Darina Allen: A feast of Ballymaloe's traditional Irish dishes

In honour of Lá Fhéile Pádraig.

Darina Allen: A feast of Ballymaloe's traditional Irish dishes

This year I’ll be in Ireland instead of New York for St Patrick’s Day, and I’m all set to celebrate, right here in Shanagarry. Remember St Patrick banished the snakes from Ireland so we’ll have our annual snake hunt around the garden.

We’ve got students from all over the world here at present and they too are all determined to enter into the spirit.

They’re planning to rummage around in their wardrobes and suitcases to bedeck themselves in 40 shades of green.

To celebrate Lá Fhéile Pádraig, Ballymaloe House and Ballymaloe Cookery School will be illuminated in green as they have been for the past four years to participate in Tourism Ireland’s Global Greening Project — which is a brilliant initiative where iconic buildings around the world are lit up in green to focus attention on Ireland on St Patrick’s Day.

This, in turn, promotes tourism and raises awareness of Ireland and all things Irish.

This year the Liffey will be dyed green to celebrate our national day.

We are planning to serve a feast of our traditional Irish dishes.

Last year, it was bacon and cabbage with parsley sauce but this time I’m looking forward to a big pot of Irish stew.

It’s a wonderfully comforting meal in a pot, beloved by all the family. I often serve it when friends come round for supper and they just love to tuck into a big bowl of stew and have a nostalgic trip down memory lane.

Songs have been sung and poems have been written about champ and colcannon…

In the US it’s corned beef and cabbage for everyone and soda bread with raisins and caraway seeds.

We’d hoped to have the first rhubarb tart of the year on St Patrick’s Day but I was over optimistic, our rhubarb is barely above the ground and it feels like cheating to use the pale pink forced rhubarb from the Rhubarb Triangle in Yorkshire in the UK where one can literally hear the rhubarb leaves unfurling in the forcing tunnels.

Instead, we’ll make our special St Patrick’s Day cake, decorated with orange kumquats and tart greenwood sorrel leaves (oxalis) which resemble shamrock but are edible. It’s a super cake, really fast to make and fun to share with friends on St Patrick’s Day.

Alternatively, how about a bowl of fluffy carrageen moss pudding with softly whipped cream and soft brown sugar – check out last week’s Irish Examiner column for the recipe?

St Patrick’s Day cake

This cake is very special. It’s super-easy to make and is decorated with a lemony icing, kumquats and wood sorrel leaves — green, white and gold, to celebrate our national day.

Serves 8


175g (6oz) soft butter

150g (5oz) caster sugar

3 eggs, preferably free-range

175g (6oz) self-raising flour

Lemon glacé icing

110g (4oz) icing sugar

Finely grated rind of 1/2 lemon

1-2 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice


8 pieces of kumquat compote - drained

8 wood sorrel leaves


1 x 20.5cm (8 inch) sandwich tin, buttered and floured.

Line the base of the tin with parchment paper.


Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas Mark 4.

Put the soft butter, caster sugar, eggs and self-raising flour into the bowl of a food processor. Whizz for a few seconds to amalgamate and turn into the prepared tin — make a dip in the centre so it rises evenly. Bake in the preheated oven for 25-30 minutes approximately or until golden brown and well risen. Cool in the tin for a few minutes, remove and cool on a wire rack.

Make the lemon glacé Icing.

Sieve the icing sugar into a bowl. Add the lemon rind and enough lemon juice to make a softish icing. Once the cake is cool, pour the icing over the cake and spread gently over the sides with a palette knife.

To decorate:

Decorate with the candied kumquats and wood sorrel leaves. Serve on a pretty plate

Ballymaloe Irish stew

Another traditional classic, the recipe for this one-pot dish varies from region to region — in Cork, carrots are a quintessential addition, not so in parts of Ulster. Pearl barley is a favourite addition, originally added to bulk up the stew.

Serves 6- 8


2½-3lbs (1.1-1.35kg) lamb chops (gigot from the shoulder of lamb) not less than 1 inch (2.5cm) thick

8 medium or 12 baby carrots

8 medium or 12 baby onions

8 -12 potatoes, or more if you like

Salt and freshly ground pepper

1½-1¾ pints stock (lamb stock if possible) or water

1 sprig of thyme

1 tbsp roux, optional


4oz (110g) butter

4oz (110g) flour


2 tbsp coarsely snipped parsley

1 tbsp freshly chopped chives


Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas Mark 4.

Cut the chops in half and trim off some of the excess fat. Set aside. Render the lamb fat on a gentle heat in a heavy pan (discard the rendered down pieces).

Peel the onions and scrape or thinly peel the carrots (if they are young you may want to leave some of the green stalk on the onion and carrot). Cut the carrots into large chunks, or if they are small leave whole. If the onions are large, cut them into quarters through the root, when small they are best left whole.

Toss the meat in the hot fat on the pan until it is slightly brown. Transfer the meat into a casserole, then quickly toss the onions and carrots in the fat.

Build the meat, carrots and onions up in layers in the casserole, carefully season each layer with freshly ground pepper and salt.

Degrease the pan with lamb stock, bring to the boil and pour into the casserole.

Peel the potatoes and lay them on top of the casserole, so they will steam while the stew cooks. Season the potatoes. Add a sprig of thyme, bring to the boil on top of the stove, cover with a butter wrapper or paper lid and the lid of the saucepan.

Transfer to a moderate oven or allow to simmer on top of the stove until the stew is cooked, 1-1½ hours approximately, depending on whether the stew is being made with lamb or hogget.

When the stew is cooked, pour off the cooking liquid, de-grease and reheat in another saucepan. Thicken slightly by whisking in a little roux.

Check seasoning, then add chopped parsley and chives.

Pour over the meat and vegetables. Bring the stew back up to boiling point and serve from the pot or in a large pottery dish sprinkled with herbs.

For the roux

Melt the butter and cook the flour in it for two minutes on a low heat, stirring occasionally. Use as required. Roux can be stored in a cool place and used as required or it can be made up on the spot if preferred. It will keep at least a fortnight in a refrigerator.

Spotted dog with caraway seeds

Caraway seeds and sultanas were added to soda bread in Ireland long ago, but the tradition went by the wayside. Not so in America, where soda bread often has caraway seeds and sultanas in it.

Usually, when I go to the US I take Irish recipes there, but I was delighted to bring this one back to Ireland! Simply add two teaspoons of caraway seeds to the spotted dog recipe and proceed as above.

Makes 1 loaf


450g (1lb) plain white flour

1–2 tbsp sugar

1 level tsp salt

1 level tsp bread soda (bicarbonate of soda), sieved

75–110g (3–4oz) sultanas, raisins or currants

2 tsp of caraway seeds

300ml (10fl oz) sour milk or buttermilk

1 egg, free-range if possible (optional — you may not need all the milk if you use the egg)


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

Sieve the dry ingredients into a bowl, add the caraway seeds and dried fruit, mix well.

Make a well in the centre and pour most of the milk in at once with the egg.

Using one hand, mix in the flour from the sides of the bowl, adding more milk if necessary.

The dough should be softish, not too wet and sticky. When it all comes together, turn it out on to a floured board and knead it lightly for a few seconds, just enough to tidy it up.

Pat the dough into a round about 4cm (1½ inch) deep and cut a deep cross on it.

Bake for 15 minutes, then turn down the oven to 200C/400F/Gas Mark 6 and continue to cook for approximately 30 minutes. If you are in doubt, tap the bottom — if it is cooked, it will sound hollow.

Serve freshly baked, cut into thick slices and generously slathered with butter. Simply delicious!

Irish colcannon soup

Colcannon is one of Ireland’s best-loved traditional potato dishes — fluffy mashed potato flecked with cooked cabbage or kale. This recipe uses identical ingredients to make a delicious soup.

Serves 6


75g (3oz) butter

425g (15oz) peeled diced potatoes

110g (4oz) diced onions

1.2 litre (2 pints) homemade chicken stock or vegetable stock

450g (1lb) Savoy cabbage

Salt and freshly ground pepper

110ml (4 fl oz) creamy milk


Melt 50g (2oz) butter in a heavy-bottomed saucepan. When it foams, add the potatoes and onions and toss them in the butter until well coated. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper. Cover and sweat on a gentle heat for 6-10 minutes. Add the stock, increase the heat, and cook until the vegetables are soft but not coloured.

Meanwhile, cook the cabbage.

Remove the tough outer leaves from the cabbage. Divide into four, cut out the stalks and then cut into fine shreds across the grain.

Put two-three tablespoons of water into a wide saucepan with 25g (1oz) butter and a pinch of salt.

Bring to the boil, add the cabbage and toss constantly over a high heat, then cover for a few minutes. Toss again and add some more salt, freshly ground pepper and a knob of butter.

Purée in a blender or food processor, add the cabbage to the soup. Taste and adjust seasoning. Thin with creamy milk to the required consistency.

Note: Cabbage may be puréed with the soup if you would rather a smoother texture.

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