Hello and Happy New Year! As I write this I can feel the cold around my ankles, despite being indoors, wearing two jumpers, jeans, socks and slippers, despite the heating being on and despite the consumption of many cups of tea. It is the sort of weather for staying in and stoking up fires but, since I have no fire, I am reduced to stoking my internal one, via food. And Diana Henry’s book, Roast Figs Sugar Snow is the perfect kindling for such a fire.
Recently reissued, to make the most of the success of her last book, A Change of Appetite, this is a book devoted to cold-weather cooking. I got it for my birthday, just before Christmas and, once the festivities were over, I started working my way through the pages with a stack of Post-Its by my side. And I love it; why are there not more cookbooks dedicated to the hardest season of the year? Whereas a book full of summery delights makes me mournful for warm weather, this one makes me happy that it’s cold and I can explore the joys of melted cheese, stews and soups.
And, my, I will be doing lots of exploring using this book because the first recipes I’ve tried have been marvellous. This soup, from Romania, ticks all my required January boxes: simple, thrifty, warming and, in a nod to getting rid of the three extra kilos snuggled round my waist, carb-free as well.
It takes a bit of planning because you need to soak beans overnight (though I imagine you could use tinned too, as long as they are rinsed properly) but it is so worth it. This is an unusually delicious soup, full of storecupboard simpleness and filling enough not to make me long for bread. A brilliant start to the year.
Romanian bean and bacon soup
(adapted from Roast Figs Sugar Snow)
Makes enough for two to three
Cupboard (or things you may already have)
chicken stock, 750ml
white wine vinegar, ½ tbsp
salt and pepper
dried haricot beans, 100g
celery, 1 stalk
smoked bacon or pancetta, 100g (about 3-4 rashers)
Little Gem lettuce, ½
sour cream or crème frâiche, 75ml
fresh dill, handful
1. The night before you want to make the soup, put the beans into cold water and leave to soak. You can also do this in the morning on the day you want to make it, as long as they soak for about seven hours. If possible, refresh the water a couple of times.
2. When you want to make the soup, trim and finely chop the onion and celery.
3. Melt the butter in a lidded saucepan then add the onion and celery. Turn them in the butter, add a splash of water then cover and leave to cook over a low heat until very soft and transparent. Check them from time to time to make sure that they are not burning and add a little more water if necessary.
4. Meanwhile snip the bacon/pancetta into small pieces and sauté it in another frying pan until coloured all over.
5. When the onion and celery are soft, add the bacon, the drained beans and the chicken stock. Bring to the boil, lower the heat, partially cover and leave to cook until the beans are soft (about an hour or so, depending on your beans).
6. Whilst the beans are cooking, shred the lettuce and chop the dill.
7. Once the beans are soft, break them down a little with a potato masher or fork and season with salt and pepper.
8. Finally, stir in the lettuce, sour cream and vinegar, reheat if necessary, then stir in the dill and serve.