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Mood busting food with Gill Meller

Mood busting food with Gill Meller
We asked chef, award winning author and friend of Folk, Gill Meller to share some seasonal food wisdom in a bid to beat the lockdown blues.
"Winter is a challenging time of year, but with an added national lockdown it feels like even more of a struggle. It’s really important we don’t let it bring us down and there are simple things we can do to help navigate these darker, colder times, things that can keep our minds busy and our souls satisfied. Creative pastimes from drawing to knitting, singing to writing are accessible and therapeutic and cooking is exactly the same. 
Cooking good food at home is an incredibly important part of my daily routine at the moment, it helps to keep me happy and nourishes my body too. The dishes I’ve been making aren't complicated or time consuming. It’s simple, seasonal cooking and for the most part it’s inexpensive and the ingredients are relatively easy to come by, even in lockdown. Cooking a good meal can lift you and improve your wellbeing, that's why the recipes Ive chosen here work so well. They're designed to feel like a massive hug when you eat them, which is often all we really need..


Roast purple sprouting broccoli with anchovy, cream, chilli & parmesan

Purple sprouting broccoli is at its best in deepest winter. When it’s dark and the weather is bitter and wicked, this plant will flourish and, as if in defiance, become sweeter with it. There are a lot of delicious ways to cook this superb brassica, but recently I’ve been roasting it, which accentuates its already deep quality. This dish combines a handful of big flavours that all complement the broccoli beautifully. Everyone who’s tasted this dish has gone back for more.

Heat the oven to 200°C/400°F/gas mark 6.
Trim and discard any coarser fibrous ends from the broccoli spears, then lay the tender parts out across a baking tray. Season with salt and pepper and trickle with 2 tablespoons of the olive oil. Place the broccoli in the hot oven and roast for 20–25 minutes, turning once or twice during cooking, until the thickest part of the stem is tender.

While the broccoli is roasting, set a small pan over a medium heat. Add the remaining oil and the butter and when it’s bubbling away, add the garlic, anchovies, chilli and rosemary. Sizzle the ingredients for 3–4 minutes, until the anchovies start to melt into the butter and the garlic starts to just toast around the edges. Pour in the cream and bring up to a simmer. Turn down the heat and allow the cream to reduce by a third, or until it’s nice and thick (about 3–4 minutes). As soon as the broccoli has cooked, remove it from the oven, spoon over the anchovy dressing and finish with a scattering of grated Parmesan cheese. Serve immediately.

Serves 2 as a main or 4 as a side
400g (14oz) chunky purple sprouting broccoli
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 knob of butter
2 or 3 garlic cloves, peeled and thinly sliced
8 anchovy fillets
1 small red chilli, thinly sliced
4 rosemary sprigs, leaves picked and chopped
200ml (7fl oz) double cream
25g (1oz) Parmesan or hard
sheep’s cheese, finely grated
salt and freshly ground black pepper


Squash, chicory, hazelnuts & rosemary

Simple cooking is about understanding the balance of flavour and texture and how these components play out together on a plate. When you’re using only three or four ingredients, there’s nowhere to hide, so things really have to be there for a reason, or not at all. This wintry salad goes some way towards illustrating this point, and it does it in the most achievable and enjoyable of ways. I’ve used firm red chicory heads here, but you could use chunky wedges of radicchio, another of my favourite bitter-tasting leaves.
First, make a butternut squash purée. Set a large heavy-based pan over a medium heat. Add 2 tablespoons of the olive oil to the pan, followed by the onion, two-thirds of the garlic, and all the squash. Season with a little salt and pepper. Gently fry, stirring regularly, for 10–12 minutes, then pour in the vegetable stock. Place a lid on the pan and cook for a further 15–20 minutes, or until the squash is tender.
Remove the pan from the heat and allow the contents to cool for 5–10 minutes. Spoon out the squash, onions and garlic into a jug blender, ensuring that you don’t add too much liquid as you do so, as you want the purée to be nice and thick. Whiz the mixture until completely smooth. Season the purée to taste and set aside.
Set a large heavy griddle pan over a really high heat. When it’s smoking hot, add the chicory heads, trickle with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Griddle the chicory until it’s charred on the outside and tender in the middle; 8–10 minutes on each side. In a small pan, heat the remaining olive oil over a medium heat. Add the remaining garlic, the rosemary and the blanched hazelnuts. Fry gently for 3–4 minutes, until the garlic is soft, but not burned. Season with salt, remove from the heat and set aside. To serve, spoon the purée out over a large, warm serving plate. Top with the chargrilled chicory and finish by scattering over the warm salty, garlicky hazelnuts.
Serves 4
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, halved and thinly sliced
3 garlic cloves, peeled and sliced
750g (1lb 10oz) butternut
squash, peeled and cut into 2–4cm (3⁄4–11⁄2in) cubes
150ml (5fl oz) vegetable stock
4 small heads of red chicory, halved
2 or 3 rosemary sprigs, roughly chopped
100g (31⁄2oz) blanched hazelnuts
salt and freshly ground black pepper


"My lockdown tip would be to try cooking something for some one else. A friend, a neighbour who’s on their own, someone you work with or just someone you know may be struggling right now. You’ll have to be careful about how you get it to them, but if you can, you’ll make a difference to that persons day. Mutually rewarding and wholly life affirming"                          

For more Gill goodness, follow his instagram feed. Or buy his latest book Root-Stem-Leaf-Flower
(Photography Andrew Montgomery)