Jessica Seaton's new book, Gather Cook Feast, celebrates the connection between the food that we eat and the land on which we live in over 120 simple, seasonal and nourishing recipes. It is our co-founder's first solo project and combines her love of food, cooking and landscape.
After Christmas, my daughter-in-law & her brother-in-law (my son) took over the kitchen for an evening. They get on well and are both really good cooks. Liberated, I lazed and dreamed to the soundtrack of their music and calm conversation, and sniffed with anticipation the fragrant & tangy smells that escaped the kitchen door. What pleasure!
The pleasure continued when we finally scraped our wooden chairs to the table to sit together and enjoy a fresh green bean curry, dhal and rice with pickles and sour raita. I think you can imagine what a welcome contrast this was to the food of the previous days. As we savoured the layers of flavour and spoke our admiration it was revealed, to my absolute amazement, that my daughter-in-law (who you remember is a very good cook) never, ever, tastes the food as she cooks. How can anyone produce good food without tasting and assessing as they go? Perhaps this is a credit to all recipe writers and their precision? Or perhaps luck, flying only by sight and smell? But what about the nature of varying ingredients? Climate? Personal choice? And all those other minute variables that affect taste?
Chastened, she now agrees on the need to taste at each stage, and assures us that when it comes to cocktails, she has always been a stickler.
This is a rich, dark cold weather soup, a tightrope of taste-balance between luscious warm mushroomy flavours and the caramel rigour of stout. Diligent tasting will balance the soup and its two strong pillars of flavour to stand together with ease and grace. To start, choose flavourful mushrooms and a sweet and dark stout that’s not too bitter (Mackeson works well), taste as you go, follow your instincts and emerge deeply nourished.
If you have time, making a homemade mushroom stock will add complexity, but a vegetable or chicken stock is also perfectly good (and quicker), especially when infused with a small handful of dried porcini mushrooms.
20g dried porcini
1 carrot, chopped
1 stick celery, chopped
1 red onion, chopped
small bunch parsley
2 sage leaves
2 bay leaves
2 sprigs thyme
2 garlic cloves, peeled
Put everything into a sturdy, lidded pan, bring to the boil, cover and simmer gently for 1 hour. Cool and strain through a kitchen paper lined sieve. Squeeze out the vegetables to express all the stock.
Save the 300ml of stock for the soup. Freeze the rest for other meals.
1 onion, chopped
4 small tomatoes, chopped
250g portobello or chestnut mushrooms, sliced
40g salted butter
1 tablespoon tomato puree
300ml mushroom stock (or vegetable or chicken stock)
250ml sweet, dark stout
1 tablespoon plain flour
1 bay leaf
3 tablespoon parsley, roughly chopped
sea salt and pepper
a few spoonfuls of crème fraiche and/or grated Parmesan to finish.
Serves 4 as a small bowl, 2-3 hungry people for supper
Melt the butter over a medium heat in a heavy pan and fry the mushrooms, turning often, until soft and golden. Then add the onion and sweat for 5-10 minutes more, until translucent. Finally add the tomatoes and cook for 5-10 more minutes until they are soft and fragrant. Season with salt and black pepper.
Then stir in the flour and cook gently for 2 minutes, before adding the bay leaf, stock, tomato puree and stout. Give it a good stir as you bring the soup back to a simmer. Continue to cook together for 10-15 minutes.
Taste the soup again to check the seasoning and adjust as needed. If the stout has left the soup too bitter, add a little knob of butter to soften.
Toss in the chopped parsley, allow it to soften, then ladle into bowls. Top with a spoonful of crème fraiche and a little more chopped parsley. Some finely grated Parmesan is also delicious. Serve hot with chunks of crusty.
Words by Jessica Seaton.
Personally signed copies of Jessica Seaton’s new book, Gather Cook Feast recently shortlisted for the André Simon Food & Drink Book Awards are available to buy online and in stores.