Blue Monday may or may not be the most gloomy day of the year, but it’s a good idea to have some pre-emptive preparations in place either way. For me, that always takes the form of food and its unfailing ability to comfort. From there, it tends to be a very short step to melted cheese: grilled cheese sandwiches, pizza, mac’n’cheese, tuna melt … it’s no coincidence that so many people’s favourite comfort food is basically an excuse to melt, stretch and eat cheese. No need to smile for the camera, but we can all still say, “Cheeeeese!”
Adjaruli khachapuri with aleppo chilli and spring onion butter (pictured top)
Khachapuri is a Georgian yeasted bread filled with cheese, egg and butter. It’s usually served for breakfast, but don’t restrict yourself – it’s welcome all day. The dough can be made a day ahead, and refrigerated overnight, ready to be shaped before baking. Use medium or even small eggs here, because the white from a large one will just slide off the already cheese-filled khachapuris.
Prep 20 min
Prove 1 hr 30 min
Cook 20 min
1½ tsp fast-action dried yeast
½ tsp sugar
250g plain flour, plus extra for dusting
100g Greek-style yoghurt
1 tbsp olive oil
6 medium eggs, 2 beaten
¼ tsp carom seeds
½ tsp nigella seeds
Salt and black pepper, plus ⅛ tsp cracked black pepper for the cheese mix
80g cream cheese
240g reduced-moisture mozzarella, roughly grated
For the aleppo chilli and spring onion butter
80g unsalted butter
2½ tsp aleppo chilli
3 spring onions, trimmed and finely chopped
Put the yeast, sugar and a tablespoon and a half of warm water in a small bowl, stir to combine and set aside for five minutes, until it starts to bubble. Put the flour, yoghurt, oil and one beaten egg in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook, mix well, then add the carom seeds, half the nigella seeds and three-quarters of a teaspoon of salt, and mix on a medium-high speed for two minutes, until just combined. Add the contents of the yeast bowl and mix for for five minutes, until the dough turns smooth and starts to come away from the sides of the bowl in one ball. Cover tightly, ideally with reusable kitchen wrap, then leave in a warm place to prove for an hour and a half, until doubled in size.
Meanwhile, mix the cream cheese and mozzarella in a small bowl with the cracked black pepper, then divide into four equal pieces, roll each into a ball, put on a plate and chill in the fridge.
Heat the oven to 230C (220C fan)/475F/gas 9, and put a large baking tray on the middle rack to heat up.
Once the dough has doubled in size, scrape it on to a lightly floured work surface and knead to knock out the air and bring it together into a smooth ball. Divide the dough into four equal-sized balls, then roll out each one into a 22cm x 17cm oval. Brush the tops all over with the other beaten egg, then roll over the edges of the longer sides of each oval to make a cigar-like shape with an 8cm gap in the middle. Pinch together the ends, so each piece now looks a bit like a boat, then place one cheese ball in the exposed middle of each boat. Brush the exposed edges of the dough all over with the remaining beaten egg, then carefully lift each khachapuri on to the hot tray in the oven and bake for 13 minutes, until the cheese is bubbling and the bread golden brown.
Remove the tray from the oven, then flatten the hot cheese balls with the back of a spoon. Crack an egg on top of each flattened cheese ball, top each egg with a pinch of salt and return to the oven for five minutes, until the egg white is set but the yolk still runny.
Meanwhile, make the chilli and spring onion butter. Put a small saucepan on a medium-high heat, add the butter and, once it’s bubbling furiously, stir in the aleppo chilli. Take off the heat and stir in the spring onions and a pinch of salt.
Arrange the khachapuri on a large platter and sprinkle over the remaining quarter-teaspoon of nigella seeds. Spoon a tablespoon of the hot butter mix on top of each bread, and serve with the rest on the side for dipping.
Herby käsespätzle with caramelised onions
Spätzle is an egg-based dumpling from southern Germany (the käse part of this dish’s name refers to the cheese). It can turn out a bit messy the first time you try to make them, but give yourself the challenge, and have everything ready and within reach before you start. The size of the dish you use is very important here, because the large surface area means you get lots of tasty crisp bits. Thank you to Christiane MacKenzie, sister of the test kitchen’s Verena Lochmuller, for sharing her recipe with us.
Prep 20 min
Cook 40 min
Serves 4 as a side
1 tbsp olive oil
1 large onion, peeled and thinly sliced (220g)
Salt and black pepper
2 tsp picked thyme leaves2-3 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed (15g)
1¼ tsp caraway seeds, lightly crushed in a mortar
250g plain flour
2 eggs, beaten
160ml sparkling water
½ tbsp lemon juice
150g gruyere, grated
7 tbsp (20g) finely chopped chives
8 tbsp (30g) roughly chopped parsley
Put a medium-sized, shallow, ovenproof saute pan on a medium-high heat, add the oil, butter, onion and an eighth of a teaspoon of salt, and cook, stirring often, for 20-25 minutes, until lightly golden. Add the thyme, garlic and a teaspoon of caraway seeds, cook, stirring, for three minutes more, until fragrant, then take off the heat.
Meanwhile, make the spätzle batter. Sift the flour into a medium bowl and stir in a half-teaspoon of salt. Make a well in the middle, then, using a wooden spoon, vigorously beat in the eggs and sparkling water for two minutes, until big air bubbles appear and the batter is smooth and glossy; the bubbles will keep the batter light.
Fill a medium saucepan with a litre and a half of water, add a tablespoon and a half of salt and bring to a boil. Once it’s bubbling, turn down the heat to medium and leave on a simmer. Hold a large slotted spoon with medium or large perforations over the pan, ladle in a spoonful of the batter, then tap the spoon on the side of the water pan (or use a smaller spoon to scrape the batter through the slots), so it drops through the holes into the water. When the spätzle float to the surface, after about 10 seconds, they are done, so lift them out with a second slotted spoon, transfer to a colander to drain and repeat with the remaining batter.
Heat the oven to 240C (220C fan)/475F/gas 9, and mix the gruyere with the chopped chives and parsley in a small bowl. Stir the cooked spätzle into the still warm onion mix and add the lemon juice and a quarter-teaspoon of black pepper. Take off the heat and stir in half the gruyere mixture. Scatter the remaining gruyere mixture, a quarter-teaspoon of black pepper and the remaining quarter-teaspoon of caraway seeds on top, then bake for 12 minutes, until the cheese and spätzle are crisp and bubbling in places. Serve hot straight from the pan.
Aligot with roast winter vegetables and chermoula
I once read a description of aligot as “stick-to-your-ribs comfort food”, which really stuck with me for telling it like it is. This fondue-like mashed potato-and-cheese dish originates from the Midi-Pyrenees in France, and probably makes most sense after a long day outside in the mountains, but I’m sure a good stomp around the park will work just as well. Traditionally, it’s made with tomme fraiche, but for ease of sourcing I’ve used comté and mozzarella instead. Swap the root veg for roast cabbage or sprouts, if you like.
Prep 35 min
Cook 40 min
For the chermoula
2 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
2 large green chillies, finely chopped, pith and seeds removed if you don’t like much heat (20g)
90ml olive oil
60g coriander, leaves and soft stems, roughly chopped
20g flat-leaf parsley leaves
1 tsp cumin seeds, lightly toasted and finely crushed in a mortar
1 tsp coriander seeds, lightly toasted and finely crushed in a mortar
3 tsp lemon juice
For the roast vegetables
3 small carrots, trimmed, peeled and cut at an angle into 2cm-thick slices (350g)
3 small parsnips, trimmed, peeled and cut at an angle into 2cm-thick slices (350g)
3 small sweet potatoes, peeled and cut at an angle into 2cm-thick slices (350g)
3 tbsp olive oil
For the aligot
500g red potatoes, peeled and cut into 3cm pieces
10 garlic cloves, peeled (50g)
230ml double cream
2 tsp dijon mustard
Salt and black pepper
200g comté, rind removed and discarded, finely grated
150g mozzarella, roughly grated
First make the chermoula. Put the garlic, chillies and oil in the bowl of a large food processor and blitz until almost smooth. Add the coriander and parsley leaves and the cumin and coriander seeds, then pulse four or five times, until almost finely chopped but still green. Decant into a small bowl, stir in the lemon juice and set aside.
Meanwhile, heat the oven to 240C (220C fan)/475F/gas 9. Put all the root vegetables in a medium bowl with two tablespoons of oil, a half-teaspoon of salt and a good grind of pepper, toss to coat then arrange in a single layer on a large oven tray lined with greaseproof paper. Roast for 20 to 25 minutes, until softened, blistered and charred in places.
While the veg is roasting, make the aligot. Put a litre of water and a tablespoon of salt in a medium saucepanand bring to a boil. Add the potatoes and garlic, cook for 15 minutes, until tender, then drain. Push the spuds and garlic through the finest setting of a potato ricer (if you don’t have a ricer, pass them through a mouli, or mash with a masher until very smooth). Return the mash to the hot pan, but off the heat, then stir vigorously with a wooden spoon until it comes together into a smooth ball. Put the pan on a low heat, pour in the cream, mustard, half a teaspoon of salt and a good grind of black pepper, and stir thoroughly until the mix thickens to the consistency of a runny mash. Vigorously beat in the grated cheese a third at a time, until it’s all melted in and the aligot mix is shiny and pulls away from the sides of the pan in smooth strands when lifted up with the spoon. Turn down the heat to very low and keep warm.
To assemble the dish, put a large ovenproof platter in the oven for five minutes, until warm but not burning hot. Remove from the oven, spoon three-quarters of the aligot over the platter and arrange the hot roast vegetables on top. Drizzle over half of the chermoula and the remaining tablespoon of oil, and serve hot with the remaining chermoula in a bowl and the remaining aligot for dipping on the side.