To my sorrow I must admit that I have only once eaten in Denis Cotter’s award-winning Café Paradiso restaurant in Cork. But that one time, nearly ten years ago now, was mostly memorable for my first taste of polenta. My sociologist student friend felt it was deeply ironic that I should be writing my thesis on the Irish Famine at the time and eating what was known in 1840s Ireland as “Peel’s Brimstone” – the Indian meal imported by British Prime Minister Robert Peel to help the starving Irish. All irony aside, that day I fell in love with Denis Cotter’s cooking and a return trip is long on the cards.
A Paradiso Year: Autumn and Winter Cooking is Cotter’s latest book and it has succeeded in whetting my appetite even further. The recipes in it, as in its companion Spring and Summer Cooking, are selected from his Paradiso Seasons, which was the 2003 winner of the Best Vegetarian Book in the World Award. Cotter, however, doesn’t place an emphasis on vegetarian cooking as much as he does on cooking vegetables. His is the kind of cooking where lack of meat is unnoticed and even the most determined non-vegetarian will find plenty of tempting recipes here.
My time in spent in New Zealand markets has encouraged me to think and cook in a more seasonal manner. This book is, therefore, right up my street, especially when Cotter talks about pumpkins and leeks being the bedrock of his autumn cooking. Winter he associates with hardy greens and edible roots, and the book also includes a section on the spring greens and purple sprouting broccoli of Early Spring.
Having been surrounded by pumpkins, particularly Cotter’s beloved Crown variety, in New Zealand, it’s heart-warming to find an Irish writer with such an imaginative take on this fantastic – and much underrated on this side of the world – vegetable. Pumpkin Gnocchi with Spinach in a Roasted Garlic Cream, Roast Pumpkin, Onion and Feta Tart in a Walnut Filo Pastry with Cucumber and Yoghurt Sauce or Baked Pumpkin, Cashew and Yoghurt Curry are all recipes which, when I manage to get my hands on the chief ingredient, I intend to try myself.
While many of the recipes may seem to be more orientated towards restaurant- rather than home-cooking, Cotter makes the point that they are reference points as much as definite instructions and his flavour combinations are inspiring. I may never get round to making the whole of the beautiful cover dish – Pistachio, Cardamom and Basmati Rice Cake with Coconut Greens and Gingered Mango Salsa – but I can definitely see myself using the constituent parts of Cotter’s recipe.
Sitting these winter nights, poring over Autumn and Winter Cooking without a kitchen in which to try out Cotter’s recipes, has been tantalising. I’ve promised myself a trip to Café Paradiso and his recipes have made me more determined than ever to track down some pumpkins!
A Paradiso Year: Autumn and Winter Cooking by Denis Cotter is published by Cork University Press.