One of my favourite things about the run up to Christmas is, obviously, the cooking. Specifically, though, I love finding new and unusual ways of using those festive seasonal ingredients that grace our shelves for only a short period of the year.
Cranberries are one of the most criminally underrated of all ingredients. I can’t tell you how sad I am that these wonderfully versatile berries only appear in the shops for a brief six week window of the year, doomed to the traditional but unimaginative fate of being boiled with some sugar and spice to adorn the burnished Christmas turkey.
The humble cranberry has a huge amount of culinary potential. If you start to think of it like a raisin, or a pomegranate seed, you begin to realize just how useful it can be in a variety of sweet and savoury dishes. The glossy red berries have a beautiful sharpness about them that is fabulous with all sorts of rich ingredients like meat or cheese. They require only the briefest cooking time before they soften and turn tart and juicy, perking up all sorts of recipes both taste-wise and visually, with their jewel-like appearance.
Here, I’ve used fresh cranberries in a fabulous side dish that is guaranteed to complement any Christmas roast. It would work very well with turkey but also beef, lamb or chicken. I love this recipe because it combines the best parts of all the usual festive side dishes - crunchy greens, crispy bacon, sage and cranberries – but in a slightly different and unusual way.
I’ve used cavolo nero, one of my absolute favourite seasonal vegetables for its beautiful dark green wavy leaves and delicious, slightly bitter crunch. You could, however, use spring greens or kale if you can’t find it. Along with green beans, this is combined with crispy bacon, meltingly soft onions, juicy cranberries and fresh sage, then smothered in red wine vinegar and maple syrup. The result is a sweet and sour medley of greens with addictive flavours in every bite: salty, smoky bacon; fragrant sage; those tart berries and earthy onions. It’s crisp and refreshing, a great match for those rich and hearty Christmas roasts, or you could even serve it on its own with some good cheese or some roasted chestnuts as a light main course. Give those cranberries a new lease of life; you might just find this becomes your go-to festive side dish!
First, steam (or boil) the beans and cavolo nero for five minutes until just tender. Set aside.
In a large non-stick frying pan or saucepan, fry the bacon over a high heat until crispy.
Finely slice the onion and sage, then add to the bacon with the cranberries. Cook over a medium heat until the onions and cranberries have softened.
Return the beans and cavolo nero to the pan, then pour in the maple syrup and red wine vinegar.
Cook for a couple of minutes until the liquid has reduced and everything is soft and sticky. Season well, then serve immediately.