Cook Like Neven

Neven Maguire - The MacNean Restaurant CookbookNeven Maguire has a special place in Irish food and in the hearts of Irish food lovers, and it is well earned. Whether through the family business, MacNean House & Restaurant in Blacklion, Co Cavan, his TV and competition work (including representing Ireland at the Bocuse d’Or in 2001), or the many events and individuals he has supported down the years, he has done many great services to Irish food – perhaps most notably through his dedication to his own area and the best of local seasonal produce, which (despite the fact that he is still a young man) he has vigorously supported for many years.

I’ve lost count of the number of cookbooks Neven has produced, but his exceptional ability to think like a domestic cook as well as a professional chef is one of the secrets of his success when demonstrating and it’s a constant trait that has always made his recipes very accessible. Even in his new book, The MacNean Restaurant Cookbook (Gill & Macmillan hardback, €24.99), which is a handsome hardback, this still applies.

Published to celebrate 30 years of outstanding cooking at MacNean Restaurant and as a tribute to his Mum Vera, who died shortly before the launch, this may be a restaurant book – and yes, the signature dishes are all there – but even in the most complex and sophisticated dishes there are elements that the home cook can attempt with confidence. It’s a reference that you would certainly enjoy using for a special occasion, and some sections – notably the excellent chapter on Breakfast, which begins the book on such a down to earth tone, and the final one on Breads, Cakes and Biscuits – could soon become well-thumbed pages in any household.

As in the restaurant itself, teamwork from a range of talented people is the secret of this beautiful book’s success: in addition to contributions from the MacNean kitchen brigade (who provided the cheffy bells and whistles that lift presentation into the fine dining class), Sharon Hearne-Smith’s assured food styling and Joanne Murphy’s superb photography create impressive visual impact, while compiler Orla Broderick and editor Kristin Jensen ensured that the text was accurate and crystal clear, making it surprisingly easy to follow.

Bringing the whole story together, a foreword by food writer Ross Golden-Bannon details the restaurant’s history and the many challenges and milestones along the way. All this, together with evocative photography of the restaurant itself, the people who created it - and those who regularly recreate it - make this fine book a great souvenir for those who have experienced visiting MacNean, and the ideal introduction for those who still have it on their wish list. The perfect gift.

RECIPES: The sample recipes given below are based on those selected from the book by Neven, for what he modestly called a ‘three course meal’ at the launch – which was, of course, a stunning gala dinner. Elements of any of these dishes could be chosen to cook at home and, although there are numerous ‘sub-recipes’ given in the book, most of these are optional garnishes and in no way essential to the success of the main item.

Where an unusual ingredient is called for, a more familiar one can usually be substituted; eg agar agar powder is a setting agent – a vegetable gelatine - so, if difficult to source, it could be replaced with ordinary gelatine.

Crispy Goats Cheese with Beetroot Panna CottaCrispy Goat's Cheese with Beetroot Panna Cotta

If you prefer to bake the goat's cheese, simply cook it in an oven preheated to 180°C (350°F/gas mark 4) for another 5-10 minutes, until warmed through and soft. As you can see in the photo, we use a rectangular silicone mould to make the panna cottas in, which are available from good catering shops or online. Ours are 5cm (2 in) long on the top of the mould and 2.5cm (1 in) wide.

Serves 4

25g (1oz) fresh white breadcrumbs
l tbsp finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
l tsp toasted pine nuts, finely chopped
1 tsp sesame seeds
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 egg
25g (loz) plain flour
150g (5oz) log of Corleggy or Ryefield goat's cheese, cut into 4 slices
groundnut oil, for deep-frying
12 slices beetroot carpaccio (recipe supplied)
basil purée (recipe supplied), to serve
fresh affilia cress, to garnish
fresh pea shoots, to garnish
fresh mixed micro salad, to garnish

For the beetroot panna cotta:

225g (8oz) raw beetroot
1 tbsp agar agar powder (vegetable gelatine; from specialist shops or online)
300ml (1/2 pint) cream
100g (4oz) soft goat's cheese (no rind)
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

To make the beetroot panna cotta, place the beetroot in a pan, cover with water and bring to the boil over a medium heat. Reduce the heat, cover with a lid and simmer for 30-40 minutes, until completely tender when pierced with a knife. Drain and leave to cool, then peel and roughly chop the flesh. Place in a food processor and blend to a purée - you'll need 50g (2oz) for the panna cotta; place the rest in a small squeezy bottle to use as a garnish.

Dissolve the agar agar in 4 tablespoons of cold water in a small pan, whisking continuously. Bring it to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 1 minute, until dissolved. Remove from the heat and leave to cool a little.

Place the cream in a heavy-based pan and bring to the boil, then remove from the heat. Whisk the cooled agar agar mixture into the cream. Stir in 50g (2oz) of the beetroot purée, then beat in the goat's cheese until evenly combined.

Season to taste and place in 4 x 120ml (4 fl oz) dariole moulds that are base-lined with parchment paper. Leave in the fridge for 2-3 hours to set, or you can make them the day before and leave overnight.

To prepare the crispy goat's cheese, mix the breadcrumbs with the parsley, chopped nuts and sesame seeds in a shallow dish. Season to taste. In a separate dish, beat the egg and season lightly. Season the flour and place in another shallow dish.

Lightly coat the goat's cheese in the seasoned flour, then dip each slice into the beaten egg, gently shaking off any excess. Place in the breadcrumb mixture so that it is completely coated. Place on a flat tray lined with parchment paper in the fridge for at least 30 minutes (or overnight covered with clingfilm is fine) to firm up.

Preheat the oven to 180°C (350°F/gas mark 4).

Heat the oil in a deep-sided pan or deep-fat fryer to 180°C (350°F) and cook the breaded goat's cheese for 1-2 minutes, until golden brown. Carefully remove from the oil and transfer to a plate lined with kitchen paper to drain off any excess oil. Arrange on a baking sheet and place in the oven for another 3-4 minutes, until heated through but still holding their shape.

To serve, dip the panna cotta moulds in just-boiled water for 5-10 seconds, then carefully invert the panna cotta onto the plates. Add 3 slices of the beetroot carpaccio to each plate. Put a dot of the beetroot puree on the plate to prevent the crispy goat's cheese from slipping, then place on top. Garnish with the rest of the beetroot puree and the basil purée. Scatter over the affilia cress, pea shoots and mixed micro salad.


Loin of Venison with Quinoa and SpinachLoin of Venison with Quinoa and Spinach

We use one-year-old deer from Finnebrogue, which is always tender but never very strong in taste. It's popular with customers, as it's considered a lean and healthy option, which is why I've chosen to serve it with some quinoa, this nutty flavoured superfood is the most complete protein of any grain and a fantastic source of magnesium.

Serves 4

4 x 100g (4oz) venison loins, well trimmed
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tbsp rapeseed oil
1 tsp softened butter
12 spinach leaves
quinoa (recipe supplied), to serve
beetroot puree (recipe supplied), to serve
spinach puree (recipe supplied), to serve
8 sweet potato fondants (recipe supplied), to serve
apple gel (recipe supplied), to garnish
mushroom foam (recipe supplied), to garnish

Preheat the oven to 180°C (350°F/gas mark 4).

Season the venison all over. Heat a large ovenproof frying pan until very hot. Add the oil until smoking and then cook the venison loins for 2 minutes on each side, until browned. Add the butter to the venison and allow to melt, then transfer to the oven and cook for another 6-8 minutes for medium, turning once (leave it a little longer if you prefer your meat more well done). Remove from the oven and keep warm while leaving to rest for at least 5 minutes, then carve each one in half lengthways.

Meanwhile, using a straight-sided cutter, stamp out 2.5cm (1 in) circles from the spinach and set aside until needed.

To serve, shape quenelles of the quinoa on each warmed plate. Add the beetroot and spinach purees with the sweet potato fondants. Add the spinach circles and then arrange the venison on top. Add the apple gel and spoon over the mushroom foam.


Barolo or Barbaresco, made from Nebbiolo grapes in north-west Italy, are great partners with venison. A good-quality Tempranillo wine from northern Spain would also work well.


Passion Fruit and Orange Jelly with Vanilla Yoghurt and GranitaPassion Fruit and Orange Jelly with Vanilla Yoghurt and Granita

A refreshing palate cleanser in the restaurant. But equally good as a dessert served with a yoghurt ice cream - you can't beat jelly and ice cream. If you're serving them as a pre-dessert, put 50ml (2fl oz) of the jelly into 75ml (3fl oz) shot glasses. Feel free to experiment with other flavours, such as cranberry and orange, apple and vanilla or mango.

The granita can be flavoured with ginger beer, raspberry coulis or strawberry coulis and champagne. The passion fruit coulis is available in good cook shops or online in pouches and has an excellent shelf life if it hasn't been opened.

Serves 4

For the passion fruit and orange jelly:

3 gelatine leaves
300ml (1/2 pint) freshly squeezed orange juice
150ml (1/4 pint) passion fruit coulis (shop bought)
25g (1oz) caster sugar

For the passion fruit granita:

250g (9 oz) passion fruit coulis (shop bought)
125g (4½ oz) caster sugar

For the vanilla yoghurt:

200g (7oz) plain natural yoghurt
1 vanilla pod, half in half and seeds scraped out
passion fruit seeds, to decorate
fresh tiny mint sprigs, to decorate

To prepare the jelly, place the gelatine leaves in a bowl and cover with cold water. Set aside for 10 minutes to soften.

Place the orange juice in a pan with the passion fruit coulis and sugar. Bring to the boil, then take the soaked gelatine out of the water and gently squeeze dry. Add to the orange and passion fruit mixture and stir until the gelatine is completely dissolved. Set aside to cool.

Pour the cooled jelly into 4 x 200ml (7fl oz) glasses, leaving a 2.5cm (1in) space at the top. Place in the fridge to set for at least 2 hours, or overnight is best.

To make the passion fruit granita, place the passion fruit coulis, sugar and 100ml (3½ fl oz) water in a pan and bring gently to the boil to dissolve the sugar. Remove the passion fruit mixture from the heat and pass through a sieve into a rigid plastic container.

Leave to cool completely, then place in the freezer. Whisk or stir the granita every 20 minutes to break up the ice crystals until the granita is set. This will take 2-3 hours in total.

To make the vanilla yoghurt, mix together the yoghurt and vanilla in a bowl, then transfer to a squeezy bottle. Chill until needed.

To serve, add a layer of the yoghurt on top of the set jelly and spoon some passion fruit granita on top of each one. Decorate with the passion fruit seeds and mint sprigs.


The jellies can be made 2 days in advance and the granita will keep in the freezer for 4-5 days. The yoghurt can also be flavoured 2 days in advance.



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