This could well be my favourite article of the year. Nothing for me is as soul satisfying as the hearty stew, made with great ingredients and cooked slowly and lovingly. I adore the whole process, from selecting the cut of meat to watching it turn into a delicious, tender concoction that has you and your friends sighing with pleasure. When the nights draw in and the rain slashes evilly against the windows, a humble stew will make you think positively about the winter to come.
If that all sounds a bit pretentious, then let us just say that a good stew provides an excellent opportunity to open and drink the best booze, and leave it at that.
So what to make? Today we will have chicken, which may seem like a cop-out, but I do love chicken stew. This one will be cooked in a Basque style with olive oil, white wine and peppers. It is very quick to prepare and really good eaten with bread and nothing else.
Basque chicken stew
A 4lb (1.8kg) free-range chicken
Really good olive oil
Salt and pepper
1 large white onion
3 red peppers
12 cloves garlic
2 medium red chillies
1⁄2 bottle white wine
2 tins best Italian chopped tomatoes
Big handful chopped parsley
Joint the chicken into eight pieces. Put a big pan on the stove and heat 3tbsp olive oil. Sprinkle the chicken with a little salt and pepper, then brown the pieces in the oil. When golden, remove and put aside. Slice the onion and peppers and remove the hard bit at the bottom of the garlic cloves, but leave them unpeeled. Add the vegetables to the pan, with more oil if necessary. Chop the chillies and pop them in. Pour in the wine and tomatoes and add the chicken. The liquid should just cover the chicken. Simmer gently for an hour. Remove from the heat. Check the seasoning, then liberally dose with parsley. Pour into a big serving dish, tear a rustic loaf into chunks and serve with white Rioja, cold and crisp.