On the Side, by Ed Smith, is a book that most foodies I know have heard of but it may not have reached people who are not immersed in cookbooks every day. Which is a shame because it is quite, quite* transformative. If you’re the sort of cook, and I often am, who knows that shoving a chicken or a piece of fish in the oven is really the simplest way to make dinner (if only because there’s no more work), yet you want to make something a bit dressy to go with it, this really helps because it focuses on solely that.
However, don’t let that fool you into thinking this is a quiet little unnecessary book, an extra like its contents. This book makes food into dinner: add broccoli with tarragon and/or anchoïade potatoes (my two favourites) to a couple of roast chicken legs and you have something special, not everyday. There are recipes for what I think of as ‘standard’ vegetables and sides (e.g. potatoes, cabbage and rice) which lift them very simply (so chorizo roast potatoes, cabbage with juniper butter and three-pepper rice) as well as ones for the not-so standard, which means whether you’re only just venturing beyond roasties or are familiar with your flower sprouts, freekeh and fregola you will find inspiration here.
It is also an excellent resource for anyone who is vegetarian or vegan, because so much in it is both. The grains, pulses, pasta and rice chapter alone has more than 30 ideas that would make excellent vegetarian mains, including white beans with fennel seeds, chilli and rocket, jewelled pearl barley or cinnamon, chickpea and apricot couscous. And, for those who can no longer face another plastic sandwich, the latter are all brilliant packed lunches as well.
I also love the way it is organised. Want to know what to do with a particular type of ingredient, say greens? Here, the recipes are all grouped together which means that if you have some bitter leaves you’ll find all the ideas for them in one chapter, rather than scattered through the book, so you can flick between a few pages rather than going back through the whole thing to the index.
And indexes, often the absolutely last-hour job in the production of a cookbook, well let me just praise the indexes in this. It has four! Though I don’t envy the proofreader who had to check all those cross- and page references, I do admire the brilliance of this because they are so bloody helpful. If you are already using the oven, then the ‘Where is the side dish prepared’ index will help you avoid the ‘oh shit, where do I cook this now’ moment. If you want an idea to serve with, say, cheese, fish (which is subdivided into every type possible) or mushrooms, you will find an answer in ‘What’s your main dish’. Finally, if you want to decide what to make based on how much time you have, then head to ‘How long does it take to make’ which has ideas from less than 15 minutes to more than an hour. It saves an awful lot of Post-It notes!
Every time I open the book, I discover something new. Right this second, it is vermouth-braised red onions; yesterday when I first started thinking about this post ‘Young Turk’ celeriac started me longing for autumn. Tonight though, as on many nights since I bought the book, it will be purple sprouting broccoli with tarragon. Smith says it’s the side he cooks most often and it’s certainly mine, for now. Anything that uses tarragon is a wonder, and using it like this really shows it off. It’s a recipe that’s low on shopping, adaptable (try it with ‘standard’ broccoli too or, to make it lunch or dinner, serve it with a soft-boiled egg) and really quick and simple.
Sometimes ‘inspiring’ new cookbooks are anything but; in this case On the Side is exactly that. Highly recommended.
* Definition 1.
Purple sprouting broccoli with tarragon (adapted from On the Side)
(makes enough for 2-3)
Cupboard (or things you may already have)
extra-virgin olive oil, 2-3 tbsp
sea salt and freshly ground pepper
purple sprouting broccoli, 300g (normal broccoli works too)
lemon, ¼-½ (I’ve halved the book’s recipe, which has ½ lemon so you probably only need about ¼ but add more to taste if you like)
tarragon, leaves from about 6 stems
1. Trim the purple sprouting broccoli as needed, removing any small side florets and leaves and putting them aside for later. Zest and juice the lemon.
2. Steam the main broccoli stems for about 4 minutes then add the smaller florets and leaves and steam for about another 3-4 minutes, until done (for once, you want to cook them a little longer, so not al dente).
3. Put the broccoli in a serving dish with the lemon zest, tarragon and season. Then mix together the lemon juice and oil and pour it over the broccoli and toss together gently.