Serves 4
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For the herb and cheese dumplings:

To serve:

  1.  Preheat the oven to 150°C/130°C fan/ gas mark 2. Place a casserole pot or an ovenproof saucepan on a low to medium heat and immediately add the bacon — there’s no need to preheat the pot, as you want the bacon to cook really slowly so that the fat renders out, leaving you with delicious crispy lardons.
  2. When the bacon is golden and crisp, take it out, leaving all the fat in the pan, and turn the heat up to high. Once the pot is good and hot, add the beef, or just half of it if the pot is not large and you need to cook it in two batches, as the beef should be just in a single layer. If the beef dries out while you’re browning it, you will need to add a drizzle of olive oil. If the pot is not hot enough, the beef may start to stew and get juicy, in which case, keep cooking it until the juices evaporate and the beef browns. Cook the beef over a light heat until it’s browned all over, then take it out and cook the second batch, if you’re cooking it in two batches.
  3. Once the beef is browned, take it out and put it with the bacon. Drizzle some olive oil into the pot, then tip in the onion, celery and carrot and cook them over a high heat for a few minutes, until they start to get a little golden around the edges. Stir in the garlic and cook for a minute more, seasoning with salt and pepper.
  4. Tip the browned bacon and beef into the vegetables and add the thyme sprigs, tomato purée, sugar, stout and stock. Bring to a simmer, then cover and place in the preheated oven for one hour 15 minutes. Now take the pot out of the oven and turn the heat up to 220˚C/200˚C fan/gas mark 7.
  5. To make the dumplings, sift the flour and bicarbonate of soda into a mixing bowl and add the salt and chopped herbs. Mix together, then make a well in the centre. Pour in the buttermilk, then, with your hand in a firm claw-like position, move it around in circles, drawing the buttermilk into the flour to create a soft dough. You may need to add more buttermilk if necessary.
  6. Once the dough comes together, tip it on to a floured worktop and dust the top with flour. Turn it and pat it until it’s just 2cm thick, then cut it into about 16 small rounds, using a cutter with approximately 3cm diameter.
  7. Take the lid off the saucepan or casserole pot and arrange the dumplings straight away on top of the soup (don’t worry if they sink a little). Scatter the grated cheese on top, then put the pot back into the hot oven and bake for 20-30 minutes, until the dumplings are golden and cooked through — you might need to take one out and cut into it to check.
  8. Take the pot out of the oven, remove the thyme sprigs and season the soup to taste. This is great just as it is, served with chopped parsley over the top, or with gremolata (see page 153 of Soup Broth Bread), which is also lovely over this.
  9. Serve the soup in warm bowls, with 3-4 dumplings per bowl.

Note: Chicken stock can be used as an alternative to beef stock, if you wish.

Nutrition Facts

For a dairy-free version, you can use a plant-based milk instead of buttermilk and add one tablespoon of vinegar. Omit the cheese.