Darina Allen’s Buttermilk panna cotta vinegar and honey

WE PACKED our bags recently and headed for the US ready to launch the Kerrygold Ballymaloe Literary Festival of Food and Wine in New York. 

Darina Allen’s Buttermilk panna cotta vinegar and honey

We had a terrific guest list of media, speakers, friends and well-wishers. David Tanis of the New York Times, April Bloomfield of the Spotted Pig, John Dory Oyster Bar, The Breslin and Dining Room fame, blogger extraordinaire David Lebovitz, Christine Muhlke of Food and Wine magazine, Niall Gibbons of Tourism Ireland, Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport Paschal Donohoe and Kerrygold our festival sponsors were all due to attend.

But we hadn’t reckoned on the weather taking a turn for the worse. Sunday was a crisp sunny day, but by Monday New York was whipped into a frenzy of panic by the forecasters, who predicted scary blizzards and 24 to 30 inches of snow.

The city gradually went into lockdown, and by mid-afternoon the conditions had worsened, but still only a few inches of snow. By late evening trains had stopped running and roads around the city were closed, as were shops and restaurants.

Supermarket shelves were emptied as people panicked. The serious snow and blizzards were, we were told, to come during the night.

Well, the prediction turned out to be embarrassingly exaggerated — a mere two to three inches of snow dusted sidewalks in the morning but the city was still at a standstill and it took days for things to get back to normal.

Meanwhile, we had held out to the last moment to make a decision, but there was simply no option but to cancel the event.

As you can imagine we were thoroughly disappointed, having found a great venue in the Bowery, planned it all, hired all the glassware, great flowers, yummy food... Not to worry. We quickly picked ourselves up and arranged a new date for the New York launch of the Kerrygold Ballymaloe Literary Festival of Food and Wine in mid-March.

So what’s happening on the New York food scene? Everyone seems to be obsessed with food and endlessly chatted about where they’ve eaten and the new big thing.

Here are a few really good places to add to your New York list.

Via Carota the newest venture of Jody Williams of Buvette and Rita Sodi of I Sodi, both firm favourites of mine, all within a few blocks of each other around Grove Street. It serves simple Italian and French food, gorgeous ingredients and pretty perfect dishes.

With all the snow and blizzard confusion we just managed to have a couple of small negronis and a few delicious snacks in the long glass-fronted restaurant and marble topped bar with a dazzling selection of bitters.

I was longing to stay for dinner to taste the fried rabbit with rosemary and garlic toast and the svezzerina, a bun-less burger made of hand-chopped New York strip steak, simply seasoned with salt, pepper, rosemary and garlic, seared on a hot flat-top griddle still pink in the centre.

We popped into Enrique Romera’s new restaurant, Cosmé, to sample the desserts. The place was throbbing, the food is new-Mexican akin to the flavours, people flock to taste at Puzol, his starred Mexico City restaurant.

We loved the sweet potato flan with coffee and meringue made with essence of corn husks, — like nothing I’ve ever tasted before.

Another out-of-town chef, Danny Bowien from San Francisco, is also making waves at Mission Chinese Food and Mission Cantina, Mexican food is hot and may well be the next big wave.

I’ve also got lots of favourite breakfast spots, and am always on the look-out for more. Buvette, in the West Village is my favourite bistro in New York city, the food is comforting, sophisticated and delicious.

Freshly squeezed juices to order, homemade croissants, pan-au-chocolate and Bostock — an almond brioche warm from the oven, great coffee, poached eggs with lentils and kale, never enough room to taste everything.

I love Buvette for breakfast but there’s also lunch and dinner, and now a cookbook, so we can learn some of Jodi’s secrets.

Maialino in Gramercy Hotel is another great breakfast venue — calm and sophisticated. I particularly love their soft scrambled eggs (Cacio e Pepe) with pecorino and black pepper and ricotta pancakes with kumquat jam and maple syrup. Don’t miss the bacon-glazed brioche buns either.

Lots of gems in midtown also, including April Bloomfield’s John Dory and The Breslin in the Ace Hotel.

The latter is another of my breakfast hot spots. I particularly love their thick unctuous yoghurt served with winter fruit compote, honey and pistachio honeycomb and pancakes with crystalized ginger butter.

The star plate for me at John Dory is the Carta Musica with bottarga, Paper thin rounds of Sardinian flat bread with butter and thin sheets of cured mullet roe. So simple and so sublime — I ordered it twice.

Buttermilk panna cotta vinegar and honey

Buttermilk adds real interest to this classic Italian dessert while cutting the richness. Add raspberries if you wish.

Makes about 12

3 leaves gelatine or 3 level tsp powdered gelatine

700ml (1¼ pints) double cream

1 vanilla pod, split

300g (10½oz) caster sugar

225ml (8fl oz) buttermilk

Juice of 1 large lemon

Vinegar and honey

Equipment:

12 x shallow bowls

Soak the gelatine leaves in a bowl of cold water for about 5 minutes or until they soften. Alternatively, put 3 tablespoons of cold water into a small bowl, sprinkle in the powdered gelatine, and leave to sit for 5–10 minutes, until the gelatine has absorbed the water. (This is called sponging the gelatine, and helps it dissolve more easily.)

Put the cream and split vanilla pod into a saucepan. Warm gently, then add the sugar and stir to dissolve. Remove the vanilla pod, scrape out the seeds and add to the cream. Save the pod to make vanilla sugar.

Add the drained gelatine sheets and stir to dissolve. Leave to cool. Whisk in the buttermilk and lemon juice. Pour into bowls, cover and chill for several hours or overnight to set completely. Spoon some vinegar honey mix on top of each — divine.

Buvette Croque-Monsieur

A beloved sandwich, a croque-monsieur is basically a grilled cheese as seen through a decadent French lens. A constant on the menu at Buvette, plenty of these are served at lunch and also late at night when they are put back on the menu after 11 o’clock.

They are great for a party since you can assemble a tray of croques ahead of time and simply pop them into the oven when the guests arrive.

Makes 4 Sandwiches

¾ cup of Béchamel sauce

25g (1 oz) wholegrain mustard

8 slices bread

8 slices cooked ham, preferably prosciutto cotto

110g (4oz) coarsely grated Gruyère cheese

1 tsp Herbes de Provence

Preheat the oven to 220C. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper

Stir the béchamel together with the mustard and dividing the mixture evenly, spread it on each slice of bread, being sure to spread the béchamel from corner to corner on each slice.

On 4 of the prepared slices of bread, place 2 slices of ham directly on top of the béchamel and then sprinkle ½ of the grated cheese on top of the ham. Place the remaining béchamel-coated slices of bread on top of the Gruyère, béchamel side up.

Place the 4 sandwiches onto the prepared baking sheet. Sprinkle each sandwich with a small pinch of Herbes de Provence and the remaining Gruyère.

Place the sandwiches in the oven and bake until the cheese is totally melted and is starting to crisp, about 10 minutes.

Croque-Forestier

For vegetarian friends, make Croque-Forestiers by simply exchanging the ham for a handful of mushrooms that have been roasted with olive oil, salt, sage and rosemary.

Croque-Madame

To guild the lily, make Croque-Madames by placing a fried egg on top of each sandwich, (works on any version of the sandwich). It should rest like a good hat, leaning ‘just-so’

Ricotta Hotcakes with Kumquat Compote and Crème Fraîche

Serves 6-8

150g (5oz) ricotta

175mls (6fl oz) milk

4 eggs, separated

110g (4oz) plain flour

1 tsp baking powder

A pinch of salt

50g (2oz) butter

To serve:

Kumquat compote (recipe below)

Crème fraîche

Icing (confectioners) sugar for dusting

Mix the ricotta, milk and egg yolks gently in a bowl. Sieve the flour, baking powder and salt into another bowl. Add to the ricotta mixture and stir until well combined.

Whisk the egg whites in to stiff peaks in a clean dry bowl, then fold them through the batter in two batches, with a large metal spoon.

Melt a little clarified butter and spoon a large dollop of the batter into the pan, don’t cook more than 3 on the pan together. Cook over a low to medium heat for 2-3 minutes, or until hotcakes are golden underneath. Flip over and cook on the other side. Transfer to a warm plate.

Serve with some kumquat compote and crème fraîche.

Dust with icing sugar and garnish with a sprig of mint.

Note: hotcake batter can be stored for up to 24 hours, covered with a plastic wrap in the refrigerator.

Kumquat Compôte

Serves 6-20 depending on how it is served

235g (8½oz) kumquats

200ml (7fl oz) water

110g (4oz) sugar

Slice the kumquats into four or five round depending on size, remove the seeds.

Put the kumquats into a saucepan with the water and sugar and let them cook very gently, covered, for half an hour or until tender.

Serve warm or cold.

Note: This compote keeps for weeks in the fridge.

Buvette Lentils with Kale and Shallots

This hearty lentil dish is all about patience and slow cooking. You want the kale to really cook to the point where it just about loses its physical integrity and all of its freshness is dissolved into the lentils.

The effect becomes rich and comforting. And while this is completely vegetarian I am not. Really, I am just opportunistic and I believe in the freedom of what works well. Which is to day, this would be great with bacon!

Serves 4 to 6

50ml (2fl oz) extra-virgin olive oil

3 shallots, peeled and diced

5 garlic cloves, peeled and trimmed

2 dried chillies of 1 tsp red chili flakes

1 bunch kale (preferably lacinato kale, also known as dinosaur kale), finely chopped

1 cup dark lentils

Coarse salt

950ml (1 pint 12fl oz) water

½ tsp freshly grated nutmeg

Crème fraîche for serving

Some really high-quality extra-virgin olive oil, for serving

Heat the 50ml of olive oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Add the shallots, garlic, chili and kale and cook stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are just beginning to soften, about 5 minutes.

Add the lentils, a healthy pinch of salt and the water. Bring the mixture to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer gently until the lentils and kale are not ‘just’ cooked through, but really soft and lovely, a good hour, maybe even two; it will depend on the age and type of lentil you choose.

Splash the mixture with additional water as it cooks if it’s threatening to dry out; you want the final product to be moist, but not at all brothy. Just before serving, stir in the nutmeg and season the mixture with salt.

Serve hot or at room temperature with generous spoonfuls of cold crème fraîche and a healthy drizzle of the raw, high-quality extra-virgin olive oil.

Recipe note: I prefer tiny dark green, tiny lentils for this dish, often labelled ‘du puy’ or ‘castelluccio’.

They retain their shape when you cook them and have a wonderful nutty, earthy flavour. Be sure to pour them out onto a plate before you cook them to look for little stones.

While they are rare, you don’t want any of your guests or friends breaking a tooth.

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