On the menu | This week’s recipes
As a child, I hated the days between Christmas and New Year. They were the flat days. My grandparents would leave on the day after Boxing Day and the house would suddenly feel empty. Life went back to normal, which, in our house, meant a lot of tidying up.
Those who disliked Christmas (my mum) wanted to get the place shipshape again. She would tut as she found yet another piece of stray wrapping paper, and the tree (was it doing it to spite her?) shed its needles faster than she could hoover them up. I felt sorry for it, dying despite its adorned branches.
We ate turkey sandwiches until we could eat no more, then turkey à la king (basically turkey and mushrooms in a white sauce with added sherry to make it fancy), then turkey curry.
I could never understand why we cooked such a big turkey if it took five days to finish it. The making of stock and soup relieved the sense of anticlimax, though. The steam fugged up the kitchen windows, making the place warm, filling it with the smell of leeks and parsley.
Maybe it’s age, but now I love the period between Christmas and New Year, precisely because it’s empty.
I yearn for fresh flavours, crisp textures and big winter salads
These are the glorious ‘days between’, days of freedom. You can hibernate in the corner of the sofa with all your new books, or go for walks during which you have time to enjoy the smell of cold earth or examine how much frosty grass glitters (get right down and have a look).
And the cooking – the poking-around-in-the-fridge kind – is a joy. You can fry up the turkey stuffing with potatoes and nduja (a spicy Calabrian pork paste – you can get it from Ocado) or chorizo and stick an egg on top, or make cheesy fritters with leftover Jerusalem artichokes, potatoes and Stilton.
Get cooking | Diana Henry’s latest recipes
Because the Christmas Day meal is such a number, afterwards you can have friends round and give them a single homely dish, such as turkey and ham pie or little puff-pastry parcels of cheese and leeks (it’s a good idea to stash some packets of puff pastry in your freezer at this time of year).
Stock can be made as it’s perfect soup weather and you have an abundance of bones (and, if you’re lucky, stock from cooking a ham as well). I yearn for fresh flavours (Asian spices, chilli and citrus fruits), crisp textures (raw fennel, apple, celery) and big winter salads.
The Christmas meal gives you a thirst that goes on for days, leaving you yearning for anything juicy.
As you gear up for another celebration (New Year), do and eat exactly what you want to.
Pea, parsley and ham soup
My mum always makes lentil soup after Christmas from the ham stock, but I wanted to try something fresher tasting. This has both ballast and lightness. You can also make this with chicken or turkey stock but ham stock is better – nice and sweet and slightly fatty. If your stock is very salty then add enough water to make it palatable and use the amount stipulated in the recipe.
- 50g butter
- 1 large onion, chopped
- 1 carrot, diced
- 1 stick celery, diced
- 1 large potato (about 200g), peeled and diced
- 1.6 litres fresh ham stock
- 750g frozen peas
- 15g bunch parsley, leaves only
- squeeze of lemon (optional)
- 200g shredded ham hock or ham from a joint
- drop of double cream or crème fraiche (optional)
- Melt the butter in a saucepan and add the onion, carrot, celery and potato. Sauté gently for a few minutes, then add a splash of water and cover the pan. Cook on a very low heat until the onion is soft but not coloured. Check every so often to make sure the mixture is still moist and not about to catch and burn on the base of the pan.
- Add the stock and bring to the boil. Season (careful with the salt). Stir in the peas and cook for about 4 minutes. Add the parsley. Whizz, in batches, in a blender (being careful to do it in small amounts or the heat will push the blender lid off – you can also leave it until it cools before you blend it) for a gorgeous smooth soup.
- Taste – you might find it needs some lemon (anything from a squeeze to the juice of ½ lemon – it can brighten the flavours). Stir in the ham and heat through again before serving. You can have it as it is or add a drop of double cream or crème fraiche.
Eastern spiced turkey and noodle soup
You can add other ingredients to this, such as sliced shiitake mushrooms, spinach leaves or prawns. It is one of the best ways of using up leftover turkey, though, and these flavours are just what you need in the gap between Christmas and New Year.
- 1.2 litres turkey or chicken stock
- 4 chillies, 2 of them halved, deseeded and finely chopped, the other 2 finely sliced into rounds to garnish
- 4cm cube ginger, peeled and sliced
- 2 stalks lemongrass, bruised
- 2 kaffir lime leaves
- 1 tbsp caster sugar
- juice of 1 lime (you may need more)
- 3 tbsp fish sauce
- 2 heads pak choi, sliced
- 250g cooked chicken or turkey, shredded
- 3 spring onions, finely sliced on the diagonal
- 10g bunch coriander, leaves only
- 200g vermicelli noodles
- wedges of lime, to serve
- Bring the stock to the boil with the chopped chillies, the ginger, lemongrass and lime leaves. Turn down to a simmer and cook for 15 minutes. Strain. Add the sugar, lime juice and fish sauce. Taste. You need a hot, sour, salty, sweet balance so you may have to adjust by adding more of something. Bring to a vigorous simmer again.
- Add the pak choi and cook for 1 minute, then add the meat and spring onions and heat through. Throw in the coriander.
- Cook the noodles according to the packet instructions. Divide between four to six bowls and ladle the soup on top. Add the rest of the chilli and serve with wedges of lime.
Fennel, apple and blackberry salad
Fresh, crisp, slightly sweet-sour. I know blackberries aren’t in season now but they appear to be available all year round and they taste good (unlike out-of-season strawberries). Good with cold cuts, cheese, even smoked salmon.
6 as a lunch or side salad
- 2 small fennel bulbs
- juice of 1 lemon
- 2 celery sticks, with leaves if possible, washed and trimmed
- 2 small eating apples
- 6 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil (use a fruity one over a grassy one)
- 1 tbsp white balsamic vinegar
- ¼ tsp Dijon mustard
- ¼ tsp honey (optional)
- 75g blackberries
- 15g halved hazelnuts, toasted
- It’s best to prepare and assemble this salad quickly, so the elements don’t discolour. Quarter the fennel, trim the tops and the bases and remove any coarse outer leaves. If there are any little fronds, remove and reserve them. Using a mandolin – or a very sharp, fine-bladed knife – slice the fennel very thinly and put it into a large bowl with the lemon juice.
- Slice the celery finely on an angle, reserving any leaves. Quarter and core the apples, then change the setting on your mandolin and slice them into slightly thicker pieces. Toss the celery and apples in the lemon juice too. Add any fennel fronds and celery leaves you reserved.
- Mix the olive oil with the balsamic vinegar, mustard and some salt and pepper. If you want to use honey – a little bit of sweetness is good with the blackberries – add it now. Taste.
- Toss the dressing into a broad shallow serving bowl with all the other ingredients, except the blackberries and hazelnuts. Taste the salad for seasoning, and adjust if necessary. Just before serving, scatter the hazelnuts and blackberries on top.