I’m continuing my trawl through the reserve collection.This claims to be a “vegetarian” cookbook, although a few of the recipes include fish or shellfish. It is definitely not the 70s/early 80s style of vegetarian cooking with lots of wholewheat stodge and mushy lentils. Like Nadine Abensur’s, Annie Bell’s dishes are creative and elegant, letting the flavours of fresh vegetables shine. This book is clearly geared towards entertaining, as it’s organised as a series of seasonal menus, most involving five or six dishes.
Not that this is a criticism. Her philosophy of vegetarian cooking is that rather than having a “main” ingredient (a chunk of protein) and some side dishes, a meal can be composed of a harmonious selection of smaller dishes. It’s a philosophy I like, even though it’s more work, so is likely to happen only on special occasions.
I haven’t cooked any complete menu from this book, but I have bookmarked a number of recipes. Actually, in true neglected cookbook style I hadn’t cooked anything at all from it till today, when I decided to try the cardamom rice with prunes.
Rice pudding and stewed prunes … hmm, sounds like British canteen fare. Happily, it is not. I’ve always liked rice pudding, although I do normally prefer to eat it hot, with jam or maple syrup. The cardamom makes this version decidedly un-English. The prunes are not an unappetising brown mush, but whole pruneaux d’Agen simmered in an Armagnac-laced syrup with cinnamon and vanilla. If I’d done the whole menu, I would also have served spaghetti marrow and vermicelli with watercress cream, cannelloni omelettes filled with spinach and gruyère, with a tomato sauce aux fines herbes, and a green salad with avocado and toasted walnuts. You can tell she used to run a restaurant.
Anyway, here’s my version of the rice. It turned out a bit runny, and over-sweet to my taste, so I’ve adjusted the quantities slightly to reflect this. It was very nice cold, with the prunes making an attractive colour contrast. And of course it can all be prepared hours in advance — fortunately, since the rest of the menu seems to involve an awful lot of last-minute frying, pasta cooking, and salad dressing. The recipe seems long, but really it’s very simple and not time-consuming. I’ll definitely keep this book because even if the complete menus are too much work there are a lot of small, stylish dishes. It’s out of print — so if you want to give it a try you can buy it for a penny on Amazon!