The vegetables around at this time of year are pretty hard and tough, the rugby players of the vegetable world if you will. Big bruisers able to withstand adverse conditions and not ones to wilt in the face of a little frost. On first sight they may seem a little solid and unapproachable – think swedes, celeriac, Jerusalem artichokes, kale, cabbages and big, floury winter potatoes. A world away, or certainly a few months, from frilly rocket, pea shoots and delicate herbs.
Whilst summer produce is immediately scoffable and obvious in its delights, some of these winter offerings need a little gentle encouragement, accessories of butter and cream and time so that they too can shine. The transformation can be astonishing and it is these cosy, reassuring and restoring soups and gratins that we need during the cold months. Necessary ballast.
Last night I made a gratin with sliced potatoes, a few matchsticks of leftover ham, broccoli and a thick blanket of cheese sauce. Baked until the top was bubbling and blistered and the broccoli satisfyingly singed, it was absolutely perfect for the coldest night of the year so far.
This is, for me, dream food. The sort I start thinking about fairly soon after breakfast as I take Tom for a brisk walk up the hill and one of the reasons I push myself on said walks – so I can have seconds.
This soup is just such a warming little number and has a second smack of satisfaction in its frugality. Caldo Verde is a Portuguese soup rustled up when there wasn’t much on offer and is traditionally just cabbage, potatoes and water with a little garlic. I’ve taken a liberty by using lovely seasonal kale instead of cabbage and whilst I do add chorizo I stop myself there. Tempting though it is to use stock rather than water or to add an onion or some herbs, such tinkering would be too great a departure from the original.
I urge you to try this, it makes a fabulous lunch followed by a good hunk of cheese. Just don’t do what I did which was to burn my mouth in my speedy greed to taste it.
4 tablespoons good olive oil
2 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
750g floury potatoes, diced (I don’t bother peeling them)
150g kale or Cavolo Nero, tear it up and remove big hard stalks
150g chorizo, sliced
Heat 3 tablespoons of oil in a large pan, add the garlic and then heat gently. Once the garlic is dancing around the pan but not coloured add the potatoes and a teaspoon of salt, stir and cook for 5 minutes. Add 1.2 litres of water and simmer for 20 minutes or until the potatoes are soft. Mash about a 1/3 of the potatoes against the side of the pan with a wooden spoon so they break down a bit. Add the kale and simmer for five minutes. Meanwhile heat the remaining oil in a pan and fry the chorizo for a couple of minutes then add this to the potatoes and kale along with the fabulous orange oil. Taste (cautiously) and adjust the seasoning if necessary then serve. Enough for 4.