After a lovely Christmas break in Hampshire, we arrived home to find that five days of festive excess had made us considerably fatter than when we left. Of course, eating and drinking is what Christmas is all about, but the endless roasts, bottomless tins of Quality Street and countless glasses of port are enough to tire out even the most committed glutton. On the way home on the A3, car piled high with suitcases and gifts, Ollie and I agreed that we would not eat anything soaked in brandy for a very long time.
Coming home is always rather lovely: your own bed, full control over the remote and being able to cook in your own kitchen. Inevitably, the fridge was bare, but we managed to pull together a lunch of toasted almost-stale bread, a packet of supermarket coleslaw lurking at the back and the last truckle of cheese, an applewood cheddar. The last hurrah of excess before a few days of healthier eating, if only so we can squeeze back into our jeans in time for New Year’s Eve.
In the few days before Christmas and New Year, I always make a large batch of lentil soup. I read somewhere that it is an Italian tradition to eat lentils on New Year’s Eve, their rounded shapes are said to resemble coins and encourage prosperity for the year ahead. With my bank balance always severely depleted by the end of December, it can’t hurt, right? In any case, a wholesome lentil soup is the perfect tonic for several days of overindulgence – this particular recipe contains nothing more than vegetables, herbs, lentils, stock and the tiniest slosh of vinegar. Homemade bread is always the perfect accompaniment for soup, but with all of those new Christmas presents to play with, who has time? A loaf of soda bread can be made in a mere half an hour. Saves a trip out to the bakery.
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1 medium onion, finely chopped
- 1 leek, finely chopped
- 1 large carrot, finely chopped
- 2 sticks celery, finely chopped
- 350g brown lentils, rinsed
- 2 large sage leaves, chopped
- ½ tsp dried rosemary
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 litre vegetable stock
- 2 tbsp cider vinegar
- Sea salt and black pepper
Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan and cook the vegetables on a medium heat until soft. The onions should be translucent but should not brown. This will take about ten minutes. Add the lentils and herbs and cook for a further few minutes.
Add the stock and bring to the boil, the reduce the heat and simmer, uncovered, 35-45 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the lentils are soft. Remove the pan from the heat and transfer two ladles of the mixture to a separate bowl. Blend the remaining soup in the pan with a hand blender (or transfer to a stand blender if you don’t have one) until smooth.
Return the pan to the heat and stir in the reserved lentils and the cider vinegar. Serve in warmed bowls with a drizzle of olive oil on top.
Adapted from a recipe by Giorgio Locatelli. Serves four.
- 225g plain wholemeal flour
- 225g plain flour
- 75g porridge oats
- 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
- 1 tsp caster sugar
- ½ tsp sea salt
- 400ml buttermilk
Preheat the oven t0 220ºc / 425ºf / gas 7. Lightly oil a baking sheet and dust with flour.
Place all of the dry ingredients in a large bowl and stir together. Add the buttermilk and mix with your hands to make a smooth dough. Turn out on to a floured side and shape into a round with your hands. If you like, you can add the traditional cross using the blunt edge of a sharp knife.
Sprinkle a few porridge oats on the top and transfer to the baking sheet. Bake in the oven for 25 minutes. To test if the loaf is ready, take it out of the oven, turn it upside down and tap the bottom. If it makes a hollow sound, it’s done.