March marks the beginning of spring, when some favourite meal ingredients come into season. But as we’ve seen recently, the weather can still be really cold, wet and depressing, so you may need something more than salads to warm you up and add a hearty flavour. We’ve selected a couple for all eventualities, and don’t forget Mothers’ Day at the end of the month – we’ll have something special for that in the coming weeks!
Nettle and Barley Risotto With Goats’ Cheese
- 300g pearl barley
- 1.2 litres vegetable stock
- About 200g nettle tops, rinsed and ready to go (if you can’t find foraged nettles, use spinach instead)
- 50g butter
- 1 tbsp olive oil, plus a drizzle to finish
- 1 onion, finely chopped
- 1 leek, halved, rinsed and sliced thinly
- 2 garlic cloves, sliced or grated
- 2 tsp fennel seeds, crushed in a pestle and mortar
- Finely grated zest ½ lemon
- Small bunch fresh lemon thyme (or half a bunch regular thyme), leaves picked
- 200ml dry cider
- 50g hard sheep’s cheese, parmesan or vegetarian alternative, grated
- 100g soft fresh goat’s cheese
See also: Make Your Own Gnocchi At Home with Big Mamma
- Put the barley in a large bowl, cover with fresh water and leave to soak for 30 minutes.
- Meanwhile, blanch the nettles: pour the stock into a large pan, put it over a medium-high heat and bring to a brisk simmer. Add the nettle tops, then bring back to the boil. Cook for one minute, then remove using a slotted spoon and set aside. Keep the stock over a low heat.
- Meanwhile, heat half the butter and one tbsp oil in a large heavy-based saucepan over a medium heat. Add the onion, leek, garlic, fennel seeds, lemon zest and half the thyme leaves along with plenty of salt and black pepper. Fry gently for about 10 minutes until everything is soft and smelling gorgeous.
- Drain the soaking barley, then stir it through the softened onion mixture and cook gently for a minute or two. Turn up the heat, add the cider, then let it bubble for a few moments before ladling in about a quarter of the hot stock, as you would for a classic rice risotto.
- Stir the barley as it soaks up the stock. Once the first batch has been absorbed add the next, and so on until you’ve added all the stock. It should take about 20-30 minutes for the barley to cook through, although it will retain a firm texture.
- A few minutes after you’ve added the last ladleful of stock, stir in the blanched nettle tops, the grated hard cheese and the remaining butter. Let the barley cook gently until it’s the right texture (I’d always go for a looser, wetter consistency, otherwise it can be too dry). Taste, adding salt and pepper as required.
- Spoon the barley risotto into 4 bowls. Top with a crumbling of soft goat’s cheese, a scattering of lemon thyme, a drizzle of olive oil and a little extra salt and black pepper.
Simon Hopkinson’s Hearty Meat and Potato Pie
This classic meat and potato pie recipe comes courtesy of chef Simon Hopkinson. White pepper gives the dish an authentic taste of the Sixties – use freshly ground black if you prefer. The stock cube is optional, but it gives a definite boost. Instead of milk, you could use beaten egg to brush the pastry.
For the pastry –
- 100g salted butter
- 100g lard
- 320g self-raising flour, plus extra for dusting
- 120ml ice-cold water
- Milk, for brushing
For the filling –
- 500g stewing steak, or bavette steak, cut into 2cm chunks
- 500g onions, coarsely but neatly chopped
- 1⁄2 beef stock cube (optional; reduce the salt if you use it)
- 500-600g potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks (slightly smaller than the beef)
To serve –
- Pickled red cabbage
- Cut the butter and lard into small chunks, and place in a bowl with the flour. Loosely mix together, then put in the freezer for 20 minutes.
- Place in a food processor and pulse until the fats have been reduced to smaller pieces, so the mixture has a rubbly look. Tip into a large bowl and, using a knife, mix in the water little by little until the mixture is only just coming together.
- Tip onto a floured surface, bring together with your hands, then lightly knead. The pieces of fat should still remain visible in the dough.
- Now, roll out the pastry to a very rough rectangle (around 20 x 30cm), the shorter side facing you. Fold over into thirds like a business letter, then turn by a quarter. Repeat the process and rest in the fridge for 30 minutes. Do this rolling/folding/ turning/resting at least once more; twice more for the best flaky results. Place the finished pastry in a plastic bag and keep in the fridge until needed.
- For the filling, put the beef and onions in a large pot with 2tsp salt, a scant 1tsp pepper and the stock cube (if using) and cover with 700ml water. Bring to a simmer, remove any scum, then cover. Simmer for about 1 hour or until the meat is almost tender.
- Stir in the potatoes and simmer for 30 minutes more, then tip into a rectangular baking dish (20 x 30 x 8cm) and allow to cool completely.
- Heat the oven to 190°C/fan oven 170°C/mark 5. Roll out the pastry to a shape slightly larger than the dish, brush its edges with a little milk and fit it into the dish, pushing the edges down a little within the rim. This will allow for pastry shrinkage and is something I always do to prevent the pastry ending up as simply a tight, taut sheet over the filling.
- Brush with milk, crimp the edges with a fork and run the back of a knife over the surface in a lattice. Make four vent holes, then bake for 45-50 minutes until pale gold on top. This is delicious with pickled red cabbage – and perhaps a squeeze of ketchup.