Meal of a lifetime: Skye Gyngell discovers fresh new recipes during a feast in Cork

On a recent trip to southern Ireland, Skye Gyngell was treated to a feast she will never forget. She returned with a clutch of simple yet delicious new recipes...
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Indy Lifestyle Online

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about a weekend I spent in Ireland at the Ballymaloe Cookery School. It was a wonderful three days of warm weather, clear blue skies, delicious food and lots of hard work.

What made the weekend so memorable, though, was the warmth and generosity of spirit we experienced. Throughout the time we were there (by we, I mean myself and Petersham's forager Wendy Fogarty), everyone seemed to open their doors.

On the Friday evening, Canice Sharkey – who owns one of Cork's best-loved restaurants, Isaacs – cooked us the most incredible meal. The next day, we were invited to tea at the house of a wonderful old lady called Larne, who has gained a reputation in the these parts for her barnbrack, a type of fruit cake. And on Saturday night, after a long day at the cookery school, we went to dinner at Rory O'Connell's house. Rory is the brother of Darina Allen, who runs the school, and I wanted to write about the dinner I had there because it was so memorable – I can still taste each and every perfect mouthful.

Earlier this year, the American chef Alice Waters described to me a dinner she had eaten at Rory's – a delicious but very simple salad that Rory had picked from his garden. Like the meal I had been treated to, that dinner had lingered in Alice's memory long after the food was finished.

Rory is a thoughtful and extraordinary cook – in my mind, not a chef (although technically, I suppose that is what he is); his cooking is more considered and intimate than that, and I had one of the most truly delicious meals of my life that night.

We had chanterelle mushrooms that had been foraged by a friend of Rory's from the surrounding countryside, with perfectly soft and creamy scrambled eggs and fine, sharp crisp Melba toast. We then had a soup that had been made from radish tops and a richly flavoured chicken stock – peppery and complex, warming and nutritious; lobster that had been caught in Ballycotton Bay; and a salad of heritage tomatoes, warm, buttery and slightly salty potatoes and the most unctuous mayonnaise – all mopped up with warm soda bread. We finished with pancakes with wild bramble fruits, caramel sauce, and tea infused with lemon verbena. How perfect does that meal sound? And it was – it really was.

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

Salad of heritage tomatoes and basil

Serves 4

400g/13oz ripe tomatoes (if possible, heritage tomatoes)
A medium bunch of basil
Rock salt
Freshly ground black pepper
50ml/12fl oz extra-virgin olive oil

Not long before serving, slice the tomatoes into chunky pieces, tear the basil with your fingers and strew over the tomatoes. Season generously with rock salt and plenty of black pepper and drizzle with olive oil. Serve immediately.

Scrambled eggs with girolles

I like to cook scrambled eggs very slowly over a low heat. Instead of washing the mushrooms, wipe them gently or you will wash away most of the flavour.

Serves 4

For the eggs

8 large free-range eggs
3-4tbsp of cold, unsalted butter
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 clove of garlic

For the girolle

250g/8oz girolles, wiped clean
20g/3/4oz unsalted butter
A squeeze of lemon juice
1 clove of garlic
1 tbsp of chopped flat-leaf parsley
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Beat the eggs with a few slivers of butter and a pinch of salt. Melt the butter in a non-stick pan, add the eggs and return to the lowest heat. Rub the ladle of a wooden spoon with the garlic and use to stir the eggs constantly, incorporating the remaining butter until the eggs are soft.

For the mushrooms, gently warm butter in a pan and, once melted, add the mushrooms and turn the heat to high. Season and cook without stirring for a minute or so. Squeeze over the lemon juice, add the chopped garlic and parsley, cook for another minute and fold into the eggs.

Soda bread

This recipe comes from Tim Allen's lovely little book on bread entitled The Ballymaloe Bread Book. I ate lots of this over the course of the weekend, always slightly warm and with salty, buttercup- yellow Kerry butter, which is essential.

Makes one large loaf

570g/1lb 3oz brown wholemeal flour
570g/1lb 3oz plain white flour
2tsp salt
2tsp bread soda
850ml/1 pints of buttermilk or 1 pints of whole milk and a tablespoon of lemon juice

Preheat the oven to 230C/450F/Gas8. Mix the flours, salt and bread soda together in a large bowl. Pour in most of the milk into the middle of the flour. Using your hands, mix the ingredients, drawing in the flour from the sides of the bowl, adding more milk if necessary, until the dough is softish, but not too wet.

Turn out the dough on to a well-floured surface, then wash and dry your hands. Tidy up the dough by lightly rolling it around with lightly floured hands, then pat gently into a round about 6cm (3in) high.

Place the dough on a lightly floured baking sheet, and make incisions in the shape of a cross. Bake in the fully heated oven for 15-20 minutes, then reduce the temperature to as low as it will go for a further 20-25 minutes.

Turn the bread upside-down on the baking sheet for 5-10 minutes before the end of baking. When the bread is cooked, it will sound hollow when tapped. Cool on a wire rack and eat as soon as possible, with lashings of salty butter.

Warm salad of new potatoes, finely sliced red onion and parsley

Serves 4

1 red onion, finely sliced
1 medium bunch of parsley, leaves only, roughly chopped
60ml/21/2fl oz extra-virgin olive oil
The juice of half a lemon
50g/2oz grated Parmesan cheese
1kg/2lb of mid-season potatoes – the rosevale variety is one of my favourites

Rinse the potatoes and place in a large pan. Cover with cold water and a good pinch of salt. Bring to the boil, turn down slightly and simmer until tender and the potatoes are slightly falling apart. This should take about 25 minutes.

Drain and, while the potatoes are still warm, season with the oil, Parmesan, salt and pepper – if you season vegetables while they are warm, the flavour penetrates right to the core of the vegetable. When it is back to room temperature, toss in the onions and parsley, and serve.

Ballycotton lobster with mayonnaise

There is nothing more delicious than fresh lobster served with home-made mayo.

Serves 4

1 small lobster per person
3 organic free-range egg yolks
2tsp Dijon mustard
The juice of one lemon
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
200ml/7fl oz extra-virgin olive oil

Plunge the live lobsters into boiling, well-salted water and cook for eight minutes. Remove and allow to cool slightly. Lay shell-side down on a chopping board and cut through the middle lengthwise and arrange on a serving plate. You can use a claw cracker or a rolling pin to gently but firmly crack the claws.

Whizz the egg yolks, lemon juice, mustard, salt and pepper in a food processor briefly, then pour the olive oil slowly through the funnel in a fine stream until it is all incorporated and the mayo is emulsified. Serve with the lobster.

Pancakes with caramel sauce and brambles

It was bramble-fruit season in Ireland when we were there. Blackberries work best with this as other bramble fruits can be too sour.

Serves 4

For the caramel sauce

250g/8oz soft brown sugar
125ml/4oz water
250ml/8oz double cream

For the pancake batter

2 organic free-range eggs
250ml/8oz milk
40g/2oz unsalted butter, melted
125g/4oz plain flour
tsp salt
2tsp baking powder

For the blackberry sauce

200g/7oz of blackberries
3 tbsp caster sugar
Cream to serve

Place the sugar and water in a pan. Place over a medium heat, stir once, then leave alone. Allow a rich caramel to form; this will take 10 minutes. Once it's the colour of mahogany, remove from the heat and add the cream. Return to a low heat and stir. Set aside while you make the pancakes.

Whisk the eggs, milk and melted butter until combined. Sieve the flour, baking powder and salt into a bowl and make a well in the centre; gradually add the egg mixture and beat until smooth. Allow to rest for an hour.

Place four tablespoons of the batter into a preheated non-stick pan. Cook for two minutes on one side until bubbles appear on the surface of the pancake, then turn it and cook on the other side. Transfer to a plate and keep warm while you cook the remaining pancakes.

Warm the blackberries in a small saucepan with the sugar for a couple of minutes or until the sugar has dissolved and the blackberries have begun to ooze liquid. To assemble, place a pancake on a plate, spoon over the blackberries and the caramel, and finish off with a drop of cream.

The Forager by Wendy Fogarty

Petersham's forager on Rory O'Connell's favourite haunts...

Midleton Farmers' Market, Cork www.midletonfarmersmarket.com

Complete with a Ballymaloe stand selling fruit and vegetables grown on its farm.

Isaacs Restaurant, Cork, tel: +353 (0)21 450 3805

Canice Sharkey's wonderful restaurant is widely regarded as the best in Cork City.

Gubbeen Farmhouse Products, Schull, County Cork, www.gubbeen.com

Giana and Tim Ferguson's cheeses and their son, Fergus's, cured meats.

Ardsallagh Goat Cheese, Carrigtowhill, County Cork, www.ardsallaghgoats.com

Jane and Gerard Murphy make a white, soft goat cheese every day using fresh milk from their herd.

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