new urban farmer (pea + feta egg cups)
I am always on the lookout for tasty meat-free options to balance out my largely carnivorous diet with more green, so when Quadrille Publishing offered review copies of Celia Brooks Brown‘s “New Urban Farmer, From Plot to Plate: A Year on the Allotment” fresh off the press, I leapt at the chance. I couldn’t be in better hands for my first foray into the world of vegetarian cookbooks – Brooks Brown has penned six others of this genre, with this new addition being her seventh. Calling her latest offering a mere cookbook would be misleading, yes it may boast over 60 recipes, but as the title suggests it is also a handy little guide to growing your own, peppered with tales of her joys, frustrations, triumphs and failures over the course of one year in her North London allotment.
Celia gives tips on cultivating your own edible plants (toilet rolls and egg boxes make effective biodegradable sowing pots) and shares her lessons learned (use proper seed potatoes – eating potatoes smuggled from Tenerife won’t grow!) to help set you on the path to becoming an urban gardener – even if it’s out of pots, grow bags and window boxes. Written in the style of a journal, the book is sectioned into seasons and months, with details on when and what you should sow, harvest and eat (with corresponding recipes). No doubt this book is geared towards those wanting to get down in the dirt with some seeds and a shovel, but it does still provide an interesting read for those, like myself, who do not possess green fingers (I can just about keep my herb pots alive).
That being said, you definitely do not need a deft hand in the garden to enjoy the recipes featured in this book, all of which are highly accessible and quick enough to throw together for a weekday meal (if there is one gripe though, it is that they may be a little too basic – more suitable for home cooking than entertaining). The pretty Pea and Feta Egg Cups took minutes to make (Celia was not kidding when she said they “can practically be thrown together with your eyes closed”) and the soothing Saffron Rice Broth with Late Winter Greens did not take much longer. Simple doesn’t mean boring however, the exciting Spiced Cornmeal-Crusted Squash Blossoms and Smoked Aubergine Salad, bursting with zesty Thai-inspired flavours. There are some tempting desserts thrown in too, although the Apple and Thyme Tart with Boozy Toffee I tried was disappointingly bland, lacked the caramelisation of a good apple tart should have and didn’t really do justice to the great combination of apples, calvados and thyme.
Celia Brooks Brown is a great story-teller and writes in a chatty and engaging manner, and I found “New Urban Farmer” thoroughly enjoyable. It has even inspired me to perhaps venture into growing fruit and vegetables on our communal roof terrace this Spring…although, given my track record maybe I should just stick to my trusty basil, mint and thyme.
Pea and Feta Egg Cups
2 spring onions, chopped
200g fresh peas*, shelled
3 large eggs, beaten
75g feta cheese, crumbled
2 tbsp single cream
handful of fresh mint leaves, chopped
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
unsalted butter (for greasing)
Preheat the oven to 200°C (400°F).
Combine all the ingredients in a bowl or pouring jug and mix well.
Grease a 6-hole muffin tin with some butter, then pour the mixture into the holes, filling to just below the top edge to allow for expansion.
Bake for 15-20 minutes in the preheated oven, until puffed and golden.
Serve hot with a freshly tossed salad and slices of crusty baguette. They can also be kept in the fridge and eaten cold as a snack the next day.
* you can also use frozen peas – just run them under a hot tap to defrost them first.
Many thanks to Quadrille Publishing for kindly providing the review copy and allowing reproduction of the recipe above.