River Cottage Everyday, Bloomsbury, 2009; River Cottage Veg Everyday, Bloomsbury, 2011; Three Good Things, Bloomsbury, 2012.
The original River Cottage book is on its way to a new home. I had better luck with River Cottage Everyday. This has been a stalwart since day one. It’s a book for everyday family cooking. There are so many old favourites in here. We have been making the basic sourdough loaf at least once a week for 10 years. The roast fish fillets with potatoes on p149 is inspired. Roast some potatoes and when they’re nearly done, make some space and pop your fish fillets in the roasting dish and bake for ten minutes or so. Serve with pureed minty peas.
One of our absolute favourite ideas in this book is leeks with greens on p300. There is another version in Veg but this one is better. We eat this both as a side dish and as a light mid-week meal. Sauté sliced leeks in butter until tender. Add shredded greens and cook to your preferred wiltedness. Hugh recommends steaming the greens first, but I can never be bothered with that. I use Savoy cabbage, chard, cavalo nero or kale, whatever I have on hand. Sometimes a mix. Season with salt and plenty of black pepper. You can use the leftovers for bubble and squeak.
It was very hard not to return to old favourites, but I have discovered enough new favourites to encourage me to delve a little deeper.
Hugh extols the virtues of root vegetables in this book. There is a five-root soup on p 272, roasted roots with mustard, rosemary and honey on p 318, sausage and root vegetable stew on p 217 and a three root mash on p308. This is very useful because if you buy the five root vegetables for the soup and there are only two of you, you will want another recipe or two to use up the remaining veg. This soup is absolutely delicious, and I recommend you try it. It was very soothing. I served the soup with the chopped vegetables in the broth, however there was a little left over which I pureed to freeze as I wasn’t sure the whole vegetables would thaw well.
I also made the fennel and potato soup on p268. I added sour cream at the end as I had some to use up. I usually like to add something creamy the end as I like the texture. I tend to use cream, crème fraiche or sour cream depending what I have on hand.
Root vegetables can be quite large, and I actually had enough for more than two meals. I decided I wanted to make the roasted pale roots crumble from the Everyday TV series back in 2009. This has always been a sore point with me. This recipe was featured on the series but is NOT in the book. Why? There are many recipes in the book that were not cooked on the series, why leave this wonderful recipe out of the book? Fortunately, I sourced it from the Channel 4 website at the time and filed it away. It is no longer there, however someone else has kindly reposted it on another recipe site. The crumble here is the same as the one used for the artichoke and nettle gratin above and would be great on all sorts of roasted vegetable dishes.
We absolutely loved the lamb chops with garlic, thyme and capers on p184. We served with roasted potatoes, brussels sprouts and shallots. I found the roasted sprouts in Veg Everyday on p 352. I put the potatoes, sprouts and shallots in the roasting dish together and roasted them for about 40 minutes.
These days I like to have biscuits in the tin. I have a few favourites on rotation. This time I thought I should see if Everyday had anything to offer and discovered ten-minute chocolate chip cookies on p393. These are worth making. They take no time and have no special ingredients assuming you have chocolate as a pantry staple. And who doesn’t? My advice is to make them smaller because they do spread a lot and they didn’t actually fit in my biscuit jar. You’ll get more biscuits as well.
This book is definitely a keeper. If you only had one cookbook, this could be the one.
Veg Everyday takes the same approach with a focus on seasonal vegetables which suits our style of cooking.
One of the most useful chapters in the bread section is magic bread dough. This is a half portion of the simple white loaf from the River Cottage website. With this recipe you can make three pizzas, 8 flatbread or 12 pittas. Or you could make bread rolls or a small loaf of bread. This is our family go-to bread recipe.
I have also made almost every recipe in the section called Comfort food and feasts, and recommend Pinto bean chilli on p23, chard and new potato curry on p24, and cauliflower and chickpea curry on p27.
I have cooked so much from this book already that I struggled to find in it new recipes I wanted to make and I found myself wanting to return to old favourites. I had to be firm with myself.
Having discovered the perfect ribollita in Jamie’s Italy, I decided to try Hugh’s version on p151. It was authentic and very delicious but I’m afraid Jamie has the edge. I think I prefer incorporating the bread in the soup rather than laying down a slice and spooning the soup over. Jamie’s version was much closer to the one I had in Florence.
Hugh likes to make risotto style meals with other grains. I tried the mushroom risoniotto on p 258. Hugh always cooks his mushrooms in two batches which is a great idea as it stops them from stewing. This recipe is really nothing like a risotto because you cook the orzo separately and add to the mushrooms. The mushrooms were delicious but I didn’t really like the texture of the orzo with them. I think I’d enjoy these mushrooms better with actual risotto rice.
I wanted to make polenta chips when the little one came for supper. I know you can buy ready cooked polenta these days, but I like to cook a large batch of polenta from scratch and set some aside to make polenta chips another day. I made the mushroom ragout with soft polenta on p57. Hugh uses instant polenta and I always use the coarser slow cook polenta that takes a bit longer and sometimes means some adjusting to the recipes. I use a ratio of 1:4, using 1.5 cups polenta for four people and 6 cups of water or chicken or vegetable stock. I pour the polenta slowly into the boiling liquid stirring constantly, turn down to the lowest heat, cover and simmer about 40 minutes, stirring occasionally. The timing is approximate. I just keep cooking it until the texture is velvety smooth. I add Parmesan and season at the end. For the mushroom ragout, Hugh used the same recipe as in the risoniotto, substituting red wine for the balsamic vinegar. I would use either variation of this basic mushroom sauce as a go-to recipe. Later in the week I used the left-over polenta to make polenta chips with tomato sauce from p58.
Having returned these two everyday staples to the shelf, I revisited Three Good Things. The concept of this book is putting three core ingredients together to make a delicious plate of food. I often think of it as a book of good ideas. I had thought perhaps I no longer needed it on my shelves and having spent a couple of weeks trying out some new combinations, I am still unsure.
Again, I have made many recipes from this book so was focussed on new ideas. I was quite keen to try a variation of pigeon, sorrel, lentils on p244 however I was uncertain what to substitute for pigeon. Any suggestions? Duck?
I seem to be on a polenta theme. It makes an excellent weeknight supper. I made Polenta with blue cheese and greens on p 314 and Beans, polenta and kale on p 317. The former was delicious however the blue cheese makes it quite rich. I would cook the polenta in my usual way and serve with leeks and greens from Everyday. The latter was described as a variation of a Tuscan dish, farinata. It didn’t quite work for me.
An idea that worked much better was Pasta sausage cabbage on p295. This is perfect for when you have unused cabbage in the fridge. A cabbage always goes further than you think so I am always looking for another cabbage meal to use the last portion. This is very quick and easy and flavourful.
My verdict on this book is that I will put it back on the shelf for now as inspiration for a meal rather than a blueprint. Three River Cottage Books back on the shelf and one waiting to go to its new home.