A green goddess of the kitchen
A pint of the black stuff will probably be on the menu for most this weekend, as St Patrick's Day is celebrated in Ireland and by millions of people around the world.
But TV celebrity and food writer Rachel Allen believes a bit of traditional Irish food should also be served up on the special day.
After a couple of manic trips to New York in the past couple of years, Rachel’s looking forward to cooking up a tasty treat for the family at home this year. She says: “Last year, we did a cook off on the ‘Today’ show. New York was unbelievable. There are so many Americans who have ancestry to Ireland that they really love you when you go over there.
“But this year, hopefully I’ll cook up something tasty and Irish, its important. I’ll start off with something green, either a nettle soup or a spinach and rosemary or watercress soup. Nettle soup is traditional, and it was always made in springtime with the young leaves. “Next up, a glazed loin with a lovely Irish whisky sauce, carrots and champ (potatoes and spring onions) would be perfect, followed by a bit of apple pie – a lovely meal to celebrate.”
As well as her TV work and popular cookbooks, Rachel spends a lot of time at Ballymaloe, a famous cookery school, working with her mother-in-law Darina Allen on a range of different courses. She has also seen a big difference in attitude to food in recent times, with the recession hitting home.
Rachel explains: “During the boom time, people wanted to take courses on new food trends and the likes. While these are still popular, it’s amazing to see the courses that are popular. “Things like gardening courses, growing veg and then using it in the kitchen, or how to raise chickens, and cook them – these courses are amazing. They are practical and are very busy. “People are looking for ways to entertain at home a lot more – to stay in and do the cooking and entertain the guests themselves.”
Rachel’s latest TV shows are based on her new ‘Easy Meals’ cookbook. And the mother-of-three still seems genuinely surprised about the path her career has taken. Rachel left home to study at the famous cooking school and hasn’t looked back – marrying into the family, and teaching there.
She has fans all over the world thanks to her practical books and TV shows, and she explains: “I came down here when I was 18 and I’ve been here more or less ever since and I’m now 40. It’s funny, I thought I would maybe learn to cook and do a bit of travel, but I didn’t realise how much I would love it. I remember the first day of the course, I remember Darina, now my mother-in-law, talking about food and I was absolutely hooked!”
TRY RACHEL’S TRADITIONAL SPINACH SOUP
INGREDIENTS (serves 2)
25g (1oz) butter or 2 tbsp olive oil
110g (4oz) peeled and chopped onions
150g (5oz) peeled and chopped potatoes
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
600ml (1 pint) chicken or vegetable stock
600ml (1 pint) milk
350g (12oz) spinach, destalked and chopped
For the crostini
2 demi baguettes or 1 thin baguette, cut in half
1 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
2 smoked mackerel fillets (about 150g/5oz
4 tbsp crème fraîche
Juice of 1 lemon
1 tbsp dill
1 tbsp sweet chilli sauce (optional)
>> Add the butter or olive oil to a large saucepan on a very low heat and when the butter has melted, tip in the onions and potatoes and season with salt and pepper. Cover with a lid and cook for 8-10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until soft but not browned.
>> Pour the stock and milk into the pan, bring to the boil and add the spinach. Cook, uncovered, on a high heat for about a minute until the spinach is just cooked. Don’t heat it for too long or it will lose its fresh green colour. Remove from the heat and purée until smooth in a blender or using a hand-held blender. Check the seasoning, adding more salt and pepper if necessary.
>> Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 180C (350F), Gas mark 4, and prepare the crostini.
>> With the baguettes running lengthways away from you, trim the ends of each loaf and then cut the remaining bread into six long thin slices. Arrange the slices on a baking tray crust side down and brush the olive oil over evenly. Bake in the oven for 6-8 minutes or until crisp and golden. Remove and allow to cool.
>> Peel the skin from the mackerel and chop the flesh. Place in a blender with the crème fraîche, lemon juice, most of the dill, chilli sauce (if using) and a little pepper. Blend for a few seconds until smooth. Taste and season with a little salt, if necessary.
>> When ready to serve, divide the mackerel paté between the cooled crostini, spread evenly and sprinkle with the remaining dill. Ladle the soup into warm bowls, arrange two pieces of mackerel crostini on the side and serve.