Oh my God, the accompaniments. Tiny sausages sticky from being cooked around the roast, bacon rolls and roast potatoes, baubles of pork stuffing and creamy, nutmeg bread sauce for the bird. There is cranberry sauce and game chips, brussels sprouts and bacon and of course a steaming jug of gravy. These are my favourite bits of the feast and I could eat them on their own without the need for a roast. They are classics and to my mind a pretty much unshakable part of the yuletide table.
That said, I like to ring the changes too: a crisp salad to sit aside the smoked salmon or to serve with a plate of oysters; roast parsnips with a pomegranate raita; and stuffing studded with cranberries and chestnuts. As well as roast potatoes I will sometimes cook them in slices, with goose fat and rosemary (wonderful to cheer up a plate of cold roast pork). At the end of the meal I often ditch the brandy butter and make a custard scented with cardamom or rosewater – sometimes both – and spoon it over slices of plum pudding or a mince pie.
All of the recipes in this collection will accompany the Christmas classics, but they really shine on Boxing Day, when we bring cold cuts to the table. Roast parsnips with sliced beef; goose fat potatoes with cold pork; or a root vegetable and blackberry salad with the remains of the nut roast – all of these ring my bell.
Beetroot and celeriac with pickled blackberries
To accompany smoked salmon or trout, cold roast turkey, goose or beef, cold ham or nut roast
We sometimes need a crisp salad with a knife-sharp dressing, something to contrast the richness of Christmas eating. Beetroot and celeriac sliced as thin as Christmas wrapping paper, and tossed with pickled blackberries and a grain mustard dressing works as an accompaniment to smoked salmon and trout or slices of cold roast goose or ham. This is a salad whose piquancy will flatter wedges of pork pie or a rough-textured terrine. Last Christmas we brought it to the table on a shallow white platter on Boxing Day, where it sat comfortably alongside a warm butternut quiche the size of a brie.
For the blackberries
red wine vinegar 150ml
soft brown sugar 75g
yellow mustard seeds 1 tsp
sea salt ½ tsp
For the beetroot
raw beetroot 300g
olive oil 3 tbsp
grain mustard 2 tsp
white wine vinegar 1½ tbsp
runny honey 1 tbsp
Put the red wine vinegar and soft brown sugar in a medium-sized stainless steel or enamel pan and bring to the boil. Add the mustard seeds and sea salt. When the sugar has dissolved, cut each blackberry in half and add to the hot vinegar and sugar. Transfer fruit and liquor to a sterilised jar and seal.
Peel the raw beetroot, then slice into paper-thin rounds. Put them in a mixing bowl. Peel the celeriac and remove the roots and crown, then slice the flesh very thinly. Cut each slice into quarters (or use a biscuit cutter to make smaller rounds if you wish).
Make the dressing: put the olive oil in a small bowl, add the mustard, vinegar and honey, then lightly mix with a fork or small whisk. Add salt and coarsely ground black pepper. Put the beetroot and celeriac into the dressing, cover and set aside overnight. During the night, the beetroot and celeriac will soften a little.
Finely chop the dill fronds and add to the salad. Drain the blackberries, add them, together with two tablespoons of the dressing to the salad and transfer to a serving dish.
Roast parsnips, mint and pomegranate raita
To accompany nut roast, roast beef, roast pork, cold cuts
Each time I see roast parsnips or beat them to a fluffy mash, I think of the late Jane Grigson, who wrote this column for more than 20 years, and her parsnip soup recipe with its Indian spicing that I make to this day. I am not sure if her inclusion of curry spices led me to the idea of serving roast parsnips with an ice-cold raita of mint and pomegranate, but it may well have. This is very much Christmas Eve or Boxing Day food, the sort of vegetable dish that comes out with leftovers, such as nut roast or cold turkey. The hot parsnips and their dazzling sauce dispense with any connotation of “leftovers”.
olive oil 50ml
rosemary 6 sprigs
For the raita
spring onions 2 small
natural yoghurt 200ml
iced water 80ml
white wine vinegar 3 tbsp
mint leaves 20
groundnut oil 2 tbsp
curry leaves 10
Preheat the oven to 180C fan/gas mark 6. Peel the parsnips and cut them into quarters lengthways. Put them in a roasting tin, trickle with oil, dot with butter, season with the rosemary sprigs, and black pepper and salt, then toss gently to coat with the oil and seasoning.
Roast the parsnips for 35-45 minutes, until golden outside and soft and fluffy within. The occasional turn as they cook will help them colour evenly.
While the parsnips are roasting, make the dressing: coarsely grate the cucumber (you don’t need to peel it) into a sieve placed over a bowl, salt the cucumber lightly and leave it to drain for 20 minutes. This will make the cucumber less wet.
Finely chop the spring onion. Put the yoghurt in a medium-sized mixing bowl and whisk in the iced water. Add the spring onion, the vinegar and the mint leaves, finely chopped. Cover and refrigerate.
Warm the groundnut oil in a shallow pan, add the curry leaves and let them fry over a moderate heat till they are starting to crisp, then remove and dry on a piece of kitchen paper.
Cut the pomegranate in half and extract the seeds then set them aside. Season the dressing with a little salt. Squeeze any moisture from the cucumber and stir into the yoghurt together with the pomegranate seeds (do this briefly, you don’t want pink yoghurt), then spoon over the parsnips as they come, golden and sizzling, from the oven. Finally, scatter over the curry leaves.
Sausage, chestnut and cranberry stuffing
To accompany roast turkey or goose, roast pork or baked ham
I hold on to the theory – and it is a good one – that any stuffing should be flavoursome enough to eat on its own. Good sausage meat, seasoned with softened onions, snippets of smoked bacon and breadcrumbs is a fair enough start, to which we can add herbs, dried fruits or crumbled nuts. It is a sound home for that packet of chestnuts at the back of the cupboard or for chopped hazelnuts or prunes.
A few tart fruits, such as cranberries or the grated zest of a lemon or orange, are a thoughtful addition, as are a few mustard seeds or a pinch of dried chilli flakes. I have enough to do at Christmas, so I use vacuum-packed, tinned or bottled chestnuts for recipes such as this, leaving the fresh ones for roasting in their shells on Boxing Day.
Makes 12 large balls
streaky bacon 250g
olive oil 2 tbsp
mustard seeds 2 tsp
dried chilli flakes 2 tsp
sausage meat 500g
dried breadcrumbs 60g
juniper berries 6
thyme leaves 1 tbsp
chestnuts 75g, peeled and cooked
cranberries 150g, fresh or frozen
Peel and finely chop the onion and dice the bacon. Warm the oil in a shallow pan, then add the onion and bacon and cook over a moderate heat for a good 20-25 minutes till soft and golden. Stir regularly, partially covering it with a lid if necessary.
Remove from the heat and mix in the mustard seeds, chilli flakes, sausage meat, breadcrumbs and sauerkraut. Crush the juniper berries using a pestle and mortar, chop the thyme leaves and the chestnuts, then add together with the cranberries to the stuffing. There is little point in messing around with a spoon here, getting your hands in is by far the best way to mix all the ingredients together.
Shape the stuffing into 12 large balls, each weighing roughly 70g. Warm a shallow film of oil in a shallow pan, place over a moderate heat, then brown the balls on all sides. It is important not to move the balls till the base of each one has browned, then you can gently turn them over with a spoon or palette knife and brown the rest. Set the oven at 180C fan/gas mark 6.
Snuggle the stuffing balls into a roasting tin or baking dish, add a little more oil (or any that is left in the frying pan) and bake for 25 minutes till they are golden and sizzling.
Potatoes with goose fat and rosemary
To accompany roast beef, cold ham, roast salmon
Of all the scents of Christmas – the pudding steaming in its cloth; the sugar-crusted mince pies in the oven; the roasting goose – it is that of potatoes roasting in goose fat that speaks most loudly to me. I can think of few things I would rather eat than potatoes, thinly sliced and cooked in goose fat. It is a dish of many layers – the soft, almost melting slices at the heart of the dish, so sumptuous you eat them with a spoon, the crisp outer edges and then, oh lordy, the slices you need to prize from the bottom of the dish with a palette knife – crisp, soft, chewy all at once. This is a good-natured recipe that will keep warm while you get the rest of the meal ready.
goose or duck fat 180g
rosemary 6 sprigs
garlic 2 fat cloves
pink peppercorns 2 tsp
Wash, dry and thinly slice the potatoes. No slice should be thicker than a pound coin. Put them in a mixing bowl with the goose or duck fat. Remove the leaves from the rosemary and chop finely – you should have about 2 tablespoons. Scatter over the potatoes. Set the oven at 180C fan/gas mark 6.
Peel and thinly slice the garlic, then add to the potatoes with a generous seasoning of salt and black pepper. Toss the potatoes to evenly coat with the fat and seasoning, then place the slices, neatly or hugger-mugger as you wish, in a large roasting tin – I use one 30cm in diameter. Cover with a lid or a piece of foil.
Bake for an hour, then remove the lid and continue cooking for a further 30 minutes till the potatoes are golden and meltingly soft. (Test with a skewer, it should slide through the layers effortlessly.) If you wish, 10 minutes before they are ready scatter over a few pink peppercorns.
Pistachio and cardamom custard
To accompany Christmas pudding, mince pies, apple strudel or wedges of grilled panettone
As much I find the nutmeggy, citrus notes of traditional brandy butter one of the little joys of Christmas, I do realise its uses are somewhat limited. A big jug of spiced custard for eating warm or nicely chilled is far more versatile. (I have been known to pour it over slices of Christmas cake.)
green cardamoms 10
full-fat milk 250ml
double cream 250ml
egg yolks 4
caster sugar 50g
pistachios 50g, shelled
Crack the cardamom pods open with a rolling pin or pestle, then tweak out the little black seeds.
Grind the seeds to a coarse powder and put them in a medium-sized saucepan. Pour in the milk and cream, then set over a moderate heat and bring to the boil. Watch carefully and as soon as the milk starts to rise up the sides of the pan remove and set aside.
Beat together the egg yolks and sugar, then pour the cardamom milk over them through a sieve (to catch the cardamom). Stir the milk into the eggs and sugar, wipe out the saucepan and return the custard to the heat. Watching carefully (honestly, don’t take your eyes off it for one second), stir almost constantly until the custard starts to thicken. Remove immediately from the heat and set aside.
Finely chop the pistachios and sprinkle them over the surface.
If by any chance the custard gets too hot and starts to turn grainy, you need to get the heat out of it as quickly as possible. Pour into a cold bowl and plunge the bowl into cold water, then whisk as hard as you can till the sauce is smooth and creamy.
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