In winter there is something very nurturing about cooking up great vats of heartiness which improve greatly after a day or two. It doesn’t get much better than arriving home on a cold day to a pot of food that only needs to be reheated.
I am fussy about stew. I was brought up on it but was also subjected to horrendous sludgy, congealed versions of it, courtesy of school dinners and other unfortunate events. But I remember a very good beef stew that my mother routinely made which, like this one, could be made a day ahead. Make in advance and it will sit silently, amassing more flavour. This will feed 4 adults.
100g pot barley
3 medium onions
2 stalks celery
1 large parsnip
4 medium potatoes
8 chunky neck of lamb chops
Some bay leaves
Boil the barley in unsalted water for 25 minutes. Drain and set aside.
Heat the oven to 160˚C. Peel onions and slice thickly. Cut the celery into short lengths. Peel the carrots, parsnips and potatoes and chop into fat chunks. Put the vegetables into a deep pot which can be used on the hob and in the oven, then add the bay leaves and chops. Season with a little white pepper, but no salt. Pile the barley on top and add enough stock to completely cover the meat and vegetables. Slowly bring it to the boil.
Using a slotted spoon, skim any froth from the top of the pot. Cover the top with a piece of greaseproof paper and put a lid on it. Pop it into the oven undisturbed for 2 hours. On removing from the oven, add the chopped parsley, stirring it in carefully so as not to mush up the vegetables. Season with salt and black pepper, put the lid on again and leave overnight.
Before reheating, use a spoon to remove fat from the top. Reheat it slowly but well, and season very well before serving piping hot in large bowls with some good bread on the side.
GINGER PRAWN BROTH
This is the type of soup I make just for myself or someone special. It’s perfect for a light lunch with a friend or add some rice noodles for a more substantial meal.
500ml vegetable stock (I use Marigold vegetable bouillon)
Thumb-sized piece of root ginger
1 tbsp fish sauce
200g mixed vegetables such as mange tout , sugar snaps, baby corn, green beans, baby carrots
12 large raw prawns
Handful coriander or mint leaves
Soy sauce to season
Put the stock, ginger and fish sauce in a pan and bring to a simmer. Cook the vegetables in the broth until just tender.
Add the prawns and cook until pink. Divide between 2 bowls, scatter with the herbs and season with soy sauce.
CHICKEN WITH APRICOTS AND HARISSA
Harissa, a hot North African paste of red chillies, garlic, cumin, corriander and mint, has become fashionable in Western cooking over the past decade. Subsequently all major supermarkets now stock great versions of it. If you prepare this in advance, simply reheat at 180˚C for about half an hour. This will serve 6 people.
2 tbsp olive oil
12 chicken thighs, skin on
2 medium onions
2 stalks celery
2 cloves garlic
2 x 400g tins of tomatoes
140g dried apricots
1 tbsp lemon juice
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp cumin
3 tbsp harissa paste
2 tbsp fresh coriander
Heat the oil in a large pan. Add the chicken thighs and brown, skin side down. Once brown, place the thighs in a large ovenproof dish in a single layer.
Chop the onion and celery. Pour any remaining oil out of the pan and add the onion and celery. Cover the pan with damp greaseproof paper, followed by a lid, and cook on a low to medium heat for about 15 minutes, until the vegetables are soft.
Heat the oven to 180˚C. Take the lid and paper off the pan, crush the garlic and add it to the pan, cooking it for 1 minute. Shred the apricots and add them to the pan along with the tomatoes, lemon juice, cinnamon and cumin. Heat gently and season with the harissa paste, salt and freshly ground black pepper. Pour the mixture over the chicken and bake for 1 hour in the oven.
Sprinkle the chicken with freshly chopped coriander and serve on a bed of boiled rice. Try stirring some chopped pistachios or fresh mint into the rice for more flavour.