-packed week in Italy with Marcella in the 1980s, I had several eureka moments.

One occurred in the Rialto Market on the edge of the Grand Canal. As we wandered through the stalls piled high with the most beautiful fresh vegetables, perfectly ripe berries and stone fruit.

I noticed that often there were two choices, for example, tomatoes, peaches, and zucchini, and the more expensive option always seemed to have ‘nostrale’ or ‘nostrana’ on the sign.

I was curious about this special place where all the choicest produce seemed to come from. I spoke no Italian but tried to enquire from the stall holders. Eventually one told me impatiently that ‘nostrana’ or ‘nostrale’ was not a place but meant ‘local’.

At a time in Ireland when local was still actually regarded as a derogatory term, this was baffling. Why then, I asked, was it more expensive.

The stallholder was totally exasperated. He explained in broken English, “because it’s from the lagoon area, it’s fresher, better, of course, it’s more expensive [as though I was an imbecile].”

It was a lightbulb moment. Of course, it should be more expensive: this was at a time when customers in Ireland would expect to pay less for beautiful eggs or freshly picked fresh apples if they were local.

Can you imagine how wonderful that everything has come full circle.

‘Local’ is now the sexiest word in food and the coolest term on menus, although it has to be said that many more restaurants talk the talk than walk the walk.

I had a particularly delicious meal at Da Fiori, Maurizio and Mara Martin’s Michelin-starred restaurant with a little balcony on the edge of the canal where gondolas glide past.

Their son, Damiano has now joined them. Da Fiori specialises in beautiful, freshly caught fish and shellfish from the lagoon, simply cooked and packed with flavour.

Check out Ristorante Al Covo, Osteria alle Testiere, and Vini Da Arturo also, and don’t miss the Rialto Market.

There’s another reason to try to get to Venice before the end of November, to feed the soul at the the 59th International Biennale Art Exhibition where you’ll find a plethora of cinema, dance, theatre.

Marcella Hazan's roast chicken with lemons

recipe by:Darina Allen

Simpe roast chicken - that is all that there is to this recipe. No fat to cook with, no basting to do, no stuffing to prepare, no condiments except for salt and pepper

Marcella Hazan's roast chicken with lemons



Preparation Time

30 mins

Cooking Time

2 hours 0 mins

Total Time

2 hours 30 mins






  • 1.35-1.8kg free range organic chicken

  • sea salt

  • freshly ground black pepper

  • 2 small lemons

  • trussing needle and string


  1. Preheat the oven to 180°C.

  2. Rub the salt and freshly ground black pepper with your fingers over all the chicken and into the cavity.

  3. Wash the lemons well and dry them with a tea towel, roll on the counter and prick each of the lemons in at least 20 places with a cocktail stick or skewer. Put both lemons in the cavity.

  4. Close up the opening with cocktail sticks or with a trussing needle and string. Don’t make it absolutely airtight or the chicken may burst.

  5. Put the chicken into a roasting pan, breast side down. Do not add cooking fat of any kind. This bird is self-basting, so don’t worry it won’t stick to the pan.

  6. Place it in the upper third of the preheated oven. After 30 minutes, turn the chicken breast side up. Be careful not to puncture the skin.

  7. Cook for another 30-35 minutes then increase the heat to 200°C, and cook for a further additional 20 minutes. Calculate between 20-25 minutes total cooking time for each 500g.

  8. There is no need to turn the chicken again.

  9. Bring the chicken to the table whole and leave the lemons inside until it is carved. The juices that run out are perfectly delicious, so be sure to spoon them over the chicken slices. The lemons will have shrivelled up but they still contain some juice; do not squeeze, they may squirt. Serve immediately.
    This recipe is from Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking by Marcella Hazan.

Marcella Hazan's Ragu

recipe by:Darina Allen

A classic. Wonderfully versatile.

Marcella Hazan's Ragu



Preparation Time

20 mins

Cooking Time

3 hours 0 mins

Total Time

3 hours 20 mins






  • 45g (1 1/2oz) butter
  • 3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

  • 2 tbsp onion, finely chopped

  • 2 tbsp celery, finely chopped

  • 2 tbsp carrot, finely chopped

  • 350g (12oz) minced lean beef, preferably chuck or neck

  • salt

  • 300ml (10fl oz) dry white wine

  • 110ml (4fl oz) milk

  • 1/8 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg

  • 1 x 400g (14oz) tin Italian tomatoes, roughly chopped with their own juice.


  1. In Italy they sometimes use an earthenware pot for making ragu, but I find that a heavy enamelled cast-iron casserole with high sides works very well.

  2. Heat the butter with the oil and sauté the onion briefly over medium heat until just translucent.

  3. Add the celery and carrot and cook gently for 2 minutes. Next add the minced beef, crumbling it in the pot with a fork.

  4. Add salt to taste, stir, and cook only until the meat has lost its raw red colour (Marcella says that if it browns it will lose its delicacy.)

  5. Add the wine, turn the heat up to medium high, and cook, stirring occasionally, until all the wine has evaporated.

  6. Turn the heat down to medium, add in the milk and the freshly grated nutmeg, and cook until the milk has evaporated, stirring every now and then.

  7. Next add the chopped tomatoes and stir well. When the tomatoes have started to bubble, turn the heat down to the very lowest so that the sauce cooks at the gentlest simmer - just an occasional bubble. I use a heat diffuser mat for this.

  8. Cook uncovered for a minimum of 1 1/2 hours (better still 2 or even 3 hours), depending on how concentrated you like it, stirring occasionally.

  9. If it reduces too much add a little water and continue to cook. When it is finally cooked, taste and correct seasoning.

  10. Because of the length of time involved in cooking this, I feel it would be worthwhile to make at least twice the recipe.

Hot Tips

Savour Kilkenny

Don’t miss Savour Kilkenny Food Festival which runs from October 28 to 31, 2022. Taking place over the October Bank holiday weekend, the event celebrates the produce, food and culture of Kilkenny. Rory O’Connell will take to the demo stage on Saturday at 4pm.

For more information, see www.savourkilkenny.com

Just Cook It Christmas at Ballymaloe Cookery School

Tuesday, December 13, from 9am – 2pm.

Gather a few friends together and join us as an alternative to the traditional Christmas Party. 

This is a great course to come and learn some practical hands-on skills and have fun. It gives a tantalising taste of the Ballymaloe Cookery School and provides inspiration for anyone eager to cook a variety of dishes with greater confidence.

Limited numbers, €220 per person. Recipes and tastings of all dishes included. 

For more information, see www.cookingisfun.ie

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