It’s time again for a recipe review for the Cottage Cooking Club. This group has spent nearly two years collectively cooking through Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s River Cottage Veg, a vegetarian cookbook filled with recipes for flavorful and relatively simple ways to enjoy your vegetables. For March, Andrea, The Kitchen Lioness and leader of the Cottage Cooking Club, selected an assortment of recipes to use up the last of the late-winter while getting ready to welcome the produce of early spring.
I’ll admit that I fell down on the job this month. I selected three different recipes to make, but was only able to manage two. I have ingredients for my remaining selection (vegetable biryani), so if I fit it into our menu, I will share the results next month.
The two recipes I made this month got top marks.
First up, I made “Vegiflette” Toastie! I love the toasties (open-faced sandwiches) in this book. The topping for this one is inspired by the French dish Tartiflette, a gratin of potatoes, onions, bacon, and Reblochon cheese, though in vegetarian form.
Reblochon is currently banned for import into the United States. As a result, I discovered a substitute that might become my new favorite cheese. Reblochon is a washed-rind raw milk cheese made in the French Alps. After a thoughtful discussion and some tasting with the cheesemonger at Whole Foods, I settled on her recommendation of Oma, a similarly pungent washed-rind raw milk made in Vermont. The cheese is made by the von Trapp family and aged at The Cellars at Jasper Hill. We had a little laugh about whether we’d sing better (think The Sound of Music –the same von Trapp family) after eating this cheese. In my case, it didn’t help.
The toastie topping was simple to throw together for a decadent lunch. You need a little advanced planning to have cold cooked potatoes on hand. While slices of rustic bread (I made a loaf of no-knead whole wheat) toast, thickly sliced cooked potatoes are pan-fried in some olive oil. Once they’re browned, slices of bitter Belgian endive are added until they soften up.
The vegetables are piled on top of the toast, sprinkled with a generous grind of black pepper, then covered with a few pieces of cheese. A few minutes under the broiler melts the cheese and you have lunch.
I loved this. I’m also intrigued to try the original dish, with bacon or without, though with the cold weather on its way out, that kitchen experiment might need to wait until next year.
I also made zucchini penne spoufflé. I’d been wanting to try this recipe ever since the group made the spinach version last May.
Spoufflé is a cross between mac-and-cheese and a soufflé. It starts with a roux made from milk infused with onion, bay, and peppercorns. I loved learning this infused milk trick when making the fennel and squash lasagna last month. It’s amazing how something so simple adds an unexpected dimension to the finished dish. The roux is enriched with grated cheddar cheese and a healthy dose of nutmeg. Then egg yolks are whisked in to further thicken up the sauce. It wouldn’t be mac-and-cheese without some pasta, plus a chunky puree of sautéed zucchini adds color. Finally, it wouldn’t be soufflé without folding in some stiff egg whites to lighten it up.
The whole concoction is transferred to a buttered dish and baked until it’s puffy and golden. My soufflé dish was a smaller than I expected, so I made a mini-one with what didn’t fit in the larger vessel.
I ate this hot from the oven, but the leftovers, slightly deflated, are good too.
The toastie was my favorite this month, but I’d definitely make both of these recipes again. I would like try the spinach version of the spoufflé too.
Next month will be the final month devoted to this cookbook. Andrea has plans in the works for the group to continue the adventure, cooking through more of Hugh’s books.
This month, check out my fellow Cottage Cooking Club member’s blogs to read their reviews of March’s recipe selections.
Happy New Year! The years seem to run into each other, and the 2013 to 2014 transition is no exception. As we get started in the new year, I hope it is a happy and healthy one for you and your family.
The first French Fridays with Dorie recipe is for a lovely side dish called “dressy” pasta risotto. I love pasta and risotto, so have wanted to try this recipe for a while, to see what it’s all about.
I’m not sure what it is about the French and pasta. I think their relationship is a bit odd. Here we have pasta cooked like risotto, with just enough liquid for the pasta to absorb to be done: a little unusual. Years ago, when I first visited France, I had another odd “French pasta experience”. It’s one worth sharing as it has a prominent place in Howard and my family lore. Bear with me, because it takes a little time to tell.
The summer I was around 12, a French girl, Marie-Pasçale, spent the summer with my family as our au pair. My mother kept in touch with her intermittently over the years. On our first trip to France, Howard and I visited the grown-up Marie-Pasçale, now married and living in Brittany, with her husband and 6 children. We had a wonderful visit. Our dinner that night is one that Howard and I still dream about. We enjoyed fresh sardines grilled over a wood fire, and it was amazing!
To keep their lawn cropped, they kept a small herd of sheep. The next day was its own hilarious adventure when we helped corral the sheep into a VW bus to take to a neighbor’s house to be shorn. Apparently, sheep are not the smartest or bravest animals but will follow the leader wherever she goes. The game plan was for everyone to form a large human arc around the sheep and gradually step towards the center. The idea was to get the sheep to huddle close together and move towards the one opening in the circle, which led them directly into the open door of the bus. We were told: just don’t let a sheep past you because if you do, they will all follow her lead and run.
At this point in my life, I had no experience with farm animals. As we stepped closer to the sheep, I realized that an unshorn sheep is a smelly and dirty creature. When it’s time for shearing, the sheep’s coat is heavily greased with lanolin and adorned with bits of straw and not a small amount of poop. As we got even closer, I could tell that the sheep closest to me was thinking about charging me and breaking out of the circle. I was trying to be brave and stand my ground, but I really didn’t want the sheep to touch me. I was wearing my only pair of clean jeans and had to board an airplane the next day. Plus, the sheep was really dirty. I’ll admit, I was the weak link in the chain, I lost my limited bravado, the sheep broke through, and chaos ensued.
Eventually, the sheep were rounded up, transported, shorn, and brought back home, and Marie-Pasçale’s husband Christophe made us lunch. He put a big pot of spaghetti on to boil. I should mention that one of Howard’s favorite quick lunches is a bowl of elbow macaroni with ketchup. To him, it’s comfort food. I don’t like ketchup to begin with. I’m also part Italian, so I think this combo is kind of gross. Well, when the spaghetti was cooked, Christophe put the colander of spaghetti on the table with an assortment of toppings so everyone could serve themselves. One of those toppings was a bottle of Heinz ketchup. And, it was the most popular choice amongst the French people at the table. I just rolled my eyes, but Howard was so proud to learn that his favorite lunch was also considered to be French home cooking.
Back to the pasta risotto… First, you sauté an onion, then add chicken broth and little pasta shapes. I used tubetti , but Dorie says elbow macaroni is more traditional. This would also be nice with the tiny shell pasta. Like risotto, you use just enough liquid for the pasta to absorb, rather than the usual way of boiling pasta and draining off the excess water. The pasta cooks at an active simmer. Unlike risotto, you only have to give the pot an occasional stir.
After the liquid is absorbed, the pasta will be al dente. Now it’s time to dress it up and add some decadence. You stir in some heavy cream, a bit of mascarpone, and a generous amount of Parmesan cheese. In the end, you get a pot of delicious “cheesy noodles”
The cheesy pasta went well with chicken as well as steak dinners. Now that I think about it, this might be equally delicious without the cream and cheese. (I’ll have to try that another time.)
For those of you who don’t get much snow, here’s the view from my back porch this morning. We got about 8 inches of the white stuff last night. The sun is out now, but the temperatures are in the Arctic range.