What I’m cooking: Denise Irvine

Award-winning Waikato journalist and local food champion Denise Irvine shares two current favourite dishes from her Hamilton kitchen.

In the midst of a Waikato winter, my thoughts often drift to my mother’s excellent roast dinners, and the comforting, meaty aromas that warmed our hillside farmhouse on the coldest nights. So lately I’ve been channelling my inner farm girl, cooking roasts for family and friends, and tarting them up in the manner of a Cypriot-inspired dish that my brother-in-law does. It’s a bit different from my mother’s offerings but I still use the faithful, blackened metal Hyglo roasting dish that she gave me when I got married. “Every new wife needs one of these,” she said, firmly.

Quite right, Mum, it works every time: rub a decent-sized leg of lamb (bone-in) with oil, salt and pepper and lie it on a generous bed of chopped shallots (I’ve been using banana shallots), garlic, rosemary, medjool dates (halved and pitted), and a cinnamon stick.

Pour in about 500ml of hot chicken stock and cook, covered, at 160C for about four hours. At this point, add some waxy baby potatoes to the pan. Half an hour later, rub the meat with pomegranate molasses and cook uncovered for the final half hour.

The pan liquid will be pretty much reduced at the end, and the meat will melt into chunks as you carve it. Serve on a big platter with the date-shallot sauce, tender little potatoes on the side, and a bowl of Greek yoghurt mixed with freshly chopped mint. You’ll need a leafy green salad or green beans, or similar, to cut the richness.

I’m still loving the Cosy e-book, it has inspired many a fine meal this winter.

On a lighter note, I’ve also been doing a simple poached fish dish, using fresh fish from the Raglan Fish truck at Hamilton Farmers’ Market on Sundays. The dish was originally Fish Dorothea, from the menu at Hamilton’s long-ago Anderson’s Restaurant. It was the work of chef, Brian Anderson, and named for his wife, Dorothy: slowly fry sliced white onion, cook sliced red capsicum and garlic in olive oil in a heavy pan, until soft (do not brown). Add thickly sliced tomatoes and floured fish fillets – tarakihi is good –  to the pan, almost cover with white wine and cook gently until the fish is ready. Remove fish to a warm platter, turn up the heat to reduce the liquid, season to taste, then spoon the contents of the pan – and a handful of chopped flat-leaf parsley – over the fish to serve. Good with a green salad and crusty bread to mop up the juices (tomatoes and capsicums used here are out of season at present, but we’re all allowed a little lapse).

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