We’ve made it through another year – well done us! There are all kinds of ways to see out 2022, but whether you’re dressing up to party or donning slippers to get cosy, the weeks ahead demand only one thing of the kitchen: comfort food. What that is means different things to different people, but there’s often something about its texture that hits the spot: flaky, all-butter puff pastry, warm sponge, duvet-like polenta, soft prunes, melted cheese … These are just some of the ways I’ll be getting comfort from food in the new year, and I hope you will, too. Here’s to 2023.
Chicken, prune and split pea pie (pictured top)
This takes inspiration from khoresh, an Iranian stew that’s as celebratory as it is comforting. It makes a great centrepiece and needs little more than a green salad on the side. If you like, assemble the pie the night before, so it’s oven ready.
Prep 20 min
Cook 1 hr 15 min
100g yellow split peas, soaked in hot water for 10 minutes, then drained
30g red lentils
3 black limes, each lightly pierced 3 times with the tip of a sharp knife
1 x 325g sheet ready-rolled all-butter puff pastry
1 egg, beaten
1 tsp nigella seeds
2 onions, peeled and finely sliced (365g)
3 tbsp olive oil
Fine sea salt
1kg boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into 4cm pieces
½ tsp freshly cracked black pepper
½ tsp ground turmeric
½ tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp ground cardamom
¼ tsp ground cumin
3 tbsp plain flour
55ml apple cider vinegar
20g coriander leaves, finely chopped
200g prunes, pitted and each roughly chopped into 6
Put the first three ingredients in a medium saucepan with 850ml water, bring to a boil, then simmer for 35 minutes, until the split peas are tender but still hold their shape. Squeeze the limes against the side of the pan to release as much liquid as possible, then remove and discard the husks.
Unroll the pastry, roll it out a little more to 23cm x 36cm, then brush lightly with half the egg and cut it widthways into nine 5cm-wide strips. Sprinkle with the nigella seeds, then put on a tray lined with baking paper and chill.
Put the onions, olive oil and a teaspoon of salt in a large saute pan on a medium heat and cook, stirring occasionally, for 15-20 minutes, until lightly caramelised. Stir in the chicken and another teaspoon of salt, cook until the chicken is opaque, then stir in the spices and flour and cook for two minutes, until fragrant.
Heat the oven to 200C (180C fan)/390F/gas 6. Stir the lentil and split pea mixture and their cooking liquid into the chicken pan, then add the vinegar, coriander and prunes, and take off the heat. Pour into a 30cm x 20cm baking dish and leave to cool for 10 minutes.
Brush the remaining egg around the edge of the baking dish, then lay five of the pastry strips diagonally across the dish, leaving a 1cm gap between them; pinch the ends of the pastry against the egg-washed side of the dish, so they stick. Lay the remaining four strips of pastry diagonally across the top in the opposite direction, to make a crisscross pattern and again keeping them 1cm apart, then bake for 35 minutes, until the pastry is deeply golden in colour.
Take the pie out of oven, leave to settle and cool for 10 minutes, then serve warm.
Apple and pear eve’s pudding with vanilla cream
The warm pudding/cold vanilla cream combo works like a dream here, but custard or ice-cream would also work well, if you prefer.
Prep 25 min
Cook 1 hr 20 min
For the fruit filling
75g caster sugar
75g fridge-cold unsalted butter, cut into cubes
2 tbsp sherry or red-wine vinegar
1 lemon, zest finely grated, to get 1 tsp, and juiced, to get 1 tbsp
4 granny smith apples (480g), peeled, halved, cored and cut into 1cm-thick slices
3 medium conference pears (480g), peeled, halved, cored and cut into 1cm-thick slices
¾ tsp ground star anise
15 green cardamom pods, pods bashed open and seeds finely ground in a mortar, to get ¾ tsp, or ¾ tsp shop-bought ground cardamom
Flaked sea salt
For the cake batter
190g caster sugar
190g room-temperature unsalted butter
1 tsp vanilla bean paste
130g self-raising flour
60g ground almonds
1½ tsp baking powder
3 eggs, separated
30g flaked almonds
For the vanilla cream
300ml double cream
1½ tsp vanilla bean paste
Heat the oven to 180C (160C fan)/350F/gas 4, then start on the fruit filling. Put the sugar in a 26cm cast-iron pan on a medium heat and cook for three to five minutes, until it turns amber in colour – resist the urge to stir, and instead swirl the pan so the sugar colours evenly. Add the butter, stir until smooth, then take off the heat and stir in the vinegar, lemon juice, apples, pears, ground spices and half a teaspoon of flaked salt. Mix well and leave to cool.
Now for the batter. Put the sugar, butter and vanilla bean paste in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, then beat on medium speed for seven to 10 minutes, until light and fluffy, scraping down the sides of the bowl as required.
Meanwhile, mix the lemon zest, flour, ground almonds, baking powder and three-quarters of a teaspoon of salt in a large bowl. Add a third of this and one egg yolk to the mixer bowl, then beat on medium until incorporated, again scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Repeat twice more with the remaining flour mixture and egg yolks.
Transfer the mixture to a large bowl and clean out the stand mixer bowl. Put the egg whites in the stand mixer bowl, put on the whisk attachment and beat for two to three minutes, until they double in size and form stiff peaks. Using a wooden spoon, mix a quarter of the egg whites into the batter bowl, then gently fold in the rest, taking care not to knock out the air. Spoon the batter on top of the pan with the apple and pear mixture, scatter the flaked almonds on top, and bake for 45 minutes, until the top is golden and a skewer comes out clean. Leave to cool and rest for 10 minutes.
In the meantime, put the cream and vanilla in a bowl and mix gently with until well combined. Serve the pudding warm with the cream on the side.
Butternut squash polenta with rosemary chilli oil
Polenta, that Italian store-cupboard staple, is a wonderfully comforting side dish but can also be the star of a meal. If you prefer, swap the butternut for any other squash or pumpkin.
Prep 25 min
Cook 30 min
500g butternut squash, peeled, deseeded and roughly chopped into 3cm chunks (400g)
5 garlic cloves, peeled
1 tbsp olive oil
250ml chicken or vegetable stock
Salt and black pepper
80g cream cheese
50g parmesan, finely grated, plus extra to finish
100g coarse polenta
30g unsalted butter
For the fried squash
200g butternut squash, peeled and cut into 1½cm cubes
1 tbsp olive oil, plus ½ tbsp extra
½ tsp maple syrup
½ tsp lemon juice
10g parsley leaves, finely chopped
For the rosemary chilli oil
1 tbsp olive oil
50g unsalted butter
1 tsp finely chopped rosemary leaves
¼ tsp kashmiri chilli
2 tsp aleppo chilli
First, cook the squash for the polenta. Put the squash, garlic and olive oil in a medium pan for which you have a lid and set it on a medium-high heat. Cook, stirring often, for seven to nine minutes, until the squash has started to soften and some its juices are starting to catch on the bottom of the pan. Pour in the stock, 250ml water, a half-teaspoon of salt and a good grind of pepper, bring to a simmer, then cover and leave to cook for seven minutes, until the squash is soft and starting to break down at the edges. Take off the heat, add the cream cheese and parmesan, then blitz smooth with a stick blender.
Put the pan back on a medium heat, then slowly pour in the polenta, whisking quickly as you do so. Cook for eight minutes, whisking constantly to get rid of any lumps and to stop the mix sticking to the base of the pan, until the polenta has thickened, then take off the heat and whisk in the butter. Cover the surface of the polenta mix with a circle of greaseproof paper, to prevent a skin forming, then set aside.
Put a medium frying pan on a medium-high heat, add the oil, remaining squash, half a teaspoon of salt and a good grind of pepper and cook for seven to eight minutes, until the butternut is lightly coloured at the edges and softened. Stir in the maple syrup and set aside for five minutes to cool.
Meanwhile, make the chilli oil. Put the oil and butter in a small frying pan on a medium heat and, once melted and hot, stir in the rosemary and cook for 30 seconds, until fragrant. Take off the heat, stir in the kashmiri and aleppo chilli and a pinch of salt, then set aside to infuse briefly.
Lift the paper off the top of the polenta, then spoon it into a lipped platter. Mix the fried squash with the remaining half-tablespoon of oil, lemon juice and parsley, and scatter on top. Spoon the chilli oil on top, scatter with the extra grated parmesan and serve hot.