When you’re eating a bacon sandwich with thick white bread and ketchup, or putting salt and vinegar on your chips, be assured that, rather than shaking his head and waggling a home-butchered sticky-glazed spare rib disdainfully in your direction, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall would approve.
In his latest series he celebrates the power of three, cooking up tasty dishes based around a trio of main ingredients. “Somehow three is a magic number in food,” he says. “So many great plates of food have got three elements working together. You very quickly get a feel for it and find that there are always contrasts in textures and flavours involved.”
“There are so many things you can play with. At this time of year, for example, roots and squashes give a sweet creaminess that you can roast and contrast with toasted nuts and chilli. There are lots of different ways of balancing and complementing those gutsy flavours.”
“And it’s not necessarily three individual ingredients – it might be a hot chocolate brownie served with vanilla ice cream and a pile of raspberries,” he explains.
On screen, chefs “forage” in Hugh’s River Cottage kitchen garden for their ingredients. Most of us forage at a supermarket. Is that a problem? “There are plenty of good ingredients to be had in the supermarkets,” he says. “I have picked various quarrels with the supermarket ethos, but that doesn’t mean that your supermarket parsnips or olive oil or whatever you choose are not going to be up to scratch.”
Is the hat-trick approach a response to home cooks being pressed for time, or alarmed by long recipes? “I’ve been paring down recipes instinctively over the past few years, but you can put together fantastic plates of food in a fairly short time and without long lists of ingredients. It’s a template for having fun and a confidence-boosting way to cook.”
You may think this sounds a little odd, but the delicate bitterness of marmalade is delicious with salty ham, and also cuts the creamy squash flesh. You can make this dish with cooked or leftover ham, but you want thick wedges or chunky pieces rather than thin slices.
Serves 6-8 Recipe
3 gammon hocks 1 carrot, quartered 1 celery stalk, quartered 1 onion, quartered 1-2 squash (1.5 2kg/3lb 5oz 4lb 8oz in total) 2-3 tbsp rapeseed or olive oil Some leafy sprigs of thyme (optional) 6 bay leaves (optional) 6 tbsp marmalade Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 .Put the gammon hocks in a large pan with the carrot, celery and onion. Pour on enough cold water to cover and bring to the boil, then skim off any scum. Lower the heat to a gentle simmer. Cover and cook gently for about 3 hours, until tender.
2. An hour or so before the ham will be cooked, preheat the oven to 190˚C/375˚F/gas 5. Cut the squash into wedges, scoop out the seeds and put into a roasting tray large enough to take the ham chunks as well (later on). Season the squash all over with salt and pepper, trickle with the oil and toss well. Roast for 25-30 minutes.
3. Once cooked, remove the ham hocks from the pan, reserving the liquor. When cool enough to handle, remove the skin and excess fat from the hocks.
4. Take the meat off the bone in large chunks. Add them to the roasting tray with the thyme and bay, if using. Mix the marmalade with 3-4 tablespoons of the warm ham liquor (or water, if you haven’t cooked the ham yourself); you want a thick coating consistency. Spoon this marmalade mixture over the ham and squash. Return the tray to the oven and bake for a further 20-25 minutes until glazed and bubbling. Serve with something green, such as buttered Savoy cabbage or a salad of winter leaves.
To order your copy of Hugh’s Three Good Things (Bloomsbury, £25) for £18 with free p&p, call 01603 648176.