Summertime classics: pea and herb toasts, fish stew and strawberry sponge

The Provencal fish stew bouillabaisse is not as difficult to make as you might think. Here's how ...

Summer is here… finally! After what has seemed like a never-ending winter, nothing says summer to me more than a light fish dish like bouillabaisse, with a red wine glass full of rosé. I say red wine glass because most chefs never own matching anything at home.

The aroma of Pernod from the dish gives a salute to the French and their ability to hold on to classics such as the vol-au-vent, coq au vin and, my personal favourite, the croque monsieur.

One French chef I have always admired is Eugenie Brazier, a truly inspiring woman. I will always remember legendary chef Paul Bocuse describing her to Anthony Bourdain. He called her "the woman" and told how he could still hear her screaming at him when he went to sleep at night.

She was famous for dishes such as “beautiful dawn lobster” drenched in brandy and cream and “poultry in half mourning”, a chicken dish that had truffle slices in between the layer of fat and meat, all cooked in a pig’s bladder.


I may be a bit controversial here, but that was back in the day when cooks could really cook – no sous-vide, hipster Japanese charcoal grills or tweezers needed.

Galway summers are fantastic and we enjoy a quick day trip out to Connemara or Clare. We often sit out by the Spanish Arch or, as the locals call it, the ‘S’parch’ with a bag of chips from Vinnies takeaway and a lash of salad cream, watching tourists walk through the arch, probably thinking is that it.

Another treat I really look forward to in summer is getting Trish McCambridge’s strawberries. They are the absolute best, and you can find them in McCambridges or Ernie’s Fruit & Veg. They’re famous in Galway, only around for about six weeks, and to me they are worth their weight in gold.


Serves four 
4 tbsp olive oil
4 garlic cloves, smashed
3 bay leaves
2 onions, finely chopped
1 leek, finely sliced
1 fennel bulb, finely chopped, fronds picked and reserved
1 glug of Pernod (optional or you can use white wine)
1tsp tomato puree, heaped
4 large ripe tomatoes, chopped
1 pinch of saffron
1 red chilli (I use a smokey Mexican one for this)
1½ litres fish stock
200g mussels or clams or a mix
100g Dublin Bay prawns or langoustine
200g monkfish, sliced

Heat the oil in a large saucepan and fry off the garlic, onion, leek and fennel. Cook for about 10 minutes until softened.

2 Carefully add the Pernod and then the tomato purée, chopped tomatoes, saffron, bay leaves and chilli. Simmer for a minute or two then pour in the fish stock. Let it simmer to reduce for a couple of minutes.

3 Put the seafood in all at the same time, making sure they are roughly the same size.

4 Cook for a further seven to 10 minutes until all the mussels and clams are open and the fish is cooked through.

5 Serve in warmed bowls with the fennel fronds on top, with a crusty baguette and a generous dollop of rouille, the recipe from last week's column, and also online at


Serves 4
200g goat's cheese (at room temperature)
2tbsp fresh lemon juice
Fine sea salt
Freshly cracked black pepper
50ml extra-virgin olive oil (plus more for drizzling)
200g peas, fresh or frozen
1 small clove garlic
1 small bunch mint or dill leaves, chopped
1 baguette

Blend the goat's cheese and lemon juice together until smooth and season to taste with salt and pepper.

2 Gently warm the olive oil in a saucepan set over a medium heat. Add the peas and garlic and, as they soften, mash them against the side of the saucepan with a fork, pressing them into the oil, while keeping them fairly chunky. Season with salt and pepper and stir in the herbs. Set aside and leave to cool.

3 Cut the baguette in half lengthways and in half again across the centre to make four slices. Drizzle the bread with oil and toast lightly under a hot grill.

4 To assemble, spread a generous amount of goat's cheese on to each toast. Top with the smashed peas, drizzle with a little olive oil and serve immediately.


Serves 10
For the sponge:
6 eggs
165g granulated sugar
Zest of a lemon
1tsp vanilla extract
170g rice flour
Pinch of baking powder
75g melted butter

For the icing:
220g butter
225g icing sugar
400g Philadelphia cream cheese
1 tsp vanilla extract

To decorate:
2 punnets of fresh strawberries

Preheat an oven to 180 degrees Celsius, or equivalent. Butter two 20cm sandwich tins and line with non-stick baking paper.

2 Using a stand mixer with a whisk attachment, or a hand-held electric whisk, beat the eggs, caster sugar, zest and vanilla, until the mixture turns light and fluffy.

3 Use a spatula to add the rice flour and baking powder, folding in a little at a time, being careful not to break down the fluffy texture. Finally, fold in the butter.

4 Divide the mixture between the tins, smooth the surface with the spatula or the back of a spoon. Bake for about 15 minutes until golden and the cakes spring back when pressed.

5 Remove from the oven and leave to stand for a few minutes before turning the cake out onto a wire rack to cool.

6 Again using a mixer, beat the butter and icing together. Add the cream cheese and vanilla and continue to beat until the mixture is completely smooth.

7 When everything is ready and the cakes are cool, line a 20cm springform tin with cling film and place one of the sponges at the bottom. Using a piping bag put a thin line of cream cheese all around the edge and use it to stick the strawberries to the side of the tin. Fill in the middle with more cream mixture and slices of strawberries and place the second sponge on top.

8 Finish with the rest of the cream – get the piping bag out or just swirl it on – and the strawberies. Leave in the fridge to set before releasing from the tin.