Wednesday 13 December 2017

Winter warmers

Every country has its own list of comfort food, says Brenda Costigan, and every stomach will enjoy the cosy embrace of a Hungarian goulash, French cassoulet or Italian osso bucco

With the cold winds whipping around us at the moment, our bodies use extra calories to keep warm. So, in winter, we need extra food. Eating hot food is a great help, but the calories included are most important.

Every country has its own list of comfort-food recipes, some of which are outlined below. The beauty of the following recipes is that they benefit from a bit of sitting around -- even from reheating.

Having reheated a dish once, I would suggest any further reheating be done in single servings only. Make an extra amount of the recipe and freeze it in individual portions, ready for an instant meal (defrosting the portion in the microwave).


This is the classic Hungarian goulash with lots of mild paprika. I like to include a little cayenne pepper which gives a marvellous hot kick. I am also partial to adding sliced carrots, because they are low in calories, they absorb the flavours of the casserole and help make the meat go further. Serves 6.

You will need:

900g (2lb) stewing beef (a combination of rib and round steaks is very good)

3-4 tablespoons olive oil

200g (7oz) rashers, chopped

350-450g (12-16oz) onions, sliced

2 garlic cloves, chopped

1-2 heaped teaspoons paprika (not a hot one)

570ml (1pt) beef stock

1 x 400g (14oz) tin chopped tomatoes

1 tablespoon tomato puree

1 glass red wine (optional)

175g (6oz) mushrooms, sliced

4 carrots, sliced

2 sticks celery, chopped

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1/4 -1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper (very hot)

1/4 teaspoon oregano

1/4 teaspoon thyme

25g (1oz) each butter and flour, to thicken

Chopped fresh parsley, to serve

Mashed potato, rice or tagliatelle, to serve

Greek-style yoghurt or creme fraiche, to serve

Cut the stewing beef into generous, bite-sized chunks, discarding any fat and gristle, and fry the chunks in some of the olive oil in a pan, in small lots, until they are browned. Transfer them to a heavy saucepan or casserole. Fry the chopped rashers until they are lightly golden and then add them to the meat.

Fry the sliced onions and the chopped garlic until they are soft, then add the paprika, and cook gently for a minute or so. Add this mixture to the meat. Pour the beef stock into the meat, adding the tinned tomatoes, the tomato puree and the red wine, if you are using it. Stir, and then add in the sliced mushrooms, the sliced carrots and the chopped celery. Season well with some salt and freshly ground black pepper. Add the cayenne pepper, the oregano and the thyme.

If you're using a saucepan, bring the contents to the boil, then simmer very gently with the lid on until the meat is tender -- about 1?-2 hours.

If you're using a casserole dish, cover it with a tight-fitting lid and cook in the oven until the meat is tender -- about 2-3 hours at 170 C, 325 F, Gas 3.

To thicken the juices, mash together the butter and flour to make a kneaded-butter paste. Drop teaspoons of this paste into the steadily simmering casserole, stirring briskly for a few minutes to cook the paste and thicken the juices.

Serve the casserole with the chopped fresh parsley scattered generously over it. Serve with mashed potatoes, rice or tagliatelle, and accompany with Greek-style yoghurt or creme fraiche.


A classic British recipe, otherwise known as bangers and mash. It's easy to cook, tasty to eat, economical on the purse strings and comforting on cold days. There is an interesting range of different sausages available to choose from.

The onions can be cooked slowly while you put the potatoes on to cook and fry the sausages. This simple recipe is inspired by one of Gary Rhodes's. Serves 4.

You will need:

3-4 tablespoons olive oil

3-4 onions, sliced

8 large sausages (such as pork and leek sausages)

1 teaspoon demerara sugar

1-2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar

1 level tablespoon flour

300ml (10fl oz) tinned beef consomme or beef stock

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

700g (1.5lb) potatoes, peeled, cooked and mashed with a lump of butter, to serve

Heat two tablespoons of the olive oil in a frying pan or saucepan. Add the sliced onions, cover loosely and fry over a moderate-to-low heat until the onions have caramelised, stirring occasionally. Meanwhile, using a separate frying pan, fry the sausages in the remaining oil until they are nicely browned and cooked through. Keep them warm.

Add the demerera sugar and the balsamic vinegar to the onions, then stir in the flour to make a thin paste and cook gently for a minute or two.

Slowly stir in the tinned beef consomme or beef stock, whichever you are using, and continue stirring and cooking while the sauce comes to the boil and thickens. Season with some salt and freshly ground black pepper.

If you like, you can add the sausages to the gravy and simmer gently for a few minutes. Serve with mashed potatoes.


This is a rich stew of haricot beans and assorted meats, real comfort food from southwest France, finished with a crusty topping of breadcrumbs. Duck, goose portions or chunks of pork -- you name it, really -- are often included. Recipes vary from house to house in France. This version is inspired by a Nigel Slater recipe. Serves 4-5.

You will need:

4 large spicy sausages (chorizo is suitable)

1 duck breast or thigh, cut in thick slices (see note)

2-3 tablespoons olive oil

225g (8oz) smoked bacon with plenty of fat, cut into large dice

1 pork chop, cut in large dice

1 large onion, roughly chopped

3-4 garlic cloves, chopped

2 x 425g (13oz) tins of haricot beans or butter beans, drained

2-3 tablespoons red wine (optional)

1 x 400g (14oz) tin chopped tomatoes

1 teaspoon tomato puree

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

2 teaspoons mustard, preferably wholegrain

1 bay leaf

1/4 - 1/2 teaspoon of herbes de Provence or mixed herbs

About 50g (2oz) breadcrumbs


Chicken can be used instead, though duck will have more flavour.

Fry the sausages and the duck slices in the olive oil until their fat runs out and the meat is golden brown. Lift out the meat with a perforated spoon and transfer it to a casserole or saucepan. Add the diced smoked bacon and the diced pork chop to the pan and fry them until they are golden, then lift them out and put into the casserole along with the other meats. Fry the roughly chopped onion and the chopped garlic cloves until they are golden and add them to the casserole. Scatter the tinned haricot beans or butter beans, whichever you are using, around the meats.

Put the red wine, if you are using it, the tin of chopped tomatoes, and the tomato puree into the frying pan and season with some salt and freshly ground black pepper. Stir in the mustard, the bay leaf and the herbes de Provence or the mixed herbs, whichever you are using, bring to the boil and pour over the contents of the casserole. Cover, bring to the boil and simmer gently for 30-40 minutes until the meat is tender.

Scatter the breadcrumbs over the top of the cassoulet and brown it under a grill or in a hot oven.


This great winter casserole/stew is a classic example of Italian comfort food. Traditionally, it is made with shin of veal, also known as veal shank. The shin is sliced across in thick 3.5-5cm (1?-2in) slices so that a cross-section of the bone is in the centre of each slice, complete with the marrow, which is a feature of the dish. The marrow is particularly good spread on thin slices of toast. Depending on the amount of meat on the shin of veal, one slice per serving is usually enough.

As veal is not easy to get, baby beef is an alternative suggestion. Serves 6.

You will need:

Flour, to dust

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

6 slices shin of veal or baby beef, with bones in, 3.5-5cm (1?-2in) thick

2 tablespoons olive oil

50g (2oz) butter

2 onions, finely chopped

2 garlic cloves, chopped

2 carrots, diced

2 sticks celery, chopped small

175-200ml (6-7fl oz) white wine or cider

175-200ml (6-7fl oz) chicken stock

1 x 400g tin of chopped tomatoes or 350g (12oz) fresh tomatoes, skinned and chopped

1 tablespoon tomato puree (if using fresh tomatoes)

Small teaspoon sugar

1/2 teaspoon herbes de Provence

Rice or risotto, to serve

For the gremolata, you will need:

2 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped

1 garlic clove, crushed

Finely grated rind of 1 lemon (unwaxed if possible)

Mix a little flour with some salt and freshly ground black pepper, and use this to very lightly dust the veal or baby beef, whichever you are using. Heat the olive oil in a frying pan and add some of the butter. Fry a few pieces of meat at a time until they are browned on both sides then lift them out on to a plate. Next, fry the finely chopped onions and the chopped garlic, adding more oil or butter as required. After a few minutes, add the diced carrots and the chopped celery. Stir over the heat for a few minutes.

Put the slices of meat in a heavy-based saucepan or a casserole. Ideally, the slices should be placed standing upright, side by side, to steady them, so to speak. Doing so helps prevents the marrow from falling out of the bone during cooking. Pour the vegetables in around the meat then add the white wine or cider, whichever you are using, the chicken stock, the tinned or fresh chopped tomatoes, whichever you are using, the tomato puree, if you are using it, and the sugar. Stir, and then add the herbes de Provence and some more salt and freshly ground black pepper. Bring to the boil, cover and simmer gently for about 1? hours, or until the meat is really tender.

To make the gremolata, mix together the chopped fresh parsley, the crushed garlic clove and the finely grated lemon rind. Scatter this over the stew or over each serving. Serve with rice or risotto.

Variation: Osso Bucco with Lamb

Instead of veal, lamb shanks can be sliced across in thick slices, with the bone in the centre. Add a teaspoon of Dijon mustard to the casserole.

Variation: Osso Bucco with Shin Beef

The circumference of a shin of beef is much larger than that of veal so one slice of shin of beef is almost enough for two. Also, being a tougher cut, shin beef takes much longer to cook, but it has very good flavour.

Prepare in the same way as the osso bucco recipe above, except cook it for about three hours until the meat is so tender that it almost melts in the mouth. Red wine may be used instead of the white, or use cider. Because the dish will take longer to cook, cut the vegetables in bigger chunks and be a little more generous with the stock.

Check with your butcher in advance and order the meat, because shin of beef on the bone is not available every day.

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