Bring colour to winter meals
Coming to the end of winter season, with regards to fruit and veg, is actually a bit of a turning point. Soon, Irish beetroot, leeks, parsnips, cauliflower and celeriac will go out of season. Although at this stage I’m fairly fed up with the lot of them, once they become scarce I remember how fond I am of winter vegetables and start pining after all sorts of honey roast roots and purees.
Spring and summer veg are all big babies in comparison to the hardy and robust winter stock. They stand up to all sorts of roasting, boiling, mashing and smashing, unlike the delicate leaves and beans that will adorn our plates when the sun is shining.
But in the meantime, here are two more ways to jazz up this month of deathly-dull dinners and abstinence galore: spicy mince and a veggie Niçoise dish.
The Niçoise stew is a great example of simple, rustic cooking that’s incredibly cheap and good for you, as well as providing great flavour.
You can make this a lot more unctuous by having little slices of baguette with some melted Gruyère cheese on top to dunk into the stew when it’s made, or by making a delicious rouille or home-made garlic mayonnaise and dunking a big spoonful in to enrich the stew. But I left it plain (as we’re all still trying to be good in this house, at least for a few more days) and even the toddler ate some.
The recipe contains saffron, which is one of those spices that was so overused for years I could barely touch the stuff. But I do like the earthy and exotic richness it brings and that tangy medicinal flavour goes well with the tomato base.
The mince recipe was adapted from a Diana Henry one, which she in turn adapted from Madhur Jaffrey, so it has definitely done the rounds. It was delicious, and the lime is incredibly good with it. In fact, if you re-heat this dish, be sure to squeeze more lime on to it. The piquancy and sharpness of the lime just lifts the mince perfectly. This could be served with a big bowl of rice or on some naan bread.
Store cupboard ingredients lift a dish like this from our regular cottage pie, spag bol or shepherd’s pie into something a little more lively. (Plus a few limes and chopped coriander, which I know aren’t exactly store cupboard ingredients, but they do their job brilliantly.)
2 tbsps olive oil
Approx 800g mince beef
2 onions, peeled and very finely chopped
6 cloves garlic, peeled and finely sliced
Big knob ginger, peeled and sliced
1 green chilli, de-seeded and sliced
1 tsp ground coriander
Pinch cumin seeds
¼ tsp cayenne pepper
1 tsp garam masala
375ml beef stock
1 tbsp tomato purée
Good pinches of brown sugar, salt and pepper
200g frozen peas
Juice of 2 limes
The only tedious bit of this recipe is the browning of the mince. You could probably get away without doing it, but it does give a better flavour. So with that in mind, heat the olive oil and fry the mince on a good heat, in batches. Get some colour on it and set it aside while you fry off the rest. Once you’ve done that, wipe out the excess fat from the pan and then sauté the onions until they are soft, then add the garlic, ginger, chilli and spices and sauté on a high heat until the spices come to life and smell great. Put the beef back in the pot and season lightly. Add the tomato purée and brown sugar. Mix well and add the stock. Simmer gently for about 30 minutes with no lid on the pot. Taste a little, adjust the seasoning and add the peas and lime juice. The peas take just a couple of minutes to thaw out. Taste again and serve with wedges of lime and chopped coriander.
Niçoise vegetable stew
Serves 6 (as a main course)
4 tbsps olive oil
500g baby potatoes
2 red onions, peeled and chopped
3 leeks, sliced
2 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced
Pinch chilli flakes
700ml vegetable stock
Pinch saffron threads
Few sprigs thyme
2 fennel bulbs, sliced
6 large plum tomatoes
200g Gruyère cheese
Heat the olive oil in a large heavy-based saucepan, and sauté the potatoes, being sure to get some colour on them. When they are starting to brown in patches, add the onions, leeks, garlic and chilli. Sauté for a few more minutes and then add the vegetable stock, saffron and thyme. Simmer for about five minutes before adding the fennel and tomatoes.
Simmer for about 20 minutes more and break up the tomatoes with a wooden spoon to help evenly disperse the tomato flesh.
Meanwhile, you can slice the baguette and bake it until crisp in a moderate oven, or else top with Gruyère and grill until the cheese has melted, or do this in the oven if that’s handier. Taste the soup and adjust the seasoning. Serve in big bowls and top with the cheesy croutons, which are great when dunked into the soup.