Pros: delicious and comforting recipes, beautiful photography
Cons: some difficult to find ingredients
This time of year people start to get a little bit of Spring fever. They look forward to the end of the dreary winter and the beginning of warm weather, fresh fruits and vegetables, and opportunities to get out of the house and celebrate after recovering from the overindulgence of the winter holidays. One Spring holiday that seems to appeal to everyone, Irish or not, is St. Patrick’s Day. Green beer and corned beef is ubiquitous, and people take the opportunity to meet up with friends for some good-natured revelry. For many people, this is the extent of their knowledge of the Irish culture and food offerings, but they are missing so much.
To think only about corned beef and cabbage is to give Irish food short shrift. The focus on local, organic food products prepared simply yet deliciously is the hallmark of Irish cooking, and this charge is led by the Ballymaloe Cookery School, founded by Darina Allen. Now her daughter-in-law, Rachel Allen, is leading a new generation of US cooks to the hearty simple fare of which Ireland is rightly proud. Rachel’s new book covers traditional Irish family meals, and it goes far beyond potato dishes and soda bread. Irish cooking is diverse and comforting, with a focus on letting the freshest of ingredients speak for themselves.
I turned through the book, marveling at the amazing photographs that made every dish look more fantastic than the next. It was honestly easier to pick out the few recipes I wouldn’t try than to mark all of the ones I wanted to see on my table in the future. This is certainly comfort food, as bacon, butter, and cream make appearances, but the amount of fresh vegetables and lean meats will make this book a treasure trove for many. I tried the Cabbage with Bacon and Cream (after picking from dozens of dishes with a lottery system!), and it was luscious and rich while still retaining all of the vitamins and character of the cabbage. This is definitely a way to get picky eaters to try something new.
While some of the recipes use ingredients that will be more difficult for some readers to locate, especially outside of major cities, most of the recipes are simple and use everyday items that appear on the shelves of the local grocery store. The recipes are clear, the photography bright and inviting, and the recipes rarely continue over a turned page. I would recommend this book for cooks of all proficiency levels, as the recipes range from very simple to much more complex. A beautiful, functional book that has definitely earned a place of honor on my shelf.
As if the cookbook isn’t fabulous enough, I actually had the honor of getting to interview Rachel Allen herself:
Q: What are the difficulties of translating Irish cooking for Americans?
The only difficulty I've come across when translating Irish cooking for Americans is finding out if all ingredients listed are available in the U.S., but apart from certain foods such as Golden syrup and certain flours it seems that everything we have here is also stateside!
Q: How did you decide what recipes to include in your book?
Over the course of a year I kept note of all the family favourite recipes that we cook at home. This is the food that we love to eat.
Q: How do you feel that Darina Allen and the Ballymaloe Cookery School has influenced your cooking?
Oh wow, where do I start?! My mother-in-law Darina has influenced me hugely, from the importance of great quality produce to realising that food does not have to be over complicated and fussy to be really great.
Q: Why do think that Irish food is so often overlooked, at least in the US?
I think that many people nowadays know what wonderful produce we have in Ireland. We have our fairly regular rainy days to thank for what is some of the world's best dairy and meat, and in the last couple of decades in Ireland there has been a brilliant foodie revolution where chefs and producers alike have been prouder than ever about our delicious food.
Q: What is your favorite recipe in the book and why?
Oh I think it has to be the Dublin Coddle. Delicious, warming, restorative, and so simple to make. It's like a great big hug in a bowl.
Cabbage with Bacon and Cream
Serves 6 to 8
4 tablespoons (50g) butter
6 slices (rashers) of smoked regular (streaky) bacon, thinly sliced
1 large Savoy or green cabbage (about 1 1/3 pounds/600g), outer leaves removed
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 tablespoon water
¾ cup (200mL) light or heavy (single or double) cream
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Melt the butter in a large frying pan or wok over high heat, add the bacon, and fry for 4 to 5 minutes, until crisp and golden. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels.
Meanwhile, cut the cabbage into quarters, removing the core from each piece, and thinly shred across the grain. Add the cabbage to the pan, along with the garlic and water. Saute for about 5 minutes over medium-high heat, tossing frequently, until wilted and just tender.
Increase the heat a little and return the bacon to the pan. Pour in the cream and allow to bubble for a few minutes until thickened slightly. Season with salt and pepper to taste and serve immediately.