Comfort food is blissful. It’s dreamy. It’s big platefuls of loveliness wrapped in a cosy blanket of warming-from-the-inside-out, don’t-wanna-move-from-in-front-of-the-fire deliciousness and on those cold, dark days when it seems the sun has truly abandoned us, it’s all you want to eat. Let’s get real here though and admit that sometimes comfort food comes at a price especially if it’s laden down with cream or butter as things like golden, flaky pastry, pillowy mashed potato or rich, smooth sauces often are. This, my friends, is why the particular dinner we’re making today is a winner in more ways than one.
Adapted from a recipe originally found on the sweetsugarbean blog – www.sweetsugarbean.com/2012/01/for-your-hibernation-sausage-white-bean.html – this is everything you could want from a winter warming dish with nothing to feel guilty about so go on, I give you not only my permission but my blessing to pop on your pyjamas, pour a demure, beneficial-for-the-heart glass of red and get ready to make something that requires only a few ingredients but smacks them out of the ballpark with the flavours of ripe tomatoes, juicy sausages and fragrant thyme making it just perfect for mopping up with warm crusty bread.
Sometimes I like taking on the challenge of creating something that demands a whole afternoon, an edible science degree and the entire contents of Wholefoods to complete – a culinary Crystal Maze if you like but sadly minus Richard O’Brien & his harmonica – and sometimes I need to make something that requires minimum effort but results in maximum flavour.
Sausages. Onions. Tomatoes. Beans. All good, all delicious, all guaranteed to appeal to those lucky enough to be sat round your table from the pickiest of children to the most sceptical of spouses. When we make this we adapt it slightly from the original (don’t forget to halve the ingredients if you’re cooking for 2 as the original serves 4) but if you worry that I’ve made it more complicated, relax. The secret is…you just put more stuff in the dish.
You start by putting stuff in the dish. Then you add a bit more. And err, that would be it.
So let’s get going and let’s get that oven on. I always put everything that I want to cook steadily & evenly on the middle rack of my oven but you know yours and all its quirks & foibles so feel free to use whichever shelf works best for you. Around 190-200 degrees celsius worked well for us and we used a heavy ceramic dish, around 6″ by 10″ – enough room so that nothing was hidden under anything else but not so big that it required a lot of extra heat to cook.
Into it, we put approximately 10-12 cherry tomatoes and a couple of roughly sliced garlic cloves – I’m so obsessed with garlic I can’t even tell you and it’s so freaking good for you – along with a small red onion chopped into pieces about the size of half your little finger – small enough not to choke on but big enough not to burn – and 4 reduced fat sausages.
Now before you choke on your tea and proclaim disdainfully that ‘if they’re low fat, they’re not real sausages’, let me just say that you can absolutely use regular ones or chorizo or chicken or any kind that you like; we just wanted to keep this dish fairly healthy and to us, once they’re cooked and smothered in baked thyme-y tomatoes, they taste every bit as good. Plus, as we always have chorizo lurking in the fridge like some deliciously fiery squatter, we felt it only right to throw some of that in here which added an extra carnivorous oomph.
Drizzle with abandon some olive oil & balsamic vinegar over everything and give it a good tumble with a large spoon, making sure everything gets a little taste of this glossy, tangy dressing. A good seasoning with salt & pepper followed by the placing of several sprigs of thyme on top and you’re ready to get this beauty into the oven for roughly 25 minutes or until your sausages are looking caramelised & golden and your beautiful tiny polished tomatoes are starting to make a break for freedom from their skins. We used a generous amount of thyme as we’re fans of both the aroma and flavour and wanted it to be deeply baked into every other ingredient.
Carefully remove your dish from the oven, fish out any thyme twigs that might be looking a little crispy (we removed a few and replaced them with new ones) and add the rest of your tomatoes (about the same number that you added the first time – it may seem like a lot but they’re so wonderfully sweet and so virtuously good for you, there’s nothing to be concerned about) and your beans. We used butter beans as I love their so-big-that-I-feel-like-I’m-in-Gulliver’s-Travels size and their creaminess absorbs the flavour of whatever you pair them with.
We also tossed in a handful of sliced chorizo and a tin of chopped tomatoes. Sweet Sugar Bean suggests adding a a good splash of wine or stock here if you want more sauce and I’d never normally disagree with the addition of the fruit of the loom but as J and I are super sauce lovers and as liquids always cook down anyway, we were confident that these extra tomatoes & juice would be nothing but awesome in the end and y’know what? We were oh so very wiping-up-every-lick-of-sauce-so-the-plates-hardly-needed-washing-up right.
Back into the oven for another 15-20 minutes until your beans are cooked and everything has come together in a gloriously stodgy way then get that dish out, get it on the table, get the bread ripped into rough, rustic, hand-torn slices, get the Merlot in the glasses and maybe, just maybe, tuck a napkin into your collar because I make no bones about saying that this is a juicy, saucy delight of a dish and you shouldn’t feel ashamed if you find it inching down your chin as you eat.
I know sometimes cooking seems like hard work. It can appear messy, complicated, expensive and unrewarding. Yep, even those who are addicted to it in its multitude of formats sometimes feel like this and there are times when a dinner this simple is frankly beyond me and a bowl of cereal makes me a marvellous evening meal but really, when you break it down, you don’t get much easier than a dish like this. I promise that you will find, when everyone turns in your direction at the end of the meal and smiles sleepily & contentedly at you, that you’re so glad you took (a little) time and (very little) effort and made something delicious & satisfying.
Keep it super healthy and omit the chorizo and wine or throw caution to the wind and douse the dish liberally with both if you like but next time you’re in the supermarket and spot piles of red cherry tomatoes winking at you or you open your cupboard in desperation to find nothing but tinned vegetables and pulses beaming hopefully back at you, know that with a few additional ingredients, you’re well on the way to a simple, beautiful, healthy dinner.