I know, it’s March, not February. So I’m a little late. I cooked my selections for Cottage Cooking Club in February, but didn’t plan my time well enough to write my recap post until today. For the past seven months, I’ve joined Andrea of The Kitchen Lioness and a bevy of other home cooks to try out recipes from British chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s cookbook, River Cottage Veg, under the umbrella of the Cottage Cooking Club.
I tried out three recipes in February, though many of Andrea’s choice of recipes looked tempting. These were all I could fit in.
First, I made Potato Rösti, the Swiss version of potato pancakes. I actually made them twice because my first attempt failed. This is really the simplest of recipes with just four ingredients: potatoes, salt, pepper, and the cooking oil. The potatoes are parboiled, cooled, then shredded.
How could I mess this up, you might wonder. Well, I think the instructions are a little misleading. I quartered large baking potatoes. The recipe says that after boiling for 5 minutes, they should be just underdone. After 5 minutes, they were much closer to raw than to done, so I decided to cook them a little longer. At 10 minutes, they fit my description of just underdone. I set them aside to cool. Later, when I tried to grate them, they fell apart in my hand. I ended up turning them into mashed potatoes and calling it a night.
On my second attempt, I drained and cooled the potatoes after they cooked for 5 minutes. I didn’t make a judgment call as to how done or underdone they were. In reality, the residual heat keeps on cooking the potatoes. Once cooled, they are much more cooked than when they come out of the pot, perfectly “just underdone”.
This time, the potatoes grated easily. Shredded potatoes are tossed with salt and pepper. Then, handfuls of the potato mixture are fried in oil to make the laciest and crispiest potato pancakes. We loved them!
I am more accustomed to the potato latkes I make once a year for Hanukkah which start with raw potatoes and also include eggs and flour to bind them together. I enjoyed the lighter texture and pure potato flavor of the rösti. Like the latkes, these aren’t everyday fare, but rösti is definitely a new side dish I’ll add to my repertoire.
Next up was Roasted Squash and Shallots with Merguez Chickpeas which makes an easy and hearty winter weeknight meal. Merguez is a heavily spiced North African sausage, usually made with lamb. This is a vegetarian cookbook, so sausage wasn’t an ingredient. For this recipe, the spice mixture takes its inspiration from merguez. Coriander, cumin, fennel, and caraway seeds plus peppercorns are toasted in a skillet, then coarsely ground. The spice mixture is warmed rosemary, garlic, smoked paprika, cayenne, and salt in oil. Your house will fill with a wonderful aroma.
In the meantime, cubes of butternut squash and halved shallots are roasted until tender. I didn’t have time to cook my own chickpeas, but canned worked out fine. To emulate drained freshly cooked chickpeas, I warmed the canned ones in some boiling water for a minute or two. To finish the dish, warm chickpeas are tossed in the spiced oil, then served over a bed of roasted squash and shallots sprinkled with chopped parsley. This is a winning dish. Both components of the dish (the roasted vegetables and the spiced chickpeas) could be prepared and served independently, making it versatile as well.
This month has been a trip around the world, starting in Switzerland, moving on to North Africa, and ending in Mexico. For the last recipe I tried, I made Magic Bread Dough and formed it into flatbreads for Refried Beans Foldovers. The dough was easy to prepare, though too messy to get a photo because my hands weren’t clean enough to pick up the camera. After stirring water into the dry ingredients, there was still a lot of flour that didn’t incorporate. On faith, I dumped it all onto the counter and started kneading. After a few minutes, all the loose flour disappeared into the dough. Perhaps that’s why this is called Magic bread dough.
My house is really cold right now (55°F during the day) which made me doubt the dough would rise much at room temperature. I took advantage of my oven’s proofing setting which holds the oven at a constant 100°F temperature. I let the dough rise for about 2 hours. It probably could have gone a little longer, but I was impatient. Then, I punched it down and divided the dough into 8 pieces that I rolled out into circles. My circles about 6 inches across, though I wish they had been a little bit bigger. The rolled out dough rests for five minutes and then gets cooked in a dry, very hot skillet to brown both sides. The flatbreads reminded me of pocketless pitas. We weren’t going to eat all the flatbreads at one meal, so I wrapped each one in a dishtowel and let them cool. Once cooled, I stored them (without the dishtowels) in a plastic bag, reheating before using them later.
The flatbreads were the base for Refried Bean Foldovers which resemble a cross between a burrito and a pizza. The refried bean filling starts with sautéed onions and garlic. It being the dead of winter, I added canned diced tomatoes with their juices instead of grating fresh ones. Finally, a can of pinto beans is added and mashed for a spreadable consistency. The foldover is assembled by spreading the refried beans on a warm flatbread then topping with sour cream and your choice of extra garnishes. I served with diced avocado, grated Cheddar cheese, diced scallions, and candied jalapenos. Fold and eat! This makes a tasty light dinner and an even better lunch. Now that I’m familiar with the foldover concept, I’m thinking that leftover Roasted Squash and Shallots with Merguez Chickpeas would make a delicious filling too.
You can find the recipes in Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s River Cottage Veg. To get reviews of other recipes the Cottage Cooking Club made in February, check out other posts here. I always find these reviews inspiring and add more recipes to my ever-growing “must cook” list.
It was another cold, though less snowy, week here in the Great White North. I’ve noticed the days getting longer with the sun coming up earlier and setting later every day. I finally believe that spring might be coming, though I suspect we won’t see the earth under its multi-foot layer of snow until after spring’s arrival.
The idea of a pot of fish soup was a welcome antidote to the chill in the air. I could get excited about an imaginary dinner on the French Riviera. I made a grocery list and went to pick up what I needed. I was envisioning a fragrant tomato broth with other Provençal flavors like fennel, orange peel, and saffron. I was also anticipating spoonfuls of fish chunks surrounded by this lovely broth, but wait… The path to dinner was much different than I expected.
It started at the fish counter. Wegman’s has come to town (the next town, actually). I’m trying hard to like it and haven’t given up yet, but each visit I leave feeling like it fell short. Their produce is a nightmare, and their precut fish has been a disappointment because it always looks hacked into the pieces for sale.
One thing I’ll give Wegman’s props for is the display of fresh whole fish on ice at the fish counter which I don’t see everywhere. I was in search of a whole red snapper, so chose to shop there again. They didn’t have red snapper, so I opted for two ocean perch. The fish guy scaled them for me, and offered to fillet or whatever else I wanted to the fish, but I thought I was cooking them whole so declined.
At home, I finally read the recipe through. I realized that after I cut off the heads, the fish needed to be cut into chunks. I guess I could have had the fish guy bone the fish for me. Oh well. I googled what to do and did it myself. It didn’t seem like I was supposed to add the bones to this soup, so I froze them for fish stock another time.
The remaining steps to make the soup were mostly easy and “the usual”. Vegetables are sautéed. The fish gets added. Liquid is supplied from chopped canned tomatoes and its juices plus water. Herbs, orange rind, saffron and Pernod (pastis, an anise liqueur) provide the seasonings as the soup simmers. The final surprise was the food mill. I was honestly confused by the concept of all of these ingredients being processed into a fishy puree. I did it, particularly because miscellaneous bones made their way into the pot, so this step made it easy to get rid of them, but it wasn’t what I expected.
I also had some issues making the rouille for topping toasts to accompany the fish soup. I make homemade mayonnaise a few times a year, starting with one whole egg, in my food processor. Because Dorie’s recipe uses just one yolk, I was worried that the volume would be too small for the food processor, so I used the blender. From experience, I knew it would splatter out the top, so I covered it with plastic wrap and poked a small hole in for drizzling the oil. I would swear I’d done this before, successfully, but this time, it didn’t work. My mayonnaise didn’t emulsify. I tried to fix it by slowly incorporating the failed mayo into a new egg yolk, but that didn’t work either. In the end, I dumped it and made a new batch using my old standby recipe which worked like a champ on the first try. As a nod to Dorie’s recipe, I used Dijon mustard instead of the dry mustard I usually use. (I’ve already made a few batches of croquants lately, so if anyone has suggestions for what to do with my egg whites, I’m looking for something new.)
In the end, I liked the flavors of the soup. Because of my original idea of what the soup would be like, the smooth texture threw me. I was OK with the broth having substance instead of being a clear broth, but I prefer fish chunks on my spoon instead of hiding in the soup. Upon rereading the recipe, I see that Dorie thinks the fine shreds of fish in each spoonful is more satisfying, for my taste, I disagree. If I make this again (which I might) I would cook everything except the fish chunks, puree that, and then cook the fish in the pureed soup.
Without a doubt, my favorite part was the toast with rouille on top. I could easily just eat the garnish without the soup. Fortunately, there’s still plenty left!
To see how the other Doristas fared in this last installment of “French Fridays” Fish Month, check out their links here. We don’t post the recipes for this group, but you can find it in Dorie Greenspan’s book Around My French Table.