Lamb, Winter Vegetable and Pearl Barley Stew

Lamb, Winter Vegetable and Pearl Barley Stew

A stew or tagine can be made ahead and served with a bowl of mash, a few baked potatoes or a simple cous cous.

WE ALL love a bit of romance, an unexpected bouquet; a bar of choccie, a spontaneous hug, even a furtive wink can put a skip in your step for the rest of the day.

Valentine’s Day is upon us again where everyone from nine to 90 gets licence to be silly and cutely romantic. Even my grandchildren are making cards and cupcakes and having fun.

But most of all the way to everyone’s heart is through their tummy. Of course you can book a romantic meal for two in a fancy restaurant but how about cooking supper instead of, or as well as, particularly if your favourite spot is already booked out.

Choose a nice easy menu that can be spirited without too much fuss or bother, a simple starter might be Ardsallagh Goat Cheese with Highbank Orchard syrup with a few rockets leaves or Medjool Dates with Yoghurt, Sumac, Pistachios and Extra Virgin Olive Oil. Both are light and easy. A stew or tagine can be made ahead and served with a bowl of mash, a few baked potatoes or a simple cous cous.

Follow this with a salad of winter leaves and a piece of cheese — a heart-shaped Neufch‚tel would be perfect. You’ll find it in the many specialist cheese shops like Sheridans in Dublin or Galway or On the Pigs Back at the English Market or Iago on 9 Princes Street Cork. It’s a heart-shaped Camembert-type cheese made in Normandy it has an appealing mushroom taste and is perfect for a Valentine’s supper.

A light fruity dessert would be good after this comforting stew. Blood oranges are in season at present. A blood orange granita would be perfect, or even some thickly sliced blood oranges with a chiffonade of mint.

However, I’m tempted to suggest a rice pudding with a little grating of nutmeg over the top. We’ve been having lots of rice puddings recently — and it seems to get a joyous reception from every age group, particularly when it’s served with a little Jersey cream and a sprinkling of soft brown sugar.

Figs with Yoghurt, Sumac, Pistachio and Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Serves 4 as a starter

8 fresh figs in season

8 tbsp Greek style natural yoghurt (the yoghurt should be thick)

2 tsp fresh sumac

3 – 4 tsp pistachios, halved

Extra virgin olive oil

2 tsp honey

A few flakes of sea salt

Spoon two — three tablespoons of yoghurt onto each plate. Cut the figs into quarters, push gently down into the yoghurt. Sprinkle with sumac and pistachios, drizzle with extra virgin olive oil and honey, serve.

Lamb, Winter Vegetable and Pearl Barley Stew

This comforting stew makes more than you’ll need for your romantic supper but it reheats brilliantly.

Serves 4-6

1kg lamb neck fillets cut into thick chunks

2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

2 onions peeled and quartered

3 carrots peeled and cut in half at an angle

3 leeks trimmed and cut into thick chunks

1 sprig thyme

1 small bay leaf

600ml lamb or chicken stock

100g pearl barley

Gremolata

A nice handful of fresh parsley

The same of fresh mint

Zest of 1 unwaxed lemon, grated

Cut the neck of lamb into chunky pieces, season well with salt and freshly ground pepper. Heat a couple of tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil in a wide pan over a high heat, brown the meat on all sides, transfer to a casserole. Don’t overcrowd the pan, just do the meat in batches. Then toss the vegetables in the olive oil and fat in the pan, add a little more extra virgin olive oil if necessary. Add to the meat in the casserole.

Pour the stock into the pan and stir to dissolve all the meat juices. Bring to the boil, pour on the meat and vegetables in the casserole, add the herbs and bring to the boil. Simmer on the top of the stove or transfer to a moderate oven 180C/350F/Mark 4 for 45 minutes. Add the pearl barley and continue to cook for a further 15 to 20 minutes, or until the grains are plump and the meat and vegetables are meltingly tender. Taste and correct seasoning.

Not long before serving make the gremolata, chop the parsley, fresh mint and lemon zest together. Turn the stew into a terracotta serving bowl, sprinkle with gremolata and serve with baked potatoes and a green salad.

Jacob Kenedy’s Blood Orange Granita

Blood oranges are in season at present so use them in every way you can while they last.

Blood oranges

Caster sugar

To serve:

Toasted flaked almonds, dusted with icing sugar

A little chopped fresh mint

Juice the blood oranges, removing any pips but straining only through a colander or coarse sieve to do so, so some pulp remains. Add 120g (4½oz) caster sugar per litre (1¾ pints) of juice and stir to dissolve.

Pour the liquid into a deep tray that will fit in your freezer (metal is best, as it will conduct heat from the granita fastest — but this is only a question of time, rather than quality). Place it in your freezer, and check after half an hour. Once ice crystals start to form, stir every 15 minutes or so with a fork or sturdy balloon whisk until you have a satisfyingly thick slush. If it gets too hard, you can always thaw it a little before serving — and it can be stored this way (frozen solid) for weeks. Serve on a hot day, sprinkled with the flaked almonds and mint.

Variation

Mixed 2:1 with vodka or Campari, this makes for an excellent cocktail, too.

Rory O’Connell’s Ardsallagh Goats Cheese with Highbank Orchard Syrup

Serves 4

120-130g (4½oz) fresh soft Ardsallagh

Goats Cheese

4-6 tbsp Highbank Orchard Syrup (available at Ballymaloe Cookery School Farm Shop)

16-20 Rocket leaves

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Divide the leaves between 4 plates.

Serve a crisp cheese biscuit or two or some hot bread to accompany this cheese course.

Place a slice of cheese on top of the Rocket leaves. Drizzle with the syrup. Season with a pinch of Maldon Sea salt and serve.


Lifestyle

Not all trends are created equal. Some are exciting – like first-date butterflies; others are comforting – like ice-cream and Golden Girls reruns.Trend of the Week: Floral free for all

Veterinary medicine is a demanding career, leading to mental health problems for some vets.Elephant in the clinic: Helpline offers support to vets with mental health difficulties

Pearl Lowe turns 50 in April – and she’s got a lot to celebrate. TA look into the reinvention of Pearl Lowe

Bonnie Ryan couldn’t be happier.On a roll: Why Bonnie Ryan couldn't be happier

More From The Irish Examiner