✦ Forget online recipe searches, says reviewer Susie Boswell. Nothing can substitute for a hard copy of this exceptional new cook book, ideal for Christmas.
Over more than two decades since Britain’s River Cottage TV series first promulgated its seasonal, local, sustainable food ethos, the philosophy has become mainstream in western nations, including Australia.
That's our homegrown River Cottage "real food" ambassador Paul West pictured here, scoffing seafood straight from the briny at the Oyster Shed at Sandstone Point, off Queensland's Moreton Bay.
And that’s me, at his right elbow, our faces bent over a coral cornucopia of crustaceans fresh-cooked by West - he cracking crab claws for me. The feast’s accompanied by a healthy salad West picked moments ago from the Shed’s kitchen garden.
Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s foundation River Cottage success saw him travel here from London to select West from a keen field of local chefs to spawn and head up the original Australian series. The adaptation featuring Aussie produce was so popular it grew over the years to four seasons – currently being revived on SBS TV. West, meanwhile, has gone on to promote the establishment of organics and natural nutrition as a way of life at food festivals, on food trails and through similar events.
HFW - as 57-year-old Old Etonian and Oxonian Hugh Christopher Edmund Fearnley-Whittingstall is more conveniently known – has helmed a couple of dozen iterations of the British TV series, published some 30 cookbooks and expanded River Cottage into a magnificent marketing franchise of multiple entities.
He holds cookery courses such as baking and preserving, hosts River Cottage events including weddings, offers B&B farm accommodation and sold-out experiences for adults and children such as mushroom foraging, gardening and bee-keeping, and has expanded to partnering to manufacture organic food products. There are even River Cottage gifts, including a tweed picnic blanket woven from recycled wool!
Great Salads is written by River Cottage head chef Gelf Alderson who, as HFW says in his foreword, has worked alongside him for the past ten years. Vibrant, veg-focused spectacular salads, the author says, are assemblies for enjoying knockout tastes and peak nutrition in every season of the year.
A glossary of vegetables, fruits, herbs and even edible flowers, hints for growing and char-grilling and roasting prep techniques, 80 recipes including for dressings and pickles plus excellent photography and a handy index make this book an encyclopaedia that relegates online recipe-searching to dismal failure.
River Cottage Great Salads by Gelf Alderson (Bloomsbury Publishing, $39.99) is out now.
Fennel, celery and apple with creamy almond dressing
This salad is all about the crisp crunch of the fennel and celery, and the way these big bold flavours are tamed by the creamy almond dressing. Delicious on its own, it’s also a lovely accompaniment to grilled fish. The dressing goes with almost anything and keeps in the fridge for a week so. I often make a double batch. Try dunking lettuce leaves into it… delicious.
Serves 2 as a main, 4 as a side
50g almonds (skin on), roughly
2 crisp eating apples, such as
Gala or Cox
2 fennel bulbs
5 celery sticks
A handful of pea shoots
For the almond dressing
100g almonds (skin on)
150ml almond milk or water
60ml extra virgin olive oil
30ml cider vinegar
1 small garlic clove, peeled
Sea salt and black pepper
First make the dressing, a day ahead if you can. Put the almonds into a bowl, pour on the almond milk or water, cover and leave to soak overnight. (Or put the almonds in a pan with the liquid, cover and place over a low heat for 15–20 minutes to slightly soften them then leave to cool.)
Cut a thin slice from the top and bottom of the orange then stand it on a board and slice off the skin and white pith. Cut the orange segments out from between the membranes, remove any pips then place in a jug blender.
Add the olive oil, cider vinegar, garlic and softened almonds to the blender along with any remaining soaking liquor. Blitz to form a smooth dressing. If it’s a little too thick, add almond milk or water 1 tbsp at a time, until the desired consistency is reached. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Set aside.
Place a small frying pan over a medium heat, add the chopped almonds and heat, stirring occasionally, until they start to take on some colour and release their nutty aroma. Tip onto a plate and allow to cool.
Quarter, core and dice the apples into very small cubes and place in a large bowl. Quarter the fennel bulbs, cut into 5mm thick slices and add to the bowl. Finely slice the celery into 5mm slices and add these too. Add half of the pea shoots to the salad, then trickle over the dressing and toss until all the veg are nicely coated.
Transfer the salad to a serving platter and scatter over the remaining pea shoots and toasted almonds to serve.
If you're making this salad, take a photo and send it to the firstname.lastname@example.org so we can share it too!
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