I think, perhaps, that the nice people at Gill & MacMillan must have known that my (blog) birthday – which came and went on Friday – was approaching. In the past month, they have sent me not one – and, no, not two – but three newly published cookbooks. Honestly, if they keep this up, they’ll need to send new bookshelves along the next time, and maybe a bigger kitchen too (I am nothing if not an optimist in that regard).
The truth, of course, is that the enjoyment of a new cookbook doesn’t warrant an upgrade to kitchen accommodations as much as it does the availability of a good armchair from which to peruse and plan, followed by a willingness to try something even just a little bit different from your usual fare.
My newly acquired books, written by three lovely Irish ladies, have provided plenty to browse through, and make me wish that I could spend more time cooking than has seemed to happen of late. And if the kindling of the desire to head kitchen-ward is the first, and most essential test of good cookbook, then – before an apron has been donned or an onion chopped – these books have passed with flying colours.
I open Eat Like an Italian at a random page. I find a recipe for broad bean and Pecorino salad on one side and sorrel flan on the other. That’s it, I’m sold. No two ways about it.
Throughout the book, Catherine Fulvio revisits her love of Italian food, and many of the recipes, like swordfish with chilli and orange or fresh fig ice cream, sing of sunshine and another, warmer, place. They also capture that Italian approach to food which honours simple, fresh ingredients, with recipes like spaghetti with roast tomatoes and sage, where the ingredients are few and need little else other than to be sourced at their best and treated with respect. Though the flavours are thoroughly Italian, Catherine does, however, add an Irish accent to proceedings, and her ‘Keeping It Local’ notes at the end of each recipe recommend ingredients which can be grown or sourced locally from the pick of Irish suppliers. It’s the best of both Irish and Italian worlds.
Sophie Morris, founder of Kooky Dough, is a busy young lady, and one who’s fond of a good home-cooked meal of an evening. The result is her first cookery book, Sophie Kooks, where she shares her take on fast and easy fare.
The recipes are arranged by month and presented, for the most part, as a complete meals, like sirloin steak with chilli butter and roast baby potatoes or lamb chops with mint sauce and roast vegetable couscous. There are curries and stir-fries, pasta and bakes – all straightforward, largely uncomplicated dinners, along with easy baked treats aimed at the busy individual. It’s the kind of book you might turn to if you had a couple of chops, a piece of steak or a few chicken breasts in the fridge and were looking for easy, middle-of-the-week supper ideas, which, let’s be honest, many of us often are.
Domini Kemp’s latest book, Domini At Home: How I Like To Cook, brings more of her streamlined recipes to the table, including her adaptations of recipes from other well-known cooks and chefs – thus you’ll find Domini’s take on everything from Ottolenghi’s shakshuka to Nigella’s brownies between these covers.
Though Domini’s tone is casual – she whizzes, bungs, chucks and squishes with seeming abandon – the recipes often have head-turning style, as with her smoked eel and bacon salad, ham hock terrine with celeriac remoulade and salsa verde, or puy lentils with sundried tomatoes and Cashel blue cheese. The book includes a host of particularly appealing vegetarian dishes, and not just in the dedicated vegetarian section (which features substantial fare like Gruyère and wild mushroom gratin) but also in the salads and sides section, which has plenty of meat-free options, such as quinoa salad with lime and coriander, or beetroot and celeriac gratin. This section also includes Domini’s rather indulgent cheese and thyme potato pots, a recipe which laces mashed potatoes with butter, cream, Parmesan and Taleggio, and approaches the ratio of dairy products to potato that made Joël Robuchon’s potato purée legendary. A recipe with my name written all over it, then.
Potato, Cheese and Broccoli Bake
I was drawn, perhaps inexorably and understandably, to the rich cheese and thyme potato pots featured by Domini Kemp in Domini At Home. However, just as Domini has featured recipes adapted from other well-known chefs and cookery writers, so too have I adapted her recipe and used it as the basis for this little number.
I have toned the original mixture down somewhat by replacing the cream with milk (though it’s still plenty rich, believe me) and I also added some garlic, mustard and a base layer of broccoli. The result is substantial enough to make a veggie dish, either on its own or with some fried or baked mushrooms, or to have as an accompaniment to your choice of pork, bacon or poultry.
For the cheese part, Domini recommended Parmesan, along with Taleggio or Ardrahan. I, on the other hand, used Pecorino and some Port Salut (one of the cheeses very kindly sent to me by Superquinn, to mark both their French wine and food sale, which is happening instore until October 23rd, and the revamping of their new Blackrock store). It would certainly also be worth trying some mature cheddar or Gruyère, or some goats’ cheese perhaps, all depending on what you have and what you like.
- 600g potatoes, preferably a floury variety
- 250-300g broccoli, trimmed and cut into roughly even-sized florets
- 200ml milk
- 2-3 sprigs of thyme
- 1 large clove garlic, very lightly crushed
- 50g butter, melted
- 0.5 tsp dijon or other mustard
- freshly ground black pepper
- zest of half a lemon or to taste (optional)
- 75g Port Salut (or use another cheese such as mature cheddar or Gruyère), cubed
- 15g finely grated Parmesan or Pecorino (or try Desmond cheese if you can get it)
You’ll also need:
- An ovenproof dish, mine was around 20cm x 20cm and 4cm deep. A ricer is also handy for dealing with the potato mashing side of things.
- Preheat your oven to 180C.
- Steam or boil your potatoes in well salted water until just fork tender.
- While the potatoes are cooking, bring another pot of salted water to the boil and drop in the broccoli florets. Once the water has started to bubble again, cook for 1 minute, then drain and rinse well under cold running water.
- When the potatoes are done, drain well and return them to the saucepan. Then either let them sit, covered by a tea-towel, for about 5 minutes or place the pan over a low heat for a minute or so while they dry out.
- Add the milk to a small, heavy saucepan, along with the thyme and garlic. Bring just to the point of boiling, then remove from the heat.
- Peel your potatoes if you haven’t already done so and put them through a potato ricer, if you have one, or mash with a potato masher or fork. Pour in the melted butter and stir through. Strain the milk to remove the thyme and garlic and then stir into the potatoes to create a loose mash.
- Add the mustard, black pepper and lemon zest to taste and additional salt if it needs it. Stir in the cubed Port Salut (or whatever cheese you are using).
- Spread your broccoli florets in a layer in your ovenproof dish. Pour over the potato and cheese mixture, but leave a few green bits peeking out. Sprinkle with the grated Parmesan or Pecorino and bake for around 25 minutes, until just starting to brown. Serve warm on its own or with baked mushrooms or your favourite piece of pork or bacon.
- Toasted pine nuts or toasted hazelnuts would, I think, be a good addition to the mash and you could certainly try replacing the broccoli with cauliflower or use a mixture of both.
- Serves 4 as a side dish.