Paul Flynn: Three wind-down dishes for a winter’s night
I can’t make complicated food on a Sunday night: the effort wilts me
Hearty and delicious: grape and Parmesan risotto
I’m in training to be a hipster. I’m not quite sure I’ll fit in. I’m probably too old, and I’ve no tattoos. Even if I did have a tattoo I’d get it all wrong, and get a dolphin or something really nerdy and uncool.
I have the hair, though, and for that I give thanks every day. It rarely stays sculpted, however. It behaves itself for a while on the day it’s cut, but that’s about it. I am the permanent custodian of the crazy wild-man look. I’ve even cooked at the Big Grill Festival a couple of times, in an effort to join a different, cooler tribe, but I don’t think I fit in there, either. So I suffer on with an incurable case of cool envy.
I’m fascinated with hipsters because they all seem unflappable. I invented flappable: I love a good panic. Observing a hipster hand-crafting a brew makes me nervous. I shuffle and fidget, as I’m always in a rush, forever edgy, thinking about my day. I don’t care if that bean is a rarity, having exited from some treasured Polynesian squirrel. Steam inevitably comes out of my ears, but I am not a complainer, I remind myself. (Cue guffaws.) Serves me right for stopping in that sort of joint anyhow.
My calm time comes on a Sunday evening. I get home from work after the lunch service, and once I’ve ensured my teenage girls’ rooms are reasonably tidy I can relax. It’s my OCD, and they love me for it.
I plan the dinner usually from the Friday before. The restaurant doesn’t open on Sunday evenings in winter, so it’s all about the hygge. I can’t describe how much we look forward to it. I can’t make complicated food on a Sunday night: the effort wilts me, and I can’t be bothered with a mountain of washing-up. This risotto is a typical Sunday night special, using just one pan. The confit duck legs and the roast squash are similarly fuss-free, with the oven doing the work.
We follow a routine. It works best in the winter months, especially on cold, wet days, as there is no guilt about not going for a walk. There is always music, lots of papers with the food sections open, and perhaps a little G&T. The girls watch some TV. We read in contented silence. It’s okay that there’s not much talk; we work together. It’s the silence that we appreciate.
Sometimes I make a limp attempt to Instagram the process under the stern eye of my 14-year-old. I’ve had some successes, but it doesn’t come naturally, as I’m utterly stupid when it comes to technology. An earlier Insta effort turned into a car crash when the wine caught up with me while I was cooking a lengthy roast-duck dinner. It’s important to show the finished dish, the money shot. Another lesson learned.
GRAPE AND PARMESAN RISOTTO
1.2l chicken stock (you may not need all of this)
1tbsp olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
400g Arborio rice
1 glass white wine
30 mixed seedless grapes, cut in half
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
100g Parmesan cheese, grated
2 bay leaves
1 Heat the stock to just below simmering point.
2 In a large saucepan melt the butter with the oil over a medium heat.
3 Add the onion and bay leaves and cook slowly with a lid on until the onions are tender (about 20 minutes).
4 Add the rice and stir until it is coated with butter.
5 Add the wine, stirring until it is absorbed.
6 Pour half the stock over the rice and bring to a gentle boil, making sure no rice is left around the edges. You only need to stir once or twice until the stock is absorbed.
7 Add the remainder of the stock ladle by ladle. (You may not need it all.)
8 When the rice is just tender but still a little runny, stir most of the grated Parmesan into the risotto, keeping a little back for garnish. Remove the bay leaves.
9 Spoon on to warm plates. Scatter the grapes on top.
10 Sprinkle with the remainder of the Parmesan, and away you go – although if you have some fancy olive oil at home, at this stage you could drizzle a little over the top.
CONFIT DUCK WITH GINGER AND APPLE
4 confit duck legs
800g sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into large, even chunks
2 Granny Smith apples, each cut into six, then cores removed
Small knob of ginger, peeled and finely chopped
2tbsp sunflower oil
Some sage leaves or thyme
Salt and pepper
1 Heat your oven to 180 degrees, or equivalent, then put the sweet potatoes in a roasting tray and add the oil, ginger, salt and pepper. Mix well and put in the oven for 20 minutes.
2 Remove from the oven, turn the potatoes over and then add the apples and the sage (or thyme).
3 Scrape the excess fat from the duck, then put the legs, skin side up, on top of the potatoes and apples.
4 Put back in the oven for 20 more minutes, then serve.
ROAST BUTTERNUT SQUASH, SPROUTS AND PARMESAN CREAM
1 butternut squash, halved and deseeded
Drizzle of olive oil
300g Brussels sprouts, trimmed
80g Parmesan, finely grated
½ vegetable stock cube
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
A few sprigs of fresh thyme
A squeeze of lemon
Salt and pepper
1 Heat your oven to 180 degrees, or equivalent. Score the flesh side of the squash 1cm deep.
2 Put the two halves, cut-side up, on a roasting tray, then drizzle with the olive oil.
3 Season the squash with salt and pepper and scatter some fresh thyme leaves over the top, cover with foil and roast for 90 minutes, until the squash is soft and tender, removing the foil for the last 30 minutes, to allow it to colour. (When it is cooked, you can keep it warm or reheat it to serve).
4 Bring a pot of lightly salted water to the boil and cook the sprouts for three or four minutes, until just tender.
5 Drain the sprouts, refresh them in iced water until cold, then set aside.
6 For the sauce, bring the cream to a gentle simmer in a medium-sized pot, add the garlic and the half stock cube, and reduce by a third.
7 Whisk in most of the Parmesan, add the lemon juice, season, then set aside.
8 To serve, warm the sprouts gently in the Parmesan cream, spoon the mixture into the cavity of the squash and around the plate, then dust with the remaining Parmesan and a few sprigs of thyme.