In what may or may not become a regular strand, mainly because I had to share this, welcome to the first ‘What we’re (somewhat greedily) eating now’. Those on a diet or in anyway a food snob, look away now!
We’re enjoying this Sainsbury’s Coconut Chocolate Spread (it’s Nutella, but coconut!) smeared onto Hobnobs (for our further flung readers, think sort-of Graham cracker-flapjack hybrid perhaps, although much nicer than that sounds). Perhaps not quite what you’d bring out as post-meal nibbles at your next dinner party, but good for a rainy Sunday afternoon under the duvet.
I first made this for a charity cake sale (hence the chintzy plate and doily), and since I was doing a couple of cakes, I decided I wanted to make one that was the sort of plain-looking, old-fashioned cake of which you might have a slice with a (china) cup of tea. I had settled on the Winter Plum Cake from Nigella’s How to be a Domestic Goddess, since it, to my mind, fitted the bill here, and I quite wanted to try it anyway, but ended up plumping for rhubarb when I couldn’t find a tin of plums at the supermarket. Serendipity, perhaps, since this was perfect as is. The original also calls for icing, which I dispensed with in favour of a flaky, sugary crust, although should you wish to ice this, leave off the tablespoon of sugar before baking – 160g of unrefined icing sugar made into a runny icing with a tablespoon or two of hot water should give you enough fudgy icing to thinly cover, once the cake is completely cooled. If it is in season, I suspect you could replace the tinned rhubarb with the same quantity of fresh rhubarb, stewed with a little sugar and water until soft.
Adapted from the Winter Plum Cake on p37 of Nigella Lawson’s How to be a Domestic Goddess
539g tin of rhubarb (to give 245g drained weight – I have no idea why these are sold in such random sizes)
125g plain flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
75g ground almonds
125g butter, softened
125g soft light brown sugar
1 scant teaspoon almond extract
1 heaped tablespoon caster sugar
Preheat the oven to 170 C / 150 C fan and butter and line a 20cm springform cake tin.
Drain the rhubarb, chop it into 1.5cm chunks, then leave it in a sieve to drain some more. Mix the flour, baking powder and ground almonds together. Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, then beat in the eggs, one at a time, adding a spoonful of the flour mixture after each. (This helps to prevent curdling.) Beat in the almond extract and then fold in the rest of the flour mixture. Finally, fold in the rhubarb chunks. Tip into the prepared tin, and smooth out the top a little. Sprinkle over the caster sugar, and bake for about an hour. (If it isn’t yet coming away from the edges, of a cocktail stick doesn’t come out more or less clean, then it may need up to an extra 15 minutes.) Leave it to cool in the tin, on a wire rack, for ten minutes before turning out onto the rack.
Makes 6 – 8 slices.
It’s been a while since I’ve had the time to post something here, but in the spirit of the season of giving, or a welcome break from the stresses of this time of year, I’ve forced myself to make the time now to begin sharing some of the recipes and ideas I’ve got stacked up from the last few weeks. This, then, is my new favourite soup, so much so that I’ve eaten it at least twice a week for the last several weeks, and I’m not bored of it yet. Warming and comforting, easy to throw together and perfect as a meal, either on its own or with some delicious bread, this is indeed wonderful solace from the mid-Winter routine of leaving the house for work whilst still dark and returning home when it is, alas, already dark again, its cheery orange hue adding to the uplifting effect. Not just a remedy for the Winter blues, this, I think, also makes a great first course for the sort of casual meal with friends you might want to share at this time of year, as I did the other week, following the soup with roast chicken, and everything else that entails, at our now annual faux-Christmas dinner for our friends whom are scattered across the country.
Split red lentils are particularly useful for a soup like this. Don’t worry that they disintegrate into a somewhat unappetising mush during cooking, that is what you’re after here. This yellow mush, when you blitz the finished soup, will help keep it thick and creamy, without having to add extra cream (although you can if you wish), and since they’re an extra vegetable portion too, this soup is quite healthy, and still deliciously rich. The lentils also help to make the soup go much further, so the soup is healthier on your pocket too. The quantity below easily feeds four, possibly six with extra bread, and would maybe stretch to eight as a starter. It should keep in the fridge for a day or two, and also freezes well, so if, as in Rupert’s kitchen, there are just the two of you, make the quantity below and keep half for another day, which will also save you having to use up half a leftover squash (although, you should know that, cubed and dropped into a freezer bag, I find that squash freezes quite well uncooked).
2 cloves garlic
1 butternut squash
200g split red lentils
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon dried chilli flakes
1.2 litres vegetable stock (good quality instant stock is fine – I like Marigold Bouillon)
Peel and roughly chop the onions. Heat a little olive oil in a large, heavy-bottomed pan, and add the onions, sprinkling over a little sea salt to help stop them from browning. Cook over a gentle heat for ten minutes or so, until soft. Meanwhile, peel the butternut squash and chop it roughly into cubes of around 2cm. Peel the cloves of garlic and mince them over the onions, cooking for a minute more. Tip the squash cubes into the pan, and then add the lentils and spices. Give everything a good stir, and then pour over the stock. Bring to the boil, turn the heat down, clamp on a lid and simmer for around 25 minutes, although you may need more, until the squash and lentils are tender. Once cooked, check the seasoning is to your liking and let it cool a little before carefully blitzing the soup, in batches if necessary, in a blender until smooth. If you like your soup a touch thinner, add a little extra stock.
Serves 4+, and see introduction
Don’t skip by this, thinking that it’s only for children. It’s most definitely not. Of course, children love it, but so does every grown-up I’ve ever given it too. This is another recipe that I’ve been making for years, although this one without much tweaking, since I’ve never felt the need to mess about with it. Although, having said that, I do have a hankering to try it with Snickers bars, just to see what happens. But that’s a recipe for another day. Obviously this is a treat, both tasty – it really is more than the sum of its simple parts – and a little bit naughty – you probably shouldn’t eat this every day, although it, to me at least, is highly addictive. Now, a couple of bossy instructions. The chocolate layer on top wants to be thick, hence the 300g in the recipe. You could probably get away with 200g, just, but as the old saying goes, if you’re going to get wet, you may as well go swimming. And, with all of that butter and everything else, a little extra chocolate will hardly hurt. Which leads me onto my second directive: use butter, proper butter, and not margarine or sunflower spread or anything else. However, when buying your chocolate, do bear in mind that, given the other ingredients, it would be a little redundant to go all out for the finest available. Use your favourite confectionary milk chocolate, and perhaps save the very best stuff for something a little more high-brow. That is not, however, permission to use anything labelled ‘cooking chocolate’, or worse still, ‘chocolate flavoured cake topping’.
3 Mars bars (about 60g each)
2 tablespoons golden syrup
100g puffed rice cereal, e.g. Rice Krispies
300g milk chocolate
Chop the Mars bars into smallish pieces, and cut up the butter. Dump the Mars bars and butter into a large pan with the golden syrup, and melt over a low heat, stirring often. I usually do this in a large, deep cast-iron casserole, but any large pan would do. You do have to keep an eye on it though, and keep stirring, not being tempted to turn up the heat to try and hurry things along, or the mixture may burn. It will take a while, but if you are more patient and can stand to stir for a little longer to minimise the risk of burning (which I haven’t yet managed, so don’t worry too much), you can melt everything together in a large bowl set over a pan of gently simmering water. Note that the three layers within the Mars bar, the butter and the golden syrup all melt at different speeds, so while everything is slowly melting, the contents of your pan may look a little disgusting and lumpy for a while. Stick with it, and keep stirring. Eventually, you’ll end up with a thick, glossy chocolate sauce.
Stir the rice cereal into the chocolate. You may need slightly more, but you should be able to coat 100g well enough, using a wooden spoon and a little elbow grease, with neither excess chocolate left in the bottom nor uncoated Krispies spoiling the sticky, shiny look of the finished bars. Tip into a 20cm square tin, lined with cling film or baking parchment, (just to make it easier to remove) and press down firmly to give an even-ish layer and a flat-ish top. Stick in the fridge to set until firm, perhaps about an hour.
When the base is set, break the milk chocolate into pieces and gently melt, stirring occasionally, in a suitable bowl set over a pan of barely simmering water. When the chocolate is melted, pour over the base and spread to the edges with a silicone spatula. Return to the fridge and allow the chocolate to fully set, before removing from the tin and slicing into 16 chunky bars. I would add that these will keep for a couple of days in the fridge, although I doubt they’ll last that long, but do benefit from a little while at room temperature so they are not completely solid when you bite into them.
Although I don’t really make sponge cakes that often, this is one of my favourites, and it always seems to be popular. And don’t be put off by the photo, admittedly it isn’t my best work. Having said that, the cake is never going to be a showstopper, at least appearance wise, but that isn’t really the point here, this is a comforting, old fashioned sponge sandwich. The cake itself is two really moist coconut sponge cakes, sandwiched with a coconut buttercream and topped with coconut flavoured royal icing, and is taken from Nigella Lawson’s How To Be a Domestic Goddess. The coconut flavour in the icing comes from Malibu, or coconut flavoured white rum, and as Nigella notes in her own introduction to this recipe, Malibu is quite useful for cooking with since good coconut flavouring can be quite hard to come by. If making two different types of icing seems like a bit of a faff, then I would recommend tripling the recipe for the coconut buttercream, using a third to sandwich the sponges, and the other two thirds to cover both top and sides. If you wish, you could also add a smearing of good cherry jam inside too.
From Nigella Lawson’s How To Be a Domestic Goddess
For the cake
225g unsalted butter, softened
225g caster sugar
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
200g self-raising flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
50g desiccated coconut, soaked in 150ml boiling water
For the coconut buttercream
25g dessicated coconut
75g soft unsalted butter
150g icing sugar, sieved
1 tablespoon Malibu
For the icing on top
2-4 tablespoons Malibu
125g instant royal icing (which may be labelled ‘royal icing sugar’)
Preheat the oven to 180C / 160C fan and butter and line two 20cm sandwich tins. As always, make sure all of your ingredients are at room temperature before starting. Boil the kettle, put 50g of desiccated coconut into a small bowl or jug, and pour over 150ml of boiling water. Leave this to stand and let the coconut soak up the water.
Cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, then add the eggs, one at a time, with a spoonful of the flour between each, beating in well. Then beat in the vanilla. Add the remaining flour, cornflour and baking power, and fold until all is combined. Finally, give the coconut a stir in its boiling water and then tip the whole lot into the batter. (If you wish, the original recipe does say you can whizz everything bar the coconut and water in the processor until you have a smooth batter, whizzing in the coconut at the end, but here I think the slightly longer way gives a better result.)
Pour the batter into the prepared tins, and cook for 25-30 minutes. (The original recipes says 25, I found mine needed 30, although check a 25 – a cocktail stick or cake tester should come out more or less clean.) Leave to cool in their tins for ten minutes, before turning them out onto a wire rack to cool fully.
While the cakes are cooking, toast the 25g coconut for the buttercream in a dry pan, shaking it now and then, until it is nicely golden and smells delicious. Tip it onto a plate to stop it toasting further, and allow it to get completely cold before you make the buttercream. Keep watching it – it will turn from nicely toasted to black in not much time at all.
To make the buttercream, cream together the butter and icing sugar. When you have a smooth paste, beat in the Malibu and then the cold toasted coconut. Spread onto the bottom cake, to about 2cm from the edge to allow for splurging, and then place the other cake on top, pushing down gently.
For the royal icing, add two tablespoons Malibu to the instant royal icing (basically following the liquid-to-sugar ration from the packet) and whisk (preferably with the aid of machinery) until smooth and just runny enough to coat the cake. You may need the other 1 or 2 tablespoons of Malibu to achieve this – I did. Pour the icing onto the centre of the cake, and allow it to spread out, helping it along the way with a silicone spatula if needed. Let the icing set before serving the cake.
Ok, so we’ll deal with the obvious first. A torte-pie? The torte part is in deference to the original recipe on which this is based, James Martin’s Salted Caramel Chocolate Torte, and the pie part is because, well, I made it into a pie. Of sorts. Two reasons really. The original torte just has a biscuit crumb base, and I thought extending it up the sides would be a nice touch, and since the filling is so rich, adding a little extra crumbly, buttery base to contrast this works well. Plus it saves lining a springform tin and then having to gingerly peel parchment paper from the sides of the torte and praying for a neat edge. Secondly, I really wanted to use my fluted tart tin, since I don’t as often as I feel I would like to, and anything that comes out of it looks somehow prettier for the scalloped edges.
So, this salted caramel chocolate torte-pie is a rich chocolate ganache, covering a layer of salted caramel, in a buttery biscuit base. Indulgent, rich, and, although actually it’s fairly straightforward to make, a bit of a showstopper. The caramel used is ready made, which, aside from a bit of melting, makes this practically a no-bake recipe. Specifically, I used a tin of carnation caramel condensed milk, which is readily available (at least in UK supermarkets) and seems to be a terrifically inspired response to the frankly terrifying notion of boiling a whole, unopened tin of standard condensed milk for several hours, and praying it doesn’t explode. Any thick, creamy, dulce de leche type caramel sauce will do the job.
Adapted from James Martin’s Just Desserts – I’m sure it must be in a book, and I’ve got it in a Good Food Magazine somewhere, but it’s also on the Just Desserts Free iPhone app.
375g digestive biscuits
75g unsalted butter
397g tin Carnation Caramel / 400g thick caramel sauce
1 teaspoon sea salt
300g good 70% dark chocolate
600ml double cream
25g icing sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Melt the butter in a small saucepan over a low heat. Process the digestive biscuits into crumbs, or crush them in a plastic bag using a rolling pin. With the motor running, pour the melted butter down the funnel of the processor and continue to process until the butter is evenly mixed in and the consistency is like damp sand. If you’re not using machinery, tip the biscuit crumbs into the pan with the butter and stir well to combine thoroughly. Press the mixture into the bottom and sides of a deep, fluted tart tin – mine is about 22cm across the base, and 4cm deep. Stick it in the freezer, or the fridge would do at a push, for 15 minutes.
Open the tin of caramel, and scoop out 2 tablespoons into a small bowl. Stir the teaspoon of salt into the remaining caramel. Carefully spread it across the chilled biscuit base, leaving a 1-2cm border around the edge. Chill in the fridge for 20 minutes while you make the chocolate filling.
Break the chocolate into chunks, and gently melt it in a large bowl over a pan of barely simmering water, stirring occasionally. Add a tablespoon of the double cream to the 2 tablespoons of caramel you saved earlier on, and stir well to mix. Put this little bowl into the fridge. Once the chocolate has melted, turn off the heat but leave the bowl where it is. Add about a quarter of the remaining cream, and stir until completely combined. Repeat this, adding another quarter of the cream and stirring well to combine each time, until you have added all of the cream. You will have a thick smooth and shiny chocolate sauce. Sieve (and don’t be tempted not to bother) the icing sugar into the chocolate, add the vanilla, and stir well once again to combine. Lift the bowl off of the pan and let the sauce cool for about 10 minutes.
Pour the sauce into the base, first going around the edges to seal in the caramel layer, then pouring in the rest slowly and gently shake the tin to give a smooth, even surface. Put back into the fridge and chill for at least 5 hours, preferably over night, until the chocolate is firm. When you’re ready to serve, carefully remove the tin and transfer the pie to a serving plate. Spoon the reserved cream-caramel mixture into a little freezer bad, and snip off the tiniest corner, and drizzle lines of the caramel over the pie. You could serve this with a little extra sea salt and/or single cream, but I don’t think it needs either.
Serves quite a few – I would normally suggest 8 – 10 for a pie this size, but this will easily stretch further, maybe up to 14+, after a meal since it is quite rich – but leftovers do seem to keep well in the fridge for at least a day or two.
I have been making a version of these easy, no-bake chocolate ‘cakes’ for a long time, sometimes Rocky Road (which to my mind is specifically marshmallows, glace cherries, digestive biscuits and occasionally extras, but never substitutions), sometimes a different version more akin to the traditional British ‘tiffin’ with crushed biscuits and dried fruit. When I saw these three variations in the September Sainsbury’s magazine I knew I wanted to try them all, and a recent bring-a-plate style feast at a friend’s wedding provided the perfect opportunity. These are ideal party food – made in advance, transportable (although I did use a cool bag, just in case) and most importantly delicious. These also seemed like slightly more grown-up versions of the traditional fridge cake, what with their macadamias, pistachios, amaretti and crystallised ginger. The marshmallow ones went first, of course.
The butter and honey added to the chocolate stops it from setting hard like just chocolate alone would, and the honey helps give a glossy finish. The honey flavour is not particularly pronounced, although it is perhaps slightly noticeable in the white chocolate ones. If you don’t like honey or were perhaps, perish the thought, making these for children, you could substitute the same amount of golden syrup, which is what I have used in previous incarnations of these. Indeed, if you were making these for children, I would perhaps go with the first variation, leaving out the macadamias and adding a couple of handfuls of cornflakes to replace the crunch, and maybe altering the amounts of dark and milk chocolate, although still including both – either half and half or 300g milk and 100g dark.
Each recipe, set in its 20cm square cake tin, will slice into 16 good size portions, or as part of a party feast, 25 smaller, but by no means too small, ones, and perfectly proportioned if you were serving more than one version, since everyone will want to try them all.
Recipes adapted from September 2011 Sainsbury’s Magazine
Marshmallow and macadamia chocolate fridge cake
300g dark chocolate
100g milk chocolate
100g unsalted butter
2 tablespoons clear honey
100g digestive biscuits (about 6)
100g mini marshmallows
100g macadamia nuts
Break the chocolate into squares, cut the butter into cubes and place both, with the honey, in a bowl set over a pan of barely simmering water. Stir everything occasionally until melted, smooth and glossy, being careful not to overheat. Meanwhile, chop the biscuits into small pieces, and roughly chop the macadamias, so some are halves and some are smaller pieces. Take the melted chocolate mixture off of the heat as soon as everything is melted, and add the chopped biscuits, nuts and marshmallows. I tend to try and scoop the biscuits and nuts from the chopping board, leaving behind most of the crumbs so that the finished bars aren’t too grainy. Stir everything gently to combine, making sure that everything is well coated in the chocolate mixture.
Line a 20cm square cake tin with cling film, pushing it into the corners and making it as smooth as you can. I am aware this is more easily said than done, but if I can manage it, you can. Tip the cake mix into the lined tin, pushing it into the corners and levelling the top (which of course will never be smooth, but I mean ensuring the overall cake is a similar thickness all over) with a spatula. Leave it to cool, cover the tin and chill for at least a couple of hours, longer won’t hurt, until set. (If you’re anything like me, you’ll know when it’s set from opening the fridge door every twenty minutes to check.) Once set, remove the fridge cake from it’s tin, carefully peel off the cling film, and cut into slices. Mine kept well in the fridge for a couple of days.
Almond and ginger chocolate fridge cake
300g dark chocolate
100g milk chocolate
100g unsalted butter
2 tablespoons clear honey
100g amaretti biscuits (the crunchy sort, not the soft ones)
100g crystallised stem ginger
First of all, toast the almonds by tipping them into a dry frying pan over a medium heat, and, watching vigilantly since they will go from raw to black the second you turn your back, cook, tossing them around frequently, until they start to turn golden. Remove from the heat and tip them out of the frying pan onto a waiting plate to stop them from cooking further. Then continue as for the first recipe, melting the chocolates, butter and honey slowly in a bowl over barely simmering water. While this is doing, chop the biscuits, toasted almonds and the crystallised ginger into pieces, the ginger into smaller pieces than the nuts and amaretti. Stir everything together, tip into the lined tin and cool, chill to set, remove and slice as before.
Pistachio and cherry white chocolate fridge cake
600g white chocolate
2 tbsp clear honey
100g shortbread fingers
100g glace cherries
100g shelled pistachios
The method here is similar again, so do read the first for more details, although this one contains no butter. Gently melt the chocolate with the honey, and while that’s doing, chop the biscuits, cherries and nuts. Stir everything together, and tip into the lined tin. Cool, chill in the fridge until set, and slice into bars.
‘This is so much better than something shop-bought’ is often a compliment proffered by eaters and gratefully, sometimes smugly, received by cooks. No doubt well intentioned, perhaps here this is a somewhat back-handed compliment, since the something shop-bought will generally be a mass produced, perfectly formed hump of spookily coloured ‘chicken’ mince and other ingredients of dubious provenance, frozen and reheated. Not that this sort of convenience food is always a bad thing, but here home-made is definitely better. Home made here is also necessarily different, unless you own some sort of contraption that can churn out the kievs described above. These are whole chicken breasts – one of the advantages of home made being you can have a say in what exactly goes into your food – crumbed and filled with garlic butter. So definitely a chicken kiev, but a bit different. Good different.
The garlic butter will probably mostly leak out onto the baking tray during cooking (you can just pour it back over, if you like) rather than stay sat in its little pocket (and, if anyone knows how to help it stay put, by all means leave a note in the comments below), but this just means you get moist, tender chicken breast packed with flavour. To go with these, I like creamy mash with a little of the leftover garlic butter. Rice to soak up the garlic butter would be equally good, as would some new potatoes and vegetables. Unashamedly low-rent as I sometimes like to be, I used to always have my shop-bought chicken kievs with pasta in some garlicky tomato sauce from a jar. And it was good.
I won’t deny this is a little fiddly – and, like anything breadcrumbed, generates a disproportionate amount of washing up during the preparation stage – but it’s worth it. They’re so much better than you can buy in a shop.
50g butter, slightly softened
juice of half a lemon
a tablespoon or two chopped fresh (flat-leaf) parsley leaves
2 cloves garlic
2 skinless, boneless chicken breasts
couple of tablespoons of flour
two good handfuls fresh breadcrumbs
vegetable oil, for frying
Preheat the oven to 200C / 180C fan. Put the butter, lemon juice and parsley into a small bowl and mince the garlic cloves in. Mash and mix everything with a fork to combine. With a sharp knife, make a deep slit, but not all the way through, along the fattest part of each chicken breast. Open it out slightly and stuff the garlic butter inside. Depending on the size of the chicken breasts, you may not get all of the butter in (and you could freeze the leftovers to spread onto some grilled ciabatta another day), but what you’re aiming for is to get in as much as you can while still being able to close the slit up again.
Put a couple of tablespoons of flour onto a plate and spread it out a little. Crack the egg into a shallow bowl and lightly beat it, and put the breadcrumbs into another bowl. Lay the first stuffed chicken breast onto the flour, turn it over and then shake off the excess so that the whole thing is lightly covered with flour. Next, lay the chicken piece into the beaten egg, and again turn it over so it is fully coated. Finally, lay the chicken into the breadcrumbs, and again turn it over so that a layer of crumbs sticks to the egg on both sides. Shake off any excess crumbs, remove to a plate and repeat the whole process with the second chicken breast.
Heat about a centimetre of oil in a frying pan until it sizzles when a few breadcrumbs are dropped in. Carefully lay the chicken breasts into it, and then carefully spoon oil over the top of the chicken breasts, so that the breadcrumbs on the top have all been drizzled with hot oil. Once the breadcrumbs are lightly browned, carefully transfer the kievs to a baking tray and cook in the oven for 20-25 minutes until golden brown and the chicken is cooked through. Serve as you wish, and see introduction for suggestions.
For 2, but easily doubled.
This is one of my favourite breads to make, delicious soft white bread topped with strong cheddar and onions. It started off as a homespun version of a lazy treat, those pappy white cheese-topped rolls from the supermarket in-store bakery, but it goes without saying this is infinitely better. A loaf is easily a meal in its own right, and I often just eat this, still warm from the oven, sliced, with plenty of butter, or perhaps with some caramelised onion chutney and maybe some extra cheese. It is also the bread I, not always but often, make to dunk in and soak up the sauce from a tomato-y pasta, lasagne, and, my favourite for this bread, these meatballs. It’s really a simple adaptation of my basic white bread, and you could use any relatively hard cheese, but my favourite is a strong, mature cheddar, and that’s what I most often have to hand at any rate.
I generally make two smaller loaves, rather than one larger one, or eight rolls. For the batch I’ve photographed, I made one loaf and four rolls, as I made it to have with meatballs, the loaf for slicing and dunking, and the rolls for meatball sandwiches with the leftovers for lunch the next day.
500g strong white bread flour
1 sachet (7g) easy blend yeast
1 teaspoon sugar
2 teaspoons salt
glug of good olive oil
300ml warm water
a little milk, to glaze
150g mature cheddar, grated
2 smallish or one large onion, halved and sliced, and a little oil for cooking
Put the flour, yeast, sugar, salt and 50g of the cheese into a bowl and give it a couple of turns with a spoon to mix everything up. Add a good glug of olive oil. Tip in the water, and mix everything together with a table knife or wooden spoon, trying to get as much of the flour mixed in as you can. Tip the contents of the bowl onto a lightly floured worktop, scraping out any bits of dough stuck to the bowl. Knead the bread, either by hand for 10 minutes or for around 5 in a freestanding mixer with a dough hook. When the dough is smooth and springy, it’s ready. Shape the dough into a ball. Quickly wash up the bowl, drop a little oil into the bottom and smear it up the sides. Plop the dough into the oiled bowl, then turn it over so the entire surface of the dough is lightly oiled. Cover the bowl with clingfilm or a clean tea towel, and leave until doubled in size, either an hour or so on the kitchen side or overnight in the fridge, letting it come back to room temperature before you proceed.
Preheat the oven to 200C / 180C fan. Heat a glug of oil in a frying pan over a medium heat, tip in the onions and a pinch of salt (which will stop them from browning as they fry) and cook the onions, stirring now and again, until softened. Put to one side to cool a little. Deflate the dough by pushing it down with your fingers, then on a very lightly floured surface, divide the dough into two even sized pieces, and shape into round or oval shaped loaves. Place each onto a very lightly oiled baking tray dusted with flour. If you would rather have rolls, at this point divide the dough into six or eight smaller pieces, forming them into either round or oval shapes. Place these onto, again lightly oiled and floured, baking trays, spaced slightly apart so they have room to rise. As they rise and subsequently cook, they will join together, but be easily pulled apart, giving you lovely soft sides.
Brush the tops of your loaves with a little milk, scatter over the remaining 100g grated cheddar and then the slithers of onion. Cover loosely with a piece of lightly oiled cling film or a clean tea towel, and leave to rise until doubled in size again – this can take anything from half an hour to an hour and a half. Once risen, stick in the oven and bake for 25 – 35 minutes. Check at 25 to see if it is done, by (carefully) knocking on the underside of the loaf – if it sounds hollow, it’s finished. If not, put it back for another 5 minutes. Rolls may need slightly less, loaves slightly more. If you do choose to make one big loaf, it might need upwards of 40 minutes, but do start checking before then.
When out of the oven, cool on the tray, under a clean tea towel – this will keep the crust nice and soft. Eat fairly soon. As if you wouldn’t.
This is one of my favourite meals, ever. This is real comfort food, rainy weekend afternoon in the kitchen type stuff, although I just as often make this on weekday evenings, or in the middle of summer. In fact, I should probably be embarrassed at the frequency with which I present this, as though for the first time, to friends and family visiting for dinner, but everyone loves it, and it’s easy, although takes a little time, to put together. I’ve tried various different recipes for meatballs, but always revert back to this, based on those from Nigella Lawson’s Nigella Bites. I make meatballs small enough to be cooked right in the bubbling tomato sauce, rather than larger ones which might need extra cooking first, so these are soft and tender, no crunchy outside, and the cheese, garlic and oregano mean these little nuggets of deliciousness are full of flavour.
Most often, I like to serve these with tagliatelle, sometimes pappardelle, those wider flat ribbons, but any long pasta would be good. The amount of meatballs here will easily feed four, with pasta, and would likely do for six. For six, fearing under-catering more than over-carbing, I would add bread for mopping up the sauce. For four, I would probably still add it anyway, and to that end would go with 75g pasta per person, cooked in well salted boiling water for the time directed on the packet, but checking for doneness a minute or two before that. And, whilst on the topics of bread and portion sizing, the last time I cooked this there were only three of us eating, but I made the same amount anyway, reheating the rest the following day and serving, sauce and all, in bread rolls. A triumph – now, I would cook these and keep them in the fridge just to make meatball sandwiches.
Adapted from Nigella Bites by Nigella Lawson
For the meatballs
500g organic minced beef
50g cheddar cheese, grated
1 clove garlic, minced
1 teaspoon dried oregano
3 tablespoons semolina (or, if you don’t have semolina, the same amount of breadcrumbs made from slightly stale bread)
For the tomato sauce
2 cloves garlic
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 tablespoon olive oil
680g bottle tomato passata
Put all of the meatball ingredients into a big bowl, seasoning with a little salt and freshly ground black pepper, and smoosh them all together with your hands until well mixed. I like to really squeeze everything together, until you can see that the flecks of cheese are fairly evenly distributed, and the mixture doesn’t feel too wet. The end result is something like sausage meat.
Break off small pieces of the meat and roll them into little balls, about, if you were to measure, 2 cm across. As you finish each meatball, place it onto a cling film lined plate or tray, and once you have filled a plate pop it into the fridge. Letting them rest in the fridge for the twenty minutes or so it will take you to make the sauce will help keep them firm and avoid them breaking up when cooking. The last time I counted, I got about 40 meatballs out of this mixture.
To make the sauce, first blitz the onion, garlic and oregano to a green speckled mush in the processor, or chop as finely as possible by hand. Heat the oil in a big pan, and dump in the processed onion mush, cooking over a lowish heat and stirring often, not letting it catch, for 10 minutes or until soft. Add the passata, then half-fill the bottle with water, swill it out and add this to the pan too. Add the pinch of sugar, season with a little salt and freshly ground black pepper, bring to the boil, and then turn down the heat and gently simmer for 10 minutes.
Drop the meatballs, one by one, into the sauce, and let everything simmer gently for twenty minutes, or until the meatballs have cooked. Resist the temptation to stir until the meatballs have turned from pink to brown, otherwise they may break up in the pan. Once the meatballs are cooked, if you aren’t quite ready with the pasta, it won’t hurt to stick a lid on and turn the heat down, letting them cook for a little while longer.
Serve with pasta, bread or both (and see intro).