Another breakfast recipe. I'm not going to apologise, though, because there are several reasons why this is the absolute best thing you could be making and eating right now (I mean 'right now' figuratively speaking, of course, because you might be reading this at night time, in which case it's probably not a great idea to indulge in a vat of hearty oats before lying down).
Firstly, I've read a few of those awful detox-related articles in various newspapers and magazines this week. Curse those publications, for contributing to JIGS, or 'January-Influenced Guilt Syndrome' (I have just invented this, but I think it should be a nationally-acknowledged phenomenon). They're pretty hard to avoid, and the worst part is I only read magazines and newspapers while eating, so invariably there I am, gorging on some giant bowl of carbs, reading an article telling me not to do exactly that. It's pretty depressing reading about ideal lunches based around salad, green veg and lean protein while you're tucking into their opposite.
However, one of the things these articles all have in common is that they recommend oats. Oats are great for several reasons. I won't bore you with the details, but in a nutshell - they're good for your heart, cholesterol, and they fill you up for ages, meaning you don't get hungry at 11am and reach for an almond croissant.
Another thing mentioned by these articles is that people who eat breakfast are often thinner and happier than those who don't. Combine these two pieces of advice, then, and make porridge for breakfast a new year's resolution. If you need another reason, look outside at the fifty shades of grey that is the English winter morning: this is a time for piping hot, steaming breakfasts. Even the sight of wisps of steam emerging from something is enough to calm the nerves and lift the spirits, whether it be a cup of tea, a plate of pasta, or a bowl of porridge.
To some people, porridge is a simple thing of beauty. Pure, unadulterated, creamy oaty goodness. A quiet simplicity. However, I've yet to experience the moment where I feel satisfied by contemplating a bowl of unadorned oats. If the idea of porridge bores you, or - even worse - repulses you, making you think of Dickensian style gruel, then I can't stress enough the transformative power of a good compote.
By making a delicious fruit-based compote to top your porridge, you turn something plain and worthy into something plainly worth shouting about. You can smother your oats in sweet, colourful fruit, and pretend you're tucking into rice pudding (if you like that sort of thing - I think I'd rather have porridge). Another advantage of this is that it negates the need for sugar in the porridge, as the fruit is sweet enough to balance the bland starchiness of the oats. Not only are you getting rid of the sugar, which is generally accepted as being bad for us, you're adding one or even two of your five a day to your diet, before you've even woken up properly.
Ever since I became captivated by the unusual quince, by its glorious curvature and exquisite perfumed sweetness, I've been coming up with new recipes that make the most of its soft, aromatic flesh. Sometimes these are savoury - particularly good partners are lamb, chicken, nuts and cheese - others are sweet, such as this quince, apple and almond crumble tart or this quince tarte tatin. I recently decided I didn't want to limit the sweetness of the quince to desserts only, and came up with this compote.
If you've never cooked with quince before, this is a good introduction. Its assertive fragrance is tempered by the addition of apples - since the quince is in both flavour and appearance a cross between an apple and a pear, this makes good culinary sense. The beauty of mingling quince and apple is that the latter loses its shape quickly during cooking, disintegrating into a frothy mush, while the quince retains its form and slightly firmer texture. The result is a thick compote of almost puréed apple, studded with golden cubes of tender quince.
I've made this a few times with different spices. First I tried a cinnamon stick, then star anise. Both versions were lovely, but when I experimented on a whim with adding a vanilla pod, the result was so wonderful that it just had to be shared, even if it is a humble bowl of porridge. Vanilla works incredibly well with quinces, which have their own subtle fragrance that the vanilla serves to highlight. It also works wonderfully with apples. Although cinnamon is often the classic spice for apples, I feel that apple and vanilla are a pairing that should be given more limelight. Vanilla emphasises the apple's natural sweetness rather than its acidity.
Using vanilla in this compote also makes it intensely pretty to look at - a beautiful very pale green appley froth, flecked with those tiny black seeds that contain so much promise of flavour, full of golden quince pieces. It's sweet but still quite tart (you could add more sugar if you like), providing a bracing start to the morning and contrasting wonderfully with the comfort blanket that is the creamy porridge. I've used a lovely vanilla pod from my JustIngredients collection, along with some ground cinnamon and ginger in the porridge to add a subtle warm flavour. I also put sultanas in my porridge - they swell up as it cooks, giving a lovely contrast in texture. Toffee-like dried fruits combined with the sweet quince and apple is another delicious flavour contrast.
The best way to eat this is on top of the spiced porridge, as in the recipe below. I prefer to spoon the compote, cold from the fridge, over the steaming hot porridge. You get that wonderful temperature contrast when eating it, like having cold ice cream with a hot crumble or pie. It might sound odd, but a spoonful of scalding porridge mingled with the chilled, sweet fruit is beautiful. The contrast between the warmly-spiced sweet porridge and the tart, vanilla-laced fruit is delectable. However, you could warm the compote up in the microwave if you wanted.
If you're still not convinced by porridge, this compote would also make a fabulous dessert served either warm or cold with ice cream, or even with meringues or alongside a rich almond cake. But humour me, and regard my reasons for an oaty breakfast above. I want to convert you.
Spiced porridge with quince, apple and vanilla compote:
For the compote (makes 4-5 servings):
2 large quinces
3 cooking apples, or 4 eating apples
4 tbsp brown sugar
1 vanilla pod, scored lengthways with a sharp knife
Put the water, sugar and vanilla pod in a large saucepan and bring to the boil. Stir to dissolve the sugar.
Peel, quarter and core the quinces. Cut each quince segment into small chunks, about an inch wide. Add to the water, then cover and cook on a medium high heat for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, peel, core and cut the apples into 1cm slices. When the quince is just tender, add the apples. Cover and cook for 5 minutes or so, stirring occasionally, until most of the apples break down into mush but there are a few solid pieces left. Turn off the heat and leave to cool, then refrigerate.
For the porridge (makes 1 giant serving - I eat a lot of porridge - can be halved as necessary!):
100g rolled/porridge oats
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground ginger
200ml semi-skimmed milk
Put the oats, spices and sultanas in a saucepan. Add the water and milk, then bring to the boil. Cook for around 3-5 minutes, stirring, until the porridge thickens. Add more water or milk if you like it less thick, then pour into a bowl and top with the compote.