Gratin of Hake with Tomatoes, Basil, Olives and Parmesan

FOR ME it was a wonderful surprise that my latest book 30 Years at Ballymaloe won the Avonmore Cookbook of the Year award at the Bord Gáis Irish Book Awards — and it really was a surprise.

I was in very good company, Rachel’s Everyday Kitchen and Catherine Fulvio’s The Weekend Chef were also shortlisted as were Neven Maguire’s The Nation’s Favourite Food, Kevin Dundon’s Modern Irish Food and Ross Lewis for his beautifully produced Chapter One – An Irish Food Story.

But for me the best cookbook of the year was Master It – How to Cook Today by Rory O’Connell. Yes, he’s my brother and you may well be thinking ‘well, she would say that wouldn’t she’, but that’s what I truly believe.

It’s a fine tome and by the way, long overdue. Rory has spent his life in food ever since he came to Ballymaloe for a summer job after his first year at university. Myrtle in her perceptive way noticed that he had a particular interest so she invited him into the kitchen to ‘try his hand’ for a couple of weeks. After no more than ten days she decided he was a natural.
Rory cooked in the kitchens at Ballymaloe House and Arbutus Lodge for many years. He spent several years with the legendary Nico Ladenis at Chez Nico in London, a stint in Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons with Raymond Blanc, a month with Alice Waters in Chez Pannise in Berkeley California and in the inspirational kitchens of the American Academy in Rome. He was head chef at Ballymaloe House for many years.

Rory and I co-founded the Ballymaloe Cookery School in 1983 and we now run it together with my son Toby and our ace team.

Master It is a culmination of all those years of cooking and teaching, both of which Rory really really loves: “This is not a ‘chuck it in and see how it goes’ book. I find that approach irksome and unfair, as unless the cook is utterly instinctive and much practiced, this approach is fraught with pitfalls.

Food is too precious and expensive for that sort of game of chance. So many times I have witnessed the wide-eyed amazement and delight of a cook who, when cajoled into reading, weighing, heating and timing a set of ingredients, has produced a dish that has previously eluded them. My approach to cooking is simple and not new. Use the best ingredients you can find, get organised and follow the recipe.”

Master It was one of just a handful of cookbooks chosen by BBC4 Radio Food Programme and the Observer Food Magazine as one of the outstanding books of 2013, quite an honour, and they are definitely not a pushover.
To the students here at Ballymaloe Cookery School he is a hero, his creativity and presentation are inspirational and they love it.

Follow any of the recipes in Master It you will be guaranteed success and a bucketful of compliments.

Rory O’Connell’s Carrot, Coconut and Lemongrass Soup

Serves 6–8

I tasted a soup with these ingredients in Laos a few years ago, and when I came home I set about recreating that delicious flavour.

Carrot soup is a funny thing — you imagine it would be easy, but in fact it can be difficult to achieve a really flavoursome result.

However, with this lovely combination of flavours I think it works really well.
The ingredients: I like to make this soup with big carrots that have been sold with some earth still on them, and preferably after the first frosts, when they seem to become deeper in flavour, so this becomes a late autumn and winter soup.

Lemongrass is easy to source now and is a lovely ingredient with its sweet, scented and astringent flavour.

Bright green when fresh, it dulls to a pale straw colour when dried, which is the way it is sold generally in the West. Here it needs to be sliced as finely as you can, so that it will cook down and disappear into the puréed soup.

Be careful when running your hands over the grass, as its leaves can be razor sharp.

Coconut milk, like lemongrass, is an essential ingredient in the cooking of south-east Asia and indeed all of southern India.

Like lemongrass, using it is an entry ticket to a repertoire of dishes bigger than you can imagine.

The first time you open a can, you may be surprised by the rather grey-white colour of the contents.
Apart from the colour, the general appearance can also vary.

Sometimes there will be a thick and solid layer on top, which is the richer cream, with a thinner, watery milk-like liquid underneath.

If the can has been shaken, the two different consistencies can appear rather curdled. Just stir the two liquids together to mix. 40g butter

700g carrots, peeled and thinly sliced

225g onions, peeled and thinly sliced

1 clove of garlic, peeled and chopped

2 stalks of lemongrass

Maldon sea salt, freshly ground black pepper and sugar, to taste

850ml chicken stock

500ml coconut milk

Fresh coriander leaves, to garnish

Melt the butter in a heavy-based saucepan and allow it to foam. Add the carrots, onions and garlic and stir to coat in the butter.

Remove the coarse outer leaves and the tough ends from the lemongrass. Slice the trimmed stalk finely against the grain and add to the vegetables.

Tie the tough outer leaves together with string and add to the pan. Season with salt, pepper and a pinch of sugar.

Cover with a greaseproof paper lid and the saucepan lid and cook on a low heat for about 20 minutes, or until the carrots are beginning to soften. Add the chicken stock, return to a simmer and cook, covered, until the vegetables are completely tender.

Remove and discard the tied up lemongrass stalks. Purée the ingredients to achieve a smooth and silky consistency.

Heat the coconut milk to a simmer, add to the carrot purée and mix well. Return the soup to a simmer. The consistency will be slightly thick.

Taste and correct the seasoning, bearing in mind that carrots sometimes benefit from a small pinch of sugar to really lift the flavour.

Serve hot, garnished with coriander leaves.

Rory O’Connell’s Fish Fillets Bakes ‘au gratin’

Serves 4

Measure all the ingredients accurately, so as to ensure the correct amount of sauce and flavourings for the amount of fish being cooked.

The cooked gratin should be a rich golden colour and bubbling hot when ready to be served.

Gratin of Hake with Tomatoes, Basil, Olives and Parmesan

The firm texture of hake is perfect for this dish, although cod, pollock and salmon are also good here.

Really ripe tomatoes are essential to add sweetness and depth of flavour to the sauce.

The final addition to the dish of the strong-tasting chopped olive and basil pulls the flavours together.

The cooked gratin should arrive at the table bubbling hot, with a rich golden colour.

The ingredients: Hake is a firm-textured white-fleshed fish with great flavour.

Freshness, as ever, is the key to a delicious result. Fat, black and briny Kalamata olives are the preferred choice for this dish.

2 tsp olive oil, plus 2 tablespoons

600g ripe tomatoes, peeled and sliced 5mm thick

Maldon sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 large clove of garlic, peeled and very thinly sliced

4x150g pieces of hake fillet, skin removed

10 basil leaves

100ml regular or double cream

50g Parmesan

16 fat black olives, such as Kalamata, stoned removed and finely chopped

8 small basil leaves, for serving

Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/gas 4

Rub an ovenproof gratin dish with the 2 teaspoons of olive oil.

Place the sliced tomatoes in the dish and season with salt and pepper.

Sprinkle with the sliced garlic. Lay the pieces of fish on next.

Tear the basil leaves and scatter over the fish.

Whisk the cream and Parmesan together and season to taste with salt and pepper.

Spoon the cream directly over the fish.

The dish can now be cooked immediately or covered and refrigerated for up to 2 hours.

To cook, place in the preheated oven and bake for 20-25 minutes, until the fish is just cooked through and the cream and tomatoes have become a bubbling light sauce with a golden hue.

Mix the chopped olives with the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil and drizzle over the dish.

Scatter the small basil leaves over and serve.

Rory O’Connell’s Brown Bread Ice Cream

I think this is a brilliant recipe. It’s really simple and tastes great.

I use it year round. In autumn and winter I serve it with poached pears or citrus fruit.

The ingredients: Wholemeal bread, lightly processed into coarse crumbs about the size of peas, is ideal here.

Serves 6–8

175g coarse wholemeal breadcrumbs (brown soda breadcrumbs are ideal)

600ml regular, double or whipping cream

125g soft light brown sugar (or icing sugar)

2 egg yolks

1 tbsp dark rum, or whiskey or brandy

2 egg whites

Preheat the oven to 190C/375F/gas mark 5. Spread the breadcrumbs out on a baking tray and toast in the oven for about 20 minutes.

They should become crisp and slightly browned.

Meanwhile, beat the cream with the sugar until softly whipped.

Mix the egg yolks with the rum, if using, and add to the cream mixture, beating it in well.

When the breadcrumbs are cool, fold them into the cream mixture gently and thoroughly, so that they are evenly distributed.

Lastly, whip the whites of the eggs stiffly and fold into the mixture.

Freeze in the usual way, in a covered container. There is no need to stir up this ice cream.

I think this is a brilliant recipe. It’s really simple and tastes great.

I use it year round. In autumn and winter I serve it with poached pears or citrus fruit.

The ingredients: Wholemeal bread, lightly processed into coarse crumbs about the size of peas, is ideal here.

Serves 6–8

175g coarse wholemeal breadcrumbs (brown soda breadcrumbs are ideal)

600ml regular, double or whipping cream

125g soft light brown sugar (or icing sugar)

2 egg yolks

1 tbsp dark rum, or whiskey or brandy

2 egg whites

Preheat the oven to 190C/375F/gas mark 5. Spread the breadcrumbs out on a baking tray and toast in the oven for about 20 minutes.

They should become crisp and slightly browned.

Meanwhile, beat the cream with the sugar until softly whipped.

Mix the egg yolks with the rum, if using, and add to the cream mixture, beating it in well.

When the breadcrumbs are cool, fold them into the cream mixture gently and thoroughly, so that they are evenly distributed.

Lastly, whip the whites of the eggs stiffly and fold into the mixture.

Freeze in the usual way, in a covered container. There is no need to stir up this ice cream.

Hot tips

The New Seasons Capezzana Extra Virgin Olive Oil that has just arrived at the Ballymaloe Cookery School Farm Shop is a really special Christmas present for a foodie friend. Tel: 021-4646785

Arbutus Breads are making a stollen this Christmas, you may need to order ahead or pick one up at market — look out for the medieval bread, also delicious with cheese or just to nibble. Tel: 021-4505820/086-2513919; email: info@arbutusbread.com

Are you still wracking your brains for a last minute Christmas gift?

A voucher for a Cookery Demonstration or Hands-On Cookery Class will last a lifetime. Contact Ballymaloe Cookery School.

They can email you a gift voucher right up to Christmas Eve. Tel: 021-4646785.


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