Simple Tricks for Cooking Amazing Vegetables in April Bloomfield’s New Book
When it comes to salad, I tend to over-accessorize. To a simple dressing, I’ll add a few grinds of black pepper, some mustard, grated garlic, one or two anchovies, and all sorts of other bits and pieces I have lying around. I can’t help myself. But today, I’m following April Bloomfield’s recipe for “Simple Lemon Dressing” from her new vegetable-focused cookbook A Girl and Her Greens—and when Bloomfield calls something simple, she actually means it.
Bloomfield is an English chef, best known for opening the Spotted Pig in Manhattan in 2004 and developing New Yorkers’ taste for a certain style of meaty, gastropubby cooking (which she later expanded on at the Breslin in the Ace Hotel). But anyone who’s dined at her restaurants knows there’s more to it than that: Bloomfield's salads and vegetable dishes can be killer, not just distractions from a plate of pig’s ear.
Her simple lemon dressing? It's a 2-to-1 ratio of olive oil and lemon juice, plus a generous pinch of Maldon (a delicately flaky English salt made from crystallized sea water). That’s it. This recipe is the Coco Chanel of salad dressings; it's flawless, with no superfluous accessories. Whisked together, the dressing turns thick and golden, just right for sweet raw snap peas, arugula, and mint. It doesn’t need anything else, but to no surprise, the salad is even better when you add a lump of creamy burrata—optional, but come on.
My favorite thing about the recipes I tried, from the crushed spring peas with mint to the fingerling potatoes in butter, was the small details, carefully explained in Bloomfield’s instructions, that pushed the simplest dish upward from good to great.
Take that snap pea salad, page 23. It’s basically tossing green things in lemon and olive oil, but it’s not just tossing green things in lemon and olive oil. First, Bloomfield points out, you should split the fattest pods into halves, or thirds, and leave only the smallest pods whole. This seems such a basic move (and, yes, it is), but things change drastically when you take the time to do it: Your peas are dressed evenly, and all the bites are approximately the same size. Your salad is infinitely better.
Bloomfield is a celebrity now, but as she tells it, her massively successful cooking career all started with a bit of kale purée (maybe you’ve tasted it at the Spotted Pig, where you can order the stuff swirled into a side of hot polenta for $9). The story goes: After watching masters Rose Gray and Ruth Rogers of London’s River Cafe make a four-ingredient vegetable purée on TV, Bloomfield decided to find her way to their kitchen and learn to cook—and she did.
The recipe for that purée is dead simple: Kale boiled with garlic, then strained and puréed with olive oil. But there’s style here, too—an addition of raw garlic complicates and sharpens the flavors. I loved it in polenta (with a little grated cheese and mascarpone) and later on pasta (with a little grated cheese and mascarpone).
The crushed pea recipe is another I know I'll make again, whenever I have access to fresh shelling peas. I almost couldn't believe how good raw peas buzzed in the food processor could taste—sweet, slightly starchy, and super fresh. There was no need to throw in any extra bits and pieces, and I was glad, again, that I managed to resist. If you're doing it right, sometimes lemon and olive oil really is enough.
Crushed Spring Peas with Mint
Adapted from A Girl and Her Greens by April Bloomfield
Makes about 2 cups
2 cups fresh peas (from about 2 pounds pods)
1 ounce aged pecorino, finely grated
1½ teaspoons Maldon or another flaky sea salt
1 small spring garlic clove or ½ small garlic clove, smashed, peeled, and roughly chopped
12 medium mint leaves (preferably black mint)
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons lemon juice, plus more for finishing
Combine the ingredients in a food processor and pulse to a coarse purée, about 45 seconds. Scrape the mixture into a bowl and roughly stir and smoosh a bit so it’s a little creamy and a little chunky. Season to taste with more salt and lemon juice—you want it to taste sweet and bright but not acidic. Spread on thickly sliced warm toast or use as a dip for halved radishes, raw carrots, or other vegetables.