Prairie recipes
Monday, 30 November -0001


Katy Pearson meets a woman whose style of cooking has been influenced by life on the prairies – outdoor, homegrown, homemade – all in a homespun setting

Written by Katy Pearson

Fifi O’Neill grew up in Paris, France, surrounded by sophisticated dishes and culinary delights. A move to the United States introduced her to fast food and also to the Great Plains. Yet it wasn’t until she arrived in Switzerland as an adult that she started to cook.Prairie recipes

‘My love affair with food had humble beginnings,’ explains Fifi, who has since owned three restaurants, become a food writer and has just published The Romantic Prairie Cookbook.

‘While I was exposed to fabulous food by my mother, who was a superb chef, I never did learn to cook. It wasn’t until I moved to Switzerland to work for a newspaper that I had to get acquainted with preparing my own meals.

‘As a junior journalist, my income was meagre and I often resorted to eating at the local soup kitchen. I realised that I had better learn to cook – quickly. I asked my mom to send me a few easy recipes. Along with those, she also sent me my very first cookbook, which I am happy to say that I still have and often use.’

The Romantic Prairie Cookbook is inspired by her American life, and harks back to a time when living off the land and artisanal practices such as baking, cheesemaking, harvesting, preserving and pickling, were essential to survival. Fifi has filled her book with more than 100 recipes gathered from dozens of modern families who still follow these old-fashioned values (see below for recipes donated by some of these families).

It sent her all over America, from remote northern California to Vermont and upstate New York. The book was inspired by the idea of ‘recipes passed through generations, and the associated traditions. My goal was to find people with farms, vegetable gardens, bought from farmers’ markets or just grew herbs in pots,’ she says.

Fifi believes the appeal of the prairie way of life is its ‘simplicity’. But despite her travels, her favourite dish remains ‘a plump, juicy, roasted chicken’. Unsurprisingly, her favourite recipe in the book is the maplehoney- walnut chicken. ‘It was a traditional Sunday meal when my boys were little and we lived in Canada,’ she recalls. ‘The memory is so sweet.’

Not unlike her cookbook. Sweet, warm, and comforting. In fact, everything that a family meal should be.



Grilled Tartine with Eggs and Peppers

There is nothing quite as lovely as a picnic eaten out in a field, especially when the fare is as simple and fresh as these little tartines made by Giampiero and Elizabeth Kirkpatrick. Cook the hard-boiled eggs and slice the peppers ahead of time and just add to hot-off-the-grill crunchy bread.

Serves 2

  • ½ small yellow bell pepper, seeded and cut lengthways into 2.5cm strips
  • ½ small red bell pepper, seeded and sliced lengthways into 2.5cm strips
  • ½ small orange bell pepper, seeded and sliced lengthways into 2.5cm strips
  • 4 rocket leaves, stems removed
  • 4 spinach leaves, stems removed
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 thick slices multigrain bread
  • 2 eggs, hard-boiled, peeled and sliced
  • sea salt and ground black pepper
  • fresh basil leaves, to garnish

1 Place the yellow, red and orange bell peppers, rocket leaves, and spinach leaves in a bowl; add 1 tbsp olive oil and toss. Set aside.

2 Brush both sides of the multigrain bread slices with the remaining olive oil. Grill over a medium–high heat or fry in a skillet (frying pan) until golden and crisp.

3 Top each slice of bread with the pepper, rocket and spinach mixture. Add the slices of hardboiled egg. Season with sea salt and ground black pepper; garnish each with a basil leaf, and eat while the bread is still warm and crisp.



Vegetable Bread Pudding

Vegetable Bread Pudding

Growing up in the shadow of her grandparents’ restaurant, Wuerstle’s Café, could only result in a love of food and cooking for Lizzie McGraw. From a young age, Lizzie would follow her Gram around the kitchen. She learned to bake pies, especially lemon meringue, and cakes early on. She often helped with holiday meals – Thanksgiving turkey being a favourite. Her Gram was a fan of experimenting with recipes; she loved to add caraway seeds to just about anything. Lizzie learnt not to be shy about adding ingredients to favourite recipes – extra pecans, dried cherries, or blueberries? Many of the dishes she enjoys making are variations of recipes from her Gram, Aunt Dottie, and other beloved relatives.

Serves 4–6

  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 200g fresh spinach, cooked and strained
  • 500g ripe Roma tomatoes (or other small plum tomatoes), diced
  • 1 baguette, cut into 2.5cm thick slices
  • 450g thinly sliced, cooked red potatoes
  • 225g shredded mozzarella cheese
  • 115g grated Parmesan
  • 6 eggs
  • 480ml milk
  • 1 tsp Tabasco sauce
  • sea salt and ground black pepper

1 Preheat the oven to 350F/ 180C/gas mark 4.

2 In a skillet (frying pan), sauté the onion in olive oil until tender. Add the spinach and tomatoes. Cook 1 minute more and remove from the heat.

3 In a 30cm cast-iron skillet or ovenproof dish, layer half of each: baguette slices, potatoes, and cheese, in that order. Top with all of the onion, spinach and tomatoes mixture. Add the remaining baguette slices, potatoes, and cheese.

4 In a bowl, beat the eggs. Add milk, Tabasco, salt, pepper, and pour over the layered bread and vegetables in the skillet.

5 Bake, uncovered for 1 hour, or until a knife inserted in the centre comes out clean.



Rosemary Corn Muffins Corn muffins

Lulu Tapp admits that she is a herb lover, and she excels in incorporating their unique flavours in her recipes, as she demonstrates in pairing the aromatic intensity of rosemary with the cornmeal sweetness of her flavourful muffins.

Makes 12 small muffins

  • 140g all-purpose (plain) flour
  • 115g cornmeal (polenta)
  • 50g sugar
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 120ml skimmed milk (but any milk will work)
  • 2 tsp fresh, chopped rosemary
  • 2 tsp fresh, chopped thyme (optional)
  • 60ml vegetable oil
  • 1 egg, beaten

1 Preheat the oven to 400F/200C/gas mark 6.

2 Mix all the ingredients together in a large bowl to make a batter.

3 Pour the batter evenly into nonstick muffin pans and bake in the oven for 15-20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the centre of the muffins comes out clean.

4 Remove from the oven and cool on a wire rack.

The Romantic Prairie Cookbook by Fifi O’Neill, with photography by Mark Lohman, is published by Cico Books, priced £16.99.

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