Cookery Feature - PARADISO PLATES

Ground breaking, inspirational, ever-evolving, respectful of the vegetable kingdom (both plants and producers), responsible, sustainable, bold, beautiful, deeply-flavoured, different and oh-so-enjoyable - these are the kind of thoughts that crowd the mind when the acclaimed chef Denis Cotter or his wonderful restaurant Paradiso are mentioned. And how lucky are we to have accumulated so many memories since they hit the Cork restaurant scene in 1993.

So, a new book from Denis is always hugely welcome– this is his fifth, the last was 12 years ago – but this one is very special. As pandemic projects go, it’s pretty epic - and the forward-looking tone may be a surprise after three decades in business, when a little nostalgia might be expected. But standing still, or even slowing down, is not in the script at Paradiso, where it’s all about evolution.

Anyone who remembers Café Paradiso, as it was then, in the mid-‘90s will recall the excitement. Leaving early and making only the briefest of stops on the way, we used to sweep down to Cork from Dublin with hope and a happy hunger in our hearts, on a mission to get to Paradiso in time for a late week lunch.

It was light years ahead of its time, turning out gorgeous deeply flavoursome vegetarian food that was totally itself, without any of the deference to meat cookery that was the norm in vegetarian meals at the time – and has become so much more prevalent of late with the introduction of fakery on an industrial scale in the commercial plant-based processed food market.

But, going far beyond a stated ambition to create food that could stand up for itself when compared to the ‘normal’ dining experience, Denis Cotter’s vision was also way ahead of the curve when it came to sustainability and working with the seasons and local producers, especially Ultan Walsh and Lucy Stewart of Gortnanain Farm near Kinsale – an enduring partnership that has attracted much well-earned praise for Paradiso, most famously a ‘Big Plate’ Collaboration of the Year award at the inaugural World Restaurant Awards in 2019 that has helped to bring their philosophy to a much wider audience.

For the most part though, Denis Cotter has just been getting on quietly exercising his originality with a changing but equally inspired team. And, as Cork-born actor Cillian Murphy - a fan since Café Paradiso opened in 1993 – said in his Foreword, ‘…while the atmosphere, the warmth and the welcome have never changed at Café P, the food has developed, advanced and evolved to make it one of the greatest places to eat in the world’.

For the hands-on cook and anyone with an interest in the mechanics of running a restaurant (or creating stunning dishes for an anxiety-free dinner party), Paradiso is fascinating at a different level, as Denis reveals the working pattern of the day and the secrets of success in a busy kitchen. Recently – and here you get a sense of the forward-looking momentum - this has included a change of direction from à la carte menus to a range of plates (mainly small or starter size), that can be served alone or in menus of a series of courses - a very practical development that allows for a huge amount of flexibility in service.

Key to kitchen management is the morning prep work, which provides the ready-made pieces of the jigsaw that make everything possible during service. This is all covered in an extensive Core Elements section, with recipes for myriad essential elements that contribute to creating the deep umami flavours and complementary textures that make this vegetarian cooking so exciting, including ‘Crunchy Stuff’, Pickles and Sauces (ambient and hot), Dressings oils and butters, Pulses and Dairy Alternatives – the latter a reminder that many dishes are vegan friendly and, while dairy still features (notably the best of local cheeses), alternatives are now being used more.

Home cooks will relish Paradiso as a fascinating, practical celebration of vegetable-based cooking and a terrific read, and – importantly – chefs, and budding chefs, will find it a source of great inspiration. Bringing together its past, its present and its future in one seriously relevant package, this timely book encapsulates the essence of Paradiso.

Paradiso: Recipes & Reflections by Denis Cotter, a 216-page hardback cookbook featuring a collection of over 160 recipes with beautiful photography by Ruth Calder-Potts, on sale at and at Paradiso in Cork City, €39. Also in bookshops from September 2023.


Asparagus, deep-fried egg, coriander, chilli, lime, crisped shallots Serves 4
20g caster sugar
100ml lime juice
zest of 1 lime
1 fresh red chilli, deseeded
1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
2 teaspoons soy sauce
12 fat asparagus spears
Deep-fried egg:
4 eggs, at room temperature
1 tablespoon garam masala
To finish:
crisped shallots
1 fresh red chilli, deseeded and thinly sliced
coriander leaves

Dissolve the sugar in the lime juice, then blend this with the lime zest, chilli, ginger and soy sauce.
Bring a pot of water to a boil and carefully lower in the eggs. Simmer for 3 minutes 40 seconds, then remove the eggs to a bowl of iced and salted water to stop the cooking. Leave for 20 minutes to cool. Shatter the eggshells by tapping them all over with the back of a spoon, then carefully peel and discard the shell.
Snap the ends off the asparagus spears. Bring a pot of salted water to a boil and drop in the asparagus to blanch for 3–4 minutes, until just tender. Remove and drain on kitchen paper.
At the same time, heat the oil in a deep-fryer to 200°C. Fry the eggs, two at a time, for 1 minute, until they are beginning to colour and crisp. (Accurate timing and some practice are vital to get perfect deep-fried eggs!) Remove to dry on kitchen paper, then roll the eggs in a light dusting of garam masala.
To serve, place the asparagus spears close together on plates with a deep-fried egg on top. Spoon over some of the dressing followed by a sprinkling of crisped shallots, sliced chilli and coriander leaves.
Crisped shallots (from Core Elements section) Makes 8–12 portions as a garnish
2–3 large banana shallots, thinly sliced and separated
Heat some vegetable oil in a deep-fryer to 160°C. Working in batches, add a handful of shallot slices to the fryer and cook, stirring constantly, until they begin to turn golden. Remove the cooked slices, scatter on a tray lined with kitchen paper and sprinkle with a little salt. Repeat with the remaining shallot slices.
The cooked slices will crisp as they cool but if they are not fully crisp when cooled, place them in an oven at 50°C fan for 1 hour to dry out. Keeps for a week or two in a dry airtight container lined with kitchen paper.
Paradiso: Recipes and Reflections by Denis Cotter is published by Nine Bean Rows (€39)

Grilled peach, cucumber, pickled radish, sheep’s milk labneh, mint, watercress, macadamia Serves 4

Sheep’s milk labneh:
250g sheep’s milk yogurt
Cucumber purée:
1 medium cucumber, peeled and deseeded
½ ripe avocado
1 spring onion, chopped
1 small garlic clove, chopped
50ml olive oil
juice of ½ lime
Grilled peach salad:
1 cucumber
2 peaches
50g watercress
a handful of fresh mint and/or basil leaves
12 macadamia nuts, lightly toasted and halved
To finish:
12 pickled radish slices

To make the labneh, strain the yogurt by placing it in muslin or cheesecloth put in a strainer set over a bowl and leaving it in the fridge overnight. Discard the liquid and lightly whisk the remaining labneh.
To make the cucumber purée, blend everything together in a food processor until very smooth. Add a little water if required. Pass the purée through a sieve. Season with salt and chill the purée for at least 1 hour. Before serving, check the seasoning again and add more salt and lime if necessary.
To make the grilled peach salad, use a peeler to get long, wide strips of cucumber. Toss these in a little salt and leave for 10 minutes, then rinse and drain. Cut the peaches in half, remove the stones and cut each half into three wedges. Brush the cut sides lightly with olive oil and grill on a heavy-based frying pan or griddle until blackened.
To finish, spoon some cucumber purée into a shallow bowl. Arrange all the salad ingredients in the centre, garnish with the pickled radish slices and add little spoonfuls of labneh.
Pickled radish (from Core Elements section)
This is a quick pickle that needs to be used the same day. Used pickling liquid can be used once or twice more. Makes 6–10 portions
8–10 fresh radishes
60g caster sugar
125ml white wine vinegar
25ml water
1cm piece of fresh ginger, peeled and sliced
2 lime leaves
¼ tablespoon salt
½ teaspoon yellow mustard seeds
Trim the radishes, slice them into 3mm-thick rounds and place in a heatproof bowl.
Bring the rest of the ingredients to a boil in a small pot and pour enough of the hot liquid over the sliced radishes to cover them. Leave for 5 minutes, then remove the radishes from the liquid and leave to cool to room temperature before serving.
Paradiso: Recipes and Reflections by Denis Cotter is published by Nine Bean Rows (€39)

Strawberry & elderflower pavlova Serves 6
120g egg whites
220g caster sugar, divided
1 teaspoon cornflour
1 teaspoon white wine vinegar
Strawberry consommé:
300g strawberries, chopped
60g caster sugar
Elderflower cream:
200ml cream
20g caster sugar
1 teaspoon elderflower cordial
To finish:
18–20 strawberries, halved or quartered
basil oil (see below)
edible flowers

To make the pavlovas, preheat the oven to 130°C fan.
Whip the egg whites to soft peaks, then slowly add 170g of the sugar, beating in 1 tablespoon or so every 30 seconds at first, then 2 tablespoons at a time until all 170g has been used.
Mix together the remaining 50g sugar and the cornflour. Add this to the whipping meringue, 2 tablespoons at a time. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, add the vinegar and continue whipping for 5 minutes. Put the meringue in a piping bag.
Line an oven tray with parchment. Lightly oil a 7cm metal ring and place it on the parchment. Pipe some meringue into the ring, filling it and swirling the top to get a flat-ish top. Lift off the ring, wipe it clean, oil it again and repeat to make six pavlovas in total.
Place the tray in the oven and bake for 12 minutes, then lower the heat to 80ºC fan and bake for 12 minutes more. Turn off the heat and leave for another 12 minutes. Finally, open the oven door and leave for 12 minutes. Remove the pavlovas from the oven and leave to cool completely. Use a palette knife to carefully remove the pavlovas from the tray.
To make the strawberry consommé, put the strawberries and sugar in a metal bowl and seal the top. Place over a pot of boiling water for 40 minutes to soften the fruit. Transfer the fruit mix to a sieve lined with cheesecloth and strain over a bowl for 2 hours, retaining the liquid.
To make the elderflower cream, whip the cream with the sugar, adding the elderflower cordial at the end.
To serve, place a pavlova on each plate with the flatter side up. Top with elderflower cream and halved or quartered strawberries, then pour a thin pool of strawberry consommé around the pavlova. Add a small amount of basil oil around the edge of the consommé, then scatter over a few mint leaves and edible flowers.
Basil oil (from Core Elements section) Makes 200ml
100g fresh basil
200ml olive oil
Blanch the basil in boiling water for a few seconds, then immediately remove it and cool it in iced water. Leave on kitchen paper to dry, then blend with the olive oil. Leave for 1 hour before straining out the solids. Keeps for three or four days. For coriander oil, simply replace the basil with fresh coriander and proceed as above.
Paradiso: Recipes and Reflections by Denis Cotter is published by Nine Bean Rows (€39)





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