It has been a week of comfort eating – the result, no doubt, of a combination of things: lockdown, a hungry gap and damp winter weather.
There were no grilled vegetables this week; no bowls of miso soup. Just deep dishes of baked pasta with cream and roast chicken; chicory dressed with blue cheese; even a splendid row of little chocolate puddings with butterscotch sauce.
This is clearly the food that I need right now, as well as the kitchen stalwarts, such as baked potatoes with butter and cheese; aubergine parmigiana, potato gratin; a bean bake with black treacle and chilli, and a couple of absurdly hearty pasta suppers.
I made lasagne one day last week, for the first time in living memory.
My eating seems to have become a catalogue of old favourites, familiar flavours and soft, cosseting textures.
With a change in the weather on the horizon and the possibility of being allowed out to play again, this is no doubt about to change – and I am champing at the bit.
But for now I am comfortably installed in carb corner, making sure that there is also something for pudding – preferably of the baked or steamed variety, with a trickle of sticky sauce running from its crown.
They say “listen to what your body wants”. Well, I’m listening.
Chicken, pasta, cream and almonds
If you are making this from scratch, I suggest using chicken thighs rather than breasts – the brown meat being more succulent. But you could use leftover roast chicken instead. Just be sure to include any roasting juices and the flavoursome jelly from under the bird. This is a substantial dish but one plate of vegetables at the side will be welcome. My own choice is steamed winter cabbage with olive oil. Serves 4
rosemary sprigs 4
black peppercorns 8
olive oil 4 tbsp
chicken thighs 1 kg
pasta such as trofie, fusilli etc 250g
lemon 1, zest
dry marsala 100ml
double cream 250ml
Set the oven at 200C/gas mark 6. Remove the leaves from the rosemary and put them in a spice grinder or mortar. Add the black peppercorns and 1 tsp of sea salt flakes, reduce to a coarse powder using the grinder or a pestle then stir in the olive oil.
Put the chicken thighs into a roasting tin, pour the herbed oil over them and turn the thighs to coat the chicken evenly. They should end up skin-side up. Roast for 35 to 40 minutes, until the skin is crisp and golden.
Remove the chicken from the oven and let it rest for 10 minutes, then remove the meat from the bones. Keep the pieces fairly large.
Bring a deep pan of water to the boil and salt it generously. Cook the pasta in the boiling water for about 9 minutes. While it’s cooking, pull the tarragon and parsley leaves from their stems and roughly chop them. Finely grate the lemon zest and add to the tarragon and parsley.
Put the flaked almonds in a shallow pan and toast them over a moderate heat till evenly golden, then set them aside.
Drain the pasta. Pour all but a couple of tablespoons of fat out of the roasting tin, place it over a moderate heat, pour in the marsala and stir it, to dissolve any caramelised roasting juices. Pour in the cream and leave it to bubble for a couple of minutes. Add the chicken to the sauce and, once it is hot, stir in the pasta.
Add the lemon zest, herbs and almonds, transfer to a warm serving dish and serve.
Steamed chocolate pudding, maple syrup sauce
If you prefer, make one larger pudding. You will need a 1.2 litre pudding basin with a snap-on lid. Steam for 90 minutes. Makes 3 small puddings or 1 larger one
For the pudding:
soft brown sugar 75g
golden caster sugar 75g
self-raising flour 100g
ground almonds 50g
cocoa powder 50g
For the maple sauce:
maple syrup 100ml
double cream 200ml
Butter three 300ml pudding basins – I use plastic ones with snap-on lids – and put baking parchment in the base if you are worried about the puddings sticking.
Put the butter and sugars in a food mixer and cream until fluffy. Mix together the flour, ground almonds and cocoa. Break the eggs into a bowl and beat lightly. With the beater still on, add the eggs to the butter and sugar, a little at time. (If they start curdling, add some of the flour mix.)
Put a deep pan of water on to boil, just enough to come halfway up the sides of the pudding basins (or cook them in a steamer basket over a pan of boiling water.)
With the machine on low speed, fold the flour, almonds and cocoa into the butter and sugar mix, then the milk. When no signs of flour are left, transfer to the pudding basins; smoothing the top.
Cover the basins with their lids, and lower into the simmering water. Top with a weight to hold them in place, cover the pan with a lid and steam for 30 minutes. (If you are using a steamer basket, lower the covered puddings into the basket and seal tightly with a lid.) Check the water from time to time and top up if necessary.
To make the sauce, pour the maple syrup into a pan and bring to the boil, pour in the cream and stir till mixed.
When you are ready to serve, remove the puddings from their water and leave for 10 minutes to settle. Shake the puddings from their pots and remove the paper and foil, slide a palette knife around the sides and tip upside down on to a plate. Serve with the maple sauce.