Two fall recipes from Fresh Food Fast

June 11, 2009 at 10:24 am (Cruciferous rich, Peter Berley, unrated)


In the past month I’ve made a number of really tasty recipes from the Spring section of Peter Berley’s cookbook Fresh Food Fast.  This week I tried two from the fall section.  I know it’s June not September, but it’s been a cool Spring and there are very few locally grown vegetables at the market.  I figure if I’m buying vegetables from Southern France, Spain, or Italy I might as well buy cauliflower, tomatoes, and mushrooms.  However, after trying these two recipes I regretted the decision to stray from the spring menus, as I didn’t like the two fall recipes as much.  I’m going back to the spring menus.  Next up:  sesame noodles with tofu “steaks” and baby bok choy.

The first recipe was for a wild mushroom fricassee over farro. First, there are a few minor problems with the recipe.

  • The ingredient list calls for 3 Tbs. of olive oil, but the instructions only ever say to use 2 Tbs. of the oil (with the mushrooms).   The onion is cooked in butter, so I’m not sure where the last tablespoon of olive oil is supposed to go.  I simply left it out.
  • The header says that farro is another word for spelt. From what I can tell, farro is not spelt; it is a different variety of wheat called emmer wheat.  However, there is clearly some confusion about the name, and it’s possible that in some locations/times the name farro has been used to describe spelt as well as emmer wheat.
  • The header says that farro can be cooked on the stove top in about 25 minutes, but my farro was more than al dente after about 25 minutes simmering on the stovetop. My farro took about 40 minutes to soften.   Also, even after cooking the farro for 40 minutes I had water left. I would try 3.5 cups of water for 1.5 cups of farro.   Is it possible that my heat was just too low, and if I had raised the heat the farro would have cooked in 25 minutes and used up all the water?

The recipe came out as I imagine it was supposed to taste–roasted, slightly chewy mushrooms in an earthy, wine-y sauce, seasoned with herbs of the forest (rosemary, thyme, parsley). I only cut the fat down slightly, using just under 2 Tbs. of olive oil and almost the full 2 Tbs. of butter.  Despite all the fat, the dish didn’t taste particularly rich to me.  (Certainly not like the rich mushrooms I’ve gotten as appetizers at restaurants.)  The dish simply didn’t excite me.  I don’t think there is really anything wrong with the recipe, it just didn’t suit my palate.  Derek liked it a little better than me, but wasn’t excited enough to seek out the leftovers.

This recipe has a certain similarity to the mushroom-wine flavored stroganoff in Vegan with a Vengeance, but this one has more mushrooms and less sauce.  Although I liked the higher proportion of mushrooms, I prefer that recipe over this one.  In that recipe the intensity of the wine and herbs and mushrooms are balanced by the addition of a little mustard, soymilk, and nutritional yeast, and the addition of seitan adds textural variety.  This recipe was just too strong and uniform tasting for me to eat as a main dish.  As a few bites in an appetizer it would have been fine, but I got sick of it quickly.  One thing that I liked in this recipe (more than the VwV one) was that more of the mushroom’s texture was preserved.  Nonetheless, despite being able to recognize each of the mushrooms, I was disappointed to find that I couldn’t taste the individual mushrooms at all.  I had splurged and bought a number of expensive mushrooms like chantarelles, oysters, and shiitakes, but in the end they all tasted exactly the same to me.  I felt like I had wasted my expensive mushrooms.  I don’t think I’ll make this recipe again.  I did like the combination of the farro and mushrooms though.  Next time I make the VwV stroganoff recipe I’m going to try serving it on farro instead of pasta.  I might also try cooking the mushrooms for the stroganoff dish in the oven instead of on the stovetop.

The second recipe I made from the fall section was pasta with spicy cauliflower, chickpeas, and cherry tomatoes.  I was intrigued by the idea of cooking a pasta sauce on a baking sheet in the oven, and I had all the ingredients except the delicata squash (which I’ve never seen in Germany) so I thought I would give it a shot, substituting green beans for the squash.  I was a little nervous about leaving my baking sheet in a 500 degree oven without anything on it.   I’m not sure what the coating is on the baking sheets that came with my German oven, but if it’s some kind of non-stick stuff then maybe leaving it empty in a 500 degree oven is not the best idea.   I did it anyway.

The ingredient list is a little vague. (What is a “small” cauliflower, or a “medium” red onion or carrot?)  The instructions say that the vegetables should fit in a single layer on the baking sheet.  My baking sheet was very large, yet still my vegetables seemed to be too crowded.  I’m not sure whether I would say that they formed a single layer or not, but I felt like it was too much for a half pound of pasta.  I was surprised to find that Berley has you toss the vegetables with 3/4 white wine before putting them in the oven.  The blanched vegetables contributed a bit of water of their own (despite being drained), and in the end the cookie sheet seemed to have too many vegetables and too much liquid on it.  Nonetheless, I put the cookie sheet in the oven.  I was watching the thermometer in the oven, and the temperature quickly dropped after I had put in the vegetables, from 500 to around 300.  I thought it would come back up but even after 15 minutes it had only gotten to 350 (I had to open it once to stir the vegetables, according to Berley).  I don’t know if this temperature drop is a problem, or normal.  My oven is brand new and a good quality brand.  Whatever the reason, my vegetables ended up steaming a bit.  They still got browned on top, but when I pulled them out the colors were a bit muted, and everything was still a bit soupy.   The onion was particularly faded looking and unappealing.

I tossed the vegetables with the pasta and added the garnishes, but it just didn’t taste that good.  I couldn’t detect either the saffron or the cumin, or the acid from the white wine.  Mostly it just tasted like somewhat sodden vegetables and oil.  Despite reducing the oil from 8! Tbs. to 6 Tbs., I found the dish to be too greasy.  Derek didn’t care for it either.

I’m guessing that if my cookie sheet had been less crowded. my oven had been able to get back up to temp, and I had used all the oil, then this recipe would have come out better.  But I don’t really have any confidence that I would be able to carry it off with another try.  Even if I could, the seasoning is a bit boring I think, and there’s too much oil.  I won’t be making this recipe again.  I’d prefer to make a cauliflower curry, an oven-roasted tomato sauce, or even the saffron flavored broccoli and cauliflower recipe from 101 cookbooks.

Two other complaints about the (otherwise quite excellent) cookbook.  The index is, as always, incomplete.  Here are just a few examples:  When I look up asparagus I find only one recipe mentioned, but I know for a fact that asparagus is an ingredient in at least four menus.  I couldn’t find sugar snap peas under either peas, sugar, or snap.  There’s no entry for mint, despite the fact that the tabouleh recipe calls for 2 cups of it!  I remembered there was a harissa dish but couldn’t find it under either harissa or Moroccan.  Also, I would like it if the recipes came with at least a short introduction–something about why Berley likes the recipe, or chose to put it in the book, or a story about the recipe.  Some of the recipe headers are about the recipe, but many are not.  Instead, they often provide comments about one particular ingredient, or list variations or substitutions.

Update October 2012:

I made the cauliflower dish again.  I still didn’t have delicata squash so added an extra carrot (3 instead of 2).  Half of my medium-large cauliflower weighed one pound.  I cut the olive oil down to five tablespoons this time, but otherwise followed the recipe carefully.   Heating my oven to 500 degrees with the cookie sheet (not nonstick) in it resulted in horrible smells.  I’m guessing it’s from the remnants of splattered oil on the sides of the oven burning and smoking?  Derek said it smelled toxic, so I turned the oven down a bit.  When it came time to put all the ingredients onto the cookie sheet the sheet was a bit overfull, so I left out a bit of the veggies and beans, to make sure not to overfill the pan.  The dish turned out less greasy this time and less soupy, but still didn’t taste like much to me, especially given how much oil is in it.  Again I couldn’t taste the wine, cumin, saffron, or thyme.  The cauliflower didn’t get nicely caramelized and the onion was kind of soft and sodden.  Derek said he could taste the spices.  He called the dish “pleasant.”  He said he would be happy to eat it if I make it again, but he wouldn’t ask for it again.  In other words, a low B.  I would rate it a B-.  The recipe gets a lot of dishes dirty and the terrible smells… Just not right somehow.

3 Comments

  1. Two fall recipes from Fresh Food Fast « From the kitchen of a … - All type of RECIPES!.. said,

    […] Berley’s cookbook Fresh Food Fast. This week I tried two from the fall section. Read more: Two fall recipes from Fresh Food Fast « From the kitchen of a … This entry was written by , posted on June 11, 2009 at 10:24 am, filed under general and tagged […]

  2. Two fall recipes from Fresh Food Fast | seasoningz.com said,

    […] is the original: Two fall recipes from Fresh Food Fast You May Link To Us Using The Code BelowLinking to our pages with daily updated pages and newly […]

  3. Seitan Stroganoff « From the kitchen of a captious vegetarian said,

    […] I got some good ideas for this recipe from the wild mushrom friccassee in Fresh Food Fast.  Next time I make this I’m going to serve it over […]

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