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The Good Life: Clodagh McKenna shares recipes and tales from her country home

The renowned chef tells how 2020 has brought some changes to how she lives her life, but she’s missing her family in Ireland.

Clodagh McKenna

LIKE EVERYONE, THE first week of lockdown was quite overwhelming – the worry of catching the virus, the sadness of not being able to see family back in Ireland and then work being cancelled and all of a sudden you are housebound.

I knew that I needed to keep myself mentally and physically well so the first week of lockdown I decided to record a recipe video every day for IGTV. Who knew that I would end up recording over 100 recipe videos?

I initially decided to do it just to give myself a purpose every day as all my other work had been postponed but within a few weeks my followers doubled in numbers and an amazing supportive community began on my page. The feedback I was getting from people was unbelievable, I went from 40,000 followers to 100,000.

With over 200 direct messages a day looking for advice on stress free recipes, what to cook for one and alternatives of ingredients. I loved this interaction as I really felt like I could contribute and help someone cook and eat better during lockdown.

My morning routine started at 6 am and out the door for an hour walk with my fiancé, Harry. After our walk, we made green juices from the vegetables in the garden and then I would head to the kitchen to start prepping and recording my daily recipe videos for Instagram, and typing up all the new ideas for recipes.

Compiled in a book

So it was then a natural step to write a cookbook that would be a collection of over 100 of my best weeknight supper recipes – Clodagh’s Weeknight Kitchen which was published on the 29 October 2020.

Writing this book during lockdown was for me the perfect time to really perfect these recipes. With everyone going through the same dilemmas of not being able to go to the shop, cooking at home seven days a week, and the worries of all that was going on, mealtime became this wonderful hour to look forward to every day.

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Writing the book was an incredible experience as the daily feedback from my followers really helped me focus on the recipes that we really want to eat and can cook with accessible ingredients and achievable methods.

The afternoons were spent outdoors working in the gardens. We recently moved into a property in the country that needed lots of work and we have been transforming it into a sustainable homestead over the past two years.

We have a newly restored working vegetable and fruit walled garden, beehives, a newly planted orchard, a cutting flower garden and six Burford Brown hens – that have been laying since the day they arrived!

The most fun has been naming them. We ended up with Tina (after Tina Turner, my all-time favourite artist), Saoirse (named by my Instagram community), Henneth Paltrow, Eggy Pop, Yolko Ono and Goldie Hen. I know!

The pandemic has completely changed my daily routine and I have thoroughly overhauled my business – we now have a thriving online lifestyle shop, and we are recording all the Live shows (NBC Today Show in the USA, Marilyn Denis Show in Canada) that I usually have to travel for via the phone in my pocket at home. 

So the pivot has been good in some ways, but I would give anything to be able to travel to Ireland to see family. I’m delighted to share these two recipes with you from my new book. Hope you enjoy:

Clodagh’s Recipes

Ricotta Meat Balls 748 Source: Dora Kazmierak

Ricotta Meatballs with Polenta

This is the traditional way that they make meatballs in Sicily. I mix together minced pork and ricotta with the ground beef – the pork brings flavour and juiciness and the ricotta brings a lovely lightness.

I serve them with polenta as they do during the colder months in Italy, but you could use spaghetti. This is a great freezer recipe, so make double and you can store it away. It’s nice to serve a green vegetable alongside to lighten the dish; I use cavolo nero but you could choose purple sprouting broccoli, shredded cabbage or a green salad.

SERVES 4

200g (7oz) minced beef

200g (7oz) minced pork

200g (7oz) ricotta cheese

2 onions, diced

4 garlic cloves, crushed

1 tablespoon finely chopped

fresh rosemary

80g (2¾oz) Parmesan

cheese, grated

40g (1½oz) fresh fine

breadcrumbs

1 medium free-range egg, beaten

75g (2½oz) polenta

1–2 tablespoons olive oil

50g (1¾oz) salted butter,

plus 1 tablespoon (optional)

400g (14oz) cavolo nero, roughly chopped

sea salt and freshly ground

black pepper

For the Rosemary Tomato Sauce

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 onion, thinly sliced

2 garlic cloves, crushed

1 teaspoon finely chopped

fresh rosemary

400g (14oz) can cherry

tomatoes

1 tablespoon tomato purée

Place the beef, pork, ricotta, onions, garlic, rosemary, Parmesan, breadcrumbs and beaten egg in a bowl and season with salt and pepper. Mix well. Using your hands, shape into 30 meatballs, and transfer to a plate.

Cover with clingfilm and place in the fridge for one hour to set so that they don’t crumble during cooking. You can also leave the meatballs in the fridge for up to three days or freeze them for up to a month until you are ready to cook them.

While the meatballs are chilling, make the rosemary tomato sauce. Place a saucepan over low heat and add the oil, then stir in the onion, garlic and rosemary and simmer for two minutes. Add the tomatoes and tomato purée, season with salt and pepper and cook for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Next, get the polenta cooking. Pour 600ml (20fl oz) water into a saucepan over a medium heat and season with salt and pepper. Once the water has come to the boil, whisk in the polenta. Reduce the heat, cover and cook for about 25 minutes, stirring every five minutes. Once it has cooked, stir in a tablespoon of olive oil or butter.

Now back to the meatballs. Place a frying pan over a medium heat and pour in 1 tablespoon of olive oil, add the meatballs and brown on all sides. Then spoon the meatballs into the tomato rosemary sauce and cook for 15 minutes.

Place the cavolo nero in a pan over a medium heat with the butter and season with salt and pepper. Cook for five minutes, turning the leaves with tongs so they cook evenly.

Divide the polenta between four warmed bowls, followed by the meatballs, an extra spoonful of the rosemary tomato sauce and the cavolo nero. Serve.

Poached Pears 1208 Source: Dora Kazmierak

Marsala & Star Anise Poached Pears

I created this recipe after the first harvest of honey from our beehives when the pears were ripe and ready to be picked from the orchard, and it’s become an autumn favourite.

At other times of the year, I swap out the pears for whatever fruits are in season, such as peaches or plums. Marsala wine is a must for your pantry as it’s so good for poaching fruit, adding a delicious rich sweetness and the star anise brings a deep flavour of aniseed to the dish.

SERVES 4

250ml (9fl oz) dry Marsala

wine

100g (3½oz) light soft

brown sugar

2 tablespoons runny local

honey

1 tablespoon freshly

squeezed lemon juice

3-star anise

1 cinnamon stick, broken

in half

4 pears, peeled with the

stem still attached

200g (7oz) mascarpone

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cheese, to serve

Start by making the spiced marsala syrup. Place the Marsala wine, sugar, honey, lemon juice, star anise and cinnamon in a saucepan. Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat to low and place the pears in the pan so that they stand upright.

Cover the pan and cook for 15 minutes, basting the pears with the liquid a couple of times during cooking, until the pears can easily be pierced with a fork.

Scoop the pears onto serving dishes, pour the syrup on top and serve each portion with a dollop of mascarpone.

Enjoy!

9780857838872 Source: Dora Kazmiera

Find more from Clodagh online and on Instagram. Clodagh’s Weeknight Kitchen by Clodagh McKenna is published by Kyle Books. Photography by Dora Kazmierak.

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About the author:

Clodagh McKenna

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