Gather by Gill Meller
It takes something quite special these days to earn space on our already-laden kitchen bookshelves, but we happily cleared some for Gill Meller’s wonderful Gather.
Meller, who earned his stripes as head chef at the River Cottage, has produced something that is more than a cookbook, this is a love letter to the Dorset landscape and the abundance of its hedgerows, orchards, fields and beaches. It is a call to slow things down, to savour and delight in the food that is available through the changing seasons – from wild garlic, seaweed and nettles to mushrooms, cobnuts and crab apples. He puts together combinations that are revelatory; initially startling pairings – gooseberries with oysters, crab with loganberries – make sense on a deep level, married as they are by the rhythm of the seasons.
The photography is stunning – of the recipes themselves as well as the Dorset countryside in all its wild beauty – and Meller’s understanding of the landscape, of nature, of what it is to feed oneself and others, shines through in his descriptive, almost poetic, introductions. Above all, Gather tempted us into the kitchen to try these recipes – chocolate rye brownies with bay and almonds; brill with sorrel sauce – that manage to be earthy and honest, yet always modern.
Roast tomatoes on toast with tarragon & thyme
"I like the idea that something could become bigger, bolder, fuller and more intense as it withers, contracts, softens and breaks – it seems a great irony. This is exactly what happens when you slowly cook sweet, ripe tomatoes in a warm oven. They intensify, exaggerating everything that’s already there: colour, sugar, complexity. The heat caramelizes them, but also brings a trace of bitterness. Tarragon, with its intense, aniseed flavour, is the most amazing herb to use with tomatoes, so I don’t hold back – it gently perfumes the tomatoes during cooking."
About 700g (1lb 9oz) ripe, heritage tomatoes – mixed sizes, colours and shapes
16 garlic cloves, peeled
1 bunch of tarragon
4 or 5 thyme sprigs
3–4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
4 slices rustic bread, or sourdough
salt and freshly ground black pepper
Heat the oven to 140–150°C/275–300°F/gas mark 1–2.
To prepare your tomatoes, cut any larger ones into quarters or eighths and a handful of the smaller tomatoes in half. Place these on a baking tray, cut side up. Leave the rest of the tomatoes whole and scatter them onto the baking tray, too. Tuck the whole garlic cloves between the tomatoes.
Prepare the herbs by leaving any tender stems whole, and picking the leaves of any tougher ones. Discard the tough stems and then scatter the tender stems and picked leaves over the tomatoes. Drizzle over the olive oil and season well with salt and pepper.
Place the baking tray in the oven and roast for 1½–2 hours, until the tomatoes are collapsed and caramelized. When the tomatoes are ready, remove them from the oven and allow them to cool for a few minutes while you toast the bread.
Spoon the soft tomatoes on to the toast, along with a few garlic cloves, any roasting juices and lots of the crispy herbs, and serve straight away.
Pickled mussels with radishes, toasted coriander & apples
"There is something of Normandy in this fresh salad: a bicycle ride down the Route du Cidre; a peppery-pink radish with delightfully fresh, cold butter; a bowl of plump, yellow wild mussels, cooked in cream on some beach off Gouville-sur-Mer. It’s almost like you taste it in French. This dish is about perfectly cooked mussels, sweet, crunchy apple, and the acidity of good cider vinegar – and how they all play out when they get together. I love the orangey air that toasted coriander seed brings to the delicate pickle – it’s well worth a try. You can prepare the mussels the day before, but I like them best once they have cooled and before they see the fridge."
2 bay leaves
2 thyme sprigs
500g (1lb 2oz) mussels, cleaned
1 tablespoon good-quality cider vinegar
½ teaspoon golden caster sugar
2 teaspoons small coriander seeds, toasted
1 dessert apple
4–6 firm radishes, with tops, if available
salt and freshly ground black pepper
Place a large pan over a high heat. Add 100ml (3½fl oz) water, the bay leaves and thyme sprigs. When the water is boiling hard, tip in the mussels and place a close-fitting lid on the pan. Cook, shaking the pan once or twice, for 1–2 minutes, or until the mussel shells are all just open. Turn off the heat, then drain the mussels into a colander set over a bowl to catch the cooking liquor. Discard any mussels that haven’t opened up.
When the mussels are cool enough to handle, remove the meat from the shells and place it in a bowl, reserving the drained cooking liquor. Add the cider vinegar, sugar, coriander seeds and 2 tablespoons of the cooking liquor to the mussel meat, stir through, then season with a little salt and pepper.
To serve, quarter and core the apple and then cut each quarter into 2 or 3 wedges. Divide the apple pieces roughly between two plates. Slice the radish into 2–3mm (1⁄16–⅛in) rounds and scatter them over the apple, along with any radish top leaves, if available. Finally, spoon over the mussels along with plenty of their coriander-spiked dressing, and serve immediately. Works well made with razor clams.