Duck and pomegranate salad with Hoisin vinaigrette. Photo: William Meppem
It's natural that we crave hearty food as the weather cools down. Our bodies are cold, it's dark outside, and food is the next best thing to just curling up on the couch with the heater on. If we can have all of that together, so much the better. We just want to feel comforted.
Most of the cold-weather foods we know how to cook, though, tend to be as heavy as they are hearty. There's nothing wrong with a stew, roast or big bowl of creamy pasta when you're in the mood - I love them, too - but there are times when it's cold outside and you don't feel like weighing yourself down with a big meal.
This week's recipes are for just those occasions. Hearty meals that are bold enough to satisfy a wintry craving, but light enough so you won't feel like you've eaten half a horse.
Thick minestrone with parmesan croutons. Photo: William Meppem
Duck and pomegranate salad with Hoisin vinaigrette
Duck is surprisingly easy to cook, so don't let it intimidate you. Paired with a hoisin vinaigrette, this recipe is a bit like a Peking duck pancake in salad form.
• 4 duck breasts
• 1 red onion, peeled, halved and finely sliced
• 2 spring onions, finely sliced
• 1 Lebanese cucumber, finely sliced
• 2 cups loosely packedrocket leaves
• 1 bunch watercress, picked and thick stalks discarded
• 1 pomegranate, seeds only (see Tip)
• 1 cup mint leaves
• 1 small red chilli, sliced
• 2 tbsp hoisin sauce
• 1 tbsp red wine vinegar
• 1 tbsp lemon juice
• 1 tsp soy sauce
• ¼ tsp freshly ground black pepper
• ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
Place the duck breasts skin-down in a cold frying pan and place the pan over low-medium heat for 10-12 minutes, until the fat is rendered and the skin is crisp and golden. Turn the breasts over and cook on the meat side for about 2 minutes. Remove from the pan and rest for at least 5 minutes in a warm place, then season with salt and thinly slice when ready to serve.
For the hoisin vinaigrette, whisk the hoisin sauce, vinegar, lemon juice, soy sauce and pepper together, then gradually whisk in the olive oil.
Combine the onion, cucumber, rocket, watercress, pomegranate and mint in a large bowl and toss well. Toss some of the dressing through the salad and divide among four plates. Place the duck on top and drizzle with a little more dressing. Scatter with the finely sliced chilli to serve.
Thick minestrone with parmesan croutons
I love a minestrone so thick that it's almost like a stew. You can even pile it onto the croutons and eat it like bruschetta.
• 2 tbsp olive oil
• 3 rashers bacon, finely diced
• 1 large brown onion, peeled and diced
• 2 cloves garlic, peeled and roughly chopped
• 1 carrot, peeled and diced
• 2 stalks celery, diced
• 2 zucchini, diced
• 1 cup finely chopped button mushrooms
• 400g can diced tomatoes
• 1 litre chicken stock
• 1 tsp salt
• 400g can cannellini beans
• 1 cup macaroni
• 2 cups baby spinach
• 1/2 cup basil leaves, torn
• ¼ cup finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
• 40g butter, softened
• 4-6 thick slices sourdough
• 100g grated parmesam
Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat and fry the bacon until it's lightly browned and the fat is rendered. Add the onion, garlic, carrot, celery, zucchini and mushrooms and fry for about 10 minutes until the vegetables are softened and fragrant. Add the tomatoes, stock and salt and bring to a simmer. Simmer for 20 minutes, then add the beans and macaroni and simmer for a further 10 minutes until the pasta is tender. Stir through the spinach, basil and parsley and allow to stand for 5 minutes. Adjust for seasoning.
For the croutons, thickly butter each slice of sourdough and scatter with the parmesan. Press the cheese onto the butter so that it holds firmly. Heat a frying pan (preferably non-stick) over medium heat and fry the croutons cheese-side down for around 4 minutes until the cheese is browned and crisp. Serve immediately with the soup.
To get the "jewels" out of a pomegranate easily, cut or break it in half and repeatedly and firmly tap the fruit's hard shell with a tablespoon. The seeds will just fall out.