The Darina Allen Column

An exciting parcel arrived on my desk the other day, a present from a past student who wanted me to have a copy of her very first cook book – Abra Berens is the 28th Ballymaloe Cooking School student to write a best-selling cook book. Published by Chronicle Books, it’s called Ruffage and has just been chosen by the New York Times as one of the Top 10 Books of 2019 – and that’s no mean feat….

Abra did a 12 Week Certificate Course here in 2006. She’s chef at Granor Farm in Three Oaks, Michigan and a co-founder of Bare Knuckle Farm. She’s making quite the impact and strives to connect people with their food both through dinners and progressive food policy, helping to further a food policy where farmers earn a living wage, protect our environment through agriculture and waste as little food as possible.... no doubt influenced by the zero waste policy we do our best to espouse here at the Ballymaloe Cooking School.

A year and half after she left here she took up residence in a forest valley between two cherry orchards on Bare Knuckle Farm in Michigan. She plunged all her savings into the project, worked from dawn till dusk, ate brilliantly but by the end of the first year was so ‘poor and cold’ that she decided to return to Chicago to get a job that paid “in green backs” rather than green leafy vegetables. There was lots of delicious food at the pie shop where she worked but soon she was craving the carrots that seemed to get sweeter with every passing frost, the tiny kale greens that still sprouted from the stalk and the almost obscenely orange-yolked eggs. “Farming changed the way I cook”.

I too, know that feeling, when you sow and tend a seed and wait patiently for it to grow into something to eat you will cook it carefully and lovingly and use every single scrap. You will want everyone to know that you grew it...Furthermore, it gives one a far greater respect and appreciation for those who grow nourishing and wholesome food all for us.

The format of Ruffage is also interesting. It’s not a vegetarian book but Abra has chosen vegetables as the principle ingredient and gives deeply knowledgable advice on how to select, store, prepare, cook and serve them using a variety of cooking techniques. She starts with a pantry section and some essential condiments. There are recipes for each vegetable and suggestions for 3 or 4 delicious variations, and many, many cooking methods, pan roasting, poaching, boiling, sautéing, grilling, oven roasting, braising, confit, frying, stuffed, marinated, baked, caramelized and of course raw.

Who knew that there so many super exciting ways to serve vegetables. I love this book and plan to stock it in our Farm Shop here at the Ballymaloe Cookery School. We don’t have much space so I’m super fussy about what I ask Toby to stock but this is a ‘keeper’.

Here are a few treats to whet your appetite…for the tempting variations you’ll need to order Abra’s book.

Abra Berens Beet-dressed pasta w/golden raisins and poppy seeds
4 boneless pork cutlets (170 g)
35g all-purpose flour
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
60 ml apple cider (dry or sweet) or white wine
1 bag (115g) arugula

Heat a glug of olive oil or a knob of butter in a large sauté pan over medium-low heat. Add the onion and salt, and sweat until tender, about 7 minutes. When soft but not browned, add the white wine. Reduce until almost dry, about 3 minutes, then add the cauliflower chunks.
Add the cream and bring to a simmer, then turn down the heat to avoid a boil over. Cook until the cauliflower is tender, about 20 minutes. Remove from the heat and blend (in batches unless you have a jumbo food processor) until very smooth.
Just before serving, heat a frying pan over medium-high heat with a big glug of neutral oil. Pat the pork dry, dredge in flour, and season with salt and pepper. Panfry the pork on both sides, allowing the cooking side to become golden brown before flipping. To test for doneness, the meat will be firm like a clenched bicep, 3 to 4 minutes per side (cutlets tend to cook quickly because they are thin).
Remove the pork from the pan and deglaze the pan with the apple cider.
Dress the arugula lightly with a glug of olive oil and a pinch of salt. Spoon the purée onto a plate or serving platter, top with the pork cutlets and then the deglazing liquid, and heap the arugula on top.

Seared duck breast w/brown sugar–vinegar cabbage, roasted potatoes, and herb salad
The richness of duck elevates the commonness of cabbage to fancy dinner status. That said, this dish would be perfectly at home with chicken, pork chops, or seared salmon. Note that if you don’t have the rendered duck fat in the pan, simply pan roast it with olive oil. Also note that if the skin softens while finishing the cabbage salad, simply kiss it in a hot pan or re-crisp under the broiler.
This brown sugar–vinegar sauce lives on my counter, close to the stove, ready to turn up the volume on anything I’m cooking that day. I love this dish because it combines a variety of textures and simultaneously blends rich, comforting flavours with a bright, acidic, herby lightness. I tend to use red cabbage for the colour, but any variety will work.

910g (or 2 to 3 potatoes per person) Yukon gold or red-skinned potatoes, cut into wedges
Olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 (170 to 230g) duck breasts
1 head (1.4 kg) red cabbage, cut into ribbons
120 ml brown sugar–vinegar sauce
½ bunch parsley (68 g), roughly chopped
10 sprigs chives, minced (optional)
1 sprig rosemary, minced (optional)

Heat the oven to 425°F (220°C).

Dress the potatoes with a glug of olive oil, a big pinch of salt, and several grinds of black pepper. Transfer to a baking sheet and roast until crispy on the outside and tender on the inside, about 35 minutes. Reserve, rewarming if necessary for the final steps.

Meanwhile, score the skin of the duck breast into either diamonds or slices, trying to avoid cutting the flesh, and season liberally with salt and pepper.

In a large, cold frying pan, place the duck breasts skin-side down and turn on a medium heat. As the heat builds in the frying pan, the fat will render through the cuts in the skin and crisp. Let it go longer than you might think you should. Cook until the skin is brown and crispy, and the meat medium rare, about 15 minutes. Flip the breasts for 4 minutes to cook in the fat. Remove the duck breasts from the pan and let rest for 7 to 10 minutes.

Increase the heat under the frying pan to high and add the cabbage with a pinch of salt to roast in the rendered duck fat. Allow to sizzle and lightly brown, about 7 minutes. Remove from the heat, add the brown sugar–vinegar sauce, and toss to coat well.
Toss the warm potatoes with the dressed cabbage and the parsley, chives, and rosemary (if using).

Place the duck breasts on a serving platter next to the potato-cabbage salad, and serve.

Matchstick salad: turnip, carrots, kohlrabi, w/lemon, Parmesan, and parsley

I like this salad to have similar shaped vegetables. It doesn’t have to be matchsticks; could be wedges or half-moons, or a mix. Bottom line: don’t let the knife work dissuade you from making the salad. As long as you get the vegetables into bite-size units, you’ll be good.
For the variations, you can use the same proportion of vegetables or stick with only turnip or rutabaga. The key is to have a nice dose of fat and brightness to balance the brassica flavour

1 bunch salad turnips (455 g), cut into matchsticks
3 medium turnips or 1 large rutabaga (455 g), ends trimmed, peeled, cut into matchsticks
4 carrots (various colours are nice) (455 g), cut into matchsticks
2 kohlrabi (455 g), ends trimmed, peeled, cut into matchsticks
1 or 2 apples (455 g), unpeeled, cut into matchsticks
2 lemons (90 ml), zest and juice
120 ml olive oil
Big pinch of salt
1 bunch parsley (34 g), roughly chopped
55 g Parmesan, shaved with a vegetable peeler or grater

Dress the vegetables and apples with the lemon zest and juice, olive oil, and salt. Toss all together, and let sit for 10 minutes to lightly marinate. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Add the parsley to the salad, garnish with the Parmesan shavings, and serve.

(All recipes taken from Ruffage by Abra Berens, published by Chronicle Books; photographs by EE Berger)

Hot Tips

- Clonakilty Walking Food Tours….the taste, walk and talk of the town! Summer has arrived and Kate Ryan of is ready to once more welcome visitors to the lovely Clonakilty for the 2019 season of the now famous Walking Food Tours. For more information and to make a booking go to

- One of my favourite books of all time, Elizabeth David’s Italian Food has recently been reprinted by Grub Street publishing. It is incredible how fresh and current the recipes in this book are despite the fact that it was first published in 1954 – it has without doubt stood the test of time.

- Just come across Eat Right by Nick Barnard. This fascinating book shows us how to find true nourishment and pleasure in the discovery, preparation and eating of real food and drink. It’s not about fashionable dieting or being anxious about food choices, it’s about positive eating – you can eat what you want if you know what’s good for you. It’s definitely worth a read and may change your life. Published by Octopus publishing and available on Amazon.

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