Hot broth and honey apples

Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images
Nigel Slater helps warm  our days with a broth of leeks and lentils, followed by baked apples with honey and raisins. 

A deep broth of lentils or beans is a celebration of winter vegetables, sometimes made even better by thick slices of toast at the bottom of your bowl, sodden with hot broth and as comforting as a buttered crumpet.

On other occasions there might be a sheet of rosemary-spiked focaccia to tear apart at the table or a loaf of dark and treacly rye for eating with bitter marmalade.

Any slightly stale bread will do for the soup, cut as if sawing up a log, rubbed on one side with a cut clove of garlic, then hidden at the bottom of each bowl. As the hot soup is ladled over, the herb-flecked liquor soaks into them, puffing them up like clouds and sending a gentle note of garlic up in the steam.

Then a proper pudding will be needed. A tray of baked apples will do nicely, their cores removed, the hollows filled with sponge cake, rasins and cranberries. There will be crimson juice to pour over their snowy flesh and, more than probably, a jug of cream.

A soup of leeks and lentils

A light main course, substantial enough for lunch and, if you include the stems of rainbow chard, rather more cheerful than the usual lentil soup. A large pot will last a day or two, but avoid letting it boil for more than a minute or two, so the greens still taste fresh and lively. The miso may seem an unusual addition for lentil soup, but it introduces the sort of savoury depth a soup needs on a cold winter’s day.

Serves 4

600g leeks

30g butter

250g carrots

2 stalks celery

75g small lentils, green or brown

1 litre vegetable stock

1 heaped Tbsp light miso paste

150g leaves of spring greens, cabbage, chard

1 small lemon


Cook the lentils in boiling, lightly salted water for about 15 minutes, until tender but not soft. Drain and set aside.

Trim the leeks, discarding the roots and the tough tips of the leaves. Slice the leeks into rings about as thick as a pencil, then pile into a colander and wash very thoroughly in cold water.

In a large saucepan, melt the butter, stir in the leeks and cover the surface with a piece of greaseproof paper or baking parchment. This will help the leeks to cook in their own steam without browning. Cover with a lid and leave to simmer.

Peel and finely dice the carrots and add to the leeks, then finely dice and stir in the celery. Continue cooking for about 10 minutes, until the vegetables are tender.

Stir in the vegetable stock and the miso paste and continue cooking for about 10 minutes.

Wash the greens, roll them up and shred into ribbons. I like to keep them quite wide, like pappardelle. Stir them into the soup and continue cooking for 3 or 4 minutes until the greens have relaxed. Finely grate the lemon and stir into the leek soup and check the seasoning, adding salt and black pepper. Ladle the leek soup into deep bowls, the lentils scattered over the surface.

Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images

Baked apples with raisins, honey and cranberries

You can use a Bramley-style cooking apple or a large, sweet dessert apple for this. Do score the skin of each apple around its tummy, so the skin splits in a wide smile as they bake. (Should you forget, your apples may explode into a sweet, frothy mess.)

Serves 6

6 large apples

For the filling

100g plain cake crumbs or brioche

½ tsp mixed spice

4 Tbsp runny honey

3 heaped Tbsp golden raisins or sultanas

60g cranberries, fresh or frozen

6 heaped Tbsp redcurrant jelly

250ml orange juice

To serve

A jug of cream


Preheat the oven to 180°C.

Remove the core from the apples with an apple corer or small, sharp knife. Score the apples around their horizon, cutting through the skin, but not too deeply into the flesh. Place the apples in a baking dish, but make sure they are not quite touching. Allow them a little room in which to puff up.

Make the filling by crumbling the sponge cake crumbs into a mixing bowl. Then add the mixed spice, honey, golden raisins and cranberries to the crumbs. Warm the redcurrant jelly in a small saucepan until it melts, then stir into the crumb mixture.

Stuff the hollows of the apples with the fruit and crumb filling using a teaspoon, scattering any surplus around the base of the fruit. Pour the orange juice into the baking dish, then bake for about 50 minutes until the skins have split open. The apples should be soft and frothy, but not collapsed, so keep an eye on them.

Serve with the juice in the baking dish spooned over them or with a jug of cream.