It’s the second week of 2020 and if, like me, you’ve stayed true to your resolution of ‘giving up giving up’, then this is the season for comforting carbs in all their various, wondrous forms.
Whether it’s satiation you’re after, or simply a warm hug through food, this kind of food is what we really, really want. Here, I’ve taken three of my favourites – potatoes, rice and bread – and paired them with the likes of sumac, chilli and soy to bring acidity, heat and umami to cut through all the starch.
Black rice congee with tahini sauce and cured yolk (above)
Start on this substantial dish the day before. Blitz the rice in batches in a spice grinder or food processor until it’s roughly broken, but not a powder, then soak.
Prep 20 min
Cure 2 hr
Cook 40 min
4 good-quality egg yolks (save the whites for another dish)
50ml soy sauce
5g chives, finely chopped
1 tbsp mixed black and white sesame seeds, toasted
For the chilli oil
2 tsp Aleppo chilli flakes (or less, if using a spicier chilli flake)
2 tsp red bell pepper flakes
60ml sunflower oil
For the congee
3 tbsp olive oil
40g fresh ginger, peeled and finely chopped
6 spring onions, finely chopped
5 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
180g black rice, roughly blitzed, soaked overnight, then drained
1.1 litre hot chicken stock
For the tahini sauce
60g tahini (mix very well before using, to combine the solids and fat)
2 tbsp soy sauce
1½ tbsp mirin
1½ tbsp rice vinegar
Carefully put the yolks in a small bowl with the soy sauce and leave them to cure while you cook the congee (or for up to two hours; discard the soy once you’re done).
For the chilli oil, lightly toast the chilli and red pepper flakes in a small frying pan on a medium-high heat for a minute, until very fragrant, then add the oil and a quarter-teaspoon of salt. Heat for about 30 seconds, or until the oil bubbles gently, then remove from the heat and leave to infuse.
Put the first four ingredients for the congee and a good pinch of salt in a large saute pan on a medium-high heat, and fry for six minutes, stirring often, until soft and aromatic: you don’t want it to brown, so turn down the heat, if necessary. Put two tablespoons of the mixture in a small bowl with the chives, stir and set aside.
Add the rice, hot stock and three-quarters of a teaspoon of salt to the pan, bring to a simmer, then turn down the heat to medium-high and cook for 20 minutes, stirring often, until the rice is soft and the consistency of a wet porridge.
Whisk all the tahini sauce ingredients with two tablespoons of water until you get a smooth sauce.
Divide the congee between four bowls and top each portion with some of the sauce, a drained yolk, a spoonful of the reserved ginger and spring onion mixture, a drizzle of the chilli oil and a sprinkling of sesame seeds. Serve any extra tahini or chilli oil on the side.
Gnocchi with sumac onions and brown butter pine nuts
The Middle East meets Italy in these deliciously sharp and filling gnocchi. If you prefer, use shop-bought gnocchi instead of making them from scratch, and cook and sear them as below before adding everything else.
Prep 25 min
Cook 1 hr 35 min
Serves 4 as a light meal
1.4kg maris piper potatoes, pricked all over with a fork
3 egg yolks, lightly beaten
110g plain flour, sifted
70g unsalted butter
35g pine nuts
2 tbsp olive oil, plus extra for drizzling
5g parsley leaves, roughly chopped
2 tbsp lemon juice
80g creme fraiche, to serve (optional)
For the sumac onions
2 tbsp olive oil
3 red onions, peeled, halved and thinly sliced
Salt and black pepper
4 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
4 tsp sumac
Heat the oven to 240C (220C fan)/465F/gas 9. Put the potatoes directly on the middle rack of the oven and bake them for 45 minutes, until cooked through.
Meanwhile, make the onions. Put the oil in a large saute pan on a medium-high heat and, when hot, add the onions and half a teaspoon of salt, and cook, stirring occasionally, for 12-15 minutes, until softened and browned. Add the garlic, cook, stirring often, for two minutes more, until fragrant, then stir in the sumac. Transfer the mixture to a bowl and rinse out the pan.
While still hot (use a tea towel or gloves to help you), slice open the potatoes, scoop out the flesh and discard the skins (or save them to roast until crisp): you should have about 600g. Using a potato ricer, mash the potato directly on to a clean work surface. Lightly spread out the potato, so it’s not all in one pile, and sprinkle evenly with the egg yolks, followed by the flour and half a teaspoon of salt. Use a pastry cutter or bench scraper to cut into the mixture, chopping repeatedly to distribute everything evenly. Use your fingers to gather the mix together into a shaggy mass (make sure you don’t knead it), then transfer to a piping bag and set aside.
Bring a large saucepan of well-salted water to a boil on a medium-high heat. Snip off the end of the piping bag to make a 2cm-wide opening, then pipe 3cm lengths of gnocchi into the water, using a small knife to release them into the water and cooking about 12 at a time. Cook for one to two minutes, until the gnocchi float to the surface, then scoop out with a slotted spoon and transfer to a tray lined with greaseproof paper; drizzle with a little oil to prevent them from sticking. Repeat until you’ve cooked all the gnocchi (that is, about four to five batches in all).
In the saute pan from earlier, warm a tablespoon of oil on a medium-high heat and, once hot, add a third of the gnocchi and fry, turning as necessary, for about four minutes, until golden all over. Transfer to a plate and repeat with the remaining gnocchi, adding half a tablespoon of oil each time.
Once all the gnocchi have been fried, add the butter to the pan and, once melted, add the pine nuts, half a teaspoon of salt and a good grind of pepper, and cook for two minutes, swirling the pan occasionally, until the nuts are golden. Turn the heat to low, return all the gnocchi to the pan, add the sumac onions, lemon juice and parsley, stir gently to combine, then transfer to a large platter and serve with a bowl of creme fraiche, if using.
Steam-roasted bread buns with chilli and gruyère
If you’ve ever had steam-roasted pork buns at a Chinese restaurant, you’ll know where the inspiration for these comes from. They require some time and patience, but you can get ahead by making the dough the day ahead and leaving it in the fridge to prove overnight. The filling can be made and refrigerated the day before, too: just make sure everything’s at room temperature when you come to cook.
Prep 15 min
Prove 2 hr
Cook 1 hr 25 min
Makes 12 buns
80ml double cream, at room temperature
125ml whole milk, at room temperature, plus 1 tbsp extra for the egg wash
35g caster sugar
35g plain flour
265g strong white bread flour
12g fresh yeast, finely crumbled (or 6g quick-action dried yeast)
1 egg, at room temperature, separated
Sunflower oil, for greasing
For the filling
4 vine tomatoes (420g)
3 mild red chillies, pith and seeds removed, finely chopped
¾ tsp red-wine vinegar
180g gruyere, finely grated
Put the first six ingredients, the egg white and three-quarters of a teaspoon of salt in the bowl of a stand mixer with the dough hook in place. Mix on medium-low speed for 15 minutes, scraping down the sides every now and then, until it comes together into a dough (it will be quite sticky). Lightly grease a bowl with oil, then use a spatula to transfer the dough to the bowl. With greased hands, mould the dough so it’s very smooth and round, then cover with a damp tea towel and leave in a warm spot to prove for a hour (it won’t increase much in size).
While the dough is proving, make the filling. Grate the tomatoes on a box grater, and discard the skins. Drain the pulp very well in a sieve, discarding the liquid – you should have 130g pulp in total – then mix in a bowl with the chillies, vinegar and an eighth of a teaspoon of salt.
Return the proved dough to the stand mixer and mix on low speed for five minutes more. Grease a work surface, then turn out the dough and cut into 12 equal pieces of about 45g each. Lightly grease your hands, then roll each piece into a very smooth ball, greasing your hands and the work surface as you go.
Put the tomato mix in one bowl and the cheese in another. Line two oven trays with baking paper.
Shape the dough balls into 12 circles about 9cm wide x 1½cm thick. Spoon a teaspoon (5g) of the tomato into the centre of each circle, and top with 15g cheese, squeezing it to make a compact ball first. Draw the sides of the dough up and over the filling, then crimp closed like a dumpling, twisting and pinching the edges to make sure they’re very tightly sealed. Put the buns seam side down on the lined trays, keeping them spaced apart, and prove in a warm spot for another hour.
Heat the oven to 180C (170C fan)/gas 5. Fill a baking tray with boiling water and put it on the bottom of the oven. Whisk the egg yolk with the remaining tablespoon of milk, then brush lightly all over each bun, and bake for 20-22 minutes, until puffed up and golden brown. Leave to cool for at least 15 minutes before eating.