Guest Post by my friend Monica Shaw.
Arthur Potts Dawson has a really big heart. Sustainable. Seasonal. Responsible. He ticks all the right boxes, and has done some fantastic things for London by creating two sustainably aware urban restaurants, Acorn House and Water House, which exemplify the diversity of the city and London’s, what he calls, "environmental salutations". He also recently wrote a cookbook, Eat Your Veg, which has a great premise: how to cook vegetables seasonally and sustainably. What’s not to like? Well…
Let’s first say that I really wanted to love this cookbook. It’s not vegetarian, but rather, a book about vegetables, beautifully photographed, and I love the design. Just look at the cover: pink and yellow in perfect harmony, brought together by one of my favourite things: beetroot. And the pages inside are just as inviting. This cookbook makes you want to cook with vegetables, which is half the battle for many folks who know they should eat more veg but aren’t really inspired to cook with it. Even for those of us who don’t find vegetables a challenge, it’s always nice to find inspiration and ideas to try.
And that’s exactly what we were looking for – "we" being me, Pete and Kavey on a recent weekend at Orchard Cottage, an occasion that typically involves lots of cooking together and feasting (perhaps one of the highest forms of social engagement ever in the world). We settled on a few recipes…
Penne with garlic, rosemary and mascarpone for its simplicity and because it used lemon juice and Kavey likes lemons
Samphire with spinach and lettuce as a salad to go with our fish course
Pea and mint iced lollies because the idea was just so weird that it had to be tested
We ran into a few hitches on the way to "Eating Our Veg". The penne was so overwhelmingly lemony that none of the other flavours came through. It was hard to re-establish the balance of flavour and save the dish. So we moved on…
The samphire with spinach and lettuce seemed unnecessarily fiddly and a bit strange. First, he calls for three pans of salted water for each of the vegetables. First of all, why three pans? That seems like a lot of unnecessary clean-up. Second, why salted water with samphire which is plenty salty in itself? And third, why are we boiling wonderful crisp gem lettuces? So, we skipped the salt…and the three pans. We cooked the samphire then tossed it with the spinach to wilt the spinach, then added our still crispy lettuces and dressed it in lemon and oil as directed. It was fine (and by fine I mean edible), but needed something more. A drizzle of balsamic helped immeasurably. Would we make it again? No.
By this point I felt this strange determination to make Arthur Potts Dawson recipes all the time, as if I were possessed with an insane curiosity: surely some of these recipes must work? Or, to quote one of my favourite television programmes, "I want to believe."
Given my resolve, it was perhaps unwise to choose the pea and mint iced lollies as our next experiment. But I couldn’t resist, and I had a bag of peas. And so it was: peas, shallots, butter, cream and mint, cooked and pulverised and stuffed into lolly moulds then frozen. Sounds weird? Yeah, because it is. Why a lolly? The mix was far better not frozen, but warm, as a dip for corn chips! (And really, do shallots ever have a place in an iced lolly? Discuss.)
At that point I decided to take a break from "Eat Your Veg".
I later came back to it and found much better luck with his grilled aubergine, cooked in a way that was a bit of a revelation: the aubergine is sliced thick, grilled with no added oil until the very end, at which point you smear it with chermoula. The aubergine stays wonderfully moist, almost creamy.
His house dressing is also good, but I mean, it’s just a Dijon vinaigrette, which you can find in most cookbooks. (Though I did enjoy this one in particular with a salad of apple, celery and walnuts.)
There might other recipes in this cookbook that are real gems like the aubergine. But when you’ve tried a few recipes that seem like they haven’t been thoroughly tested or sense checked, you start to lose faith. Worse, you start to lose the inspiration to cook with vegetables, the thing that led us to this cookbook in the first place.
I might dip into this book again, perhaps for some more of that house vinaigrette, and who knows, maybe that’ll lead me to his other pages. I think I won’t push my luck with the "parsnip and shiitake salad". But surely you can’t go wrong with "new potato salad nicoise", or "French onion soup" or "ratatouille". Surely, right?
With thanks to Monica for text and images. Read more on her blog Smarter Fitter.
Eat Your Veg by Arthur Potts Dawson is currently available on Amazon (UK) for £16 (RRP £25).