Observer Food Monthly Cookbook of the Year Award 2018
I am so very excited to say that last night my book ‘The Modern Cook’s Year’ won the best cookbook award for 2018 at the Observer Food Monthly awards. In the food world this is kind of like winning best actor. I don’t find it that easy or natural to shout about things like this but I wanted to shout about this because it’s important to me for so many reasons. I’ll try not to do a Gwyneth.
First of all it’s an award from the OFM. Which is kind of the holy grail of food magazines. It’s one I have excitedly rushed to the paper shop for one Sunday a month since I first started out as a chef. It champions producers as much as chefs, real food, real writing. It’s so widely adored that to be in it’s pages is a thrill. Thank you to Allan and Gareth and the rest of the amazing team who work tirelessly on it to make it what it is. There is a big (unusually well-groomed) glossy pic and interview in there this Sunday.
Secondly, the people who worked on this book with me are the best of the best. A group of women I am so happy to call friends. From stone-cold creative genius, photographer Ana Cuba to Louise my incredible, patient and kind publisher. To Jess my right hand woman, to Anna and Emily in the kitchen. I’ll list them all below if you want to check out their work.
This book was extra special because I wrote it as a very new mum, when my boy was tiny and things still hadn’t settled down. This meant late nights writing and testing into sleepless nights with my little one. It showed me quite what I am capable of (though in hindsight I don’t think I’d do it that way again). It also meant my incredible husband John had to pick up a lot of slack. We completely co-parent our son but John definitely did the lion’s share while I put this together and for that I am so very grateful. Also I must give a shout out to my mum and dad, the best grandparents going. Proof you never stop parenting, how lucky I am.
It is also amazing that books about veg are being recognised in awards and in the media without a vegetarian caveat. Just as good books, it shows that things have moved on a lot in the four years since my first book came out. This helps take vegetarianism/veganism even more mainstream and that’s going to help us all make more conscious decisions about how we eat.
And lastly it’s most meaningful because it was voted for by all of you. By people who read my columns and books and that makes me so so proud. That you cook the food that I come up with in my little kitchen for those you love, to me, is nothing short of magic. Thank you to you all from the very bottom of my heart.
I’ll stand down now and take my pink taffeta ballgown off.
Celebratory Chard, Leek + Walnut Crostata taken from ‘The Modern Cook’s Year’
This forgiving tart comes together pretty quickly. The star here is the flaky walnut-spiked pastry. It sits around a centre of sweet buttery leeks, chard and some verdant green herbs. It’s quite a crumbly pastry, thanks to the walnuts, but they make it so toasty and flaky it’s worth it. The tart is free form, so if the pastry cracks you can pinch it back together with your finger easily – just be sure to do a final check around the outside of the pastry once it’s filled to make sure all holes are pinched and no filling can escape. I serve this with some simple boiled potatoes and a lemon dressed salad.
2 leeks, outer leaves removed, washed and finely shredded
a bunch of chard (about 200g)
2 cloves of garlic, chopped
a pinch of dried chilli flakes
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
a large mixed bunch of soft herbs, leaves picked
25g Parmesan (I use a vegetarian one)
3 medium organic eggs
FOR THE PASTRY
200g white spelt flour
1⁄2 teaspoon flaky sea salt
100g very cold butter, cut into cubes
2 tablespoons ice-cold water
First, make the pastry. Put the walnuts into a food processor and blitz until you have fine, uniform crumbs, but keep an eye on it – if you go too far, they will start to come together as a nut butter. Add the flour and salt and pulse a few times to mix everything evenly.
Next, add the butter and pulse a few times until you have a rough looking dough. With the motor running, add a tablespoon of the very cold water and pulse again for four turns of the blade. Take the lid off and pinch the dough with your fingers. Add a little more water if it feels dry and keep blitzing until the dough comes together in a ball; it should be a buttery pastry and not feel crumbly. Wrap the dough in cling film or greaseproof paper and put it into the fridge.
Next, warm a frying pan over a medium heat, pour in a drizzle of olive oil and add the leeks and a pinch of salt. Fry for 5–7 minutes, until the leeks are soft and sweet.
While this is happening, wash the chard and strip the leaves from their stalks. Slice the stalks into 2cm lengths, then roll up the leaves and slice across the middle into 1cm-wide ribbons.
Back to the leeks. Add the garlic, dried chilli and fennel seeds and fry in the pan for a couple of minutes to toast the spices. When the pan is smelling aromatic, add the chard stalks and stir. Cook for 5 minutes until the stalks lose their rawness, then stir in the leaves and add the vinegar. Cook until the leaves have wilted – about 4 minutes.
Put the vegetables on to a plate to cool and preheat your oven to 220oC/200oC fan/gas 7.
Finely chop the herbs and place them in a large mixing bowl. Grate in the Parmesan and whisk in the eggs with a fork. Season with salt and pepper.
Take the walnut pastry out of the fridge and line a large baking sheet with baking paper. Drizzle some olive oil into the centre of the paper. If your baking sheet is quite flat, you should be able to roll the pastry out to a round about 30cm across and 1cm deep. If you have a standard deep roasting tray, flip it over and place the paper on the underside instead.
Mix the cooled vegetables with the egg mixture. Arrange the vegetables in the centre of the pastry, leaving about 3cm around the edge. Gently fold the pastry border back over the vegetables, pleating a little as you go. It will be crumbly and more difficult to handle than other doughs and may break at its edges, but it will be worth it for the flaky short pastry at the end.
Place the crostata in the centre of the hot oven and bake for 35 minutes, until the edges are deep golden and the filling is starting to bubble, then turn the heat down to 200oC/180oC fan/gas 6 and bake for a further 15 minutes, until the pastry is cooked through.
Cool on the baking sheet for 10 minutes, then slide on to a wire rack to cool and let the pastry crisp up.
The babes behind the book: