Georgina Campbell's Cookery Feature - Christmas Cooking by The Book

Festa, A Year of Italian Celebrations by Eileen Dunne Crescenzi (Gill & Macmillan hardback, €24.99)

Christmas is coming and the cooking is getting complicated - or maybe not. 

If you’re looking for ways to simplify the annual feast without losing the sense of tradition that makes it so special, why not try the menu below, which is taken from some of this autumn’s best new cookery books and offers light starter and dessert options and a sensibly straightforward rendition of the indispensable roast turkey.

First though, in time honoured tradition, there is some baking to be done - and who better to advise than Eileen Dunne Crescenzi, who gives this lovely Italian Christmas cake, Pandolce, in her delightful (and highly practical) book Festa, A Year of Italian Celebrations (Gill & Macmillan hardback, €24.99).

It’s one of my favourite new books and would make a terrific present for anyone (including yourself) who has a grá for things Italian, can’t resist the temptations offered at the much-loved Irish restaurants that Eileen and her husband Stefano run - or who simply enjoys a romping good read, as it is as much a memoir of happy time spent in Italy as a festive food book. Highly recommended.


“Pandolce (sweet bread) is a homely alternative to the traditional shop-bought panettone cake. I have adjusted the recipe a little to make it more orange, sweet and, dare I say it, delicious. Incorporating good-quality chocolate drops adds a touch of decadence.”

Serves 12

250g butter, softened
250g caster sugar
2 free-range or organic eggs, beaten
zest and juice of 1 orange zest and juice of 1 lemon
500g self-raising flour
1 level teaspoon baking powder
400g mix of sultanas and raisins
25g candied fruit
25g pine nuts
25g roughly crushed hazelnuts, walnuts or pistachios
2level teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 level teaspoon grated nutmeg

For the glaze:

200g caster sugar
zest and juice of 2 oranges

Preheat the oven to 175°C. Grease a 23cm springform baking tin.

Cream the butter and sugar until it's light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing well to incorporate them each time. Mix in the orange and lemon juice and zest, then stir in the flour and baking powder. Add the raisins and sultanas, candied fruit, nuts, cinnamon and nutmeg. Mix well to a creamy consistency. Pour the batter into the greased baking tin.

Bake in the oven for 1 hour, until a skewer inserted in the centre comes out clean. Leave to rest for 10 minutes before releasing the cake from the tin. Leave to cool on a wire rack.

To make the glaze, place the sugar, orange zest and juice in a small saucepan. Bring up to a simmer and cook for 10 minutes over a low heat, until the sugar has dissolved and the syrup has thickened. Pour over the cake.


Neven Maguire The Nation’s Favourite Healthy Food (Gill & Macmillan hardback, €22.99).Not too many months go by without a new book by Neven Maguire appearing in the bookshops, and this time he offers 100 Good-For-You Recipes in The Nation’s Favourite Healthy Food (Gill & Macmillan hardback, €22.99).

The wide-ranging contents include everything from Juices, Soups and Saintly Snacks to Low Carb Lunches, Takeaway My Way, Free From dishes and those all-important Lunchboxes and Kids’ Favourites.

All the main meat, fish and poultry ingredients are well covered and, while the most important message about healthy food is that it’s the everyday habits that really count, there’s no harm in introducing one or two light and healthy courses into the year’s biggest feast.

Most of us will enjoy the meal far more if there is less of it, and lightening up the starter and dessert could make a big difference. There’s no need to dump that delicious plum pudding, but it is nice to have a choice.

Roasted Beetroot, Feta and Watercress SaladRoasted Beetroot, Feta and Watercress Salad

“You could use a jar or vac-pack of cooked baby beetroot, but the ones you roast yourself are so much more delicious and even better a day later, when the flavours have developed. Watercress works so well with beetroot, but you could use rocket or a mixture of leaves from a bag, such as watercress, spinach and rocket.”

Scale up the ingredients as required if serving as a starter for a large gathering

Serve 4-6

100g (40z) watercress
100 (4oz) feta cheese, crumbled
50g (2oz) ready to eat dried apricots, finely diced
2 tbsp toasted pine nuts
Roasted Beetroot:
500g (1lb 2oz) small raw beetroot, peeled
1 tbsp clear honey
2 tsp balsamic vinegar
1 tbsp sunflower oil
1 tbsp olive oil
1tbsp good quality sherry vinegar
1 tbsp clear honey
½ small red chilli, seeded and finely diced
sea salt & freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 200°C (400ºF/gas mark 6).

Cut each beetroot in half or into quarters until they are all evenly sized. Whisk together the olive oil, honey, balsamic vinegar and thyme, drizzle over the beetroots and season to taste.

Toss until all the beetroot is thoroughly coated. Roast for 40-45 minutes, until cooked through and glazed. Leave at room temperature to cool.

Put all the dressing ingredients in a screw-topped jar and season with salt and pepper, then shake until emulsified.

Arrange the watercress on plates or use one large platter. Sprinkle over the cooked baby beetroots, feta, apricots and pine nuts. Just before serving, drizzle over the dressing.


Georgina O'Sullivan Cooking At The Ballymore Inn (Estragon Press, paperback; €20 + p&p former head of the Cookery Centre at Bord Bia, Georgina O’Sullivan earned a national following for her imaginative yet no nonsense recipes (often accompanied by superb images by Walter Pfeiffer) and trail blazing commitment to using the best local ingredients.

Since then she and her husband Barry have attracted a growing army of fans to their Co Kildare café-bar, The Ballymore Inn, and, unsurprisingly, customers have long been pleading for a cookbook.

And now, to celebrate their 20th anniversary, it is here. Cooking At The Ballymore Inn (Estragon Press, paperback; €20 + p&p will make a lot of people happy.

Summing up the philosophy that has made her one of Ireland’s most admired cooks, Georgina says “My love affair with food started many years ago in my grandmother’s kitchen in Ballyvaughan, County Clare. There I learned that the foundation of any great dish is carefully selected ingredients infused with imaginative simplicity. I have carried this belief through my career and it continues to ring true in the kitchen of The Ballymore Inn today.”

Fortunately for home cooks, that also carries through to mean straightforward do-able recipes, and one of Georgina’s particular talents is to write recipes that leave nothing out - and even include plenty of hints and tips - yet are always succint. (The Christmas turkey recipe below is a good example.)

And what a well-earned compliment for her to have an endorsement from the like-minded and much-celebrated food writer, Diana Henry, on the cover. (Feted at the UK Guild of Food Writers’ awards this year, Diana received both the Cookery Journalist of the Year and Cookery Book of the Year Awards, the latter for A Change of Appetite; Mitchell Beazley.) The Ballymore Inn was also one of a very small number of Irish pubs chosen a few years ago for inclusion in Diana’s excellent Gastropub Cookbooks.

Georgina O’Sullivan’s Christmas Turkey With Lemon & Thyme Stuffing

Georgina O’Sullivan’s Christmas Turkey With Lemon & Thyme Stuffing

“The festive bird is not nearly as difficult as it might seem. First, choose the best quality turkey you can find — the best weight is 5-6kg for 10-12 servings, plus leftovers. Calculate the cooking time at 15 minutes per 450g (lb) and 15 minutes over but, best of all, use a digital probe to check that the meat in the centre of the breast or thigh joint (not the bone) has reached 75°C. Buy the probe when you buy the bird! Then leave it to rest, covered with foil and a towel, for up to an hour. The stuffing can be made a day or two ahead and kept in the fridge - don’t stuff the turkey until you are ready to cook and don’t wash the turkey.”

Serves 10-12

5-6kg turkey
large roasting tin
250g butter, room temperature
8-10 streaky rashers
lemon & thyme stuffing
I80g butter, room temperature
1 large onion, finely chopped
2 lemons
300g soft breadcrumbs
5-6 tablespoons flat-leaf parsley, chopped
1 tablespoon thyme, chopped
salt & black pepper
glasses of red wine 250ml chicken stock
tablespoons redcurrant jelly generous knob of butter
salt & black pepper

To make the stuffing, melt a tablespoon of the butter in a medium pan and sauté the onion gently for a few minutes but don't colour. Grate the zest of both lemons then juice just one. In a large bowl mix the breadcrumbs with the onion, zest and lemon juice, parsley and thyme. Add the remaining butter and mix thoroughly, season well. Set aside until you are ready to roast the turkey.

Set the oven to Gas 4/180°C. Sit the turkey on the roasting tray, put the stuffing in the cavity, but keep a couple of tablespoons back for the neck cavity. Sew it up or use skewers to seal the stuffing inside. Spread the butter over the breasts and cover with the streaky bacon, then cover the turkey with foil and place in the preheated oven.

It is worth basting the turkey with the cooking juices every 45 minutes. A glass of wine can be added for the last hour; remove the foil also at this point to ensure the skin browns well. Check the temperature of the turkey is 75 °C, then remove from the oven and leave to rest for an hour.

To make the gravy, to the remaining pan juices, add the other glass of wine and boil up, stirring well to gather up the caramelised bits. Add in the stock and redcurrant jelly then simmer gently until well dissolved. Check the seasoning and strain into a smaller pan or gravy boat for serving.


Spiced Poached Pears with Creme Fraiche and Toasted AlmondsSpiced Poached Pears with Creme Fraiche and Toasted Almonds

Another healthy dish from Neven Maguire’s new book, The Nation’s Favourite Healthy Food, to round off the meal.

“This delightful dessert will revive even the most jaded palate. The pears improve with keeping, making this an excellent dessert for entertaining. Choose fruit that is perfectly ripe but still quite firm so the flesh doesn't go mushy while you are preparing them.”

Like the starter salad, this dish can easily be scaled up for larger numbers.

Serves 4

2 tbsp honey
4 firm, ripe pears
2 tbsp toasted flaked almonds
l00g(4oz) creme fraiche

Place the apple juice in a deep-sided pan with a lid (the pan needs to be just large enough to hold the pears in an upright position). Add the lime juice and rind, star anise, cinnamon stick, vanilla pod and honey. Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer gently for a few minutes to allow the flavours to infuse.

Meanwhile, peel the pears, leaving the stalks attached. Add them to the pan, standing them in an upright position. Cover with the lid and simmer gently for 20-25 minutes, until the pears are tender, basting them from time to time with the liquid. Remove from the heat and leave to cool in the syrup. The cooking time will depend on the ripeness of the pears.

Using a slotted spoon, transfer the pears to a dish and set aside. Reduce the cooking juices by half to a more syrupy consistency. This will take 8-12 minutes. Strain into a jug and leave to cool.

To serve, carefully cut each pear in half so that you don't spoil their beautiful shape. Place the pear halves on a serving platter and drizzle over the spiced syrup. Scatter over the toasted flaked almonds and serve with a separate bowl of creme fraiche.


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