Darina Allen: Soft Yoghurt Cheese - Labneh

We had our annual Long Table Dinner in the glasshouses a couple of weeks ago. 

Darina Allen: Soft Yoghurt Cheese - Labneh

It was completely sold out with a waiting list of people eager to come if there was a cancellation, even at the last minute.

Six nationalities travelled here for it: English, South African, American, French, Swiss, as well, of course, as a large Irish contingent.

It was heaven sitting at a long table in the midst of the tomatoes and runner beans.

This is always a wonderful time of the year here in the Cookery School gardens, with everything looking lush and luxuriant.

Preparation starts several months ahead. After the early potato crop has been harvested, we plant grass seed in a couple of bays of the greenhouses.

This lush lawn creates a beautiful green carpet for the Long Table Dinner.

The field kitchen in the neighbouring bay was beautifully screened off with fresh beech branches and willow lattice.

Guests started to arrive at 4pm and Sommelier Colm McCann and his team had some cava with elderflower or rhubarb cordial and fresh mint lemonade ready for the guests.

Emer and Pat grilled sourdough bread and topped it with heirloom tomatoes and basil, or scrambled organic eggs dotted with Ballycotton lobster.

And then the feast began. Here’s the menu Rory eventually chose, illustrated by Lydia Hugh -Jones ( www.lydiahughjones.com ).

We started with a Garden Leaf and Herb Flower Bouquet with Almond and Marjoram, Grape and Elderflower Mist served in little glasses, which had been assembled minutes earlier from the freshly picked leaves.

There was lots of freshly baked Ballymaloe Brown Yeast Bread and Jersey butter from the farm.

The second course was served family-style, the guests helped themselves and each other to Beef Carpaccio with Horseradish and Tarragon Sushi Rice with Smoked Ballycotton Pollock and Ruby Beetroot Hot Smoked Wild Blackwater Salmon in Oeufs Mimosa and Mustard Seed Pickled Cucumbers.

The main course was also sensational, in the words of the guests around me: Grilled Breast of Nora Ahern’s Duck with Stonewell Tawny Cider, Roast Nectarines and Mint.

Rory had also braised the duck legs and wings with Indian spices, Llewellyn’s balsamic vinegar and tomatoes. That dish too was enthusiastically received.

Next the cheese course: Labne made with dripped natural yoghurt, served with Radishes, Savoury, Highbank Orchard Apple Syrup and Homemade Cheese Biscuits.

Then pudding, which was quite simply irresistible: Compote of Cherries with Kirsch An Iced Sandwich of Peach, Raspberry and Buttermilk And Crème Brulee peppered with Mark Kingston’s Single Estate Coffee.

It was a real celebration of the food from the farm and gardens and local area and the blessings of Mother Nature.

Soft Yoghurt Cheese - Labneh

This thick, creamy, soft cheese from the Middle East, pictured left, is so easy to make and so wonderfully smooth that your friends will be mightily impressed if you produce it for a dinner party.

This is an old recipe. I believe that dairy items like these were once made everywhere in Europe and elsewhere over many centuries and then forgotten at some stage, probably during industrialisation, so I have borrowed from those places where the traditions survived.

Labneh is a real treat and an easy way to dabble in cheesemaking. It is also much-loved by children and is a good way for you to pass on your knowledge of old skills to them.

It can be used for sweet or savoury dishes. Use whole-milk yoghurt for a creamier cheese.

This can be made from cow’s, sheep’s or goat’s milk. Or use commercial yoghurt.

Makes 500g (18oz) labneh

1kg (2 1/4lb) natural yoghurt

Line a strainer with a double thickness of sterilised cheesecloth. Place it over a bowl.

Pour in the yoghurt. Tie the four corners of the cheesecloth to make a loose bundle and suspend this bag of yoghurt over a bowl.

Leave it in a cool place to drip into the bowl for eight hours.

Then remove the cheesecloth and put the labneh in a bowl.

Refrigerate overnight, and store in a covered glass or plastic container. The liquid whey can be fed to pigs or hens.

Variation Labneh with Radishes, Mint, Summer Savoury, Highbank Apple Syrup and Olive Oil

Serves 6

350g (12oz) labneh (see recipe)

6 teaspoons Highbank Apple Syrup

6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

12 radishes

12 mint leaves

12 tiny pieces of summer savoury Maldon sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Allow 50g (2oz) of labneh per person and divide between 6 chilled plates.

Make a little indent with a teaspoon in each portion of labneh and pour in the apple syrup followed by the olive oil.

Place 2 radishes on each plate beside the labneh.

Break the mint leaves over the radishes and sprinkle on the summer savoury.

Place two or three cheese biscuits on the plates and finish off with a sprinkle of Maldon sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Carpaccio with Rocket and Parmesan

Carpaccio is the ultimate recipe to make a little beef go a very long way.

This sophisticated dish was invented in Harry’s Bar in Venice and named for Carpaccio, the great 15th century Venetian painter.

There are many variations and this one is inspired by a version served at the Cipriani Hotel.

Serves 12

1 lb (450g) fillet of beef, preferably Aberdeen Angus (fresh not frozen)

Fresh rocket or arugula leaves — about 5 per person depending on the size

6-7 very thin slivers Parmesan cheese per person (Parmigano Reggiano is best)

Sea salt and freshly ground pepper Extra virgin olive oil or mustard sauce (see below).

Mustard sauce

2 egg yolks

2 tablespoons (2 American tablespoons + 2 teaspoons) Dijon mustard

1 tablespoon (1 American tablespoon + 1 teaspoon) sugar

2 tablespoons (2 American tablespoons + 2 teaspoons) wine vinegar pint

(150ml/generous 1/2 cup) light olive oil or sunflower oil

1 tablespoon (1 American tablespoon + 1 teaspoon) grated fresh horseradish

1 generous teaspoon chopped parsley

1 generous teaspoon chopped tarragon

If you are using mustard sauce, make it first. Put the egg yolks into a bowl, add the mustard, sugar and wine vinegar and mix well.

Whisk in the oil gradually as though you were making mayonnaise.

Finally, add the grated horseradish, chopped parsley and tarragon. Taste and season if necessary.

Chill the meat. Slice the beef fillet with a very sharp knife, one third of an inch thick.

Place each slice on a piece of oiled cling film or parchment paper, cover with another piece of oiled clingfilm or parchment paper.

Roll gently with a rolling pin until almost transparent and double in size.

Peel the cling film or parchment paper off the top, invert the meat on to a plate, and gently peel away the other layer of clingfilm or parchment paper.

Arrange the rocket leaves on top of the beef and scatter with very thin slivers of Parmesan over the top.

Sprinkle with sea salt and freshly ground pepper.

Drizzle with the mustard sauce or with very best extra virgin olive oil and serve immediately.

Note: Rocket and Parmesan salad served without the carpaccio but drizzled with extra virgin olive oil is a fashionable starter.

Wine Suggestion: A full bodied red eg. Sassicaia from Tuscany 24/06/2008 (JJ) 1876

Duck Legs Braised with Indian Spices and Llewellyn’s Balsamic Vinegar

½ teaspoon turmeric

1 tablespoon ground cumin seeds

1 tablespoon bright red paprika (not smoked)

1 tablespoon ground coriander

Pinch of cayenne pepper

1 ½ teaspoons garam masala

2 teaspoons sunflower oil

6 duck legs and 6 duck wings; the thighs cut in half, wing bones and drumsticks trimmed of knuckles

1 level teaspoon brown mustard seeds

¼ teaspoon whole fenugreek seeds

15 curry leaves (optional)

2 medium onions thinly sliced

2 tablespoons finely grated ginger

6 cloves of garlic crushed to a paste

2 ripe tomatoes, peeled and chopped

80 – 100 ml cider vinegar (Irish balsamic vinegar)

1 teaspoon salt and more to taste

1 tablespoon sugar

Serves 4 - 6

Water mix the turmeric, cumin, paprika, coriander, cayenne pepper and garam masala in a small bowl and set aside.

Dry the prepared duck legs thoroughly. Yields 21 pieces.

Heat the oil in a heavy casserole.

Add the dry duck pieces skin side down and cook until hazelnut brown. Turn and repeat on the other side.

Remove from the casserole. Add the mustard seeds and fenugreek seeds and allow the mustard to pop, a matter of seconds.

Now immediately add the curry leaves and sliced onions and cook until the edges of the onions are lightly browned.

Add the ginger and garlic and fry for 1 minute. Add the spices and cook over a gentle heat all the while stirring for 30 seconds.

Add the tomatoes and cook for 3 minutes to slightly soften. Scrape the bottom of the pan as you go.

Add the browned duck pieces, vinegar, salt, sugar and enough water to barely cover the duck, stir all to gently mix.

Bring the contents of the casserole to a simmer and cover.

Cook at this gentle simmer for 45 minutes.

Remove the lid and continue to cook at a simmer for a further 30 minutes occasionally stirring and scraping the casserole bottom. By now the sauce should have reduced and thickened slightly.

Taste and correct seasoning.

Serve with boiled rice or new potatoes.

French beans or spinach are also a perfect accompaniment.

Cherry Compote

450g (1lb) cherries

110g (4oz/1/2 cup) caster sugar

2 tablespoons (2 1/2 American tablespoons) kirsch

1 tablespoon (1 American tablespoon + 1 teaspoon)

lemon juice

Place the cherries, sugar, kirsch and lemon juice in a small saucepan. Cover and place on the gentlest heat. The sugar needs to melt and the cherries need to cook and soften slightly. This takes about 20 minutes by which time you should have a lovely cherry compote with ruby coloured syrup.


Hans Wieland will teach a Home Preserving course at the Organic Centre in Co Leitrim on Saturday August 29.

He will cover a wide range of methods to store and preserve your surplus garden crop from drying, fermenting, storing and freezing. www.theorganiccentre.ie for more information.

Date for your Diary: A Taste of West Cork (September 4-13). The 10-day festival will include an open air street food market, food demonstrations, tastings, interactive workshops and cookery competitions.

Save our small shops: Support them or lose them. The whole country seems to be gone discounter mad, seems like people can’t talk about anything else - BMW’s, Merc’s, Audi’s, Toyotas, MIni’s, all lined up outside filling the boot with the latest bargains, but remember, as the ad says, when there’re gone there’re gone.

Is this the kind of Ireland we want? Remember we can all make a difference to our local town and community by how we choose to spend our euro.

Get involved: Slow Food is an international organisation with members like you and I in over 150 countries world wide.

If you are interested in food and food issues it’s really worth being a member to link into the global network. There are 15 Convivia (chapters) in Ireland. For further details on how to become a member check out www.slowfoodireland.com

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