Savour the seasons in your kitchen
April Bloomfield is obsessive about the tiny aspects of cooking that turn everyday meals into joy on a plate
Stewed courgettes with basil, a dish from April Bloomfield’s new recipe book.
Almost 60 years ago, when the first edition of her book Summer Cooking was published, Elizabeth David wrote that summertime food should offer “something fresh, which provides at the same time a change, a new outlook . . .”
A change. A new outlook. This is the secret of cooking in the summer months; the fact that it gives us the best chance to change our diet, to make it more healthful.
The ingredients that flow into the farmers’ markets are the prompts that can direct us away from processed foods, and towards fresh foods.
Those fresh courgettes and broad beans and the early potatoes and a fillet of mackerel are the sources that can seduce us to the goodness, the simplicity and the healthfulness of fresh foods.
Summer offers us the chance to change, but it also offers us the means by which to make changing your diet a simple thing rather than a struggle.
What David wanted to offer her readers were “dishes which bring some savour of the garden, the fields, the sea into the kitchen; it means catching the opportunity of eating fresh food freshly cooked”.
Summer cooking might easily be called “Seize the Day”. We have already passed through that fleeting window when asparagus was at its green-grassy best. No matter. As the great chef April Bloomfield writes in her thrilling new book, A Girl and her Greens: “Vegetables make you happy when they’re there, and you miss them when they’re gone.”
Bloomfield is a Brummy woman who was reared on fishfinger sandwiches and “godawful Brussels sprouts, which at the time I just loved, boiled to buggery in a pressure cooker”. She wanted to be a policewoman but, aged 16, she handed in her application form too late, and had to settle for catering college.
Her new book might surprise many people who associate Bloomfield with recipes such as roasted sheep’s head, sausage-stuffed onions, and, in particular, the legendary hamburgers served in The Spotted Pig, the NYC gastropub that made her a superstar in the US.
Bloomfield has moved fast since The Spotted Pig made her famous, 10 years ago. Today her restaurants, run with her business partner, Ken Friedman, span the coasts: there is a San Francisco restaurant, Tosca, in addition to The Breslin, and John Dory, and Taco, and Salvation Taco restaurants. In 2014 she won the James Beard Award for best chef in New York.
But to read, and to cook from, her new book is to meet a girl who brings the warmth of her unprepossessing youth into her food, combined with a fastidious attention to detail.
Bloomfield is one of the world’s most acclaimed chefs for a simple reason: she is obsessive about the tiny aspects of cooking that turn everyday cooking into joy on a plate.
Look at how she talks about the recipe “Stewed Courgettes with Basil”, the dish that is going to make every courgette in your garden into a summer superstar. She was served the courgettes in Rome, as a complimentary snack with a pot of tea, and immediately realised that it was “just about the best thing in the world”.
Excuse me? Stewed courgette? Stewed vegetables? In 2015?
The secret lies in having medium-sized courgettes, and in cutting them on a 45 degree diagonal.
“Cutting the courgettes into pieces with especially sharp edges means most stay whole, but some break down and coat the others.” After you have cooked the sliced courgettes and garlic for about 10 minutes, she advises: “Now, take a listen: if you hear the courgette frying in oil rather than simmering in a little liquid, then add 2 tablespoons of water.”
Now, when did someone last suggest that you “take a listen” to the courgettes stewing in the pan?
That’s the level of attention that sets Bloomfield apart, and her book will take you by the hand for the whole of the summer, creating precise, simple and delicious dishes with the fresh foods of the season. April Bloomfield will give you a new outlook.
A Girl and her Greens by April Bloomfield is published by Canongate.
John McKenna is the author of Where to Eat and Stay on the Wild Atlantic Way.