Saturday, September 29, 2012

Home-Grown Harvest

Home-Grown Harvest
Editor: Rebecca Woods
Publisher: Ryland Peters & Small (2011)


Showcasing seasonal food is one of the tastiest and most nutritious ways to eat. The flavours of peak season peaches in a crispy cobbler, a medley of late Summer vegetables in a ratatouille or the bright green pop of tender asparagus and spring peas in a creamy risotto are hard to pass up – and when the produce comes from your own backyard or local farm, the benefits are even greater. Home-Grown Harvest, edited by Rebecca Woods, is a mouthwatering collection of recipes and stunning photography that will be sure to lure even the most skeptical cook into a fresh new world.

Harvest is a unique book in that it is not authored by one particular individual. Rather, it is a compilation of recipes by several cookbook authors such as Ross Dobson, Laura Washburn and Brian Glover. The recipes are organized brilliantly into categories of plant type: Root Vegetables, Bulbs and Stems, Fruiting Vegetables, Podding Vegetables, Greens, Zucchini and Squash, Mushrooms, Tree Fruits, and Soft Fruits. Almost every inclusion in this book is accompanied by stunning, full colour photography; both of the “raw” ingredients and the finished dishes. Offerings range from the more “standard” Caesar Salad (p. 108) to the unique Tenderstem Broccoli, Shiitake & Tofu Omelet (p. 97). All courses are represented in one way or another, from starters such as the classic Tomato, Mozzarella and Basil Salad (p. 73) to decadent desserts like the Frosted Pear, Zucchini & Carrot Cake (p. 146).

Readers of Harvest will be quick to discover that many of the contributing authors are not American in origin. While the measures are given in Imperial units, the phrasing and titles of recipes, as well as their preambles, hint at European heritage. Certain ingredients, too, will be more unfamiliar to American eyes and palates. Tenderstem broccoli, for example, is commonly marketed as broccolini and occasionally (though erroneously) broccoli rabe. Items such as golden syrup and crème fraîche are less popular in US and Canadian markets (though they can be found if you look hard enough), and so many would-be cooks may find themselves researching a substitute.

Leek & Potato Soup (p. 41)
Thankfully, the language style in Harvest does not detract from it’s recipes. Instructions for meals like Triple Tomato & Basil Risotto (p. 69) are clear and concise enough for the most casual home cook to attempt their creation. Conversely, the wording is in no way “dumbed down” or trivializing, and is sophisticated enough that more skilled individuals won’t feel out of place.

Given that my hemisphere is transitioning into Autumn, my family is moving towards heartier, more warming fare like soups and stews made with root vegetables. I opted to use up the last of our local new potatoes in the Leek & Potato Soup (p. 41) by Tonia George, which is one of my mom’s favourite varieties. I made two modifications based on what I had on hand – I added a diced parsnip to the buttery steam-sauté of leeks, onions and potatoes, and for the “milk” (the recipe doesn’t state a specific fat level) I used a 370 mL can of evaporated 2%. The finished soup got a hint of rosemary and chives stirred in, and tasted creamy, smooth and rich without being cloying. It made a fantastic starter for the meal we served to company, and my mom took leftovers for lunch the next few days.

Potato & Coconut Soup with Thai Pesto (p. 16)
I also made a second soup from Harvest, the more exotic Sweet Potato & Coconut Soup with Thai Pesto (p. 16) by Ross Dobson. Since I knew it would likely only be packed for my mom’s lunches during the week, I stirred the modified pesto (I had no fish sauce or basil, so used tamari, chives and mint as well as a hint of shredded coconut) into the puree instead of dolloping it on top. Even without having the Thai curry paste (I used a pinch-hitter of Sriracha, garlic and ginger), this recipe was the epitome of all the things Thai food is known for – a perfect marriage of flavour, texture and heat. While the puree itself, made with local sweet potatoes, red onion and coconut milk, is mild and sweet, akin to a typical Asian pumpkin soup, the pesto utilizes green chile peppers and if eaten alone (especially without prior warning) is a painfully nuclear concoction, albeit delicious pain. Together, though, the sweet and spicy aspects of the recipe, paired with a delicate sourness from the pesto’s lime, meld into a stick-to-your-ribs whole that is neither too sugary not mind-blowingly hot. The benefit of keeping the pesto separate when cooking this for the family is that everyone can then adjust the spice level to their own preference. Most children will leave their bowls unadorned, but those with a passion for heat will be adding tablespoons. I did have to add another can’s worth of water to get the soup to a spoonable consistency and used half and half toasted sesame and coconut oil for the initial sauté. It’s not a recipe for those with a limited pantry or grocery availability, and if you aren’t sure you like Thai (or generally Asian) food, chances are you’ll pass on this one. However, for the fans of the Orient, it’s a delicious way to bring a taste of Asia to the table.

Probably the biggest hit of the book with my taste testers were the Mini Chocolate, Beet & Cherry Cakes (p. 33) by Sarah Randell. I’ve long been a fan of beets and chocolate together, and by adding home-dried sour cherries to the mix I was sure the flavours would be stellar. Even after veganizing it with a slurry of ground flaxseed and hot coffee in place of the eggs, using whole wheat pastry flour and a combination of pureed raspberries and beets for half the oil, the giant muffins I made (in lieu of buying mini loaf pans) were moist, decadent and were snatched up in minutes. None of the tasters believed that there was anything healthy about them, much less that the star ingredient was beets! The bittersweet chocolate in the recipe, along with the cocoa powder, add a touch of “grown up” flair to a dessert commonly associated with the younger crowd, and I’d be hard pressed to find a child who would pass up a taste!

Mini Chocolate, Beet & Cherry Cakes (p. 33)

If you’re passionate about tasting the best of the backyard, or trying something new at the farmer’s market, Home-Grown Harvest is worth taking a look at. No matter what your palate, your season or your family dynamics, something is sure to catch your eye and deliver on it’s promise of full bodied wholesome flavour. It is gorgeous enough to share space on the coffee table, useful enough for the kitchen library, and a wealth of inspiration for entire years to come. 

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