Well here’s Charlie’s veg box in week 4. Week 3, sadly, disappeared in a haze of paracetamol, lemon and honey. No matter – let’s get on with the show. And stop coughing!
The sight of this wonderful mixture steered me toward comfort eating. Now it’s true that the cold I’ve had makes me want to eat one handed. You know, the sort of food you can only eat with a spoon, from a warm bowl of steaming goodness which is comfortably nestled against the chest whilst curled up on the sofa….. the other hand ready with the tissues etc….. but there really is little to match the rich earthiness of root vegetables cooked in a rich broth and topped off with little dumplings, all light and herby. It just tastes so damned nourishing.
I realise of course that you might not keep home made vegetable stock in your freezer. Elsewhere on this blog you will find a recipe if you are so inclined. Thus you can always use my standby. A Knorr vegetable stock pot (those little plastic ones that come in packs of four), zhooshed up a bit with one tablespoon light soy sauce, one tablespoon of that good old standby Burgess’ mushroom ketchup and one clove of garlic (crushed) and all added to 750ml boiling water.
Prepare your vegetables. One chopped onion, one sliced leek, two chopped carrots, two chopped potatoes, and any other root vegetables you have to hand (turnip, celeriac, kohl rabi). The key is to have a mixture and to ensure a balance of flavours. Remember that vegetables such as parsnip have a strong flavour which tends to dominate whatever it is cooked with, so you will need fewer of them). Start by gently frying off the onion and leek in some butter. Then add two large mushrooms, sliced into about 8 pieces, add a bay leaf and a couple of sprigs of rosemary, and stir until coated in the butter. Then add the rest of the vegetables. Put the lid on and sweat them for about 5 minutes on a medium heat. Then add the stock, bring to the boil, turn the heat down and cook with the lid off for about 25 minutes. Check the seasoning. You are aiming for rich, deep, earthiness – not thin, watery and insipid! If it’s not quite there, continue cooking until the stock has reduced a bit more.
While this is cooking, measure 100g self raising flour, pinch of salt, a good handful of finely chopped herbs such as parsley, thyme and sage, 50g suet (vegetarian or otherwise – you can also use butter. But not margarine!). Blend the fats into the flour, then bind together with about 75ml cold water. Be gentle, just bring it together into a ball. Then divide into about 10 small balls. For the wheat intolerant, I have successfully made dumplings with a 50/50 mixture of chestnut flour and gram (chick pea) flour.
Whenee!n you think your vegetable stew is nearly ready (and you will only know by tasting it), drop the dumplings onto the vegetables and stock and let them simmer gently – probably no more than 10 minutes. The knack is to judge how much stock is left in the pan, and remember that the dumplings will absorb some of the stock. After all, you will want gravy won’t you? When done, take off the heat and leave for 5 minutes and just before serving, sprinkle some chopped parsley over the top.
Now. Prepare the following. Sofa and cushions. Maybe a blanket. Turn off the phone. Box of tissues. Radio – preferably lunch time edition of The Archers. Logs piled up beside woodburner. Kitchen towel. Large bowl. Spoon. Imagine………. a cold windy day with rain lashing on the window. You on the sofa. Artfully drape kitchen towel on chest. Bring bowl up to just under your chin and spoon the warm vegetable stew and light herby dumplings in. Comfort food, or what? Bring on the black and white matinee.