If you’re following the local seasonal mantra, then there isn’t a lot of choice here in England in February. Roots, potatoes, onions, cabbage and lots of kale are on the menu, especially for the country’s lauded Sunday roast – a big noontime meal with everything crisped up in a hot oven. The next day frugal cooks take the leftover bits of roasted veggies, mash them together and fry the mass into “bubble and squeak”. Some say the term refers to the sound the cabbage makes as its being fried and some say it refers to the sound your GI system makes after consumption. In any event, on a chilly winter evening a round of bubble and squeak can be quite a comforting dish and it goes rather nicely with salty meats (bacon or ham), poached eggs and early spring vegetables like asparagus.
If you aren’t much for Sunday roasts and don’t have leftovers laying around, you can easily construct bubble and squeak from the ground up.
Slice leeks and sauté with minced garlic until tender and just beginning to caramelize.
Boil peeled potatoes with some chunks of peeled turnip (known as swede here) until soft. I purchased this massive specimen at our weekly farmers market in Balham, as well as the leeks, cabbage and potatoes.
When fork tender, mash it together with some rich mascarpone (you can also use creme fraiche), butter and just enough milk to make it smooth but stiff, as well as plenty of salt and pepper. Stir in the leek mixture and some cooked cabbage.
Form into thick cakes and chill. The cakes are then fried until browned on each side, perched on crisp tender steamed asparagus and topped with a juicy slice of ham. This dish is really good served with something sweet and fruity, such as Cranberry Apple Pear Relish.
Maybe not entirely traditional but a California take on a classic, cooking mostly with what is coming out of the fields and farms in England right now.
Bubble and Squeak Cakes with Ham and Asparagus
3 medium potatoes – such as Yukon Gold or King Edward – peeled and quartered
1 medium turnip peeled and quartered
1 large clove garlic, minced
1/4 head of a small cabbage cut in three pieces
2 tablespoons mascarpone cheese
1 tablespoon butter
1/4 cup milk – or as needed
10 asparagus spears
Applewood smoked ham – either 1 or 2 slices totalling 4 oz or 125 grams
Two poached eggs – optional
Boil the potatoes and turnips together in a medium pot of copiously salted water. Slice the leek in half lengthwise, keeping the root intact, and rinse thoroughly. Make another long lengthwise cut so the leek is cut in quarters horizontally then cut crosswise in 1/4″ pieces. Heat the olive oil in a 10″ frying pan and saute the leek with the garlic until tender and golden. Simmer the cabbage in a small pot of salted water to cover until cooked through; when cool enough to handle, finely chop and set aside.
When the potatoes and turnips are soft, drain and mash them with the mascarpone and butter, adding milk if needed until mixture holds together. Stir in the leeks and cabbage and season with salt and pepper. Form into two 6″X 1/2″ cakes then pop them in the fridge to chill for 30 minutes.
In the meantime, trim the asparagus ends and get them set up in a shallow pan with a lid to steam; have a frying pan at the ready to cook the ham. Take out the cakes and heat up the pan used for sautéing the leeks over medium high heat. Add some butter and once it’s melted add the cakes. At this point get the asparagus steaming until crisp tender and sizzle the ham in a hot pan until golden on each side then keep everything warm. Peek at the underside of the cakes to see if they are deep golden then turn and repeat on the other side.
To serve, divide the asparagus between two plates, top with the bubble and squeak cakes and then the ham. If you want to gild the lily, crown each stack with a poached egg and wolf down before it gets cold.