Eating My Words with Jane and April

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I’ve always been guilty of going straight to the pictures. Whenever a book had that section of thick glossy pages in the center, I’d spend about a minute and a half trying to resist, and then flip hastily to the middle and pore over every picture and caption in detail. Then I’d go back to the beginning and start the book. While my mom and sister sat reading the New Yorker cover to cover, absorbing every essay and critique, I made a shameless beeline for the back page, and then worked through the magazine Hebrew-style, cartoon by cartoon, ending on the cover art. It’s no wonder I love cookbooks.

I tried reading Jane Eyre in high school—it was one of those books you were supposed to read. I picked up the plain, black hardback, probably a relic from the school library, its cover long since lost, and simply could not do it. The austerity of the book itself seemed to increase the grimness of Jane’s boarding school. Everything seemed grey: the dull British weather, the dismal bowls of porridge, the stern governesses… Reader, I gave up. I left Brontë in the dust for Nigella Lawson, whose gorgeous, glossy cookbook, How to Be a Domestic Goddess, was responsible for many a rainy Saturday afternoon spent fantasizing about dessert. I’d drag a stool into the pantry, where my mom kept her cookbook collection, take a stack of five, and set up camp in what we called the Rose Chair (huge, slightly dilapidated, and upholstered in cream and pink roses).

One night a few years later, I proved guilty of that age-old saying about books and their covers. I was organizing the shelves at our tiny town library (this was my high school job) and there it was—a small, pale pink book, edged in a delicate flower pattern with “Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë” etched across it in a lovely, elegant font. And like that, I was off—just as susceptible as the next girl to Mr. Rochester’s macabre charms, the sounds from the attic, and Jane’s enduring wit.

These days, I regularly check out cookbooks from the library 5 or 6 at a time. I take the few I own down from the shelf almost daily to look for inspiration, read up on various methods, or just peruse the pictures. (Still guilty, all these years later.)

My most recent acquisition is A Girl and her Greens, the sequel to April Bloomfield’s wildly successful A Girl and her Pig. My friend Hillary, who understands my incurable addiction to food, gave me the book for my birthday. I haven’t read it cover to cover, and have only made 3 recipes from it so far, but each one has been intuitive, easy, and delicious. If a cookbook has one truly useful recipe, the kind that inspires you beyond the dish itself, it’s a smash hit in my opinion, and completely worth owning. April’s recipes aren’t intimidating (in fact, I didn’t follow any of them to the letter, but still achieved what the dish set out to do). Her writing voice is honest, unpretentious, and and very British. She is the perfect guide to these last gorgeously abundant months of summer. Here are the three recipes from the book that I’ve tried so far:

Stewed Zucchini with Basil—my new favorite way to eat zucchini. (This is saying something, as I could easily eat it at every meal.) You brown some of the zucchini while simultaneously stewing the rest, and the basil and lemon brighten the zucchini flavor to its full potential.

Kale Puree—basically a very simple pesto, but you can use it for anything! Lately I’ve been spooning it on quinoa, which, let’s be honest, could use a little charisma.

Roasted Carrots—I didn’t have all the ingredients April calls for, but I used her method of roasting the carrots in garlic-infused butter, and that worked out just fine.

I’ve included the zucchini recipe, which will hopefully tempt you to buy the book and try the others! After making it about 5 times, I decided to use the stewed zucchini as a pasta sauce, along with some other odds and ends from the farmers market I needed to use up. Here’s what I came up with:

Farmers Market Pasta with Zuchinni, Fresh Corn, and Basil

(I couldn’t resist the buying herbed pappardelle—it’s thick, ribbon-like noodles looked like savory sashes and made the dish taste richer and last longer).

  • One batch of April Bloomfield’s stewed Zuchinni
  • 2 ears fresh corn
  • Basil (a heaping fistful)
  • Salt & Pepper
  • About 1/4 C finely grated parmesan cheese
  • Enough good pasta to feed 1 or 2 (I’m no expert on what type to use when, and usually decide based on what looks prettiest or what the guy at the farm stand recommends.)
  • 1 T butter
  1. Make April Bloomfield’s zuchinni (recipe below)
  2. Remove the kernels form 2 ears of fresh corn and set aside. Take a handful of basil leaves, roll them into the shape of a cigarette, and slice into thin ribbons.
  3. Bring a medium pot of generously salted water to boil. Cook pasta according to package specifications. Reserve about 1/4 a cup of the pasta water, and then drain.
  4. Add the pasta, pasta water, half the stewed zucchini, the basil, salt and pepper, and the corn back into the pot or a large serving bowl. Throw in a tablespoon of butter for good measure, and toss until the pasta is coated.
  5. I served the remaining zucchini on top of each pasta serving, as a garnish. Sprinkle with grated parmesan.

Stewed Zucchini with Basil (serves 4 as a side, 2 on pasta)

Adapted slightly from: April Bloomfield’s A Girl and her Greens: Hearty Meals from the Garden (Harper Collins,  2015).

  • 1 ½ lbs small zucchini, topped, tailed and halved lengthwise (Topped and tailed? How endearingly British can you get?!)
  • ¼ C Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • 5 Medium garlic cloves
  • 1 ½ t Maldon or another flaky sea salt
  • A generous 5-finger pinch of basil leaves, roughly chopped
  • 1 t lemon juice
  • ½ t finely grated lemon zest
  • A few dried pequin chiles, crumbled, or pinches of red pepper flakes (optional—I left them out)

Chop the zucchini into 1 or ¾ inch cubes.

Use a medium-sized pot (one with sides high enough to hold the zucchini snugly in 2 layers—I used a standard 8 inch cast iron skillet). Heat the oil over high heat until it lightly smokes. Add all the zuchinni, carve out a little space in the center of the pan, and add the garlic. Don’t stir just yet. Cook until the garlic is golden and the zuchinni pieces on the bottom are golden brown, about 3-5 minutes. Have a good stir.

Sprinkle on ½ teaspoon of the salt, reduce heat to medium-low, and cover. Cook, stirring occasionally for 5 minutes or so. Listen carefully—if you hear the zucchini frying in oil rather than simmering in a little liquid, then add two tablespoons of water. Cover again and cook, stirring occasionally, until some of the zucchini pieces are tender but not mushy and some are nearly tender, 3 to 5 minutes more.

Stir in the remaining 1 teaspoon of salt and the basil. Cook, without the lid, and every 30 seconds or so use a sturdy whisk or wooden spoon to very roughly stir and strike the zucchini. Not to smash the pieces but just to knock off some of the points that have gotten soft. Keep at it until some of the softer pieces have broken down and turned creamy and the other pieces are tender with a slight bite, about 3 minutes. Stir in the lemon juice, zest, chiles and more salt if you fancy (I do.) Eat straightaway.

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Try it and tell me what you think. Happy cooking!

Xo,

Grace

Comments

  1. Sabine says

    Awsome Grace. I so enjoyed your talents at your sisters wedding. How talented you are with your very own graceful style. walk on with those wonderful abilities of yours in the alley of beauty. Thanks for sharing this blog.
    alles Gute , Sabine

  2. Mark says

    Hi Grace
    Your father told me about this blog today and I was happy to see you mention the library!
    Beautiful pictures and tantalizing recipes. Can’t wait to try some. You often do, but always feel welcome to stop into the library when you come back to the Berkshires!

    • Grace Mendel says

      Hi Mark,

      I’m so glad you stumbled across my blog. I have the fondest memories of my time at the library and will always come and visit whenever I’m in town! Thank you for reading!

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