The Farm Table, by Julius Roberts

In the elevator this morning, I ran into my neighbor, a mom of two young kids, who immediately said “I’m so glad the city canceled school, it’s miserable out there!” I nodded in agreement, even though I had zero idea that school had even been canceled. It’s been so long since I’ve had to think about snow days! I will conveniently gloss over the memories of childcare scrambling after those school-is-canceled announcements (back when both Andy and I somehow had to still get to our offices by 9:00) and go right to that feeling of It’s a snow day! Light the fire. Break out the flour and the Dutch oven! We’re binge-watching Gilmore Girls and baking cookies and stewing stews today. I might not have the kids around anymore (or the fireplace!), but I do still have those cravings, and the kitchen calls as always. As I type, chicken stock is on the stovetop — a pot of chicken bones (I always freeze them), celery, carrots, onions, a Parm rind hunk, salt, pepper, a bay leaf simmering in water for as long as I have…an hour? An afternoon? I didn’t know exactly what I was going to do with the stock until I fortuitously started flipping through The Farm Table, a new cookbook out today by Julius Roberts.

Maybe it’s because I have just returned from England, maybe it’s because I turned right to a recipe that began “It is rare for there not to be a pot of chicken stock gently boiling on the stovetop,” but I was immediately captivated by the book. It’s a collection of uncomplicated seasonal recipes from the English countryside. (That’s is the word used in the promo copy, and I find it so much more poetic than the straight, very American simple.) Roberts left the grind of London restaurant life after realizing he was envious of the restaurant’s suppliers. “Each morning,” he writes in the introduction, “twinkly eyed and smiling growers would turn up with their boxes and crates of glistening produce. The juiciest tomatoes you’ve ever seen, trays of thorny artichokes, blue skinned pumpkins sealed with red wax…It set a thought in motion: they’re outside all day, tanned and healthy, whereas I’m here, skin a shade somewhere between yellow and gray, living off coffee and spending my day stressed to the core in a windowless kitchen.” He started with four Mangalitsa pigs — who showed up in the backseat of the breeder’s Subaru — and eventually added chickens, goats, and sheep, starting his own farm in the English countryside, near the impossibly picturesque Dorset coast. The cookbook, shot over the course of a year to really capture the distinct rhythms of each season, transports you there, but Roberts is also careful not to overly romanticize life on a farm.

The recipes collectively tell the story of his years working the land and raising animals, with food at the center of it all. “This is simple home cooking made from a place of love, not only for the people eating it, but for the land it came from.” I wanted to make everything I saw…

Chicken leek pie…

Pasta Diavola with Burrata…

Baked Vacherin with vegetables…

A bright green spinach soup…

And especially the Lentils with Spinach and Pancetta (pictured in opening photo), which call for homemade stock. You can of course use store-bought if that’s what you have. The Farm Table is out today.

Puy Lentils with Spinach and Pancetta

From the author: I love puy lentils–they’re healthy, packed with protein and an amazing base for all sorts of flavors. I find they’re particularly good with quality sausages and a mustardy aïoli, but equally so with pan-fried fish and salsa verde, or slow-roast lamb and anchovy. Here they’re pictured with pumpkin roasted in a hot oven until sweet and charred, and finished with goat cheese. It’s a great combo, but this recipe is really all about the lentils. Any leftovers make a great pasta sauce when finished with a drizzle of chile oil and Parmesan, or you can water them down a bit, add some curry powder and turn them into curried lentil soup, an old favorite of my granny’s. Serves 6

1 large yellow onion
1 leek
2 carrots
3 celery stalks
4 tbsp olive oil
5¼ oz  diced pancetta (optional)
a generous glass of white wine
2½ cups Puy lentils
5 bay leaves
a few sprigs of fresh thyme
5 cups chicken stock, veg stock or water
1 lb spinach
1 heaped tbsp Dijon mustard
a big handful of fresh parsley
Optional:
Roasted pumpkin or butternut squash (toss large-ish chunks in olive oil and roast at 400°F for 35-40 minutes, until it looks caramelized and golden)
Goat cheese, for dolloping

Finely dice the onion, leek, carrots and celery. Heat the olive oil in a large pot, then add the veg and the pancetta, if using. Season well and cook gently for 15 to 20 minutes, until soft and sweet.

Add the wine and cook off the alcohol, then rinse the lentils in a sieve and add to the pot, giving them a good stir. Follow with the bay leaves, thyme and stock, adding just enough to barely cover the lentils. Bring to a gentle simmer and cook for around 30 minutes, until the lentils are tender and beginning to open but still have a nice bit of bite to them. When ready, add the spinach and cook until barely wilted, then take off the heat, add the mustard and the finely chopped parsley. Give it a good stir and taste to check your seasoning–it’ll need a hefty pinch of salt and pepper, and often some more mustard, so adjust as necessary.

Serve with roasted squash and dollops of goat cheese. This keeps in the fridge for a good few days.

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