Carnivore Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall veges his bets with new vegan cookbook
Chef and TV personality Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall is on a bit of a crusade – just for a change. He tells Georgia Humphreys how he hopes his latest cookbook – Much More Veg – will inspire more people to become less dependent on meat
IN CASE you didn't realise by now, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall really, really wants us to eat more vegetables. The 52-year-old chef and TV personality has made a career out of committing to seasonal, ethically produced food, and is best known for hosting Channel 4 series River Cottage, which documents his efforts to become a self-reliant farmer in rural England.
His TV ventures have led to huge campaigns aimed at reducing food waste and changing EU fishing policies, and also the publication of several cookbooks, including his hugely successful first vegetarian cookbook, River Cottage Veg Every Day back in 2011, which set out to make plants more appealing.
Now Hugh's back with Much More Veg and a selection of new recipes dedicated to inspiring people to become less dependent on meat – but this veg book is also vegan to boot.
"It was so close to being vegan anyway, and I thought, actually, the most inclusive form of cooking is vegan cooking," he says, "especially as I was already talking about vegetables in their unadulterated form – making the best out of all our plant ingredients. It would have been a bit bonkers for it not to have been a vegan book. But of course, it's for everybody."
Hugh says he finds the huge rise of veganism among young people really exciting, explaining, "it has to be the direction of travel". But you have to ask, if Hugh himself is still a carnivore – which he certainly is – does he truly think you can make plant-based meals as delicious as ones that contain meat?
"We know how easy it is to make meat delicious – you put salt and pepper on it and you put it in a frying pan and the caramel flavours are delicious. The problem with veg, for so long," he muses, "is we've steamed it and boiled it and we haven't done enough. With veg, we can caramelise the edges, we can add a little spice, we can use amazing, funky dressings – all those things will bring up the natural flavours of vegetables, which incidentally, are already pretty tasty."
Hugh acknowledges that a lot of people set to buy the book are likely to be omnivores, which is perhaps why the book's 'meatiest' chapter, in terms of volume, is the one concerning tapas, mezze and side dishes. Think spiced cabbage with sunflower seeds and wine-baked mushrooms that have been given a "little tweak" for some edge.
"You want to put a barbecued chop next to one of these recipes? I'm a carnivore, I'm not going to hold that against you," he jokes. "But I didn't see any need to put the chop in the book, because I've covered a lot of ground in meat and fish [previously].
"What people need more help with is making vegetables delicious. Because they have to compete in the end; we have to make them super tasty for people to want them, not just virtuous, and we need to make them tasty raw, tasty cooked, tasty fried, tasty roasted."
To keeps costs down, cooking from scratch is the best option, in Hugh's view.
"If you've got no interest in cooking and you want to eat, as many people do these days, essentially by choosing ready-to-eat food – whether it's ready meals in the shop or takeaways, or combinations thereof, and nothing is cooked from fresh – then yeah, it's quite hard," says Hugh, considering the costs involved with rising food prices and relying on packaged meals.
"But if you're prepared to cook from scratch then fresh fruit and veg – in their raw form – are not especially expensive. And if you're prepared to spend a little time in the kitchen, just chop up a load of vegetables and pop them in the oven with a little bit of salt and pepper and some spices, if you've got them, that is a very easy win."
:: River Cottage Much More Veg by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall is published by Bloomsbury, priced £26. Photography by Simon Wheeler. We've included two tasty recipes from the book for you to try at home.
PEPPER, POTATO AND CHARD STEW
2tbsp olive or rapeseed oil
1tsp cumin seeds
1 large onion, quartered and thinly sliced
1 large (or 2 small) red pepper(s) (about 250g in total)
500g new, waxy or salad potatoes, scrubbed
2 garlic cloves, finely grated or crushed
2 x 400g tins tomatoes
A large pinch of saffron strands
1/2tsp hot smoked paprika
Juice of 1/2 small lemon, or to taste
Sea salt and black pepper
30g toasted flaked almonds
A handful of coriander leaves
Extra virgin olive
Place a large flameproof casserole or small stockpot over a medium heat and add the oil. When it's hot, add the cumin seeds and let them sizzle for a minute or two. Add the onion with a pinch of salt, stir well, then cover and lower the heat. Let the onion sweat, stirring once or twice, for about 10 minutes.
In the meantime, quarter, deseed and thinly slice the pepper(s). Separate the chard stalks and leaves and cut both into 1cm thick slices. Cut the potatoes into bite-sized chunks. When the onion is nice and soft, stir in the garlic, then add the red pepper, chard stalks and potatoes. Replace the lid and cook gently for about 20 minutes until the pepper is softened, stirring now and again to ensure nothing sticks and burns.
Add the tomatoes with their juice, crushing them with your hands as you do so. Add the saffron, smoked paprika, sugar and some more salt and pepper and stir well. Simmer gently, uncovered, for about 15 minutes, until the potatoes are tender, stirring regularly.
Toss in the chard leaves, cover the pan and cook for another five minutes, or until they have wilted. Stir the leaves into the stew. Take off the heat. Add the lemon juice, then taste and adjust seasoning as necessary, with more salt, pepper and/or lemon. Serve scattered with the toasted almonds and coriander and a trickle of extra virgin oil.
ROAST SQUASH AND APPLE WITH RAW SPROUTS
About 1kg squash, such as a medium butternut or acorn squash, or 1/2 Crown Prince
2tbsp olive or rapeseed oil
4-5 bay leaves, roughly torn
2 sprigs of rosemary, roughly torn
A small handful of sage leaves, roughly torn (optional)
1tsp fennel seeds
A pinch of dried chilli flakes
About 175g Brussels sprouts
2 medium eating apples
25g sunflower seeds (or other seeds of your choice)
Sea salt and black pepper
For the dressing:
2tbsp extra virgin olive or rapeseed oil
2tsp English mustard
1tbsp cider vinegar
Sea salt and black pepper
Preheat the oven to 200C/Fan 180C/Gas 6. Halve the squash and scoop out the seeds, but don't remove the peel. Cut into slim wedges, about 2cm wide at the outside edge, and place in a large roasting tray. Trickle over the oil then scatter over the herbs, fennel seeds, chilli flakes and some salt and pepper. Turn the pieces of squash over in the oil and seasonings, then place in the oven and roast for about 30 minutes until tender and nicely browned in places.
Meanwhile, combine all the ingredients for the dressing in a large bowl, adding salt and pepper to taste. Trim the sprouts and remove any damaged or dirty outer leaves then slice very thinly. Add them to the bowl of dressing and mix well, breaking up the layers of sprout a bit as you go.
Core and quarter the apples, and cut each quarter into two or three wedges (no need to peel). Set aside. When the squash is tender and starting to brown, add the apple wedges and stir them in with the squash and seasonings. Return to the oven for about 15 minutes or until the apples are tender but not broken down. Scatter the seeds over the veg and apple for the last few minutes of cooking, so they toast lightly. Spoon the dressed sprouts over the hot squash and apple wedges, then serve.