London-based cook, stylist and writer Anna Jones has become known for putting vegetables at the centre of every dish she creates. Her latest cookbook, One: Pot, Pan, Planet takes her ethos a step further by inciting change through eating for a greener planet. With simple recipes including the seasonal Rhubarb & Potato Traybake featured below, Anna brings together new recipes and informed advice on the small changes we can all make to reduce waste in our kitchens.
We speak to Anna about seasonal, local produce, reducing food waste and discover how health and sustainability go hand in hand.
What first got you excited about produce and cooking?
There are so many things which excite me about cooking. I think the first thing that got me hooked was the feeling of instant gratification, the praise and love that you are showered with as you bring something to the table. But it is the ingredients too. The haze of citrus oils spritzing of a freshly zested orange. The deep purple brilliance when you slice into a beetroot. The warming scent of ginger and brown sugar baking into a crumble, the Willy Wonka magic of melting chocolate, and so many more moments. That is what I love.
You’ve described your previous books as “gentle” in the approach. They never explicitly called out the impact of eating meat, for example, rather they celebrated vegetables as the focal point of meals. What’s changed?
My books have previously been gentle in their approach to putting plants at the centre of your tables. And while food and cooking, for me, are absolutely about the joy and the connection and beauty of sharing a meal, I feel now it’s time to stress the changes we need to make, because it’s becoming ever more urgent. I want to make it clear that how we eat can actually help to shift the world we live in. And it’s imperative that all of us with the privilege to be able to think about these things take action.
Your new book, One Pot, Pan, Planet not only provides recipes that are quick and simple using seasonal ingredients, you also look at ways we can address and slow climate change through our actions at home. What practical information was important for you to translate to your readers?
I think we face such a complex set of challenges in today’s world when it comes to sustainability and the climate emergency, that it’s easy to be overwhelmed. I wanted One to offer genuine, practical advice for how our small actions can make a collective difference. We don’t need a handful of perfect sustainability activists, we need a worldwide army of people making small changes every day. So much focus around sustainability feels like there is guilt attached, I like to think we wake up every day with a fresh slate and a lot of opportunity to make change.
Your new book shows that health and sustainability go hand in hand - could you explain briefly why this is so important?
Sometimes we make eating more complicated than it needs to be. The section of the Venn diagram where food, health and sustainability intersect, where we would all like to be, can seem impossible to reach. But when it comes to food, common sense is more useful than we realise. I have long been an advocate of a diet of seasonal fruit and veg, nuts and seeds, pulses and legumes, and a healthy scattering of treats. But now, a landmark study by Oxford University has proven that this is the best way to eat, for our health as well as for the planet so it all goes hand in hand, good for our bodies good for the planet.
Did you discover anything surprising as you researched and developed this new book?
The facts on food waste made for really quite sobering reading, though I knew these facts, reading them over and over in my research made me think just how insane it really is from both an environmental and economic perspective. In the UK, according to the government WRAP scheme, we waste 30% of the food we buy at home. That’s a huge amount of food, money and wasted resources, especially when far too many people are still going hungry. Wasting our food is also a moral issue. If global food waste (that’s household, farm and retail) were a country, it would be the third biggest emitter of greenhouse gases (after USA and China).
How has your own style or approach to cooking and eating evolved over the years?
The biggest shift to my cooking was when I became vegetarian – all of a sudden I had to look at cooking in a completely different way. The building blocks that I had grown up with and the rules I had learnt as a chef didn’t quite fit any more. So the challenge to find new ways to add texture, interest and flavour to my food have meant using a new palate of ingredients and some new techniques in the kitchen.
The second shift was when I had my little boy. Suddenly, I had much less time for cooking, so my recipes became far more about cooking something nourishing without making a load of washing up and a long list of ingredients.
At TOAST we strive to minimise our waste by producing leaner collections and repurposing any surplus materials in future collections. Food waste is arguably also a big impact area - do you see the collective mindset shifting in this area?
I think people are becoming more aware of this as a major issue, yes. In One I’ve consciously tried to offer practical ways to help prolong the life of the most wasted foods in our kitchens. For too long the focus on food waste in cookbooks and the food media has focused on fancy “cheffy” suggestions, a recipe for how to use your beetroot tops to make a pesto, that’s all well and good, but if we think about how many households actually buy their beetroots with tops on it’s not really tackling the problem. In One there are spreads for how we can use up the most common things we throw away – bread, milk, bagged salad. I think it’s these things we need to focus on to really make a difference.
If there’s one sustainable action you could urge everyone to adopt into their daily lives, what would it be?
All my recipes celebrate eating mostly plants - and this is widely regarded as the most impactful thing we can do to help reduce our carbon footprint. Plants front and centre for as many meals as you can.
What seasonal offerings are you enjoying most right now and what’s your own go-to one pot dish at home?
I have made my One Pot Beetroot Orzo quite a few times over the past few weeks - a pleasing dish that spoons like a risotto but has all the comfort of pasta.
How has the past year shifted the way you cook or the way you are seeing other people cook, and what positives can we take from this?
It was proven to me over the months of the pandemic that we can make the time to cook, that we can waste less and we can be creative with recipes and ingredients. I think the past year has changed us all as cooks. We came to value food for the miraculous life-giving stuff it is. If we had been told in the months before the coronavirus crisis how much appreciation we would have for a simple bag of flour or an egg in the midst of it, I doubt any of us would have believed it.
Here, Anna shares a new recipe from One, perfect for an April supper.
Rhubarb & Potato Traybake
750g waxy potatoes
a few sprigs of rosemary
4 bay leaves
1 tablespoon fennel seeds
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
2 tablespoons runny honey or maple syrup
200g block of feta or vegan feta-style cheese, cut into rough cubes
300g rhubarb, cut into 5mm-thick slices
30g butter or olive oil
50g rolled oats
25g almonds, toasted and roughly chopped
Forced rhubarb shows up exactly when we need it. These neon-pink stems, the colour of Brighton rock, are forced from the ground in dark sheds in Yorkshire and cheer me on in the kitchen until the first greens of spring. Whatever rhubarb you use, though, its spiritual home is under a sweet rubble of brown sugar crumble, but it also has enough acidity to stand up to savoury flavours – the richness of cheese or a crisp-edged roast potato. This is a painting of a dish, which I finish off with some buttery toasted oats and almonds. Serve this straight from the roasting tray on the table. Vegans should use a vegan feta-style cheese and maple syrup instead of honey, and olive oil for butter.
Heat the oven to 220°C/200°C fan/gas 7. Cut any large potatoes into halves or quarters, and tumble them into your largest roasting tray. Add a good pinch of salt and pepper, most of the rosemary, the bay and fennel seeds. Mix the vinegar, honey or maple syrup and 3 tablespoons of oil, and pour half of it over the potatoes, saving the rest for later. Toss everything together to coat the potatoes, then roast for 25 minutes, until they are beginning to turn golden.
Once the potatoes have had their time, take them out of the oven, add the feta and rhubarb, gently toss to mix, and roast for another 15–20 minutes.
While this cooks, heat the butter in a frying pan with the remaining rosemary and add the oats, chopped almonds and a good pinch of salt. Move everything around the pan until the flakes are golden and smell buttery and toasty, then transfer to a bowl to cool.
The bake is ready when the rhubarb has softened but is still holding its shape and the potatoes are burnished and crisp. Pour the rest of the honey dressing over the tray and toss to coat everything. Sprinkle the oats over the top and serve in the middle of the table with some greens.
Find more of Anna's recipes in her cookbook, One Pot, Pan, Planet.