I’m looking at the storage jars of parchment-hued beans – the oval cannellini and round haricot, the flat butter beans and, of course, the plump little chickpeas – and wondering if I will ever remember to soak them overnight. It is one of those jobs that I mean to do before bed – like soaking oats for bircher muesli – and then promptly forget. And once soaked, they are then to be watched carefully as they simmer with bay and peppercorns, celery and onion, lest they boil dry. I have ruined a pan or two with my forgetfulness.
I open a jar of ready-cooked chickpeas instead, tip them into a saucepan with a token leaf or two of bay and a few black peppercorns and boil them for 10 minutes. They are in the blender with olive oil and a little of their cooking water, fluffed to a smooth cream, in minutes, their unassuming beigeness lifted with vivid green olive oil and the juice of half a ripe lemon.
You could add the kneejerk garlic (it does have an unshakable affinity with chickpeas), but this time I serve my creamy dip with a golden tangle of onions from the grill, seasoned with za’atar, and its notes of sesame and wild thyme. We dig in with pieces of mottled and scorched flatbread from under the grill.
In a similarly neutral palette, I use up the amaretti left over from Christmas, crushing them, and make a frozen parfait with crisp shards of dark chocolate, orange zest and toasted almonds. If there hadn’t been amaretti, then any crisp, sweet biscuit could have been reduced to crumbs. A trickle of maple syrup keeps the parfait soft enough to slice even when frozen and adds a deep, honeyed warmth.
Soon, the mauve and green brassicas and crisp root vegetables will beckon. I love these post-Christmas weeks. The beginning of another culinary year, the arrival of new citrus fruits and jerusalem artichokes, brussels sprouts at their best and fat potatoes to bake and stuff with good things. There are soups to be made and yeast starters to wake up; there will be stews in the oven and perhaps, just perhaps, some hot puddings. This is indeed a great time of year to be a cook.
Grilled onions, chickpea purée with za’atar and lemon oil
I keep the onions a few inches from the bars of the grill, letting them take their time – a good 20 minutes – to come to tenderness. If they cook too quickly, their edges will scorch before they soften. You are after a soft, golden, translucent finish, soft enough to be crushed between your finger and thumb.
I serve the purée with warm flatbread, but it also makes a cheap and substantial side dish for baked field mushrooms or grilled steak; it’s good with baked ham and makes the best of all dips in which to stick a grilled lamb cutlet. Serves 4
For the onions:
onions 3, medium to large
olive oil 2 tbsp
za’atar 1 tbsp
For the chickpeas:
tinned or bottled chickpeas 800g
olive oil 5 tbsp
bay leaves 2
thyme leaves 1 tsp
Peel the onions, cut them into slices roughly as thick as a pencil. Brush them with a little olive oil and cook them over a hot griddle – or under a preheated overhead grill – until soft and lightly charred. Expect this to take a good 10-25 minutes with the occasional turn. Stir the za’atar into the olive oil. As the onions are approaching softness, brush them with the seasoned oil.
Make the chickpea purée: drain the liquid from the chickpeas, then put them into a small saucepan with 2 tbsp of the olive oil. Add 500ml of water, the bay leaves – crushing them in your hand as you do so – and the thyme leaves, then bring to the boil. Lower the heat and let them simmer for a good 10 minutes.
Drain the chickpeas, keeping back 2 tbsp of the cooking water and discard the bay leaves. Purée the beans to a soft cream with the reserved cooking liquid and the remaining olive oil then squeeze in the lemon. They may need a little salt. Spoon into a dish, add the grilled onions and squeeze over a little lemon juice before serving.
Almond and orange parfait
There is no specialist equipment required for this ice-cream parfait. Just a 22 x 12 x 8cm rectangular cake tin. Lining the tin with baking parchment will make for easier removal. The finished ice-cream will keep in fine condition in an airtight box in the freezer for slicing on demand. Serves 10 or more
double cream 750ml
egg yolks 5
caster sugar 5 tbsp
dark chocolate 200g
soft amaretti 175g
flaked almonds 50g
maple syrup 150ml
candied peel to serve
In a small pan, bring the cream almost to the boil, then remove from the heat.
Using a food mixer or a large whisk, beat the yolks and sugar until they are thick, pale and fluffy. Pour the warm cream into the mixture. Rinse and dry the saucepan, then pour the mixture back and place over a low to moderate heat, stirring almost continuously. When the mixture is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon, pour into a chilled bowl and stir for a couple of minutes until most of the steam has gone. Leave to cool, then refrigerate.
Slice the chocolate into thin pieces, roughly the size of a match. Crumble the amaretti into large crumbs. In a dry, shallow pan, toast the almonds, watching their progress carefully, to a pale golden brown.
Stir the maple syrup into the custard, then the amaretti crumbs, chocolate and almonds. Transfer to the lined cake tin, pushing the mixture deep into the corners, then smooth the surface with the back of a spoon, fold over the clingfilm and freeze for at least 4 hours or overnight. Cut into thick slices and serve.
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