Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Wintery things

At Borough Market on the weekend some of the best sights were mountains of knobbly winter veg. Fat purpley swedes piled next to boxes filled with pale green rows of leek supporting deep green sticks buttoned with tighly bound brussel sprouts. Masses of potatoes, crinkly heads of cabbage and the tightly curled cream of cauliflowers. With a cold snap on its way I filled my bag with waxy potatoes and leeks for a gratin and parsnips, swede, brussel sprouts and butternut squash for nothing specific beyond the possibilities they offer.

Because it has been so bleak this last week or two I had my heart set on a lush gratin scented with nutmeg and bay. Unsure of which day I would make it I didn't get any of the requisite dairy. Mistake. Come Monday, I needed thick cream and a small piece of gruyere so I dropped into Sainsburys on my way home. The only cream they had was single and the only vaguely similar cheese was pre sliced emmenthal or else various strengths of cheddar in various sized blocks. I hummed and hahed - very possibly out loud - and decided to buy what I could get. I comforted myself with the idea that though not as sumptuous as it might have been with thick cream from Devon and the cheese, though obviously processed to a high shine and added shredded not grated, would still make for a golden crust and all would be well. Dinner would be good not great. In reality it was horrible. The cream had the consistency of water and absolutely none of the delightful richness you get with proper cream. Once cooked it may as well have been water it was so thin and unremarkable - it literally added nothing to the dish. The cheese collapsed into nasty shreds of hot yellow plastic. The potatoes and leeks were lovely - and would have been better simply boiled and served with a knob of butter. It was terrrible to waste them like this.

It infuriates me that it is now impossible to get decent quality ingredients at local supermarkets - they seem to sell nothing that is not bland and processed and nasty. I was disappointed too for my lovely dinner that didn't materialise and for Giles who loves potatoes above most things in this world.


Then I redeemed myself. I had read earlier in the week that the best thing to do with swede is to roast it - an idea I had not previously considered. One of my favourite things is roasting butternut with slices of ginger and bruised unpeeled garlic cloves to make one of the most sumptious vegetables imaginable. It is wonderful hot straight from the pan and equally fabulous cold as a salad dressed with the olive oil the squash was roasted in (with the aromatics taken out). Add chilli to the roast for added zing.

So I was taken with the notion of roasting swede - I simply added it to slices of squash and lengths of peeled parsnips and roasted them all together for about fifty minutes in olive oil with ginger and garlic and a good twist of black pepper. Amazing - the different textures and flavours of each vegetable remained clear as well as melding together for a delightful melange. We ate them hot with roasted wild duck and boiled sprouts for a lovely dinner. Then cold next day with slices of gammon and dark brown rye bread - a quite perfect supper mid week in the depths of winter.

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