‘twixt Christmas and New Year

This piece was originally published on the Borough Market website. Lots more to read on their site.

There are very few moments in a year when you can truly stop, switch off from daily tasks and current affairs and cook. You know, take a day or two to just potter in, out and around the kitchen, without thinking (or worrying) that there’s something else you should be doing, or that someone’s waiting on you for a response.

In fact, that time between Christmas and New Year is probably the only time that enough people lose count of what day of the week it is. Certainly, it’s the only time that most other people are on holiday too (and those who’ve gone to work are not about to start chasing old leads or generating new tasks for themselves). Assuming you’re lucky enough to not have to travel around the country catching up with relatives, these feel like bonus days, a free hit, and provide an opportunity and the time to take on a project.

And so, during this year’s twixt Christmas and New Year period, I encourage you to do just that. Set a day aside to do very little, other than cook something new—by which I mean crack on with something that takes time and involves multiple stages. Make use of some speciality produce you bought over the last 12 months but haven’t really touched. Turn your hand to that gadget that’s been sitting mostly unused at the back of a cupboard for the best part of a decade.

Dig a hole, build a fire

There are some really serious cooking projects out there: build your own smoker; learn about and start fermenting; dig a hole, build a fire, then cook up a feast in the warm embers. Those are all admirable, but I was thinking about something a little calmer and kitchen-based, like suet pastry topped pies and puddings, sweet pastry tarts, long braises and ragus, and fresh pasta, of course.

Perhaps it’s a strange thing to suggest in something that will be published on the internet, but I would encourage you to start the process by sitting down with a handful of cookbooks, rather than entering ‘suet pastry topped pie recipe’ into Google. It feels oddly luxurious to take 30 minutes or more to flick through a few trusted tomes for inspiration and instruction, rather than tap away at a keyboard, but I really think the process adds another level of reward and satisfaction.

Is this striking a chord? There are some other things I suggest building into your day. Ensure you’ve good coffee, tea or other infusions to hand for the time you spend immersed in the cookbooks (the Market’s an excellent place to source those things…), plus some good wine to sup as the project’s coming to an end (again, the Market’s a one-stop-shop). Put on an apron; you’ll feel like a craftsperson. And download a podcast or four to play while your hands are covered in flour, peeling vegetables, or picking tender flesh from the braising pot. I enjoyed listening to Rachel Roddy talk to Sheila Dillon about chestnuts on The Food Programme while embarking on my trial project day, and if you’re into food, or people talking about their lives in food, then the podcasts of Honey & Co and Dessert Island Dishes feature gentle foodie conversations to eavesdrop.

Christmas wish list

The project should be personal to you. What is it that you can’t normally set aside the time to make? If it’s a sweet or savoury tart involving homemade pastry, a suet pie or pudding, might I be so brazen to suggest that one of the books you look through is The Borough Market Cookbook, published just a few months ago and hopefully on your Christmas wish list? Things like the rhubarb, ginger and orange free-form tart; swede and stilton pie; pheasant, leek and chestnut pie; and beef cheek and lamb heart suet puddings tick many of the project cooking boxes.

I’ve made those dishes often enough, though (not least during the testing and writing phase of the cookbook). Fresh pasta, on the other hand, always escapes me. The good intention is often there, yet the pasta machine remains remarkably clean. Silly, really, because while pasta making is deliberate, methodical and pleasingly tactile, it’s not actually a particularly time-consuming process. It does involve some decision-making, though (which shape shall I make?), and once decisions are reached, is multi-staged and often requires a gentle ragu to be made in tandem.

I had a practice run while writing this piece (so as to ensure my head was in the right place, you know?) and while it wasn’t a day without interruption or life grind, I revelled in the time I took to sit down with Anna Del Conte on Pasta, Rachel Roddy’s Five Quarters, Jacob Kenedy’s The Geometry of Pasta and Tim Siadatan’s Trullo. From those reads I decided to go with Kenedy’s three yolks, one egg, 200g tipo 00 flour enriched pasta dough, and roll out lengths and lengths of pappardelle (plus a few trial farfalle bows). Alongside I braised a large turkey leg until it fell apart like slow-cooked lamb shoulder, and picked that into a celery, vermouth, thyme, orange zest and chestnut-fuelled ragu (though not normally keen on white poultry pasta sauces, this was gamey as well as seasonal).

The result? Immensely tasty, immeasurably satisfying and thoroughly rewarding. In two weeks’ time I’ll don apron, put on some podcasts, pop open a bottle of wine, and do it all again.

Fresh pappardelle with turkey and chestnut ragu

This recipe assumes you’ve leftover turkey leg from Christmas Day (use this dark meat, not the dryer breast meat which is better in in a sandwich alongside excess stuffing plus cranberry and bread sauces).

Serves 4

For the pasta

  • 3 large free range egg yolks
  • 1 large free range egg
  • 200g tipo 00 flour
  • fine semolina (for dusting)
  • Sea salt

For the sauce

  • 2 tablespoons light olive oil to cook
  • 2 stalks of celery, very finely diced
  • 1 banana shallot, very finely diced
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 250g pre-cooked turkey leg, pulled or diced
  • Leaves picked from 6 sprigs thyme
  • 175ml dry white vermouth / dry white wine
  • 350ml turkey stock (or chicken, duck or vegetable)
  • 180g cooked chestnuts
  • 1 saved Parmesan rind (optional)
  • 140g full fat creme fraiche
  • finely grated zest of 1 lemon
  • finely grated zest 1 orange
  • freshly grated Parmesan to serve
  • Sea salt

Feel free to follow the pasta recipe from whichever trusted book you pick up. But if you need another method: to make the pasta, pile the flour onto a clean surface and create a hole in the middle. Add a good pinch of salt, then tip the egg yolks and egg into the centre. Use a fork to pop the yolks then whisk the flour into the eggs, working it in gradually from the edge of the circle. Flour a hand and start to mix the egg and flour until it resembles crumbs, then push and pat the dough into a ball. Then, using the heel of your hand and much of your body weight, kneed the dough for around eight minutes until elastic and silky. Put the pasta dough into a lightly floured bowl, cover with a clean tea towel and leave to rest for thirty minutes.

Once that time has passed, sprinkle a tray with semolina and fix a pasta machine to your kitchen surface or food processor (you could do this with a rolling pin, but the recipe assumes you’ve a pasta machine collecting dust somewhere in your cupboards). Flatten the dough into a rectangle, cut into three and pass through the pasta machine up to the second thinnest setting on the machine. As you work, lay the pasta sheets on the semolina dusted tray and dust with more semolina to prevent the sheets sticking to one another. Roll the pasta sheets into cigar shapes, then cut to 2-3cm wide pieces to create the pappardelle. Toss in the semolina, so that you have a tangled, but not sticky or unmanageable, quantity of pasta. Cover with a slightly damp tea towel until required, refrigerating if not using imminently.

For the ragu, measure the light olive oil into a heavy bottomed saucepan or casserole over a low-medium heat. When warm, add the celery, shallots and a pinch of salt and cook gently for 4 minutes or so, until both are translucent and sweet. Scrape in the garlic and two thirds of the thyme and cook for one minute more, before adding the turkey. Increase the temperature to medium-high and let the turkey fry for a minute. Create some space in the pan and pour in the vermouth, leaving to bubble and reduce by half before pouring in the turkey stock and plopping-in the parmesan rind. Simmer for thirty minutes (or more) until the stock much reduced, then stir-in the creme fraiche and cook for five minutes more. Open your red wine (if it’s not already open).

Bring a large pan of heavily salted water to the boil. When rolling, drop in the pappardelle and cook for three minutes. Drain the pasta, saving some of the water. Ideally, ladle the ragu into a wide frying pan or saucepan, add the pasta and toss around the pan until glossy, adding starchy pasta water if necessary. Decant into four bowls, topping with grated lemon, orange, the remaining thyme leaves and plenty of good quality Parmesan.