Donal Skehan has done Theodora Fitzgibbon proud with The Pleasures of the Table
When our favourite TV chef /food writer Donal Skehan first learned about the legendary Theodora Fitzgibbon, he was intrigued. She was after all, the very first professional Irish foodie. After meeting her life partner, George Morrison, who took all the photographs of her creations (‘echtachromes’, as she called them), Donal determined to resurrect her classic recipes. The result is a beautiful Nigel Slater-style book, The Pleasures of the Table (€24.99), published by Gill and Macmillan today.
What Donal didn’t know was that the long-time cookery editor at The Irish Times was also Image Magazine’s first resident gourmet so our archives are full of her handiwork. Chairman of the Image Publications Board, Ann Reihill, who was Theodora’s editor back in the 80s, remembers her as a lively character. Not that proof of this was needed; her racy autobiography With Love, which features her nude on the cover, would suggest that’s a fair enough assertion. She and George lived side by side in two houses overlooking Bulloch Harbour in Dalkey, which was quite modern for the time. Heck, it’s modern for now.
Anyway, in honour of her, Donal and the weekend ahead, here are some ideas for what to do with that large piece of Wicklow’s finest that’s probably taking up half your fridge right now (as well as some vintage ideas for other nights). Bon appetit.
Gigot Au Pastis
This is leg of mutton with Pernod or any other anise-based spirit. One double measure at least is required for this dish.
2.2kg (5lb) leg of mutton
2 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced
few sprigs rosemary, chopped
2 sprigs thyme
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 double Pernod set alight
Make several slits in the leg of mutton and insert the slices of garlic. Smear with olive oil and sprinkle over the chopped rosemary and small thyme leaves. Roast in a moderate oven fat 180 degrees C/350 degrees F/gas mark 4 for 15 minutes to the pound (450g) for rare meat and 20-25 minutes for well done. Add salt and pepper after cooking. On the table, or just before serving, gently warm the Pernod or pastis in a ladle, set it alight and pour over the mutton so that is enveloped in fragrant flames. Serves 8-10
Peas with Lettuce (Petit pois a la Francaise)
900g (2lb) shelled peas
6 spring onions, chopped
10 outer lettuce leaves
1 tablespoon parsley, shopped
3 tablespoons butter
pinch salt and sugar
8 tablespoons water
Cut the lettuce into strips and place in a saucepan. Add all the other ingredients except the sugar, then cover and simmer for about 20 minutes or until the peas are cooked. About 3 tablespoons of liquid should be left in the saucepan. Taste and add a pinch of sugar if necessary: some peas are sweeter than others, so the seasoning should be adjusted to personal taste. Do not strain but serve in the sauce. Serves 6.