Nigel Slater’s recipes for lamb patties, and baked celery

Nigel Slater’s recipes for lamb patties, and baked celery

There are vegetables I pounce on the moment they arrive. Leafy, crisp and vital, the sort of greens best enjoyed as soon as possible after picking. Whether it’s a soft-leaved lettuce or a plume of crinkle-edged chard, it is gone almost as soon as it is unpacked. And then there are the “long life” vegetables, those that can happily hold up for a several days in the fridge.

Use a palette knife and turn the patties carefully, otherwise they will fall apart
Today was their day. A head of celery, a little past its best, cooked until translucent and tender, wrapped in streaky bacon and baked under a blanket of parmesan sauce and breadcrumbs. The gratin, crisped lightly on top, came from the oven bubbling at the edges and was good enough to eat on its own. Without the bacon, I would use it as a side dish for everything from cold roast beef to a pork chop. It made a change to make such a mundane vegetable the star of the show, especially as so much of the celery in this kitchen ends up as a back note, chopped and cooked with onions, carrots and bay.

A bunch of beetroot I had been meaning to use for days (could it have been a week?) found itself grated and squeezed into patties with minced lamb, garlic and bulgur. The addition of cracked wheat helped a small amount of lamb to feed four and encouraged the little cakes to crisp in the hot oil, to emerge rose pink and sizzling.

Beetroot and lamb patties
I suggest chilling the shaped patties for an hour in the fridge before cooking. It isn’t essential, but you will find them easier to handle if you do. You will need to put them into hot oil, then lower the heat and leave them alone until they have formed a crust on the base before attempting to turn them. Use a palette knife and turn them carefully, otherwise they will fall apart. You can bind the beetroot and lamb with an egg yolk to make a firmer patty if you wish. Serves 4

bulgur 75g, fine
beetroot 250g, raw

minced lamb 400g
onion 1, small to medium
garlic 2 large cloves
dill 2 tbsp, chopped
parsley a small bunch, chopped
groundnut oil a little

Put the kettle on. Put the bulgur in a mixing bowl, pour over enough boiling water to cover, then set aside.

Peel the beetroot, grate coarsely into a large bowl and add the minced lamb. Chop the onion, crush the garlic and add to the beetroot with the dill, parsley and a generous grinding of salt and pepper.

Squeeze any water from the cracked wheat with your hands and add to the meat. Mix everything together thoroughly, then squish the mince into 12 pieces, each about the size of a golf ball. Flatten each ball a little, place on a baking tray and cover with clingfilm, then refrigerate for at least an hour.

Set the oven at 180C/gas mark 4. Warm a frying pan over a moderate heat, brush the patties with a little oil and fry till lightly coloured on both sides. Transfer to a baking dish and finish in the hot oven for 15-20 minutes and serve.

Baked celery, bacon and parmesan

To be really good, the celery must be truly tender and the only way to achieve that is to poach it before you put it in the oven to bake. The stalks take on a silky quality when you do this and absorb a little flavour from the bay leaves and onions in the poaching water. Baked with the crisp, smoked bacon and parmesan sauce the dish is a delight either as an accompaniment (think boiled gammon or poached chicken) or as a dish in its own right. Serves 6 as a side dish, 3 as a main course

celery 2 plump heads
onion 1, small
bay leaves 2
milk 250ml
butter 45g
flour 45g

parmesan 50g, grated, plus a little to finish
parsley a few sprigs
streaky bacon 75g
fresh white breadcrumbs 50g

Snap the heads of celery into individual ribs, then wash, trim and neaten where necessary. Lay the ribs in a large, flameproof baking dish and pour in enough water to just cover them. Peel and thinly slice the onion and add to the dish with the bay leaves and a little salt and pepper. Leave over a low heat, with the water at a gentle bubble, till the celery is tender to the point of a knife.

The gratin, crisped lightly on top, came from the oven bubbling at the edges
Set the oven at 180C/gas mark 4. Remove the celery, onion and bay with a draining spoon and transfer to a large, shallow baking dish or roasting tin, leaving the hot cooking liquor behind. Warm the milk in a small pan. In a separate pan, melt the butter over a moderate heat and stir in the flour. Continue cooking, stirring pretty much continuously, till you have a pale, biscuit coloured paste – it will smell warm and nutty. Add 350ml of the celery cooking liquor followed by the warm milk, a small ladleful at a time, until you have a smooth sauce.

Stir in three quarters of the parmesan and turn the heat down so the sauce simmers gently for a good 15 minutes. Chop the parsley not too finely, stir it into the sauce, then taste and correct the seasoning.

Grill or fry the bacon until crisp then add to the celery. Pour over the sauce, mix the reserved parmesan with the breadcrumbs and scatter over the top. Bake for 40 minutes or so until the sauce is bubbling enticingly.