Ineed a hotpot; a slow rendering of meat and beans with onions and herbs – a dinner that owes much to the length of time in which it spends puttering away on the hob or in the oven. The sort of recipe where the ingredients merge together slowly, the onions and aromatics softly melting into the sauce.
Most of the beans I eat are from a can or jar, so it comes as something of a pleasure to soak dried ones overnight and then cook them from scratch – by which I mean letting the soaked beans simmer with bay leaves and peppercorns and a few drops of olive oil until they have become tender enough to crush.
It is only then that they meet the other ingredients: the coarse sausages with their fennel seeds and glorious pearls of fat, the sprigs of thyme and the warmth of the sherry and mustard.
I could have used a fiery chorizo and dried chillies, or ushered in few links of soft black pudding – morcilla, perhaps – and some fat butter beans. But this dinner was very much from the kitchen cupboards – as so many have been recently – so black-eyed beans and pork sausages from the local deli it was.
Had I not been in the mood to peel onions and soak beans, then those sausages would have been cooked on the hob and served with a green vegetable, which at this time of year means some sort of cabbage. In summer, those leaves may get little more than a squeeze of lemon and some melted butter, but now, with frost on the hedges and cracks on my thumbs, I turn to juniper and black pepper and the endless comfort of cream. Warm flavours for cold days.
Sausages and black-eyed beans
I am tempted to suggest that you use your favourite sausages here, but it should be a rustic, highly seasoned one – I am particularly fond of the fat Italian sausages seasoned with fennel, black pepper or chilli. They have a coarse, almost terrine-like texture and take particularly well to long, slow cooking.
Serves 4, generously
black-eyed beans 250g
bay leaves 3
olive oil 3 tbsp, plus a little extra
black peppercorns 8
onions 3, medium
garlic 3 cloves
fennel seeds 2 pinches
pork sausages 8, thick, coarse and well-seasoned
dessert apples 3
plain flour 2 tbsp
sherry 1 wine glass full. medium-dry
thyme sprigs 3, bushy
grain mustard 2 tbsp
Put the beans in a large mixing bowl, cover them with deep water and leave them to soak overnight.
The next day, drain off the water, tip the beans into a large, deep saucepan, cover them with water and bring to the boil.
Add the bay leaves, a few drops of the olive oil and the peppercorns, then turn the heat down and leave the beans to simmer for about 40 minutes until they are tender. Keep an eye on the water level, topping up with hot water from the kettle as necessary.
Peel the onions, cut them in half and then into thick slices. Warm the oil in a deep pan, add the onions and cook them over a moderate heat until they are soft and golden. Keep them stirred so that they colour evenly.
While the onions are cooking, peel and finely slice the garlic then add it to the softening onions with the fennel seeds. When the onions are soft and sticky, remove them from the pan and add a little more oil. Cut the sausages into short lengths, then add them to the pan and let them colour nicely on all sides.
Return the onions to the pan, add the sherry, continue to cook for a couple of minutes, then stir in the flour. Cook for a further 2 or 3 minutes, then stir in the hot stock, tuck in the thyme springs and continue cooking for 25 minutes.
Core and slice the apples and add them to the simmering hotpot. Season with salt, black pepper and the mustard. Continue cooking until the apples are soft and beans are tender enough to crush between finger and thumb.
Savoy cabbage, cream and juniper
The cream sauce in this recipe is a quick affair. Let the ground spices cook for no more than a minute or two, keeping the heat only high enough to allow the butter to bubble gently. Take care that they do not burn. Serves 2-3
savoy cabbage 250g
juniper berries 8
black peppercorns 8
olive oil 1 tbsp
double cream 200ml
Slice the savoy cabbage into ribbons that are about the width of pappardelle and wash them thoroughly in cold water. Bring a deep pan of boiling water to the boil.
Put the juniper berries and the peppercorns in a spice mill or mortar and grind them to a coarse powder.
When the water is boiling, salt it lightly, then add the cabbage and let it cook for 2 minutes. Drain immediately and set aside.
Heat the olive oil in a shallow pan, add the butter and let it melt, then add the spice mix. Allow the spices to warm up for a minute until they are fragrant, then pour in the double cream and let it bubble for a minute – no longer – swirling the sauce around the pan, then add the savoy cabbage and a little salt.
Toss the cabbage in the sauce, then as soon as the cabbage is hot, serve.