This is a gooey plate of deliciousness to warm the cockles
Jess Murphy: It’s cold outside so take comfort in crab rarebit, a kale and almond pie and cauliflower cheese soup
Durrus & crab rarebit
When I was 21, myself and my then boyfriend (now husband) David landed a job working on Rottnest Island, a tropical paradise just off the coast of Fremantle, Western Australia. There were no cars on the island, just white sandy beaches and holiday goers escaping from the heat of the city in Perth.
By a twist of fate our managers were from Mullingar and they noticed David’s Irish passport. They asked us to come over on the afternoon boat and said “sure, we’ll find ye something”. So that’s what we did.
Now, most people (including us) immediately thought we would be spending our days off snorkelling, surfing and swimming in the clear blue water. Bliss! But then, of course, reality kicks in and you find yourself on the 4am baking shift, making 350 tiny little citrus cupcakes, proving endless croissants and with Dave as my kitchen porter, it was hardly Romancing The Stone.
During the six months we lived on the island, we saw snakes in the kitchen attacking mice, scorpions in the wash-up sink, not to mention the lizards and the quokkas (small wallabies) breaking into our rooms to eat all the groceries. I remember one of our room-mates chasing after a quokka as he hopped away with a giant loaf of sourdough in his little paws.
Island life came to an end as my UK work visa was approved. We swapped tropical paradise for the green valleys of Wales, and soon we were living in Rhosllanerchrugog and working at a wonderful place called the Pant-yr-Ochain, a 16th-century inn. It was 2002, and gastro pubs really were in vogue. We served confit duck, shoulder of Welsh salt marsh hogget and steamed puddings.
I learned this amazing little Welsh rarebit recipe from my brother-in-law, Gavin Jones, a proud Welshman. It is only improved by the additions of Connemara crab and a dash of local beer.
DURRUS & CRAB RAREBIT
Nothing beats a bit of rarebit and fresh crab meat adds a touch of luxury to this Welsh favourite. Although it is basically just cheese on toast, the sweet crab and mature cheese combine to create a gooey pile of delicious.
300g Durrus cheese, grated (alternatively use a good, strong cheddar)
1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce or mushroom ketchup
35g plain flour
1tsp mustard, heaped
100ml Galway Hooker stout or similar beer
200g freshly picked crab
4 egg yolks
Salt and white pepper to taste
4 slices sourdough bread, toasted both sides
Preheat the grill to high. Put the cheese, butter, Worcestershire/mushroom ketchup, flour, salt and pepper into a heavy bottomed saucepan. This burns very quickly so don’t walk away from it. Heat gently until the cheese is melted, and the sauce is bubbling and smooth.
Mix well with a whisk and add the beer. Add your crab and egg yolks and take off the heat.
Spread the mixture on the toasted sourdough and place under the hot grill for 1-2 minutes or until golden-brown and bubbling.
To serve, place the crab rarebit on a serving board with gherkins and a nice pint of stout.
KALE AND ALMOND PIES
Spanakopita is a traditional Greek spinach pie with cheese and herbs, with crispy, flaky filo pastry. Spinach is the traditional ingredient but you can mix up the greens depending on what’s in season, although feta cheese is essential for the salty kick. It’s delicious hot or cold, vegetarian-friendly – and ideal for a picnic. You can stick it in a lunch box too, as it travels well.
30ml olive oil
1 bunch spring onions
600g kale / spinach / rainbow chard
200g feta, crumbled
4 large eggs
One quarter of a freshly grated nutmeg
Salt and pepper to taste
1 packet filo pastry
200g butter, melted
200g ground almonds
Heat the oil in a frying pan, then add the spring onion. Cook for 1 minute until softened, then add half the dill and greens of your choice. Cook, stirring, over low heat for 1-2 minutes or until the greens have wilted. Drain in a colander, squeezing all of the liquid out and cool.
Once the mixture is no longer piping hot, combine with cheeses, eggs, nutmeg, salt and pepper and mix well. Set aside.
Preheat oven to 180 degrees Celsius. Brush the bottom of four individual tart dishes or one large oven tin with butter.
Lay one sheet of filo on the base, brush with butter and sprinkle lightly with ground almonds. Repeat with five more sheets of filo and almonds.
Spoon the filling into the pastry case. Use a spatula to spread it evenly and smooth the top. You can trim excess pastry with kitchen scissors if you like.
Bake for 35-40 minutes or until the pastry is golden.
Rest for 10 minutes before serving.
CAULIFLOWER CHEESE SOUP
This is a winter warmer and a fun take on the classic side dish. We serve ours for lunch in the restaurant with herb oil and dried apple chips for crunchy contrast. Instead, feel free to use a drizzle of cream, croutons, some extra cheese or fry off some crispy bacon lardons or chorizo to finish.
20ml olive oil
1 large white onion
2 cloves of garlic
200g or one medium head cauliflower, broken in florets
1 bay leaf
120ml of vegetable stock
80ml White Hag IPA or similar beer
100g smoked Gubbeen cheese
50ml double cream
A small pinch of nutmeg
Heat the oil in a large saucepan.
Tip in the onion and over a moderate heat, cook until softened, about 5 minutes stirring often.
Add the garlic, cauliflower and bay leaf and cook for a further 5 minutes.
Put in the veg stock and beer, bring to the boil then reduce the heat to a slow simmer for a further 30 minutes.
Turn off the heat and remove the bay leaf, tip in the cheese with the cream and leave to melt for a few moments in the residual heat.
Using a hand blender, pulse until silky smooth and serve.