Comforting Winter Food

C
Lots of cookbooks have been written extolling the glories of Spring and Summer foods – of the first rhubarb, the first spears of asparagus, sweet green peas and summer berries. The produce of Autumn and Winter is seldom welcomed with such enthusiasm yet Jill Norman has just written a wonderful book called Winter Food to remind us that there is much to get excited about. Gardens, orchards and fields may be dormant but there are still lots of winter vegetables, fruit and nuts and the food that warms and nourishes during the winter months.

Even if forests and moorlands are in the grip of cold, game is still hunted to provide pheasant, wild duck, venison and hare. Geese are reared for the autumn and winter feast days. Citrus fruits are at their best, as are many fish and shellfish. Winter Food focuses on making the best use of the season’s foods, providing a rich variety of dishes for eating well with family and friends.

Jill Norman is one of the most highly respected cookery authors in the UK. She was the first editor of the Penguin cookery list, where she edited Elizabeth David among others, and she is now the literary trustee of Elizabeth David’s estate. As a publisher, she has been awarded two special Glenfiddich awards, as well as winning the Glenfiddich, the André Simon and countless other awards for her own books.

Jill’s book draws on the winter traditions of different cultures and offers recipes from all quarters of the globe. From the high Andes and the northern states of America, the plateaux of Turkey and Spain and the mountain villages of Italy, as well as from China, Russia, Scandinavia and Britain, there are rich, warming dishes to counter winter’s chill.

I myself adore Autumn and Winter food, the cold weather gives me the excuse to make lots of comforting casseroles. We linger longer over meals in the cold season.

Winter Food – seasonal recipes for the colder months – by Jill Norman, published by Kyle Cathie, £19.99stg – www.kylecathie.com  

Here are some delicious recipes from the book .

Brussels Sprout Soup

Serves 6
500g (18oz) small Brussels sprouts
30g (1¼oz) butter
1tablespoon plain flour
3 large cloves garlic, chopped
1.25 litres(2pints) hot chicken or vegetable stock
1 egg yolk
120ml (3¾fl.oz) double cream or crème fraiche
salt and freshly ground black pepper
pinch of nutmeg
croûtons to serve

Blanch the sprouts in boiling water for 3 minutes and drain. Heat the butter in a large pan, add the sprouts and shake and toss them in the butter. Sprinkle over the flour and garlic, mix well and pour over the hot stock, stirring continually. Simmer until the sprouts are soft, about 20 minutes. Blend the soup until smooth.

Beat the egg yolk with the cream, pour a ladleful of soup into the mixture, then stir this mixture into the soup over a very low heat. Remove the pan from the heat and continue to stir for 1 minute. Season with salt, pepper and nutmeg and serve at once with croûtons.

Garlic Chicken

A classic slow-cooked French dish in which the garlic suffuses the chicken with its rich flavour and provides a mellow purée to spread on the accompanying toast or baked potatoes.
Serves 4

4 chicken legs, separated into drumsticks and thighs
salt and freshly ground pepper
3-4 heads garlic
130ml (4fl.oz) olive oil
1 bouquet garni of thyme, parsley, rosemary, bay leaf and sage

Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/gas mark 4. Season the chicken and put it into an earthenware casserole. Separate the garlic cloves, discarding the outer skin, but don’t peel the cloves. Add them to the casserole, trickle over the oil and turn everything with your hands to ensure that the garlic and chicken are well coated. Tuck the bouquet garni into the centre. Cover with foil and a well-fitting lid and bake low down in the oven for 1½ hours.

The chicken will be very tender, the garlic will separate easily from its skin and the aromas will be heady. Serve straight from the casserole, either with lightly toasted country bread on which to spread the garlic purée, or with potatoes that have been baked in the oven at the same time.

Avocado, pomegranate and wild rocket salad

The deep red pomegranate seeds give this salad a bright note on a wintry day and their sweet juiciness contrasts well with the peppery rocket, the smoothness of the avocado and the crunchy cucumber.
Serves 4

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil or avocado oil
2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 shallot, finely chopped
½ cucumber
1 pomegranate
1 large avocado
squeeze of lemon juice
2-3 large handfuls wild rocket

Make a dressing with the oil, vinegar, salt and pepper and add the shallot when you are ready to prepare the salad. Cut the cucumber in 4 lengthways, remove the seeds and cut each quarter into 2 strips. Cut the strips into dice, put them in a colander and sprinkle with salt.

Cut the top from the pomegranate and pull it apart gently. Pick out the seeds and discard all the pith. Put the seeds and any juice into a bowl. Dice the avocado and sprinkle with lemon juice to prevent the flesh discolouring. Rinse the cucumber and dry on a clean tea towel.

To assemble, put the rocket into a salad bowl, scatter over the cucumber and avocado and finally the pomegranate seeds. Add pomegranate juice to the dressing if you wish. Whisk the dressing and pour it over the salad.

Variation:
Omit the shallot from the dressing and replace the cucumber with 60g (2½oz) of toasted and skinned hazelnuts or toasted pine nuts.

Venison Chilli

Chilli may not be a sophisticated dish, but it is certainly popular and flavourful. Venison responds well to the rich spicy sauce, although chilli is traditionally made with pork or beef. This is not a very hot chilli; I prefer to use chillies such as anchos or guajillos which add flavour as much as heat. These Mexican dried chillies are now being sold in some supermarkets or are available from Mexican suppliers and spice merchants. If you can’t get them, use 1½-2 tablespoons of good-quality ground chilli instead.
Serves 6

4 ancho or guajillo chillies, stalks and seeds removed
3 tablespoons sunflower oil
2 onions, chopped
750g (1lb10oz) venison, diced (use shoulder, breast or meat sold as stewing venison)
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1½ teaspoons ground cumin
1½ teaspoons dried oregano
salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon tomato purée
400g (14oz) tinned chopped tomatoes
500ml (18oz) beef stock
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
800g (1lb12oz) tinned red kidney beans

Heat a heavy dry frying pan or griddle and toast the chillies over a moderate heat, turning them with tongs, until they have softened. It will take 10-15 minutes. Transfer them to a bowl and cover with boiling water. Put a small plate on top to keep the chillies submerged and soak for 30 minutes. Remove them from the water and put them into a blender with about 250ml (9fl.oz) of the soaking liquid and puree them.

Heat the oil in a large casserole and fry the onions. When they start to brown, add the venison and brown on all sides. Add the garlic, cumin, oregano, salt and pepper, the chilli purée, tomato purée and tomatoes. Stir well and pour over the stock. Cover the pan tightly and simmer over a very low heat fro 2 hours, or put the casserole into a preheated oven at 170C/325F/gas mark 3.

Check the venison is done, then stir in the vinegar and beans. Simmer, uncovered for 10 minutes. Serve at once, or leave overnight and reheat slowly, the flavours will improve.

Roast rack of Lamb with Dukka
Dukka is an Egyptian nut and spice blend that varies from family to family. It can be sprinkled over rice or soup, and on pieces of warm pita dunked in olive oil it is one of the best nibbles to serve with drinks. It also makes an excellent crust for lamb. Some spice merchants now sell ready-made dukka, but I have also given a recipe below because it is easy to make at home, and keeps well.
Serves 2

To make the dukka, dry roast all the nuts and seeds separately until the hazelnuts lose their skins, the sesame seeds are golden, and the coriander and cumin darken and give off their aroma. Remove the loose skins from the hazelnuts by rubbing them in a tea towel. Put the hazelnuts, sesame seeds, coriander and cumin into a food processor with a little salt and grind to a coarse powder. Don’t overwork it or the oil from the nuts and sesame will be released and turn it into a paste. It can now be stored in an airtight container.

Preheat the oven to 220C/425F/gas mark 7. Rub the lamb with olive oil and press 2-3 tablespoons of dukka into the fat side. Roast for 20 minutes if you like your lamb rare, or a few minutes longer for medium rare.

Serve with Provencal Lentils and Roast Fennel and Onions.

Roast Fennel and Onions

The flavours of fennel and onions complement each other and both caramelise nicely when roasted. This is a good dish to make for a large gathering, because it looks after itself. It goes well with lamb, pork and poultry, or as one of a number of dishes for a vegetarian feast.

Serves 8

6 bulbs of fennel (about 1.5kg/3lb5oz)
3 large onions, quartered
3 tablespoons olive oil
salt and freshly ground black pepper
shavings of Parmesan (optional)

Preheat the oven to 200C/400F/gas mark 6. Remove the outer layer and the tops of the fennel and cut the bulbs into quarters. Put the fennel and onions into a baking dish, spoon over the oil, add a little salt and mix the vegetables in the oil carefully in order not to break the pieces. It is best to do this with your hands. Roast the vegetables for 40-50 minutes, turning them 2 or 3 times. To serve, put the vegetables into a warmed dish, give a good grinding of pepper and top with shaved Parmesan, if you wish.

Provencal Lentils
Lentils are available in several varieties; the ones with the best texture and flavour come from Puy in France and from Castellucio in Italy. Decidedly comfort food, they respond well to a variety of flavourings: herbs, spices, cream or yogurt, as well as the traditional garlic and tomato of Provence.

Serves 4

250g (9oz) Puy lentils
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 bay leaf
½ teaspoon crushed black peppercorns
1 tablespoon tomato puree
salt, to taste
1 tablespoon chopped mint
1 tablespoon chopped parsley

Pick over the lentils and wash them. Heat the olive oil in a large pan and saute the onion until softened and translucent but not browned. Add the garlic, stir it in the oil for a moment, then put in the lentils, bay leaf, peppercorns and tomato puree. Pour in 750ml (good 1¾ pints) of water, stir to mix the tomato puree and cook, partly covered, until the lentils are tender, this should take 20-25 minutes. Check the pan from time to time and add a little more water, if needed, to keep the lentils covered.

Add a little salt in the last 5 minutes of cooking. Drain the lentils well, discard the bay leaf and stir in the herbs and a little olive oil, if you wish.

Serves with the Roast Rack of Lamb with Dukka or makes a good vegetarian dish.

Dried Fruit Compote
This fragrant compote can be made just with apricots and raisins but we like to include other fruit – peaches, pears, prunes or figs. The dish must be macerated for 48 hours, and will keep longer. We often eat it for breakfast if there is any left over from dessert.

Serves 6-8

300g(11oz) dried apricots 
120g(4oz) sultanas
120g(4oz) raisins
150g(5½oz) dried peaches
150g(5½oz) dried figs
caster sugar (optional)
2 tablespoons rose or orange flower water
100g(3½oz) pistachio nuts, or blanched flaked almonds

Put all the dried fruit in a large bowl and cover with water. Taste and add sugar if you like very sweet things. Add the rose or orange flower water, cover and put the bowl in the refrigerator for at least 48 hours. Just before serving add in the nuts.

Variation:
To flavour the compote, use the grated rind of an unwaxed orange and a small stick of cinnamon instead of flower water.

Foolproof Food

Sloe Gin

Sloes are very tart little berries that resemble tiny purple plums in appearance, they grow on prickly bushes on top of stone walls and are in season in September and October.

Its great fun to organize a few pals to pick sloes and have a sloe gin making party.
Sloes make a terrific beverage ready for Christmas presents.

675g (11/2 lbs) sloes
340g (3/4lb) white sugar
1.2L (2 pints) gin 

one or several darning needles and clean sterilized kilner jars and bottles

Wash and dry the sloes, prick in several places, we use a clean darning needle. Put them into a sterilized glass kilner jar and cover with sugar and gin. Cover and seal tightly, shake every couple of days to start with and then every now and then for 3 or 4 months, by which time it will be ready to strain and bottle. It will improve on keeping so try to resist drinking it for another few months. Delicious damson gin can be made in exactly the same way.

Hot Tips

Youghal Through the Ages this weekend
Elizabethan Market at Barry’s Lane today 10.00-3.00 with street entertainment.
An Elizabethan Banquet – tonight at Walter Raleigh Hotel, as part of the Youghal Through the Ages programme – Tel 024-92011 to book
Mulled wine reception, 5 course Elizabethan style banquet, music and dancing. 
www.walterraleigh.com  or www.youghalchamber.ie  


Congratulations 

to Denis Cotter of Café Paradiso on winning Chef of the Year in Ireland 2005 – awarded by Food and Wine Magazine and 

to Myrtle Allen of Ballymaloe House on winning the Hall of Fame Award also from Food and Wine Magazine.

Midleton Farmers Market – today Saturday 1st October, Gene Cunningham who sharpens knives will attend – so bring along your kitchen knives if they need sharpening.

Good Things Café and Cookery School, Durrus, West Cork 
Autumn programme just launched includes 1 week and weekend courses – which take place in her restaurant with Carmel Somers, with opportunities to go out with fishermen, see cheese being made and so on – contact Carmel Somers on 027-61426 or visit www.thegoodthingscafe.com  

Association of Craft Butchers of Ireland (ACBI) – recognises the benefits of continued training for craft butchers and this emphasis on providing members with opportunities to develop and improve skills is reflected in a dedicated training programme by the association. A recent introduction is an E-learning course in Customer Service Skills – an 8 hour course delivered on-line which can be done at home. A new FETAC accredited Certificate in Butchering will be launched in its pilot phase this autumn. info@craftbutchers.ie  www.craftbutchers.ie  Tel 01-2961400

Congratulations to Brady Family for winning Gold Award at 2005 Great Taste Awards in London’s Olympia recently – for their Traditional Baked and Glazed Irish Ham prepared by the company in Timahoe, Donadea, Co Kildare.

About the author

Darina Allen
By Darina Allen

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