Even though it’s May now, on some days it still doesn’t feel like Spring will ever arrive. On occasional days the temperature rises above freezing, and everyone suddenly gets very excited (with whisperings of “10 degrees!”) only for it to plummet back down to -1 the next day.
Snuggling up in front of a wood-burning stove is much more appealing than going outside and making the most of that extra hour of daylight. And eating comforting, rich things like this feels appropriate.
This dish is somewhere between a sweet potato gratin and a lasagne- layers of rich pork mixture and sweet potato, topped off with fluffy béchamel sauce.
For the pork:
600g pork mince
4 rashers of streaky bacon, cut into small pieces
2 sweet potatoes
1 garlic clove, crushed
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tbsp tomato puree
2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 tbsp flour
For the béchamel sauce:
1 tbsp plain flour
500ml semi-skimmed milk
2 egg whites, whisked
½ tsp freshly grated nutmeg
A small handful of chopped fresh basil (optional)
You will also need a baking dish, I used a circular one measuring 25cm in diameter and 6cm deep.
Chop the onions and fry with a glug of olive oil and a splash of water until soft (about 10 minutes). Add pork mince and bacon and cook until just starting to brown. Sprinkle with the flour and stir to coat the meat. Add tomato puree, cumin and garlic. Add the balsamic vinegar and a mugful of water, then simmer for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, peel the sweet potatoes and slice them into discs about the thickness of a £1 coin. Get a pan of water boiling, and boil the sweet potatoes for 5 minutes, until just starting to soften. Preheat the oven to 160°C.
To make the béchamel sauce, melt the butter in a small saucepan, then mix in the flour and cook for one minute. Take the pan off the heat and mix in the milk a bit at a time. Return the pan to a medium heat and cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture thickens. Add the nutmeg. Whisk the egg whites into stiff peaks, and gently fold into the sauce.
To assemble the bake, start with a layer of pork, then place the circles of sweet potato in a single layer over the top, then repeat until you reach the top of the dish. Add a final layer of the béchamel sauce and sprinkle over some chopped basil. Bake in the oven for 30 minutes, until the top is golden brown. Good served with steamed green beans.