I have never wanted to cook all of the recipes in a single cookbook. Even a favorite like Simon Hopkinson’s “Roast Chicken and Other Stories” contain sections I wouldn’t go near. Who needs five recipes for calves’ brains, especially when their sale is outlawed in this country?
If I make 10 recipes from a cookbook and like eight of them, I think I’m doing exceptionally well. Is that a waste of money? Not to me. One good meal is worth the price of the book that a recipe or two helped produce.
That said, there is one book in my collection that I have returned to repeatedly. It is the “Avoca Café Cookbook,” written by Hugo Arnold with Leylie Hayes.
I picked it up several years ago after eating at the cafe, which is near the eastern coast of Ireland. Friends and I had gone there for lunch one day on our way to Dublin from the charming village of Bunclody. I had partied a bit heavily the night before, and my head and stomach were not cheered at the thought of food, to put it mildly. But one taste of how fresh everything was — and on a cold February day, no less — and I perked up a bit.
I was pleased to find a copy of the cafe’s cookbook for sale, one that included our weights and measurements in addition to metric. (That’s getting harder when you go abroad these days.)
Once home, I tried to recreate some of the magic I had tasted and found it in almost every soup recipe I tried. Green Bean and Coconut. Petit Pois and Mint. Spiced Lentil and Lemon. Each one quickly entered my repertoire of recipes that I have returned to.
I now have to have Baked Garlic and Onion Cream soup at least twice each winter. And I make Tomato, Celery and Apple soup year-round. Even one of the recipes that sounded a bit bizarre — Parsnip, Rosemary and Olive soup — proved a keeper once I had tasted it.
It wasn’t until I had made the 10th or 11th soup from the book that I realized all of the recipes in this section were vegetarian, which is not something I generally seek out. In fact, soup to me had always been something made with chicken stock, if not turkey stock or beef. I even have bacon stock in my pantry, which should not surprise anyone who knows me.
It was about the same time that I set a goal for myself that was similar to Julie Powell’s in “Julie & Julia.” I was going to make every soup recipe in the book. That’s 17 recipes, and I’ve hit 14 so far. It’s not the season for White Winter Vegetable soup, and I still haven’t seen too many turnips I want to cook.
But I have enjoyed the Cauliflower Cheese soup for its unbeatable mixture of onion, potato and cauliflower mixed with butter, half-and-half, cream and aged cheddar. Tomato, Lentil and Orange soup was bright and clean, as was Roasted Carrot and Red Pepper. Sweet Potato and Lemon Grass was soothing and gave me a good excuse to use some of the lemon grass in my backyard.
I have also tried a number of other recipes in the book, from Beef and Guinness Stew (the whole cookbook is not vegetarian) to a Mediterranean Tart with roasted vegetables. There’s plenty of margin room on each page to write notes on, which is great because some of the terms used in Ireland don’t always translate to our American soil. “Monkey nuts” are “peanuts,” and in the following recipe, “courgette” is “zucchini.”
This is a summer treat, especially for those with a garden full of zucchini.
1/2 ounce butter
1 onion, peeled and chopped
1 potato, peeled and chopped
3-4 cups vegetable stock
3 medium courgettes (zucchini), finely chopped
1 ounce ground almonds
4 ounces (1/2 cup) heavy cream, plus extra for garnish
4 ounces (1/2 cup) milk
Toasted slivered almonds, for garnish
[amazon-product]095381520X[/amazon-product]Melt the butter in a large pan, add the onion and potato, and cook over a very low heat for 5 minutes. Add 3 cups stock, bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 20 minutes or until the potato is cooked. Add the courgettes (zucchini) and more stock, if need, to cover. Bring back to a boil and simmer for 5 minutes. As soon as the courgettes are cooked, remove the pan from the heat and stir in the ground almonds, cream and milk. Purée in a blender, then reheat gently and season to taste. Serve topped with a few toasted slivered almonds and a swirl of cream.
This soup can also be served chilled.
Adapted from “Avoca Café Cookbook” by Hugo Arnold with Leylie Hayes