As I regularly have to remind my Northern Hemispherean friends, we in the South live a topsy-turvy life. Whilst many people are moving into the months of sunshine, and ice-cream, and refreshing cocktails, we in the South are flicking on that ‘hibernation mode’ switch. I’m currently spending two weeks of my winter break back in Western Australia. It’s rained. And rained. And rained. And then rained some more. It’s cold – enough so that we’re reaching for scarves and beanies and layer after layer of sweaters. Yeah, it’s nothing like a ‘proper’ winter with snow and howling winds (though we do get those from time to time) and below 0C temperatures, but for us it’s still damn wintery.
That doesn’t mean ice-cream isn’t still an option – we purchased some yesterday from a local dairy farm (fig and marscapone, anyone?) and ate it, rugged up outside in the weak afternoon sun. One perk of eating ice-cream in winter is that it takes a fair while longer to melt! But that’s by the by. Today we’re going to talk about warming foods. Foods that’ll steam up your insides. Remind you why winter is still a special season. A season to be embraced for its fantastic produce and hearty recipes, one of which is Chakchouka. A rich, fragrant tomato stew (not the sloppy sort, if you were wondering), with earthy field mushrooms and strips of sweet red capsicum. Spiked with a splash of red wine (winter and red wine are the best of chums, are they not?) and dotted with creamy cannellini beans it’s a ‘toasty toes’ kind of dish.
But wait, that’s not all! It get’s better – a “would you like eggs with that?” kind of better. Transfer the stew to an oven proof dish and make a few quarter-cup sized indents. Crack a fresh, free-range (always, always free-range, regardless of how poor you are – you’re looking at a uni student here) egg into each indent. If you’re concerned that your egg-cracking-skills-without-getting-some-shell-in-there-too aren’t up to scratch, simply crack the egg into a mug and then slide it into an indent. Easy as pie. Mmmm pie. Another winter delight. But we’ll save that for another day shall we? Sprinkle each egg with a little salt (coarse sea salt is best, you have any on hand) and pop the dish in your pre-heated oven.
While the eggs are cooking away (you’ll know they’re done when the white is just set but the yolk is still wibbly-wobbly), hunt down some bread – the rustic, crusty kind is best – and salted butter. Cheese is ideal, whether it be shaved parmesan or a little crumbled feta. Some avocado wouldn’t go amiss either. Now, we haven’t yet mentioned that Chakchouka is super-duper versatile. If you’re a savoury-weekend-breakfast-kinda-person then this baby is right up your alley. Otherwise it works a treat as a lazy lunch or simple supper when paired with some green vegetables – we gotta keep those nutrients up to ward away nasty colds, don’t we?
We’re going be so bold as to say that ‘weather related food envy’ isn’t a thing. Sure, all those summer themed recipes look delightful. But their time will come. For those of you currently living in the ‘other’ hemisphere, put on that pair of crazy-coloured cozy socks that you’ll never admit to owning and the beanie you’re grandma knitted you, and wholeheartedly embrace winter cooking. First stop, Chakchouka.
2 tbsp olive oil
½ tsp cumin seeds
1 onion, thinly sliced
½ red capsicum, cut into thin strips
2 large field mushrooms, halved and cut into ½ cm thick strips
½ tsp paprika
¼ tsp dried oregano
2 tbsp tomato paste
400g can chopped tomatoes
Splash red wine
400g can cannelinni beans, drained and rinsed
Dash of Tobasco
Salt and pepper
To serve (optional):
Feta cheese, crumbled or parmesan, shaved
Preheat oven to 180C. In a large frypan heat the oil and fry the cumin seeds for a minute or until fragrant. Add the onion and sweat gently for approximately seven minutes, or until soft and golden.
Add the capsicum and sauté for three minutes, then add the mushrooms and cook for a further five minutes or until they begin to release their juices.
Stir in the paprika, oregano and tomato paste and cook for two minutes, stirring constantly, to caramelise. Now tip in the chopped tomatoes, red wine and tobasco. Stir well and simmer for a few minutes to reduce slightly.
Stir through the cannelinni beans, cover and cook for five minutes. Season well with salt and pepper. Taste and adjust accordingly. If your frypan is not oven-proof, transfer to a baking dish.
Make four indents in the bean mixture. Crack the eggs, one by one into a cup or small bowl and then tip into an indent. Sprinkle with extra salt and pepper and bake for ten minutes or until the whites are just set.
Let stand for two minutes and then serve with any of the above accompaniments.
Source: Adapted from River Cottage Veg: Everyday