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Recipes: secret ingredient in Irish food is the rain

Dairy is at the heart of so many of our best-loved meals - here are some of our favourites

 

The creamy comfort of a fish pie on a cold evening, or the zingy bite of strong cheddar melting softly over a steaming bowl of hot soup. The colour, the texture, the taste of Irish dairy products are not only good for you, but can transform your cooking into something unforgettable.

The secret ingredient, is our rain. The temperate Irish climate and our high level of rainfall, coupled with the intermittent influence from the Gulf gives limey green, lush grass for cows to graze on. Irish cows have one of the longest outdoor grazing seasons in the world and this grass-fed diet produces rich, delicious milk and produces world class butter, yogurt and cheese that has an unmistakable, creamy taste. Milk from cows that are grass-fed is high in natural beta-carotene which gives Irish butter and cheese its unique, buttercup colour.

Milk from grass-fed cows contains higher quantities of unsaturated fatty acids like Omega 3 and 6 than milk from cows that are fed indoors. The milk from grain fed cows will not give the same yellowy, golden colour to butter or cheese as those fed with grass, or its unique creamy taste that makes it extra special for cooking with.

Milk has long been a beloved staple of the Irish diet and has many health benefits with nutrients like calcium, protein, iodine, potassium, phosphorus and vitamins B2 and B12.

Calcium is vital for the growth and development of bones in children and for healthy maintenance of bones throughout adult life. Milk, cheese and yogurt are some of the best dietary sources of calcium. They are versatile ingredients too, on their own or to elevate your cooking to beautiful, buttery heights.

Here are some savoury lunch and dinner recipe ideas that include Irish milk, cream, butter and cheese:

IRISH BLUE CHEESE AND SPINACH IN PUFF PASTRY WITH APPLE AND CELERIAC PURÉE

Serves 4
You will need ...
280g/10oz Irish blue cheese
255g/9oz fresh spinach leaves
3 shallots, peeled and chopped
4 tbsp medium sherry (or Madeira)
60 ml/2floz chicken stock
350-400g/12-14oz puff pastry
1 egg, beaten

For the purée:
200g/7oz celeriac, peeled and chopped finely
2 cooking apples, peeled and chopped finely
1 large floury potato, cooked and mashed while hot
1 tbsp Irish butter
1 shallot, peeled and finely chopped
1 clove garlic, peeled and crushed
1 sprig thyme
100ml/3½floz Irish milk
100ml/3½floz Irish cream

Preparation & cooking:
• Blanch the spinach leaves in boiling water, drain, chop, set aside
• Simmer shallots and sherry in a small pot, until reduced by half. Add stock and simmer again until reduced by half. Add the cheese and spinach; mix. Season to taste with black pepper and a little salt. Cool
• Roll out the pastry thinly (½cm/¼ inch thick), cut into 10cm/4 inch squares. Put a well-heaped teaspoon of the cheese and spinach filling in the middle of each square
• Brush edges with beaten egg and pull in the four corners towards the centre to form a parcel. Seal edges by pinching the pastry together
• Brush with remaining beaten egg and bake at 180°C/350°F/gas 4 for 15 minutes, or until golden brown. Serve warm with the purée
• Make the purée by heating the butter and cooking the shallot, garlic and thyme in it, gently, for five minutes. Add the chopped apple and celeriac and the milk and cream. Simmer for 10-12 minutes, until tender. Purée in a food processor. Add the mashed potato and blend well. Season to taste with salt and black pepper.

SMOKED HADDOCK, MUSHROOM AND CREAM PIE

Serves 4-6
A colourful and creamy fish and vegetable dish.
You will need ...
700g/1½lb floury potatoes
700g/1½lb smoked haddock, or smoked cod, fillets
110g/4oz mushrooms, washed and sliced
110g/3½oz Irish butter
60ml/2floz Irish milk
1 onion, peeled and very finely chopped
zest and juice of half a lemon
300ml/½ pint double  Irish cream
4 tbsp fresh parsley, chopped
4 heaped tbsp peas
salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 red pepper, deseeded, grilled and cut into cubes (optional)
OR 2 carrots, cut into batons and cooked until just tender (optional)
For the topping:
4 tbsp finely grated Irish cheddar mixed with 2 tbsp of fresh breadcrumbs

Preparation & cooking:
• Steam potatoes until tender then, while still hot, mash thoroughly so that no lumps remain. Add 60g/2oz butter and the milk and season to taste with salt and freshly ground pepper
• Meanwhile, place the fish in a pan, cover with boiling water and simmer for one minute. Drain, slip off skin, remove any bones and gently separate into flakes. Place fish in a pie dish or, if you prefer, in four individual ovenproof dishes
• Melt remaining butter in a pan and fry the sliced onion gently until soft but not coloured. Add sliced mushrooms and raise the heat and cook briskly until they begin to brown. Stir in the peas and the peppers or carrots (if using)
• Sprinkle with the lemon zest and juice. Spread vegetables evenly over the fish. Pour over the cream and add parsley. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper
• Spread potatoes over the top using a fork. If using the topping spread the cheese and breadcrumb mixture on top
• Bake in an oven preheated to 200°C/400°F/gas 6 (for fan ovens about 10°/20°F lower) for about 20 minutes
• If preparing earlier and the contents are cold, cook for an extra 10-15 minutes.

CHEESE AND BROCCOLI SOUP

Serves 4-6
You will need ...
2 large heads broccoli (about 900g/2lb in weight)
600ml/1 pint water
40g/1½oz butter
40g/1½ plain flour
600ml/1 pint milk
90g/3oz mature Irish cheddar, grated
salt and freshly ground pepper
To garnish:
Finely grated mature Irish cheddar
OR lightly whipped cream

Preparation & cooking:
• Melt the butter in a heavy bottomed pot; stir in the flour, a little salt and pepper and cook for one minute. Remove from the heat and add the milk, whisking all the time. Return to the heat and cook at a fast simmer for two minutes. Take off the heat, add the cheese and stir until melted
• Prepare broccoli by trimming the base of the stalk and peeling tough skin from stalk. Cut into very thin slices. Break broccoli into florets. Bring water to a fast boil; add broccoli and cook until tender. Buzz the broccoli and water in a food processor or pass through a food mill until smooth
• Combine broccoli purée and cheese sauce and reheat gently. Check seasoning, adding more salt and pepper if necessary. Garnish with grated cheese or a spoonful of lightly whipped cream. Serve with a wholemeal buttermilk scone or soda bread.


For more information visit ndc.ie/dairy-goodness

The National Dairy council