These days, lots of cookbooks organize themselves by season, Jamie Oliver, pushes the concept way beyond by living off his vegetable patch for a year.
"I came to realize... that it's not always about looking out at the wider world for inspiration. Being at home, feeling relaxed and open, can also offer this. I love to spend time at home... working with the boss, Mother Nature, in my garden and seeing all my beautiful veggies coming out of the ground."
Don't you just want to hug him?
Jammed with drool-inspiring photographs by David Loftus, this latest title from Jamie Oliver might be my favorite yet. If seeing him whirl around Italy in his last book was a thrill, then to witness him planting, harvesting and cooking at his own house is absolutely enchanting.
What I love about Jamie Oliver is his commitment to changing the world by the way we eat. This book drops subtle yet penetrating hints as to how. In the Spring section of the book, there is an introduction to lamb. We get a great little explanation of sheep farming and how responsible practices yield tastier meat. He encourages readers with a large freezer to see about buying a whole lamb. Okay, we might not all do that, but there is valuable and inspiring content for any cook.
To boot, the recipes are fantastic: easy to follow, using ingredients most of us can find in a heartbeat. The day I got the book, I literally opened the book to a recipe for Welsh Rarebit with Attitude (see recipe below), and had everything but the Cheeky Chilli-Pepper Chutney, but forged ahead anyway with my own version of a spicy chutney. Essentially a creamy, spicy egg sandwich, it absolutely hit the spot. It's a daring and honest inclusion to a book that also features more buttoned-up recipes like Proper Chicken Caesar Salad and Grilled Butterflied Monkfish with a Sweet Runner Bean Stew" (both delicious.)
One evening when cooking for some friends, I chose the Indian Carrot Salad (see recipe below) because it happened to be one of only a handful in the book that adhered to my friends' very restricted diet. Using deep crimson carrots from the farmers' market (my NYC "garden") and some fresh upstate lamb, I felt that I happened upon a new favorite dish. Since then I've prepared it with a mixture of fall vegetables (beets, zucchini) and tried it with chopped up wild shrimp, prepared the same way in a Garam Masala spice mix. The point here is that this book inspires. Try something Jamie's way, then try it again with what's right in front of you: either at your feet in your garden or pasture, or at hip-height at your local farmers' stand.
Welsh Rarebit with Attitude
makes 4 slices
2 large free-range or organic egg yolks
10 tablespoons Crème fraîche
1 level teaspoon English mustard powder
4 ounces freshly grated Cheddar cheese
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 tablespoons cheeky chilli-pepper chutney (see page 321) or store-bought chilli jam, to taste.
4 x 3/4-inch-thick slices of good-quality bread (use sourdough or country style)
To me this is the most brilliant lunch to have with a good pint of bitter or quality beer. Just the thought of it makes me smile. Let alone being in my favorite pub with the fire going as well. Heaven.
PS My lovely editor, Lindsey, made this for her lunch the other day and decided to leave the eggs out of the mix as she didn't think they'd cook through under the broiler. After giving her a hundred lines and various forms of torture, she now knows it's fine to include the eggs. They will cook through in this time. (As I said to Linds, "Never doubt me, or the chilli jam won't be going on the toast!")
Preheat your broiler and get it nice and hot. Whisk the egg yolks with the crème fraîche and mustard powder. Stir in the cheese and season with salt and pepper. Now, I'm rather hoping you've had a go at making the chilli-pepper chutney, but if you haven't then you can cheat by using a good store-bought version, or simply chop up a little fresh chilli, to your taste.
Lightly toast your slices of bread on both sides. Smear a good tablespoon of your chutney onto each slice, right to the edge, followed by a quarter of your rarebit mixture. By spreading it right to the edge, the crust won't burn. Grill until melted and bubbling. Divide onto plates. With a knife, crisscross the topping and drizzle with Worcestershire sauce.
Indian Carrot Salad
1 1/4 pounds good-quality coarsely ground lamb
2 teaspoons Garam Masala
1 pound carrots (mixed colors if possible), peeled
1 tablespoon sesame seeds
a small bunch of fresh cilantro, leaves picked
a small bunch of fresh mint, leaves picked
For the Dressing:
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
3 shallots or 1 small red onion, peeled
zest and juice of 1 lemon
1 heaped teaspoon freshly grated ginger
extra virgin olive oil
This is a beautiful fresh Indian-style salad with a zingy crispness that goes wonderfully with spicy lamb. The dressed carrots can be served on their own with some added apple or celery for extra sweetness and crunch.
Heat a large frying pan and fry your ground lamb until all the fat comes out of it. Add the Garam Masala and a good pinch of salt and give it a stir. Keep frying until the meat is lovely and crispy. Shave the carrots into long thin strips with a peeler or a mandolin slicer and keep them to one side.
Heat a small frying pan over a moderate heat and toast the cumin seeds for 30 seconds they will start to smell nutty and gorgeous. You're not trying to cook the seeds here, you're just waking their flavors up a bit. Put them into a pestle and mortar and grind them up. Put the pan back on the heat and toast the sesame seeds until golden. Transfer them to a plate.
Slice your peeled shallots or onion wafer thin. As with all salads that contain onion, you don't want to be coming across great big chunks! If you don't feel confident about your knife skills, use the coarse side of a box grater instead. This will almost mush your onions to a purée, but at least you won't come across any big bits.
To make your dressing, put the lemon zest and juice into a bowl and add the shallots or onion, grated ginger, ground cumin and a pinch of salt. Whisk everything together with about 5 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil. Pour the dressing over the carrots, add the cilantro and mint leaves, and mix it all together using your fingers. It's important that you have a little taste to check whether the dressing needs more lemon juice, oil or seasoning.
Divide the crispy lamb between four plates and put the dressed salad on top. Sprinkle with the toasted sesame seeds. Served with naan bread, some yogurt and lemon halves, this makes a great snack!
• Buy Jamie At Home (Amazon, $24.75)
(Recipes excerpted from Jamie At Home, by Jamie Oliver (Hyperion), Images: David Loftus)