root, stem, leaf, flower by Gill Meller

root stem leaf flower

What’s the USP? Go wild (go wild!) go wild in the country, where nettles in a bush are absolutely free. It’s time to eschew meat and fish for all that lovely fruit and veg that you know will do you good. And here’s Gill Mellor with dirt on his hands and love in his heart to show you ‘how to cook with vegetables and other plants’.

Who is the author? You’ll know Gill Mellor from such books as Outdoor Cooking: River Cottage Handbook No.17 and Time by Gill Meller previously reviewed on this site and awarded a whopping 4 stars (I must have been feeling generous that day. I’m kidding. Or am I?). As I mentioned in that review, Meller is an alumni of Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall’s River Cottage organization and is a chef, food writer and teacher. His first book Gather won the Fortnum and Mason award for Best Debut Food Book in 2017.

Is it good bedtime reading? There’s a fairly chunky introduction to the book and the recipe introductions are interesting and informative, but this is a cookbook for the kitchen rather than one for the bedside table. If you actually enjoy what there is to read will depend on your tolerance for Food Writing with a captial F and capital W; the stuff that usually results from an English degree and a lifetime reading Elizabeth David, Richard Olney and Nigel Slater. It’s the sort of adjective-heavy prose where radishes have a ‘tussle of coarse green leaves on top’ and you find ‘lucent green’ gooseberries among a ‘burr and wrangle of thorns’.

It will also depend on your tolerance for being told how to shop and cook. There is nothing particularly radical in Meller’s suggestion to eat organic, local and seasonal, or in his assertion that ‘we need to be eating less meat and fish’ and that what we do eat should come from ‘ethical and sustainable sources’ and from ‘animals that have led natural, happy lives’. But it’s easy for him as a professional food writer to say that and less easy for those working full time with a family to feed and limited time and financial resources to live up to those lofty ideals. Meller places all the onus on the individual to do the right thing and makes no suggestion that changes should be made at the food supply chain level in order to make produce that meets his stringent criteria easily available and affordable to all. Instead, there is the implication that you are falling short as a human being if you don’t buy organic, sustainable, ethically produced goods. And frankly, fuck that.

Will I have trouble finding the ingredients? If you are going to adhere to the Meller mantra of organic, sustainable, ethically produced stuff, then you will be narrowing the field substantially. However, most of the actual ingredients are not that obscure and you should be able to track them down without too much effort, especially if you are willing to eat ordinary people’s food. You’ll die sooner and be killing the planet with every single bite, but at least you’re not a serial killer with someone chained up in your cellar. Are you? I mean, if you are, I don’t approve obviously, but it’s interesting, isn’t it? I know lots of people are bored with serial killers but I think there’s an enduring fascination. Drop me a line, there’s a contact widget somewhere on this site, tell me about your sickness.

What’s the faff factor? Have we stopped talking about serial killers already? Oh well. WHAT’S THE FAFF FACTOR? IS THAT WHAT YOU WANT TO KNOW? IS THAT REALLY WHAT’S BOTHERING YOU RIGHT AT THIS PRESENT MOMENT IN TIME? Sorry, I don’t know why I’m shouting. I haven’t had my meds today and lockdown is really starting to get to me. Faff factor, yes, good point. You should know about that before you buy a book. You work hard for your money, you don’t want to waste it on something you’re never going to use. It’s a reasonable question. I don’t know why I’m making such a big deal about it. I mean, I write the bloody questions myself, it’s not as though someone is dictating to me what I need to tell you. So, faff factor. Faaaaaaaaf faaaaaactor. Try saying that out loud. It’s funny. Like the Shadrack scene in Billy Liar.You know the bit. Actually, you’re probably too young. Or from a country where they never showed the film on the telly. You should stream it. Anyway, where were we? Oh yes, faffing about. No, the recipes are fine really, they’re mostly short and straightforward. You can judge for yourself; I’ve posted a couple of recipes for you to try (the publisher only allowed two instead of the usual three for some reason. Gill’s special. So special.) The links are at the bottom of the page because this is such a well-designed site.

How annoyingly vague are the recipes? You will find the odd ‘small pinch of sea salt’ which is fine, and a ‘small handful’ of this and that which is OK if you’ve got small hands or know someone who has that could come to your house and grab a handful of herbs for you, although exactly how small their hands need to be isn’t really clear. Just be sensible about it. Perhaps ask a child. No, don’t do that. Unless you’re related to them, then it’s OK.

More annoying is ‘the juice of half a lemon’. Why do recipes rarely give ml measures for lemon juice? I mean, it’s a liquid just like any other isn’t it? And the amount you put in a recipe will affect the final result. I don’t know if you’ve bought a lemon recently, but the amount of juice that you get out of them varies massively from a meager teaspoon to a flood. They are as unpredictable as, erm, something that it’s politically correct to describe as unpredictable. I’m not sure what that might be. Me. I’m unpredictable. The amount of juice you get out of a lemon is as unpredictable as the mood I’ll be in when I wake up on any given day. And that’s pretty unpredictable. Imagine the mood I’m in now, writing this. You don’t want to know.

How often will I cook from the book? How often do you imagine you might fancy ‘tomatoes in the hole’ instead of toad? That’s the question you need to ask yourself. Ultimately, the amount you use this book will depend on precisely how middle class you are. That’s just the truth. Take this stupid quiz and find out. When you discover that the stupid quiz appeared in the Mirror and you decide you don’t want to take it because you don’t want anything to do with that disgusting rag, congratulations, you are middle class and you will cook from this book a lot. If you do decide to take the quiz, it doesn’t matter what your score is, you have read something in the Mirror and are by default not middle class and the book will collect dust languorously on your shelf. Power to the people.

Killer recipes: Do we have to do this? OK (sighs) they include: sweetcorn, rosemary and smoked cheddar soufflé; squash, lentil, tomato and rosemary pie; salted chocolate pumpkin tart; asparagus and quinoa salad with peas and broad beans.

What will I love? The photography by Andrew Montgomery is up to his usual very high standards and there’s a good amount of variety in the recipes, given the relatively narrow subject matter. That was sensible wasn’t it?

What won’t I like so much? Meller’s editors have failed to dissuade him from writing poems. I love poetry. I read lots of it, from Renaissance to 21st Century (give Reckless Paper Birds by John McCullough a go) and I even write some myself. I’m just not convinced a cookbook is the right platform for it. Or maybe I just don’t like Meller’s poems. Sorry Gill.

Should I buy it? This book isn’t really for me, but that doesn’t mean it’s not for you. There’s nothing really wrong with it, so if you need some inspiration in the fruit and veg department and you feel the stylistic issues I’ve outlined above won’t be problematic for you, then go ahead. Oh, I forgot to mention the recipe titles. Unnecessarily overwritten, arch and twee constructions like ‘A tart for May’ and ‘Aubergines and roast tomatoes for everything’ are like fingernails down a blackboard to me (the same goes for the book’s title and the lack of capitals). But most of them aren’t like that, they’re just normal so it’s not the end of the world. Don’t let it put you off. I know it probably wouldn’t but I’m just saying. It’s honestly more about my odd sensitivities to certain tropes of Food Writing, which I think far too much about, than anything else. I shouldn’t have said anything. It’s fine, really.

(Have you had enough of this yet? I could go on all day like this. Once I get on a roll it’s difficult to stop me. What shall we talk about next? No, maybe you’re right, let’s leave it there. Till next time then.)

Cuisine: English
Suitable for: Confident home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating: Three stars

Buy this book
Root, Stem, Leaf, Flower: How to Cook with Vegetables and Other Plants

£27, Quadrille Publishing Ltd.

Cook from this book
Courgette flatbreads with lots of herbs and goat’s cheese
Raspberry and rhubarb crumble

Courgette flatbreads with lots of herbs and goat’s cheese by Gill Meller

Courgette flatbreads Gill Meller

Cooking courgettes slowly with garlic and olive oil has to be one of my favourite ways to deal with this summer vegetable. Fistfuls of herbs go in at the end, then you could simply pile the courgettes on to warm bruschetta, but these flatbreads are infinitely better.

MAKES 3

FOR THE FLATBREADS
500G (1LB 2OZ) STRONG WHITE BREAD FLOUR,PLUS EXTRA FOR DUSTING
1 TSP FINE SEA SALT
1 TSP FAST-ACTION DRIED YEAST
2 TSP CRUSHED FENNEL SEEDS
FINELY GRATED ZEST OF 1 LEMON
2 TBSP EXTRA-VIRGIN OLIVE OIL, PLUS EXTRA FOR GREASING
4 TBSP NATURAL YOGHURT

FOR THE TOPPING
4 TBSP EXTRA-VIRGIN OLIVE OIL
2 GARLIC CLOVES, THINLY SLICED
1.2KG (2LB 10OZ)COURGETTES, SLICED INTO 5MM (¼IN) ROUNDS
1 SMALL HANDFUL OF DILL, CHOPPED
1 SMALL HANDFUL OF MINT,LEAVES PICKED AND THINLY RIBBONED
1 SMALL HANDFUL OF BASIL, CHOPPED
1 SMALL HANDFUL OF CHIVES, CHOPPED
150G (5½OZ) SOFT GOAT’S CHEESE
PINCH OF CHILLI FLAKES (OPTIONAL)
SEA SALT AND FRESHLY GROUND BLACK PEPPER

Make the flatbreads. Place the flour, salt, yeast, fennel seeds and lemon est in a large bowl. Add the oil, yoghurt and 275ml (9½fl oz) of water and mix everything thoroughly until it forms a dough. Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and knead for about 10 minutes, until soft and smooth. (You can use a stand mixer with a dough hook for this part.) Shape the dough into a rough round and place in a lightly oiled bowl; cover with a clean cloth and leave to rise in a warm place for up to 24 hours.

When you’re ready to make the flatbreads, start the topping. Place a large, heavy-based pan over a medium heat. Add half the olive oil and when it’s hot add the garlic and sizzle for a few seconds, then add the courgettes. Season with salt and pepper. Cook the courgettes slowly over a gentle heat,stirring regularly, for about 25 minutes or so, until they break down but still retain a little of their shape. They should be soft without colouring too much and almost spoonable in texture.

Take the pan off the heat, stir all but a handful of the herbs into the courgettes, then season again to taste with plenty of salt and pepper. Place 3 baking sheets in the oven (alternatively, bake one at a time if you have limited oven space) and heat the oven to 240°C/220°C fan/475°F/ gas mark 8.

Turn out the dough onto a lightly floured surface, then cut it into 3 equal pieces. Form each piece into a nice neat round and leave to rest for 20 minutes or so. When you’re ready to bake the flatbreads, roll out the pieces of dough. They want to be quite thin, but don’t worry if they’re not especially round, that doesn’t matter.

Take the hot baking sheets out of the oven and place a rolled-out dough on each. Spread the courgette mixture evenly over the top of each. Dot the goat’s cheese over the top of the courgette mixture and trickle all over with some of the remaining olive oil. Add the chilli flakes, if using, and a sprinkling of salt and pepper, too.

Place the trays in the oven for 12–14 minutes, or until the dough is puffed up and golden around the edges. Remove from the oven and slide onto a board. Sprinkle with a few reserved herbs and serve.

Cook more from this book
Raspberry and rhubarb crumble by Gill Meller

Buy this book
Root, Stem, Leaf, Flower: How to Cook with Vegetables and Other Plants
£27, Quadrille Publishing Ltd.

Read the review

Raspberry and rhubarb crumble by Gill Meller

Raspberry and rhubarb crumble Gill Meller

When you sit down to a bowl of warm raspberry and rhubarb crumble, it’s easy to forget that the apple ever existed at all. In fact, you forget anything that begins with A, or anything green. For in that moment, your world literally crumbles away, leaving you with reds and gentle, sugary pinks and the magic that happens when these two ingredients are cooked together. I like to pack my crumble topping full of oats and bake it separately from the fruit, at least for a while. It becomes remarkably crunchy this way.

SERVES 4

FOR THE OAT CRUMBLE
100G (3½OZ) PLAIN FLOUR
PINCH OF FINE SEA SALT
100G (3½OZ) UNSALTED BUTTER, CUBED AND CHILLED
75G (2½OZ) UNREFINED CASTER SUGAR
75G (2½OZ) JUMBO OATS

FOR THE FILLING
ABOUT 400G (14OZ)RHUBARB STALKS, TRIMMED AND CUT INTO 2–3CM (¾–1¼IN) PIECES
ABOUT 200G (7OZ)RASPBERRIES
100G (3½OZ) UNREFINED CASTER SUGAR
1 TSP VANILLA EXTRACT

First, make the oat crumble. Heat the oven to 175°C/155°C fan/335°F/gas mark 3–4. Combine all the ingredients in a large bowl and rub them thoroughly together until you have formed clumps and lumps. Line a large baking tray with a piece of baking parchment. Tip out the mixture onto the tray and distribute evenly. Set aside.

Make the filling. Place the rhubarb in a 25cm (10in) baking dish. Add the raspberries, sugar and vanilla along with a couple of tablespoons of water and tumble everything together. Place the dish of fruit in the oven as well as the tray of crumble and bake for 20 minutes, turning the crumble mixture over three or four times during baking, until clumped together, biscuity and golden. Spoon the crumble mixture onto the fruit and continue to cook for a further 10 minutes, or until the rhubarb and raspberries are soft, the juices are bubbling away and the crumble is
golden brown.

Cook more from this book

Buy this book
Root, Stem, Leaf, Flower: How to Cook with Vegetables and Other Plants
£27, Quadrille Publishing Ltd.

Read the review

Penne with artichokes, peppers, spinach and almonds by Ainsley Harriot

088_ainsley_Artichoke_pasta

This pasta dish has a Spanish twist with chargrilled artichokes and roasted red peppers combined with toasted almonds. It’s a delightfully simple and tasty recipe using storecupboard ingredients and great for a mid-week supper. Use the best quality jarred artichokes you can find – the chargrilled ones in oil really do add extra flavour to the dish. If you aren’t following a vegan diet, top with some grated vegetarian hard cheese.

SERVES 4
400g dried penne pasta or other short pasta of choice
1 x 175g jar chargrilled artichoke hearts in olive oil
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 medium–hot red chilli, finely chopped
3 roasted red peppers from a jar, sliced
50g Spanish or Kalamata olives, pitted and halved
35g chopped almonds, lightly toasted
extra-virgin olive oil, for drizzling
100g baby spinach leaves
2 tbsp chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley, plus extra to garnish
zest from 1 lemon
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
a handful of flaked almonds, lightly toasted, to garnish (optional)

Bring a large saucepan of salted water to a rolling boil, add the penne, stir once, then cook until al dente, according to the packet instructions.

Meanwhile, strain the olive oil from the jar of artichokes into a large frying pan, then cut the artichoke hearts into quarters and set aside. Set the frying pan over a medium heat. When the oil is hot, add the garlic and chilli and cook for 30 seconds until fragrant. Add the artichoke hearts to the pan along with the red pepper strips and olives, season with salt and pepper and stir to combine. Cook for 2–3 minutes to warm through, then stir through the almonds and a good drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil. Cook for 1 minute, then add the spinach to the pan, a handful at a time, and allow to just wilt down.

Drain the pasta, reserving a little of the cooking water. Add the pasta to the vegetables along with 2 tablespoons of the reserved cooking water, stirring to combine. Add the parsley and lemon zest and check for seasoning.

To serve, share the pasta among warmed pasta bowls, drizzle with a little extra olive oil, if needed, and scatter with the parsley and toasted flaked almonds, if using.

Cook more from this book
Lentil and haloumi bake
Mediterranean sea bass with potato bake

Buy the book
Ainsley’s Mediterranean Cookbook
£20, Ebury Press

Read the review

Lentil and haloumi bake by Ainsely Harriot

067_ainsley_Lentil_Halloumi_Bake

While I was in Corsica, I tried many delicious vegetarian dishes that were simply prepared yet full of flavour from fresh herbs and garlic. Marjoram is a versatile and aromatic herb that works beautifully with vegetables; it’s similar in taste to oregano but with a milder sweeter flavour. This dish is easy to prepare for a mid-week dinner – just toss it all together in the one dish! For a creamy topping, serve with a little Greek yoghurt or hummus. This is great on its own or with my Quick Flatbreads.

SERVES 4

2 courgettes, cut into 2-cm slices
1 red onion, cut into 8 thin wedges
1 medium aubergine, cut into small cubes
2 red peppers, de-seeded and cut into chunks
1 red chilli, de-seeded and finely chopped
2 large garlic cloves, chopped
2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra for drizzling
2 tsp fresh marjoram leaves (or 1 tsp dried oregano)
1 x 400g tin lentils, drained and rinsed
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
250g cherry tomatoes
1 x 250g block halloumi, thickly sliced
zest and juice of ½ lemon
8–10 basil leaves, shredded with a few reserved whole for garnish
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 200°C/180°C fan/gas 6.

Put the courgettes, onion, aubergine, red pepper, chilli and garlic into a large, shallow baking dish, drizzle with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil, season well, then scatter over half of the marjoram and toss together. Roast for 16–18 minutes.

Remove from the oven and toss through the lentils and balsamic vinegar, then stir in the cherry tomatoes and sit the halloumi slices on top. Drizzle with another 1 tablespoon of olive oil and sprinkle over the lemon zest and remaining marjoram.

Roast for a further 16–18 minutes until the tomatoes start to blister and release their juices and the halloumi is golden around the edges. If you like, you can brown the halloumi a little more under a hot grill for 1–2 minutes after baking.

To serve, drizzle with a little oil, squeeze over the lemon juice and scatter with the fresh basil.

Cook more from this book
Mediterranean sea bass with potato bake
Penne with artichokes, peppers, spinach and almonds

Buy the book
Ainsley’s Mediterranean Cookbook
£20, Ebury Press

Read the review

Slow Roasted Peppers With Chilli, Lemon and Garlic Beans by Rukmini Iyer

Slow roasted peppers with chilli, lemon & garlic beans

My favourite dish when working in a restaurant kitchen was peperonata – red and yellow peppers softened down slowly in a frying pan along with oil, garlic and onions until they almost melted. It was, as many good things are, time-consuming to make, so I wondered if one might achieve a similar result with oven cooking – and the answer is yes. With garlicky beans, this dish is perfect piled on to rounds of thickly sliced toasted bread.

Serves: 4
Prep: 15 minutes
Cook: 1 hour

5 vine tomatoes, quartered
1 red pepper, thinly sliced
1 yellow pepper, thinly sliced
1 orange pepper, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 bay leaves
1 large sprig of fresh rosemary
1⁄2 – 1 teaspoon sea salt flakes
Plenty of freshly ground black pepper

BEANS

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1⁄2 clove of garlic, finely grated
1⁄2 teaspoon chilli flakes
1⁄2 – 1 teaspoon sea salt flakes
1 x 400g tin of cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
1⁄2 lemon, zest only

TO SERVE

Rounds of thickly sliced,toasted bread

Preheat the oven to 180°C fan/200°C/gas 6.

Tip the tomatoes, peppers, oil, herbs, salt and pepper into a roasting tin large enough to hold everything in one layer, mix well, then transfer to the oven and roast for 50 minutes. If after half an hour it looks as though the peppers are catching a bit too quickly, turn the heat down a fraction. Meanwhile, stir the extra virgin olive oil, garlic, chilli flakes, salt, cannellini beans and lemon zest together in a bowl and set aside.

Once the peppers have had 50 minutes, stir through the beans, then turn the oven down to 160°C fan/180°C/gas 4 and cook for a further 10 minutes. Taste and adjust the salt and pepper as needed, adding a little more olive oil if you wish, then remove the bay leaves and rosemary sprigs and serve piled on to toasted bread. This tastes even better the next day, so it’s well worth making in advance and reheating.

Extracted from: The Roasting Tin Around the World Global One Dish Dinners by Rukmini Iyer (Square Peg) 14th May, £16.99 HBK Photography by David Loftus. Follow Rukmini on instagram @missminifer

Cook more from this book
Peach and Dulce De Leche Cake With Meringues and Cream
Slow-Cooked Pork Pibil With Pink Pickled Onions

Read the review

Buy this book
The Roasting Tin Around the World: Global One Dish Dinners
£16.99, Square Peg

Rye Crostata with Peas and Asparagus

235 rye crostada

Gluten-free
Preparation Time: 30 minutes plus resting time
Cooking Time: 1 hour
Serves: 6 to 8

To enhance the flavor of the sesame seeds, toast them, covered, in a heavy-bottomed frying pan over medium heat until they start to crackle, then transfer to a plate and let cool. For a vegan version of the recipe, replace the egg yolks with a heaping tablespoon of millet flakes.

  • 1¾ cups (220 g) farro (emmer) flour, plus more for sprinkling
  • Scant ½ cup (50 g) all-purpose (plain) flour
  • 3 tablespoons black sesame seeds
  • 1 tablespoon brown flaxseeds (linseeds)
  • ¼ cup (60 ml) plus 3½ tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 4 spring onions, chopped
  • 1 bunch asparagus, thinly sliced
  • 11/3 cups (200 g) shelled fresh peas
  • Scant 1 cup (200 ml) soy milk
  • Grated zest of ½ lemon
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 2½ tablespoons sunflower seeds
  • Salt and black pepper

In a food processor, combine the farro flour, all-purpose (plain) flour, sesame seeds, flaxseeds (linseeds), 3½ tablespoons of the olive oil, and a pinch of salt and process the mixture until crumbly. With the motor running, drizzle in 1/3 cup (75 ml) cold water and process until the dough comes together and forms a ball. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap (cling film) and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C) with a rack in the lower third.

In the meantime, in a heavy-bottomed frying pan, heat the remaining ¼ cup (60 ml) oil over medium heat. Add the onions and asparagus and cook for 2 to 3 minutes. Add the peas and a scant ½ cup (100 ml) water and cook for 7 to 8 minutes, until the liquid has evaporated. Sprinkle the vegetables with farro flour, drizzle in the milk, and stir.

Reduce the heat to low and cook the sauce for 5 to 6 minutes. Season with salt and pepper, then stir in the lemon zest. Remove from the heat and let the sauce cool. Add the egg yolks and stir to combine.

On a lightly floured surface, roll out two-thirds of the dough into a 2 mm-thick sheet and transfer it to a 9-inch (22 cm) round baking pan. Fill the crust with the vegetable mixture. Roll the remaining dough into a thin sheet and cut it into ¾-inch-wide (1.5 cm) strips. Arrange the strips over the filling to form an open lattice. Press the lattice strips against the bottom crust to seal, then trim the excess dough around the edges.

Brush the lattice with a little water and sprinkle with the sunflower seeds. Bake the tart in the lower third of the oven for about 40 minutes. Serve warm.

Read the review

Buy this book
The Vegetarian Silver Spoon: Classic and Contemporary Italian Recipes (FOOD COOK)
£35, Phaidon

The Vegetarian Silver Spoon

Vegetarian Silver Spoon

Vegetarianism and veganism are on the rise in the UK. According to the shopping comparison website, finder.com, 12 million people claim they will be vegetarian, vegan or pescatarian by 2021. The Vegan Society say that the number of vegans quadrupled between 2014 and 2019 with 1.16% of the population (about 600,000) now living a vegan lifestyle. That’s a lot of home cooks and chefs on the look-out for something delicious and a bit more inventive than the ubiquitous mushroom risotto. With 200 Italian vegetarian recipes, many of them dairy free, gluten free or vegan (symbols identify which category or categories each recipe fits into, and there are lists for each category in the back of the book, making them quick and easy to find), The Vegetarian Silver Spoon is a godsend for anyone looking to expand their plant-based repertoire.

The book draws on the archives of The Silver Spoon, Italy’s bestselling cookbook first published in 1950, and also includes 150 new recipes developed by The Silver Spoon kitchen team. Divided into eight chapters, the book is a comprehensive survey of traditional and contemporary Italian vegetarian and vegan cooking covering snacks and small plates; breads and pizzas; salads and sides soups and stews;  pasta, dumplings and crepes; vegetable tarts and pastries;  grains, gratins and stuffed vegetables, and desserts.

There’s a homely feel to many of the recipes such as chard and chickpea soup with tofu; buckwheat lasagne with broccoli and eggplant-tomato strudel. Lesser known ingredients such as black chickpeas (used in a salad with apple and Jerusalem artichoke); millet (paired with beets and Romanesco), and Kamut flour (derived from Iranian red Khorasan wheat that’s high in protein, vitamins and minerals and used to make calzone with asparagus and egg) will invigorate any cook’s interest in meat and fish-free cooking, making The Vegetarian Silver Spoon a valuable addition to their cookbook collection.

This review was originally published in The Caterer magazine.

Cuisine: Vegetarian
Suitable for: Beginners and confident home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating: Four stars

Buy this book
The Vegetarian Silver Spoon: Classic and Contemporary Italian Recipes (FOOD COOK)
£35, Phaidon

Cook from this book
Rye Crostata with Peas and Asparagus

 

From the Earth by Peter Gilmore

from the earth_final

What’s the USP? One chef’s obsession with heirloom vegetable varieties explored in recipes, detailed ingredient profiles and features on specialist growers.

 Who’s the author? Peter Gilmore is one of Australia’s leading chefs. His restaurant Quay overlooking Sydney Harbour has held Three Chef Hats in the Good Food Guide (the Australian equivalent of three Michelin stars) for 16 consecutive years and was listed for five years on the World’s 50 Best Restaurant list. He is also executive chef of Bennelong in the Sydney Opera House which holds Two Chef Hats.

What does it look like? Even by the uniformly high standards of modern cookbook production values, From The Earth  is something special. The book’s large format adds extra impact to Brett Stevens’s full page shots of Gilmore’s exquisitely presented dishes and the artfully arranged vegetable portraits that you’ll want to frame and hang on your wall.

 Killer recipes? Tartare of wagyu, fermented chilli, redmeat radishes; salad of violet de Provence artichoke; braise of Gagon cucumber, green-lipped abalone, shimonita onion; salad of raw trentino cabbage turnip with caper vinaigrette.

 What will I love? This is no veggie bandwagon jumping exercise. Gilmore has been a dedicated cultivator of rare heirloom varieties for more than a decade and really knows his stuff. He is passionately pro-biodiversity and anti-genetic modification but restrains himself to a few words on the subject in the introduction saying, ‘this book is not about the politics of food’ and lets his imaginative and creative dishes do the talking.

Ingredient profiles have been expertly put together by Gilmore’s wife Kathryn, who spent ‘countless hours researching each featured vegetable, referencing and cross-referencing information on species, origin and history’. All that work shows in the detailed and fascinating finished product. Want to know about the history of radish cultivation? Look no further (the Egyptians got there first in 2000 BC apparently).

 The four grower profiles that include provide an interesting insight onto Australia’s specialist produce scene and are illustrated with photographs that show the Aussie landscape in all its rugged glory.

What won’t I like? By its very nature, From The Earth presents all but the most dedicatedly green fingered chef with the problem of sourcing the raw ingredients for many of the recipes. You may not be able to easily get your hands on Cherokee White Eagle corn, Gete Okosomin squash or Kyoto red carrots but you will want to cook the delicious sounding dishes so, as Gilmore points out, you can ‘use the recipes as a starting point to experiment with all sorts of varieties’ while you grow your own crops or convince a supplier to do so for you.

Should I buy it? Informative, inspiring and stunning to look at, From The Earth is a fresh take on  vegetable cultivation and cookery that could well have an impact on how you serve vegetables in your restaurant. It’s also a lovely, aesthetically pleasing object that will be catnip to all cookbook enthusiasts. How can you resist?

Cuisine: Australian/progressive
Suitable for: Professional chefs/confident home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating: Five stars

Buy this book
From the Earth: World’s Great, Rare and Almost Forgotten Vegetables
£ 35, Hardie Grant

Carta da musica, leaves, things and truffled pecorino by Jeremy Fox

146 Carta da Musica

When I worked at Mumbo Jumbo in Atlanta, Georgia, we used to purchase ready-made Sardinian flatbread (also called carta da musica). On its own it’s not that tasty, but brushed with olive oil and toasted, it turns into something great. Whenever we had a VIP in the restaurant we would send it out topped with herbs and truffles—and the like—and I always dreamed that one day, if I had a pizza oven, I would start making these myself. When I opened Ubuntu I got to do just that, and as a result, this was probably my favorite dish on the menu. It is basically a vehicle for everything great that we happened to have on hand. Just for fun, and despite Ubuntu being a vegetarian restaurant, we always served it on a pig-shaped wooden board.

NOTE For the “leaves and things,” I like to use pea tendrils, nasturtiums, calendula, young beet (beetroot) greens, fava (broad bean) leaves, parsley, shaved carrots, and shaved radishes. But really whatever is seasonal, fresh, and sounds good to you will work great.

Once the carta da musica is dried out in the oven, it will keep for a very long time—so that step can be done very far in advance.

makes 8
carta da musica
1/2 teaspoon active dry (fast-action) yeast
1 3/4 cups (220 g) durum wheat flour
1 teaspoon kosher salt
extra-virgin olive oil for greasing the bowl
all-purpose (plain) flour, for dusting

to serve
assorted leaves, herbs, and shaved vegetables (see Note)
1 pound (455 g) boschetto al tartufo cheese (or aged pecorino or parmigiano-reggiano)
extra-virgin olive oil, for brushing
1 tablespoon chopped rosemary
1 1/2 teaspoons chili flakes
kosher salt
lemon wedges
flaky sea salt

Fill a 1-cup (240 ml) measuring cup (measuring jug) with 2⁄3 cup (160 ml) warm (105° to 115°F/40° to 46°C) water, sprinkle in the yeast, and stir it to blend. Let stand for about 10 minutes to activate the yeast.

In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the flour and kosher salt and mix on low speed to blend.

With the mixer running, pour in the yeast/water mixture, increase the speed to
medium, and beat the dough until it is smooth and elastic, about 4 minutes. The dough will be slightly sticky to the touch.

Lightly coat a medium bowl with the olive oil. With your hands lightly oiled as well,
shape the dough into a ball and place in the bowl. Turn the dough ball over so that it is coated all over with the olive oil. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap (clingfilm) and let the dough proof in a warm area for around 2 hours—the dough will rise very slightly, but will not double in volume.

Once the dough is proofed, place a pizza stone on a rack positioned in the center of the oven and begin preheating the oven and stone to 500°F (260°C/Gas 10). Give the stone at least 1 hour to preheat so that the carta will cook evenly and consistently. (Although a pizza stone has much better heat retention and will create a superior product, you can also use an 18 x 13-inch/46 x 33 cm baking sheet. Stick it in the oven upside down; this gives you a flat surface with no lip, making it easier to lay down and remove the dough.)

While the oven and pizza stone are preheating, roll out the dough. Sprinkle some flour over a work surface. Divide the dough into quarters. Working with one piece at a time while keeping the others covered, use a rolling pin to roll out the dough to an 8-inch (20 cm) round, about 1⁄16 inch (1.5 mm) thick. The round doesn’t need to be perfect, but it does need to be of consistent thickness and of an appropriate size to fit on your stone. But most important, it needs to be totally flat. If the rolled-out dough has any tears or crimps, it will not inflate, and thus won’t cook properly.

Rest the rolled-out dough on a floured baking sheet or work surface for 30 to 45 minutes.

Dust flour over a pizza peel or an upside-down 8-inch (20 cm) tart pan—you’re going to use this to slide your dough rounds onto the stone, so the flour helps keep the dough from sticking to the peel. Transfer the dough round to the pizza peel or tart pan and give the peel a light shake to ensure that the dough can move around.

Open the oven door and bring the peel in flat, over to the far edge of the pizza stone.
Tilt it up slightly—but don’t let it bunch up—and jostle the peel gently until the edge of
the dough round hits the far end of the stone. The dough will immediately catch on the stone, so you should be able to pull the peel back at a flat angle, leaving the dough on the pizza stone with no wrinkles or crimps (that last part is, again, important to it cooking properly). Immediately close the oven door to maintain temperature.

The dough should puff up and fill with air in 2 to 3 minutes. The carta da musica is done when it is puffy, hollow, and dry to the touch. Remove it from the oven and let it cool for 5 minutes. Repeat the process with the remaining dough rounds.

After an initial 5-minute rest, use scissors to cut around the outer seam of the carta (like a pita), carefully peeling back the top layer from the bottom to remove the two layers into separate round sheets. The layers toward the center may want to stick a bit, so use extra care when peeling it apart. You should wind up with two disks of even thickness.

As the breads are baked and separated, stack the sheets cut-side down. Once the last piece of dough is baked, reduce the oven to its lowest setting, ideally below 200°F (95°C). Remove the pizza stone.

Once your oven has cooled down, place the cut rounds, cut-side down, directly on the oven racks in single layers (you can use multiple oven racks) and let the bread dry out until completely crispy, at least 2 hours.

Once dry, the breads can be stored indefinitely in an airtight container. Just continue to store them cut-side down, as the cut-side is not as pretty or even, and will be kept face down when you assemble the finished dish.

to serve
Preheat the oven to 500°F (260°C/Gas 10).

Prepare the leaves, herbs, and vegetables. These can be as rustic or precise as you like, but the real goal is to have things that will be delicious to eat raw, on top of crispy bread.

Place the carta da musica cut-side-down on an 18 x 13-inch (46 x 33 cm) rimmed baking sheet (tray)—it is rimmed to keep the olive oil from leaking onto the oven floor and burning.

Meanwhile, using a vegetable peeler, peel around the perimeter of the wheel of
Boschetto al Tartufo—the goal is to have as long of a peel as possible. Brush the bread disks evenly and generously with olive oil. Sprinkle with the rosemary, chili flakes, and kosher salt to taste. Bake the carta until they are golden brown and crisp, about 2 minutes.

As the disks come out of the oven, pour off any excess oil that has not been absorbed and immediately drape the cheese over the surface so it starts to melt from the residual heat. Place the carta da musica on a plate and dress it with the prepared herbs, greens, flowers, and vegetables. Finish it with a squeeze of fresh lemon juice and flaky sea salt.

Eat this immediately—and with your hands. Basically, just have fun.

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On Vegetables: Modern Recipes for the Home Kitchen

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