A taste of summer

Four celebrity chefs, 12 questions. Ahead of the Irish Examiner Food Festival next week, Darina Allen, Andrew Rudd, Rachel Allen and Paolo Tullio reveal their dream dinner party guests, memorable meals — and their favourite summer recipes.

A taste of summer

Darina Allen

Chef and food writer, Ballymaloe Cookery School, special guest at Irish Examiner Food Festival

What was the first dish you ever cooked?

Soda bread. My mother would give me a little dough and I’d make a cistín, round it, cross it.

What was your most memorable meal?

Recently, at Noma in Copenhagen. Extraordinary. It completely blew my mind. There were three Irish chefs and one, Louise Bannon, is an ex-pupil of mine.

In Mexico, we spent two hours in a dugout wooden canoe and then endured a two hour trek through jungle to some Mayan ruins ... After seeing the incredible ruins, we came back to the canoe. In a tiny straw hut, a woman was cooking in a wok-like thing, an amazing meal of minced beef, coriander, cumin seed, rice and afterwards we had chilled pineapple. Food never tasted so good.

Chicken — cheap or free-range or organic?

I’m not a veggie, I love meat, but I’m not prepared to eat meat where animals or birds have suffered to put my dinner on the plate. And when you buy an organic chicken, you are paying for what’s not in it. Cheap chicken is imported into the EU... but the residues of growth hormones, antibiotics, anti-depressants remain — do you really want to feed that to your family? But the Irish intensively-reared chicken is not in that category. Buy one good Irish organic chicken a month and use every scrap.

Does the global food crisis concern you — why and is there anything we in Ireland can do about it?

It totally does! The Chinese and Indians buying up big tracts of land in Africa, the erosion of traditional cultures, mono-cropping. I believe our children will see food shortages in their lifetime. The growth of the farmers market movement came at a time when we had our backs to the wall, about 25 years ago when the supermarkets, with everything in plastic, were the only option.

How do you eat well on a low income?

Try to grow something, even a little. Everything you grow, will nourish. Go to farmers markets and buy directly from producers.

Is there such a thing as an Irish cuisine?

It is developing ad hoc and has many faces. There is definitely an extraordinary grass roots movement that has developed over the decades. I date it back to Myrtle Allen quietly ploughing her own furrow, then a whole new movement beginning with Veronica Steele making Milleens cheese, teaching others such as Giana Ferguson of Gubeen.

What is your favourite Irish dish?

Bacon and cabbage or Irish stew, I just love bacon, cabbage and parsley sauce.

What is your favourite Irish ingredient?

[long pause] Butter! [laughing] I had to think very hard then the light came on!

What is your favourite Irish restaurant?

[laughing] I can’t say my brother Rory’s, O’Connell’s, so Ross Lewis at Chapter One with The Greenhouse a close runner-up.

What’s your favourite comfort food?

Macroom Oatmeal porridge, Jersey milk, soft brown sugar,

Which five guests would you invite to your ideal dinner party?

Michelle Obama, Aung San Suu Kyi, Seamus Heaney, Education Minister Ruari Quinn to bend his ear so every school in Ireland would have a garden and a kitchen to learn to cook. Prince Charles, I really admire him for what he has done in terms of gardening, growing, production. And [Noma xhef/proprietor] Rene Redzipi cooking!

What would you choose as your final meal?

Freshly boiled egg, lovely soda bread out of the oven, lovely homemade butter and Irish sea salt.

Darina Allen’s Brown Soda Bread and Scones

If the buttermilk is low fat rub 10-25g (½-1oz) of butter or cream into the dry ingredients first.

Makes 1 loaf

300g (10ozs) brown wholemeal flour (preferably stone-ground)

300g (10ozs) plain white flour

1 tsp dairy salt

1 tsp bread soda (Bicarbonate of Soda/Baking Soda) sieved

450-475ml (15-16floz) sour milk or buttermilk — you’ll need 600ml (1 pint) if you use thick buttermilk or thick sour milk

Preheat the oven to 230C/450F/Gas Mark 8.

Mix all the dry ingredients together in a large wide bowl, make a well in the centre and pour all of the sour milk or buttermilk. Using one hand, stir in a full circle, starting in the centre of the bowl working towards the outside of the bowl until all the flour is incorporated. The dough should be soft but not too wet and sticky. When it all comes together, a matter of seconds, turn it out onto a well-floured board. Wash and dry your hands. Roll around gently with floury hands for a second, just enough to tidy it up. Flip over and flatten slightly to about 5cm (2 inches) approximately. Sprinkle a little flour onto a baking sheet and place the loaf on top of the flour. Make with a deep cross and bake in a hot oven 230C/450F/Gas Mark 8 for 15-20 minutes, reduce the heat to 200C/400F/Gas Mark 6 for approx 15-20 minutes or until the bread is cooked (in some ovens it is necessary to turn the bread upside down on the baking sheet for 5-10 minutes before the end of baking). It will sound hollow when tapped. Cool on a wire rack.

Andrew Rudd

TV Chef and Proprietor of Andrew Rudd Cookery School & Private Dining Venue, Drury St, Dublin, Special Guest at Irish Examiner Food Festival

What was your most memorable meal?

Cliff House Hotel in Ardmore, recently. The most stunning meal I’ve ever had.

What was the first dish you ever cooked?

A chocolate cake.

Chicken — cheap or free-range or organic?

Free range or organic, a very fine line between the definition.

Does the global food crisis concern you — why and is there anything we in Ireland can do about it?

I think certainly in Ireland, we have to protect our own indigenous agricultural produce by buying local, buying Irish, supporting it as best we can. I also think we need to be self-sufficient, I don’t agree with subsidies. And the fishing industry is on its knees here. Fishermen are selling monkfish for €4 a kilo and I’m paying €26.50 for it — wholesale! As a nation we need more emphasis on a co-operative element amongst producers.

How do you eat well on a low income?

I did an interesting exercise for TV3 recently, five evening meals for a family of five on €50, and I came in within the budget. I went to the local supermarket, asked what was on promotion, and bought from that range. It’s as simple as that, it took me ten minutes. I cooked dishes such as lovely roast pork and puy lentils. Potatoes and other veg are cheap — you can eat healthily for cheap.

Is there such a thing as an Irish cuisine?

I don’t think so — obviously, we are famous for our potatoes! When I’m abroad and people ask about traditional Irish food, I’m always stuck for an answer — stew coddle, I suppose. We have great products, meat, fish, veg but we’re also far more cosmopolitan these days, our diet is far more generic. I reckon Irish cuisine would probably equate to fusion cuisine.

What is your favourite Irish dish? Colcannon — [laughing] is that Irish?

Again, I don’t have a definition for what Irish food is — I do love Irish stew, a real comforting food.

What is your favourite Irish ingredient?

I love beef, I use a couple of butchers in Dublin, one of whom, John Doyle, produces his own cattle in Newbridge.

What is your favourite Irish restaurant?

A bit of a moveable feast, but at the moment I love Pichets run by Nick Munier and Stephen Gibson. I love the vibe, the energy of the place.

What’s your favourite comfort food?

Bangers and mash, lovely creamy potatoes and Prue and Simon’s [Rudd’s mother’s and brother’s company] pepper and thyme sausages — and baked beans. I gently heat a little olive oil, infuse garlic and chilli pepper, add maldon sea salt, cracked pepper and my tin of baked beans and then a fried egg on top.

Which five guests would you invite to your ideal dinner party?

Stephen Fry, Bishop Desmond Tutu, Judi Dench and my mum and dad.

What would you choose as your final meal?

Bangers and mash, as cooked above.

Mascarpone and Ricotta Cheesecake

Serves: 8 to 12

Prep time: 20 minutes

Chilling time: Overnight

200g Digestive biscuits

90g butter

Pinch of ground cinnamon

250ml ricotta cheese

250ml mascarpone cheese

200ml Philadelphia (full fat soft cheese) (This is optional)

350ml double cream, whipped

75g caster sugar, or to desired taste

1 tblsp vanilla extract

Gelatine (10 sheets for 1000ml liquid) or 5 tsp powered gelatine

50gr Oreo biscuits

Prepare a 20cm (8in) diameter spring-form tin. Butter the sides of the tin.

Mix together the crust ingredients in a food processor — biscuits, butter, and cinnamon. Dispense into tin and firmly press down to compact base. Refrigerate for 1 hour.

Dissolve gelatine, as per pack instructions. Normally over low heat, without boiling, until liquid and clear. Allow to cool slightly

Place ricotta, mascarpone, Philadelphia and sugar in a food processor and blend until creamy. Add gelatine mixture. Fold in the whipped cream. Crumble the Oreo biscuits and mix gently. Spoon onto the biscuit base and refrigerate for 24 hours

When it is cool, remove from tin onto serving plate. Dust with cocoa powder or icing sugar.

Rachel Allen

TV Chef, Cook and author, Special Guest at Irish Examiner Food Festival

What was the first dish you ever cooked?

Probably biscuits or cake — Rice Krispie cakes or fairy cakes.

What was your most memorable meal?

One of them would be the Sunday roast dinners growing up, or taking my family for breakfast picnics on the Ballycotton cliffs, cooking Woodside Farm bacon and sausages, but we had a meal on our honeymoon in Madhur Jaffrey’s New York restaurant that was very special.

Chicken — cheap or free-range or organic?

I go for the best free range or organic I can find. We buy East Ferry Free Range, Ballycotton Free Range Poultry or Dan Aherne’s Organic chicken. I’d buy local free range over imported organic.

Does the global food crisis concern you — why, and is there anything we in Ireland can do about it?

Absolutely, it does and I’m always harping on about local seasonal food and supporting local producers.

How do you eat well on a low income?

When you can cook, you’ll never go hungry and you’ll save money. Always have a few recipes in your repertoire. Soups are great, a few potatoes and onions is all you need, add chorizo or bacon.

Is there such a thing as an Irish cuisine?

We never had the chefs in the palace kitchens so I think it is very much about our produce.

What is your favourite Irish dish?

A really good Irish stew with lovely, thick hogget or mutton chops, carrots, onions, lovely, fresh herbs, great, fluffy, floury potatoes.

What is your favourite Irish ingredient?

I go from Woodside sausages to Fingal Ferguson’s Gubeen chorizo or venison salami to really ripe Gubeen or Durrus or Ardrahan or Cashel Blue — [laughing indignantly] you can’t answer that! All of them on a plate!

What is your favourite Irish restaurant?

Thorntons, Chapter One, L’Écrivain. I really want to go to The Greenhouse where Mickael Viljanen cooks because I loved the food he cooked at Gregan’s Castle. It’s usually the last place I’ve been to — we have such an amazing quality of food in Ireland.

What’s your favourite comfort food?

Steak and béarnaise sauce, big, buttery mash potatoes or some sort of chicken casserole.

What five guests would you invite to your ideal dinner party?

I’d always have my closest family and friends but otherwise it would be all food people: Rick Stein, a great cook and great fun; Jamie Oliver, always great fun and loves his food; and [food writers] Elisabeth David, Madhur Jaffrey and Claudia Roden. Or Marcella Hazan!

What would you choose as your final meal?

Lobster from the coast off Ballycotton, freshly boiled with really good homemade mayo, new spuds, tomato and basil salad and a dark chocolate mousse or this time of year, a really simple marshmallow-y meringue with strawberries and cream.

Spanish mussels

Once washed and cleaned, mussels are one of the easiest foods to serve; they are ready in only a few minutes.

Serves 4

Preparation time: 10 minutes

Cooking time: 5-10 minutes

1.5kg (3lb 5oz) mussels

110g (4oz) chorizo

2tbsp olive oil

120ml (4 ½ fl oz) dry sherry or white wine

2 tbsp chopped parsley

4 lemon wedges, to serve

Rinse the mussels in cold running water a couple of times to wash away any sand or grit. Give them a scrub to dislodge any barnacles or weed, then remove the ‘beard’ with a tug or a sharp knife. Discard any that are open and won’t close when tapped against a surface.

Cut the chorizo into 3mm (1/8in) slices. Pour the oil into a large saucepan on a medium heat and, when warm, add the chorizo. Cook for 1-2 minutes on each side or until the amber oils are released from the chorizo.

Add the sherry, then the mussels, cover, and cook for 3-4 minutes or until all the mussels have opened. (Discard any that remain closed after cooking — don’t eat these.)

Stir in the parsley, then tip into wide, warmed bowls and serve with lemon wedges and toasted crusty white bread.

Paolo Tullio

Food writer & critic, former Michelin Star chef, Co-founder of Taste of Ireland Restaurant Guide, Special Guest at Irish Examiner Food Festival

What was the first dish you ever cooked?

When I was six or seven my mum taught me to cook a plain egg omelette and to finish it off under the grill because I was too small to flip it.

What was your most memorable meal?

Trouble is, most meals blend into a universal mishmash. A recent meal that stands out in my mind was at The Greenhouse. I can also still remember vividly, an onion sandwich on top of a mountain in Italy, shared by a fellow walker, just bread and onion, but it tasted so good.

Chicken — cheap or free-range or organic?

I only buy chickens when I’ve met them, I want to see them pecking in a field. Organic, free range doesn’t mean a whole lot. Pork, chicken, farmed salmon are all things I generally tend to avoid.

Does the global food crisis concern you — why, and is there anything we in Ireland can do about it?

We have had a cheap food policy for the last 50 years, and I don’t think it has benefited anyone — farmers, suppliers, consumers — so I don’t think rising prices are an entirely bad thing. We notice with fish, people are no longer giving it away but recognising its true value.

How do you eat well on a low income?

Don’t buy pre-prepared foods or convenience foods would seem to be the simplest answer of all. Chopped veg? Anyone can chop veg. Lettuce leaves bagged in chlorine? I’m not sure that’s any good for you.

Is there such a thing as an Irish cuisine?

I don’t know. There are certainly some traditional dishes. I have a suspicion we are on the way to getting regional cooking, more and more chefs tying in with artisan dishes — Drisheen down in Cork, which no one else does, the Waterford Blaah.

What is your favourite Irish dish?

Without doubt boiled collar of bacon with parsley sauce, made with parsley and not out of a packet.

What is your favourite Irish ingredient?

Beef or lamb. All over Europe animals raised on pastures are almost impossible to get.

What is your favourite Irish restaurant?

I don’t really have a favourite. It depends on what kind of food I want. Fancy, Chapter One. Cheap and cheerful, Alexis in Dun Laoghaire. A good Italian, Via Veneto in Enniscorthy.

What’s your favourite comfort food?

I’m quite fond of a peanut butter sandwich, an egg mayonnaise sandwich, homemade mayonaisse.

Which five guests would you invite to your ideal dinner party?

Leonardo da Vinci, Galileo, one of the great philosophers, maybe Plato. Peter Ustinov, a wonderful, interesting raconteur. Michelle Pfeiffer.

What would you choose as your final meal?

Foie gras, because I could chew that, and a 1901 Chateau d’Yquem.

Uova con pomodori — Tomato eggs

Take four tomatoes and cut off the tops. Scoop out the seeds and some of the flesh and then sprinkle the insides with salt and pepper. Turn them upside down and let them drain for about ten minutes. When they’re drained add a little oregano to each tomato and a dash of olive oil. Bake then in an oven-proof dish for twenty minutes at 180C.

Take the dish from the oven and break an egg into each tomato, then return the dish to the oven for about another five minutes until the eggs are cooked. Garnish them with a sprig of basil and serve.

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