Christmas is coming and, as is my wont, I like to recommend a few good cookery books for those who are short of ideas, for themselves or for their food-loving friends. I wear several work ‘hats’ and one of them is that of a freelance project editor, helping to pull the myriad parts of cookery books together to make them into whole beautiful objects. This year, I have worked on several, and loved many of them, which makes this task a real joy. And my first recommendation, Anna Jones‘s new book, The Modern Cook’s Year, deserves a home in everyone’s kitchen.
Divided into six sections, roughly aligned with periods of the year, the book takes you through the seasons and through the times of day, suggesting vegetarian recipes for every meal from breakfast to dinner. I really love books that are chronological or seasonal (another current favourite right now is Diana Henry‘s Roast Figs Sugar Snow which makes winter into a celebration of all things melted, roasted and mulled) because it makes it easy to find something to cook that matches both what’s on sale and what the weather is doing. And it also makes it easy to find recipes when you can’t remember their name, which, in a book that is over 460 pages long, is a bonus. Whatever time of year you open this, you will find something to inspire you, especially since alongside the recipes are some of the most beautiful food photos ever.
I’m in the autumn and winter sections right now, of course, and have tagged the cauliflower and Puy lentil pie for dinner, the potato and mustard seed masala omelette for breakfast and the mozzarella and citrus with toasted coriander seeds for a starter or lunch. However, what I’ve made today, and will make again, is the baked figs, ricotta, radicchio and almonds without, erm, the figs or the radicchio…mainly because it just seemed so simple and achievable. When you work on something encyclopedic, and for several weeks, certain pictures and recipes stay with you, probably just because of where they fall in the proofing process, and long before I got my hands on my copy, I wanted to try this. One, because it is a throw-it-together special, two, because it uses many of my favourite things, lemon, chilli, beans and radicchio, and three because it has a very short shopping list. What I also discovered is that if you don’t have everything, it can be adapted and will still be delicious. For some reason there were no figs on sale in my local Turkish shops, and the only radicchio worth buying was a bike ride away. And my bike is broken…
So, as ever, I tweaked. Radicchio became chicory which I added earlier because I like it roasted. Figs became a handful of pomegranate seeds, which gave it a lovely colour and a touch of sweetness. And, though I liked the thyme oil, I think it would be just as delicious without it. It is supposed to serve four and, it may do with something else/as a starter/if you’re not greedy but I found it made a perfect at-home lunch for two. This is only the start of my year with this book; it promises to be a good one.
Baked ricotta and cannellini beans with chicory, lemon and chilli (adapted from The Modern Cook’s Year)
Cupboard (or things you may already have)
cannellini beans, 400g tin or jar
pinch of dried chilli flakes
sea salt and ground black pepper
chicory, 2 fat heads (I used red)
fresh thyme or oregano, small bunch
fresh red chilli
almonds, skin-on, 100g
pomegranate seeds, a handful
1. Preheat the oven to 220°C/200°C fan/gas 7.
2. Drain and rinse the beans, then tip them into a shallow ovenproof dish. Make a space in the middle for the ricotta.
3. Drain the ricotta of any liquid and put in the middle of the beans.
4. Trim and quarter the chicory heads and lay them on top of the beans.
5. Scatter the chilli flakes over the beans, ricotta and chicory, then grate the lemon zest over the top.
6. Next strip off the herb leaves, discard the stalks and scatter a few of the leaves over everything too (keep the rest for the herb oil later).
7. Finish with a generous splash of olive oil, some salt and pepper then bake for about 35 minutes.
8. Whilst the beans and ricotta are cooking, bash the remaining thyme leaves to a paste, stir in about 4 tablespoons of olive oil then finely chop the red chilli and add it to the herb oil.
9. When the beans have about 10 minutes, left, tip the almonds onto a roasting tray and toast in the oven. Remove and roughly chop.
10. Once the beans are both tender and crisping up, and the ricotta has started to go brown, remove from the oven, add the almonds and serve dressed with the herb oil.