By Richard Leong
NEW YORK, Aug 6 (Reuters) - British chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall says vegetables shouldn't get second billing to meat and fish and plays up their versatility, flavors and health benefits in his book, "River Cottage Veg."
The American edition of the British best-selling cookbook is full of vegetarian and vegan recipes for salads, soups and entrees that he promises will satisfy any meat-eater's palate.
The 48-year-old celebrity chef spoke to Reuters about his passion for vegetables and the secret of how to make children eat more vegetables.
Q: Why did you write this book?
A: As a younger chef, I was more gung-ho about meat and wrote very passionately about meat. If we eat a little less of it, then we could concentrate on the quality of it and take an approach to make sure we don't waste any of it. It's a very precious food.
One of the ways we value eating meat is to eat more vegetables. Then we will have a daily cooking vernacular that makes meat and fish extra special when we wheel them out. Of course, many of these dishes go great as a serving besides meat. But they don't have to be the also-rans. They could have equal billing. They could have top billing or have sole billing.
Q: So people should eat more vegetables regardless whether or not they are vegetarians?
A: We know it's good for our health. It's not only good for us. It's good for the planet. We just have to make vegetables just delicious. We can't wag our fingers and stand on our soap box. We just have to make them lovely to eat. With the farmers market movement and farm-to-table restaurants, there is a certain amount of trickle down ... We just need to make them really accessible to the home cooks as well. Eating good fish, eating good meats, that's great, but we have to get people as excited, if not more excited, about vegetables. They should underpin all our cooking.
Q: What are your tips for making vegetables more exciting?
A: For the regular cooking sessions, just put the meat and fish on one side and just concentrate on maximizing on what you get from veg ... Then, doing things like grilling, barbecuing and caramelizing to get the flavors going, to get the contrast going. We do these things as second nature when we cook meat and fish. It should be something we should be doing for vegetables too.
Q: Any advice about feeding more vegetables to children?
A: The tip is a little bit of garlic. It's like catnip for kids. Maybe a little bit of butter. Maybe a dash of olive oil. It works for carrots, peas and beans. It gives that savory edge that everyone loves and works with the natural sweetness of the greens. The thing we do with meat is that we spice it a lot. We use herbs. We want to aromatize it. We want to make it sophisticated. All that we could do with veg too.
Baby Beet Tarte Tatin (serves 4)
8 ounces /250g rough puff pastry or all-butter puff pastry (ready-made)
A knob of butter
1 tablespoon canola or olive oil
2 teaspoons cider vinegar
2 teaspoons brown sugar
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
10 to 14 ounces /300 to 400g baby beets (the size of a golf ball or no bigger than a small apple), scrubbed and halved
For the vinaigrette
1 or 2 shallots or 3 or 4 green onions, trimmed and very finely chopped
1 teaspoon English mustard
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
1/4 cup /60ml canola oil
A pinch of sugar
A handful of parsley leaves, finely chopped
Preheat the oven to 375°F /190°C. Roll out the pastry on a lightly floured surface to a thickness of about 1/4 inch /5mm. Take an oven-proof frying pan (or a tarte tatin dish) roughly 8 inches /20cm in diameter, place it upside down on the pastry, and cut around it. Wrap the pastry disk and place it in the fridge.
Melt the butter with the oil in the frying pan (or tarte tatin dish). Add the cider vinegar, sugar and some salt and pepper, stir well, then add the halved beets and toss to coat. You want the beets to fill the pan snugly, so add a few more if you need to. Cover the pan with foil, transfer to the oven, and roast for 30 to 40 minutes, until the beets are tender.
Take the pan from the oven and rearrange the beet halves neatly, placing them cut side up. Lay the pastry disk over the beets, patting it down and tucking in the edges down the side of the pan. Return to the oven and bake for 20 minutes, until the pastry is fully puffed up and golden brown.
Leave the tarte to cool in its pan for about 15 minutes, then turn it out by putting a plate over the top and inverting it. Pour any juices left in the pan back over the beets.
Put the ingredients for the vinaigrette into a screw-topped jar, season well with salt and pepper, and shake to combine. Trickle over the tarte tatin and serve. (Editing by Patricia Reaney and Bill Trott)