The month of July marks the fifthteenth 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, entitled „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.
One of the declared aims of our cooking group is to make a decided effort to use as much local, regional, organic and also seasonal produce as is reasonably possible.
Since I cooked nine of the ten chosen recipes plus re-visited two that I made before, I will write about each dish according to the order in which I prepared them.
My first recipe for this summery July post was the Summer Couscous Salad (page 89), from the chapter "Hearty Salads“.
This recipe is a variation on the Couscous salad with herbs and walnuts that we made back in November 2014. As I could not find get "giant" couscous, for this summery version, I used medium-size pearl barley instead. Then some fresh broad beans, sweet peas, as well as diced summer squash, tomatoes, aubergines, and zucchinis. Plus lots of freshly chopped chives, Italian parsley and basil. We love these kinds of salads. adding freshly squeezed lemon juice and some more salt and pepper just before serving gives this salad a nice fresh kick. The salad can be prepared well in advance, you can use whatever seasonal veg you have on hand and no doubt, be the star at any picnic as well - a great recipe to remember year round.
The second recipe that I prepared was Celery and blue cheese bruschetta (page 199) from the chapter „Bready Things“. Always game for trying out some new variations of our beloved bruschettas, I was quite sure that we would not enjoy this one. I followed the short and easy recipe but used Ricotta salata instead of the the blue cheeses such as Roquefort, Danablu, Cabrales, Gorgonzola and Blue Stilton are not really cheeses that we particularly enjoy.
But to my surprise, once I added the thinly sliced celery to the toasted slices of country-style baguette, then some local runny honey, French sea salt, freshly ground black pepper, garlic, a mild olive oil and topped it all off with some fresh fennel fronds, we actually enjoyed this unusual bruschetta. It has an agreeable saltiness from the cheese, sweetness from the honey and a fresh crunch from the celery and the fennel fronds. Nice change from the tomatoes and I am quite taken by Hugh´s bruschetta ideas.
Recipe number three was supposed to be the Peperonata (page 20) from the chapter "Comfort foods & feasts" and ended up being the Caponata (page 307) from the chapter "Mezze & Tapas" - I simply made a mistake and did not notice until it was too late - but no matter, since we already made this recipe back in August 2014.
Served alongside a lovely huge loaf of Afghan bread, this is one of my very favorite recipes from the book - chock full of seasonal vegetables such as aubergines, onions, celery, garlic, and tomatoes plus some capers, green olives, sultanas and a small grating of dark chocolate, this must be one of the "must make summer dishes" from Hugh´s book. Perfect warm, on its own, as a topping for bruschetta, mixed into pasta...the uses seem endless. The Caponata has the perfect balance of sweetness and tanginess that I so crave in my summer recipes. and, yes, I will make the Peperonata as a "make-up" in August.
For the fourth recipe, I chose the delightfully summery Runner beans with tomatoes and garlic (page 375) from the chapter "Side dishes". Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall specifies that this "dish works well with French beans too". So that is what I used. I always do. I have prepared this dish many times, it is easy and the fresher the beans and the tomatoes that you use, the more you will enjoy the results.
When it comes to cooking them, French beans can be called "the fast food of the leguminous world". You only need to boil them in salted water for a few minutes until just tender and they can take all kinds of dressings, from a simple, lemony vinaigrette to a more Asian-style dressing. On the other hand, you may need to string runner beans before you cook and then simmer for about 15 minutes until tender.
This rather humble side dish combines easy-to-find ingredients. All you need are beans, grated tomatoes, onion (I use red here), and garlic. Then some of the freshest basil that you can get your hands on - I always try to go with green as well as red rubin basil. This basil variety has unusual reddish-purple leaves, and a stronger flavor than sweet basil. I believe it adds a delightful peppery note to this dish.
Onto recipe number five the Summer stir-fry with egg-fried rice (page 286) from the chapter "Pasta & Rice“. For starters, I did not serve this lovely, green dish with the egg-fried rice but with the kids current favorite Asian pasta - these wonderful green tea noodles.
For the summer stir-fry I opted for an all green assortment of delicious, seasonal veg, namely zucchinis, French beans, sweet peas, broccoli, and spinach. Then freshly grated ginger, spring onions, chili, and ginger. It always amazes me how wonderful these easy to-follow stir fries can be and how much the kids enjoy eating them - may I add even for breakfast because the day I served this stir-fry was, yet again, another very rainy July day and I needed that picture - so, in summary, this stir-fry makes for a delicious lunch, dinner and even breakfast fare.
My sixth recipe was a repeat performance - the Marinated courgettes (zucchini) with mozzarella (page 314) from the chapter " Mezze & Tapas" that we made back in July last year.
This time I used summer squash - such a pretty yellow color - and I used that Ricotta salata again instead of the Mozzarella. Always such a delightful recipe, one of our all time favorites. Add some small capers ("surfines") and fresh oregano from the garden to this side dish and you will be a very happy vegetable eater.
Who can resist the undeniable charm of burgundy colored spring onions - I cannot, so I decided to add another repeat performance to the list and made the Spring Onion Galette (page 220) from the chapter "Store-cupboard Suppers" again.
This recipe is another that you should have in the back of your mind when shopping for dinner - apart from the Parmegiano Reggiano that you probably have in your fridge anyways, all you need are spring onions and ready-made good quality puff pastry - voilà! You are all set for the most delightful appetizer or main dish with a lovely seasonal side salad.
It is these kinds of recipes that draw me to this book again and again - I admit that I know quite a few of them by heart now and that I even remember the pages they are on.....and I am just trying to point out how easy it is to incorporate the dishes from Hugh´s book into your everyday cooking. Yes, I am quite aware that we all have tons of cookbooks on our shelves and that we all have our favorite cookbook authors but at the end of the day most of us are looking for healthy delicious, easy to remember, no fuss recipes that we all enjoy. Every. Single. Day.
Having said that it is time to move onto Green beans, new potatoes and olives (page 222) from the chapter "Store-cupboard Suppers".
When I took the first taste of this salad, I said that it tastes like "River Cottage food" - having made most of the one hundred and forty recipes from the book by now, I am familiar with the taste and flavor combinations as well as the combination of textures from this book - they have become part of our lives and are familiar to us, they guide my taste buds when I make recipes from the book or my own.
Since the kids adore yellow beans and I came across them the other day, I made this recipe with green as well as yellow French beans - just beans, olives, new potatoes, garlic, lemon and tons of fresh herbs - dinner, summertime dinner could not be easier or more delicious.
The recipe for Charred baby leeks with romesco (page 336) from the chapter " Roast, Grill & Barbecue" was the one that made me most curious this month. Many years ago, a friend of mine told me about the festival in the Catalan region of Spain that he always looked forward to every year - the "calçotada" - a barbecue meal unique to the area and devoted to a variety of giant spring onions. First the fire-blackened outer layer of the onion is pulled away to reveal a juicy white core. Then the tip is dipped into romesco sauce and the dripping calçot is lowered into the mouth in one go. You get the picture.
No dipping blackened spring onions into the delicious romesco sauce in this house - I went with grilled fennel instead. What a treat - as Hugh says this sauce is good with just about any grilled veg and I loved the flavors here that the ingredients brought to this sauce - the chilies, tomatoes, red pepper, garlic, toasted hazelnuts, red wine vinegar and that lovely, Spanish sweet smoked paprika a condiment I often use) as well as a thick slice of country bread (for thickening). wonderful new recipe to try - might add a bit more spice next time but will definitely serve it with my Antipasta spread in the future.
Recipe number ten was the easy one this month - the Marinated Cucumbers with Mint (page 1222) from the chapter "Raw assemblies".
As every month, I always try to include one very easy recipe. One that is like an afterthought of sorts, the one that you prepare while cooking yet another recipe from the book.
This one is also easy. A few minutes is all it takes. It is English cucumbers, a dressing of cider vinegar, some light oil, pepper, salt and a pinch of sugar plus fresh mint - very British, very fresh, very summery. The kids eats just about every herb there is on this planet but they do not do mint - so, I used our apple mint from the garden and just placed it on top of the salad plates - the apple mint definitely smells of green apples and mint, less strong and more agreeable than the other garden mint.
Last but not least my eleventh dish for this month the Mexican tomato and bean soup (page 138) from the chapter "Hefty Soups".
There is another dish, like the romesco sauce, that I had never prepared before - Mexican food is not that popular around here and it is not the one that comes to my mind first when making soup. But since I believe this was the winning dish for the kids this month, it will certainly grace our table many more times in the future. To me, a good soup has to look attractive, and balance its textures and flavors. More importantly, it must clearly taste of its ingredients, and this soup delivers on all accounts.
So much deep, warm tomato flavor, delightfully accented by onions, garlic, chilies, limes, black beans as well as the Mexican oregano that my dear friend David Scott Allan gifted me when he came for a visit all the way from lovely Tucson, AZ at the beginning of the month - what an utter delight to be able to meet him and Mark and to show him my hometown Cologne. A first US- European blogger meeting for me - I sincerely hope that it was not the last.
In summary, another month full of wonderful vegetable dishes – this month we were delighted to enjoy some of our favorite summer recipes from Hugh´s book for breakfast (HA!), lunch and dinner and, best of all, for relaxed al fresco dinners. What can possibly be better than to cook with fresh ingredients and true to our motto this month "Enjoy summer´s bounty" to the fullest?! So, what are you waiting for - it is time to enjoy the great outdoors. Pack a summer picnic basket with simple salads, breads and fresh fruits.
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!