As the evenings get darker and darker, I long for cosy evenings midweek, with comforting meals that don't take hours to prepare.
Soothing, restorative and low-key is the kind of food that I'm talking about. Delicious flavours that don't challenge or test, just nurture and nourish. If they're fairly low-maintenance and don't require every pot in the house, then I'm even happier.
This fish gratin with leeks is a meal in one, deliciously simple and easy to make in advance. It's just perfect if you're coming home late and need a hug on a plate.
The baked mushroom risotto, while not made in the authentic stirring-on-the-hob method, is fuss-free and divine. The mascarpone, while not essential, adds a silky luxuriousness that's hard to beat.
And if it's something gently spicy that you're wanting, then I recommend a dahl. Full of flavour and quick to cook, just add rice with a blob of natural yoghurt for a deliciously cosy supper.
You will need:
2 medium leeks, trimmed, washed, halved lengthwise and sliced at an angle into 2cm slices
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1kg potatoes, sliced
1 clove of garlic, peeled and crushed or finely grated
A grating of nutmeg
1 large sprig of thyme
1 bay leaf
650g filleted and skinned round white fish such as cod, hake or ling
75g grated Cheddar cheese
1 Preheat the oven to 170°C, 325°F, Gas 3.
2 Melt the butter in a saucepan on a medium heat, add the leeks, one tablespoon of water, and some salt and pepper to season. Then turn the heat down to low, cover and cook for three minutes or until the leeks are just soft. Take off the heat and lay out in a two-litre gratin dish, or an ovenproof dish measuring about 25cm x 30cm.
3 Next, place the potato slices in the empty saucepan and add the milk, the cream, the garlic, the nutmeg, the thyme sprig and the bay leaf. Season with a little salt and pepper, and bring the mixture to the boil. Once the liquid is boiling, turn the heat down to low, cover the pot, and simmer for five minutes, stirring the mixture every so often to ensure the potatoes don't stick to the bottom of the pan.
4 While the potatoes are cooking, lay the fish over the leeks to cover completely and season with a little salt and pepper.
5 When the potatoes have cooked for five minutes, take them off the heat. If you want to prepare this in advance, cool the potatoes before placing them over the fish. Arrange the potatoes and all the sauce over the fish, then scatter with the grated cheese.
6 Cook it in the preheated oven for 50 minutes, or until it is golden, bubbling and the potatoes are cooked. If it is golden after 40 minutes but the potatoes are not yet tender, cover with a sheet of baking parchment and continue to cook until they are tender.
You will need:
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 onion, peeled and finely chopped
3 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed or finely grated
2 teaspoons coriander seeds
2 teaspoons cumin seeds
1 teaspoon black mustard seeds
2 teaspoons grated root ginger
4 green cardamom pods, seeds extracted and crushed
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
1 tablespoon tomato puree
250g red lentils, rinsed
700ml light chicken or vegetable stock
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2-3 tablespoons chopped coriander
Squeeze of lemon or lime juice
1 Preheat the oven to 180°C, 350°F, Gas 4.
2 Heat the oil in an ovenproof saucepan or casserole pot over a medium-low heat, add the onion and garlic, cover and cook for 8-10 minutes, until soft.
3 As the onion and garlic cook, toast the coriander and cumin seeds. Place the seeds in a frying pan on a high heat and cook, tossing frequently, for about one minute or until they are slightly browned. They toast very quickly, so take care not to burn them. To grind them into a powder, use a pestle and mortar, or a spice grinder, or place in a plastic bag and use a rolling pin to crush them.
4 Add the cumin and the coriander to the onions, along with the mustard seeds, the grated ginger, the cardamom and the turmeric. Cook for one minute, then add the tomato puree and the red lentils and stir for one minute before adding the chicken or vegetable stock, whichever you're using.
5 Bring to the boil, season with salt and pepper, cover and bake in the oven for 8-10 minutes, or until the lentils are cooked and have soaked up all the liquid.
6 Add the chopped coriander and season to taste, adding a little squeeze of lemon or lime juice, whichever you're using, if necessary.
7 Serve with rice and a dollop of natural yoghurt on top.
You will need:
25g dried porcini mushrooms
200ml boiling water
400ml chicken or vegetable stock
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, chopped
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
200g risotto rice
100ml white wine
250g sliced mushrooms
4 tablespoons grated Parmesan, plus extra for serving
1 tablespoon chopped marjoram or thyme
Good squeeze of lemon juice
1-2 tablespoons mascarpone
1 In a heatproof bowl, combine the dried porcini mushrooms and boiling water. Leave to soak for 20 minutes, or until soft.
2 Preheat the oven to 180°C, 350°F, Gas 3. Place the chicken or vegetable stock, whichever you're using, in a saucepan and over a medium-low heat, and bring to just under a simmer.
3 In a medium ovenproof saucepan or casserole pot with a lid, melt 25g of the butter over a medium heat. Add the onion and the garlic, turn the heat down to low, and cook for 6-8 minutes until soft.
4 As the onion is cooking, drain the porcini mushrooms but reserve the soaking liquid. Roughly chop the porcinis and set aside, then strain the soaking liquid (it may contain a little bit of grit) and add to the simmering stock. Season this liquid with salt and pepper.
5 Add the chopped porcinis to the onions and cook, stirring frequently, for 1-2 minutes. Next, stir in the rice and cook for two minutes, stirring constantly but gently. Add in the white wine, stir and cook for 2-3 minutes until it has evaporated. Now pour in the simmering stock, stir to combine, place a lid on top and put the saucepan or casserole in to the oven. Cook for 10-12 minutes, until just al dente.
6 As the risotto is in the oven, place a frying pan on a high heat, add 25g of butter and when hot, add the sliced mushrooms, cook, stirring occasionally for 3-5 minutes until wilted and lightly golden. Remove from the heat and set aside.
7 Remove the risotto from the oven, add the grated Parmesan and the remaining 25g of butter, then use a wooden spoon to vigorously stir everything together - this helps to release some of the starches from the rice. Stir in the sauteed mushrooms, the chopped herbs, the lemon juice and the mascarpone. Serve immediately, with some extra grated Parmesan on top.
When sauteing mushrooms for the baked risotto, make sure to cook them over a high heat until completely wilted to really enhance their great umami-packed flavour.
Darina Allen's brand new book, One Pot Feeds All, is just what you want for cooking cosy suppers and lunches at this time of the year. Full of delicious recipes that'll keep you and your loved ones happy and well fed, my favourites are the lamb and pearl-barley stew with gremolata, and the roast cauliflower with saffron and bay and crispy chicken.
This is the time of the year for root vegetables, and no other type of veggie loves being sliced and layered into a gratin dish and cooked with some stock or cream like carrots, parsnips and Swede turnips. Add herbs or spices for an extra oomph..