April marks the twelth 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 into our everyday cooking, learning about less known, forgotten or heritage vegetables, trying out 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.
Since I prepared nine out of ten recipes this month, I will write about each dish according to the order in which I prepared them. My first recipe for this April post was Pasta with new potatoes, green beans and pesto (page 256) from the chapter "Pasta & Rice".
We still have some rather cool days and nights– so this was a rather welcome hearty pasta dish in early April.
With basically three components, this was a different and delicious kind of pasta dish. First, make sure to prepare the pesto, I used basil and Italian parsley here – then boil the potato wedges together with the pasta and add the string beans for a few minutes to the same cooking water. Make sure to keep some of that patsa water. The third step requires you to mix the pesto with the pasta and veg and then finish the dish with a generous touch of freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano, some more pepper and salt, a bit of good olive oil and some chopped green olives, done.
I loved the ease of boiling the potatoes together with the pasta and the beans and was rather pleasantly surprised just how nice this dish tasted – pasta and potatoes do work together after all. If pressed for time, a good-quality store-bought pesto could be easily substituted here – making this dish even easier to put together.
The second recipe that I prepared was the Upside-down onion tart (page 218) from the chapter „Store-Cupboard Suppers“.
The first time I made this tasty tart I used yellow onions and a white balsamic vinegar to deglaze the onions before proceeding to place the puff pastry on the pre-cooked onions.
The second time I made this tart I used Spanish red onions and an aged balsamic vinegar to deglaze the onions. This resulted in a more sticky, dark-burgundy colored and different tasting onion tart.
We enjoyed both versions – cooking onions this way transforms them into a sweet, sticky, addictive vegetable – hard to resist when paired with buttery puff pastry and quite the looker when turned upside down like a tarte tatin.
The third recipe I made this month was the Cannelli bean hummus (page 300) from the chapter „Mezze & Tapas“. An easy hummus dish with tinned and drained canelli beans, a bit of garlic, tahini, olive oil, freshly squeezed lemon juice (essential), thyme, sea salt and pepper. You can serve this hummus with fresh, raw vegetables, pita or flatbread or roasted vegetables (which is the version I am aiming for next time I make this).
Such a no-fuss recipe for a hummus dip that got even tastier when paired with the paprika oil – that consisted of just two ingredients, namely a really good olive oil and Spanish smoked sweet paprika (you could also use the spicy paprika here). I chose to serve the paprika oil on the side since the hummus itself is already quite substantial.
The fourth and fifth recipes for the month of April was the Creamy mushroom soup (page152) from the chapter „Hefty Soups“ that is prepared with a Mushroom stock (page 130).
The first step is evident – the mushroom stock. That is worth the extra effort as it lends a „good, deep, earthy base“ to the final mushroom soup. For this you will add a variety of fresh and dried mushroom (plus their strained soaking liquid) to a vegetable stock that contains onions, carrots, celery, bay leaf, thyme, parsley, pepper and salt.
The second step calls for more mushrooms, leeks, garlic and thyme. Saute´the leeks (so many wonderful, slender leeks from Belgium available around here) and mushrooms (I used baby portabellas, also called cremini mushrooms) in some butter, dust with flour, add the mushroom stock, and boil for about 20 minutes. Then blend until smooth, add Sherry, more pepper and salt to taste and some cream – this is where I veered off the recipe and instead of cream added frothed milk and homemade Jerusalem artichoke chips with Fleur de Sel (my favorite vegetable chips of all times) – I served this soup to the adult fraction of the taste testers (there being Sherry and all in this soup) and we qute enjoyed it. Cream soups are a great treat when the weather is not that warm yet and the depth of flavor from the mushroom stock and the sautéed mushrooms was absolutely wonderful.
The sixth recipe was the marvelous Lettuce, egg and fried bread salad (page 80) from the chapter „Hearty Salads“. This is a salad I have made many times over and it is a huge hit with all of us.
A simple salad of mixed lettuces works best here –I love to use a mix of arugula, baby spinach, and chard. Then a dressing made of Dijon mustard (sometimes I will use grainy mustard or honey Dijon), garlic, cider vinegar, olive oil, sugar, black pepper and salt.
Last but not least you will need some croûtons – what is not to love about those chunky, golden, fried cubes of bread?! And those soft-boiled eggs that ooze their yolky deliciousness onto the salad greens. Ah! Can only be topped if you serve this salad with the above-mentioned lovely creamy mushroom soup.
The seventh recipe was something that I had never prepared before, Chillies stuffed with beans (page 36) from the chapter „Comfort Foods & Feasts“. Since I could not get hold of poblano chillies for this recipe, I used pointed red peppers instead – they look rather pretty.
After I grilled them and peeld them as best as I could – I made the stuffing with borlotti beans, shallots, garlic, grated tomatoes, fresh Italian parsley (as the one herb we do not like is coriander), ground cumin, hot smoked paprika, salt and pepper. A bit of a fuss to make but the whole dish smelled wonderful while baking in the oven for the last leg of the recipe. Since I am not so much into peppers, I served these to my happy taste testers with the Garlicky Flatbread and forgot all about the nice Garlicky Yoghurt that I had prepared in advance and stashed in the refrigerator – out of sight, out of my mind…
The Garlicky Flatbread (page 176) from the chapter of „Bready Things“ is a fun recipe. I love making breads, especially yeast breads.
I would prefer to have the River Cottage look to these – they look thin and crisp in the picture in the book but mine looked different – although I did weigh the dough balls as stated in the recipe but still, we love this recipe, the Magic Bread Dough (page 172) is so easy to make and very versatile indeed – make pizzas, flatbreads, pittas or breadsticks with the dough and maybe use different kinds of flour. I used the strong flour here that the recipe calls for as well as spelt flour instead of the wheat flour – both flours hail from my very favorite local flour mill.
The last recipe was the Celery Gratin (page 380) from the chapter „Side dishes“. I also had never prepared celery this way. Baked for about forty minutes with butter, thyme and a bay leaf, the celery stalks got a good sprinkling of Parmesan and breadcrumbs before going in the oven for an additional twenty minutes - I think although the celery developped a nice, sweet taste in the oven that I liked, I kind of prefer other veg in my gratins. But I do not regret trying this recipe.
Another month full of wonderful vegetable dishes – we certainly love the recipes from this cookbook.
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! There is still time!
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 April, please go here.