December marks the eight month of our international online cooking group, The Cottage Cooking Club. As a group, recipe by recipe, we are cooking and learning our way through a wonderful vegetable cookbook written in 2011 by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, called „River Cottage Everyday Veg“.
The Cottage Cooking Club is meant to be a project aimed at incorporating more vegetable dishes in our everyday cooking, getting to know less known vegetables, learning new ways to prepare tasty and healthy dishes, and sharing them with family and friends.
All the members of this cooking group will make an effort to use as much local, regional, organic and also seasonal produce as is resonably possible. With that goal in mind, during the month of December, I prepared a nice array of vegetable dishes from the recipe line-up.
Let us start with a picture of these incredibly pretty purple Brussels sprouts ("choux de Bruxelles violet" as the French call it or "lila Rosenkohl" as we call it and which translates as "purple rose cabbage"). This was the first time I came across them and I could not resist their undeniably charming appearance.
Since I prepared nine out of ten recipes, I will write about each dish according to the order in which I prepared them.
My first recipe for this December post was the Curried sweet potato soup (page 166) from the chapter "Hefty Soups". Sweet potatoes are root vegetables that resemble potatoes, although they are different in taste and texture and are not related to the potato. They have a deep-orange, creamy-textured flesh that is much lighter and fluffier than that of the potato and, as their name suggests, they have a slightly sweet flavor which harmonized so well with the spices used in this recipe.
This wonderful warming winter soup is cooked with onions, garlic, grated fresh ginger, red chilies, garam masala, curry powder, cubed sweet potatoes, and vegetable stock (page 130). After the soup is puréed, you add coconut milk, lime juice, salt and pepper to taste - finish with some lovely yogurt and fresh coriander (I opted for beetroot, alfalfa and leek sprouts instead).
This is such a wonderful recipe. The soup is rich and creamy, with just the right kick from the spices, and just the right amout of sweetness from the sweet potatoes and the coconut milk - all counter-balanced by the tang from the lime juice. A must try, no doubt!
The second recipe this month was Brussels sprouts, apple and cheddar (page 108), from the chapter "Raw Assemblies".
In general, Brussels sprouts suffer from a dreadful reputation. Like miniature versions of the common cabbage, they grow on large stalks and have a sweet, nutty flavour, which some people can find too pungent. But, prepared according to this recipe and treated with a touch of love and care, these little buds will most certainly become your family´s winter favorite.
Who would have thought that raw Brussels sprouts were this delicious - I should add that these purple ones were very mild tasting, very reminiscent of red cabbage. We loved the preparation of this dish. Other than thinly sliced Brussels sprouts, you will need a crisp eating apple, nuts (I used walnuts) and cheese (I used shaved Parmigiano Reggiano). For the dressing it was lemon juice, olive oil, thyme, salt and pepper. Such a fresh, beautiful salad with a great balance of flavors - lots of delightful crunchiness from the sprouts, sweetness from the apple and saltiness from the cheese.
Recipe number three was the Corner shop spanakopita (page 54), from the chapter "Comfort Food & Feasts". I served this as part of my Christmas spread, hence the star-shaped cut-outs on top of the dish.
This recipe came about as Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall´s answer to a friend´s challenge to prepare dinner with items available at the average convenient store - therefore you can use frozen spinach in this recipe - although I used fresh one because I simply could not make myself walk past the fresh one to head for the frozen one and because I just love the taste of fresh spinach, although I must admit that it was quite the task to clean this huge bunch that I had carted home for this recipe.
Once you have prepared the spinach and it has cooled off somewhat, ladle half of it into a pretty oven-proof dish, add crumbled feta, then the rest of the spinach, cover with puff pastry, brush with an egg wash and bake - voilà - this is one of the tastiest, easiest, crowd-pleaser of a spinach dish that you are likely to come across!
The Sweetcorn fritters with corinader or mint raita (page 325), from the chapter "Mezze & Tapas" would make a great, spicy addition to your New Year´s spread.
Corn fritters are always a big hit with the kids - these were a bit more on the spicy side of things - with gram flour, cumin, coriander, turmeric, cayenne pepper, and spring onions they packed quite a punch. For the cooling raita, I used yogurt, sea salt, freshly ground black pepper and chives - if you are into spicy foods, these fritters with their lovely dark-golden hue will most certainly please your palate.
Leek risotto with chestnuts (page 270), from the chapter "Pasta & Rice" was the one recipe that received a lot of raving reviews at our house - sweet leeks, sautéed in butter and oil and mixed with lovely Italian risotto rice as well as some dry Italian white wine and homemade vegetable stock was a huge hit. One of my favorite recipes so far.
The final touch for the risotto was some fresh thyme and fried thin slices of chestnuts - goodness they are so wonderful as a topping to this risotto, that I decided to add them to one of my other dishes I made from the December line-up, the Salsify purée.
Looking for a wonderful side dish - try the Roasted roots with apple and rosemary (page 361), from the chapter of "Roast, Grill & Barbecue". Such an easy recipe and so versatile. I decided to use red-skinned and purple potatoes (the "Vitelotte" variety) on the day I prepared this recipe. I have prepared it with parsnips and carrots before and we loved that too.
You can use the root vegetables that you have on hand, roast them for a good 35 minutes with olive oil, salt and freshly ground black pepper, then add sliced cooking apples (the ones that hold their shape) and fresh rosemary and roast for an additional 15 minutes - hard to find someone who does not enjoy roasted root vegetables with some sweet apples and rosemary.
The next recipe I prepared was the biggest surprise to me this month. For some reason I was not sure that I would enjoy the Quick chickpea pasta (page 246), from the chapter "Store-Cupboard Suppers".
With so few ingredients I made sure to choose a really good-quality variety of orecchiette. There are so many different ones to choose from at my favorite Italian market and I kept thinking that I have an amazing recipe for homemade orecchiette but I resisted the urge to make them myself and bought some wonderful looking ones called "orecchiette strascinati", a type of robust orecchiette from the region of Puglia - they held their shape quite well during cooking and were robust enough to hold their own in this easy dish of pasta, chickpeas, garlic, lemon juice, chili peppers and grated hard cheese. Fried sage leaves added a nice bit of color to this incredibly easy and tasty pasta dish.
One of the lesser known root vegetables, salsify is also known as "oyster plant" because it tastes slightly of oysters. Around here we also call it "Schwarzwurzel", which translates into "black roots". This typical winter vegetable is quite popular in Belgium and the Netherlands these days but I remember my grand-mother preparing it and I could not wait to give this recipe a try. The most difficult part was finding it - it took me quite a while - no one seems to ask for it much these days, too bad because it has a wonderful intense flavor and it is very versatile.
The Salsify purée (page 387), from the chapter "Side Dishes" is a delightful way to prepare this veg with a bit of old-world-charm - I added some fried chestnut slices for garnish and a drizzle of cold-pressed walnut oil - delicious, creamy and a lovely taste that is a bit hard to describe and a winter-white color to boot. Absolutely not the way my grand-mother used to prepare this veg but quite fabulous!.
Last but not least, another recipe that I could not wait to try. The Bruschetta with cavolo nero or "cabbage on toast" (page 200), from the chapter "Bready Things".
Once you have decided wether you will use the cavolo nero (a kind of dark Italian kale from the Tuscan region), regular kale or savoy cabbage, all you will need to get is some wonderful country style bread, like the Ciabatta Pugliese that I used.
The cavolo nero has a good, strong flavor. It can be used as a substitute in all recipes that require cabbage but it is particularly good in soups such as the classic Tuscan soup, ribolitta. But cavolo nero is equally delicious simply fried in olive oil with garlic and chilies or as a topping for bruschetta - this is my kind of recipe. Loved the earthy flavor of the cabbage together with garlic, olive oil, pepper and salt.
Another month full of wonderful vegetable dishes – we certainly enjoy the recipes from this cookbook. And we are all looking forward to another year of wonderful, family-friendly vegetable dishes.
Please note, that for copyright reasons, we do NOT publish the recipes. If you enjoy the recipes in our series, hopefully, the wonderfully talented and enthusiastic members of the Cottage Cooking Club and their wonderful posts can convince you to get a copy of this lovely book. Better yet, do make sure to join us in this cooking adventure!
For more information on the participation rules, please go here.
To see which wonderful dishes the other members of the Cottage Cooking Club prepared during the month of December, please go here.