Angela Clutton reflects on the latest gathering of the Cookbook Club, which this month focused on Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s latest release, Much More Veg
Did September’s Cookbook Club event have even more than the usual frisson of excitement to its build-up? I think possibly it did and it wasn’t hard to figure out why. The book we were using was the not-yet-released latest by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and his River Cottage team. Our event came towards the end of the month-long River Cottage residency of courses, demos and more at Borough Market, and the Cookbook Club members who were coming to this event had generously been given advance copies of Much More Veg from which to plan their dishes. We had the book in our hands and our kitchens before anyone else—and for a group of self-confessed cookbook-lovers that is genuinely exciting.
Breadth of appeal
Hardly anyone chose to make the same dish as each other—always a sure sign of the breadth of appeal of the recipes. When members arrived, even more of their copies than usual had been scattered with sticky-notes marking potentially interesting recipes—again, a good sign that a book has been a hit with the Cookbook Club.
Through our evening we discovered together so many interesting recipes in Much More Veg. There was the spudzanella—a lovely twist on a panzanella. Raw mushroom, walnut and parsley hummus opened a few eyes and tastebuds to the depth of flavour of raw mushrooms. Squash and cauliflower soup swerved its cook’s concerns about possibly being bland by having a clever balsamic vinegar drizzle finish. Lightly pickled beetroot, carrot and apple was a pleasing palate-refresher. Tartare hash was described by its cook as being like cold roast potatoes. She meant that as a good thing obviously.
Brown rice with parsley and garlic jazzed up a basic with its vibrancy of flavour and colour. Fennel, white beans and lettuce was a dish of elegance which also managed to convert several fennel-doubters. Sweet potato, pineapple and red pepper pot admittedly didn’t manage to convert this particular pineapple-doubter but was unquestionably one of the favourites of the night. Maybe the absolute favourite dish was the aubergine and tomato gratin—as the last dish out after quite the feast it really had to be good to make a mark.
These are just a few of the dishes that were brought and shared. The others were similarly vegetarian / vegan in the style of the book, yet we had only one ‘real’ vegetarian in the group. She was a big fan of Much More Veg, but maybe even more interesting is how much the non-vegetarians were too. Several members had been making dishes from Much More Veg at home in the days before coming and reported meat-eating families loving it all (and one carnivorous husband who hadn’t missed or even really spotted the lack of meat / fish).
Some of the dishes in this book could work really well as occasional accompaniments to meat or fish if you wanted and I rest safe in the thought that Hugh F-W won’t mind me saying that. This is a veggie book without any finger-wagging. It is about simply encouraging us all to look at vegetables with fresh eyes, and to rethink their place in our kitchen and on our plate. The Cookbook Club gang certainly left enthused by doing just that—and with even more sticky-note markers in Much More Veg than they arrived with.
14th October: The Prawn Cocktail Years by Simon Hopkinson and Lindsey Bareham
11th November: Brindisa: The True Food of Spain by Monika Linton
5th December: Cookbook Club festive feast