Everything must go: Skye Gyngell's cheap winter eats

Less money for the weekly shop? That might be a culinary blessing in disguise, says Skye Gyngell, as she shows how to make delicious dishes on a budget
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Indy Lifestyle Online

Food doesn't need to be expensive to be good. In fact, cheaper cuts of meat and simple seasonal vegetables are often more satisfying than pricier items. In particular, cheaper cuts of meat work far better in slower-cooked dishes because they often carry more fat, which, when cooked, breaks down and keeps the meat moist and extremely tender.

I love to eat dishes that are hearty, bold, gutsy even – they warm the body but also the heart. Rich in flavour and unpretentious, this is food you feel you can eat with your elbows on the table and perhaps a drip or two down your shirt – that leave pleasant memories long after they are finished.

Skye Gyngell is head chef at Petersham Nurseries, Church Lane, Richmond, Surrey, tel: 020 8606 3627, www.petershamnurseries.com

Fried eggs with cima di rapa

Sometimes I can think of nothing nicer than a simple supper of eggs. Choose beautifully fresh, English, organic, free-range ones, and they will make a light and tasty meal – great if you are not really hungry but want a little something to make you feel content. I often make this dish on Sunday evenings before an early night, when I want to eat something really good but have overindulged during the day.

Serves 2

1/2 red chilli, seeds removed andfinely chopped
A squeeze of lemon juice
Sea salt
1 bunch of cima di rapa, or any dark, leafy, green winter vegetable
100ml/31/2fl oz extra-virgin olive oil
1 tbsp unsalted butter
4 eggs

Place the chopped chilli in a bowl and add the lemon juice, a pinch of salt and the oil. Set aside while you cook the vegetables: place a pot of well-salted water on to boil and clean the cima, removing the stalks and any blemishes. Once the water has boiled, cook the cima for five minutes. While the cima is boiling, place a non-stick frying pan, large enough to hold the eggs, over a medium heat. Add the butter and, when it begins to foam, crack in the eggs. Sprinkle over a pinch of salt and cook without turning until the white begins to set. Using a teaspoon, baste the eggs with the butter until the white is set but the yolk is still runny. Divide the cima between two plates, place the eggs on top and spoon over a little of the chilli, oil and lemon mixture and perhaps a little pinch of salt.

Slow-cooked beef in red wine

This is similar to a French daube stew. The French and Italians have really got it right in terms of respectful appreciation of cheaper cuts of meat, slow-cooked until tender – so much so that they can almost be eaten with a spoon. This is made from a cut known as chuck; it has more flavour than fillet and lends itself to long cooking times.

Serves 6

1 tbsp olive oil
2kg/4lb chuck steak, left in one piece and trimmed of any discoloration, but still with a little fat
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 rashers of smoked bacon
1 yellow onion, peeled and chopped
2 sticks of celery, chopped
2 medium carrots, peeled and chopped
1 bottle of hearty French wine, such as Côtes du Rhône
200ml/7fl oz beef or chicken stock
3 cloves of garlic, crushed and peeled
5 sprigs of thyme
3 fresh bay leaves
2 tsp caster sugar

Place a large, heavy-based casserole dish over a medium heat, and add the oil; when the oil is warm, season the meat generously with the salt and pepper and place in the pan. Brown really well all over; this should take about 10 minutes. Remove the beef from the pan and add the bacon, left whole, onion, celery and carrots, and cook over a low heat, stirring from time to time until the vegetables are soft – about 20 minutes. Now turn the heat up slightly and add the wine, allowing it to bubble for 1-2 minutes before adding the stock. Add the garlic, thyme, bay leaves and garlic, stir in the sugar and return the meat to the pan.

Place a lid on it and turn the heat to its lowest setting: cook, stirring now and then, for three hours; the meat should be meltingly tender. Remove the beef from the pan, turn the heat to high and reduce the sauce by a third. Return the meat to the pan and turn down the heat, cooking for only a couple of minutes to warm through.

To serve, pour the liquid over the meat. Here I've served it with cavolo nero, but it is also beautiful served with dauphinoise potatoes or a simple potato purée. '

Jerusalem artichokes with cavolo nero and robiola

This is the perfect dish to sustain you if you don't wish to eat meat. It uses vegetables in season right now, so its distinctly wintery in flavour. Robiola is a soft, creamy mountain cheese from Piedmont, but you can use ricotta or mozzarella, which are less intense but nonetheless still good here.

Serves 6

1 kg/2lb Jerusalem artichokes, scrubbed clean and cut in half lengthwise
1 tbsp olive oil
Sea salt and plenty of freshly ground black pepper
1 bunch of cavolo nero, washed and with the leaves stripped from the stalks
3 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
250g/8oz robiola or other cheese

Preheat the oven to 200C/400F/Gas6. Place the sliced artichokes into a baking tray. Pour over the olive oil and season with the salt and pepper. Place on the middle shelf of the oven and roast for 40 minutes (when done the artichokes should be golden-brown and tender to the touch). While they are cooking, place a large pot of water on to boil, and add a generous pinch of salt. When the water is boiling vigorously, plunge in the cavolo and cook for 3-4 minutes; it should be tender to the bite. Drain and toss with the olive oil. Season with plenty of freshly ground pepper and a little more salt perhaps. In a bowl, toss the artichokes and cavolo together and place in an ovenproof dish. Slice the cheese and lay on top of the vegetables. Return to the middle shelf of the oven and bake until the cheese has melted and is oozing over the vegetables. Remove from the oven and serve piping hot.

Salt cod with fennel, tomato and saffron

This dish is easy to assemble and is cooked almost as soon as it simmers. It has a lovely texture and has the added bonus of being inexpensive to make.

Serves 6

11/2kg/3lb salt cod , skinned and soaked in clean water for 12 hours (you will need to change the water 3-4 times to remove the salty flavour)
1/2 cup of extra-virgin olive oil
1 yellow onion, peeled and finely chopped
3 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
3 fresh bay leaves
2 medium fennel bulbs
1 dried chilli, crumbled
A pinch of saffron threads
1/4 cup of white wine
1 jar of good-quality plum tomatoes
A small pinch of salt and freshly ground black pepper

Once you have finished soaking the salt cod, set it aside and place a medium-sized, heavy-based pan over a low to medium heat and add some of the olive oil for frying. When the oil is warm, add the onion, garlic and bay leaves and sauté over a gentle heat for 10 minutes.

Slice the fennel into quarters, removing the outer layer and add to the pan with the chilli and saffron. Now add the wine and turn up the heat slightly so that the wine bubbles. Add the tomatoes and continue to cook for 20 minutes, by which time the broth should be warm and rich in flavour.

Slice the cod into four fillets and nestle each into the sauce. Add the rest of the olive oil and cook for a further 3-5 minutes. Adjust the seasoning if necessary, but remember that salt cod is – unsurprisingly – quite salty. Serve in warmed bowls and garnish with thyme and olives if you like. Pass around some slices of warmed peasant style bread to mop up the juices.

The Forager by Wendy Fogarty

Petersham's food sourcer on where to find more affordable cuts of meat...

Devon's Well Hung Meat Company sells a range of monthly meat boxes. Tel: 0845 230 3131, www.wellhungmeat.com

Millbeck Farm sells Herdwick lamb from Cumbria and Angus beef. Tel: 01539 437 364, www.millbeckfarm.co.uk

Cranstons sells locally sourced meat at its stores throughout the north-west. Tel: 01768 868 680, www.cranstons.net

HG Walter, in west London (tel: 020 7385 6466), is our butcher of choice when we're not buying direct from producers such as Rhug Estate (www.rhug.co.uk).

For local producers and retailers in your area, visit www.localfoodadvisor.com. For butchers, try www.guildofqbutchers.com.