Gather around

Gather, by Gill Meller, published by Hardie Grant Books, $55
Gather, by Gill Meller, published by Hardie Grant Books, $55
The head chef at the United Kingdom’s River Cottage visited New Zealand recently to launch his cook book, Gather, which features everyday recipes inspired by the landscape.

Gill Meller launched his cookbook with a five-course tasting menu of dishes from his new book at The Farm at Cape Kidnappers matched with Hawkes Bay wines.

A core member of the River Cottage team for more than 11 years and now the group head chef, Mellor makes the most of ingredients and the natural qualities they possess, through his simple, seasonal cooking to deliver earthy and rustic dishes.

This has translated into his cookbook Gather.

''I've always liked the word 'gather'. It feels hopeful, natural and very human.

''Though few of us can go around picking berries and tracking deer, we still collect ingredients: bread, fruit, cheese, a jar of honey.

''The way we gather has evolved and perhaps inevitably we've lost a handle on where our food comes from. And, quite often, we don't spend enough time together enjoying a meal.

''This multilayered word, gather, has helped me find a way to make the most of the food that I eat with my family and friends. It's given me a path to tread that makes sense to me as a cook, and it's given me an appreciation for the happiness that sharing food with other people can bring.''

Photos: Andrew Montgomery
Photos: Andrew Montgomery
Chocolate rye brownies with bay leaves and almonds

Serves 8-10

Rye flour and good chocolate are extraordinarily delicious together. I often use rye in place of a plain flour in my baking - it brings its delicate roasted, nutty notes to chocolate cakes, fondants and biscuits, and plays off the bitter qualities of dark chocolate in a new and wonderful way.

These rye brownies also contain aromatic bay, which accentuates and permeates the chocolate and rye marriage with its distinct perfume. A crunchy, sugary almond topping finishes the brownies with an amazing extra texture.

200g good-quality dark chocolate, at least 70% cocoa solids, broken into pieces
180g unsalted butter, cubed and chilled, plus extra for greasing
2 pinches of fine sea salt
4 eggs
100g golden caster sugar
80g soft brown sugar
150g light rye flour, plus extra for dusting
100g whole, skin-on almonds
finely grated zest of ½ orange
50g golden granulated sugar
6-8 bay leaves

Heat the oven to 160degC.

Grease and lightly flour a medium-size baking tin (about 20cm x 30cm).

Melt the chocolate pieces and butter, with 1 pinch of salt, in a large heatproof bowl set over a pan of very gently simmering water for 6-8 minutes, stirring once or twice, until the chocolate is smooth and delicious-looking. (Don't let the bowl touch the water.) Remove the bowl from the heat and set aside.

Separate 1 egg. Divide the white in half as best you can. In a large bowl, use an electric whisk to beat the remaining eggs, as well as the yolk and half egg white of the separated egg, with both the sugars until light, airy, pale and fluffy. Reserve the remaining half egg white.

Beat the whisked egg mixture into the melted chocolate mixture, then fold in the rye flour until the batter is fully combined. Pour the batter into the prepared tin.

To make the topping, whisk the reserved egg white in a bowl until light and airy, then fold in the almonds, orange zest, granulated sugar and remaining pinch of salt. Tumble together until the almonds are well-coated and the mixture is fully combined.

Spoon the almond topping evenly over the brownies, then place the bay leaves over the top, pushing the base of each leaf a little way into the batter.

Bake the brownies for 20-25 minutes, until they are cracked and firm on top, but gooey in the middle. Remove from the oven and leave to cool completely in the tin, then cut into squares.

Serve individually with cream, ice cream or thick, plain yoghurt; or as they are with a cup of tea or coffee.


Stuffed squash with fennel and barley

Serves 2

Whenever I make these little stuffed squash, I'm reminded of being with my friend Pip, who is sadly not around any more. Preparing and cooking mixed pumpkins and squash, just like I do here, was the last thing we did together, for a book we were working on at the time.

This variation is sweet from the squash and roasted fennel, and full of character from the barley. I think Pip would definitely approve.

2 small onion squash (about 800g each)
2 fennel bulbs
2 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 handful of fennel tops, if available
125g pearl barley
100g cheddar cheese, grated
25g butter
1 garlic clove, peeled and grated
salt and freshly ground
black pepper

Heat the oven to 180degC. Use a sharp heavy knife to cut the base off each squash, so that they sit upright. Cut off the tops in one, clean round, about 3cm or so below the stalk, and set aside.

Use a metal spoon to scoop out the seeds and the fibrous matter, to leave a fairly neat hollow.

Trim the fennel, and remove the tougher outer leaf if you need to. Cut the bulbs in half, then cut each half into 3 or 4 wedges.

Place the squash in a large roasting tray. Scatter the fennel wedges around them and try to squeeze in the squash tops, too. Drizzle the olive oil all over, including inside the squash.

Season with salt and pepper and scatter over a few fennel tops, if you have them. Place the tray in the oven and cook for 45-60 minutes, or until both the squash and the fennel are nice and tender.

If the fennel starts to take on too much colour, cover the tray with tin foil. Meanwhile, place the barley in a medium-sized pan and cover with water.

Place on a medium heat and simmer gently for 25-30 minutes, until the barley is soft but retains some bite. Drain well and place in a large bowl.

When the fennel and squash are cooked, remove them from the oven and add the roasted fennel to the barley, then add the cheese, butter, grated garlic and plenty of salt and pepper to taste.

Tumble everything together and spoon the barley mixture equally into the two roasted squash. Return the tray to the oven for 8-10 minutes to heat through, then serve straight away with their lids, and some soured cream and a green salad.


Venison stew with nettle dumplings

Serves 6-8

Venison makes a really good stew. I use the meat from the shoulder. Rich, dark and deep in flavour, it responds well to slow-cooking.

However, it can be lean, so here I've paired it up with some sweet-cured pancetta or bacon to add fat, and give the dish the right balance.

The nettle dumplings are a cinch to make and bring an extra wild element to this already rather wild stew.

2 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
2 onions, thinly sliced
2 celery sticks, washed, trimmed and thinly sliced
2 garlic cloves, peeled and thinly sliced
2 bay leaves
4 thyme sprigs
300g piece of pancetta or bacon, cut into 3-4cm cubes
800g venison shoulder, trimmed and cut into 4-5cm cubes
100g plain flour, seasoned with salt and pepper
500ml light ale
about 300ml beef stock or chicken stock, or water
freshly ground black pepper

For the dumplings
100g nettle tops
250g self-raising flour
125g suet
salt and freshly ground
black pepper

Heat the oven to 160degC. Heat half the oil in a large casserole dish over a medium heat, then add the onion, celery, garlic, bay leaves and thyme sprigs.

Sweat the onions, stirring, for 8-10 minutes, until soft. Meanwhile, heat the remaining oil in a large heavy-based frypan over a high heat.

When it's hot, turn down the heat and gently fry the pancetta or bacon, until the fat has rendered and the meat is golden.

Transfer to the casserole, leaving the frying pan on the heat. Toss the venison in the seasoned flour, then add to the frying pan, in batches, transferring each batch to the casserole as soon as it is well coloured, about 4-6 minutes.

Stir the casserole contents, then pour the ale over, along with enough stock or water to cover by 2-3cm. Season with pepper. Bring to a simmer, then transfer to the oven, leaving the lid just ajar, and cook for 2½-3 hours until the meat is very tender.

Shortly before the venison is ready, make the dumplings. Bring a medium-sized pan of water to the boil and add the fresh nettle tops.

Cook for 2 minutes until wilted, then drain and allow to cool. Squeeze all the water from the cooked nettles into a bowl and retain. Chop the wilted leaves relatively finely.

Mix the flour, suet and nettle together with some salt and pepper. Stir in enough cooled nettle water to form a soft dough about 150-200ml.

Using your hands, form the mixture into 10 spherical dumplings. Take the stew from the oven and remove the lid. Distribute the dumplings evenly over the surface of the stew, replace the lid fully, and return the stew to the oven.

Allow to cook for a further 20 minutes, then remove the lid and cook for a further 10-15 minutes, until the top of each dumpling has taken on a little colour.

Remove the stew from the oven and serve with buttered greens or a lovely mixed salad.

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