Week two at Ballymaloe Cookery School saw Sophie and Camille inspired by another Irish domestic goddess as they continued to cook (and eat) up a storm.
This week we’ve been taught mainly by Darina Allen’s daughter-in-law Rachel Allen, and it’s been another banger! Rachel is also one of Ireland’s best-known cooks, with a career that spans television, cookbooks and running a restaurant in Cork with her husband.
Rachel is an absolute delight – cheerful, charismatic and cool. Her teaching style is marked by the practical tips and tricks she dishes out alongside the many recipes she demonstrates each afternoon. She has taught us not to mix batches of pulses in the pantry (the older they are, the longer they take to cook), and to double the quantity if the recipe calls for dried pulses and you’re using canned (they double in size and weight when cooked). I’m pretty thrilled with her “how to make pesto last a year in in your fridge” trick – keep it covered in olive oil, then when you use it, pour out the oil, use what you need, and pour the oil back to cover it.
She has an endearing way of getting flustered, and then making a self-deprecating joke. I get the feeling she has a great sense of humour too. Rachel’s the kind of person you’d love to work with – she’s super consistent and she never forgets to thank her sous chefs. I think she said, “Thanks a million Pat” one million times yesterday.
Rachel is giving us something to strive for in the domestic goddess stakes – she keeps an old coffee grinder for grinding spices (always freshly toasted, of course), and freezes tomatoes whole in summer for use in winter dishes (they can be peeled easily after 10 seconds in cold water). She makes fresh cinnamon scrolls with cinnamon butter and cinnamon sugar, reminiscent of something Annabel Langbein would whip out of the oven on Sunday morning. Of course she does!
In keeping with Ballymaloe style, Rachel embraces Irish cuisine. If there’s anything we’ve learnt this week, it’s that they absolutely love a spot of mackerel around here. We have been taught to fillet, grill, pan-fry and hot smoke our new favourite fishy friends.
Rachel’s food has an international and “new age” skew – this week we’ve learned to make a mean American three stone pie and the most delicious fresh mango chutney, and we have been introduced to asafoetida (often called hing), a spice that adds a great touch to the potato and pea curry. When she teaches us to always stir parmesan into pesto by hand, she quotes Italian food writer Marcella Hazan: “Never let the parmesan see the food processor!”
Rachel has her own set of mantras that we’re scrambling to write down: “Onions are best either raw or fully cooked, in between and they’re bitter”; “There is no substitute for time, you just have to wait”. She is a great teacher – carefully explaining that béchamel sauce is called the mother sauce, which then becomes mornay when cheese is added, as though it’s the first time she’s ever relayed it.
We went to Kinsale this weekend for a getaway from our getaway (aren’t we having a hideous time?!), a completely charming town 20 minutes south of Cork, also known as “the foodie capital of Ireland”. We returned ‘home’ to Ballymaloe this evening and are already reminiscing about the Jerusalem artichoke soup at historic pub The Bulman, and the melt-in-your-mouth jamón iberico at The Black Pig, a modern bistro that takes the cake for favourite Irish restaurant to date. The wine list was off the charts!
Best meal A curry buffet that would have put Bridget Jones’ aunt to shame, with poppadoms, mango chutney, raita and 18-month-aged basmati rice.
Best tip Don’t season roast potato wedges until they’re cooked, otherwise they won’t get crisp and will stick to the pan. Do not be tempted to lift them from the pan – they will lift naturally when they are ready.
Best recipe The world’s most delicious tomato soup, served with basil oil.
Feeling after week two #blessed. I’ve literally started feeling overwhelming waves of gratitude.
Fun fact Chinese pine nuts are being sprayed with a chemical that is causing some people to develop a nut allergy. Buy pinoli, the Italian version
Anything else? Get to Kinsale, people – it’s well worth a visit!
Best meal A carefully prepared niçoise salad.
Best tip If you’re making tomato salad, cut the tomatoes around the equator – that way the dressing falls into the sections of the tomato and it also coats the membrane.
Best recipe Arjard, south-east Asian cucumber salad (recipe below).
Feeling after week two Privileged – I pinch myself at least a few times a day as a reminder that I’m living the dream.
Fun fact Green beans need more salt in the water than any other vegetable to bring out the flavour. Spinach and chard need the least.
Anything else? I’ve always been a massive believer in moderation. Healthy or not, too much of anything is not good for you. The fermentation session with Penny Allen (another of Darina’s daughter-in-laws) was absolutely fascinating. She taught us that a person on a western diet has around 400 different bacteria in the gut, yet a person in an Amazonian rainforest has 1000. That’s the result of the processed food many people are filling their diets with. This doesn’t mean that you should endlessly drink kefir, scull kombucha and scoff sauerkraut at every meal – the moderation rule applies here too. A shot glass of kefir and a teaspoon of sauerkraut is enough. I really love all the healthy vegetables at Ballymaloe, as well as the beautiful jersey cream and brown sugar. I’m enjoying both, in moderation!
This south-east Asian cucumber salad is great in a burger with peanut sauce, or served with fish, chicken, prawns or beef.
4 tablespoons sugar
6 tablespoons water
6 tablespoons white malt vinegar
1 cucumber, quartered, excess seeds removed, sliced thinly at an angle
2 shallots, peeled, sliced thinly lengthwise
1 red chilli, deseeded and sliced in rings
1 green chilli, deseeded and sliced in rings
Mix the sugar, water and vinegar together in a saucepan. Bring to the boil and simmer for 3-5 minutes, then remove from the heat.
When cool, pour the marinade over the cucumber, shallots and chilli.
Read Sophie Gilmour’s previous diary entries from Ballymaloe here.