How quickly the evenings are closing in and now there’s a proper excuse to light a crackling fire, cuddle up in an armchair and tuck into a big bowl of comforting stew or colcannon with a nice lump of beautiful butter melting in the centre.
You don’t need a special reason to eat comfort food. We need it all the time but the term comfort food conjures up warm and fuzzy images of rich, snooze-inducing dishes.
They certainly don’t have to be heavy or stodgy. We all have our own ideas of what constitutes comfort food.
Risotto is high on my list and so is a super creamy mac and cheese or meatballs, Chicken
pilaff, a recipe I learned from Myrtle Allen when I came to Ballymaloe is another family favourite.
Its delicious, creamy sauce flavours the pilaff rice to create one of the most comforting meals you can imagine.
We used to make it from what we affectionately called an ‘old hen’, a bird of about two years which was coming to the end of its laying career with lots of flavour.
We would give it an honourable end in a chicken pilaff and the French would have celebrated its life in a rich and flavoursome coq au vin.
And then there’s broth.
Oh how I love broth, particularly in winter.
I often sneak into the larder in the Cookery School and fill myself a pint glass of chicken broth, butter a slice of white yeast bread — must be white, slather it with butter and tear it into the glass.
I bet you are shocked but it is the best thing ever and so comforting, restorative and nutritious.
One-pot dishes also fit the bill and are so much less hassle to serve when you are tired at the end of a busy day. Maybe it’s because we’re kind of sad that the summer is finally over that the craving for a big plate of comfort strikes more often.
Pasta too, particularly an unctuous one with a rich and creamy meat sauce, has immense appeal. Here are a few suggestions to comfort you and all the family this week.
Penne with Tomatoes, Spicy Sausage and Cream
Bring 8 pints (4 litres) of water to the boil in a large saucepan over a high heat.
Add 2 tablespoons of salt, then add the pasta. Stir well.
Bring back to the boil for 4 minutes, cover, turn off the heat and allow the pasta to continue to cook in the covered saucepan until al dente — 9-12 minutes depending on the brand of pasta.
Melt the butter in a large sauté pan, add the chopped rosemary and diced tomatoes.
Season with salt, freshly ground pepper and sugar.
Cook until the tomatoes have just begun to soften into a sauce, about 5 minutes approx.
Peel the casing off the Chorizo or Kabanossi sausage if necessary and then half or quarter each round depending on size.
Add to the pan with the crushed chillies, season lightly with salt (be careful not to overdo the salt as the sausage may be somewhat salty).
Add the cream and chopped parsley, cook, stirring frequently until the cream comes to the boil. Simmer for 5-7 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and set aside.
When the pasta is cooked (it should be al dente), drain and toss with the sauce, add the grated Parmesan. Toss again, check the seasoning. Sprinkle with flat parsley and serve at once.
Note: Please omit chorizo for vegetarian option.
Macaroni with Cheddar Cheese
Macaroni cheese is one of our family’s favourite supper dishes, loved by everyone from the toddlers to grans.
We love it just as it is but you can of course add whatever you fancy to the sauce … some cubes of cooked bacon, ham or chorizo, maybe some smoked fish or cauliflower florets with the cooked macaroni.
Bring a large pot of water to the boil, add the salt.
Sprinkle in the macaroni and stir to make sure it doesn’t stick together.
Cook until just soft, 10-15 minutes approx. drain well.
Meanwhile melt the butter, add in the flour and cook on a medium heat, stirring occasionally for 1-2 minutes. Remove from the heat.
Whisk in the milk gradually; bring back to the boil, stirring all the time.
Add the mustard, parsley if using and cheese, season with salt and freshly ground pepper to taste.
Add the cooked macaroni, bring back to the boil, taste, correct seasoning and serve immediately.
Macaroni cheese reheats very successfully provided the pasta is not overcooked in the first place.
Turn into a pie dish, sprinkle grated cheese over the top.
Reheat in a heated moderate oven — 180C/Gas mark 4 for 15-20 minutes.
It is very good served with cold meat particularly ham.
Macaroni soaks up an enormous amount of sauce. Add more sauce if making ahead to reheat later.
Macaroni Cheese with Smoked Salmon or Smoked Mackerel
Add 8oz (225 g) of smoked salmon or smoked mackerel dice to the macaroni cheese.
Macaroni Cheese with Mushrooms and Courgettes
Add 8oz (225 g) sliced sautéed mushrooms and 8oz (225g) sliced courgettes cooked in olive oil with a little garlic and marjoram or basil and add to the macaroni cheese. Toss gently, turn into a hot serving dish and scatter with grated cheese — delish.
Macaroni Cheese with Chorizo
Add 8oz (225g) diced chorizo and lots of chopped parsley to the macaroni cheese as you put it into the dish.
Chicken Broth with Julienne of Vegetables
First julienne the vegetables:
Peel and cut the carrot, celery, turnip and leek into very thin strips.
Heat the broth, add the julienne, bring back to the boil and simmer gently until the vegetables are just cooked, 5-6 minutes.
Ladle into bowls and scatter with parsley and spring onion.
Although a risotto can be made in 20 minutes, it entails 20 minutes pretty constant stirring which makes it feel rather laboursome.
A pilaff on the other hand looks after itself once the initial cooking is underway.
The pilaff is versatile — serve it as a staple or add whatever tasty bits you have to hand.
Beware, however, of using pilaff as a dustbin, all additions should be carefully seasoned and balanced.
Melt the butter in a casserole, add the finely chopped onion and sweat for 2-3 minutes.
Add the rice and toss for a minute or two, just long enough for the grains to change colour.
Season with salt and freshly ground pepper, add the chicken stock, cover and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat to a minimum and then simmer on top of the stove or in the oven 160C/325F/Gas Mark 3 for 10 minutes approx.
By then the rice should be just cooked and all the water absorbed.
Just before serving stir in the fresh herbs if using.
Basmati rice cooks quite quickly; other types of rice may take up to 15 minutes.
Pilaff with Mussels and Prawns
Wash the mussels in several changes of cold water. Put the mussels into a wide frying or sauté pan on a medium heat. Cover with a lid or a folded tea towel. Just as soon as the mussels open, whip them out, remove the beards and discard the shells.
Heat the mushroom a la créme, stir in the mussels, shrimps. When the pilaff is cooked turn into a hot serving dish, spoon the mushroom and shellfish mixture on top, sprinkle with chopped herbs and serve immediately.
Other good things to add to pilaff
Fresh spices, cubes of cooked ham or bacon freshly cooked, chicken and sautéed mushrooms, fomato fondue, Parmesan and basil leaves, red and yellow pepper or stew with Marjoram.
Remember Savour Kilkenny runs from October 27 to October 30. There are lots of exciting events, workshops and talks.
Join David Gillick, European Champion and Olympic sprinter at Savour Kilkenny for his One Pot Fits All cookery demonstration. David will show us how to make delicious and nutritious one pot dishes for busy parents and workers.
On Saturday October 28 Gill Meller will cook two seasonal recipes from his cookbook Gather and of course our own Rory O’ Connell will cook some of his favourite dishes from his new book Cook Well, Eat Well the same afternoon. www.savourkilkenny.com
Fit Foodie Workshop with Derval O’Rourke at the Ballymaloe Cookery School:
In one afternoon you will learn how to make great tasting, easy and healthy recipes that the whole family can enjoy plus a Movement Hour that is suitable for all level of fitness. Saturday, November 4; www.cookingisfun.ie
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