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Winter warmers: what's the best comfort food when the weather's cold?

Fri, 27 January, 2017

Winter warmers are bang on the trend; the weather here in the UK is chilly, crisp and frosty at the moment. White crust on the rooftops every morning and rear wheel drive cars struggling to get off steep drives.

It’s chilly across Europe too - two weeks ago I went to Poland and had to call on my totally rusted-over skills of driving in the snow, finding your car in a car park full of neat snowdrifts and clearing the snow off one when - of course, of course - even the scraper is inside.


It’s sadly not as cold here in England. We have no excuse to go the full hog and eat fondue with baked potatoes. We can still have some winter warmers foodwise though, when the (light, English) frost has bitten us on the bums and noses.

My favourite warmers are soups - aren’t they everyone’s? I’m quite particular about soups though and it’s hard to please me with a restaurant or tinned concoction. The thing is, I hate blended soups. Wonderful ingredients, nice chunks of veg, chicken or fish - and then they ruin it all by blitzing the lot to oblivion! What on earth is the point of that? Why turn perfectly nice soup into baby food? I still have all my teeth!

So yes please give me a bowl of soup when the weather is bitter, but only when it’s chunky I’ll ask for some more.

Casseroles are another warmer - and very good too. Cassoulet is probably my all-time favourite casserole. The fatty duck, the sausage, full of beans with crisp breadcrumbs on top - bliss. I’ve cooked it, but have yet to post it on these pages, like so many other things.

Clearly, a soupy-stewy texture and a hot (in temperature) dish makes a good winter warmer. But someone mentioned fondue in conjunction with cold weather - was it me? Because, say what you will, throwing cheese onto food always results in unbelievably comforting stuff. Fondue is one and may it quickly come back into fashion: it’s not a party dish, it’s a comfort dish. Its origins are with frugal Swiss highlanders not wanting to waste odd bits of dried-up cheese and some stale bread - and in my view it’s meant to be gorged on in solitude, considering those strings of cheese adorning one’s chin. It's pretty much a deconstructed cheese toastie - and who dares deny that a toasted cheese sandwich is one of the best comfort foods ever?

Talking about cheese always makes me think of pasta - and that’s a not too shabby winter warmer too. But not fresh, barely dressed linguine with just a bit of alio and olio. It must be a gutsy al forno: mozzarella and parmesan aplenty. It doesn’t really matter what else you stick in it; it needn’t be a full-on beef ragu made into a classic lasagne - veggie versions warm you up just as well. A simple classic favourite is mac n cheese which always works, but look up orzo on supermarket shelves - it’s a surprising winner, pasta which wants to be rice. It just needs a few flavouring add-ons, twice as much liquid as you have pasta in weight, bung it into the oven and mere half an hour later you can sigh contentedly, wrapped in a blanket - or not.

So - what shall we go for as the best winter warmer: soup? pasta? casserole? Or just a toasted cheese sandwich with a sneaky slice of gherkin amidst the cheese…

 

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