There are cookbooks and then there are food… ‘bibles’. Those books about food that deserve a prominent fixture on every serious cook and food-lover’s kitchen shelf. Books like Stephanie Alexander’s The Cook’s Companion and that most famous French culinary classic, Larousse Gastronomique. Now there’s River Cottage A-Z, from world-renowned food writer and campaigner Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and the talented team at River Cottage.
River Cottage A-Z differs from your run-of-the-mill cookbook in that it is, as the name suggests, an encyclopedic list of ingredients. Each ingredient features an entertaining, enlightening discussion of all that’s interesting about that foodstuff, accompanied by one or two delicious recipes. Take an ingredient as humble as the carrot. We learn all manner of carroty facts in an interesting, beautifully written piece.
With much difficulty, the Better Reading team chose two of our favourite ingredients Bay and Cheddar to try at home. Want more? You simply have to buy the book to see the hundreds of other mouth-watering ingredients and how to use them!
Bay-spiked pears with shallots and lemon
The sweetness and silky texture of these aromatic pears makes them a superb foil to rich meats. Try them with roast partridge, venison or pork. Alternatively, make them part of a warm salad with some bitter leaves such as chicory, crumbled blue cheese and any juices from the pan trickled over. Serves 6 as a side dish.
24 bay leaves
4 small (or 3 large) shallots, thinly sliced
Finely pared zest of 1 small lemon
1 tbsp olive or rapeseed oil
A large knob of butter
A pinch of dried chilli flakes (optional)
Sea salt and black pepper
Preheat the oven to 180°C/Fan 160°C/Gas 4.
Peel the pears, then quarter them and remove the cores. Make a slit down the centre of the curved ‘back’ of each piece of pear and insert a bay leaf.
Place all the bay-spiked pears in a roasting tray. Scatter over the shallots and lemon zest, and trickle over the oil. Dot the butter around the pears and, if using, add a pinch of chilli flakes. Season well with salt and pepper.
Roast in the oven for 20–30 minutes or until the pears are tender, turning them once or twice with a spatula. Serve warm.
Cheddar, apple and celeriac salad
This crunchy winter salad is the perfect way to show off a good, strong mature Cheddar.
¼ head of celeriac (175–200g)
2 eating apples, such as Russets
200g mature Cheddar
A handful of lightly bashed walnuts or pumpkin seeds
For the dressing
1 tbsp cider vinegar
2 tbsp rapeseed oil
2 tsp clear honey
Sea salt and black pepper
Peel away any damaged or rough outer leaves from the sprouts or cabbage, then cut into 2mm slices. Place in a large bowl.
Peel the celeriac and cut it into thin matchsticks, using a sharp knife or mandoline. Add to the sprouts or cabbage.
Quarter and core the apples and cut into slim wedges. Add these to the bowl too. Crumble the Cheddar, or cut it into rough cubes, and add to the salad along with the walnuts or pumpkin seeds.
For the dressing, whisk the ingredients or shake together in a screw-topped jar and add to the salad. Toss to combine, check the seasoning, and it’s ready to serve