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New(Old) You, Same Stew

The years when I made myself 'new me' plans are, thankfully, far behind me, as I hope they are behind you too. My New Year's resolutions tend to be much less vain and limp now, and more solid and sound and mostly work related. Maybe that's part of getting old. Brush Hair More is still there (we live in hope), as is Stick to Exercise Routine, and Take Proper Italian Lessons in order to Not Say Everything in Present Tense with Embarrassing Accent and Shameful Grammar. There's the traditional Wake Up Earlier and Make Better Use of Time, the stalwart Stick to Work Schedule, and the wonderfully vague/optimistic Be Better Person, and the downright ludicrous Worry Less. Other than that it's all, Write More, Paint More, Read More and Work More. How dull and oddly conscientious I have become. Actually it's sort of reassuring.

Anyway now my 20's are behind me and I seem no longer to be obsessed with my weight and general appearance (it was so tiring, so boring) I can focus on the things I can control, and find comfort in repetition rather than hopelessly unrealistic reinvention. The same orange, burgundy and green January comforts that glimmer through the grey every year; most significantly citrus, artichokes, brassicas, bitter leaves. Then of course beans, chestnuts, cheese, leftover dried fruit and stews. January doesn't have to be dreary really at all, it can be bright and zingy and full of zafferano, too.

A stew for the same old you, with all of my favourite things in one pot; artichokes, lemons, olives, fennel, tomatoes, saffron, sage. A repeat of the same stew from Bitter Honey, to welcome in the new year.

Artichokes Braised with Sage, Lemon, Fennel & Olives, Saffron Aioli

Serves 4–6

2 garlic cloves, sliced

5 tablespoons olive oil

3 large fennel bulbs, topped, tailed and cut into eighths lengthways

2 dried red chillies

1 teaspoon fennel seeds

10 sage leaves

6–8 whole artichokes, prepped as described on page xxx and halved

500 g (1 lb 1¾ oz) tomatoes, chopped

120 ml (4 fl oz/½ cup) white wine

3 strips of lemon zest

100 g (3½ oz) purple or small black olives

5 fresh bay leaves

¼ lemon, cut into small segments

sea salt

pinch of caster (superfine) sugar

1 bunch of parsley, chopped

Saffron aioli (see below), to serve

In a wide lidded frying pan, cook the garlic in the oil until fragrant, then add the fennel slices, the chilli and the fennel seeds. Cook over a medium heat until the fennel just begins to catch and take colour, around 5 minutes, then add the sage leaves. Cook for another minute or two, stirring, then add the artichokes. Stir everything until it is coated with the oil and cook for a few minutes, until the artichokes too begin to turn light golden.

Add the tomatoes, wine and strips of lemon zest. Cover and cook over a low heat for 40 minutes, until the fennel and artichokes are tender and the tomatoes and wine have formed a thick sauce. Add the olives, the bay and lemon segments, followed by the salt and sugar to taste. Stir and simmer for another 5 minutes. Add the chopped parsley.

Serve with a dollop of saffron aioli and fresh bread.

Saffron Aioli


2 egg yolks

2 cloves of garlic, minced

200 ml best extra virgin olive oil

100 ml neutral oil (such as sunflower)

2 Tbsp of Lemon juice

1 scant tsp salt

1 tsp of mustard (optional)

pinch of saffron threads, soaked in 2 tsp of hot water

Place the yolks in your mixer/blender/bowl. Add the salt, mustard and garlic and start whisking. Drizzle the oil in drop by drop until it is emulsified, mixing/whisking vigorously all the while. Add the lemon. Mix and taste for seasoning. Add more acidity/salt according to your preference. Add the saffron and the water (once cool) and mix again.


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