Hearty winter dining
After the excesses of the festive season, the next few months call for healthy yet hearty dinners that won’t leave you hungry for more. Our friends at Stirred have compiled a three-course winter menu full of flavour and nourishment. To start, we have Minestra D’Inverno (more commonly known as Winter Minestrone), a warming and filling soup; for the main course, there’s beautiful Baked Seabass with Saffron Aioli; and to finish, a deliciously light and zingy Lemon and Basil Sorbet (when it comes to ice cream and sorbet, we don’t care if it’s cold outside!).
Minestra D’inverno (Winter Minestrone)
A soup that is finished in the oven, and which is incredibly rib-sticking, nourishing and delicious. The quantities given are large, so invite a lot of hungry friends, or save some for the next day. Italians show a penchant for eating their heartier soups as leftovers at room temperature. This may seem slightly unappetising, but believe me, one can acquire the taste. (Minestrone for breakfast?)
250g dried broad beans, soaked overnight
1 smoked gammon hock (knuckle)
2 bay leaves, 1 sprig rosemary, 1 sprig thyme, tied into a bouquet garni
2 carrots, peeled
2 celery sticks, strung
2 onions, peeled
1 large turnip
2 large potatoes, peeled
500g winter greens (if possible, cavolo nero), or outer leaves of Savoy cabbage
2 garlic cloves, peeled
6 small dried chillies
Good olive oil
Parmesan, freshly grated
- To cook the beans, drain and rinse then put in a large pan with the ham hock and approximately twice their volume of water. Bring to the boil, drain and discard the water. Replace with fresh cold water in the same proportion and return to the boil. Turn the heat down low and skim thoroughly. Add the bouquet garni and simmer until tender, between 1 and 2 hours, depending on how old the beans are (older beans are drier and take longer to cook). Allow to cool in their liquor. Keep the bouquet garni. Refrigerate if necessary.
- To cook the soup, preheat the oven to 150°C/300°F/Gas 2. Cut the carrots, celery, onions, turnip and potatoes into 5mm dice. Prepare the greens by cutting out the stalks then rolling up the leaves into a cylinder (or cigar), then slicing finely across. Pulverise the garlic and chillies in a spice blender or in a mortar and pestle.
- Put the diced vegetables, apart from the potatoes, in an ovenproof casserole dish with 3 tbsp olive oil. Sweat over a low heat for 10 minutes, then add the garlic and chilli mix and the diced potatoes. Toss, then add the cooking liquor from the beans and ham plus the bouquet garni, as well as the beans. Shred the cooked ham and add along with the ham bones. Add enough water to cover the solids and stir. Continue simmering while you add all these ingredients.
- Cover the casserole and bake in the preheated oven for 1 hour. After this time check the soup is not completely solid. Add a little water if necessary, and the shredded greens. Stir, re-cover and return to the oven for 30 minutes. Remove from the oven and leave in a safe place, lid on, to cool down (it will be volcanically hot).
- Serve directly from the casserole, opening it at the table. Offer grated Parmesan and new-season olive oil.
Copyright Alastair Little
For the main course
Baked seabass with saffron aioli
Always allow 1lb of Seabass per person if calculating the whole fish, as the bones and excess trimmings are heavy.
1 fennel bulb, halved and thinly sliced
1 lemon, sliced in discs
150ml dry white vermouth
100ml olive oil
1 packet or 1 small bunch flat leaf parsley, plus extra for decoration
Salt and pepper
- Clean, scale and gut the fish (get your fishmonger to do this). Smear the fish with some olive oil, salt and pepper. Grill the fish on a barbecue or very hot grill and seal it for about 4 minutes either side. Remove the head and tail if it is too big to fit in your grill, and cook separately. (If you do not have a plate big enough to serve the whole fish then discard the head and tail).
- Pre-heat the oven to 175°C /325°F/Gas 4. Spread a piece of greased foil or baking parchment on a baking sheet and place the fish on top. (This makes it easier for lifting out the fish once cooked.) Season the inside of the fish, then pour the vermouth and remaining oil over the fish. Place the fennel, lemon slices and parsley sprigs inside and on top of the fish. Tightly seal the foil, making sure there are no gaps for steam to escape.
- Place the fish in the oven for about 45 minutes. Wrap the fish head and tail separately if too large to fit on the tray whole. To check the fish is cooked, remove from the oven and open the foil, lightly press the flesh. It should be firm and the eye opaque. (To convince any skeptic, carefully lift a small piece of flesh nearest the back bone – if the flesh is cooked near the bone, it is ready.) Rest the fish in the foil for at least 30 minutes before serving. Place the head and tail back on to the fish before serving, hiding the join with some of the fennel and lemon, then drizzle over the juices from the foil and a few fresh sprigs of parsley.
- Serve with thinly sliced fennel tossed in olive oil and lemon juice, boiled new potatoes and saffron aioli.
Copyright Sophie Braimbridge
On the side…
Aioli is a garlic mayonnaise. The experts say to make a truly authentic recipe, there should be enough garlic in the mayonnaise to give you a brief headache when you eat it! I have added saffron to make it a lovely rich yellow colour. This works very well with any fish recipe or as a dip for vegetables such as grilled asparagus.
2 egg yolks
1/2 sachet or one large pinch of saffron blades
200ml extra virgin olive oil
Juice of 1/2 large lemon
2 large cloves garlic
- Crush the garlic in salt and mix with the lemon juice and saffron. Mix the egg yolks in a medium size bowl and slowly pour in the olive oil, drop by drop to start with, beating with a whisk, adding in a steady thin drizzle once the mixture thickens. If the mixture becomes too thick, add a little lemon juice to thin it down. When all the oil has been added, mix in the remaining lemon juice and garlic. Cover with cling film to prevent a skin. Add 1 tablespoon water if the aioli is too thick.
- Cover with cling film to prevent a skin forming. Do not over stir before serving as it might split.
Copyright Sophie Braimbridge
For the finale…
Lemon and basil sorbet
Makes about 1 litre (32 fl. oz – 4 cups)
350g granulated sugar
24 approx. basil leaves
- Scrub the fruit in warm soapy water, rinse and dry. Use a sharp potato peeler to remove the peel from the oranges and lemons (without chipping the white pith) and put this into a non-reactive saucepan. Add the water and the sugar. Bring slowly to the boil and boil rapidly for 3-4 minutes to reduce slightly the amount of liquid.
- Remove from the heat, and allow to cool. When cool, strain into a bowl.
- Meanwhile, squeeze the lemons and oranges, strain, and add this to the syrup. Tear up the basil leaves into very small pieces and add these as well. Chill overnight.
- When ready still-freeze like a granita OR start the ice-cream machine and pour in the liquid. Leave to churn for 10-15 minutes or until the sorbet is firm enough to serve.
- To store, quickly scrape into plastic freezer boxes (give a good stir to mix the basil leaves evenly as they habit of getting wound round the paddles). Cover with waxed or greaseproof paper and a lid. Finally label and freeze.
- Allow 10-15 minutes in the fridge to soften sufficiently before serving.
Copyright Maxine Clark