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December 21, 2009

Outside, the cars are swishing through the grit-grey sludge on the road, a tarmac slush puppy – the aftermath of a night of snow and a day of bitter cold. The morning greeted me with a crisp frosting of snow on the pavements, clinging to the trees and icing the rows of boats in the harbour. It’s a proper winter’s day, and Christmas feels as iminent as it is. Cold weather like this makes me want hot, comforting food. – tonight I will eat leftover parsnip soup with toasted hazelnuts on top – while in the summer, all I really want is salad and ice cream. Which is obvious, I suppose.

But when you think about it, really not that long ago, ice was not an ingredient or a commodity available to the summertime cook. Anyone wanting to have ice in their drink, or rustle up a little granita, would have to wait for the icy grip of winter. When the use of seasonal ingredients is so fashionable, might it be a good idea to ice up my winter cookery?

This is something I’ve been thinking about recently: how to utilise the numbing ice bite in winter cookery. As well as the obvious – rich ice creams, apple granita, mulled wine sorbet – I rather like the idea of letting the frost get to salads. The first frosts tighten and sweeten winter vegetables, might not it have a similarly pleasant effect on robust winter salads? In honour of Christmas, I have devised a winter salad with this in mind. It is perhaps slightly confused, packing in as it does almost every taste in the Christmas palette. But Christmas is not about simple elegant purity of flavour – it is about abundance and rich excess. 

The salad base is provided by mandolin shredded red cabbage, shredded spinach leaves, julienned carrot and shredded goose. A dressing of mulled orange juice, red wine vinegar, olive oil, and (a little bit of) mustard are tossed with the vegetables before the goose is added. Sprinkled over are crispy bread crumbs, a small amount of chopped dried fruit and toasted hazelnuts, and some still hot crispy fried bacon – cunningly leaving a cold gap on top, in which sits an elegant quennelle of cranberry sorbet (topped with a curl of candied peel) slowly melting into the salad: enriching the dressing, balancing the raw bite of the cabbage and bringing the bright red taste of Chistmas.

Who needs a turkey?

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