The Darina Allen Column

It’s that time of the year again, my desk is piled high with new cookbooks, pre-Christmas publications, all shiny and glossy and very tempting.

First out of the traps in early September was Jamie Oliver’s Veg. I’m a big fan of Jamie’s and felt a deep sympathy as he faced a whole slew of challenges earlier in the year. He has bounced back in a variety of ways – look out for his YouTube cooking slots and this new book is another must have.

Another of my food heroes, is the indomitable Fergus Henderson. The Book of St John written with his long time business partner Trevor Gulliver celebrates 25 years of the iconic ‘meaty‘ restaurant that pioneered ‘nose to tail’ eating and happily coincides with the Year of the Pig. Pithy, witty, and structured to mirror the practices and rythms of St John Kitchen, from butchery to stocks, braise and brine, but St John’s on St John’s Street in London is not just about meat, there’s also an extensive repertoire of fruit and vegetable recipes, all new, and a whole chapter on puddings. Lick your lips – steamed syrup pudding, sherry trifle and lots of treats for the eleven o clock biscuit tin, as well as a seed cake and a glass of madeira (Fergus’s favourite tipple), and finally a whole chapter dedicated to feasting….An irresistible publication with gold edged pages – a very special present.

In the midst of the pile, are two shiny hardbacks written by two Ballymaloe Cookery School Alumni. James Ramsden, food writer, podcaster, chef, owner of three restaurants including Michelin starred Pidgin in Hackney. James’ fourth book, Lets Do Dinner is jam packed with tasty tried and tested recipes. Nothing cheffy here, just lots of yummy dishes to enjoy that can be prepared ahead for family and friends, so you don’t find yourself racing against the clock at the last moment – lots of really tempting super cool recipes to enjoy with pals around the kitchen table.

The second book is a first for Rachel Goenka from India, who did the 12 Week Certificate Course at Ballymaloe Cookery School in 2011 before returning to her native Mumbai where she opened her restaurant The Sassy Spoon. This debut book, Adventures with Mitha published by Harper Collins.
i is already a best seller in India and reflects her love of baking. Here again, there are many stunning photos of creations you’ll really want to bake.

Finally, for this column, the Cordon Bleu Chocolate Bible published by Grub Street – a culinary guide to all things chocolate. With 180 recipes, so difficult to pick a favourite recipe…This may well become the quintessential chocolate book.

A cookbook makes a brilliant present that keeps on giving – so lots to choose from.


Braised Lamb, Peas, Crème Fraîche and Mint
From The Book of St John by Fergus Henderson and Trevor Gulliver, Ebury Press. Photography by Jason Lowe
To serve 6 happily

Sea salt and black pepper
1 lamb shoulder on the bone
A few glugs of extra virgin olive oil
20 shallots, peeled and left whole
20 cloves of garlic, peeled and left whole
A bouquet garni (e.g. parsley, thyme, rosemary, bay etc)
½ bottle of white wine
A ready supply of chicken stock
2 healthy tablespoons of Dijon mustard
4 healthy tablespoons of crème fraîche
A few handfuls of fresh or frozen peas
2 bundles of mint, leaves picked and stalks retained for the bundle of joy
It is important to stress the wonder of slippery pea: olive oil, crème fraîche and chicken stock, the three lubrications combine to create that glorious slipperiness.
Don’t be afraid of a frozen pea. A chef who shall remain unnamedonce told Fergus, ‘Wait until peas are in season, then use frozen.’ A comfort for the home cook.
Season the shoulder well, then heat a large frying pan over a medium heat with a splash of olive oil and brown the lamb all over.
Place it in an ovenproof dish or roasting tray large and deep enough to accommodate the joint with a little space. Gently sweat the shallots and garlic in the lamby frying pan for 3 or 4 minutes, without colouring them, and nestle these around the shoulder with
the bundle of joy.
Place the roasting tray over a medium heat and pour in the white wine. Reduce by half, then add the chicken stock and an extra glug of olive oil administered like squirts of factor 50 at the beach: a generous coating. While the liquid returns to a simmer, take a small bowl and whisk together the mustard and crème fraîche, loosening the mixture with a couple of spoonsful of the simmering stock. Pour the resulting sauce into the tray. The liquid does not have to cover everything – remember that you are looking for the alligators-in-the-swamp effect.
Place in a barely medium oven for at least 3 hours, the crème fraîche and meat juices unify while it blips away. Check the shoulder with a skewer and, when the meat is tender and yielding, add the peas and return to simmer in the oven for a few minutes longer. Reinforce the seasoning if needed, discipline your mint leaves and fold through to finish. The leftover braising juices and slippery peas make an excellent sauce for farfalle – a favourite for staff dinners.

From Veg by Jamie Oliver, published by Penguin Random House © Jamie Oliver Enterprises Ltd (2019 Veg) Food photography: David Loftus

Labneh is yogurt that has been strained of all its whey, leaving the thick, almost cheesy, curd behind. It needs a day or two to reach its peak, so if you’re making this at more of a run, just use a really thick, Greek-style yogurt.

500g/1lb 2oz/2 cups natural yogurt
salt and pepper
1 small butternut squash or pumpkin
olive oil
a few sprigs of thyme, leaves only
1 red chilli, deseeded and finely chopped

For the dressing
a big bunch of parsley, leaves only
½ tsp ground coriander
1 garlic clove, peeled and crushed to a paste
juice of ½ lemon
100ml/3½ fl oz/7 tbsp olive oil

Line a bowl with a clean tea towel. Tip the yogurt in, add a pinch of salt, then tie the towel up with string and hang from a cupboard handle over the bowl.
Preheat the oven to 200°C/400°F/Gas mark 6. Wash the squash but don’t peel it (the skin is delicious) and cut it into rounds, discarding the seeds. Toss with olive oil, salt, pepper and thyme, and roast for 45 minutes. Leave to cool; chill overnight if necessary.
Make the dressing: finely chop the parsley and mix with the ground coriander, garlic, lemon juice, olive oil and salt and pepper, or whiz in a blender.
If necessary, warm the squash in a medium oven (180°C/350°F/ Gas mark 4). If the oven’s already on for something else, do it at that temperature, keeping an eye on it if it’s particularly hot.
Place the chunks of squash on a plate and top with a dollop of labneh. Scatter with chopped chilli and a generous dressing of parsley oil, then serve.
TWEAK: Use goat’s milk yogurt instead, to produce lovely goat’s curd. Also delicious just spread on toast.

Wonderful Veg Tagine
Extracted from Let’s Do Dinner by James Ramsden, published by Pavilion Books.
Serves 6

1 pinch of saffron
4 cloves of garlic
4cm piece of ginger
Olive oil
1 teaspoon of ground cumin
½ teaspoon of ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon of ras el hanout
1 tablespoon sun-dried tomato paste
2.5Kg mixed veg, such as aubergines, courgettes, carrots, cherry tomatoes, red onion, butternut squash, mixed-coloured peppers.
1 x 400g tin of chickpeas
100g dried apricots
1 preserved lemon
300g couscous
½ bunch of mixed fresh herbs such as dill, mint, flat leaf parsley (15g)
20g flaked almonds

Put the saffron into a jug, cover with 500ml of boiling water and leave to infuse. Meanwhile, peel and finely slice the garlic and ginger, then place in a large casserole pan over a medium heat with 2 tablespoons of oil, the cumin, cinnamon and ras el hanout. Add the tomato paste, fry for a few minutes, stirring regularly, then pour over the saffron water. Trim and prep the veg, as necessary, then chop into large chunks, adding them to the pan as you go. Top in the chickpeas (juices and all), roughly chop and add the apricots and preserved lemon, discarding any pips, then season with sea salt and black pepper. Bring to the boil, cover, reduce the heat to love, and simmer for 45 minutes or until tender, stirring occasionally.
When the veg are almost tender, just cover the couscous with boiling water, season with salt and pepper and pop a plate on top. Leave for 10 minutes, then fluff and fork up. Pick the herb leaves and toast the almonds. Serve the tagine and couscous sprinkled with almonds and herbs.
Delicious served with harissa rippled yoghurt.


Why not take a trip to the countryside….
Ballymaloe Cookery School Farm and Gardens are open to the public every day except Sunday but on Saturday there’s extra excitement - a Pop-Up Pizzeria in the Garden Café. We fire up the wood burning oven and cook delicious pizzas with seasonal toppings from the farm and gardens as well as your favourites, Margarita and Pepperoni.
Saturday, 12.30pm – 4.00pm, no advance bookings necessary. Check out our Farm Shop too and stock up with home grown organic produce and our natural sourdough bread from the Bread Shed.


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