"What's the secret to great cooking?" I recently asked Darina Allen, renowned chef, cookbook author and director of the Ballymaloe Cooking School. "It's really quite simple," she said. "You start with what's fresh in the garden."
There is nothing greener or fresher than Ireland's County Cork in spring. That's where I recently met up with Allen, the Alice Waters of Europe. I walked with her through one of the beautiful gardens that dot her family's legendary manor hotel and farm, Ballymaloe, in search of fresh spinach and rosemary for her easy Spinach Soup with Rosemary Croutons and other delicious recipes.
She snipped crisp arugula and fresh mint to flavor a light Fragrant Fish Soup and plucked dandelion greens from the yard for a Warm Dandelion Greens Salad with Roasted Garlic Dressing.
At Ballymaloe, cooking lessons begin in the garden. "If you teach people to grow their own food, they appreciate it all the more," Allen told me. "They start to understand the value of eating seasonally, locally and organically. I try to explain that if you pick food at the right time, it should taste perfect-it shouldn't need a lot of other flavors or complicated cooking."
The food coming out of Ballymaloe is a far cry from the cabbage and corned beef Americans typically associate with Ireland. Light delicious salads, creamy soups, roast duck and more are served in the gardens on tables with checked blue tablecloths.Now that I'm home, I'm heading to the season's first farmers' market to look for aparagus, Bibb lettuce and other ingredients to make some of the recipes below. But even before I do that, I'm getting out the shovel and plan to dedicate 10 square feet of my yard to a kitchen garden.
By Lisa Gosselin, Editorial Director, EatingWell