Irish authors’ recipes to write home about
When not cooking up their next book, Irish writers work their magic in the kitchen
Hake bake: Photograph: Lane Turner/The Boston Globe via Getty Images
Hake with Leeks, Fennel and Pancetta
I think this started out as a Jamie, although I can’t find chapter and verse. Chop two or three good-sized leeks and a fennel bulb. Soften garlic and diced smoked pancetta in olive oil and butter and reserve. Add leeks and fennel, cover the pan and sweat at a low heat for 20 minutes or so. Stir crushed fennel seeds and ground coriander in and fry for a few minutes. Restore the garlic and pancetta, pop a glass of white wine in and let it reduce. Sweat some mushrooms fast in a separate pan, drain the liquid off and mix through on a medium heat.
Place four chunky hake fillets skin side down and cook for 10 minutes or so with the lid on. If you’re eating for Ireland, dust the hake in flour first and brown in hot oil for two minutes each side; this reduces steaming time and keeps sceptics who prefer their fish in batter happy. Sprinkle flat-leaf parsley on top. Serve with Charlotte potatoes and green beans if you want. You will want the rest of the wine.
Declan Hughes is a novelist and playwright; he is a teaching fellow in creative writing at UCD and literature adviser to the Arts Council.
Poached chicken with garlic, ginger and spices
I am very happy in the kitchen, which is just as well, as it is where I spend a lot of my time when I am not writing. The food that speaks the most to me is the easiest food, the food that takes little effort and is deeply satisfying. Like a chicken poached gently with garlic, ginger, lemongrass, fresh turmeric and lime leaves. An hour later you have beautiful chicken bathing in a gorgeous aromatic broth that would wipe the grey from the worst day. Even just for a while! You can’t ask more of that from your dinner, can you?
Niamh Shields is an Irish food and travel writer based in London. @eatlikeagirl on twitter and instagram and eatlikeagirl.com
Recipes are more important than most people think. They’re not just sets of instructions to follow, they become part of your story, the story of your family and of the connections you make over the years. We hand on recipes, we exchange them.
Way before I wrote about food, I picked up recipes wherever I travelled and I never forget the people who gave them to me. A woman in northeast Italy, who ran the inn where I got snowed in one December, gave me the recipe for her Friulian goulash. She was expecting her first child and it was as if we were all safely cocooned in softness, just like her baby, because of the snow, and warmed, like her baby, because of the food the woman cooked.
When I make that goulash, I always think of the woman and what age her baby would be now, of the snow and of the way we padded around that inn wearing thick socks. The recipe makes excellent goulash, I’ll be cooking it as soon as the weather gets colder, but it provides more than just something to eat.
Diana Henry is an award-winning food writer and has written 12 books. She was born in Co Down and lives in London.
Tuna Steaks braised with Chickpeas, Rosemary & Greens
Delish. I’ve made this dish, adapted from Molly Stevens’s All About Braising, for many happy dinner guests over the years (I know – what a concept: guests!). Don’t skimp on the olive oil – it’s part of the dish’s rich texture and flavour.
In a sauté pan over low heat, infuse 120ml of extra virgin olive oil with four cloves of sliced garlic, 1 tbsp chopped fresh rosemary and a pinch of red chili flakes. Warm for a few minutes – don’t let it brown. Throw in a few handfuls of washed, tender greens – chard, rocket, spinach – whatever’s handy. Let the leaves wilt in the oil for a few minutes.
Add 350 ml hot veg or chicken stock, a squeeze of lemon juice, a 400g tin of cooked, drained chickpeas and a pinch of salt. Simmer, covered, for about 10 minutes to let the flavours blend. Then set two good-sized steaks of fresh tuna (about 3cm thick) on top of the chickpea-green mix, cover and reduce heat. Cook for four minutes or so, flip the tuna and re-cover until the steaks are cooked through but not overdone. Divide the braised steaks into warm shallow bowls, stir a tbsp of chopped parsley into the chickpea sauce, check the seasoning and spoon it over the tuna steaks. Serve with hot, crusty bread. Serves 4.
Alice Lyons is a poet and author. Her debut novel is Oona (Lilliput Press)
Venetian-style pasta shells stuffed with courgettes and sage
I don’t know anyone who turns their hooter up to Italian grub, it’s nearly always a safe bet for a dinner party, but it can be hard to find a foolproof recipe that’s a notch above the usual midweek staple.
Gino D’Acampo’s Venetian-style pasta shells stuffed with courgettes and sage is one such wowser, first attempted by moi with an Xmas hangover from hell, when there was still leftover sage in the fridge. It’s simple enough in that it’s only a few steps, the giant pasta shells are available in most big supermarkets, and once par-boiled and left upside down on a clean tea-towel, you can just mozey on with the sauce and filling.
The tomato sauce that acts as a red bed for this oven-bake is so easy (two tins of tomatoes heated on the hob with some s&p and chopped parsley), I now add a bit of fennel & garlic to it too and blitz when done to give it a kick. Pan-fried courgette cubes get smothered in béchamel & nutmeg, and after assembly there’s just enough time to breathe the wine and wait for the oven to take it over the line.
The end result genuinely tastes like restaurant fare, looks banging and five shells per person is a decent main course, no need for fancy accompaniments hanging around the table like deadheads at a party. I scoffed something similar in Verona when on an Italo-Irish writer’s exchange a few years back, so was delighted to discover an easy-to-do similar recipe online.
June’s short story collection Room Little Darker is published by Head of Zeus and her debut novel Little Town Moone is forthcoming from John Murray in 2022.
One afternoon myself and Ronnie Drew dined at a family-run country house restaurant in Cornwall. I had mulled lamb pie. The memory of its flavours never left me. Years later in my kitchen at The Artisan Parlour in Ringsend the pie raised its head while looking for an odd Christmas offering after fiddler and friend Ed Johnson delivered a batch of his award-winning Achill lamb. I set about my task and after a few attempts I presented my dish to owner Murt Thomas. He gave that look of approval. “It’s mega, as you would say yourself Mike, ‘tis mighty’” .
This dish has to be prepared the day before.
1 I always have a little pot of home-ground spice mix. My preferred mix is: 1 tsp fenugreek seeds; pinch of caraway seeds; 1 tsp ground coriander; 1 tsp fennel seeds; 1 tsp black peppercorns; ½ tsp cardamom seeds; ½ tsp dried chilli flakes; ½ tsp cumin seeds. To make the spice mix, heat a dry pan, and add all the spices except the chilli flakes and cumin seeds. Toast for a few minutes.
2. Add the chilli flakes and cumin seeds, then remove from the heat and allow to cool.
3. Grind using a spice grinder – my coffee grinder is a designated spice grinder, but alternatively use the pestle and mortar. Store in a jar until required. You will find several uses for this mix.
For the lamb
2 tbsp spice mix (see above)
1 kg diced lamb, neck or shoulder
2 tbsp rapeseed oil
1 onion, peeled and diced
1 clove of garlic, crushed
2 carrots, diced
2 celery sticks, peeled and sliced
1 tbsp plain or gluten-free flour
1 medium glass of good port (one you would drink yourself)
250ml stock, preferably lamb
1 stick of cinnamon
Fresh mint leaves
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.
1. Rub the spice mix into the lamb pieces, add a little salt, then cover and store in the fridge for a few hours or ideally overnight. Take it out about an hour before use.
2. If you are going to cook the lamb in the oven, preheat it to 150°C/130°C fan/gas mark 2.
3. Heat the oil in an ovenproof pan and brown the lamb pieces on a medium heat. Remove the meat from the pan and set aside.
4. Add the onions, and cook until soft. Add the garlic, carrots and celery, and cook for 1 minute.
5. Return the lamb to the pan and add the flour. Coat everything and cook for about 1 minute, then add the port and let it reduce for a few minutes. Add the stock, star anise or cinnamon. Taste for seasoning.
6. Cook on the stove or in the oven for 1 hour or until the lamb is soft and succulent.
7. Serve on mash of your choice: champ; parsnip and potato; celeriac and potato; or just plain. Top it off with a few kale crisps.
Mike Hanrahan is a songwriter, guitarist with Stocktons Wing and author of Beautiful Affair, a Journey in Music, Food and Friendship, shortlisted for Irish published book of the year 2019.
Horseradish and potato mash
The mashed potato I ate as a child was in fact smashed potato, full of lumps. Later, cheffing in restaurants in the US I discovered the food mill, or moulin. Twisting the handle producing a fine light mash. Fluffy is the word often used but who’d want to eat a cloud? It is more a sensation of complete give; warm, full and pleasing. Then I learned to blend vegetables into mashed potatoes. Roast aubergine mash was okay but I suspect it was on the menu mostly to sound elaborate, which it was, but my top recommendation is the simplest. Wonderfully, horseradish comes in jars. Add in enough, then just a touch more. Horseradish and potato mash goes well with anything that also goes well with gravy.
No longer a cook, Garrett Carr teaches creative writing in the Seamus Heaney Centre at Queens, Belfast.
Mousse au chocolat
When my French-Moroccan husband is stressed, he bakes and cooks himself – and me – happy. Our relationship has been defined by him introducing me to new foods – everything from what he calls proper bread to delicious lamb tagines, rillettes, fermented mushrooms, cherry clafoutis, semolina flatbread dripping with honey, seafood that hasn’t been battered and fried, feather-light pastries, champagne and camel’s milk.
He’s taken me – and our kids – on many culinary adventures. But he uses nothing more than egg and chocolate – and no oven – to make our favourite dish: a melt-in-the-mouth – and utterly moreish – mousse au chocolat.
Mousse au chocolate|
200 grams dark cooking chocolate
6 eggs (separated)
Pinch of salt
1. Break the chocolate into bits and melt over a low heat. Stir to make a paste.
2. Separate the egg yolks from the whites.
3. Add the salt to the whites and beat until stiff.
4. Gradually pour the melted chocolate into the yolks, stirring hard.
5. Gently fold in the egg whites.
6. Divide mixture into 6 bowls and hide in the fridge for 3+ hours. Serve chilled.
Michelle Gallen is author of Big Girl, Small Town
Kathleen Mac Mahon
In food, as in books, what you’re trying to achieve is something that’s more than the sum of its parts. Cheese soufflé is a store cupboard meal that’s a doddle to make but never fails to impress. I’ve been making it since I was a teenager. You start with a bechamel of 40g butter, 30g flour and 300 ml milk. Add a pinch of English mustard. Stir in 4 egg yolks and 85g of grated cheese. Then add the whisked egg whites and bake in a greased dish of any shape. Serve with green salad or buttered spinach. Ta da!
Kathleen Mac Mahon writes novels when she’s not cooking. Her latest novel, Nothing but Blue Sky, is published by Penguin Sandycove.
Emily S Cooper
Tomato, chorizo and butter bean stew
This makes a great base for a few meals. I usually poach fish (hake or similar) in some the first day, bake feta in it the second and have some on its own for lunch. Serve with crusty bread and fresh parsley.
1. Cook chopped onions, garlic, celery, carrots and chorizo in olive oil with fennel seeds and a bay leaf. Lid on, medium heat until starting to brown.
2. Remove lid, increase heat for a couple of minutes then deglaze with wine.
3. Add tinned beans, tinned tomatoes, some stock, season and cook on low heat for an hour.
Emily’s poetry pamphlet, Glass, will be published by Makina Books in early 2021.
Don’t give me your honey or brown sugar. Spare me the cream. Here is a dish for grown-ups. Take a bag of pinhead oatmeal. No other will do. Pour a fifth into a bowl, add a dash of salt, cover with water and leave overnight. Next morning, if you’re madly high-tech, pop it in the microwave for 10 minutes. It will resembles a creamy risotto, enough for four. Shake in some chia seeds and milled flaxseeds (optional) but always add a dollop of natural full-fat yoghurt. It’s delicious, it’s slow-release, it’s the enemy of bad cholesterol. It’s adult porridge!
Down an alleyway in a seedy Paris quartier, two men, knives in their hands, wear rubber aprons, rubber boots. The shuckers. Behind them, a Belle Époque dining room is thronged well past midnight. Waiters, snowy damask aprons falling from waist to ankle, cha-cha-cha between tables, posing steel platters on squat stands and tucking beneath them bowls of chopped shallots, wine vinegar. On beds of crushed ice recline crabs, sea urchins, clams, whelks and, above all, oysters. All is gourmandise and gaiety. Efficiency and glamour, seldom bedfellows, embrace nightly at Brasserie Flo. I’d go there in a heartbeat if I could.
Margaret Hickey is author of Ireland’s Green Larder: The Definitive History of Irish Food and Drink (Unbound)
Shawarma-style steak sandwich
2 x 300g striploin or sirloin steaks marinated 2-4 hours in:
50 ml each red wine vinegar, red wine, olive oil; half a teaspoon each cinnamon, allspice, smoked paprika; sea salt, black pepper.
Fry the steaks to your liking, rest 5 mins, carve in thin slices. Pack into a sourdough baguette with beef tomato, springy rocket, gherkins, torn flat-leaf parsley and a tahini dressing made with:
150ml runny tahini, 225ml water, sea salt, 75 ml lemon juice, 3 crushed cloves garlic. (The sauce will keep for a few days and is great with roast vegetables, falafel, lamb, chicken, even calamari.)
Note: In Beirut they put chips in their sandwiches. Bliss. Serves four.
The End of the World is a Cul de Sac, Louise Kennedy’s debut short storty collection, will be published next April by Bloomsbury
Pasta with Tomato and Chorizo sauce
This is a very quick and easy recipe. I use the chorizo to flavour the sauce but increase the amount if you like it more meaty.
Remove the skin from and dice a 2cm piece of chorizo into half cm pieces. Place into a cold frying pan and put the pan on a medium heat. You want to get a lot of the fat out of the chorizo but leave some behind on the pan.
While the chorizo is cooking, peel and dice a medium onion and chop 2 cloves of garlic (don’t hold back on the garlic if you want more)
When the chorizo has let out plenty of fat, take the pan off the heat and rest it against the side of your chopping board to tilt. After a few minutes, spoon out most of the fat, remove and reserve the chorizo.
Put the pan back on a medium heat and add a tablespoon of olive oil. When it starts to sizzle, add the onion and garlic, half a teaspoon of black pepper and a teaspoon of chopped oregano or rosemary. Dried herbs also work very well, just use half the amount as the flavour is much more intense.
When the onions are soft, add a wine glass of red wine and let it reduce until the onions look sticky (this is optional – don’t open a bottle specially) Keeping the heat at medium add 300mls of tomato passata and 100 ml of water and let it come to a simmer. Return your cooked chorizo to the pan.
At this stage, cook your pasta in salted water according to the packet instructions (I like linguini but any shape will do).
When the pasta is nearly done, add a dessert spoon of creme fraiche to the tomato sauce and stir in. When the pasta is cooked, drain, add to the pan and stir to coat.
Serve with plenty of grated parmesan. NB I don’t add salt during cooking as there’s plenty in the chorizo, pasta cooking water and parmesan.
My favourite restaurant is The Old Spot, Bath Avenue, Dublin 4. Beautiful seasonal food combined with really friendly service.
Cormac Kinsella is a book publicist
Anchovy pasta with parsley, chili and garlic
Posy, the friend who gave me this delicious recipe, also introduced me to The Secret History by Donna Tartt. I have found them equally life-enhancing.
In the 10 minutes it takes your spaghetti to cook, chop up four or more garlic cloves and a chilli and fry them in a dash of olive oil with a tin of anchovies. Add the cooked pasta with an emulsifying spoonful of the water it cooked in, then a generous handful of chopped flat-leaf parsley, a dash of freshly-ground pepper and lots of grated Parmesan. It’s a party for the palate – immense, intense flavours freshened up by the parsley.
A couple of life hacks? Sure. Butter rock hard from the fridge in those few, fleeting weeks of an Irish summer when it would go off if left out? Stick your knife in your cup of tea while you wait for the teabag to do its thing, then it cuts like, eh, a knife through butter. Just don’t absentmindedly dip it back in your mug. I’d call this hack hot knives, if the drug fiends hadn’t got there first.
If you like your fried eggs soft but not ridiculously runny, add a dash of water to the frying pan and cover with a lid. Hey presto, done in seconds.
And my favourite restaurant, which I dearly miss at the moment, is the Vintage Kitchen, just over the road from the Irish Times, next doot to Mulligan’s pub on Poolbeg Street, and rapidly becoming as much of an institution. I usually go there for lunch and often stick to two (huge) starters – the Cajun chowder and the chorizo, roasted red peppers, chilli and soft herb risotto – €8 each and great value. The service is friendly and you can BYOB.
Martin Doyle is Books Editor of The Irish Times