After the opportunity to catch up on missed recipes last month, the Cottage Cooking Club members are back to exploring new ones from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's book River Cottage Veg. With our rather severe winter finally behind us, one that brought a mid-April snowfall(!) and a delay in the availability of local spring vegetables, I was grateful that this month's selections were more transitional in nature.
Chiles Stuffed with Beans (page 36)
This was a little more labour intensive than most of the recipes in this book, but like most stuffed vegetables, a great make-ahead dish.
chiles were rather sad looking the day I went shopping
so I substituted with sweet bell peppers, and rather than (tasteless) fresh, I used
200g canned, diced tomatoes. The ingredients were quite simple but the roasted peppers stuffed with black beans, tomatoes, aromatics and warm spices were very flavourful. Rather than the Garlicky Yogurt as an accompaniment to temper the sweetness of the peppers and add a cooling element to the heat (I may have added a generous amount of chipotle chile powder to the filling!), I served them with zingy Lemony Guacamole (page 296). With assembly done the night before, this became a quick and delicious weeknight meal that everyone enjoyed. I have my eyes peeled for good poblanos so I can make this again soon.
Red Cabbage, Parsnip, Orange and Dates (page 110)
Isn't it pretty? It also had a wonderful texture and a lot of good flavours but made as per the recipe, studded with candy-like dates and dressed only with the juice from the oranges, this was just a little too sweet for me. Some white wine vinegar helped balance it a bit more but I think next time - and there will be a next time since the combination of cabbage, parsnips and orange is too good not to repeat - I'll use Yotam Ottolenghi's method of marinating the dates in vinegar first as he does in his Baby Spinach Salad with Dates & Almonds from the book Jerusalem, to add a little more of that savoury flavour I was looking for.
Creamy Mushroom Soup (page 152)
I was pleasantly surprised by this soup: even with just a regular vegetable stock base, cremini mushrooms and a relatively short cook time, it had great mushroom flavour enhanced by sautéed leeks, garlic and fresh thyme. I puréed the entire batch and the resulting soup was smooth and velvety and definitely lived up to its "creamy" descriptor. Also very rich, it was best enjoyed slowly, in small quantities, to better savour every sip.
Pasta with New Potatoes, Green Beans, and Pesto (page 256)
What a wonderful recipe! I always appreciate when an author helps the cook economize in the kitchen, in this case, using only one pot to cook the pasta, potatoes and green beans. You did have to rely on your own judgement a little regarding cooking times; 8 minutes for the pasta and potatoes with an additional 2 once the green beans were added worked perfectly. Dressed with a vibrant - in both colour and flavour - basil-parsley pesto, this was one delicious dish. I didn't include the optional olives but there was already so much flavour, they weren't missed.
Cannellini (White Kidney) Bean Hummus (page 300)
After last month's Carrot Hummus (page 296), which only my dog and I enjoyed, this recipe offered some redemption. The cooked white kidney beans from my freezer were a tasty alternative to chickpeas and what the dip lacked in nutty flavour, it more than made up for with the drizzle of smoky paprika oil. As with most of these spreads, it was better the second day once the flavours of the ingredients had been allowed to develop and meld. One of the selections for this month, Garlicky Flat Breads (page 176), would have been a good choice to serve with this but I made them back in September and pressed for time, resorted to store-bought lavash crackers.
Celery Gratin (page 380)
I love celery in so many forms: raw, as
the star of a soup, and as a background flavour in countless delicious
dishes that would be lacking if it were absent, so I never imagined
that I would not like it in any preparation.
In this recipe, the method of oven-braising seemed to concentrate certain flavours in the vegetable that I just didn't care for, flavours that the cream and even the crispy, cheesy topping couldn't mask. Having said that, I should confess that I didn't follow the recipe exactly so it's perhaps unfair of me to judge it. I don't like butter and generally don't use it in savoury cooking but I am aware that it often mellows strong flavours - eg the acid in Marcella Hazan's famous tomato sauce with onion and butter. The butter I left out may have been critical to the success of this dish. I'm looking forward to reading the others' reviews.....I'll take their word for it if they say it's delicious!
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