Nigella’s Cook, Eat, Repeat – Christmas Special: The Christmas tree is up, the tea lights are sparkling, wood is burning in the fire pit, and it’s the culinary highlight of the festive season and the year. Nigella is indulging in a little kitchen-table tourism with food from near and far to warm up the winter evenings and add a special sparkle to the season.
Expect wintry walks bolstered by warming and celebratory food and drink: melt-in-the-mouth Linzer cookies, gloriously pink pomegranate cocktails, smoked salmon on black bread and Norwegian pork ribs with Swedish-inspired Jansson’s temptation.
Nigella’s Cook, Eat, Repeat – Christmas Special
Luscious vegan gingerbread
I am preposterously proud of this squidgy gingerbread, and I don’t mind who knows it. It’s everything you want from a gingerbread – sticky, spicy, deeply aromatic – and you would never miss the butter or eggs.
Warning: ideally you need to make this at least a day before you plan to eat it. Harsh, I know.
- Preheat the oven to 170C/150C Fan/Gas 3½. Line a 23cm/9in square tin with baking paper, so that it covers the base and comes up the sides of the tin. Leave something heavy on it to keep it down while you melt everything together.
- Measure the oil in a jug, then pour it into a fairly wide, heavy-based saucepan (mine is 22cm/8½in in diameter). Measure the syrup and treacle using the oily jug, as this will stop them sticking, and pour them into the saucepan. Tip the sugar into the pan and add the prunes, the grated ginger, spices and salt. Warm over low heat, gently whisking to combine. Don’t whisk too much: you do not want to get a lot of air in the mixture. Once everything’s melted and mixed, take the pan off the heat, it should be warm at this stage, rather than boiling hot. Add the oat milk, gently whisking until it’s incorporated.
- Whisk in the flour in 3 or 4 batches, patiently getting rid of any lumps as you go. This will take a few minutes; the only lumps you should see are the little bits of prune, and these will melt into the gingerbread as it bakes.
- Dissolve the bicarb in the warm water in a bigger cup than you think it needs, then add the vinegar and quickly whisk the fizzing mixture into the pan.
- Carefully pour the gingerbread batter into the lined tin and bake for 50–55 minutes, though start checking at 45. It may look cooked at 45 minutes, but as it’s so damp, a cake tester won’t help enormously – you’d expect some crumbs to stick to it – so take it out of the oven and touch the top quickly; if cooked, it should bounce back a bit under your fingers.
- Leave to cool in its tin on a wire rack, although I’m afraid I’m going to caution you against eating it the minute it’s cold. To taste this at its best, wrap the tin first in baking parchment and then in foil, and leave for a day or two before cutting into it.
Norwegian pork ribs – Nigella’s Cook, Eat, Repeat
You are in for such a treat. This recipe has utterly changed the way I cook pork belly. In truth, I had come across this Norwegian pork rib roast before, as I spent quite a lot of time in Norway when I was a young child, but I had no idea then how it was cooked and had long since forgotten about it.
- You need to take the pork out of the fridge about an hour before you cook it so factor that into your timetable, adding it to the 3 hours, give or take, that the pork will be in the oven. For now, unwrap it and lay it rind-side down on a large chopping board.
- Put the garlic cloves into the mortar part of a pestle and mortar, or into a bowl you can use with a stick blender. Add 2 tablespoons of the sea salt flakes (or 1 tablespoon of fine sea salt), the juniper berries and the stalks from your dill, and start either bashing, grinding and crushing or whizzing, as you prefer, until you have an aromatic green paste. It’s harder work with a pestle and mortar, but I adore making it this way: it makes my kitchen smell, rather invigoratingly, like a Nordic spa.
- Where the butcher has sawn through the bones, you will have 2 long troughs to tuck the paste into. Run a knife through them if you need to open up the cut area a little more. Press the green paste evenly between them. Push as many of the dill fronds into the paste as you can fit. Turn the pork rind-side up. Rub the rind and sides of the pork with the remaining 1 tablespoon of sea salt flakes (or 1½ teaspoons of fine sea salt).
- Get out a large roasting tin (I use one that measures 34 x 37 x 5cm/13½ x 14½ x 2in). Place the onion slices in the tin to prop up the pork. One end must be slightly higher than the other, so that any liquid pours off and doesn’t pool on the rind, so place the pork, rind-side up, on the onions. Leave the pork in the tin for about 1 hour to lose its fridge chill. Preheat the oven to 220C/200C Fan/Gas 7.
Method part 2
- Pour the 250ml of just-boiled water into the roasting tin, cover the tin tightly with kitchen foil, and cook in the hot oven for 45 minutes. When it’s had its 45 minutes, take the pork out of the oven and remove the foil; the rind should have softened and puffed up a little. Use a large sharp knife to define the squares on the rind, cutting a little deeper into the original scoring marks. Or if you didn’t get it done by the butcher, do your own scoring at this point, cutting the softened rind into 2cm/¾in squares.
- Turn the oven down to 170C/150C Fan/Gas 3½. Put the pork back into the oven without the foil, making sure that it’s still perched, one end higher than the other, on the slices of onion. Roast for 2½ hours at this temperature, by which time much of the fat should have rendered down, melting lusciously into the meat, and the rind will be beginning to crackle. But if, when you poke the tip of a knife into the pork, it doesn’t feel tender, leave it in for another 30 minutes.
- Turn the oven back up to 220C/200C Fan/Gas 7 and give the pork around 15 minutes – or a little longer if needed, but make sure the rind doesn’t go too far and burn – until the crackling is deep gold and crunchy: some of the little squares may have popped up. Take the pork out of the oven and remove carefully to a carving board. Cut through both sides of each rib, down to where the butcher cut through the bones, then cut a chunky rib section for each person. The crackling may make this tricky, so you can use poultry shears or kitchen scissors to cut through it before slicing down into the meat. This way each rib section gets a proper piece of crackling.
- Because the meat has to be so heavily salted to boost juiciness and flavour, most of the onions will be far too salty to serve. One or two will be perfect though, and divinely sticky with pork fat; you can share these out meagrely now, or save them for sandwiches later.