Reviewed by Antonella Townsend
At its simplest, the act of cooking is an act of love;
an act of indulging those you love with something delicious.
The above is a quote from the introduction of Matt Preston’s latest cookbook – More, which is all about vegetables, nuts and grains. He promotes vegetarianism without the finger wagging ‘end of days, if we don’t change our ways’ sermon. And, to prove it, he has included a ‘Meat Appendix’. It is, he says, a book about happiness with the motto of ‘NO SACRIFICE’. So with those two enticing words, my objectivity flies out of the window. But best to let the recipes do the talking.
Firstly, the presentation is of the highest quality, clearly set out with beautiful photographs in a 21.2 cm x 27 cm paperback.
Usefully, Matt starts with a one-page list ‘My Vegetarian Pantry’, although this is not listed in the Contents. Given that I have not seen Puy lentils in the supermarket, and I have no idea about Farro, Freekeh, and Za’ataran, explanations of what and where to buy would be a good inclusion on this page for the average home cook.
A page entitled D.F.V., a new acronym standing for Dirty, Filthy, Vegetarian, immediately follows! This turns out to be a list of ‘decadent, naughty and overall just so damned good’ recipe titles with page numbers where they can be found. Clearly, this is going to be the starting point to sampling Matt’s wares; hard to resist recipes such as: ‘Decadent brie, leek and almond honey pie’.
The recipes start with ‘Salads’. Not meager side dishes that give a brief nod to healthy eating usually ignored. These salad recipes are main events. My pick is the ‘Avocado and friends’, with chilli butter roast corn. The ‘San choi bao for Buddha’ – really, who comes up with these titles? Not sure Buddha would approve, there are some expensive ingredients in this dish – snow peas, fresh lychees, chestnuts and macadamias are among the sixteen odd ingredients. Matt gives some history on each dish and San choi bao’s makes interesting reading (p.17). Dressings make a salad and there are some really original ones here, such as ‘Pomegranate and orange’ served with the ‘Ancient grain salad version 22.0’ and ‘Creamy green goddess dressing’ really enlivens an otherwise mundane green salad. Some recipes feature tofu and haloumi, not my favourite ingredients but ‘Grilled plums with milky haloumi and rocket’ did look enticing. This section also includes nine lunch box salads, portable and healthy.
Matt introduces the section ‘Blessed Bowls’ with ‘I have a sneaking suspicion that the whole bowl thing might be over …’, however, he includes it on the behest of the publisher who is a fan. Personally, I agree with Matt, and ho hummed through nine recipes, before arriving at four new takes on hummus: ‘Smokey sweet potato’, ‘Roast onion’, ‘Green hummus’ and ‘Chickpea hummus with pickled red cabbage’ – very exciting, so easy, so tasty!
If I’m honest, I was also a bit ho hum about the chapter ‘Barbeque’. There are some interesting recipes – ‘Grilled snow pea sandwiches with ricotta butter & lemon’ – keen bbq-ers will love this section.
The ‘Pasta, noodles & rice’ section has a great recipes, with really interesting histories. ‘Leek carbonara with strozzapreti (aka priest strangler pasta)’, this dish is made rich with six egg yolks. And:
“FOOD NERD FACT: STROZZAPRETTI, MEANING PRIEST STRANGLER, WAS GIVEN ITS NAME BY ITALIAN PEASANTS AS A BITING COMMENT ON THE GREED OF SOME OF THE ITALIAN CLERGY.”
There are twenty-three recipes in this section and I intend to try most of them, and can report delicious success with ‘Pumpkin and sage cannelloni’ and ‘Mushroom stroganoff with parley-flecked noodles’. The latter suggests using different types of mushrooms such as chestnut, button, Swiss brown and Portobello, which would be wonderful, however, I only used fresh field mushroom, due to availability and cost, with excellent result.
‘Bakes’ – ‘The oven is the Harry Potter of kitchen equipment making magic happen…’ Matt’s magic includes ideas like: ‘Dadaist sausage rolls for Barry Humphries’ inspired by an hour-long radio conversation with Barry Humphries. The pre-recipe history of this dish makes fun reading; of course, it does not contain any meat, rather cottage cheese and walnuts. I can testify to the glory of ‘The creamiest coddled egg’. Oh my, words fail me, so good! This section also features ‘Puff pastry hand pies’, which includes: ‘Creamy artichoke & fennel hand pie’, ‘Caprese hand pies and ‘Samosa’, all made with store bought puff pastry. They all look very appealing and will be on my ‘To Do’ list. There are some twenty-two odd recipes, plus four new gourmet pizzas in this section. Five of the recipes from the D.F.V. list are detailed here.
‘Tray bakes’ and ‘Braised & fried’ make up the remaining chapters, followed by the ‘Meat appendix’. Some of the best kept for last appear in ‘Braised & fried’. I did not have much luck with ‘Parsnip & date falafels for the Damascus road trip’; although tasty they were a bit too gooey in the middle and took me a tad (much) longer to prepare than the advertised twenty minutes. The end of this section gets exotic with some lovely curries – Thai and Indian, plus ‘Easy African peanut & sweet potato stew’.
The meat appendix instructs how to best cook each type of meat, and includes a few recipes.
In More, Matt Preston has created recipes that guarantee vegetables will shine. In fact they are positively radiant!
By Matt Preston
Pan Macmillan Australia
Paperback – ISBN: 9781760781828