Cookbooks, and food itself, can be judged both subjectively and objectively. I think we have all been to good, well-respected restaurants where it is a struggle to find something to order – nothing on the menu appeals. Some good cookbooks are the same, such as one I’ve had to hide from my husband because, however well-prepared the dish, I never really liked a dinner cooked from it.

Photo by David Loftus/Cover courtesy of Flatiron Books

So, in the interests of full disclosure: Jamie Oliver is my guy. Both my husband and I use his cookbooks, and we have liked almost everything we have made. Our cookbooks date from the time when he was known for his cooking show “The Naked Chef,” which aired on the BBC about 20 years ago and which inspired several cookbooks. Oliver went on to write more cookbooks and to start a campaign to make school food in the U.K. healthier and to encourage Americans to embrace a diet that didn’t rely on fast food.

Oliver is a casual and unfussy cook. He was known for his ‘blokey’ style on TV, and his casual insouciance make his cookbooks fun to read. He is serious about nutrition, but not preachy. Every recipe in “Ultimate Veg” provides nutritional information, and there are chapters on a balanced diet and the benefits of different vegetables. Oliver writes he is a meat eater who believes “there’s a place for all kinds of food in our diet,” but in this book, the vegetables are the main course.

The inspiration for the recipes in “Ultimate Veg” comes from, as Oliver writes, the “extraordinary veg-loving parts world.” He includes recipes for Thai-style noodle salad, gnocchi, falafel, curries and French Garlic Bread Salad. The recipes are short, and each has a brief note suggesting variations or explaining ingredients. For example, in the recipe I chose to make, Oliver notes that seasonal wild mushrooms would be wonderful, but the dish is delicious with regular farmed mushrooms.

Chapters cover types of dishes or cooking methods such as Curries and Stews, Traybakes, Burgers and Fritters, and One-Pan Wonders. There is a chapter on brunch, and one titled Friday Night Nibbles.

The dish I tested was simple to make, and minimal effort was rewarded with a comforting main course that was substantial but light with nice cheese notes. Even better, the flavors were intact when I reheated leftovers the next day. “Ultimate Veg” will be a good source of weeknight meal inspiration, because for the most part, the recipes are quick and use ingredients that you have or are easy to get. That said, I chose to make Potato & Mushroom Al Forno partly because it called for truffle oil. I can’t remember why I bought truffle oil, but it has been taking up space in my refrigerator and I was grateful to have a chance to use it, even if only a tiny bit. If you don’t have truffle oil, make the recipe anyway. It is delicious.


Potato & Mushroom Al Forno

Serves 4

1 1/2 pounds potatoes

2 onions

3 cloves of garlic

olive oil


7 ounces button mushrooms

3 large eggs

1 bunch of fresh chives

5 ounces cottage cheese

1/2 teaspoon truffle oil

1 ounce Parmesan cheese


Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Scrub the potatoes and peel the onions, then cut into wedges. Place in a large roasting pan, bash and throw in the garlic cloves, then drizzle over 1 tablespoon of olive oil and season with sea salt and black pepper. Toss together well, then roast for 50 minutes, or until lightly golden and cooked through. Roughly slice the mushrooms, then toss in 1 tablespoon of olive oil and add to the pan for a final 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, beat the eggs until pale and fluffy, then finely chop and add the chives and fold through the cottage cheese and truffle oil (the tiniest amount makes all the difference – don’t be tempted to add more). When time’s up, remove the pan from the oven, pour the egg mixture over the roasted veg and finely grate over the Parmesan. Bake for 10 minutes, or until beautifully golden and just set.

It’s delicious, served with a lemony watercress salad.


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