Sunday, 10 March 2013

Dutch-style meatballs and beans

Meatballs are a staple of the Dutch diet - I learned this fairly soon after beginning what turned out to be a 9-year sojourn in Amsterdam. Tiny little ones floating in a bowl of tomatoey vegetable soup, great fist-sized ones grilled or fried and then drowned in gravy, bite-sized and casseroled with beans...

The latter forms the basis of a dish called gehaktballen met bruine bonen, which translates as mince (literally "chopped") balls with brown beans. Every Dutch person will have their own recipe for this but the core ingredients are the meatballs and beans, onions and tomatoes. Brown beans are native to the Netherlands and hard to find elsewhere - kidney beans or pintos are good substitutes.

I like this dish because it relies on storecupboard staples - everyone has beans and onions to hand - and it's fairly quick. It's also hearty and filling, ideal for cold weather (last week, as my city bathed in sunshine and enjoyed a balmy 11C, I was eating salads. Go figure). This is a cheat's version using sausages that I make when I have no meatballs to hand, or mince to make any.

What you need:
2 beef sausages
1 onion
Small tin of kidney beans
2 tomatoes
Tomato purée
Worcestershire sauce

What to do:
Peel the onion and, leaving the root intact, cut it into 8 wedges. Heat a generous splash of vegetable oil in a sauteuse and fry the onions until they soften and start to caramelise. Cut the sausages into meatball-sized pieces and add to the pan.

Rinse the beans well and cut the tomatoes into wedges. As soon as the sausage pieces have browned, add the beans and tomatoes to the pan. Squirt in about a dessert-spoon of tomato purée and a dash of Worcestershire sauce. Add enough water from a freshly boiled kettle to create a thick gravy, jam a tight lid on the pan and leave it to cook on a low hob for about 20 minutes until the tomatoes are collapsing.

Cook's tips:
The sausages should yield 8-10 pieces. If you're making meatballs, you want about 6-8 and they should be the size of an apricot.

A half-tin of tomatoes replaces the fresh tomatoes if you have none. Adjust the amount of tomato purée in that case.

Parsley is often added to this dish, both during the cooking and as a garnish.

Saturday, 2 March 2013

Parmesan roasted chicory

Chicory is very underrated. We don't eat much of it here and it mostly seems to get sliced into salads. Its slightly bitter taste may be a reason for its unpopularity - across the Channel it's eaten widely and braising or roasting it mellows the bitterness and wilts the leaves into a soft, lush heap.

This very simple dish has only three ingredients and is surprisingly filling. I usually make it as a standalone meal but if I'm really hungry I'll grill a lamb chop to accompany.

What you need:
2-3 chicory heads
Olive oil
About 1 tbsp grated Parmesan

What to do:
Heat the oven to 180C. Halve the chicory heads lengthways and put cut side up in an oven dish. Drizzle over a little oil and season lightly. Cover with tin foil or a lid and bake for 30 minutes.

Take it out of the oven and remove the foil. Sprinkle over the Parmesan and return to the oven uncovered for another 30-40 minutes until the chicory has caramelised round the edges and the cheese has formed a crispy golden crust.

Cook's tips:
Make sure the chicory, either white or red, is super-fresh. Once it's on the turn it becomes more bitter. 

For a more substantial meal, you can add some chopped bacon or lardons before you put the Parmesan on. You can gratinée it by mixing the cheese with breadcrumbs.

You can roast fennel this way too - use 2 small bulbs halved or 1 large one quartered. Fennel is a natural partner for pork and good quality sausages are a good match here - you can roast them in the dish with the fennel once the foil is off.