I think the best description of this book comes right from the back cover: “inspirational and practical bible.” Darina Allen is a famed Irish chef, TV personality and founder of the wonderful Ballymaloe Cookery School. And, she gardens.
Most importantly, Darina believes all of us can garden. If you actually have a garden your backyard you have a head start. If you live in an apartment with a window, you can still garden on a smaller scale. We can all employ soil and seed to have fresh ingredients just steps away from our kitchen. Darina has five chapters devoted to growing, and of course cooking, five major food types:
- Wild, Foraged & Nuts
- Edible Flowers
The journey here is over 640 pages long and intense with information on the entire process from seed to plate. Her section on chard is typical. There is a discussion the varieties you might grow, how to grow in your garden or how to grow in a container, how to deal with pests, when and how to harvest, how to deal with a harvest that is actually a glut, and what are the best recipes to prepare with this, perhaps, unfamiliar ingredient.
What to do with chard? She suggests this global idea: Swiss Chard with Tahini, Yogurt and Toasted Cashew Nuts.
While the garden is the focus here, this is by no means a vegetarian cookbook. No, her Roasted Stuffed Chicken with Bay Salt and Bay Leaves, is a hardy protein dish that would please any carnivore. The accompanying gravy is made with stock from the chicken giblets married with carrots, onion, celery and parsley. Again, your garden is key to the complete dish.
I particularly enjoy the chapter devoted to Wild, Foraged & Nuts elements. Here you will find a spectrum of recipes to challenge your taste buds. And surely please them too:
Summer Minestrone Soup with Wild Garlic Pesto
Oatmeal and Apple Muesli with Hazelnuts
Roast Parsnip, Apple & Toasted Hazelnut Salad
Penne with Beets, Goat Cheese & Walnuts
Pickled Crab Apples
Purslane, Avocado & Cucumber Salad
Damson Plum & Apple Tart
Apple, Sloe & Sweet Geranium Jelly
Sloe? Sloes are the berries of the blackthorn bush. That is a species not native to the United States, but you may be able to find a specialty store that can offer you this ingredient. Darina’s garden, her Irish/English garden, is replete with items you may not have heard about and almost surely have not eaten:
- Scarlet Runner Beans
- Black Salsify
- Goji Berries
Darina is clearly in love with all her ingredients. When she discusses that Angelica, she begins with a plea: “Oh, how can I persuade you to consider giving this tall, elegant biennial plant a place in your garden.”
Oh, how can I persuade you to give this mammoth book, a true bible, a place in your kitchen? You’ll be inspired to seek out seeds or plantings. Your patience will be tasted as you wait for the plants to mature. Your dutiful efforts will be rewarded with the recipes crafted to highlight the character of each ingredient. This is specialization at its utmost, and the pleasures of garden and kitchen will be all yours. One growing season after another.
The New Irish Table was published last year and is an award winner. The book won the Gourmand World Cookbook Award. Reward yourself with its magnificent recipes.