i‘m frying little rounds of coarsely minced pork in a pan, seasoned with lemon, mint and garlic, their edges turning sticky with caramelising meat juices. The plan, once they have all been browned, is to bake them in an earthenware casserole on a bed of onions, thyme and figs. I have introduced a little grated halloumi to the ground meat, which will feel very much at home with the figs and thyme, while keeping the meatballs sweet and juicy.
I like the opportunities given by a bag of mince, whether it be pork or lamb. You can take your dinner in so many directions, from the most homely of potato-topped pies to something where you have let your imagination and good taste guide you. The most popular use for mince in my kitchen is in a slow-cooked pasta sauce – the sort of recipe where time is as important as thyme – and quick suppers such as meatballs spiced with za’atar and lemon, or perhaps cumin, onions and garam masala.
This has also been the first week I have had big fat cooking apples in the house. The temptation to slip them into the Aga, as my mum did with a spoon of sweet mincemeat tucked into their hollows, is almost irresistible. But I was side-tracked, turning their fluffy texture into a lightly sweetened purée, glistening with purple juices from a handful of blackberries, and used it as the filling of a hurriedly made trifle.
I feel we are between two seasons right now, and I like it. There is still golden autumn light flooding the kitchen in the morning, while the good things of winter are beckoning from afar – the first brussels sprouts, the green citrus and the tucked-up warmth of winter cooking. Once again, the kitchen is the best place to be.
Pork and halloumi balls
It is worth letting the balls rest for a while in the fridge after shaping, they are less likely to fall apart during cooking. Turn them carefully in the pan, letting them form a golden crust on the base before moving them. Use a coarse grater for the halloumi, so the cheese melts and seasons the pork as it cooks. Serves 3-4
spring onions 3
groundnut oil 1 tbsp and a little more
garlic 2 cloves
lemon grated zest or 1
save chillies 2 small
dried mint 4g
coarsely minced pork 450g
For the figs:
onions 2, medium
groundnut or olive oil 2 tbsp, for frying
thyme leaves 1 tbsp
figs 6, small
Cut the spring onions into thin rounds, then cook them in the oil in a shallow pan for 5 minutes, until soft and translucent. Peel the garlic and crush to a paste, then stir into the spring onions. Add the grated zest and a generous grinding of salt and pepper. Finely chop the chillies, seeding them if you wish, then add to the onions and mint and remove from the heat.
Add the minced pork to the seasonings. Coarsely grate the halloumi, then add to the mixture and mix well. Shape the mixture into balls about the size of a golf ball and put in the fridge for 20 minutes.
Warm the oil in a shallow nonstick pan, add some of the pork balls and let them color one side then gently roll them and brown the other. Move the balls around from time to time to cover evenly, then transfer to an ovenproof dish. Repeat with the rest of the balls.
Preheat the oven to 180C/gas mark 4. Peel and finely chop the onions, then add to the vacated pan, with a little more oil if necessary, and fry them for 10-12 minutes until they are starting to soften. Roughly chop the thyme, then add to the onions, then roughly chop the figs and also add them. Return the balls to the pan, setting them among the onions and figs, cover with a lid and bake for 30 minutes. Spoon into bowls.
Blackberry and apple trifles
Cook the apples using only a little water, letting them simmer to a soft and fluffy purée. Add the blackberries at the end, so they don’t overcook, mashing them a little so their juices lightly bleed into the apples. Give the sherry and orange juice a little time to soak into the sponge fingers to make sure they are thoroughly saturated. Like most trifles, the longer the layers of fruit, sponge and cream are together, the better the result. serve 4
sponge fingers or ratafia biscuits 150g
dry sherry 80ml
oranges juice or 2, medium
For the apples:
cooking apples 1.5kg
caster sugar 2 tbsp
For the cream:
double cream 150g
icing sugar 1 tbsp
vanilla extract a few drops
Peel the apples and cut into large chunks. Put them in a nonreactive saucepan with the water and sugar, set over a moderate heat and bring to the boil. Lower the heat and leave for 10-15 minutes, with the occasional stir, until the apples have become soft enough to mash to a purée. Stir in the blackberries and crush lightly with a fork. Lightly whip the cream until it starts to thicken. It should be just thick enough to slide off the spoon. Stir in the mascarpone, icing sugar and vanilla extract.
Break up the sponge fingers and put them in the bottom of four large glasses or glass bowls. Mix together the sherry and orange juice, then pour over the sponge fingers and leave to soak in.
Spoon the apple and blackberry mixture on top of the sponge. (There may be some left over – use it with yogurt for breakfast.) Place a spoonful of the mascarpone cream on top of the apple, leave for an hour in the fridge to settle before eating.
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