MATT PRESTON

Com­fort food is de­light­fully anti-trend, but a few new tricks might be enough to in­spire a come­back

Sunday Herald Sun - Stellar - - Contents - For Matt’s baked fish put­tanesca recipe, go to de­li­cious.com.au MATT PRESTON

Re­vamped win­ter warm­ers.

Win­ter wel­comes hearty and cod­dling fare; those warm­ing coun­try dishes that grand­mother used to make. I’ve writ­ten pre­vi­ously about trick­ing-up old favourite win­ter desserts, to some luke­warm ap­plause, which made me think you might ap­pre­ci­ate sim­i­lar help with the savoury clas­sics.

I’m here to help el­e­vate the soul­sat­is­fy­ing, for­ti­fy­ing el­e­ment of fa­mil­iar com­fort food with the easy trick­ery re­quired of the mod­ern-day cook. So here are a few ways to put a sim­ple spin on those win­ter favourites.

ROAST CHICKEN

Let’s start with the im­pos­si­ble. I know it’s hard to im­prove on roast chicken, which to my mind is al­most the per­fect meal. The only imag­in­able im­prove­ment is to re­duce the amount of time it takes to cook, which is why I’ve turned to roast­ing “flat chooks” that have been spatch­cocked and flat­tened as they cook far quicker.

Roast the bird over a bed of crushed, par-cooked pota­toes so that the juices drip down into the spuds.

ROAST LAMB

While I love the clas­sic coun­try flavours of lamb with herbs like rose­mary or mint, for a change try this. Take a lamb shoul­der, with the bone in if you can find it (ask your butcher to open up the shoul­der too), and mar­i­nate in a mix made from blitz­ing red onion, turmeric, curry pow­der, lemon juice and a cou­ple of spoon­fuls of mango chut­ney or apri­cot jam.

Stir this into some Greek yo­ghurt and then smear the mix­ture all over the lamb. Leave to de­velop for a cou­ple of hours be­fore cook­ing. The onion and lemon juice ten­derise the lamb, and give it a lovely flavour. Serve with mint jelly and cous­cous with toasted al­monds, chopped dried apri­cot, finely chopped mint and pars­ley.

STEW WITH DUMPLINGS

Stew has so many at­trac­tions but beauty is not one them. That is, un­til you top it with fluffy dumplings made from chopped herbs and self-rais­ing flour.

You can even give stew an Italian twist with ex­tra gar­lic, toma­toes and loads of fresh oregano, and top it with po­lenta dumplings. I sus­pect this is go­ing to be one of the most pop­u­lar recipes in my up­com­ing book (more on that an­other time).

SHEPHERD’S PIE

There are so many ways to change this clas­sic that I’ve de­voted a whole sec­tion of my new book to the myr­iad ways this dish can be more than just savoury lamb mince with a grilled mashed po­tato top­ping. One of the sim­plest is to use beef mince and car­rots rather than lamb mince and peas and pour a can of baked beans on top of the mince be­fore you top it with a cheesy mash. It’s a rather low-rent, Scot­tish idea, but it is also rather tasty.

BANGERS AND MASH

While the eas­i­est thing here is to pimp up the mash, I think that is a sub­ject for a col­umn all of its own.

Let’s be a bit more cre­ative and turn those bangers into cur­ried sausages – one of the great Aus­tralian con­tri­bu­tions to the ’70s kitchen. Clas­sic dishes from that decade like chow mein, ris­soles and vol au vents are sur­pris­ingly trendy at the mo­ment.

AN­OTHER STEW

With the likes of beef bour­guignon from France or Hun­gar­ian goulash, the world is full of in­spir­ing stews.

An­other great Hun­gar­ian stew is porkolt. This is a su­per sim­ple dish made from brown­ing cubes of pork, mix­ing with ba­con, onions, gar­lic, pep­per and lots of pa­prika and then cov­er­ing in a casse­role with sliced red pep­pers, canned toma­toes and stock. Bring to the boil, then sim­mer gen­tly for an hour-and-a-half. Just be­fore serv­ing, stir in a tub of sour cream. Serve with but­tered noo­dles tossed in finely chopped con­ti­nen­tal pars­ley. That’s a real rib-sticker of a feed.

FISH PROVENCAL

While we are on in­spi­ra­tion stolen from over­seas, re­mem­ber that coun­try clas­sics aren’t just made with things that bleat, cluck or moo. A sim­ple fish bake can be just as com­fort­ing when paired with the flavours of South­ern France or Italy – think ca­pers, black olives, toma­toes and fen­nel.

For my fish put­tanesca (pic­tured), trim bulbs of fen­nel, re­serv­ing fronds, then cut into thick slices. Roast fen­nel with sliced red onion and pit­ted black olives on an oiled oven tray un­til soft. Cover with canned toma­toes and nes­tle fil­lets of firm, white fish into them. Throw over a hand­ful of ca­pers and re­turn to the oven un­til the fish is cooked. Serve driz­zled with olive oil, pars­ley and the fen­nel fronds. This is great with boiled or steamed pota­toes.

For a vege­tar­ian ver­sion, omit the fish and fin­ish with a grati­nated top made from bread­crumbs, parme­san and finely chopped pars­ley tossed with a lit­tle but­ter or olive oil.

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