Life

Darina Allen's simple solution to a healthier Irish nation? Keep it old school

Jenny Lee chats to Irish chef, food writer and TV personality Darina Allen about saving time and our health through one-pot cooking – with some advice for governments, farmers and teachers thrown in

Darina Allen is often described as Ireland's answer to Delia Smith and Nigella Lawson

PROVIDING a solution to our modern-day busy lifestyles by going back to the cooking methods of our ancestors is the aim of Darina Allen's latest book, One Pot Feeds All.

"When you look back our Irish ancestors worked over the open fire in one pot – for example, the cabbage cooked in the bacon and the water and how delicious that was. There are still many places in the world where they don't have ovens, such as Asia and India, and everything is cooked in one pot," says the Cork-based chef and founder of Ballymaloe Cookery School.

This is Darina's 19th book and she says it's a subject that has been "bubbling" in her subconscious since they first added a One-Pot Wonders course to the cookery school.

"For growing numbers of people, it's so difficult to find the time to make freshly cooked produce from scratch. With one-pot cooking you simply pop everything into the pot or roasting tin, add some herbs and spices, bring to the boil, cover and put into the oven or simmer on the hob while you catch up with other chores, help with homework or just put your feet up and enjoy a well-deserved cup of tea or glass of wine."

The 100 recipes are divided into chapters on eggs, poultry, meat, fish and seafood, vegetables, rice, grains and pasta and sweet things, with traditional time-honoured favourites interspersed with internationally inspired dishes such as Mexican Fried Eggs, Indian French Toast, Thai Chicken & Noodle Soup and Chettinad Tomato Rice.

To her surprise, Darina experimented with some one-pot pasta dishes with great success. "By increasing the liquid in some other dishes, I discovered that I could add rice, pearl barley, orzo and beans to the various pots. I'm sure the Italians would be absolutely appalled, but I'm delighted at how successful and nourishing these recipes were."

Many of the recipes can also be adapted for slow cookers, which Darina finds particularly useful for making stock.

"I tell people to keep a stock box in the freezer that you throw chicken carcass bones and vegetable peelings into and when it's full, put on a nice big pot of stock. Then you strain and cool it before refreezing in small containers to use when needed.”

Darina is also passionate about encouraging people to keep the tradition of sitting around the table and eating together as a family alive – something she thoroughly enjoys with her extended family.

"I'm very fortunate to have my four children and 11 grandchildren living within five minutes of us. On Saturday evenings the family, and often the children's school friends too, come around and we tuck into simple, comforting one-pot dishes."

Her family of course includes daughter-in-law Rachel Allen, herself a renowned chef and television personality. While Darina admits that herself and husband Timothy do most of the cooking, "everyone does their bit", whether that's shelling the home-grown peas or loading the dishwasher.

"We have two dishwashers in the house here. Whoever invented the dishwasher should have had the Nobel Prize years ago," she laughs.

Dishwashers, of course, leave Darina with more time for experimenting in the kitchen, as well as enjoying her vast gardens, glasshouses and organic farm.

"We have an acre of greenhouses here and 10 acres of garden which grow the widest range of produce on any farm in Ireland. In fact Patrick Holden, former head of the Soil Association and now head of the Sustainable Food Trust, said he thought there is more about diversity on this farm than on any other farm in British Isles," says a proud Darina, who of course picks fresh when she can.

"When the herbs are ripe you run out and get something and now is foraging season which is wonderful. I was just picking meadowsweet up the road today, which will be wonderful for flavouring a panna cotta with," she adds.

Next month Darina will be making two appearances in Northern Ireland. On October 5 she will be speaking about her life in food at Clandeboye Estate as part of the Aspects Festival and on October 7 she will be doing a talk and demonstration on foraging at the Seamus Heaney HomePlace in Bellaghy and doing a demonstration using ingredients sourced from the HomePlace garden.

"I'm so excited about coming up north again. I hope I get a chance to visit St George's market in Belfast and sample the yoghurt up at Clandeboye," she says.

Now in her 70s, Darina can still hear the wise words of her mother ringing in her ears: "If you don't get wholesome, nourishing, delicious food on to the table to keep the family healthy, happy and bouncing with energy, you'll give the money to the doctor or the chemist."

And while she will be soon be starting to record another series for RTÉ, for broadcast in the New Year, she is putting great effort into campaigning for a healthier Irish nation, something she hopes become "her legacy".

"What I would really like to do before I hang up my apron is to ensure our young people have the basic cookery skills to enable them to be independent and healthy."

Darina has already started to work on a new collection of 50 recipes that no child should leave school without being able to cook, including a frittata (below) and a versatile tomato sauce, which could be used in making dishes such as pizza and spaghetti Bolognese.

"The need for this is becoming more and more urgent as we are sleepwalking into an absolute health crisis and an environment which is not sustainable.

"What we need is a triangle approach where we get rid of the edible food-like substances found in highly processed foods and the health service to remind people that health comes from eating simple nourishing food; we need the department of agriculture to get farmers to produce nourishing food rather than the maximum quantity of food at the minimum cost and we need our schools to teach our kids how to cook healthy nourishing food."

:: One Pot Feeds All by Darina Allen is published by Kyle Books in hardback, £25 and is out now – below are three recipes from the book for you to try. Ballymaloe Cookery School is running a one-day One Pot Wonders course on November 9 in Shanagarry, Co Cork. For further information visit Cookingisfun.ie

CHORIZO, GOAT'S CHEESE AND TOMATO FRITTATA

(Serves 6-8)

10 large organic, free-range eggs

1 teaspoon salt and lots of freshly ground black pepper

2 tablespoons chopped parsley

2 teaspoons thyme leaves

2 tablespoons chopped basil or marjoram

75g Gruyère cheese, grated

25g Parmesan cheese, grated

110g goat's cheese

110–175g chorizo, merguez or saucisson de Toulouse, cut into 1cm dice

450g cherry tomatoes, halved

25g butter

To serve:

rocket leaves

Either a good green salad or a tomato

and basil leaf salad

Method:

Crack the eggs into a bowl and whisk in the salt, freshly ground black pepper, fresh herbs and grated cheese. Carefully fold in the chorizo and tomatoes.

Melt the butter in a 22.5cm non-stick frying pan and when it starts to foam, tip in the eggs. Then arrange the goat cheese in blobs evenly over the top. After an initial 3-4 minutes on the hob, transfer the pan to a preheated oven at 170C/gas mark 3 for about 15-20 minutes, or until the frittata is just set.

To turn out the frittata, slide a palette knife underneath to free it from the pan and carefully slide it on to a warm plate.

COD, HAKE OR HADDOCK WITH DILL AND PANGRATATTO

1.1kg cod, hake, haddock or grey

sea mullet fillets

flaky sea salt and freshly ground

black pepper

2 bay leaves

15g butter

600ml milk

approx. 50g roux, (made by blending 25g softened butter with 25g plain flour in a small bowl)

¼ teaspoon Dijon mustard

150–175g grated Cheddar cheese or 75g grated Parmesan cheese

1 tablespoon chopped dill (optional)

For the pangrattato:

50–75ml extra virgin olive oil

1 garlic clove, finely chopped

50g soft, white breadcrumbs

Method:

Preheat the oven to 180C/gas mark 4. To make the pangrattato, combine all of the ingredients in a little bowl and set aside.

Skin the fish and cut it into 6 or 8 portions. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper. Place the bay leaves in a lightly buttered sauté pan and lay the pieces of fish on top. Cover with the milk and bring slowly to the boil. Simmer for 4-5 minutes, or until the fish changes colour from translucent to opaque. Remove the fish with a slotted spoon to a plate and set aside.

Bring the milk back to the boil and whisk in the roux to thicken the sauce to a light coating consistency. Stir in the mustard and two-thirds of the grated cheese, and season to taste with salt and pepper. Add the dill, if using.

Return the fish to the pan and sprinkle the remaining cheese over the top, followed by the pangrattato. Cook in the oven for 15-20 minutes or until the fish is heated through and the top is golden brown and crisp. Serve with a salad of organic leaves.

AUTUMN TART

For the fruit base:

175g granulated sugar

110ml water

450g plums, halved and stoned, or dessert apples, such as Egremont

Russet, Cox's Orange Pippin or Charles Ross, peeled and cut into quarters or eighths, depending on size

For the sponge topping:

150g softened butter

150g granulated sugar

200g self-raising flour

3 organic, free-range eggs

Method:

Preheat the oven to 160C/gas mark 3. Put the sugar and water into a 25cm ovenproof sauté pan or cast-iron frying pan and stir over a medium heat until the sugar has dissolved. Continue to cook, without stirring, until the sugar caramelises to a rich golden brown (if the caramel is not dark enough, the tart will be too sweet).

Once the caramel darkens to a golden brown, remove the pan from the heat and arrange the prepared fruit, cut-side down, in a single layer over the caramel.

To make the sponge topping, combine the butter, sugar and flour in the bowl of a food processor. Whizz for a second or two, then add the eggs and stop as soon as the mixture comes together. Spoon the cake mixture over the plums and spread gently to create an even layer.

Bake for about 1 hour. The centre should be firm to the touch and the edges slightly shrunk from the sides of the pan.

Remove from the oven and set aside to rest in the pan for 4-5 minutes before turning out. Serve with crème fraîche or softly whipped cream.

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