I was inspired by a HFW recipe but I’ve changed it considerably to be a more hearty one pot meal, to take better advantage of a delicious protein source with a beautifully complimentary earthy flavour and to convert this into an easy peasy slow cooker recipe. I think I’ve improved things, sorry Hugh.
This is real peasant food, most of these ingredients could be grown easily at the allotment or foraged in the local countryside, woods and hedgerows. Chestnuts are now considered a little bit of a luxury, the price tag in the supermarkets reflects the harvesting and preparation manpower of these sweet, soft and earthy autumnal nuts. As a child I remember spending hours in the woods with my sister and my granddad collecting these fat little gems from their prickly jackets, and taking them back to my nana to help her pierce each one with a paring knife and roast them in the oven. I’ve tried to recreate this memory with my own children, roasting our loot on a pan in the wood burner… my youngest daughter is still unsure about them, but my eldest is a firm fan.
My daughters both love dumplings. Which for a while, when they were very small, were called ‘ducklings’ in our house… making explaining vegetarianism to my little ones quite interesting. I grew up on stew and dumplings and now I make a similar slow cooked dinner virtually every week during the long cold months. My usual staple stew is a tomato based, root veg and bean or chickpea, smoky paprika affair; so this is quite different, and echoes more traditional and ‘local’ flavours to us here in our little corner of the UK.
serves 4-6 depending on appetite!
250g of mushrooms, closed cap, button, chestnut or something more exotic if you prefer. Cut in quarters, halves or left whole depending on size. (£1.75)
2 medium carrots, diced (20p)
1 medium leek, finely chopped (62p)
1 medium onion, finely chopped (15p)
10g of dried porcini mushrooms, finely snipped (80p)
2 stock cubes (Kallo mushroom ones are great) (36p)
1l of water
3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped or crushed (15p)
100g of barley (25p)
2 large sprigs of rosemary*
1 tsp of marmite (10p)
1 tbsp of something sweet! – honey/a smooth jam/I used my home made rosemary jelly (optional)
200g of cooked chestnuts (£2)
salt and pepper to taste
This could not be simpler. Put all the ingredients, except the chestnuts and the salt and pepper in the stoneware and cook on low for around 6 hours or high for 3-4. If your curiosity gets the better of you, give it a sniff and a poke and stir now and again.
After the initial 3-6 hours, add the chestnuts, stir them in, and taste to add the salt and pepper seasoning (the chestnuts will disintegrate if added at the beginning), if your slow cooker is on low turn it up to high at this point. Now it’s time to prepare the dumplings. They are so easy to make, they literally take 2 minutes to put together. I make the dumpling dough directly in the stainless steel dish that sits on my scales.
60g of vegetarian suet (33p)
120g of light brown SR flour (16p)
1-2 tbsp of chopped fresh herbs (or 1-2 tsp of dried herbs)*
1/2 tsp of salt and a generous grind of black pepper
roughly 100 ml of water
Add the dry ingredients to the dish in the order listed and stir to incorporate them. Then add a splash of water and work it in to the mixture with a metal spoon. keep adding splashes of cold water until you have a ball of dough, but do it bit by bit so that the dough doesn’t end up too wet. Take small sections of the dough with the metal spoon and shape into balls (the dough should make 6-8 dumplings depending on the size) and plop them straight onto the top of the stew.
Pop the lid back on and leave it for another hour. If you prefer your dumplings crispy on top, or if you simply can’t wait another hour, put your oven on at 200 degrees c, and place the uncovered stoneware in the oven for 25-30 minutes.
A hearty, comforting, earthy stew with traditional stodgy dumplings… which could all virtually be sourced from on my doorstep. If however, you choose to source everything from a local supermarket or an organic veg box scheme, it’ll cost you around £1.40 per portion.
* I used rosemary in this dish as it’s the herb I currently have a lot of, in fact, it’s taking over a small part of my garden and it’s also one of the few plants the chickens wont touch. Parsley or dill would work well with this combination of ingredients, so just use whatever you prefer or have to hand.