|Hugh with a haircut|
Hugh appeared on the scene in the mid-1990s. He's an alumnus of the River Cafe, as is Jamie Oliver. At the time I had started to do some cookbook publishing and was keeping a close eye on the market. He was clearly original and eccentric - scruffy, oddly a bit posh and outspoken. Personally I wasn't interested in his style of carnivorous cooking, although I grudgingly admired his 'nose-to-tail' philosophy. A vegetarian's meat-eater.
Gradually, however, I became aware of him as an engaging TV personality who is devoted to organic husbandry, embraces a back-to-basics philosophy and rocks delicious, real food. And when this latest book arrived, I realised I was keen to discover Hugh's charms for myself.
He's had a haircut recently and on the cover looks like a scrubbed up boy who's having a school photo taken. He is quintessentially English. I can imagine him so clearly at an ancient public school: in the dorm, on the cricket pitch, shouting traditional school jokes in Latin, feeling a bit homesick on the train going back to school after half-term. And as it turns out, he did have a blue-blooded education: Eton and St Peters College, Oxford.
But while his views on food are unconventional and he is a campaigner, he is kind and agreeable and draws people in. His approach to food is open-hearted, ethical without seeming ideological.
But, of course, simple food grown naturally is terribly complicated and out-of-reach for most people. Watching Hugh, the bucolic beauty of his teeming garden seems so achievable - but try buying fresh baby peas or ethically reared pork in the supermarket.
Veg every day
The book is beautiful designed and the lovely pics have been lovingly styled (photography and styling by Simon Wheeler). I would be immensely proud if I had published this book!
Hugh states that he has not written a vegetarian cookbook (not a cube of tofu to be found within its pages), but his objective is to persuade us to eat more vegetables - 'perhaps even to make veg the mainstay of your daily cooking'.
Hear, hear. And the recipes are so enticing you're eager to get started.
Which brings me to Brussels sprouts. The world's most unloved vegetable. Difficult to cook. Smelly. But extremely nutritious, rich in vitamins and minerals, and respectable if handled well. I bought a bag at the markets last week in a burst of Hugh-style veg enthusiasm. A week later, they're still there.
In The Cook's Companion, Stephanie Alexander suggests that the best way to savour them is to boil them and serve hot with butter. Yum.
But that sounds like the accompaniment to a piece of roast meat. I need something I can keep in the fridge and heat up at work.
As I have become a convert to roast cauliflower, I thought I'd try roast Brussels sprouts - and Hugh has kindly supplied a recipe. He describes it is a dish 'to convert sprout shirkers'. See what you think.
Roasted Brussels sprouts with shallots
400 g Brussels sprouts, trimmed and halved (or whole if small, should you ever chance upon such a rarity)
350 g shallots or small onions, peeled, halved or quartered
3 tbs oil (I used extra virgin olive oil; Hugh always recommends rapeseed oil)
several sprigs of thyme (he's fond of thyme)
a squeeze of lemon juice
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Preheat the oven to 190 degrees C.
Put the sprouts and shallots in a large roasting dish. Trickle over the oil, season with salt and pepper and toss to coat. Tuck in the thyme sprigs.
Roast for about 35 mins, giving them a good stir about half-way through, until everything is a bit crispy, brown and caramalised.
Squeeze some lemon juice over the roasted sprouts, along with another sprinkling of fresh thyme if you like.
The verdict? Well, even though I just eaten lunch, I wanted to scoff the whole lot when I plated them up for the photo and squeezed lemon juice over them. Sweet, earthy, simple.
|Giving Brussels sprouts a little vegetable love|
Incidentally, in the intro to the show (love the show!), Hugh mentions his 'vegetable love'. This is a reference to a famous poem by Andrew Marvell, To His Coy Mistress:
My vegetable love should grow
Vaster than Empires, and more slow
It's another one of the touchpoints that seem so English boarding-school to me. It is an incongruous construction that has to be explained to English Lit students today. I find it easy to imagine 12 year-old Hugh sitting in a centuries-old classroom in a school that teaches Elizabethan poetry -- and being tickled by it.
Are you a sprouts shirker? Could Hugh entice you to sample more of the goodness of the garden? Tell me your favourite sprouts recipe, or your favourite eccentric English, poetry-declaiming cook in the comments.