Made in Ireland: Skye Gyngell pays a visit to Ballymaloe

Deep in the Cork countryside, a small farm has spent the past 40 years establishing a worldwide reputation for its wonderful, traditional cooking and seasonal produce.
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Indy Lifestyle Online

Two weeks ago, I went to Ireland to teach a one-day course at Ballymaloe, the famed hotel and cookery school owned by the Allen family in Shanagarry, 20 miles from Cork. I went there partly because it was a welcome break from my own kitchen – but more importantly, because I had wanted to visit Ballymaloe for a long time. I arrived, feeling nervous, on a gloriously sunny Friday afternoon – talking and cooking in front of people always makes me feel slightly queasy. But as it turns out, I shouldn't have worried – I had a wonderful time.

Ballymaloe was started by Myrtle Allen, the wife of a local farmer called Ivan, as a restaurant in their rambling country house over 40 years ago. The ethos was simple – to serve good, traditional Irish food using local produce from their 400-acre estate and garden. Allen believed wholeheartedly in following the seasons, using the bounty of her own beautiful farm and the surrounding Cork countryside – fresh herbs, potatoes picked straight from the earth and mushrooms foraged from the woods, as well as cooking lobster, carrageen moss, mackerel and whatever else came in from the fishing boats at nearby Ballycotton Bay.

Ballymaloe soon gained a reputation not just in Ireland, but around the world and has also won countless awards. The restaurant has expanded into a hotel and Myrtle and Ivan, who have six children and 22 grandchildren, have many pairs of hands to help with new enterprises.

The cookery school was opened there in 1983 by Allen's daughter-in-law Darina. It started in a small barn behind the house but has since doubled in size and is now located in a bigger building just down the road. Students come from all over the world, attracted by a school that is set amidst vegetable gardens, orchards and roaming chickens, pigs and even a Kerry cow from which they get milk and cream. On the Sunday I was there, it was used to make delicious buttercup yellow, salty Irish butter.

This is where I did my cookery demonstration on the Saturday. I made what seemed like hundreds of dishes, but with back-up from the school's staff, it seemed effortless. Graduates of Ballymaloe are incredibly well taught – they have a commitment and passion to good food which is inspiring – I know, because I have worked with five in my kitchen at Petersham and it's always been a pleasure to have them. Here is a sample of the recipes I cooked.

Skye Gyngell is head chef at Petersham Nurseries, Church Lane, Richmond, Surrey, tel: 020 8605 3627. Her book 'A Year in My Kitchen', Quadrille, is the 2007 Guild of Food Writers' Cookery Book of the Year. For more information on Ballymaloe visit www.ballymaloe.ie

Chickpeas with chilli, lime and coriander

Serves 4

For the spice mix

2 cinnamon sticks
50g/2oz coriander seeds
50g/2oz fennel seeds
50g/2oz cumin seeds
50g/2oz mustard seeds
5 cardamom pods
3 star anise

For the chickpeas

1tbsp of olive oil
25g/1oz unsalted butter
2 red onions, peeled and finely sliced
A generous bunch of coriander, washed
1 red chilli, deseeded and finely sliced
2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
1 thumb fresh ginger, peeled and chopped
1tbsp of spice mix
1tbsp tamarind water
4 carrots, peeled and chopped
2 cans good quality tinned tomatoes
2 cinnamon sticks
400g/13oz cooked chickpeas
100ml/3fl oz maple syrup
100ml/3fl oz tamari or soya sauce
The juice of 2 limes

For the spice mix, place a pan over a medium heat. Once a clear smoke rises, add all the spices and cook, stirring once or twice to toast them. Be careful they do not burn as this will give a bitter taste. This makes more than you will need but it keeps in a sealed jar for about a month.

In another pan, place the oil and butter over a medium heat. Once the butter melts, add the onions and sweat for 5 minutes until translucent. Wash the coriander, separate the leaves and set aside. Chop the root and stalks finely and add to the onions. Add the chilli, garlic, ginger and spice mix. Stir for a minute or two, then add the tamarind water and carrots. Cook for a further 5 minutes, then add the tomatoes and cinnamon. Place a lid on and cook over a low heat for an hour.

Next add the chickpeas, maple syrup, tamari and lime and cook for 15 minutes. Taste and season. The flavour should be rich, sweet, salty and sour. Serve with rice that has been doused with butter or ghee.

Blackberries with zabaglione

Serves 4

80ml/3fl oz light, fruity red wine
2tbsp balsamico tradizionale
4tbsp caster sugar
4 egg yolks
200ml/7fl oz double cream
200g/7oz blackberries
1 pinch sea salt
1tbsp balsamic vinegar

Place a pot of water on the stove. In a different pan, heat the wine and balsamic with one tablespoon of sugar until it has dissolved and the alcohol is warm. Place the yolks and remaining sugar in a bowl and whisk until a pale yellow. Whisk in the alcohol – and place the bowl over the pan of simmering water. Whisk over the lowest heat until the mixture begins to thicken. Set aside to cool. Whisk the cream until soft peaks form. When the sabayon is cool, fold the cream in. Place the blackberries on a plate and spoon over the sweet cream. Drizzle with the extra balsamic and finish with the pinch of salt.

Roast chicken and bread salad

Serves 4

1 small free-range chicken
1 lemon
1 small bunch of thyme
2 bay leaves
1 small bunch of parsley
1 dry red chilli
5 garlic cloves, halved
Olive oil to drizzle
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the salad

2tbsp dried sour cherries
1 loaf of one-day old, chewy bread
150ml/¼ pint extra-virgin olive oil
1tbsp salted capers, rinsed
1tbsp finely chopped, preserved lemon
2tbsp good quality balsamic vinegar
A handful of rocket
10 chopped basil leaves
Finely grated zest of 1 lemon

Pre-heat the oven to 200C/400F/Gas 6. Rinse the chicken inside and out. Pat dry and place half the lemon into the cavity with the thyme, bay leaves, parsley, crumbled dried chilli and garlic. Squeeze the juice of the other half of the lemon over the chicken skin and drizzle with olive oil. Season with salt and pepper then place in a roasting tray. Roast for 15 minutes, then lower the oven setting to 180C/350F/Gas 4 and cook for a further 45 minutes, or until cooked through. Leave to rest until cool enough to handle. Save the juices.

For the salad, soak the cherries in warm water for 10 minutes. Cut the loaf in half, and tear into pieces. Put on a baking tray, drizzle with oil and bake for 10 minutes. Tip the bread into a large salad bowl. While still warm, drizzle with the rest of the olive oil, add the capers, preserved lemon, vinegar and cherries.

Remove the flesh from the chicken, add to the salad and drizzle over the roasting juices. Add the rocket, season and place on a dish. Scatter over the basil leaves and lemon zest and serve immediately.

Raspberry and apricot bread puddings

Serves 4

A small knob of unsalted butter
8 fresh apricots
75g/3oz caster sugar
1tbsp apricot liqueur/amaretto
4 organic free-range eggs
1tsp vanilla extract
300ml/ pint double cream
300ml/ pint whole milk
8 thin slices of white bread, crusts removed
150g/5oz raspberries
Icing sugar, to dust
Pouring cream, to serve

Heat the oven to 150C/300F/Gas 2. Lightly grease eight pudding bowls. Halve the apricots, remove the stones and chop the flesh into small cubes. Place in a bowl and sprinkle with a tablespoon of sugar, add the liqueur and leave to macerate. Whisk the rest of the sugar, eggs and the vanilla until pale and creamy. Add the cream and milk, stir and pass through a fine sieve into a jug. Layer the bread with the raspberries and apricots in the moulds. Pour over the custard and leave to stand for 15 minutes. Stand the moulds in a large baking dish and pour in water to reach halfway up the sides of the moulds. Bake for 30 minutes. Serve at room temperature. Turn out the puddings on to plates, dust with icing sugar and serve with a jug of cream.

The Forager by Wendy Fogarty

Petersham's food sourcer reveals the best of the food workshops and demonstrations in the coming weeks...

Ballymaloe Cookery School, www.cookingisfun.ie

Darina and Tim Allen's school runs a diverse series of workshops, demonstrations and courses throughout the year. Courses coming up in October include discovering tapas, sushi made simple and how to smoke your own food.

Gusto balsamico, 5 to 8 October, Modena, Italy www.slowfood.com

The home of traditional balsamic vinegar hosts international workshops and tastings of vinegars and verjuice.Chocolate: a talk, tasting and lunch, Friday 12 October, Petersham Nurseries Melt's master-chocolatier, Keith Hurman, celebrates the launch of a new truffle created in collaboration with Skye.

Pumpkins, gourds and squashes, Monday 22 to Wednesday 31 October, Petersham Nurseries

Annual celebration centres around more than 100 varieties grown by award-winning allotment grower Geoff Noakes. www.petershamnurseries.com

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