It’s time to treat yourself a little better and take a gentle approach to feeling good. At Follonica on the Tuscan coast, there is a train workers’ canteen at the end of the line. I’ve no idea how we found it, but my brother and I became obsessed with it a decade ago. Lunch was cheap and good, and over the years we became friendly with the proprietors.
You were supposed to pay with credits from your job, but we were able to pay with cash. For a €5 supplement, you could have something similar to the langoustine pasta here. It always struck me as the most festive of dishes.
I’ve included two soups, each redolent of a chalet supper, and a pasta drunk with red wine and chestnuts. These are the heartiest of winter dishes that will see you through to Christmas.
Pici in red wine
If you struggle to find radicchio use a couple of heads of chicory instead. Serves 4
chestnuts 200g, in their shell
red onion 1
garlic 1 clove
olive oil 3 tbsp
bay leaves 3, fresh, cut in half
valpolicella ½ bottle, or another red wine
pici or thick spaghetti/linguine 400g
butter a little
parmesan a handful, grated
Heat the oven to 200C/gas mark 6. Score and roast the chestnuts for 10 minutes. They can also be microwaved for 3 minutes, but please do make sure you score them properly first. They needn’t be completely cooked, just peel-able. Peel.
Slice both the onion and garlic very thinly. Place them in an open, low-sided pan, large enough to eventually accommodate the pasta, with the olive oil and a pinch of salt. Set over a medium heat. Cook carefully until completely soft. I’m fine with you adding a splash of water at some point should you feel the need and they threaten to catch. Add the bay and crumble the chestnuts in, too. Finely chop the radicchio and stir it in. Allow it to wilt and lose some of its brightness and bitterness. After a couple of minutes, add all the wine and turn the heat up. Simmer for 12 minutes.
Drop the pasta into a large saucepan of well-salted boiling water and cook for 3 minutes less than the time stated on the packet. Drain, reserving plenty of the cooking water. Allow the pasta to finish cooking in the sauce over a low heat. It will take on the colour of the wine. Add the cooking water when necessary, ¼ of a cup at a time – terminating the cooking off the heat with freshly ground black pepper, a generous knob of butter and a handful of grated cheese.
Caserecce with langoustines
It is important to use the same pan throughout as it will become charged with flavour during the initial stage. Fresh whole langoustines are a proper treat, but you can substitute with frozen. If they aren’t whole, just the tails, that’s fine as long as they still have the shell on. I have tried this with homemade gnocchi too, and it was stratospheric. Serves 4
garlic 2 cloves, thinly sliced
chilli 1, dried
olive oil 3 tbsp
langoustines 20, whole
parsley a small bunch
white wine 1 glass
tinned plum tomatoes 400g, drained and then chopped
In an open, low-sided pan with a lid, large enough to eventually accommodate the cooked pasta, fry the garlic and whole chilli in the olive oil. After a minute, add the langoustines and a pinch of salt. Fry for another minute of two, turning every so often. They will smell wonderful. Now chop and add most of the parsley with the wine, and cover.
Steam for 5 minutes, then turn the heat down, uncover and remove the langoustines to a plate. Add the tomatoes to the pan and simmer for 20 minutes.
During this time, peel most of the langoustines, leaving a few whole for dramatic effect. Be careful as the shells are sharp. You can squeeze any juice left in the heads into the sauce.
Cook the pasta in plenty of salted boiling water. Drain, reserving some cooking water, then add to the sauce with the langoustines and remaining parsley. Turn everything in the sauce, thoroughly, on a low heat, using splashes of the cooking water to loosen if necessary.
Squash and fontina soup
Part soup, part fondue, this unites some of my favourite winter flavours and textures. Fontina isn’t a necessity; emmental, for example, would be just as good. Serves 4
winter squash 1, about 2kg
olive oil 1 tbsp
garlic 4 cloves, whole but peeled
thyme ½ bunch
bread 2 thick slices
Heat the oven to 180C/gas mark 4. Peel the squash, cut in half, remove the seeds and chop into pieces. Toss in olive oil with the garlic cloves, thyme branches, salt and pepper. Roast for about 30 minutes, or until cooked, but not blackened.
Tear the bread into pieces and bake with a little olive oil for 8 minutes until crisp and golden. Heat your serving bowls.
Bring the milk to the boil with a grating of nutmeg. Cut the fontina into small cubes. Arrange with the bread in the bowls.
Whisk the roasted squash into the hot milk until smooth(ish). Check the seasoning and pour over the cheese, which should quickly melt.
Zuppa di crauti
I buy sauerkraut rather than make my own. Given that you can also use tinned or jarred beans, this is a failsafe store-cupboard winter supper. If you have extra time, and like the meditative process of soaking and then cooking dried pulses, I have given you the option below. It will reward you with superior flavour. Serves 4
dried borlotti beans 250g (or 400g drained, tinned or jarred borlotti beans)
fresh bay leaves 2
sage 2 sprigs
garlic 3 peeled cloves, 2 whole and 1 chopped
olive oil 4-5 tbsp
onion 1, diced
pancetta 100g slice, diced
Soak the dried beans overnight in cold water.
The next day, bring them to the boil in plenty of fresh water with the bay, sage, and 2 garlic cloves. After 20 minutes, add a few tablespoons of olive oil. If the beans need topping up with water, do so, just so they’re barely covered. In another 20 minutes or so, the beans should be ready – they’ll be thick and soft. Season.
Meanwhile, heat another 2 tbsp of oil in a heavy saucepan and cook the onion, pancetta and chopped garlic clove over a medium heat. When soft, add the sauerkraut and top up with cold water. Simmer for 15 minutes, then add the beans.
Simmer together for a few minutes before putting a lid on the pot and allowing to sit for 5 minutes for the flavours to get acquainted. Serve.