Chicory Cups with Almond and Sesame Tabbouleh

Chicory cups with almond and sesame tabbouleh

Winter food is mainly about warmth and comfort, and rightly so. But I often yearn for crunch and punchy flavours to add some sparkle to a winter filled with rich, soft food. Step forward chicory (confusingly, also known as endive, escarole and witlof).

The bitterness of these beautiful, silky leaves can be an acquired taste, but there’s nothing better to perk up a jaded winter palate. In fact, depending on how you prepare them, chicory can actually be quite mild. The outer leaves taste more earthy than bitter when wilted in a frying pan with butter, lots of salt and pepper and a splash of balsamic vinegar.

chicory cups image

In salads, chicory works brilliantly with other robust flavours like a mustard-spiked dressing or a vinaigrette made with anchovies and lemon. Strong cheeses like blue and goats’ also hold their own with chicory in the salad bowl.  Alternatively, try foiling the bitterness with a dressing slicked with honey, or add chunks of pear, apple, dried figs or crisp fried lardons. And most nuts seem to love being parked with chicory, especially almonds, walnuts and hazelnuts.

The other benefit is that chicory provides its own serving bowls – the gently curved leaves are perfect for cradling goodies like dips or, as in this recipe, a finely chopped salad. My children love these little scoops – I think it’s the tasty mix of nuts, seeds and dried fruit that helps them forget they’re actually scoffing a highly nutritious vegetable.

Don’t worry if the presentation seems a little chichi – I thought so too at first. But actually, these little cups makes perfect finger food and saves on washing up. And there’s nothing pretentious about that.

Chicory Cups with Almond and Sesame Tabbouleh

  • 45g flaked almonds
  • 1 tbsp sesame seeds
  • 30ml red wine vinegar
  • 60ml olive oil
  • 1 tsp honey
  • 1 tsp ras el hanout
  • Sea salt
  • Freshly ground pepper
  • A generous handful of flat leaf parsley, finely chopped
  • 40g red onion, finely chopped
  • 15g dried cranberries,finely chopped
  • 1/2 red apple
  • about 12 chicory leaves

1. Briefly toast the almonds and sesame seeds in a dry frying pan, shaking frequently, until they take on a little colour and smell lovely. Be careful: if you turn your back the nuts and seeds could burn. Set aside.

2. To make the dressing, whisk together the vinegar, oil, honey, ras el hanout and a pinch of salt and pepper. Set aside.

3. Pop the parsley, onion and cranberries in a salad bowl and toss.

4. Chop the cooled nuts and seeds to make a nutty rubble and add to the salad bowl.

5. Dice the apple very small – leave the skin on as it adds lovely colour – and toss into the salad bowl too. (Don’t chop it any earlier it will go brown).

6. Add the dressing a spoonful at a time, tossing well between each addition. Stop adding when everything is coated – you might not need all the dressing. Add more salt and pepper to taste.

7. Scoop a couple of teaspoonfuls of the mixture into each chicory leaf and arrange artfully on a platter if you like. Serve immediately.

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Savoy cabbage stuffed with venison

from above_edited

Many people hesitate about cooking venison, thinking it too rich, too fancy or just too tricksy to bother with. It’s such a shame. Venison is lean and full of goodness, but more to the point just plain delicious and versatile. Farmed venison is excellent and available all year round, but I’m lucky to have abundant supplies of wild stuff where I live in Dorset.

I was really pleased to discover that the Wild Purbeck partnership (one of 12 around the UK set up to help restore and manage precious natural environments) hopes to develop a Wild Purbeck venison brand to encourage more locals to tuck in. It’s widely agreed that populations of Sika and Roe deer on the Purbecks need careful management and culling to maintain healthy herds (they have no natural predators) and prevent damage to woodlands, trees, crops, gardens, habitats and other wildlife. To dovetail with this project, the first Dorset Venison Festival is being held in April to highlight the meat’s many virtues.

Venison’s gameyness is often overstated; for me, it’s just like lean, well-hung beef. Because it’s very low in fat, the main cooking challenge is to preserve venison’s rich flavour without drying it out. The most tender cuts, loin and haunch, are perfect for roasting, frying or grilling and are best served pink. The tougher cuts like shoulder, neck and flank benefit from a long slow braise to make rich stews and ragus.

This recipe is a version of the classic French dish known as farci. Traditionally, cabbage leaves are stuffed with breadcrumbs, vegetables and/or meat and then formed into a ball to echo the original cabbage shape. The delicious package is then wrapped in muslin and poached in stock. Here, I have taken a leaf out of Mimi Thorisson‘s beautiful cook book A Kitchen In France and arranged mine in a tin, which is then baked (she has filled hers with lovely spiced sausage and pork mixture). Here, the venison sings beautifully together with the cabbage, celeriac and dried berries. The result is beautiful and very delicious.

cabage and venison cut _ editedSavoy cabbage stuffed with venison

Prep: 20 minutes

Cooking: 1 hour

Serves: 6-8

  • 1 Savoy cabbage
  • 1 tbsp juniper berries
  • sea salt flakes
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 small leek, white part only, finely sliced
  • 1 large carrot, diced small
  • 150g celeriac, diced small
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 600g venison mince (or venison shoulder or neck, very finely chopped)
  • 30g dried cranberries
  • Leaves from 3 thyme sprigs, chopped
  • 400ml passata
  • 1 egg

Separate the cabbage leaves by cutting them away at the base. Cook in boiling salted water for 5 minutes. Drain, rinse in cold water so the leaves retain their fab green colour and spread out on a tea towel to cool and dry.

Place the juniper berries and a generous pinch of salt in a dry frying pan and cook over a medium-high heat, shaking the pan constantly, until the berries smell gorgeous. Transfer to a mortar and pound to a powder – or crush with a rolling pin.

Heat the oil in the same frying pan and gently cook the leek, carrot and celeriac with a pinch of salt and pepper, stirring often, until soft but not coloured, about 8 minutes.

Add the venison, breaking up any chunks with the side of a spoon. Add the cranberries, thyme and the crushed juniper, and season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring now and then, until the meat is browned, about 5 minutes.

Add the passata and simmer, stirring often, until the liquid has almost cooked away. Set aside to cool.

Butter a 20cm cake tin and preheat the oven to 180°C/Gas 4. Line the base and sides of the tin with the largest cabbage leaves, letting them overhang the sides a little.

Stir the egg into the venison mixture. Place half this mixture in the cabbage-lined tin and then place a layer of cabbage leaves on top. Add the remaining meat and finish with a layer of cabbage leaves, tucking them into the sides.

Bake for 30 minutes but take a peek now and then, and loosely cover with foil if the top is browning too quickly.

When cooked, place a large plate on top and wearing oven gloves, carefully turn over and lift off the tin. Ta-dah! Serve immediately, cut into slices.

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Freekeh, date and almond porridge with marmalade

IMG_1894Marmalade is a dose of sunshine in a dreary, wet January. Beautiful to look at in the jar and joyously tangy, it’s one of my favourite ways to start the day, especially in winter.  Given how much I love this pretty preserve I don’t know why I’d never made it before this week. But it was such a heady process – the house filled with the scent of oranges for hours – and such a satisfying thing to make, I’m now hooked.

Classic Seville orange marmalade can only be made in January when the lovely bittersweet fruits are in season (unless you buy them in bulk and freeze them). I experimented making it a couple of different ways – a quick technique that can be done in a couple hours, followed by Sarah Randell’s longer method from her book Marmalade: A Bittersweet Cookbook . Sarah’s method, which involves overnight soaking, was the clear winner and produced a delicious jammy marmalade with really tender shreds. Soaking is also favoured by Diana Henry, who has some lovely recipes for different marmalades in Salt, Sugar, Smoke. I’ll be topping up my citrus supplies to make those next.

I’m not going to provide a recipe here for marmalade – that’s best left to the experts – although I’ll offer up one tip. Watch the pan carefully on the final rolling boil and stir occasionally: my marmalade stuck to the bottom of the pan a bit and I feared that I’d burnt the lot. Praise the Lord, I hadn’t.

What I will give you is a recipe for a fantastic way to serve marmalade. I’ve called it porridge because I’ve been eating this for breakfast (and what a hearty way to start the day it is), but it would also work as a dessert for those who love rice pudding.  The idea came after writing a story for the Guardian’s Cook section about Zaytoun, a community interest company that helps Palestinian farmers achieve a fair price for their goods and export them to the UK. They were good enough to send me some of their gorgeous products: olive oil, za’atar, maftoul, freekeh, Medjoul dates and almonds. Here I’ve used freekeh – a grain with a wonderful smoky flavour, along with their dates and almonds. The splodge of sunny marmalade on top makes it a really wonderful thing.

marmalade and freekeh

Freekeh porridge with almonds and dates

Serves 1 but easily multiplies up according to the mouths you want to feed

  • ¼ cup freekeh
  • ¼ cup rolled oats
  • 250ml hot milk
  • ¼ teaspoon cinnamon
  • a splodge of honey
  • a small handful of chopped almonds
  • 3 medjool dates, chopped
  • Greek yoghurt
  • Marmalade, jam or honey to serve

Place the freekeh and oats in a dry pan and stir over a medium heat until the grains start to smell lovely and toasty. Add half the milk, stirring constantly, then keep stirring and adding more milk until the milk is used up. Add the cinnamon, honey, almonds and dates and then gradually add about 120ml water (maybe more depending how you like it), stirring regularly and adding more water each time until the grains are tender and you achieve the desired consistency – about 12 minutes.

Service immediately, topped with yoghurt and marmalade.

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Kale mac & cheese

mac and cheese with kale edited

Kale is often lampooned as a middle class food fad, which of course is nonsense. It is ridiculously good for you (packed with vitamins K, A and C, calcium and other nutrients) – but it’s regularly on our table because it’s also delicious and there’s so much you can do with it. 

I’m lucky enough to have my kale delivered as part of a veggie box scheme run by local farmer Jim Hooper from Berry Hill Farm. He has a theory about why kale is so often derided: people don’t what to do with it. I agree it can be tricky – without a little bit of TLC, eating kale can be like chewing the end of a broom. But there are some simple way to avoid this.

I always cut out and discard the thick central stalk, and then slice the leaves finely. This makes them far more pleasing to chew. When I was in LA last year, I was also advised to “massage” my kale, which I laughed at at first, but then discovered it really did work. Scrunching the leaves with your hands helps to break down the cellulose structure and softens the leaves considerably. Tossing the scrunched leaves in olive oil and then setting them aside for a while helps to tenderise them further.

Kale prepared this way really is delicious raw in salad. Pop a handful into a salad bowl with some tender baby salad leaves,  add some dried fruit or fresh berries to counter kale’s mild bitterness and beef up the bowl with some nuggets of goat’s cheese and/or cooked grains. Toss with a good mustardy dressing and you have a fine plate of food.

kale and broken eggs editedIf cooked kale is more your thing, there are plenty of options. For a very simple, worthy bowl of greens, slice and scrunch the leaves as described above, lightly steam until just tender, then toss in butter and add lots of salt and pepper. Eat the leaves on their own as a side, or stuff them into a bacon and egg roll (with a splodge of chilli sauce, natch). Or, as I’ve recently been doing, lightly fry-off the steamed leaves in home made lemon oil and a little garlic and add a fried or scrambled egg and some chilli flakes.  A perfect quick lunch

The recipe below is designed with January very much in mind, and by that I mean it’s hearty and filling comfort food designed to keep the cold out. If you prefer to take your kale though a straw this month, you had probably better look away now. 

Stop press: I made this again last night using melted goose fat instead of olive oil in the crunchy top. Oh yeah.

Good for you mac & cheese

Serves 4–6

  • 350g macaroni or penne
  • olive oil, for tossing
  • 75g unsalted butter, plus more for greasing
  • 60g plain flour
  • 1 litre milk, warmed, plus extra if needed
  • 150g mixture of Gruyere and Cheddar cheese, grated
  • 50g Parmesan cheese, grated
  • 1 teaspoon sweet smoked paprika
  • a pinch of cayenne
  • a pinch of nutmeg
  • 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
  • sea salt flakes
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 150g kale, finely sliced 

For the crunchy top

  • 100g good quality bread, torn
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons sunflower seeds
  • 2 tablespoons blanched skinless hazelnuts or walnuts
  • 25g Parmesan cheese, grated

Cook the macaroni or penne in salted boiling water according to the packet instructions, then drain, toss with olive oil and set aside. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/Gas 4 and lightly butter a baking dish. Place the topping ingredients in a food processor and blitz until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Set aside.

Melt the butter in a large pan until foaming then add the flour. Stir constantly over a medium heat for a couple of minutes, then gradually whisk in the warm milk. Gently cook for 5 minutes, stirring often, until starting to thicken. Add the cheese and stir until melted. Add the spices, mustard and salt and pepper and then stir in the kale bit by bit. This might seem like too much kale but it quickly wilts as you stir it in and takes up much less space than you think it will. Pour into the prepared baking dish. Sprinkle the topping on top and bake for 30 minutes, or until bubbling and golden.




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