It’s the first week of June, and it’s raw and rainy. I’m bundled in fleece because it’s only in the mid-50’s outside. I’m so ready for summer. I’d even settle for spring. At boot camp this morning, we were taking a survey of who turned their heat back on…
Local farmers’ markets are just starting to open for the season. I pick up my first week’s CSA share tomorrow. My vegetable garden is planted but sunshine and heat are needed for it to grow.
When summer tomatoes are at their peak later in the summer, Caprese salad with fresh mozzarella or burrata makes a regular appearance on my table, but it’s much too early for that. I saw a recipe in the New York Times a few weeks ago for a spring version with fava beans and fennel. Those aren’t in season yet either, but I felt inspired.
What was fresh at today’s farmers’ market? Radishes and sugar snap peas cried out to me. I also have plentiful arugula growing at home, self-sowed from last fall’s plants, and fresh mint in my herb garden.
Here’s my version. The variety of color and textures is a treat for the senses. I love how I’ll be able to vary the ingredients as the season progresses towards tomatoes and beyond.
Spring Burrata Salad
1 small shallot, diced finely
Juice of 1 lemon
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
3-4 radishes, sliced thin
1 stalk celery, sliced thin
1 heaping cup of sugar snap peas, tops trimmed, cut in half
1 4-oz ball burrata
Arugula leaves, torn into bite-sized pieces if large
1 sprig fresh mint
In a small bowl, cover diced shallot with lemon juice. Add a pinch of salt, and let it sit while you prepare the vegetables (5-10 minutes). Then, whisk in olive oil.
In another bowl, toss the radish slices, sliced celery, and peas together.
Arrange the arugula on a plate. Place the burrata in the center. Scatter the mixed vegetables over the arugula and burrata.
Spoon about half of the dressing over the salad. Finally, tear the leaves from the mint sprig into small pieces and sprinkle over the salad.
Serve immediately. Use a serving spoon to cut the burrata in half or quarters as the salad is served.
Each month for the past two years, the Cottage Cooking Club, founded and led by Andrea, The Kitchen Lioness, has been cooking through Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s River Cottage Veg, a vegetarian cookbook with many delicious and often easy recipes for incorporating seasonal vegetables into your daily menus. I joined the group a few months after it started in August 2014.
This month, we reach the end of the journey through this book. Unlike my French Friday adventure, I did not cook every recipe in the book, but as a group, we collectively hit every single one.
This month, I chose two recipes. Here’s my take on them in the order I prepared them.
The spinach and thyme pasties were fabulous! I was a little surprised how well the pastry crust recipe worked. According to Michael Ruhlman, the ratio of many classic recipes, such as pastry crust, are used universally. This recipe called for nearly twice as much flour as I’m used to, in fact the same weight of flour and butter. I was concerned the crust would be dry, crumbly, and difficult to roll out. No cause for worry as it worked perfectly. The filling was a mixture of steamed spinach (squeezed dry) along with sautéed onion and garlic, lemon zest, farmers cheese, grated Parmesan, and chopped fresh thyme. After cutting the pastry crust into squares and topping with filling, they are folded over diagonally to make gorgeous pasties (aka turnovers or hand pies). A coat of egg wash burnished to the perfect shade of gold when the pasties baked.
The highest compliment came when Howard brought one for lunch a few days and was asked by several of his colleagues where he bought the hand pie. “My wife made it!”, he said. They were impressed.
I enjoyed the celery rarebit as well. Rarebit was standard fare in my single days. I used the recipe in the original Moosewood cookbook which uses ale instead of milk. In those days, I would spoon the rarebit (which was much runnier than Hugh’s version) over toasted English muffins and sliced apples. I was interested that this version was more of a “toastie”. The rarebit was super thick, definitely spreadable after it cooled down, making it easy to prepare sandwiches on subsequent days. I opted to make the celery variation where thinly sliced sautéed celery is stirred into the cheesy rarebit.
The sauce is spread over toast and broiled until bubbly and browned. I like the idea of the toastie offered in this recipe, though I missed the yeasty beer taste that complements the cheddar cheese so well. I would make this again, but would try substituting ale for some or all of the milk as suggested in the headnote. Also nostalgic for the apple and cheese flavor combination, one day I topped the toast with thinly sliced apples before spreading the rarebit over it. Another winning variation!
As a final note, I managed to make the vegetable biryani after my last Cottage Cooking post. I’m sad to report that it didn’t work for me at all. There was way too much liquid that never evaporated or got absorbed. This seemed to dilute the flavors because it turned out more like a watery rice stew than the interesting rice and curry combination I’ve had at Indian friends’ homes or at restaurants. I couldn’t even finish the leftovers because it lacked flavor of any kind. Bummer, but it happens.
As I wrap up my adventure with Hugh’s River Cottage Veg, I’ll share some reflections.
- Over the course of these many months, in addition to enjoying many satisfying recipes from this book, I was able to cook virtually with some of my old friends from French Fridays and to make new friends that I met through the Cottage Cooking Club.
- It was equally fun to compare notes on common recipes made and to get reviews on ones that I wasn’t sure about or didn’t have time to make.
- While I made only a fraction of the recipes, a majority of the ones I did make deserve an A+. There are a few, including the oven frittata and roasted Brussels sprouts and shallots, that I’ve incorporated into my repertoire and make repeatedly.
- I’ll admit that there were a fair number of recipes that included ingredients or flavoring that wouldn’t fly at my house (fruit – dried or fresh, curry spices, eggplant) but with the collective goal, I could just skip them, guilt-free.
- I will definitely go back and try several that received high ratings from other members but I haven’t had a chance to make yet.
Next month, the group will continue with additional cookbooks by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall: River Cottage Every Day and the soon-to-be-published (October 2016) River Cottage Love Your Leftovers. I’m going to bow out for now, but will still avidly read others’ recipe reviews each month.
To check out my fellow Cottage Cooking Club member’s blogs to read their reviews of April’s recipe selections here.
Until we meet again, Ciao!