Dhaka, Bangladesh
Rachel Roddy's recipes for four new year treats inspired by Italy

Rachel Roddy's recipes for four new year treats inspired by Italy

(From previous issue) For others it is even simpler, lentils boiled with a whole carrot and a stick of celery until tender, then olive oil or butter is added at the table. The idiosyncrasies of how best to cook lentils increases with the addition of roast pork or sausages, which can turn them into a feast. I was told the other day that my way of cooking lentils is risottare, which means cooked like a risotto. I had never heard it described that way before, but it is a useful description for a very reliable method. After making a soffritto of onion, celery, carrot, garlic, bay and a pinch of salt cooked in olive oil, you add the lentils and then - as you would rice in risotto - stir until everything is coated with oil, then cover with water and simmer. You don't need to stir nearly as attentively as you do with risotto, but you do need to keep an eye, never letting the lentils boil, and tasting and adding a little more water if you think the pan needs it. By the end of cooking, the lentils should have assorbed enough water to be tender (but not mushy) and there should be very little liquid remaining. The good soffritto foundation and the lentils should be tasty already, but they will need more salt and pepper, which like a culinary firework, illuminates the flavours even more, making lentils taste even more like lentils. You might serve the lentils and cotechino sausages with the poached quince, in which case I suggest a tray of baked apples that requires nothing more than lots of cold cream and a hungry crowd, and a chocolate and chestnut cake that pleases almost everyone. But recipes, lentils and grapes aside, whatever you cook or don't cook, however you choose to celebrate, auguri di buona fine e buon principio - best wishes for a happy ending and a good beginning. Lentils with Italian sausage A speciality of Emilia-Romagna, most notably the town of Modena, cotechino is a large sausage made from cotica (pork rind) mixed with lean pork and back fat, and flavoured with salt, pepper, cloves, nutmeg and cinnamon. Zampone is a pig's trotter stuffed with much the same filling. Traditional cotechino (and zampone) needs to be soaked and then boiled for several hours before they can be eaten. Alternatively, you can buy excellent quality precooked, vacuum-packed cotechino, which are effectively boil-in the bag and ready after 20-30 minutes. This produces a deeply flavoured juice that you can tip from the bag into the lentils. I am a big fan of precooked and not just for new year. Some people like to stir a little vinegar into lentils too, saying the sharpness compliments the lentils and rich meat equally. Pork sausages work just as well with lentils. Serves 4, generously 500g small brown lentils 6 tbsp olive oil 1 white onion, finely chopped 1 garlic clove, finely chopped 1 carrot, peeled and finely chopped 1 celery stick, finely chopped 2 bay leaves 1 precooked cotechino, heated according to instructions, or finest quality pork sausages Salt and black pepper 1 Wash the lentils. Boil the kettle. In a large, deep frying pan, warm the olive oil and add the onion, garlic, carrot and celery and fry gently until soft. 2 Add the lentils and bay leaves and then cover with at least 5cm of water and cook at the gentlest of simmers until the lentils are tender, but still with just a little bite - which will take anything from 20-40 minutes (be careful: lentils turn from tender to mush quite quickly). Keep tasting and add more water if the pan looks dry. By the end of cooking, the water should have been almost completely absorbed. Season. 3 Heat the cotechino according to instructions (which usually means putting it in simmering water to re-heat for 30 minutes). Once ready, cut off the corner and tip the juices into the lentils and stir, then tip on to a warm platter. If you are using regular pork sausages, brown them in a little oil, then pour over a third of a bottle of wine (red, white or rosé) and put on the lid so they cook in a steamy braise for 20 minutes. Once they are cooked, take off the lid, raise the heat and let the juices reduce into a sticky gravy. 4 If you are using cotechino, slice it thickly or simply lay your sausages on top of the lentils. Serve with mostarda (mustard fruit) relish or poached quince (see below). Poached quince We had a quince tree in our garden when we were growing up. Like the crab apple tree, it was good for three things: climbing, falling out of and providing ammunition - the small knobbly fruit with its fuzzy coat just right for low bowling. My mum would keep some of them in a bowl on the table because they smelt lovely. Years later I understand what she was talking about and look forward to a bowl of quince making the kitchen smell like a fruity boudoir. Quince poaches well, the slices becoming tender but holding their shape and tasting all at once like apple, pear and fragrant honey. Poached quince make a lovely pudding with cream, sit well beside cheese and cold meat (ham or leftover turkey) or sausages and lentils, and are delicious for breakfast with thick yoghurt. It's best to allow them to sit in their syrup for a few hours before serving. Makes a large bowlful 1kg quince 1 unwaxed lemon 250g sugar 6 cloves 6 black peppercorns 300ml white wine 1 Wash, peel, core and cut the quince into eighths. Using a peeler, pare away a strip of lemon zest. Put the quince, zest and all the other ingredients in a large pan, then top up with 300ml water. Bring to the boil, then reduce to a simmer for 40-60 minutes or until the quince is tender, but holding its shape. 2 Lift the quince from the liquid into a serving dish. Continue simmering the liquid until it has reduced into a syrup thick enough to coat the back of a spoon, then pour it over the quince. Allow it to sit for a few hours, or preferably a day, before eating. Keeps for several days. Baked apples with mincemeat and cream If you have a jar of mincemeat left over from Christmas, a spoonful as filling for a baked apple works extremely well, and a big tray of these makes for a welcoming and generous pudding. While the apples bake and slump, the skins wrinkling and flesh softening into a grainy almost-puree, the exposed tip of mincemeat darkens into a chewy tap while the rest sets into a sweet, thick core. It is important to score the apples round their girth, otherwise they burst, the more floury the variety the more impressive the explosion of fluff. Once cooked, let the tray sit for a while so some of the buttery juices are absorbed back into the fruit. If you don't have mincemeat, the classic blend of butter, soft brown sugar and raisins is always a treat, as is a splash of calvados or cider just before the apples go in the oven. As with all baked fruit, the last one, eaten cold the next day, is the best. Serves 6-12 12 small dessert or baking apples (such as russet, cox or bramley) 100g butter 200g mincemeat Cold thick cream, to serve 1 Set the oven to 180C/350F/gas 4. Find an ovenproof dish that will accommodate all the apples, then rub it very generously with butter. 2 Remove the cores from the apples, keeping the apples whole, then score each apple around the middle, cutting through the skin, but not too deep, then arrange them snugly in the baking dish. 3 Stuff the empty cavity with mincemeat and dot with a tiny knob of butter, pushing it into the mincemeat with your fingertip. 4 Bake for 40 minutes, or until the apples are soft. Allow them to cool slightly before serving warm with cold thick cream. Chocolate and chestnut cake This gorgeous and festive cake is inspired by two recipes - one from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, and another from Abruzzo, a region with great swathes of chestnut tree woods. The chestnuts work in a flour-like way, thickening milk into a soft puree that isn't as sweet as the (delicious) sort you find in tins. While still warm, it is as much a mousse as a cake and so soft it requires a spoon as well as a cake slice. If you leave it for a couple of hours it cools into a dense fudge-like cake you can slice, carefully... Serves 8 250g dark chocolate (70% cocoa solids) 250g unsalted butter, cut into cubes 250g roasted and peeled chestnuts (vacuum packed are fine or you can roast and peel your own) 250ml whole milk 4 medium-sized eggs 125g caster sugar 1 Grease and line a 25cm cake tin (the springform type is good) and set the oven to 170C/335F/gas 3½. 2 Break the chocolate into pieces, then melt along with the cubed butter in a small saucepan over a low flame. 3 In another pan, warm the milk and chestnuts together until the milk is nearly boiling. Remove the pan from the heat and mash the chestnuts into a paste in the milk with a potato masher or blend with an immersion blender. 4 Separate the egg yolks from the whites and beat the yolks with the sugar in a large bowl. Fold the melted chocolate and butter into the yolk and sugar mixture, then stir this into the chestnut and milk puree to create a gloopy batter. 5 In another bowl, whisk the egg whites until they form stiff peaks and then fold them into the rest of the ingredients. 6 Tip the mixture into the lined tin - carefully. Bake for 25-30 minutes, or until it has just set but still has a slight wobble. 7 If you want to serve the cake warm, let it cool a little and then very gently release the tin and slide it on to a plate. Do this carefully, as it will still be very soft, delicate and mousse-like. If you leave it to go cold it will set firm. Serve with thick cream.

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