Sausage and Squash Casserole

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I made up this recipe and it’s become a total winter staple in our house, lasting right through the unseasonably snowy March nights we just endured. It’s also very versatile, so you can use up whatever scraggy root veg you have lying around and it’ll make something really quite hearty and nice. It serves plenty for two and it goes like this:

1 onion
1-2 rashers thick cut unsmoked bacon, or whatever bacon you have
2-3 sausages
1 butternut squash
1 swede
2-3 handfuls fresh spinach
500ml veg stock
1 carrot (optional)
1 sweet potato (optional)

Chop an onion and soften it on a low heat in some oil, in a heavy-bottomed pan (le creuset or GTFO, basically), for 5 minutes. Meanwhile, chop a rasher or two, depending on how healthy you’re feeling, of unsmoked bacon and chuck it in the pan to fry with the onions.

While these are frying up nicely, peel, deseed and cube a butternut squash – the most boring and awkward kitchen task EVER, in my opinion, though a good knife helps. Also peel and chop a small swede or turnip. Optional at this stage: one finely sliced carrot, one peeled and cubed sweet potato, any other chopped up root veg. You can either substitute in or just add every vegetable you can find, if you want to feed more people or if you have a mega starve on. Big carrots are 9p each from my local Tesco, so go nuts with them to bulk it out if you want.

Chuck all your chopped root veg of choice into the pan with the onions and bacon, and give a good stir for a couple of minutes. Then pour in a jug of veg stock – about 500ml. Leave to cook until soft, which will take around 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a frying pan (preferably one of those non-stick ones so you don’t have to use oil or butter), fry two or three sausages (depending on how hungry you are) on a low heat. Chop them into chunks and add to your casserole when they’re cooked through. Leave the casserole to cook for another ten minutes or so to let the sausage flavour make everything delicious. At this stage you can add a can of drained butterbeans, if you like. Salt and pepper to taste, and maybe add a pinch of chilli flakes if you really need warming up, eg if your hot water bottle has sprung a leak or you live in an ice hotel.

Chuck in two big handfuls of fresh spinach, and stir in until they wilt. Serve with crusty bread. We got a lovely gnarly pain de campagne from The Manna House, along with two slices of chocolate cake for afters. Thumbs up.

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Smoked Haddock Pilaf

haddock 1So there we all were, merrily eating mackerel, feeling smug about our super-eco-sustainable-fishing credentials, and then the Marine Conservation Society decided that enough was enough. Mackerel’s been downgraded to ‘eat with caution’. It’s not endangered, but it’s not exactly jumping into boats with plentiful abandon, either. We ate it too much! Slapped wrists all round.

But with haddock, I think we are still OK. For now. Sean made this last night, riffing on a Simon Hopkinson recipe (and by ‘riffing on’ I mean ‘wilfully leaving out some of the ingredients for’). It’s a woodsy, wintry way of having fish – a lot like kedgeree, but less breakfast-like.

serves four, in theory
40g butter
2 tsp garam masala
250g basmati rice
1 bay leaf
1 lemon
375ml chicken stock
400g un-dyed smoked haddock fillet, boned, skin on, cut into 4 equal portions
2 eggs, hard-boiled
2 spring onions, trimmed and sliced
handful chopped fresh coriander
seasoning
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As I say, Sean made this, so I’m no expert in walking you through, but this is what he said:

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees. Hard boil your two eggs, peel, chop and set to one side. Melt some butter in a heavy ovenproof pot on the hob and mix a couple of tablespoons of garam masala into it, then stir in 250g basmati rice and get it nice and coated in the spicy butter. Then add the lemon zest and bay leaf and pour 375ml chicken stock over the top.

Put the fish into the pot face down, resting gently on top of the rice with the skin facing up (so you can take it off later when it’s finished cooking). Put your pot in the preheated oven for 15-20 minutes. Take it out but make sure you don’t take the lid off (this is v important – don’t even peek), so you let the rice finish cooking for about 7 minutes.

Remove the lid and gently peel the skin off the haddock with a fork, then add in the spring onions, egg, seasoning and a handful of chopped coriander. Wrap the pot in a tea towel (make sure the towel isn’t resting on the mixture) and leave for 5 minutes so the food can soak up the excess steam, and then serve with a squeeze of lemon juice.

We also had G&Ts.

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Poignantly Scottish man at bus stop, marking a disastrous weekend of rugby

Lemon, Pea and Mint Risotto

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Pablo Neruda wrote a poem about lemons, where he says they have ‘the diminutive fire of a planet’. They freshen up a risotto, at any rate. Risottos are good for late winter, when you still want something hearty but you also need the suggestion of warmer weather.

This is a version of a Jamie Oliver recipe. Heat a tablespoon of butter and another of oil in a pot, then soften a chopped onion in it, slowly, for about 10 minutes. Pour in your risotto rice (allow 100g per person for maximum comfort), turn up the heat and toast the rice grains for just a minute or two. Tip in a large glass of white wine and let the alcohol cook off.

(Top tip: don’t lean over the pot while this is happening, because you may get a little lightheaded. I speak from direct experience in the field.)

risotto-spoon

Once you’re starting to get a slightly floral scent off your risotto mixture rather than an alcoholic one, turn the heat right down and ease in a ladleful of warm veg stock. Keep the risotto moving until it soaks up the liquid and the texture loosens up and turns slightly creamy. Keep adding stock until the rice is soft and swollen, tasting to make sure it’s not still nutty.

Five minutes before the end, when the texture of the risotto is just a bit gloopier than you think you want it, pour in a load of frozen peas, enough to stud the mixture liberally but not to overpower it. Let the peas cook through, and then stir in half a handful of chopped fresh mint, the juice of a lemon, an extra knob of butter and some parmesan if you like. Several generous twists of salt and pepper, and spoon it into a large bowl. Sprig of mint recommended for decor.

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