Monday, 26 January 2015

A Change of Appetite by Diana Henry

Radicchio and red onions on white bean purée
from A Change of Appetite by Diana Henry
Photo by Evie

I think most of us now accept that eating less meat and heavy foods is the way to go - though "meat-free Monday" still annoys the hell out of me.  Truth is meat has only been on my menus a couple of times a week for years now, sidelined for more vegetables, grains and fish, and I know I'm far from alone in moving to a healthier, more thoughtful way of eating.  That  doesn't make Diana Henry's latest book, A Change of Appetite, any less welcome.  In fact it's a book for the way many of us eat now and, certainly in this house, it's finding an appreciative audience.  

The focus of the book is the author's perception that people want to eat more healthily and the acceptance that it would be good for her to make some changes to her own diet.  This book came out of curiosity about what 'healthy eating' means and how to achieve it without compromising on the sheer enjoyment of food.  The guiding principle for the author was that dishes had to be delicious, their healthiness being a bonus, and there would be a thoughtfulness about the ingredients borne out of wide reading (there is an impressive bibliography).  This is not a diet book. Diana Henry doesn't tell you what you can't eat - that was a relief because frankly no-one is going to take away my cake - but what you can.  In that vein, I share Diana Henry's belief that "The problem isn't with what you eat at one meal, but what you eat across the board".

A Change of Appetite offers the, now, familiar format of the four seasons, each with reminders of ingredients that are at their best early, mid and late in the quarter.  Along with stand-alone recipes there are menus to help bring balance of flavour and nutrition to a meal.  Recipes globetrot with dishes like Vietnamese Rice paper rolls with nuoc cham; a Lentil and roast tomato soup with saffron from India; an Italian dish of Lamb scottadito with summer fregola;  a North African Spiced mackerel with kamut and as pretty a Persian Salad as you'll ever see; a recipe for Georgian Roast chicken with walnut sauce and hot grated beetroot; and there are dishes from Northern Europe like Citrus marinated salmon with fennel and apple salad and Braised venison and beetroot with horseradish.  Puddings are on the menu but with an emphasis on fresh and light, like Blood orange and cardamom sorbet; Raspberries with basil and buttermilk sherbet and Blueberry and gin jellies.  Happily, you'll find Pistachio and lemon cake and a Blackberry and apple rye galette too.

It's important to know that as Diana Henry says "there is lots of big front-of-mouth flavours, such as chilli, ginger and lime, the kind of thing you want when you aren't eating starchy or rich food". Spices are a prominent feature and, if they're something you're not used to, the first time you make a dish you may want to reduce the quantities just a little in some recipes.

Yoghurt with honeyed saffron syrup, almonds and apricot compote
from A Change of Appetite by Diana Henry

Photo by Evie

So, what have a I tried so far?  Radicchio and red onions on white bean purée with its mix of bitter, sweet and earthy, felt healthy and satisfying eaten on its own for lunch but there are suggestions for what to serve it with and how you can change the basic recipe (a feature of many recipes in the book).  Yogurt with honeyed saffron syrup, almonds and apricot compote was a big hit. The combination of apple juice, cardamom and citrus infused dried apricots with yogurt and a saffron and orange-flower water syrup is a delicious one and visually it's a stunner.  I didn't have agave syrup so substituted a slightly lesser amount of honey.  It's easy to overdo saffron, so be cautious.  Cardamom too needs to be used sparingly for as Diana Henry says, cardamom "needs to move through a dish like a ghost" .  Once all the elements of the dessert were put together, all was perfection.  Citrus compote with ginger snow is another visually arresting dessert.  I'm a big fan of lime so appreciated its liberal use in this dish.  The "snow" is a granita that packs a big ginger punch and could be a little too powerful for some.

Citrus compote with ginger snow
from A Change of Appetite by Diana Henry

Photo by Evie

Dishes I'm really looking forward to trying include Smoked haddock with Indian scented lentils, inspired by Kedgeree; Red mullet and saffron broth with corfu garlic sauce; Roast tomatoes and lentils with dukka-crumbed eggs; and, when summer arrives, a Middle-Eastern inspired Cucumber and yogurt soup with walnuts and rose petals and Poached white peaches with rosé wine jelly.  I could go on.

I'm wary of the blurb on book covers but in this case Yotam Ottolenghi's "Everything Diana Henry cooks I want to eat" quote sums up my own feelings about A Change of Appetite.  All this and Diana Henry's scholarly and engaging writing style.  If you're still wondering if this book is for you, take it from the shelf and read the two pages at the back of the book ''Final Thoughts'.  Full of good sense reminders for a more thoughtful way of eating.  I think you'll be convinced.

A Change of Appetite
by Diana Henry

First published 2014 by Mitchell Beazley
Photo by Evie

As ever, with Diana Henry's books, the photography, by Laura Edwards, is beautiful and evocative.  I love this book and it's already earned its keep on my bookshelf.  I know I'm going to make a lot of the recipes, and I'll feel all the better about having my occasional cake.

Friday, 2 January 2015

Artusi in Peckham

Ricotta & braised radicchio
at Artusi Peckham

It's easy to tell when an area of London is heating up property-wise.  The nearest parade of shops start to get a lick of paint and an air of fresh-thinking.  SE15 is a case in point where the traders on Peckham's Bellenden Road now include ex-Ginger Pig butcher Charlie Shaw with his own Flock & Herd butchery; popular Thai street-food restaurant The Begging Bowl; Melange chocolate shop and cafe; and the very special grocer General Store where the shelves groan with foodstuffs from many London producers.  Here too is a little gem of a restaurant, Artusi at No. 161.

Taking its name from *Pellegrino Artusi, this determinedly Italian restaurant has Jack Beer as Owner and Chef (ex-Clove Club and Peckham Bazaar).  It's a relaxing kind of place with a short, understated menu and charming staff.  Simply furnished, the tables for two can be pushed together the length of the banquette seating to accommodate groups and a Long Table in the back, right by the kitchen action, can be booked for parties (seats 18).

The Evening menu may offer a starter of Seared Beef Heart with peppers or Burrata with braised radicchio.  Mains might include Venison Haunch with root vegetables or Cod with broccoli.  Expect a choice of a couple of desserts, maybe Chocolate Mousse, Tiramisu or Olive Oil Cake.  At Sunday lunch there's a set 3-course menu for £20.  Weekday lunches are even more pared-down.  The small, wholly Italian, wine list is reasonably priced starting at £20 a bottle/£4 a glass going up to a Barolo at £62.

Linguine with Duck ragout
at Artusi Peckham

This is simple Italian food of the kind that is so often done badly.  There are no hiding places, no tricksy flourishes or sauces to hide a multitude of sins. I've had several lunches at Artusi.  Each one has been exemplary.  They have included a dish of radicchio - two varieties, one intensely bitter and one mildly so - charred and paired with a whipped ricotta and dressed with a balsamic vinaigrette. Another time, pillowy ricotta served with braised radicchio and tomatoes.  Both dishes were juicy and big on flavour.  Squid with Potatoes was no looker but was a pleasing plateful of tender squid and waxy potatoes brought together by a fish stock-based emulsion.  The pasta dishes are served in two portion sizes at £6.50 and £10.50.  Spaghetti Puttanesca was punchy perfection, Linguine with Duck Ragout was flavoursome and well balanced.  A deeply comforting bowl of Beef and Pork Meatballs in a herby tomato sauce was simply served with parmesan.  A light as air Olive Oil Cake came with baked thyme-infused pear and caramel sauce.  Scoops of Ice Cream a - one Coffee and one Salted Honey - were served exactly as you hope, just-melting softness in a cold bowl.  It takes confidence to serve up ice cream quite so plainly but here it's not misplaced.

Expect to pay about £50 for two at lunch.

Coffee ice cream and Salted Honey ice cream
at Artusi Peckham

There's a modesty about Artusi.  It's the word that came to mind when on one visit a party of 5 arrived for a wedding celebration straight from the ceremony.  In a world where thousands of pounds are spent on the 'big day', this was a model of restraint and a delight to observe.  I applaud the Happy Couple's choices for their big day, and for the sweet way Artusi welcomed them.  Let's have more modesty, I say.

161 Bellenden Road
London SE15 4DH
Tel: 020 3302 8200

*Pellegrino Artusi made his fortune as a silk merchant which funded his twin passions of literature and food.  In 1891 he self-published La Scienza in cucina e l'Arte de mangiar bene (The Science of Cookery and The Art of Eating Well).  He was the first to include recipes from all regions of Italy in a single cookbook and is credited with helping to establish a national Italian identity following unification.  By the time of his death in 1911, sales of the book exceeded 200,000 copies.