Or YUM! I love comfort foods like this. Especially ones that are quick and simple. Last weekend cried out for this dish. It’s January. It was grey. It was wet. It was windy and cold. Get it? I had restricted myself to zone 5 for the weekend in a forced attempt to relax. This may sound small, especially as I actually live in zone 5, BUT, I almost always go into London at some point and meet friends or wander around the markets, buy myself a foodie treat, go to the cinema. You get my drift – I am an urban girl and I forced myself to be a suburban one.
Everytime I go home to Ireland, I return to London with a mini-hamper for myself, usually consisting of selected irish cheeses, black pudding, white pudding and ispíní (ish-pee-nee). Ispíní are traditional irish pork sausages, these particular ones are made by Clonakilty Food Co. in West Cork, Ireland. I love these sausages, they are so flavoursome and evoke a memory of home and childhood that few other foods impart. These reasons apart, they are damn fine sausages that I challenge anyone to dislike. I do like those gourmet butchers ones with leeks, herbs, chillies and all other kinds of accoutrements, but, often, it’s the basics done well that are the very best and that’s certainly the case with these.
So, toad in the hole, or ispíní in the hole, or as it has an irish flavour, I could take it further and ask my fluent Irish friend to translate it for me. I did. Shamefully, my spoken Irish has slipped woefully, although that is on my self improvement list for 2008. She recommened two options and I am going for the second – cnádán sa pholl (knaw-dawn sa fowl) – roughly translated as croaker or grunter in the hole. It’s January – it’s a good fit.
Back to the food, I am meandering! This was really quick and easy and I would recommend it. It’s super flexible too – you can put whatever you want in here: veggie sausages, roast veg, chunks of pumpkin, the options are endless, just make sure you’ve loads of yummy gravy to mop it up.
Lactose intolerants: I’ve recently discovered “lactofree” milk, or at least recently tried it, I don’t know why but I have always been suspicous of it. It worked a treat, I was symptom free after this dairy heavy dish without taking any lactase pills.
Sausages: I started by roasting the sausages as I wanted to gather as much of the flavour that they leak as possible for a gravy. I surrounded them with halved shallots, some thyme and a few cloves of garlic. When cooked I removed the garlic, thyme branches and sausages and added chicken stock to make the gravy. Roasting the sausages may seem unnecessary but I think it’s worth it, it intensifies the flavour and rescues those lovely juices. I used 12 ispíní – 3 per portion, they’re small so I would estimate that that would be two larger butcher’s sausages per person.
Milk: Lactofree is only available as semi-skimmed (at my local supermarket at least). I would prefer the richness of full fat milk, but either work well.
Batter: I added chopped flat leaf parsley to the batter but, it’s not absolutely necessary, more pretty than anything.
This was originally intended to be 4 portions, but it’s so moreish I think it’s worth making extra and saying this is for 2. I used a pyrex dish 9 inches * 9 inches. Use whatever you have, just remember that it will rise considerably.
Sausages & Gravy:
12 Ispíní or 8 butcher’s sausages of your choice
8 small shallots, peeled and halved
a few sprigs of thyme
4 cloves garlic
500 ml good chicken stock
1 tbsp plain flour
110g plain flour
2 medium free range eggs, organic if possible
Some chopped flat-leaf parsley (not essential)
8 medium potatoes (approx 400g), skins on, scrubbed, cut into dice
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
A handful of chopped flat-leaf parsley
Preheat your oven to about 200 degrees celsius.
Make your batter. Sieve the flour and about half a teaspoon of salt into a bowl. Make a well in the centre and add the eggs. Gently introduce flour to the eggs with a whisk. Add the milk in a stream stirring all the time. It should be pouring consistency. Leave to stand for an hour or so. Whisk before you use.
Heat a liberal amount of the oil in a roasting tray and add the potatoes with plenty of S&P. Toss so that the potatoes are coated in the oil. Put in the oven. These should take 45 minutes to an hour. If timed well, and the batter is made in advance they should be done at the exact same time as the toad in the hole.
Grease a roasting tray and roast your sausages with the shallots, thyme and garlic for 15 minutes or so, turning half way through. Remove the sausages and leave to one side.
Remove the thyme sprigs (just the branches themselves – the leaves are fine and add to the flavour) and the garlic. If any of the outer layers of the shallots are too crisp, remove them. While the roasting dish is still hot, add the tbsp flour to the shallots and sausage juices, add the stock a little at a time and transfer to a saucepan. Blend & season with S&P.
Turn the heat up to 220 degrees celsius.
Grease the dish you’re going to make the toad in, I used olive oil but lard is recommended for the real deal. Place your sausages in the dish and pour the batter over them. Add your parsley now if you’re adding it, just sprinkle it on top.
Cook for 25 minutes or so, keeping an eye on it after twenty minutes. When done the batter will be crisp and brown on top and cooked and spongy in the middle.
The potatoes should be lovely and crisp, if you had a bit of a gap in the middle, as I did, you might need to take them out for a bit. Add the parsley and toss.
Serve the toad with the potatoes, and lashings of gravy.