Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Accidental or seasoned?

More from the accidental vegetarian
Simon Rimmer

My vegan ravioli fell to bits. Sob. All those hours of rolling and fiddling about with teaspoons of pumpkin and leek mash. I rolled the pasta too thin. Trying to be clever. Peeved, I leave the kitchen and contemplate a new arrival, More from the Accidental Vegetarian by Simon Rimmer. According to the cover, Simon is the vegetarian world's Jamie Oliver.

Surprised to discover that this is not a hardback, and it made me wonder straight away whether I was behind the times and had missed the hardback version. Turns out this book was previously published as Seasoned Vegetarian, in 2009 - which would have come as a bit of a blow, if I had bought Seasoned Vegetarian...

Happily, it's all new to me, so in I plunge. I like the cover (lots of roast tomatoes) - the fact that it reminds me of the cover of the first cookbook from The Gate vegetarian restaurant only indicates that I've got too many vegetarian cookbooks for my own good. Stands to reason there's bound to be a bit of repetition. I like the design (big, bold text, nice solid colours, competent photography) and I really like the way the recipes are subdivided - brunch, soups and salads, small platefuls, large platefuls, spicy platefuls, add ons and puddings. How very sensible.

Into the recipes, and I'm liking it straight away. Sweet figs with ricotta on sourdough toast conjures up an implausible breakfast in bed scenario... nonetheless, it's a plausible use for my new bottle of sherry vinegar. The little bits of text with each recipe are quite jolly, but I stop short when Simon describes the white gazpacho as an inter-course. G informs me that Tom's gay uncle used to have great fun in restaurants, announcing to fellow diners that it was time for intercourse and then lighting up a cigarette. How we laughed.

The salads look nice, no wild experimentation, not too much tramping over old ground. Broad beans with Manchego and mint (a combination chosen purely for alliterative reasons? Gouda and grapes? Brie and breadcrumbs? Edam and edamame? Cheddar and chips?), Stilton with black pudding (yes, the vegetarian sort, obviously), Pears with fennel, Smoked pistachios (and where am I supposed to get those in Manchester? Harvey Nicks?) with potatoes and artichokes.

We arrive at Small Plates and I'm inexplicably pleased by the cheesy 'shortbread' with asparagus, and almost inspired by the Lancashire cheese souffles which apparently don't mind being frozen and reheated. Golly, just imagine how impressed visitors might be by my whipping out a souffle. I thought souffles were utterly unfashionable, but they seem to be making a reappearance in veggie restaurants and frankly, I'm enjoying them. Crumpets with rarebit! I found out about crumpet-making by accident when I tried to bodge up some pancakes with self-raising flour, been meaning to have a go at them in a more intentional way but haven't yet found the time.

Continuing with the small plates and whilst I enjoy contemplating the deep fried blobs of soft goat's cheese, and the baked Caerphilly with pecans, it's becoming noticeable that there's a lot of cheese in this book! No attempt to label anything as vegan, which might be just as well because vegan pickings are a little bit thin on the ground here. Parmesan puts in the usual appearance and there's no attempt to cover up with a mushy disclaimer. Oh well. Maybe Simon knows better now, after all, these are recipes from a few years back. Or maybe he just doesn't care - after all, he's not actually a vegetarian himself... Still, there are directions for making your own paneer here, which gets my approval. And to be fair, he does really seem to be enjoying some slightly artisany, kinda regional cheeses, which is nice.

'The older I get, the more I love peas...' Ah, must be my age then, I'm still failing to appreciate them much. 'There's nothing as versatile as the aubergine' - hmm. Maybe this is an age thing too. Overall I'm still enjoying Simon's recipe intros and outros, but at times the colloquialisms ('shake it around', 'pop under the grill', 'shake it up like crazy', 'bash it on a work surface', 'a dollop of pate', 'a dollop of Piccalilli', 'a dollop of cobbler') start to grate a bit. A bit self-consciously Jamie?

Into the Large Platefuls, and blow me if there isn't a recipe for squash ravioli. Well, it is, arguably, the best thing to to with squash. This one calls for 4 eggs and 9 egg yolks to make sufficient paste for 4-6, blimey. I'm still reasonably chuffed with my vegan pasta but maybe an eggy version would hold its nerve better when confronted with a rolling boil. Oops, Parmesan again.

I'm not at all convinced by the beetroot gnocchi. Firstly, frankly, I really don't like the look of it. 'Pink fluffy clouds'? Looks more like dentist's wadding, or something I've had surgically removed. Secondly, I'm growing impatient with recipe blurbs that say things like 'I love to let the kids help with this' or 'I love to knock up a plate of this late at night', or 'this is just a little something for chowing down on in front of the telly'... I don't believe a word of it. Nobody lives like that. Knocking up a plate of beetroot gnocchi to eat in front of Casualty is about as likely as me whipping out some half-baked souffles next time the neighbours pop in.

Quite a few stews later, we reach the spicy stuff. That'll be curry, then. Ooh, spinach and prune stew! You know, I think that's almost worth trying. I can believe it works. Oriental Cottage Pie, nope, not for me. Potato pancakes with spiced beetroot, yes please. White chilli also looks well worth further investigation.

Add-ons I guess is a section of side dishes. Green beans with vodka sounds like fun although Simon looks as if he is covering his back when he says they tend to be a bit grey... Fennel flatbreads, nice but I use a similar recipe which is either in Rose Elliot's Veggie Chic or Celia Brooks Brown's Entertaining Vegetarians (both are good). Simon's version includes grated root ginger and I have to admit that the little story that goes with the recipe, about the chefs at Greens using these to wrap around chips and chilli sauce for their lunches, made me smile.

Carrot jam! Now you're talking! A possible contender for 'best thing to do with a carrot'. If I make anything out of this book, it'll likely be this. Seriously.

And we've reached the puddings. Apple and elderflower cobbler, nice, ticks the 'home-grown/foraged', and 'traditional British' boxes. Doughnut bread and butter pud with butterscotch sauce looks like a challenger for my previously preferred version made with hot cross buns. Hate the phrase 'the tip with these monkeys' used against the chocolate and hazelnut meringues, recipe blurbs should not, ideally, make you wince. But liked the blurb with the Stollen which points out that it's not just for Christmas and suggests serving it up with some Pimms whilst watching Wimbledon. 'A Load of Old Balls Cheesecake' is a chocolate cheesecake with profiteroles and choc sauce on top - well, why not. 'Very Naughty Baked Alaska' pimps up the usual recipe with liqueurs, chocolate brownies and chocolate ice cream. Looks like fun. Raisin, pistachio and honey cheesecake is a serious contender for best recipe in the book. Nearly at the end, and I ain't never seen an Eccles cake like that, but then, I may be in the north but I'm no northerner...

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