On my shelves sit two little independent cookbooks that didn’t begin their life in a journalist’s kitchen, buttressing a fashionable metropolitan restaurant or providing yet another hackneyed spin-off from a television show. Their journey began in a water driven hand-weaver’s mill in 1723.

On the banks of the River Avoca, in County Wicklow, just south of Dublin, sits an  18th century woollen mill. From the remote village, named after the river, distinctive tweeds from its shuttle looms were exported around the world. Following a succession of incumbents, the most recent owners expanded the workshops, set about seriously promoting their merchandise, and increased retail outlets across Ireland. Unsurprisingly, sales of Irish tweeds increased dramatically with such widespread exposure. What was more surprising was the creation of a modest market for some early homemade chutneys and jams, originally brought in by staff to capitalise on seasonal surplus.  As a result, the owners shrewdly decided to convert their existing shops to incorporate small cafés and tea rooms initially dispensing simple home-cooked meals to their growing band of customers.

I’m not altogether sure whether it’s the hand woven rugs and throws, or delicious cooking from their adjoining kitchens, delis and bakeries that now garner the most praise, but their hugely successful range of cookbooks epitomise their seasonal, home-cooked mantra. This recipe benefits from an Aga-warmed kitchen and an early autumnal evening, along with the Cru Beaujolais below.

Chicken and Broccoli Gratin from Avoca Cafê Cookbook (2000) Hugo Arnold with Leslie Hayes

1 whole chicken

1 Spanish onion, peeled and chopped

2 carrots, peeled and chopped

2 celery sticks, chopped

A few sprigs of parsley

1 bay leaf

A few black peppercorns

300 ml double cream

100g roux (see below)

1 large head of broccoli, divided into florets

15g butter

50g strong cheese, grated

110g breadcrumbs

Place a chicken in a large saucepan with the onion, carrots, celery, parsley, bay leaf, peppercorns and enough water to cover

Bring slowly to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer until the chicken is cooked, about ½ an hour

Remove the chicken from the pan and leave to cool

Strip the meat off the bones, dice and set aside

Strain the cooking liquid into a saucepan and boil until reduced to 600 ml

Add the cream, return to the boil and then whisk in the roux a little at a time to form a thick sauce

Blanch the broccoli in boiling salted water until just tender, then drain and refresh under cold water

Stir the diced chicken and broccoli into the sauce and season to taste with salt and pepper

Pour this mixture into an ovenproof dish

Melt the butter and mix with the cheese and breadcrumbs

Spread over the chicken mixture and bake in a pre-heated oven to 180°C/350°F/gas mark 4, for 20minutes


50g butter

50g plain flour

Melt the butter, add the flour and cook gently for 5 minutes

Wine thoughts

Cru Beaujolais, or top growths made up of Gamay grapes from the northern end of the Beaujolais region, come in noticeably varied styles. However, they all carry an easy, intoxicating fruit bouquet and are all quaffably delicious. Out of the 10 Crus, I would opt for a Moulin-à-Vent to partner this particular chicken and vegetable dish; although many of the others would work just as well. A comparatively light style, here is a red wine that’s accompanied by the welcome structure and weight of a white. Before pulling the cork, you may find that Moulin benefits from 30 minutes or so in the door of your fridge.