The Christmas decorations never last for long after New Year’s Day at X&HTowers. We never see the point in hanging about. Saturnalia is finished for another season, and there are things to be done. Yesterday was spent getting the house straight, and ourselves ready for the return to work.
A busy day, then, and a good meal was needed once the tinsel and tree were back in the loft. The eating would be simple and sustaining. There’s no point in trying to diet in the New Year. There are still too many treats hanging around. We have an untouched panetonne and a cupboard full of sweeties ready and waiting to blow any foolhardy resolutions right out of the water. But the rich dinners can be scaled back to something less epic, a little more nurturing.
The two cookery books I had from Santa seem to point the way. Nigel Slater’s Tender is a lovely, expansive paen to the ways of the vegetable, while Robin Ellis’ Delicious Meals For Diabetics (no, I’m not, thanks for asking) similarly makes a strong case for sidelining the meat in favour of fish and greenery.
Now, I’m a lapsed vegetarian, which means two things. While I’m much more prone to understand and even appreciate the veggie diet, I’m also far too much of a carnivore to take Nigel and Robin’s route. But their simple approach does key in with mine, and I intend to let them guide my cooking in 2012. In particular, both cooks extol the virtues of the humble white bean. And on a cold, blustery night, I can see what they’re on about. With a pack of sausages in the freezer, I see dinner forming in my head.
A leek, a yellow pepper and a celery stalk, all chopped finely, go into a pan of foaming butter and oil, to sweat off gently. The leek needs to become soft and vibrantly green, but no browning, please. Leeks don’t caramelise like onions, and a brown leek simply tastes burnt. Once they’re done to your liking, whip them out of the pan. In goes a double handful of mushrooms, a couple of cloves of garlic, and a whole green chilli. Stab the chilli a few times before it goes in. Imagine it’s the relative that gave you those horrible socks for Christmas.
Once the mushrooms and garlic are golden, return the leek, pepper and celery mix to the pan, along with a glass of wine. Whatever you’re drinking at the time is fine. Let that reduce down, then throw in a tin of tomatoes and a tin of beans. I tend to have a three-bean salad mix kicking around in the cupboard, but use borlotti or other robust, floury legume as you like. I’m not convinced red kidney beans work as well as a white variety here. Bring everything to a happy bubble, and let it chatter to itself for a while. Maybe 40 minutes. Taste it a few times. You’ll notice a background warmth coming out from the chili. Hoik it out when the stew is as spicy as you like. It won’t be nose-tingly using this method, but it will give the stew a glow.
Every time you taste, give everything a good squish around with a spatula, crushing some of the beans against the side of the pan. Don’t go nuts; this is supposed to be a stew, not a mash. But you’ll find things starting to go a little bit thick and creamy. That’s the texture we’re after.
Meanwhile, sausages. In a pan with no oil, and no pricking. Cook them gently. Slow and low, that is the tempo. Let them develop a nice crust. You should hold your nerve, and give your porkers a good half-hour like this. About ten minutes before serve-up, throw in a little more wine, to give the sausages a kind of glaze. Again, whatever you’re drinking is fine.
After forty minutes of gentle, vaguely attentive cooking (i.e. wandering into the kitchen every fifteen minutes or so to give everything a turn, a squidge and a stir) you should be good to serve. The sausages will be sticky and gooey with a richly-flavored crust. The stew will be rich, flavoursome and unctuous. Pile it into big bowls and fill your faces. There’ll probably be enough stew left for tomorrow. Have it on its own with some bread, or stir in some bacon. It’s a great way to gird your loins for everything the New Year is likely to throw at you.