Cheap, humble and often wasted, breadcrumbs are something I reach for during the cold months. They are endlessly useful to bind a fritter or a sauce (see last week’s romesco), and bigger, craggy crumbs can be baked until crisp and scattered through a warm winter salad. They make a quick and easy crust, bind a tart filling, or just add anywhere you might need to add texture.
All hail the kale salad
This is based on the kale salad from Joshua McFadden’s book Six Seasons, which claims to be the salad that started a worldwide trend for using kale as a salad leaf. I actually use cavolo nero, sometimes known as lacinato or Tuscan kale here, but curly kale would work really well too. Leftovers can be warmed in a pan and eaten with a poached egg or tossed through buttered spaghetti.
Prep 10 min
1 bunch cavolo nero or kale (about 250g-300g), stalks removed
½ small garlic clove, peeled and finely chopped
50g pecorino cheese (I use a vegetarian one)
1 lemon, juice and zest
1 pinch chilli flakes
Salt and black pepper
100g breadcrumbs, toasted
Roll the leaves of the cavolo nero or kale into thick cigars and shred them as thinly as you can – about 2-3mm is perfect – then wash and dry them.
Use a pestle and mortar to bash the garlic with a little salt until you have a smooth paste (or chop it very finely on a board, then transfer to a bowl). Combine this with the pecorino, about three tablespoons of oil, the lemon juice and zest, the chilli and a good grind of black pepper.
Pour the dressing over the shredded leaves and toss well to coat. Taste, then adjust the flavour, adding more lemon, pepper, salt or chilli as needed. Leave the salad to sit for about 10 minutes, so the leaves can soften.
Meanwhile toss the breadcrumbs in a little olive oil, salt and pepper and toast until crisp and golden in a dry pan or in a warm oven at 180C.
Top the salad with the toasted breadcrumbs and a final grating of cheese and chilli, if you wish.
Leek, tomato and butternut croustade
This is my take on a favourite my husband grew up with, passed on to me by his mum, Sian, a brilliant cook. Making a crust from breadcrumbs is a lot more straightforward than pastry: easy, affordable comfort food. For a vegan version, swap the butter for coconut oil, the cheese for two tablespoons of nutritional yeast, and a non-dairy milk for the filling.
Prep 15 min
Cook 1 hr
For the croustade
170g breadcrumbs (I use wholemeal or sourdough)
110g butter, softened
175g strong cheddar, grated
60g pumpkin seeds, roughly chopped
1 small bunch fresh winter herbs, (thyme, rosemary or sage), picked and roughly chopped
1 garlic clove, peeled and finely chopped
For the filling
3 medium leeks, trimmed, washed and finely sliced
1 bay leaf
2 tsp dijon mustard
1 tbsp flour (I use spelt or wholemeal)
1 small bunch tarragon, leaves picked and chopped
400g tin cherry tomatoes, drained
100g butternut squash, finely sliced
Heat the oven to 200C/390F/gas 6. Use your hands to mix together all the croustade ingredients. Press two-thirds of the mixture into the bottom of a 27cm gratin dish, ensuring an even layer, and keep the rest for later. Bake for 10-15 minutes, until golden.
Meanwhile, make the filling. Sweat the leeks with the bay leaf in the butter, along with a pinch of salt. Once the leeks are soft, add the milk and mustard, and simmer for five minutes to allow the bay to flavour the mixture.
Whisk the flour into the milk, and cook for a further two to three minutes. Keep whisking until it thickens and coats the back of a spoon. Once ready, remove the bay leaf, add the tarragon and spoon the sauce over the croustade base.
Dot the tomatoes on top of the leeks, pressing them down slightly so they nestle in. Lay the slices of squash over the top, adding a drizzle of olive oil and a good pinch of salt and pepper. Sprinkle the remaining croustade mixture on top and bake for 15-20 minutes, until the squash is cooked and the crumbs are golden.
• Food and prop styling: Anna Jones. Food assistant: Nena Foster
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