"food writing is so cool, calm and collected that it’s nearly hypnotic"
A Cookbook a Month
So I have this big bag of silverbeet, some of it the rainbow kind, a gift from Monika's garden. She actually gave it to me a week ago, so I really must use it all up. For the last couple of weeks we have been mostly eating leftovers - I mean reheated leftovers - for one reason or another, and so this week I am hoping to experiment a bit more. Although I shall probably, of course, end up with more leftovers. Anyway this morning I sat down with my current favourite cooks searching for something new and different. I mean I know I can make gnocchi and spanakopita and lasagne - all those cheesy pasta kind of things. Even a quiche, soup, curry or risotto. Any spinach recipe can be adapted to silver beet after all, but I wanted to try something new and a touch different.
So I went to my cookbook shelves - not the net - and eventually got down to a short list. I think I have decided which to make but let me take you through the choices - and a couple of briefly considered but ultimately rejected ones too. And did I say I would quite like this to be a vegetarian dish as well? We haven't been completely vegetarian for a week or so and I really meant to be vegetarian for at least one meal a week, preferably two.
First the rejects - Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall's Chardy cheese, which is really a cauliflower cheese made with silver beet - stalks and all. I don't think I'm feeling that cheesy today though - not cheese sauce anyway. And no picture available either. Just imagine a slightly less knobbly cauliflower cheese.
Then there was a meat dish - actually the only one I considered - from Yotam Ottolenghi - Braised beef short ribs with butterbeans and figs. I decided to check out how much short ribs of beef cost when I went for a wander around the supermarket, and decided that although they were not hugely outrageous I wouldn't go for this today. This decision was boosted by my lack of enthusiasm for dried figs - they remind me of some revolting school pudding that we used to have. It has put me off figs for life, no matter how beautiful they look - and dried ones don't even look beautiful. Mind you, you could probably substitute prunes or dates, maybe even apricots. So I have slotted it away in my head somewhere, and I bought some tinned butter beans, so that they would be available if required. Another day. It's a long slow cook but not much preparation.
Nigel Slater had some very tempting looking Spinach ricotta pancakes but they somehow didn't look to be quite enough on their own. Mind you with an introduction that begins: Ricotta cakes - "light, easy and soft as a sigh" - they could be hard to resist. Ditto his Chickpea cakes with spinach and lemongrass - "What works for me is pushing my fork through the crisp crust - perhaps a little charred - and finding a soft, spicy centre" - a useful appetiser for the grandkids perhaps.
I skimmed Beverley Sutherland Smith and Bert Greene, with nothing that tempted - today - lots of things to tempt on other days, and decided not to look any further, which meant ignoring Nigella and a whole lot of others too. I mean I could have idled away the afternoon with no result. Cookbooks are indeed hypnotic. For me anyway.
So I identified my shortlist of five from Jamie, Nigel and Yotam which I shall now take you through. It might give you some ideas. And I think all of them are adaptable to different flavourings, different greens, different pastries - for pastry is involved in all of them. I just cannot resist pastry.
In no particular order - just the order the books on my desk presented themselves, starting with two from Jamie and his book 7 Ways. He actually doesn't deal with silver beet or spinach in this book, but I picked out two from his chapter on broccoli that I thought could be adapted.
First is Easiest broccoli quiche. I nearly ignored this one altogether because it's quiche and we had quiche two days ago, but this one is made with filo pastry - which is different. Broccoli (stalks as well which made me think that silver beet would be an acceptable substitute), mustard, cottage cheese, cheddar cheese and red pesto plus the eggs of course. No cream. I thought I could make my own red pesto - I have a recipe for what is called Sun-dried tomato tapenade from Charmaine Solomon which I think would do. In the end though I thought that this might indeed be better with broccoli and frankly today I couldn't be bothered with the pesto and didn't want to buy it.
Broccoli and cheese pierogi - Now this is truly tempting. A tin of cherry tomatoes is involved and I have one of those for some reason. I must have bought it on a whim some time. I have been waiting for a reason to use them for some time. And Pierogi - I've never tried them. Simple pastry, half boiled and half fried. A filling with those greens, cheese and sour cream. Very definitely a consideration. And so adaptable too. Instead of the broccoli florets that he uses for the sauce I could maybe try peas, or a mix of the leaves and stalks I suppose. Yes very tempting. I even bought some sour cream in case I decided to go with this. The only problem might be the damned leftovers, although I suppose I could halve it easily enough, and use the leftover cherry tomatoes in something else. Hmm ...
Moving on to Yotam Ottolenghi and what is currently my favourite - Greens and chermoula potato pie. The link will take you to delicious. which has one of those videos where it's filmed from above, and sort of speeded up. Looks simple, but the flavours are so much more interesting than normal - and all things that I actually have in my possession. No Aleppo chilli or black garlic here. And it's puff pastry which is different as well. It's in his latest book Shelf Love, and ever since I saw this particular dish in there I decided I would make it someday. Monika said the same too. So perhaps today is the day. I just need to make sure I leave enough time. It takes 50 minutes to cook the tart and you have to leave it in the fridge for 20 minutes too. I bought some feta - well actually I bought some Danish feta which I noticed is now called Danish white cheese. Maybe the Danes have been ordered to stop calling it feta. I like the Danish one better though. Totally addictive. There will be leftovers of course, but this would be reheatable.
On to Nigel, who as A Cookbook a Month says could persuade you to try anything he writes about. And the helping hand from his photographer Jonathan Lovekin doesn't help the decision making process either. Indeed I just showed David pictures of all of these, and he also couldn't decide. So much for hoping that that would be a way of making a decision. So what are Nigel's offerings - several of course, and I've already mentioned two rejects. Here are two for my short list though.
Herb pancakes with spinach and mushrooms. Now here's a mild curiosity, both in the book - A Cook's Book and on the net where his recipe is reproduced, there is no spinach mentioned in the recipe instructions, or the list of ingredients, in spite of it being in the title. I can only assume that the editor did not pick this up, although whether the spinach should be in the recipe or whether it should be removed from the title I cannot tell. He seems a little diffident about these too:
"The year that I actually remembered [Shrove Tuesday] featured a long-winded but thoroughly worthwhile recipe for pancakes stuffed with mushrooms and spinach. There is quite a lot of hassle here, by which I suppose I mean washing-up, but it is a deeply satisfying dinner to make."
So perhaps not. They look so crunchy because they are finished off in the oven with Parmesan topping. You could of course, put whatever you fancied in the stuffing.
Then there's Spinach and Stichelton pie, the last on my short list. Here Nigel doesn't introduce the recipe itself but talks about the concept of pie in times of COVID. Sorry - I just have to include it here:
"With one of the highest Covid infection rates in the world, we were locked in our homes, hearing tragic news of the escalating pandemic, worrying for our families, our jobs, our futures. I needed to bring to the table food that would console and delight, soothe and give hope. A plate of food to lift our hearts.
Pie ticked every box. there was a bag of flour left in the larder; butter and vegetables to use up. The local grocer, who had his shelves stripped of pasta and bread, still had cream and garlic. There was thyme in the garden.
I think we all needed pie. Pastry made by hand and teased up the sides of a cake tin. A filling sliced and stirred and piled generously into the pastry case. A single thing to be shared with others like a cake or a pot of tea."
This particular pie has a filling of onions, spinach, herbs and that Stichelton cheese. Well there won't be any of that here. It's an English blue cheese, and he says you can substitute Stilton or Cheddar - 'a nice fruity, sharp one'. Now I don't like blue cheese at all no matter how culturally high bred it is so I would be substituting Cheddar. It's very much a foraging kind of dish though. Another time. Perhaps a bit too much pastry for today.
This was the dish that the lady who writes A Cookbook a Month, one Maureen Stapleton, made after a long day at work. Here is her verdict - a long bit of writing again. I'm being a bit lazy here, but I did like it. The picture is her finished dish and it looks pretty good, if not quite as artistically photographed.
"I found his description of the beauty of pie, and this pie in particular, so seductive that I was persuaded that this would be the perfect dinner after a non-stop, pretty intense, 10-hour working day.
Let me repeat that: I made this pie after a 10-hour working day.
Was it delicious? Absolutely. Was a hearty combination of cheese and spinach just what we needed after a long day? Again, absolutely.
I should add this caveat, however. This is not a quick dinner. We found ourselves finally eating dinner at 8.30 p.m., watching the week’s episode of “Succession”. It was a perfectly happy time, to be sure, but also a bit late to be eating dinner.
The pie was even better three days later when we reheated the second half to have for dinner. I think it gave the blue cheese enough time to really come to its own, so it had a much bigger kick.
Would I make this again? Absolutely. Perhaps not after a 10-hour day, but I definitely will make it again. I’m also keen to try it with other cheeses. Feta instead of blue cheese would turn it into an almost spanakopita, which I’m certain will be delicious.
Damn you, Nigel Slater. I wish I could be resistant to your writerly charms."
I do like reading other people's accounts of dishes they have made from their cookbooks, whether old or new. There aren't enough of them really.
Ok - Jamie's Pierogi or Yotam's tart? I think I'm down to those two. Now I just have to make it, take a picture and report back tomorrow. And now that I think about it I have committed to Ottolenghi because on my last trip to the kitchen I took some puff pastry out of the freezer.