Friday, 30 December 2011

Winter root veg casserole

For me Christmas is almost entirely about the food - it's an opportunity to seriously indulge in rich dishes that you'd probably never eat during the rest of the year, and there's the excess too. I don't know anyone who doesn't overeat at Christmas.

My dinner this year was a small partridge, roasted along with some root vegetables (parsnips and carrots) plus homemade cranberry sauce from a friend. Then there was the cheese, the stollen, the mince-pie ice-cream... All that came after my traditional breakfast of scrambled eggs on toast with smoked salmon and cava. Then onto Boxing Day, which is where eating up the leftovers starts. I'd roasted two partridges so I stripped the spare of its meat and turned it into a casserole (and there was just enough left for lunch the next day). Last night's supper consisted of cheese - a by-now very runny Camembert and the rest of the Blacksticks Blue - plus chutney, gherkins, olives and oatcakes.

And now, with delayed-onset indigestion, I feel the need for simplicity again and to give my overworked stomach a break. After so much meat and fat, I want only vegetables. (I'm also seriously considering the alcohol-free January challenge, which is becoming more popular, but that's another matter.) And with a pile of parsnips, swedes, carrots and sweet potato to finish up, this is healthy, filling, frugal and seasonal. This makes up to two helpings, depending on how much veg you use.


What you need: 
1-2 parsnips
1 carrots
1 medium onion, diced
1 small swede
1 large sweet potato
1 small fennel bulb
Half a litre of vegetable stock
A little plain flour
Half a glass of tawny port
Worcestershire Sauce
A couple of sprigs of thyme
2 bay leaves


What to do:
Peel all the roots and cut into large bite-size chunks. Trim the fennel and cut into slender wedges. Sweat the onion in a little olive oil over a moderate heat and when it's softened and translucent, add a couple of heaped teaspoons of flour. Stir the flour through and cook it a little then add the stock slowly, stirring into the flour to stop any lumps forming. Add the port and a small dash of Worcestershire Sauce, the thyme and the bay leaves. Grind in some black pepper. Add the vegetables, bring the pot to the boil then turn down the heat and simmer for 15-20 minutes until all the veg are tender. Season to taste and eat.


Cook's tips:
No port left over? Use a glass of dry white wine instead, or a little cider or beer.

This casserole is ideal for using up some of the Christmas leftovers, so you could chuck in the last few mushrooms at the back of the fridge or ordinary potatoes. You can chop and change the roots - if you don't like swede, for example, use some celeriac instead, which will add some woody depth to the flavours. If you must have meat, chop up the last couple of slices of streaky bacon and cook them with the onions. You could also throw in leftover goose or ham if you have some.

Leftover duck or goose fat can be used to sweat the onions.

Strict vegetarians should leave out the Worcestershire Sauce as it contains anchovy. Use some soy sauce instead.