A review copy of Mr Wilkinson’s Favourite Vegetables cookbook sat on my desk for several weeks before i eventually scooped it up as reading material for a short train ride. Once i started reading it, i damn near missed my stop.
To be honest, i wasn’t inspired to read a book about cooking vegetables. But something about this book – perhaps its solid cardboard, stark white cover with contrasting bright green snow peas etched on it – drew me, repeatedly, to look at it on my desk. I confess (i’m amongst friends, right?) that I even stroked the cover a few times: felt the black embedded lettering and the solidness of the book beneath my palm.
The time and thought invested in that cover paid off. It’s what lured me in. And like a friend i’ve cruelly mistreated, i’ve been trying to make amends to Mr Wilkinson – or Matt Wilkinson, the chef and owner of Melbourne eatery Pope Joan – ever since.
Wilkinson based the book around his favourite 24 vegetables. That’s got to make him a legend, for a start. Who on earth has 24 favourite vegetables? I have a few. Potato, definitely (see my recent blog post For the Love of Spuds). Garlic, perhaps. Beetroot, maybe. But as you can see, i’m pretty bit non-committal. I don’t think i’ve ever wondered which vegetables are my favourites. Frankly, i just haven’t thought of them in that way. Wilkinson knows this to be the case with many of us, and devised a book that aims to make veggies the star ingredient in the kitchen.
As beetroot is a ‘maybe favourite’ of mine i couldn’t resist trying Wilkinson’s foil-roasted big beets with ricotta and mint. The concept is simple. Large beetroots are baked like jacket potatoes in foil, cut and pushed down like jacket potatoes when cooked, then drizzled with red wine vinegar and sprinkled with ricotta and mint leaves. I did exactly what Wilkinson probably didn’t intend, and served them with steaks! Beetroot was the joint winner on that dinner plate. The creaminess of ricotta was the perfect contrast to the dense, sweet beetroot. Mint leaves were a genius touch.
Deciding which recipes to road test from Wilkinson’s book was difficult. So many of them, each accompanied by a bright, fresh photograph, sound and look fantastic. Each of the 24 chapters begins with an introduction to one particular vegetable, which stars in the recipes that follow. Wilkinson discusses why it is a favourite of his, throws in some general advice about preparation and cooking, and some growing tips. Beautiful illustrations are scattered throughout the pages.
For dinner one night i decided to kill two birds with one stone and try two of Wilkinson’s recipes. His bean salad, he tells the reader, is “a home-meal regular” with his own family. It will be the same in our house, i’m sure. We loved the combination of green, yellow, and cannellini beans, alongside tomato, slithers of roasted red onion, and a creamy dressing of creme fraiche, dijon mustard, olive oil and chardonnay vinegar. I dutifully took the leftovers to work for lunch the following day. Next time i won’t rely on leftovers. I’ll make double the quantity.
I also made bagna cauda – a roasted garlic and anchovy dip. Wilkinson serves it with roasted vegetables as a snack. I smothered chicken marylands with it – between skin and flesh – and roasted them in the oven. The chicken – salty with anchovy and subtly garlicy (15 large cloves had been poached in milk, then cooked for 50 minutes in olive oil) was totally lick smackable.
Each time i flick through the pages of Wilkson’s book new recipes jump out at me. Spinach grows like a weed in my veggie patch and i make my own ricotta (i’ve blogged about that, too), so his spinach, mustard greens and baked ricotta cheese is probably next on the list. I can’t wait to make salad of brussels spout leaves, mozzarella & white anchovies; and sherpherd’s pie croquettes are begging to be given a shot.
During one last flick through of Mr Wilkinson’s Favourite Vegetables before putting this blog post to bed, i found a message at the front from Wilkinson to the reader.
“Thank you so much for picking up this book and reading it,” he says.
Thank you, Mr Wilkinson. The pleasure was all mine.
Foil-roasted big beets with ricotta & mint
Serves 4 as a side
I love beetroot. This is just one of the many ways to enjoy it, simply done but so tasty.
We really should celebrate vegetables cooked without fuss much more.
4 beetroot (beets) (200 g/7 oz each), washed and trimmed
olive oil, for drizzling
sea salt flakes and freshly ground black pepper
25 ml (3/4 fl oz) red wine vinegar
250 g (9 oz) fresh ricotta, crumbled
1 large pinch of mint leaves, torn
Preheat the oven to 220°C (425°F/Gas 7).
Cut 2 sheets of foil and lay them across each other to make a cross. Put the beetroot in the middle, drizzle with the olive oil, season with salt and pepper, then wrap up the beetroot to completely seal. Place on a baking tray and roast for 1 hour. Insert a skewer through a bulb to test to see if they’re cooked.
Once done, carefully transfer onto a serving plate, unwrap, cut an ‘X’ into the tops and push down like a jacket potato. Leave to cool for a few minutes.
Just before serving, drizzle over the vinegar, top with the ricotta and mint and season with a little more salt and pepper. I suggest scooping the beetroot flesh out without eating the skin.
Recipe and image from Mr Wilkinson’s Favourite Vegetables by Matt Wilkinson, published by Murdoch Books