I’m rolling seasoned pork mince into balls (with red onion, thyme and juniper) and frying them over a lowish heat, letting each side turn glossily brown – the colour of polished mahogany. I take great care not to move them around in the pan too much, so a sticky Marmite-like goo forms underneath each one, a molasses-tinted ointment which, when loosened with a little white vermouth (or stock if you prefer) will form a thin, savoury juice. I bring them to the table with a tangle of shredded fennel cooked in the pork juices, seasoned with lemon and black pepper.
On this occasion – a cold late winter Sunday – I also pulled a hot pudding from the oven. A low dome of sponge, a bubbling sauce around its edge, the almost Christmasy smell of warm dough and dried fruits. Chopped apricots studded the pudding, golden sultanas twinkled in the toffee sauce pooling around the edge. We poured a jug of cream into our dishes to quell the sweet heat within.
It is not often I make such a pudding nowadays, but this one was needed. Few ingredients protect against the cold weather as effectively as butter, flour and sugar. What appeals about such recipes is not just the idea of taking a dip into our sugar-laden culinary past, but also that of sticking our spoons up at the wagging fingers of the food police.
Pork meatballs with fennel and juniper
The meatballs will hold together better if you let them rest in the fridge before cooking. If you intend to eat some today and others tomorrow, then cook them all and reheat the next day, rather than leaving the raw mince overnight in the fridge (the red onion will discolour.) Serves 4
red onions 200g
olive oil 4 tbsp
garlic 2 cloves
juniper berries 8
thyme leaves 3 tbsp
minced pork 500g
white vermouth, such as Noilly Prat 4 tbsp
Peel the onions and chop finely. Warm half the oil in a shallow pan, add the onions and cook for about 15 minutes over a moderate heat, stirring from time to time, until soft but not brown.
Mash the garlic to a paste, or chop finely, then stir into the onions. Using a pestle and mortar or a spice mill crush the juniper berries with the thyme leaves, ½ tsp of sea salt and 6 black peppercorns, then add to the onions. Continue cooking, long and slow, until the onions are soft and sticky.
Add the onions to the minced pork, mix everything together – most easily done by hand – and divide into 12 equally sized lumps.
With lightly floured hands, roll into balls, placing them on a small tray as you go, then gently flatten the top of each. Refrigerate for a good hour. (This will prevent them falling apart in the pan.)
Heat the remaining oil in the same pan and, as it starts to sizzle, place half of the balls in the pan and lower the heat slightly. After 3 or 4 minutes, when the underside has coloured, flip the balls over and brown the other side. Remove from the pan and set aside, then repeat with the remaining meatballs. Once they are nicely coloured, return the reserved meatballs to the pan, cover partially with a lid and cook over a moderate heat for about 10 minutes. Lift on to a plate and keep warm.
Trim and thinly slice the fennel and add to the pan, (you may need a little extra olive oil), cover with a lid and cook for a couple of minutes over a moderate heat until lightly coloured. Pour in the vermouth, let it bubble briefly, then squeeze in a little lemon juice. Lift the fennel on to a serving plate, place the meatballs on top and trickle over any remaining juices from the pan.
Sticky apricot pudding
You might need some vanilla ice-cream here, or a jug of double cream (or better still perhaps, crème fraîche) as a contrast to the uber sweet pudding. Serves 4
dried apricots 180g
boiling water 200ml
golden caster sugar 100g
plain flour 150g
baking powder 1 ½ tsp
For the sauce:
light muscovado sugar 100g
double cream 125ml
maple or date or golden syrup 1 tbsp
golden sultanas 100g
cream to serve
Preheat the oven to 180C/gas mark 4. Slice the apricots into short thick strips and put them in a mixing bowl, pour over the boiling water and leave to soak. (during this time they will become soft and juicy).
Butter a baking dish with a little of the butter, then put the rest into the bowl of a food mixer, add the sugar and beat until light and fluffy. Occasionally scrape down the mixture from the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula.
Mix together the flour and baking powder. Break the egg into a small bowl and briefly blend with a fork. Add the egg to the butter and sugar, a little at a time, beating continuously. (Should the mixture curdle, add a spoonful of the flour.) Add the flour and baking powder, turning the mixture slowly.
Stir the apricots and water into the mixture. (This will alter the consistency alarmingly, but do not worry, all will come good in the oven.) Transfer the batter to the baking dish and bake for 35 minutes.
Make the sauce: put the sugar, cream, butter and syrup into a small saucepan and bring to the boil. Stir in the sultanas. Slide the pudding from the oven and pour half the sauce around the edge, then return to the oven for 10 minutes. Serve with cream and the rest of the sauce.
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