Bacon and cabbage? Try matching it with orzo pasta

A new book on Irish food marries the traditional with how we like to eat today

Brian McDermott is a chef and hotelier, who runs the Foyle Hotel in Moville, Co Donegal. He has just published his third cookery book, Traditional Irish Cooking for Today (O'Brien Press, €9.99), just in time for this weekend's St Patrick's Day celebrations.

“I’ve always believed that tasty, healthy food, based around traditional Irish recipes and local produce is something everyone can make and enjoy,” says McDermott, who grew up in Donegal as one of a family of 12 children.

But he also looks beyond meat and three veg, and acknowledges how we like to eat today. So, while orzo, the tiny rice-shaped pasta beloved of Nigella Lawson, may not be an Irish staple, his recipe for orzo with bacon and cabbage is a hat-tip to our love affair with that particular carbohydrate. “I’ve fallen in love with orzo pasta. It’s easy to cook, looks like rice and allows me to cheat and make a poor man’s risotto,” he says. And it can be on the table in 15 minutes.

For the weekend that’s in it, McDermott shares his mother’s recipe for Irish stew. Somewhat controversially, this one has both carrots and cabbage in it – not to mention garlic ... and leek and parsnip. Let it go, purists, it sounds delicious and what’s wrong with more veg on the plate?


We also have McDermott’s recipe for bacon and cheese soda bread, a five-ingredient loaf that is a meal in itself, topped with a generous smear of Irish butter.

15-minute orzo pasta with bacon and cabbage

Serves 4


300g orzo pasta
6 rashers dry-cured bacon
Rapeseed oil
4 cloves of garlic, sliced
2 sprigs of fresh thyme
Freshly ground black pepper
3 leaves cabbage/kale
40g butter
80ml cream
80g Parmesan cheese, grated

To serve:

10g Parmesan cheese, grated
Handful of fresh basil


1. Add the orzo pasta to a pot of boiling water and cook for 8 minutes.

2. While the pasta is cooking, slice the bacon into strips.

3. Heat a drizzle of rapeseed oil in a frying pan then add the garlic followed by the bacon. Cook for a few minutes then drop in the thyme and a sprinkle of black pepper.

4. Roll the washed cabbage or kale leaves and shred. Add to the pan and cook for 2 minutes, then add the butter and cream and simmer for 3 minutes.

5. Drain the pasta and add another drizzle of rapeseed oil. Combine the pasta with the bacon and cabbage or kale in the pot. Add the grated Parmesan and lightly stir.

6. Serve in pasta bowls with more Parmesan and some basil leaves sprinkled on top.

Brian's Tip: For a slightly spicier dish, replace the bacon with chorizo or try adding some diced red peppers and chopped basil.

Mammy’s Irish stew

Serves 6

I don't think there is a person in Ireland who hasn't enjoyed an Irish mammy's Irish stew at some point in their lives. For me, Irish stew didn't just taste amazing – it also provided security and comfort as I sat at the table with my mammy. I used to run home from school to beat my brothers in the door and ensure I got a decent portion before them.


1 kg diced Irish lamb (preferably shoulder cut)
2 bay leaves
Drizzle of rapeseed oil
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
1 onion, peeled and diced
1 carrot, peeled and diced
Half a leek, diced
1 parsnip, peeled and diced
2 sprigs of fresh thyme
Freshly ground black pepper
4 potatoes, peeled and diced
2 litres warm chicken stock
Handful of young cabbage leaves, chopped


1. Cover the lamb pieces in water and simmer with one of the bay leaves for about 20 minutes.

2. Heat a casserole pot, add the oil and sweat the vegetables, starting with the garlic and onion and followed by the carrot, leek and parsnip.

3. Add the sprigs of thyme and the remaining bay leaf. Season with black pepper. Sweat for roughly 5 minutes, stirring all the time, then add the diced potato.

4. Drain the lamb and immediately add the meat to the vegetables. Cover with the warm stock. Put on the lid and simmer for about 1 hour, stirring occasionally.

5. After an hour, add the chopped cabbage and check if the lamb is tender. If not, cook for a further 20 minutes.

6. Serve this hearty dish in a bowl and enjoy with family and friends.

Brian's Tip: Scoop out the inside of a round sourdough bap, leaving just the crust, and serve the stew inside the bread.

Bacon and Cheese Soda Bread

Makes one large loaf

There’s something about the smell of fresh soda bread in a Donegal home, and we need to keep this baking skill alive. I’ve made this soda bread recipe a bit more exciting with the wonderful combination of flavours that is bacon and cheese.


3 rashers dry-cured bacon, finely chopped
225 g self-raising flour
100g strong cheese, grated
40g butter
100ml buttermilk


1. Preheat the oven to 190°C/375°F/Gas Mark 5. Lightly grease a baking tray.

2. Fry the bacon on a dry, hot pan.

3. Sieve the flour into a bowl and add the grated cheese and bacon.

4. Melt the butter and add to the buttermilk. Pour into the flour mix and form a dough by gently mixing.

5. Turn out onto a floured surface and gently shape into a round. Cut a cross on top of the bread and transfer it to the greased baking tray.

6. Bake for 40 minutes.

7. Allow to cool before slicing and serve with real Irish butter.

Brian's Tip: Store in an airtight container. For a warm breakfast option, toast a slice and serve with poached eggs.

Recipes from Traditional Irish Cooking for Today, by Brian McDermott, published by The O’Brien Press. Photographs by A Fox in the Kitchen