Here’s a dish to match the winter waistline. Hetty cooked this a couple of weeks ago one cold windy night in deepest Suffolk. We had been working outside all day and when she brought it to the table we proceeded to pitch ourselves over the top of the dish and drown in a rich, fragrant, warm, herb infused dish of braised vegetables with the most wonderful muffin top. And muffin tops were what we ended up with after third helpings!
Originally posted on BBC Good Food website as a beef stew, it is easily subverted into a vegetarian version.
Gently sweat three or four banana shallots or onions in olive oil, chopped garlic and a bay leaf. Meanwhile put a good handful of dried mushrooms in a pan with 300ml water, bring to the boil and cook for about 15 minutes till the mushrooms are dehydrated and the liqour has reduced to about 200ml and inky dark. Chop carrots, celery, celeriac and swede into 2.5cm cubes and add to the onion with a little more oil, a new bayleaf, a little dried thyme and a pinch of dried chilli. Stir and put the lid on and cook for another 10 minutes or so. Then add 450g chopped tomatoes (minus the pips). Stir again and cook for another 10 minutes without the lid, then add the mushrooms and the liquor and 25ml Worcestershire sauce. Taste, once all the ingredients are incorporated, and adjust seasoning. You are aiming for what I would call a heavy, rich, woody flavour rather than thin and under-seasoned. I have subsequently added whole vacuum packed chestnuts and fresh mushrooms and it is equally scrummy.
If you have cooked the vegetables in a double handed pan that can be transferred to the oven, all the better. Otherwise, transfer to a dish. Now for the muffin top.
Into 125g plain white flour mixed with 100g wholemeal flour (all purpose, not bread flour) mix 1 tsp salt, 2 flat tsps of mustard powder, 100g strong grated cheddar, 2 tbsp olive oil and 150ml milk. Mix together until it looks like a wet scone mixture then simply spoon it on top of the vegetable stew base, sprinkle about 50g grated cheese on top and put on the middle shelf of the oven at 150C (or 130C in a fan oven). Check it after 15 minutes, but its more likely to be ready in 20. The trick here is to use a relatively shallow dish rather than a deep one so that the muffin top cooks through. The first time I cooked this, the chickens really enjoyed the uncooked muffin that lurked neath the fine brown golden crust! I had the fan oven temperature too high and used a deep rather than a wide dish.