The Little Vegetable Books

Pheasant and puy lentils

The Little Vegetable Books

I really enjoy writing these little veg books because of the research I have to do and the discoveries I make about the vegetables. For instance Kale, my latest book really is the quintessential Scottish vegetable. Church bells in Edinburgh were named after it, as when they chimed at noon it was the signal for working people to go for their midday meal – probably of kale! The mothers of the children in Glasgow and Edinburgh tenements would call out to their bairns “ Come in for your Kale” meaning their meal and of course inevitably it would contain Kail or cabbage of some sort in a hearty broth, You got meat if you were lucky! Kale is the great vegetable which in the middle of January, in a snow drift and all else has failed in the garden it will be sticking up above the white carpet, its green black or red leaves glinting in the watery winter sun. Kale is obviously ubiquitous across Europe as the same plant has so many names; for instance the marketing boys got on the Cavolo Nero bandwagon pretty quick and this lovely almost black leaved kale sells for a premium in London delis Or try Lacianto or even Dinosaur its all the same, simply Black kale!

Since the first book Beetroot the process has simplified, I choose a vegetable usually after much discussion with friends and then in the winter early spring set to on the research and writing. Then comes the photographs and I am so lucky having Caroline as my wife as her food images just bring my simple food alive. People say that the picture makes you want to reach in to the books and pick up a piece of what ever it is. Others say it just makes them want to go straight into the kitchen and have a go. We try to do 4 or 5 in a shoot and Caroline uses only natural light and we are lucky where we are as her studio has large south facing windows and on good days we even go outside! The variety of back drop is important but the main ingredient is her skill at capturing the right angle and composition. It’s a lot of fun!

Whatever your reaction I am just delighted that more people are being a bit more adventurous with their vegetables. The recipes are not designed to be closed but to open up your imaginations to remembered flavours and to experiment. Once you have a technique or two then you can go ahead and experiment, what’s the worst that can happen? You make soup!! The important thing is to understand the seasons buy fresh and locally and get into that kitchen, and share some good food. I don’t really have a favourite but here is a seasonal idea – with pheasant! Here is the recipe!

BRAISED PHEASANT BREAST WITH KALE AND PUY LENTILS
Kale is really good with big flavours and provides colour in what might otherwise be a dull-looking dish.
INGREDIENTS
200g puy lentils
2 tsp vegetable oil
4 pheasant breasts
2 tsp butter
1 onion peeled and finely chopped
2 cloves garlic peeled and crushed
2 sticks celery, cut to a small dice
2 medium carrots, cut to a small dice
200g kale roughly chopped
½ tsp Hebridean salt
Freshly ground black pepper

METHOD
1 Rinse the lentils in cold water and then place in a pan and cover with water bring to the boil and simmer for 10 minutes, drain and set aside.
2 Take a liddable pan and set it over a medium heat and add the oil. Dry the pheasant breasts on kitchen paper and brown on both sides, raising the heat as needed; remove and set aside.
3 Lower the heat, add the butter and the chopped onion, sweat gently to colour a little and then stir in the garlic, celery and carrots, add the lentils and water, enough to cover. Place the pheasant on top and cover. Cook gently until the water almost evaporates.
4 Take out the pheasant; stir in the kale to wilt, and cook for a few minutes. Season with a little salt and pepper. Serve with the pheasant on top.

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