What meaning comes to mind first when you hear the word gather? I thought of bringing people together, gathering a group around a table. The other way to think about gathering is in the act of obtaining ingredients for a meal. You go out to gather what you will prepare, and that might be from a garden, a farm, a forest, the ocean, or the grocery store. The new book Gather: Everyday Seasonal Food from a Year in Our Landscapes by Gill Meller is really about both uses of the word but he focuses on what’s available for gathering from the landscape at different times of year. For him, it’s not the source of the ingredients that’s as important as the experience of the time and place for the flavors they offer. He encourages taking a moment to enjoy the first taste of a dish that’s particular to a season. Of course though, he also points out that considering the journey made by the ingredients before arriving on the plate makes cooking and eating more rewarding. The recipes here aren’t complex, but there are some new and different combinations of flavors. The chapters are organized by places where the food might be found like Farm, Seashore, Garden, Orchard, Field, Woodland, Moor, and Harbor. There are simple compositions like Goat Cheese with Rhubarb and Lovage served on toasted bread, Spring Cabbage Salad with Honey and Sprouted Lentils, and Barbecued Little Gems with Cucumber White Beans and Tahini. There are salads, main courses, and sweets sprinkled throughout each chapter. There are tomato and zucchini dishes in the Garden chapter that I’ll be turning to as soon as those star ingredients appear this year, and the Harbor chapter had me marking almost every page. The dish I had to try first was something new for me: Pickled Mussels. The cooked mussels are quickly pickled in apple cider vinegar with coriander seeds, and they’re served with crisp radish slices. In the book, apple slices are included but I opted for fennel instead since it’s in season here.
Like all the recipes in this book, this one is about subtle flavors that add just the right note to a dish. Apple cider vinegar was very specifically chosen as was coriander seed. In the spirit of gathering what is available at this time of the year, I brought home locally-grown purple daikon and watermelon radishes for their pretty colors and peppery flavors. The thinly sliced fennel added sweet, fresh, anise to the mix. To prepare the mussels, I always soak them first in water with a little flour to purge them and pull off any remaining beards or debris. After being drained and rinsed, the mussels went into a large pot with a half-cup of boiling water to which a couple of bay leaves and some thyme sprigs had been added. I was delighted to gather those herbs from my own yard. The pan was covered, and the mussels opened after a couple of minutes of cooking. They were removed from the pan, and the cooking liquid was strained into a bowl. When cool, the mussels were removed from their shells. Cider vinegar, coriander seeds, some of the cooking liquid, and salt and pepper were combined and poured over the mussels. This was left to sit while the other ingredients were prepped. The vegetables were all thinly sliced with a mandoline and scattered over plates. The mussels and dressing were added to each, and I placed a few frissee leaves among the arrangement.
In a short amount of time, the mussels take on nice pickle-y flavor from the apple cider vinegar. And, the crunchy, fresh vegetables make great partners for it. This was surprisingly good for such a simple mix of things. I’ll be thinking back to this book as I gather what’s freshest and best in the coming weeks and truly enjoying the flavors.
Pickled mussels with radishes, toasted coriander seed, and apples
Recipe excerpted with permission from Gather: Everyday Seasonal Food from a Year in Our Landscapes by Gill Meller, published by Quadrille March 2017, RRP $35.00 hardcover.
There is something of Normandy in this fresh salad: a bicycle ride down the Route du Cidre; a peppery-pink radish with delightfully fresh, cold butter; a bowl of plump, yellow wild mussels, cooked in cream on some beach off Gouville-sur-Mer. It’s almost like you taste it in French. This dish is about perfectly cooked mussels, sweet, crunchy apple, and the acidity of good cider vinegar—and how they all play out when they get together. I love the orangey air that toasted coriander seed brings to the delicate pickle—it’s well worth a try. You can prepare the mussels the day before, but I like them best once they have cooled and before they see the fridge.
2 bay leaves
2 thyme sprigs
18oz [500g] mussels, cleaned
1 Tbsp good-quality cider vinegar
1/2 tsp golden superfine sugar
2 tsp small coriander seeds, toasted
1 dessert apple
4 to 6 firm radishes, with tops, if available
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Place a large pan over high heat. Add a scant 1/2 cup [100ml] water, the bay leaves, and thyme sprigs. When the water is boiling hard, add the mussels, and place a close-fitting lid on the pan. Cook, shaking the pan once or twice, for 1 to 2 minutes, or until the mussel shells are all just open. Turn off the heat, then drain the mussels into a colander set over a bowl to catch the cooking liquor. Discard any mussels that haven’t opened up.
When the mussels are cool enough to handle, remove the meat from the shells, and place it in a bowl, reserving the drained cooking liquor. Add the cider vinegar, sugar, coriander seeds, and 2 Tbsp of the cooking liquor to the mussel meat, stir through, then season with a little salt and pepper.
To serve, quarter and core the apple and then cut each quarter into 2 or 3 wedges. Divide the apple pieces roughly between two plates. Slice the radish into 1/16 to 1/8 in [2 to 3mm] rounds, and scatter them over the apple, along with any radish top leaves, if available. Finally, spoon over the mussels along with plenty of their coriander-spiked dressing, and serve immediately.
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