Mon 16 Feb 2015
It’s funny how certain foods can transport me back to a very particular place in time, and how some of my fondest and strongest memories are tied to certain dish or flavour.
I remember a trip to Westport back in November 2010, which was my first-ever weekend getaway with my then-boyfriend Mountaineering Man. There are many special moments from that trip, including a failed trek up Croagh Patrick (we hit a storm about half-way up and had to turn around), but one that stands out is a tiny little meat pie called a pithivier – something I’d never heard of nor eaten before.
The little, enclosed pie was about the circumference of a 2-Euro coin, as it was part of a multi-course tasting menu created by Chef Seamus Commons at La Fougere Restaurant in the Knockcranny House Hotel. The golden, flaky crust enveloped a bite-sized portion of tender, slow-cooked rabbit, and the flavoursome nugget sat atop a little swirl of fig reduction – another first for me. To this day, it’s the thought of that perfect bite that brings back all the other memories of that wonderous weekend.
My inaugural visit to Athlone, where I was first introduced to MM’s parents and best mate Wes, is also steeped in a food memory. After a couple of drinks with the folks, we met Wes at Kin Khao Thai restaurant. Because I was such a ball of nerves that day, I can hardly recall any conversation or topics of discussion; however I’ll never forget the dish I had that evening, the Ho Mok Gai. These chicken and prawn dumplings, made from a recipe by the owner’s Thai mother, came bathed in a spicy curry gravy flavoured with lots of fresh basil. It was absolutely Baltic that evening, but I had beads of sweat on my forehead from the heat of the red curry.
Early childhood memories get fuzzier as I age, but every time I eat salmon roe, I’m instantly transported back to a lunch at an Osaka sushi bar with my Japanese grandparents over 37 years ago. My sister and I sat at the counter and slurped up the glistening orange bubbles; I recall how eggs burst with salty brine in my mouth. I have a very specific, visual memory from that day; a pink hand towel on the wooden counter, me on my knees on the bar stool and my Ojiisan ordering more ikura gunkan while laughing at our delight in eating them.
Food and cooking can be so many things to so many people, but me it’s all about the relationships and memories a dish, flavour or even an aroma represents. Being able to resurrect those sometimes long-lost memories by simply recreating a dish is a gift I truly cherish.
Pecorino Romano Cake with Blueberries
When I met my best friend in New York two weeks ago, we had an epic, birthday treat dinner at Del Posto in Chelsea. From start to finish, we were absolutely woozy with delight; every course was a revelation in flavour, every glass of wine perfectly paired and every detail of the service, impeccable. We spent nearly 3 hours enjoying the restaurant’s incredible 5-course tasting menu, with a few “gifts” thrown in by the chef. Though I am not usually a dessert person, the final dish was the most memorable of the evening: a salty-sweet cake made with Pecorino Romano and topped with poached pears and a tangy ice cream. I finally found the recipe after much digging online and made it for MM’s birthday last weekend (he loved it!). With the first bite, I was immediately taken back to Del Posto’s stunning dining room and, for a quick moment, got to relive the giddiness I felt throughout that evening.
Adapted from an original recipe by Kimberly Janusz and Brooks Headley, of Del Posto.
For the blueberries:
200 grams of fresh blueberries
1 tablespoon of honey
Juice of one lemon
For the cake:
115 grams unsalted butter, at room temperature
200 grams sugar
60 grams cream cheese, at room temperature
3 large eggs
140 grams all-purpose flour
85 grams finely grated Pecorino Romano (use a microplane grater for this – it has to be FINE)
4 grams sea salt
6 grams baking powder
240 grams heavy cream
Your favourite lemon ice cream or sorbet, for serving.
Prepare the blueberries by mixing them with the honey and the lemon juice and putting aside in an air-tight container for at least one hour to macerate.
Preheat the oven to 325° F (163 C) and line a quarter-sized sheet pan with parchment paper. I used a brownie pan (9 x 13), as I do not have a quarter-sized sheet pan, and it worked great.
Using a stand or hand mixer, cream together the butter, sugar and cream cheese until light, fluffy, and smooth. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing until incorporated.
In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, cheese, salt, and baking powder.
Add the dry ingredients to the egg and butter mixture and mix until just combined. Stream in the heavy cream, mixing until you have a smooth batter.
Pour the batter into the sheet pan, tipping the pan so the batter is evenly distributed. Bake until puffed and golden, 20 to 25 minutes.
Cool slightly before serving (the cake will collapse a bit). Slice into triangles, arrange on the plate and serve with some of the blueberries and their juice. Top with lemon sorbet or ice cream if you like; I used nobo Fresh Lemon ice cream and it paired beautifully with the cake. This cake is best served warm, so heat up for a few seconds in the microwave if necessary.