Recently, I came across food writer Diana Henry’s paean to “sofa suppers” – those dishes where there’s “everything in a bowl, no extra relishes or anything, and you only need a spoon”.
Henry was never allowed to eat in front of the TV when growing up and only discovered the pleasure in doing so as a working adult. Now, she writes, as the weather dampens and cools (and as the new season of Succession is released), there’s never been a better time to indulge in the cosy ritual.
This resonated with me – as much as I like sit-down dinners, I often prefer the bowl balanced somewhat precariously on the lap, the meal eaten while half under a fleecy throw, the cat snoozing near your toes. TV certainly doesn’t have to be a part of it – I know every mindfulness practitioner going says it’s better to focus on the flavours without distraction. But is this snuggly, illicit pleasure really so damaging? Is it not right and good, upon October’s brisk arrival, to scoop your pasta into a large bowl, make a warm nest for yourself and eat while said bowl rests gently on your belly?
I think so – and this recipe, adapted from Ben Mims in the Los Angeles Times, is fitting in the role. In this dish, spicy merguez sausage meat is fried with onions and garlic, while my additions of saffron, paprika, toasted almonds and sherry vinegar add a distinctly Iberian accent. Full disclosure: I first made this pasta in the summer, when broad beans were at their peak . But even now, frozen broad beans – which I used this time around – work just as well.
The joy of the sofa supper doesn’t quite reach its full heights, however, until there’s a glass of wine present. Preferably red. Preferably one that’s velvet and warming but not shouty – one that will sidle up right next to that bowl and settle in next to it. Les Amandiers is exactly what I mean: It speaks so elegantly of brambly fruits, but then there’s that finishing rasp of earthiness that reminds you that this isn’t a one-note glugger. Cabernet Franc is a notably food-friendly wine, one that works well alongside chicken as well as red meats like lamb, and it matches this dish’s warmth and intensity to a tee. Speaking of tees: you might as well slip into something more comfortable. That’s one more advantage of the sofa supper – the dress code is decidedly casual.
Orecchiette with Merguez Sausage, Broad Beans and Manchego
Adapted from a recipe by Ben Mims
2-3 tablespoons olive oil
500g merguez (or other spicy sausage) meat, removed from its casings
1 large onion, finely diced
6 garlic cloves, minced
Fine sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Large pinch saffron threads
1 teaspoon paprika
½ teaspoon crushed chilli flakes
2-3 tablespoons double concentrated tomato puree
2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
400g fresh or frozen broad beans
Large handful flat-leaf parsley, coarsely chopped
Large handful mint leaves, coarsely chopped
150g Manchego cheese, shaved
1. Add olive oil to a large frying pan and place over medium heat. Once hot, add the sausage meat. Cook for 5 or so minutes, breaking up with a wooden spoon into small pieces, until cooked through.
2. Add the onion and turn heat to medium-low. Cook for 5 minutes, stirring frequently, or until translucent. Add the garlic and cook until it has lost its raw smell. Season with salt and pepper to taste, and add the spices.
3.Let the spices bloom in the oil for a minute or two before adding the tomato puree. Mix through before adding the sherry vinegar. If you’re using frozen broad beans, add now – there’s no need to defrost these in advance. Turn the heat to its lowest setting and cook for 10-15 minutes more, stirring occasionally, to let the flavours meld further.
4. While the sausage mixture cooks, toast your almonds: Place a small frying pan over medium-low heat and add the almonds. Cook, tossing frequently, for roughly 5 minutes, or until they turn a nice even, toasty brown. Leave to cool for a few minutes before roughly chopping; add to the sausage mixture and stir through. (If using fresh broad beans, add when the sausage mixture is mostly finished cooking.) Turn off the heat and set aside.
5. Next, bring a generously salted pot of water to the boil and cook the orecchiette according to the package instructions until al dente. Drain, reserving a small bowl of the pasta water.
6. Return the frying pan with the sausage mixture to a low heat and add the cooked pasta, as well as a splash of reserved pasta water. Stir through to mix; the sauce should not be liquidy but should just cling to the pasta – add more water if needed. Taste and adjust the seasoning if needed.
7. Right before serving, add the parsley and mint and just mix through. Divide between plates and top with the shaved Manchego (you can use a vegetable peeler for this). Serve immediately.
Claire M. Bullen is a professional food and travel writer, a beer and wine hound and an all-around lover of tasty things. Our first book with Claire, The Beer Lover’s Table: Seasonal Recipes and Modern Beer Pairings, is out now and available in all good book stores (and at HB&B). Follow her on Twitter at @clairembullen. Don’t miss out on Claire’s wine and food pairings, which go out every month in our Natural Wine Killers subscription box.