Favourite Books

Most of the books reviewed on this page have been bought by or for me.  Many of these are long-loved sources of inspiration.  Sometimes I hear of a new book I expect to be worth owning and may then accept the book for review.  If I don’t like the book I will tell the publisher and offer to return it.  If a book is here it's because I value it and think you will too.


Reinventing the Wheel: Milk, Microbes and the Fight for Real Cheese

Reinventing the Wheel
by Bronwen and Francis Percival

I confess as a cheese appreciator I had been looking forward to this book, but Reinventing the Wheel is not just for cheese lovers.  It's a book for anyone who cares about the food they eat and the welfare of those who produce it.  It tackles the wisdom of mega-dairies and industrialisation and the tension between modernity and tradition.  Across 12 chapters, Bronwen and Francis Percival examine the culinary history, terroir, microbiology, sociology and politics of cheesemaking.

We journey through 2,000 years of cheesemaking starting with the "feral", "primal" Salers cheese production on a farm in France's Auvergne region and the effect of the arrival of American factory cheese on British cheese production at the end of the 19th century.  There are stories from dairy farmers forced towards consolidation, volume and efficiency for survival; Cheesemakers weighed down by legislation and bureaucracy, and other who have already fought the system and won with the help of microbiologists.  We take in Microbes and Risks along the way.

Reinventing the Wheel examines what has been lost as cheese production has 'progressed' in tandem with intensive farming and industrialisation.  It's a tale of much loss but with reason for optimism for the future if we are prepared to learn from, rather than reject, the methods of the past. Bronwen and Francis Percival's book is a paean to artisanal cheeses.  Cheeses that once all had a sense of place thanks to the healthy microbial communities specific to their geographic location, animal husbandry and production practices that contribute to their flavour and to their safety.  This book reveals the truth about our current dairy industry and how science is revealing the positives of microbial activity.  It's a beacon of light for those farmers and cheesemakers who want to seize on scientific facts to fight back against industrial homogeneity and rescue traditional cheesemaking.

Reinventing the Wheel is a learned, fact-filled call to arms to scientists, health officials and legislators to work alongside dairy farmers and cheesemakers to enable them to produce cheese which is not only full of character but full of healthy bacteria. To work with good microbes that have a positive effect on our immune system rather than wiping out the good along with the bad.

The book is aimed at the consumer too as, the Percivals believe, a lack of understanding of the cheesemaking process threatens the integrity of cheese.  Labelling for instance is often misleading as "The label on the cheese is not there to help".  In a world where "the word 'Artisan' can be, and is, used to describe just about anything short of a Dairylea cheese slice" the consumer needs to inform herself.  We need a book like this which makes us think more deeply about our food, makes us demand real food.

Reinventing the Wheel: Milk, Microbes and the fight for Real Cheese
by Bronwen and Francis Percival
Published by: Bloomsbury Publishing


The Sunday Night Book


The Sunday Night Book by Rosie Sykes

I used to dread those last few sepulchral hours of the weekend, particularly in winter when it can feel like all traces of colour have leeched into the sodden earth.  That Sunday night feeling when the prospect of a whole week of school hit like a freight train.  How much more bearable those last few hours would have been if we had embraced the opportunity to cook together in the way chef Rosie Sykes's family did.  Based on the kind of food they liked to cook and eat, The Sunday Night Book is the antidote to that Sunday night curtains-drawn glumness.  But whatever the day of the week, it's uplifting cooking to banish the blues.  There are failsafe recipes for comforting dishes on toast; one-pot dishes that you deliberately make too much of just so you have leftovers for later in the week; a bowl of pasta, of course; something eggy; light salads for when the weekend has been too good; ideas for leftovers; and, at the end of the book, "if all else fails" there's a chapter on Cocktails and a little bite to eat.

Rosie Sykes has worked in the kitchens of some of the greats in British food, including Joyce Molyneux, Shaun Hill, Alistair Little and Margot Henderson.  I've eaten her food in a number of restaurants over the years and I know it pays to 'follow the chef'.  Her menus make your heart sing and the food she prepares is invariably delicious, soothing and heartwarming.  The recipes in this book are quick to prepare.  Many make use of fresh ingredients but a good number reach for store cupboard staples. The chances are high of finding a recipe that is easy and satisfying despite the fact you haven't been able to shop, and we all need a book like that.

Caerphilly with leeks and mustard
from The Sunday Night Book by Rosie Sykes

I've cooked Caerphilly with leeks and mustard, a less cheesy take on Welsh rarebit.  The 'can we have this again soon please' request came on first bite.  Bacon and egg pie was a real flashback to childhood.  Easy to make and so easy to eat.  Next time I want to wrap it in newspaper and take it on a picnic.  A Spanish recipe for Eggs in a pestle and mortar came next for the promise that I will be "amazed that something so seemingly unconventional can taste so utterly delicious"  It did and I was.  There is nothing in the ingredients lists of these recipes that doesn't need to be there.  In my experience, this is a rare thing in the current crop of cookery books.

Bacon and egg pie
from The Sunday Night Book by Rosie Sykes

Among the recipes I've place-marked are Fregola with bacon and peas, and if it tastes half as good as Patricia Niven's photograph suggests I'll be a very happy diner; Bouillabaisse of peas and beans, inspired by the French classic fish soup; Coddled eggs Ivanhoe for the delight of egg married with smoked haddock; and the Quick cheese straws to remind me of the start of a sublime meal at Joyce Molyneux's Carved Angel restaurant - yes I still remember it, and that River Dart Salmon in a butter sauce in particular.

Beginnings of Eggs in a pestle and mortar
from The Sunday Night Book by Rosie Sykes

The final chapter, on 'Pick-me-ups and pop-it-in-in-ones' makes a high-spirited ending.  Original and imaginative Cocktail recipes are from the inimitable Gimlet Bar.  Born out of of a performance work at the Slade School of Fine Art, this movable cocktail bar-for-hire makes in my view, the best cocktails in London so it's no small thing to have some of their recipes here.  Rosie's knowledge ensures each glass is paired perfectly with an edible treat.    A Light-emitting diode - a variant on a whiskey sour?  Try a plate of Squash and truffle brandade; feeling like a citrusy, bitter Reichenbach Falls?  You'll be wanting a few Shallot, parmesan and olive toasts.

It may seem odd to mention the size of the book but I love the fact it is hand size - A5.  It feels good and it's the perfect size for popping in your bag for those weekends away when you are going to have access to a kitchen.  And the beautiful block-print cover by Alexis Snell with restrained little stamps - a tin of anchovies here, a dog-in-a-basket (Rosie's beloved Florence) there - punctuating each chapter makes it look good too.  I'm a bit of a fan of Patricia Niven and here her photography is crisp and bright, true and unfussy, just the way I like it.

This is unpretentious cooking at its best and it's one of those rare books I bought two copies of - I've only ever done that with Simon Hopkinson and Rachel Roddy's books before now.  And I know exactly where the second one is going.  Yes, those "How to ..." books are invaluable but this is the perfect book for anyone leaving home who needs a heartwarming book that makes them actually want to spend some time in the kitchen.

The Sunday Night Book: 52 short recipes to make the weekend feel longer by Rosie Sykes
Published by: Quadrille


Two Kitchens - Family Recipes from Sicily and Rome


Peaches poached with rosé and honey
Two Kitchens - Family recipes from Sicily and Rome
by Rachel Roddy

First things first; I know the author of Two Kitchens - Family Recipes from Sicily and Rome.  I also tested some of the recipes in the book before publication.  This review is, naturally, informed by both.  I hesitated to write it but how could I not when Simon Hopkinson, no less, says "Rachel Roddy describing how to boil potatoes would inspire me.  I want to live under Rachel's kitchen table.  There are very few who possess such a supremely uncluttered culinary voice as hers, just now".  I agree completely, so, here is my review.

Born and raised in England, Rachel Roddy took flight to Sicily 12 years ago with a vague idea of finding a Caravaggio, a volcano and a degree of equilibrium.  Needing to learn the language, she went to Rome.  Here she found her balance in an area of the city called Testaccio - in the day to day life of its people; in learning more than just the language but the habits and traditions; in finding love with Vincenzo, a Sicilian no less; and in becoming a mother to Luca.

Panelle di Fabrizia made to the recipe in
Two Kitchens - Family recipes from Sicily and Rome
by Rachel Roddy

Rachel Roddy's second book, Two Kitchens - Family Recipes from Sicily and Rome is a closely linked follow-up to her award winning Five Quarters - Recipes and notes from a kitchen in Rome and, again, you get so much more than just recipes.  This time we join her in both Rome and Gela, the little town which guide books advise you to drive straight past.  To Rachel it is "... full of disrepair and despair but quietly beautiful and intriguing if you give it time ...".  It is Gela that blew away any romantic ideas about Sicily for the author - the utopian Mediterranean holiday island is a far cry from real life in the south east corner of the island.  Poverty, dilapidation and bad agricultural practices are a fact of life that are not glossed over in the book.  Yet the way of life in Gela has captivated her.

Pesce alla Ghiotta made to the recipe in
Two Kitchens - Family recipes from Sicily and Rome
by Rachel Roddy

"Ask someone to show you how to cook something and there's a good chance you will get more than just a recipe.  Recipes live in stories .....".  It's this approach to everyday life that enables Rachel Roddy to bring her Italian and English food worlds together.  In Five Quarters it was the lives of her friends and neighbours in Rome that inspired her writing as she got to grips with cooking Roman food.  In Two Kitchens she immerses the reader once again in her Roman life interweaved with the kitchen in Gela which for so many years was the domain of Sara, Vincenzo's Nonna.  Each year now the family returns for sojourns in Sicily to unlock the house, pull up the blinds, and stand at the faded, slightly sunken marks in the kitchen, testimony to Sara's long hours at the stove preserving the harvests of Sicily.  In this tiny space she made bread, preserved the tomatoes, reduced wine dregs to must, and salted ricotta into a hard grating cheese that would keep.

Much of the book is devoted to life on Gela, even though the town's central market is long gone. These days the produce borne out of hard work on the land is sold on street corners and pavements, at front doors and from garages.  It is available for what seems like a pittance to a non-Sicilian.  Here, the food they eat is the food they grow - intensely flavoured tomatoes, dense and creamy aubergines, cucuzze squash greens,  onions "the size of frisbees", honeyed figs, peaches that go from perfectly ripe to mush in hours, and grapes "that burst in your mouth and taste almost drunken".

La torta salata di Carla made to the recipe in
Two Kitchens - Family recipes from Sicily and Rome
by Rachel 
Roddy

So, what of the recipes?  This is straightforward, family cooking that follows the seasons and the author is generous in crediting sources and influences.  They are rich in vegetables, pulses and fruits, are adaptable and need little in the way of equipment to prepare.  This is reflective of the way the author lives and cooks in a small flat in Rome and a little ramshackle house with a tiny kitchen in Gela.  Whilst respecting the traditional ways of both, the recipes are her own interpretations of what she has learned - "anarchic, resourceful and personal".

The book is structured as: Vegetables & Herbs; Fruit & Nuts; Meat, Fish & Dairy; and Storecupboard.  Within these chapters lies the essence of the food of Rome and Gela.  A Sicilian dish of Pasta chi vrocculi arriminati (Pasta with cauliflower, anchovies, saffron, pine nuts and raisins) is high on my list of 'must cook'.  Peaches poached with rosé and honey is the dish I prepared just before sitting down to write this review.  With skins removed, in the Sicilian way, they were as soft and pink as a baby's bottom, luscious and lightly perfumed with bay leaf.  It's a recipe I know I'll reach for every time those first irresistible, though not quite ripe, peaches of the season arrive.  I'm already hooked on Pesce alla Ghiotta (Fish in spicy tomato sauce with capers and olives), a dish from Messina which was traditionally made with swordfish but which is adaptable and, in my experience, particularly good made with salt cod.  Oh, a and I badly want to make Salsiccia alluvia e cipolla (Sausages with grapes and red onions) straight out of Middle-Eastern influenced Sicilian cuisine.

Pesce al forno con le patate made to the recipe in
Two Kitchens - Family recipes from Sicily and Rome
by Rachel Roddy

In the Meat, Fish & Dairy chapter you'll find Pesce al forno con le patate (Baked fish with potatoes) with a method straight out of the kitchen of the wonderful Carla Tomasi; and a recipe for Brutta ma buoni (Ugly-but-good) biscuits which are great for using up leftover egg whites and feed my love of hazelnuts.  From the Storecupboard chapter I would bring to your attention Zuppa di lenticchie e castagne (Lentil and chestnut soup) - sweet, nutty earthiness in a bowl which I will be eating through the coming winter; and Pasta, alici e cipolle (Pasta with anchovies and onions) because it's an irresistible combination.  

I urge you to start cooking from this book with the first recipe I tried: Panelle di Fabrizia (Fabrizia's chickpea fritters) - "Ideally the first one should be so hot that it sizzles in your mouth".  Just the best thing to get you into the rhythm of this book.   The very last recipe comes as a surprise as it's the very English Queen of Puddings.  It's there not just as a gratuitous link to the author's Englishness but an example of how she sees the connections that are constantly bringing her Italian and English Food worlds together.  In this case, a Sicilian ricotta, lemon and breadcrumb cake brought this classic English pudding to mind and provides a sweet ending to the book.

Brutta ma buoni made to the recipe in
Two Kitchens - Family recipes from Sicily and Rome
by Rachel Roddy

The introductions to each chapter, and to each of the sections within, are evocative and full of warmth, wit and understanding.  Every chapter makes you feel you are there; chatting with Filippo at his stall on Testaccio market and sampling the peas he has grown on his farm near Scauri; reassuring Rosa that whatever her husband Giuseppe is growing and hauling back to her garage shop is exactly what you want to buy; glimpsing private lives through the ubiquitous 'curtain doors' in Gela; or teaching English to enthusiastic five year old Romans using the language of food.  If I use this book half as much as I use Rachel's first, Five Quarters, it will have earned its place in my little kitchen.

Peaches poached with rosé and honey made to the recipe in
Two Kitchens - Family recipes from Sicily and Rome
by Rachel Roddy

Read Two Kitchens and you too will "want to live under Rachel's kitchen table".  As I said, I have a little partiality about this book but can such respected food voices as Simon Hopkinson, Anna del Conte and Jill Norman be wrong?


Honey & Co The Baking Book 


Page from Honey & Co The Baking Book
Baked Apricots with marzipan filling and almond crumble
Photograph by Patricia Niven ©


"Our days are governed by the rhythm of the pastry .... ".  For Honey & Co, this tiny restaurant in a London backstreet, it's the pastry section that provides the essential underpinning to their busy days, from breakfast to end of dinner treats.  Here is the book that has been so anticipated since last year's publication of Sarit Packer and Itamar Srulovich's much loved debut Honey & Co Food from the Middle East.  I wrote about the 2014 book here.  Where the first book concentrated mostly on savoury Middle-Eastern food, The Baking Book offers recipes for sweet and savoury bakes, with the emphasis on the sweet ones.

Baked apricots with marzipan filling and almond crumble
baked from Honey & Co The Baking Book

Cakes are a big part of the book, even though the original plan for Honey & Co the restaurant didn't include a single cake.  Finding premises with a big picture window changed all that.  Cakes were the lure to attract customers in - the swivel of the eyes as they pass by.  I've done it myself and can confirm how effective a hook that window display is.  Colour to draw the eye, spices, orange blossom and rose waters to make the nose twitch.  All heavenly stratagems are employed.  But there are no deceptions here.  The bakes live up to expectations.

Chocolate & pistachio cookies
baked from Honey & Co The Baking Book

If this was simply a book of recipes, it would be very good - how could it not be, when it covers all of the Honey & Co customer favourites.  But it's the look behind the scenes from 'Dead of night' and 'First light', through the long daily flow of staff and customers, to the snuffing out of the candles, that makes it very good indeed.  In this book Sarit takes centre stage, the driving force for the baking with Giorgia the pastry chef who "lights up when she talks about cakes".  The purple folder of recipes from Sarit's baking life is the starting point.  Then the creative and collaborative work begins - helped along by tastings by staff and regulars and the need to fulfil Itamar's pastry dreams.  The results find their way to table and counter and, now, into this book which "has our favourite recipes .... and the best of all of us".

Raspberry & lime jam
cooked from Honey & Co The Baking Book

Sarit's tips on 'How to be good at baking' are a fine start to the book, with guidance on the use of sugar, eggs, cream, butter/fats, nuts and seeds, as well as excellent advice on ingredients like chocolate, "if I don't want to steal a piece, I shouldn't be baking with it".  The 'Store cupboard' yields up the likes of Strawberry & rose and Black fig, cardamom & orange jams, Amalfi lemon & rosemary marmaladeCandied quince, sweet and savour spice mixes and sugars.  You can breakfast on sticky Fitzrovia Buns  with sour cherries and pistachios (a personal weakness); a dish of Shakshuka (eggs cooked in spicy tomato sauce); Burnt Aubergine burekas (pastry parcels); or buttery Kubaneh, one of the intriguing "three strange Yemeni breads".  Mid-morning could have you feasting on Feta and courgette muffins or Fig, orange & walnut cake.  But then again there is Tahini & white chocolate plait and Pear, ginger and olive oil cake to consider.  Lunch could be a Balkan cheese bread; a spicy Pigeon pastilla; or Leek & goats' cheese pie with an out of the ordinary cheese pastry.  And suddenly it's teatime and we're at page 179 which doesn't even bear a recipe.  What it has is one of my favourite pages of writing in the book as it gives a flavour of the restaurant routine at that particular time of day.  But turn the page for Blood orange & pistachio cakesOrange blossom & marmalade cakesBlueberry, hazelnut & ricotta cake; and Chocolate sandwich cookies filled with tahini cream.  'After Dark' we have sweet, salty, crispy Knafe fragrant with cardamom and orange blossom water; Poached peaches with rose jelly & crystallised rose petals; and, maybe, some pistachio and rose petal Halva.


Peach, vanilla & fennel seed loaf
baked from Honey & Co The Baking Book

I can never write a review without first trying out some of the recipes.  What did I make?  A ruby-red Raspberry & lime jam with citrus and spice notes from the use of fresh and dried limes; soft, yielding Chocolate & pistachio cookies; fragrant Peach, vanilla & fennel seed cake; and a luscious dish of floral, lightly-spiced Baked apricots with marzipan filling & almond crumble.  I made Honey & Co's recipe for Marzipan with orange blossom water for the filling and I swear I will never buy ready-made again.

Slice of Peach, vanilla & fennel seed loaf
baked from Honey & Co The Baking Book


This is a book for those who like a good read along with their cake.  A true taste of Honey & Co the restaurant, a place I know well.  The photography, by Patricia Niven, is every bit as beautiful as her photos in the first book.  This is a Baking Book well worth the wait.




Honey & Co The Baking Book

Book courtesy of Salt Yard Books, an imprint of Hodder & Stoughton


Five Quarters - Recipes and Notes from a Kitchen in Rome

Five Quarters - Recipes and Notes from a Kitchen in Rome
by Rachel Roddy

I've watched Rachel Roddy's writing develop from her Rachel Eats blog, which she started in 2008, so I couldn't wait to get my hands on her first book.  As always,  I endeavour to be objective in my review and I loved the writing which feels so familiar.

Five Quarters may seem a strange title but it's easily explained.  The number five recurs as the book goes along but Quinto Quarto (the Fifth Quarter) is the name of the distinctive style of cooking created by the workers at the Testaccio slaughterhouse towards the end of the 19th century.  Wages were partly paid in-kind with offal.  This being a quarter of the animals weight, it was known as the 'fifth quarter'.  The slaughterhouse is long gone and, no, this is not a book about offal, but it is firmly rooted in the Testaccio quarter of the city of Rome which this Englishwoman calls home.

The "notes" referred to in the sub-title are as delicious as the "recipes".  Arriving in Rome, almost by accident, the tourist decided to stay a while in a tiny flat above a bakery, next to the "coarse and chaotic" old food market.  As she began to get under the skin of this "straightforward, traditional, ordinary" part of Rome, a sense of guilt that she was part of the gentrification taking place in the area led her to resolve to buy local and truly embrace the life of this quarter and its "fierce sense of community".  A daily presence at the next-door market with its families of traders, negotiating the "clusters of chattering signore" in the streets she drinks coffee in the same bar every morning.  And then she fell in love with Vincenzo, a Sicilian with beautiful, strong hands.  A golden-haired baby boy, Luca, arrived in 2012, anchoring her ever more strongly as she became truly a Testaccio local.

This is not a book about 'my beautiful life in Rome'.  The reality is, life is as messy as the food market at the heart of the book.  Certainly it's about hauling bags of produce home to cook in a tiny apartment kitchen. It's also about the life of Testaccio, particularly the market, and the people who make it possible to live in the chaos of a city. There's the Sartor family butchery, Mauro the fishmonger, Gianluca and Giancarlo the fruit and veg sellers, Augusto at Trattoria La Torricella and the numerous independent shop-owners of the quarter.  Friends, neighbours, acquaintances, and even strangers are ever-willing to offer advice. It's about forgetting what you thought you knew about 'Italian' food and watching, listening, questioning and cooking dishes again and again to re-learn how to cook it, here, in this extraordinary place.  For nine years she gradually gathered understanding along with ingredients.  She began to notice the differences, and the similarities, with English food; particularly with the simply prepared food of her roots in Northern England - slow braising of cheaper cuts of meat, the use of offal and the love of jam tarts and of spiced fruit cakes.

Cooked and photographed in real time, the recipes are based on a year in this "Kitchen in Rome". Pleasingly, there are five chapters, just as there should be five course to an Italian meal.  Each chapter is enticingly seasoned with helpful advice, observation and anecdote and spiced with a little Roman history.  There's also a generous sprinkling of good sense.  Advice and useful information, which can only come from someone who has cooked the same recipes over and over again, comes thick and fast yet it feels like a two-way conversation.  It's far from 'preachy' or 'know-it-all' but is generous and sharing.

Linguine con zucchine (Linguine with courgettes, eggs and parmesan)
cooked from Five Quarters - Recipes and Notes from a Kitchen in Rome

The Italian names for the dishes in the book are far more poetic, but here I use English titles for brevity.  Chapter 1 - Antipasti - starts, as the Romans frequently do, with Broad Beans and Pecorino, simply a pile of young fresh beans to be podded at the table alongside a chunk of, preferably, sharp sheep's milk cheese.  There's Deep Fried ArtichokesRicotta and Spinach Fritters and Panzanella.  Octopus and potato salad features with instructions for how to cook your octopus - and how, based on much advice, trial and error, not to cook your octopus!

Chapter 2 covers Soup & Pasta.  We learn that the soup, or minestre can be simple or complex and is one of the few foods that Romans do not have a definitive recipe for, rather minestre is a dish you make your own; "the embodiment of childhood nourishment and comfort".   Here is Fettucine with rich meat sauceSpaghetti with clams and how to make Potato dumplings (Gnocchi).

A chapter on Meat & Fish reminds that "Good Roman cooking, like any good, popular cooking, is homely and rooted in tradition..... makes virtue out of necessity and makes things taste as good as they possibly can".  Making a little go a long way, particularly when it comes to meat, is a Northern England virtue as well as a Roman one.  There's Meatballs in tomato sauce or Roman-style tripe. Fish is introduced by a story familiar to most of us, the quest for a good fishmonger.  There's a Pot of musselsSalt cod with tomatoes, raisins and pine nuts, and a Roman Jewish dish of Miriam's bream baked with potatoes.

Chapter 4 is the Vegetable course.  Mostly treated as a separate course in Rome, though, served in larger portions, they can also take the place of the meat or fish course.  Many of the dishes can be prepared ahead, and some benefit from doing so, and with the addition of bread, eggs or cheese, they become a meal in themselves.  If I'd had this book a few weeks ago I would not have been confused by the large, hairy green Italian leaves at my London market that turned out to be borage - so different from our English borage which we tend to value more for its electric blue flowers.  It's in this chapter that Rachel's favourite English writers continue to influence her cooking in Rome, but when it's the likes of Jane Grigson and Simon Hopkinson, it's no wonder.  There are recipes for Greens with garlic and chilli, adaptable to whatever greens you can get; Eggs in sauceRoman-style artichokes; and Fennel baked with Parmesan.

To finish with there's Dolci.  Often it's seasonal fruit.  Wedges of pellucid, ruby-red,  watermelon; Pale green figs with, "if you're lucky, a teardrop of nectar at the tip of the stalk"; fragrant cantaloupe melons; apricots, peaches, nespole or cherries and plums.  Here you'll find a recipe for Spiced quinces in syrup, wobbly Panna Cotta; slushy, coarse-textured Granita di meloneKitty's vanilla ice-cream scented with citrus; and Cherry jam tart.  If you're hungry for more, there are delicious crisp little Ring biscuits with wine and fennel seeds and Angel Wings and much, much more.

Pangiallo (Spiced fruit cake with saffron)
cooked from Five Quarters - Recipes and Notes from a Kitchen in Rome

I have already cooked four recipes from this book.  There is, mercifully, no striving for novelty in them.  If you are looking for innovation, you are missing the point of the book.  Instead, expect tried and tested dishes, recipes that really work and dishes that are delicious to eat.  You'll learn a lot along the way and enjoy a damn fine read.  This is a book which will stay in my kitchen.

Most of the photography in the book is by the author.  This reinforces its authenticity as the cooking and photography was done in real time - shop, cook, eat.  The photographs are also very, very good. Additional photography by Nicholas Seaton beautifully captures the atmosphere of the Testaccio quarter and its inhabitants.

2015 is already proving to be a very good year for food writing, and this book is right up there with the best.  Now, I'm off to make Linguine con zucchine again, just to make sure I really have unlearned what I thought I knew, and because it's a delicious recipe.


Five Quarters - Recipes and Notes from a Kitchen in Rome by Rachel Roddy

Book courtesy of Salt Yard Books

Fern Verrow - A year of recipes from a farm and its kitchen




Fern Verrow - A year of recipes
from a farm and its kitchen

Let me say from the outset that I know the authors of this book, in as much as I've bought produce grown on their farm ever since they started to load up a van and bring it down to London for sale most Saturdays.  Last Saturday they slipped some copies of the book on the back of the van so I was able to buy a copy a few days before publication date.  I grow some of my own fruit and veg so I know a little bit about where this book is coming from. I'm an enthusiast, but that's not the reason I found this book difficult to put down.   The Fern Verrow land is farmed  biodynamically, but this is not a book only for those of us who embrace the methods of Rudolf Steiner.  If you care about how your food is grown and how it's cooked you'll love how this book draws you in with its rhythmic prose and page after page of recipes for simple seasonal food that honours the ingredients.  This is food that you really want to eat.

'Verrow' comes from an old French term for a split in the land around which water flows.  It describes perfectly the lie-of-the-land on the Herefordshire border with Wales in which the farm, Fern Verrow, sits.  Lindsay Sekulowicz's hand-drawn map at the front of the book gives the reader a wonderful orientation to the land being described.  Here is the acreage where Jane Scotter and Harry Astley raised a family while turning the land into the farm of their dreams.  Here, in one of the most unspoiled areas of England, they have laboured long and hard, learning "to adapt and to live with the rhythms and cycles of the year" working in "partnership" with the land.  This book concentrates on how they work and cook from "the engine room of the farm", the kitchen, where every day starts and ends and where they always find time for cooking.  Many books of recipes claim to be 'seasonal'.  The writers of this book know the true meaning of the word.  In their words, this book "is a place to pass on our recipes, as well as the understanding of food and its cultivation that we have developed over the years.  It is a celebration of what nature provides.  It encourages imagination and consideration in the kitchen, and the pleasures of cooking well, with an appreciation of the different vegetables, fruit and meat as they arrive at our tables throughout the course of the year."

Fern Verrow, the book, like the farm is tied to the 4 seasons, here represented by the classical elements of Earth - Winter, where everything starts, from the ground up; Water - Spring, bringing the sprouting of life; Air Summer, light and flowering; and Fire -Autumn, fruiting and transformation.  The book gives you insights into 'Working with the soil' "our most valuable resource"; 'Working with the sun', which dictates the pattern of the day; 'Working with the moon', whose effects on water and tides and on reproductive cycles is well known, and 'Building fertility' of the soil.  There's just enough about biodynamics to spark your interest, and there's a Further Reading section at the back if you want to know more.

Fern Verrow
Working with the soil

Winter, for Jane and Harry is a time to think and plan for the coming twelve months.  Recipes for this time include Braised chicory and bacon enriched with double cream, Beef stew with parsley dumplings, to make the most of what is around and counter the season's icy blasts.  There's Apple and lemon crumble, Carrot and almond cake and Parsnip and hazelnut oat biscuits.  Spring brings birdsong, light and colour, along with new life in the greenhouse, the barn, the fields and the woodlands.  For those of us who grow it also brings the 'hungry gap' when winter brassicas have gone to seed and 'spring' veg is slow to get going.  But there are herbs, foraged leaves and flowers. There's wild garlic, dandelion, Jack-by-the-hedge and buttercup - heat and pungency, needing only a simple dressing to make a bowlful sing.  Here are recipes for Lovage and potato soup, Spring fritters with wild garlic mayonnaise, Herb butters and Rhubarb puddings.  For later in Spring there's Fried duck egg with asparagus, sage and parmesan and then Elderflower cake.

Early Summer on the farm brings cultivated salad leaves and the first of the soft fruit in the form of gooseberries.  These are swiftly followed by currants, strawberries, raspberries, jostaberries and more.  The bees are busy and the farm is looking its best.  Weather becomes an obsession - too hot, too wet, too something - and can make for testing times.  The table is laid with Fresh pea and mint soup, Barbecued chicken with sweetcorn and lime leaf relish, a Blackcurrant pie or a spectacular Summer fruit trifle.  Come Autumn outward growth slows and activities turn more often to preserving late berries, plums, apples, pears and quince.  Then the kitchen table bears Borlotti bean, chorizo and tomato stew, Red Florence onion Tatin, and Braised rabbit with juniper berries. Desserts are fragrant Quince and ginger upside-down cake and Steamed greengage pudding.

And, all too soon, the twelve month cycle is over.


"Our relationship with the farm continues to feed us, 
the work never ceases, our lives are played out on this plot of land".  
... "The gifts of the year have come full circle, 
transforming the  past into the seeds of the future".  
Jane Scotter and Harry Astley

The book benefits hugely from the stunning photography of Tessa Traeger.  But, most of all, it's the pictures painted by the prose that stay with you.  I found the book difficult to put down.  Some of us paddle around the edges of biodynamics, never fully getting our feet wet - it's not for the faint-hearted.  A few hard working people, like Jane Scotter and Harry Astley, live the life.  Caution -  reading this book may make you want to go in search of your own acreage.

As is my way with book reviews, I had to try at least one recipe.  It had to be seasonal, of course, and, having pulled some sticks of rhubarb this morning, I chose Rhubarb and custard fool.  Silky, creamy custard and sweet/tart fruit.  Ringing the changes with a little fresh ginger root or orange zest is suggested.  I added a little rosewater to the rhubarb at the end of cooking.  A perfect Spring recipe.  If you want to see it beautifully styled and photographed, go to page 124.  Meanwhile, here's a serving:

Rhubarb and custard fool
from a recipe in
Fern Verrow - A year of recipes from a farm and its kitchen

Fern Verrow - A year of recipes from a farm and its kitchen by Jane Scotter and Harry Astley
First published by Quadrille 21 May 2015


How to Boil an Egg by Rose Carrarini


Egg in the Middle
from How to Boil an Egg - Rose Bakery
by Rose Carrarini
Illustration by Fiona Strickland

There seems to be no let-up in the trend for cookbooks based on one prime ingredient.  In recent years we've seen In Praise of the Potato by Lindsey Bareham, Le meilleur et le plus simple de la pomme de terre by Joël Robuchon, Bacon by Michael Ruhlman, and The Tomato Basket by Jenny Linford.  Ruhlman followed his Bacon book up with the 2014 publication Egg: A Culinary Exploration of the World's Most Versatile Ingredient.  But before Ruhlman turned his pen to the egg came Jan Arkless with How to Boil an Egg in 1986. Within the past decade we've seen The Good Egg by Marie Simmons; Michel Roux's Eggs; Jennifer Trainer Thompson's The Fresh Egg Cookbook; Lara Ferroni's Put an Egg on ItA Good Egg by Genevieve Taylor; and the latest addition to the pot, Blanche Vaughan's Egg.  The egg's protein-packed versatility makes it the perfect food and so the books keep on coming.


Rose Carrarini's How to Boil an Egg, hit the bookshelves in 2014.  The choice of title surprised me as I had fallen for the media myth that Delia Smith had got there first with that one.  In reality, Delia devoted the first three chapters of her 1998 How to Cook book 1 to the subject of eggs, including instructions on exactly how to boil an egg. The fact she had the audacity to suggest anyone might not know how to boil an egg brought a degree of media ridicule not shared by her grateful readership and Delia had the last laugh with phenomenal book sales. Whatever you think, her advice "If you want to learn how to cook, start with eggs" remains excellent advice, I think.


My favourite of the clutch, Rose Carrarini's book is truly all about the egg and shows just what an essential role it plays in our cooking. Whether it's the star or has a supporting role, here the egg carries the dish.  Based on the cooking for her Anglo-French bakery and restaurant Rose Bakery in Paris, means she offers some more unusual recipes and twists on the expected classics.  Continuing the theme of her first book, Breakfast, Lunch, Tea, this book is presented in chapters.  'Eggs for Breakfast' offers Chocolate Orange Muffins and Lemon Pancakes as well as Egg in the Middle and Eggs Baked in Dashi.  'Eggs for Lunch' range from Poached eggs in Tomato and Fennel Broth through gratins, tarts and salads to Japanese inspired 'Chawanmushi' savoury custards.  'Eggs for Tea' offers treats like Purple Corn and Blueberry Cake, Green Tea Genoise, Îles Flottantes, Deep Custard Tarts and a Semolina Pudding that might just banish all memories of school lunches.  Low sugar and gluten-free are something of a passion too.

I've tried several of the recipes in this book and I have to say it is not without the odd editing error or omission - one recipe forgets to mention the essential component in the ingredients list, another doesn't supply the oven temperature.  It's not a hand-holding kind of book in the manner of a Delia but the small mistakes are pretty obvious so you can't go far wrong.  In another of the 'Egg' books the instructions for 'scrambled eggs' extend to a page and a half, so I'm relieved to say that here they take up a mere three sentences.

Purple Corn and Blueberry Cake
from How to Boil an Egg - Rose Bakery
by Rose Carrarini
Illustration by Fiona Strickland

And if you're thinking how beautifully photographed the dishes are, look again.  Illustrations are by
Fiona Stricklanda botanical artist who has made an intriguing diversion into food illustration. Different painting techniques had to be explored, including the use of opaque watercolour mixes and a lighter weight of paper.  Shades of white had to be painted-in rather than Strickland's usual technique of allowing the white of the paper to shine through colour to provide highlight and contrast.  The results are, mostly, astonishing.  From the moist crumb and sticky glaze of Purple Corn and Blueberry Cake, to the luscious dish of caramel-drizzled îles Flottantes, you can't quite believe what you are seeing.  My favourite illustration, perhaps, accompanies a recipe for Egg in the Middle (at the start of this piece) where the crispness of the fried bread and the just-cooked egg are so perfect you want to reach for a knife and fork.

Eggs Baked in Dashi
from How to Boil an Egg - Rose Bakery
by Rose Carrarini
Illustration by Fiona Strickland

Here's my adaptation of A Simple Apple Flan.  I like it particularly because rather than being predictably encased in pastry, it's held together by eggs, a touch of corn flour and a layer of caramel. It's light and, despite the caramel layer, slightly tart from the lemon juice which is there more than to simply prevent the apples from oxidising.

A Simple Apple Flan
from How to Boil an Egg - Rose Bakery
by Rose Carrarini

A Simple Apple Flan
(Serves 6)

150g (5½oz or ¾ cup) Caster sugar
Juice of 1 lemon
60g (2oz or 4½ tablespoons) butter, diced
1kg (2¼lb) cooking apples such as Bramleys
3 eggs, beaten
1 tablespoon cornflour (cornstarch)

Pre-heat the oven to 140C(fan 120C)/250F/Gas(oven temperature was missing from the printed recipe so this is my advice)
Heat 100g caster sugar and 2 tablespoons of water in a small, heavy-based pan over a high heat, gently swirling the pan to dissolve the sugar.  Then boil without stirring for 4-5 minutes to achieve a smooth caramel.
Remove the pan from the heat, add half the lemon juice and 25g butter and mix well.
Pour the mixture into a round ovenproof dish (or smaller dishes) to cover the base and set aside.
Peel, core and slice the apples.  Put them in a stainless steel pan with the rest of the lemon juice and cook over a low heat to a soft purée.  Stir in the remaining sugar.
Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the beaten eggs, the remaining butter and the cornflour.
Pour the mixture over the caramel and bake for about 30 minutes until it has firmed slightly.
Remove from the oven, allow to cool then refrigerate overnight.
Just before turning out the flan, place on a low heat for a few minutes to release the caramel base then invert onto a serving dish.  
Serve with custard or double cream.

How to Boil an Egg by Rose Carrarini - Published by Phaidon



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 sorbetRaspberries 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 sauceRoast 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.



Breakfast, Lunch, Tea by Rose Carrarini


Page of Breakfast, Lunch, Tea by Rose Carrarini
- Broccoli Cake

Not to have recommended Breakfast, Lunch, Tea by Rose Carraini, first published in 2006 by Phaidon, until now is a serious omission.  In truth I bought two copies, the first before I started writing this blog and a second copy from one of its several re-prints.  Why two?  Water damage.  A neighbour.  Don't ask...  It was only when I bought Rose Carrarini's second book, How to Boil an Egg, published in 2013, that I remembered I had to catch up on my favourite book reviews.  So, anxious as I am to tell you about the second, I need to get my books in order.

A little about the author.  In 1988 the Anglo-French team of Jean Charles and Rose Carrarini set up one of the most influential food shops cum café/restaurants in London.  With their treasure of an epicerie fine, Villandry (not to be confused with the present Villandry nearby), they drew people from all over the capital to their little space. It was one of the few jewels in what was then a rather jaded (imagine that) Marylebone High Street.  Jean Charles and Rose Carrarini were pioneers and everyone in London who aspired to open their own deli checked out Villandry first.  I've written about the Carrarinis before so click on here if you want to read more about their time in London and Rose Bakery which they opened in Paris in 2002.  

Rose Carrarini is not a trained chef and this book is not simply a list of recipes but an expression of her learning and instincts; a philosophy if you like.  As with Sally Clarke who opened her inspirational restaurant in Kensington Church Street 30 years ago, Rose cites Alice Waters as a strong influence.  Richard Olney and Elizabeth David informed her thinking, too, as she evolved her own pursuit of simplicity, seasonality and intensity of flavour. Breakfast, Lunch, Tea is based on the seasonal food prepared every day at the tiny one-time chartil which is Rose Bakery.  The book conveys a deep love of good ingredients and Rose's passionate belief that "life is improved by great food and great food can be achieved by everyone".

Not many cookbooks stress the importance of feeling "free to add different ingredients or change things as you go along" to suit your own tastes, because "That is what cooking is all about".  But it's important to remember, "the secret to getting a wonderful result lies ultimately in the ingredients.  So choose them well."  The Breakfast section of the book includes recipes for Fruit Taboulé, a delicious alternative to a bowl of muesli; pancakes from classic to gluten-free and vegan; Maple Syrup Scones; no-nonsense Perfect Scrambled Eggs; as well as juices, smoothies and cereals.  The chapter on Lunch keeps things 'light' to suit both the way Rose Bakery customers want to eat in or take-away.  Soups include Spiced chickpea and lemon soup and Cold Beetroot soup with a hot potato; Salads such as Carrot and seed and Quinoa and pepper are packed with flavour; the Pastry section includes recipes for Rose Bakery's singular square vegetable tarts like Artichoke and pea tart and Ricotta, tomato and thyme tart and a take on Pissaladière; Rice features, including a new combination to me Tomato, Aubergine and mint risotto.  I love the idea of a main course dish of Cod in tomato water (alternative white fish are suggested and sustainability emphasised).  This takes us through to Tea, and a much longer recipe list including Chocolate, orange and ricotta tartPistachio cakeBrocolli cakeAlmond, cinnamon and meringue biscuitsJam sandwich vegan cookiescoconut custard slices; and puddings including classics like Apple Brown Betty and Summer Pudding; and finishing off with a Japanese influenced Red Bean sorbet.

This is a very freeing recipe book.  It's not prescriptive and hand-holding to the point where you feel you must follow the recipes slavishly.  Rather, it encourages you to follow your instincts.  It's my kind of cookery book.  The photography is by Toby Glanville.  From a flour-strewn pastry table to a portrait of 'Jacob, our kitchen assistant', he captures the mood of Rose Bakery perfectly.

Check back in a couple of days for a favourite recipe from the book.

Coming soon, book two, How to Boil and Egg.



Honey & Co: Food From the Middle East


Honey & Co: Food From the Middle East

I wrote about Honey & Co the restaurant back in March 2013.  I mentioned "the pavement stumblers".  People like me caught out by the dip in the pathway a moment after my attention was drawn to the eye-catching display of cakes in the window.  Now I know the cakes were Honey & Co's PR campaign.  It proved a fantastically effective advertising tool for a restaurant being created on a shoestring budget, and already there's a book.

It's not unusual for a book to grow from the seed of a restaurant.  Most will start off telling the reader about the restaurant, the author, the inspiration and philosophy.  Few will tell you how the owners fell in love over oven-fresh burek and pigeon stuffed with pine nut rice.  How they sneered at each others introductions to "Haifa's best falafel" and "Jerusalem's best falafel", each secretly enjoying both.  Few will introduce you to the staff, from the loveable front-of-house Rachael to "sweet, funny" Carlos the kitchen porter.  Fewer still will feel a tale of a "big-hearted broad-shouldered London cabbie and an industrial mixer worth telling.  Then there's the habit of attaching names and personal stories to familiar faces.  These are the things that are important to Itamar Srulovich (former Head Chef at Ottolenghi) and Sarit Packer (former Head of Pastry at Ottolenghi and Executive Chef at Nopi), owners of Honey & Co the restaurant and, now, authors.  After a frantic 6 weeks of work they walked into their little restaurant kitchen for the first time and chose to preserve lemons.  They put the jars on the little shelf in the restaurant "to place our hope in a fortunate future".

I wanted to do this review without being influenced by my visits to the restaurant, but even before I finished the "Welcome" page I knew this was going to be impossible.  Itamar explains my difficulty: "We wanted to write this book to capture the essence of who we are - not just the two of us but also our little restaurant and the hive it is, the people we work with, the people we feed and the customers who became friends, and the tasty, easy, homey food that brings us all together."  This book fulfills the promise of that sentence.  Sometimes you aren't sure who's 'voice' you are 'hearing' but that matters not a jot.

They start with a few base recipes such as Sweet spice mix and Baharat, a savoury spice mix.  Neither has a massively long list of ingredients and the alluring photograph of spices makes you want to get roasting and grinding.  Mezze takes up a large part  of the book: raw, cured, canned, pickled, breads, dips, spreads, purees, baked, fried and cracked - from sweet Uri buri prawns (with a sweetly romantic association) and rich pastry Borekitas to spicy Turkish Kisir.  Salads of Beetroot & plums in a rose & walnut dressing and an aromatic plate of Poached quince with curd cheese and honeyed hazelnuts are followed by dishes such as Lamb Siniya, like a Middle-Eastern shepherd's pie; a festive tagine Madfunia; Slow-cooked lamb shoulder with plums and roses, needing only a mound of rice or couscous to serve; Octopus in meshwiya sauce with celery salad and Cauliflower 'shawarma' which makes use of that Baharat spice mix.

I've already mentioned my love of Honey & Co's cakes and here you will find recipes for Cherry, pistachio and coconut cake and vibrant Saffron & lemon syrup cake.  Amongst the dessert recipes I know I'll make is Marzipan & almond cakes with roasted plums, and their sumptuous signature dish of Feta & honey cheesecake on a kadaif pastry base.

Aubergine Sabich - Photo: Saffron Strands
Recipe: Honey & Co: Food From the Middle East

So many recipes I really want to make, but what have I tried?  First up, Aubergine Sabich.  As the authors say, "there is nothing sophisticated here".  It's an easy recipe, just good ingredients, freshly prepared and pepped-up with a good dressing but everything comes together deliciously.  There's really no excuse for not making your own pitta bread here.  I've never felt an affinity with yeast so choosing to make pitta was a deliberate test of the instructions.  My hand was held all the way and the oven yielded beautiful domes of puffed-up bread.  I now have an urgent need to make Bukhari bread and Milk bun.  Goodness, I've become a bread baker at last!

White chocolate, pine nuts, olive oil & candied lemon zest - Photo: Saffron Strands
Recipe: Honey & Co: Food From the Middle East

Next came a dessert of White chocolate, pine nuts, olive oil & candied lemon zest.  I chose to make this dish because I, too, generally,"see no point in white chocolate" but was seduced by the assurance that this would be wonderful, and so it was.  It's a bit rich, but I was warned.  Again, the instructions were really clear and it was a pleasure to make. My version is tinged green due to the particular unfiltered oil used.  The flavour was delicious.

Each section of this book is lightly spiced with just the right amount of anecdote and memory.  It's blindingly obvious that hearts and souls and a great deal of love have gone into it.  That's not something I come across too often in a cookbook.  It also made me laugh out loud more than once.  Photographs by Patricia Niven capture perfectly the warmth of the place, food and the owners.  And if you're wondering about those falafels they're both in here; Jerusalem-style for Itamar and Haifa-style for Sarit, plus a Yemeni-style one for family roots.


Book courtesy of Salt Yard Books, an imprint of Hodder & Stoughton


The Modern Peasant - Adventures in City Food  by Jojo Tulloh


The Modern Peasant - Adventures in City  Food
Jojo Tulloh

'The Modern Peasant' didn't hook me, it was the subtitle 'Adventures in City Food' that did.  Rooted in this maddening, chaotic, fascinating city of London, it pays to have an adventurous spirit, not least where food is concerned.  It's not the  multiplicity of cuisines on offer in this cosmopolitan metropolis that the author, JojoTulloh, finds so enthralling.  It's the new wave of small urban producers that interest her.  Buying food from them, growing some of her own and making simple food from scratch - "rediscovering an earlier tradition of cookery" - has reconnected her to the source of food.  She sees the word "peasant" not as a negative term but as a description of a person producing high quality food.  Whether they are doing so for pleasure, profit or out of necessity - these are her 'Modern Peasants'.

Like Jojo, I have revelled in the emergence of bakers, brewers, bee-keepers and butchers.  I am ever-delighte to discover cheese makers and ice cream makers tucked into unlikely arches and forgotten corners of the city.  Whenever I can I will inveigle my way behind the scenes .  It's no wonder, then, I seized on The Modern Peasant.

The book starts with a "pilgrimage" to Italy's Apulia region, specifically, to the farmhouse where foodwriter Patience Gray spent the last 35 years of her life.  It was here, with her lover, the sculpture Norman Mommens, that Gray lived off the land and wrote her autobiographical cookbook Honey from a Weed.  If you don't know this book, Jojo Tulloh's introduction will make you want to delve into its pages.  The book and the visit made Tulloh look at her own life and how she procured her food.  She returned to London "determined to eat more weeds (Patience's universal panacea), get bees and seek out those who could teach me their hard-earned skills."

Tulloh makes the case that by producing some of our food ourselves, witnessing the labour that goes into its production or buying direct from the producer, we will appreciate it more and waste less.  For chapters headed Baked, Fermented, Planted, Foraged and Pickled, Preserved, Foraged & Smoked she spent time with producers.  In a bakery she takes us from the description of a container of dough bubbling "like the sac in a bullfrog's throat" to a succinct explanation of autolysis.  She forages on Hampstead Heath with "someone who knows" and enjoys the thrift of making jams and pickles for a well-stocked larder.  Many of these chapters end with some excellent 'Tips", techniques and a few simple recipes.  She shows just how easy and satisfying it is to make your own bread, yoghurt, ricotta or ginger beer.

Like all of us who are fortunate enough to 'borrow' a little piece of land on which to grow crops, Jojo Tulloh values it beyond measure.  In a section titled The Practical Peasant's Year, she makes the point that "To grow something is to become aware of the elements.  Earth, air, sun and fire become part of your consciousness".  That's not to say she is blindly romantic about it.  Time spent on the allotment is "not the most logical or effective use of my time" but "there is a deep calm and concentrated peace that comes from the monotony of task performed outside".  Even when growing feels like a battle "there is a strength there that can be gained and is almost as worthwhile as the produce you take home".

Returning to Patience Gray, The Modern Peasant ends on a few of the foodwriter's recipes and acknowledges that food is not the only important thing in life but it is a daily necessity that shouldn't be made light of.

My enjoyment of this book was helped along by a peppering of great quotes, particularly those taken from William Cobbett's Cottage Economy.  Reading, learning, growing and making has "added another layer" to Jojo Tulloh's life.  I have to say I feel the same way and this book gives voice to that feeling.  It's an interesting and inspiring read and one I am likely to return to in future for reference.

The Modern Peasant - Adventures in City Food
Jojo Tulloh
Illustrated by Lynn Hatzius


Book courtesy of Chatto & Windus


The Art of Cooking with Vegetables by Alain Passard


The Art of  Cooking with Vegetables
Alain Passard



Some time in the 1990's I was lucky enough to eat at L'Arpege in Paris.  Dish after sublime dish passed from kitchen to table.  I remember every plateful being simple but wonderful with, mercifully, none of the primping and tweaking one might have expected.  But it was the end of the meal which I remember best.  Yes, Passard did make an appearance, in a self-effacing way but what has stayed with me was the way a basket containing a whole tray of exquisite baby madeleines, hot from the oven, was placed before us.  It was a nice touch which left us feeling like we had dined with friends rather than at a Michelin starred restaurant, albeit we had paid for the privilege.

In 2000 Alain Passard, shockingly, removed red meat from his restaurant menu.  A brave move from a man who had worked hard to gain no less than 3 Michelin stars.  I haven't eaten at L'Arpege since the change in focus, but it does still have those 3 stars.  All the vegetables used in the restaurant are grown on Passard's biodynamic farm south-west of Paris.  As I grow biodynamically myself, I probably appreciate his enthusiasm more than most. His passion to unite a love of cooking with that of art took him on a "quest for gastronomic and visual harmony" and The Art of Cooking with Vegetables, is published for the 25th anniversary of L'Arpege.

Vegetarians will love this book for its unusual and interesting pairings.  It's so different, with not a grain of quinoa in sight, that I can see it appealing to the most committed meat eater too.  It takes vegetables seriously and, in 48 seasonal recipes, places them centre stage.  Despite the title, there are a few recipes for fruit too.  Personally, I love the colourful collage representations alongside the recipes but if you prefer to see clearly what you're aiming for you may not share my enthusiasm.  Having been given this book as a present, I opened it a little nervously thinking my cooking couldn't possibly live up to the recipes within.  In fact the recipes are very simple and in the case of the two I've tried so far, you really can't go wrong.  Both were visually impressive and delivered on taste, just as promised, so I'm keen to work my way through the book season by season.   Alain Passard would like his readers to be "a cook and an artist" and with recipes like these, how can we fail.



Salt Sugar Smoke by Diana Henry


Salt Sugar Smoke
by Diana Henry

I've dabbled a little in preserving food over the years but until I got my hands on an allotment it was a spasmodic activity.  If you have a kitchen garden or allotment you'll know it's sometimes necessary to either give produce away or deal with a glut.  Diana Henry's latest book Salt Sugar Smoke is just what I need, but you don't have to grow your own food to find this book invaluable. It's perfect too for anyone who has just a small amount of food to preserve. Diana teaches the "know-how" of preserving nature's abundance, however small an amount you may have.  No backyard smokery, professional brining vat or other expensive equipment is required.  A kindly guiding hand takes you gently through enticing recipes that really work.  This is the perfect book for anyone who wants to learn about all aspects of preserving.

Despite childhood memories of her mother's kitchen in Northern Ireland, surrounded by an extended family of home bakers and jam-makers, Diana Henry always felt preserving was for the "experts".  So whilst this book was inspired by childhood, it was informed by her reading choices, travels and a life lived in multi-cultural London.  Three years of constant learning and experimenting has gone into Salt Sugar Smoke.  The narrative style is warm and engaging, with fascinating nuggets of information on the origins of methods and recipes, and how the writer came by them.

Purple fig & pomegranate jam
prepared from Diana Henry's Salt Sugar Smoke
The opening chapter is on Jam and, given the British love of the preserve, is surprising short, though far from boring.  It starts with "the essentials" and "the process" covering how certain fruits behave, how to sterilise and how to get a 'set'.  Not that Diana, unlike many jam makers, gets hung up on 'set' jams.  She's an advocate of 'less is more' when it comes to sugar content.  Soft-set and "nearly" jams are celebrated and encouraged.  Flavour combinations are inventive, such as decadent Purple fig and pomegranate and Melon, lime and ginger, and aim to inspire.

Jellies, Curds & Fruit Cheeses include a smokey Quince and star anise jelly and a tart Passion fruit curd.  Next come chapters on  Sauces, Pastes, Mustards and Vinegars; Under Oil; and Smoking using a kitchen wok or stove-top smoker.  Recipes include Hot-smoked mackerel with Spanish flavours and Smoked maple and bourbon chicken.  An introduction to the "sinful pleasures" of Cordials, Alcohols, Fruits and Spoon Sweets is irresistible.  Diana wrties, "There is nothing here that is remotely necessary", though Plum and almond hooch and the Middle Eastern cordial Quince sharbat sound pretty necessary to me.  Salted, Cured and Potted is a good introduction to the different methods with recipes ranging from Streaky bacon to Sweet tea-brined chicken.  Chutneys, Relishes and Pickles is the longest chapter reflecting the British taste for sweet-sour.  I love the quote included from the American-Iranian poet Arash Saedinia who wrote of jars of vegetables "gossiping in vinegar".  Amongst many good recipes is Moldavian pepper relish and a must-try Indian pickle Pumpkin Achar.

There is brief essential information on the science of preserving, guidance on keeping times, including a reminder to use common sense "if it smells or looks off, it probably is ...".   There's also a useful suppliers list at the end of the book.

I tried a couple of recipes before writing this review and can't praise the Purple fig and pomegranate jam enough.  It's fragrance redolent of the Middle East, it tastes just as you imagine it will.  A couple of jars glow like rubies on my kitchen worktop as I write.  They won't sit there for long.  I also made the Carrot and coriander relish which will go well with cold meats, I think.  Both recipes worked like a dream, leaving me feeling much more confident, and with a huge sense of satisfaction.

The only danger with this latest of Diana Henry's books is that I'll be delving into the delicious prose when I should be preserving and, as Diana says,  "capturing and holding onto the season".


Book courtesy of Octopus Publishing Group




'Jerusalem' by Yotam Ottolenghi & Sami Tamimi


Shakshuka cooked from 'Jerusalem'



It was the bold flavours of Levantine cuisine that brought together Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi when they found themselves working together in London.  Living only 2km apart but never meeting, they separately left Jewish West and Palestinian East Jerusalem for London, via Tel Aviv, in the 1990's. With Italian and German parentage Ottolenghi was used to eating both European food and the Arab food familiar to Tamimi when both were growing up.  This mix of cuisines has informed the cooking at their four cafe/shops and new restaurant, NOPI, in London.  Their signature is bright, fresh, spicy flavours; sometimes surprising and sometimes challenging.

A nostalgia for the food of Jerusalem finally drew them back to research this handsome, heavyweight book.  The food of Jerusalem is informed by its mix of Jewish, Muslim and Christian inhabitants and there are many debates over the origins of dishes in this book.  Not all the food of Jerusalem is a visual feast, so some of the recipes are loose interpretations of traditional dishes. With 'Jerusalem" they hope they have succeeded in "distilling the spirit of the place ....." by "... relying on our impulses for what feels right, looks beautiful and tastes delicious to us".

I have to say I ignored the fish dishes in this book.  I prefer my fish almost flapping and none of the recipes fit the bill for me, but the authors do own that "Jerusalem is not a city of fish".  Instead what caught my attention were dishes such as Mejadra (sweetly spiced rice and lentils with fried onions), a dish of Braised eggs with lamb, tahini & sumac, the Ashkenazi Hanukkah speciality Latkes and the syrup-laced pudding Mutabbaq.

Stuffed aubergine
with lamb & pine nuts cooked

from 'Jerusalem'
Stuffed aubergine with lamb and pine nuts was easy to prepare and soon popped in the oven.  After an hour and a half and a couple of bastings the aromas were sweet, smokey and intense. I really wanted to get it out of the oven and tuck in.  The dish needs, as the recipe points out, to cool  to allow full appreciation of the flavours of the spice combination.  Rice was good to mop up the juices and I used mango chutney for the suggested 'pickle', to balance the flavours.

Shakshuka is my kind of food.  Originally of Tunisian origin, it's a simple and comforting dish of red peppers, tomatoes and eggs spiced up with cumin and an intense chilli and garlic Pilpelchuma sauce (or harissa).  Served with a cooling spoonful of yoghurt and a good flatbread it made a great lunch and I can see myself following the suggestion to "play around with different ingredients" according to the time of year.

At first reading I felt daunted by the number of ingredients for many of the recipes in 'Jerusalem'.  However, I relaxed once I realised I had most of the spices in my store cupboard.  Dukkah, Baharat and Zhoug mixes were new to me and if you have difficulty buying them there is a useful condiment section at the back of the book for making your own.

'Jerusalem' has introduced me to a part of the world with a myriad of cultural food influences of which I had only a hazy notion.  There are many recipes in here - such as Saffron rice with barberries, pistachio and mixed herbs and Cardamom rice pudding with pistachios & rose water - which have caught my imagination and what more could you wish for in a cookery book?


Book courtesy of Ebury Press



Polpo - A Venetian Cookbook (of sorts) by Russell Norman



Polpo - A Venetian Cookbook (of sorts)
Russell Norman
This book was born out of a love affair. Anyone who has visited Venice has special memories and for Russell Norman a one week stay in his youth kindled a love for the city, the food and the drink which has never dimmed. Several years and many more visits and a plan began to form. Inspiration did not come from the restaurants of Venice, which Norman points out in the tourists areas are".. about as authentic as the plastic golden gondolas for sale on the Ruga dei Orsi .." but the tiny Bàcari (wine bars) of the authentic Venice. Here locals meet to chat, eat chichèti (Venetian tit-bits) and down a Prosecco or Spritz, or two. A dish of warm octopus was the catalyst that lead Norman to open a sixty-seater Bàcaro in London in 2009.

I recognise the Venice of Russell Norman and I know Polpo the Bàcaro so I'm familiar with some of the dishes in the book. Reading it takes me right into the heart of the kind of Venetian food I love. Not all the recipes are strictly Venetian but the influence is clear. The dishes are deliberately uncomplicated, made with admirably few ingredients and most are quick to prepare. Some are hardly recipes at all but a ".. delicious exercises in assembly .." of good ingredients. 

Polpo's Broad bean, mint
ricotta & bruschette

Anchovy and Chickpea Crostini is an inspired coupling. Broad Bean, Mint, Ricotta and Bruschette is fresh, light and summery and whilst I think the flavours would overpower a good fresh ricotta, it works brilliantly with the type available to most of us. Pork Belly, Radicchio & Hazelnuts produced a dish of tender fatty pork cut by a sweet, sharp vinegar and bitter leaf, the crackling and hazelnuts providing the essential crunch. Mozzarella Pizzaiola uses tomatoes slow-roasted with oil, vinegar and oregano. Pairing them with a milky mozzarella makes for a deeply comforting dish. The recipe for Rìsi e Bìsi is quite similar to my own but the simple addition of mint lifts this Venetian classic to a higher plain than any I have previously achieved. Recipes I have book-marked for cooking include Spicy Pork and Fennel Polpette, Pilgrim Scallops with Lemon and Peppermint, Burrata with Lentils and Basil Oil, and a Blood Orange and Campari Cake.

The photography by Jenny Zarins captures both achingly beautiful Venice and the simplicity of the dishes very well. I must mention the design which blew me away on first sight. An Old Venetian style typeface is used and the stripped-away spine reveals bright green stitching. The book is lovely to handle, looks good and is eminently practical for kitchen use as it sits flat without breaking the spine (would that some of my other books were like this).

So, if you're planning a trip, how do you find the authentic Venice. Well, there's help on that here too. A Gazetteer at the back of the book includes two of my favourite places in La Serenissima.

  

UPDATE 23 July 2012: Alessandro Swainston @touchfood read this piece and very kindly got in touch to offer the use of his beautiful video of Russell Norman talking about how Venice influenced Polpo. Here is a link https://t.co/CnGBt2SZ

Book courtesy of Bloomsbury Publishing




Spanish Flavours
José Pizarro
Most of José Pizarro's recipes use admirably few ingredients. Recipes can, I think, display a lack of confidence when lists are too long. There is no such problem with those in Spanish Flavours, or in Pizarro's first book Seasonal Spanish Food. Seeing Spain, from a culinary point of view, as many countries rolled into one, he has organised the book into five chapters covering North, East, Centre, South and the Balearic and Canary Islands. It's not an original concept but it works. Fish and seafood, of course, plays a major role throughout Spanish cuisine but regional specialities are brought into the mix and inspire these recipes. Pizarro is also happy to credit his present home, London, where he owns restaurants José and Pizarro, as an influence on how he uses certain ingredients.

The North of Spain, which has high rainfall, is a dairy and farming region so as well as Griddled scallops with cauliflower puree and chorizo oil, there is a recipe for Baked cheesecakes with blueberries. The East is rich in funghi, game and rice, demonstrated by Caldoso (meaning soupy rice) with quail, wild mushrooms, artichokes and black olives. The Centre is where Pizarro is most at home, being a son of Extramadura. Peppers, tomatoes, potatoes, saffron, and Manchego cheese are celebrated along with the products from the magnificent Iberico pig and Jamόn de Teruel. A recipe for Braised Iberico pork with tomatoes, chorizo, thyme and black olives is the region personified. The South has the Moorish influences represented here in dishes such as Spicy lamb albondigas, a take on kofta meatballs, flavoured with North African favourites cumin and coriander. The final region is the Islands, where Pizarro found "simplicity, freshness and strong flavours" summed up the cuisine, inspiring dishes such as Lobster caldereta (stew) and Avocado with prawns and tomato vinaigrette.

Puddings throughout rely heavily, and deliciously, on fruit. Even the Spanish version of eggy bread manages to incorporate some orange. Almond and honey creams with lemon verbena peaches and Orange-scented apple buñuelos are must-trys.

The atmospheric photography by Emma Lee successfully captures the rustic style of the dishes and the little explanatory drawing in the introduction is delightful. This book certainly makes me want to get cooking - Braised peas and Jamόn with eggs, perhaps.

Published by Kyle Books
Book courtesy of Kyle Books




Dock Kitchen Cookbook
Stevie Parle
So many influences have informed Stevie Parle’s cooking at his Dock Kitchen restaurant in west London, on which this book is based. Cooking in iconic London restaurants the River Cafe, Moro and Petersham Nurseries before working in New York, Tokyo, Malaysia and Sri Lanka is quite a mix. Reading the Dock Kitchen Cookbook you quickly realise that despite being influenced by so many different cuisines, there is a common theme to these dishes. Most, as Parle himself says, are "home cooking of one form or another from one place or another". They are closer to "the cooking of the grandmothers of the globe" than much restaurant food. Here we clearly have a chef who loves to eat as well as cook.

The journey starts with a simple Iraqi White Bean soup and travels seasonally through Catalonian Fish Stew, Italian Chicken Roasted in Milk & Sage, southern Indian vegetable thorans, Thai Grilled Quail, Chinese Duck & Mushroom Congee and Mexican Pork Shoulder. There’s a small but appealing chapter on Sweet Things, including a fragrant Persian Rice Pudding and a boozy take on the classic British Summer Pudding. Wild Foods, Spice Mixes, Breads, Pickles & Chutneys are briefly covered too. This book is all the encouragement you need to discover what to do with those dried limes or pomegranate molasses in your local ethnic food shop. Helpfully, there is also advice on what to do if you can't find an ingredient.

Most of the recipes are admirably concise, showing restraint both in elements and method resulting in an economical dish. The Dock Kitchen Cookbook is packed with recipes I want to cook and eat.

Published by Quadrille
Book courtesy of Quadrille Publishing




Moro - The Cookbook
Sam & Sam Clark

How many times have you bought a cookbook and been disappointed to find a number of the recipes just don't work? It's happened to me too many times so these days I'm much more circumspect about the books I buy. With Moro - The Cookbook, I feel I'm in safe hands. Despite the fact a lot of the dishes are unfamiliar, I have never had a failure cooking from this book. Husband and wife team, Sam & Sam Clark, opened their restaurant Moro (from the Spanish for Moor) in 1997 after cooking together at Rose Gray and Ruth Rogers' River Cafe. This book is based on the cooking at Moro. Influenced by the River Cafe's emphasis on good ingredients simply cooked and their travels in Spain and the Muslim Mediterranean, they marry the robust style of Spanish food with the exotic lightness of the Muslim cooking they encountered. As they put it, the book aims to "conjure up images of hairy-chested matadors and of hedonistic sultans". There is romance and passion in this book - well, they were a newly married couple when they explored the regions - and their deep love affair with the food and the people shines out. From the super-simple Spanish dish Sopa de guisantes and Saffron Rice, eaten at Muslim weddings, to the slightly more time-consuming Breast of Duck with pomegranate molasses or Yoghurt Cake with pistachios this is a fascinating meeting of cuisines. The Clarks' passion is expressed in prose which excites but is backed-up with well-researched recipes that work.
Moro - the Cookbook is published by Ebury Press


BOCCA Cookbook
Jacob Kenedy
BOCCA Cookbook comes out of chef Jacob Kenedy's travels experiencing the food of Italy. In this book he makes clear the impossibility of pinning down "Italian" cuisine. In Italy local food is of huge importance and pride and each region has a rich culinary tradition. Kenedy, who cut his teeth at restaurants Moro in London and Boulevard in San Francisco, here gives us his take on the dishes he devoured in Italy and his own dishes which they infuenced. Authenticity is of less concern to him than honesty as he found "...each city, hamlet and household has its own version of a dish ..." and "...it would be a hard task to find two ... who could agree on how to make (it) ..". Having whiled away many an hour at Boccca di Lupo (Mouth of the Wolf) which he opened in London's Soho after the inspiration of his travels, all I can say is Kenedy's food makes me very happy. So, the recipes in this book, authentic or not, are deliciously familiar to me. The ingredients lists are admirably short, which is, I think, very Italian and one of the reasons I like Italian food so much. Simple appetisers such as Fried Olives stuffed with Pork and Veal from Le Marche region and Fried Whole Artichokes from Lazio are here along with a beautiful original salad recipe of Shaved Radish and Celeriac with Pomegranate, Pecorino and Truffle Oil. From Liguria comes Nettle and Chard Pansoti with Walnut Sauce, from Lazio Potato Gnocchi with Sausage Ragu, a Samphire and Clam Risotto from Emilia-Romagna, Sardines 'Beccafico' from Sicily and Hare in Salmi from Lombardy. There are puddings too but Kenedy's thing is gelato, and he knows his subject well. Particularly fine is his Milk-Free Espresso Gelato. So nice to see credit given to one of my my favourite cooks, David Cook, in the acknowledgements section.



The Good Cook
Simon Hopkinson
A highly regarded chef and writer, Hopkinson left the kitchens of London's Bibendum Restaurant in 1995 to concentrate on writing. Simon Hopkinson's cooking is timeless and his writing full of good sense. This book calls for no fancy ingredients, there is no gimickry and no striving for novelty. For him, provenance of ingredients are of less importance than the care taken in the cooking. As anyone familiar with my blog will appreciate, this is a view I can't share. For me they have equal import but it does not change my regard for this book. The 100 recipes are divided into chapters in Hopkinson's distinctive straightforward fashion. Basically a list of things he likes, such as Anchovy & Aubergine, to which he devotes 20 pages with recipes such as anchovy & onion tarts; Cheese & Wine, including the deeply comforting My mother's Lancashire cheese & onion pie, a perfect Coq au Vin and Poached Eggs in Coq au Vin gravy, in case you have any sauce left over - which brings to my mind the classic French dish of Oeufs en Meurette. Desserts and Puddings are mainly classics including what may be the definitive recipes for the very English dishes of Rice Pudding and Sticky Toffee Pudding. Just like Hopkinson's first book, Roast Chicken and Other Stories, I know I will use this book again and again.



barrafina
a Spanish Cookbook
Sam & Eddie Hart and
Nieves Barragan Mohacho
From the owners and Basque-born chef of one of the best tapas bars in London, this is a much anticipated book. The Hart brothers are greatly admired on the London restaurant scene, having three restaurants of which Barrafina in Soho is, I think, the best. Heavily influenced by Cal Pep in Barcelona's El Born district, Barrafina's authenticity is obvious from the moment you take a seat at the bar and watch the hugely talented Nieves orchestrating her team. The photographs in this book are beautiful, almost too beautiful. It could, and will, decorate a number of coffee tables. A quick flick through could seduce you into thinking the recipes are short and, therefore, easy, and some are. A deeper study will reveal the preparation work needed to produce others. If you really love to cook Spanish food, as I do, you'll love this book, though you may find yourself having to substitute some recipe ingredients. Delicious easy recipes include Razor clams with broad beans and jamon, Mussels with sherry vinaigrette, Calves liver with celeriac puree and caramelised onions, Beetroot salad with Picos cheese, Pisto and duck egg, Braised leg of milk-fed lamb with Manazanilla, Loin of venison with red cabbage, pinenuts and sultanas and Crema Catalana. Finding I have Barrafina's recipe for Arrocina beans with chorizo, morcilla and pork belly in my hot little hands is enough to overcome any concerns about glossy presentation.




Snail Eggs & Samphire
Derek Cooper










Snail Eggs and Samphire by Derek Cooper, was first published by Macmillan in 2000.  It's sub-headed "Dispatches from the Food Front" and is a collection of his essays on food related subjects over the 30 preceding years.  For me, Derek Cooper is the investigative food writer without equal.  He is probably best remembered as the writer and presenter of The Food Programme on BBC Radio 4.  He expertly teased out the truths about what we eat, holding mutinational food producers to account when they were found wanting.  In his words he exposed "places of ill-repute that destroy confidence in the way our food is being produced".  Derek Cooper's journalism is incisive and his humour and sense of irony make him a wonderful communicator.  He has a deep belief that everyone, wherever they live, has a right to good, unadulterated food.  He championed good producers, practices and people.  The essays in Snails Eggs and Samphire are disparate, making it perfect for dipping in and out of.  Essays entitled Processing for Profit, The Roots of Hunger, Seeds of Profit and A Conspiracy of Silence are thought provoking.  For his humorous side, look to Saving for the Future, On Being Cast Down, Pudding Lore and Ova the Odds.  Thankfully much has changed over the 10 years since ths book book was first published, a lot of it thanks to Derek Cooper.  Worryingly, quite a lot hasn't.   

Chez Panisse Fruit
Alice Waters
It's 40 years since Alice Waters opened Chez Panisse in Berkeley California.  Always committed to using local ingredients, over the years she has cultivated deep relationships with a community of farmers and producers.  What they have in common, apart from supplying her with the freshest ingredients, is their dedication to growing and harvesting using sustainable techniques.  This, her eighth book, starts with an introductory plea to think about what you eat.  What follows is 200 plus simple and restrained recipes, "based on the principle that you don't want to confuse the flavor of good fruit".  The Blueberry Buttermilk Pancake recipe is a firm favourite, and Mango with Sauternes is total simplicity.  I love this book not only for its inspirational recipes but for the beautiful colour relief print illustrations by Patricia Curtan.


Jane Grigson's
Fruit Book
Jane Grigson is often compared to Elizabeth David for her erudition and the elegance of her writing.  Much as I admire Elizabeth David’s books, for me, Grigson’s depth of food knowledge was greater, her interests wider and her writing more inclusive, less lecturing and more lyrical.  A glance at her Acknowledgements page in this book, first published in 1982, tells you how well she informed herself in preparation for writing.  It is an A-Z of fruit and, therefore, ideal for dipping into when you want to know how best to make use of, say, that punnet of gooseberries you’ve just acquired.  The cracked spine and splattered pages of my own copy testifies to how useful I find this book. But it is way more than a source of quick inspiration.  In fact I would advise against picking this book up if you’re in a hurry as you will be lured in as easily as a Venus Flytrap lures a fly.  Open the page at ‘Fig’ and you will be treated to two fascinating pages covering cultivation, religion, art, folklore, sexuality, poetry, medicine and opinion.  Beautifully simple recipes follow, from Duck in Port Wine and Figs to Spanish Fig Ice Cream, and Mme Verdier’s Black Fig Jam.




Seasonal Spanish Food
Jose Pizarro
Jose Pizarro's food is centred around nothing but the best seasonal, quality produce.  With an emphasis on "bright flavours, simple techniques and not too many ingredients" this is a wonderfully accessible and useable book.  Written with the home cook in mind, Pizarro's enthusiasm for his subject draws you into the world of simple Spanish food rather than the molecular gastronomy realm for which Spain is currently known.  Born in a small agricultural village in Extremadura, Pizarro grew up with quality fresh produce always available, and his light-handed treatment of the ingredients in these recipes is a joy.  I can vouch for the fact the Turron Mousse recipe is both simple and divine.


The Kitchen Diaries
Nigel Slater
This book has to be somewhere near the top of my favourite cookery books list.  This is Nigel Slater's diary of what he cooked and ate on particular days throughout a year.  As he points out, "it is not some tyrannical culinary calendar ..... but a reminder to keep an eye out ..." for foods to eat at at their natural best.  It's the book I reach for to remind myself what ingredients should be at their peak and to get some inspiration for what to do with them.  You don't always find a recipe, sometimes you get only a rough outline, but that's enough to light a spark for your own idea - such as February 15 "... something to have on days when you really cannot be bothered to cook". His recipes are pretty good too.



today's special
Anthony Demetre
Demetre's" today's special" is subtitled "a new take on bistro food".  It is full of recipes using the less glamorous, and less expensive, cuts of meat and ingredients and shows you just how tasty they can be.  It's an excellent book with staightforward recipes which will inspire you to think differently about what you buy and how you cook.


No Place Like Home
Rowley Leigh
Rowley Leigh was head chef at Kensington Place restaurant in Notting Hill for many years and now has his own place, Le Café Anglais in Bayswater.  “No Place Like Home” describes the contents of this book perfectly.  It is full of recipes which, in Leigh’s opinion, can be better produced in a home kitchen than a professional one.   It’s organised seasonally, most of the recipes are easy and its style echoes Leigh’s straightforward personality.  An antidote to all of those cookery books churned out by chefs to advertise their own proficiency, which are full of recipes impossible to replicate at home.


Roast Chicken and Other Stories
Simon Hopkinson
with Lindsey Bareham
The first, and best so far, book from ex-Bibendum chef, Simon Hopkinson, written with the help of food journalist Lindsey Bareham.  Organised in chapters made up of Hopkinson's favourite ingredients.  It's so good you just long for chapters on ingredients he hasn't covered - then you buy "second helpings of roast chicken"!



Kitchenella
Rose Prince

'Kitchenella` is Rose Prince's feminine hero of the kitchen.  The book is a paean to all the women who, day in and day out, practically and unselfishy, cook for their loved ones for little thanks.  With chapter headings such as Quick, Cheap and Filling, Things that please children, and A plate of something special its aim is to encourage, and aid, the nurturing instincts of busy women.   Coming from a family of cooks, Rose Prince has developed into a respected freelance food writer and broadcaster.  She is generous in her credit to those who have influenced her.  It is not just a recipe book but, as she puts it, "... a book of answers and ideas, a conversation between people who share an interest in solving problems."  Pan fried plaice with lettuce hearts and lemon is simplicity itself and totally delicious.




Tender Volume II
Nigel Slater

Part two of food writer Nigel Slater’s “Tender” series of books.  Inspired by his experience of acquiring a garden and the joys of growing, and being inspired by, your own food.  Volume 1 centred around vegetables and has become a much-thumbed addition to my bookcase.  This one covers the subject of fruit.  If you have the first volume you will certainly want to own this well written, handsome and beautifully photographed book.  It’s packed with easy to cook, but never boring, recipes in Slater’s trademark non-lecturing style, which encourages you to think for yourself rather than to slavishly follow a recipe.  How about' Roast duck legs with squash and blackberry and apple sauce', or 'Rhubarb cinnamon polenta cake'?




The Geometry of Pasta
Caz Hildebrand and Jacob Kenedy

Although the idea for this book came from graphic designer Caz Hildebrand, owner/chef of London’s Bocca di Lupo restaurant,  Jacob Kenedy, is the writer.  The result is a beautifully stylish, photo-free, tome  with Hildebrand’s black and white graphics and Kenedy’s take on classic Italian pasta dishes.  The theme is the science, history and philosophy of pasta.  The book explores the Italian preoccupation, summed up by the book’s full title, “the perfect shape + the perfect sauce = the geometry of pasta”.  Some of the recipes would be difficult to reproduce in a domestic kitchen.  For instance, you may not be able to buy calves or lambs brains for the basic Agnolotti as easily as a professional chef can, but alternatives are given.  Other recipes almost take longer to pronounce than to cook, like 'Garganelli con Prosciutto Cotto, Panna e Piselli'.


Nose to Tail Eating
A kind of British Cooking
Fergus Henderson
Fergus Henderson calls a trotter a trotter.  If you like your food primped beyond all recognition, and there are plenty of chefs who will oblige, he is not for you.  Henderson has a reputation for serving up the less appealing parts of animals at his London restaurants St John and St John Bread & Wine.  This is not done to shock but out of respect for the animal.  His philosophy being that if an animal has been killed for food then we owe it to the beast to use all of it - from its nose to its tail - and waste nothing.  Yes, you will find in this book Stuffed Lamb's Hearts, Rolled Pig's Spleen and Giblet Stew.  There are also recipes for Post Roast Brisket, Roast Quail, and Smoked Haddock, Mustard and Saffron.  For me, a non-carnivorous summation of Henderson's thinking is in the entry for "How to eat radishes at their peak".  It makes me smile, and think twice before discarding anything.  I urge you to look it up.  Henderson is a hugely influential chef in the restaurant world, but he wrote this book with the home cook in mind for " .... cooking and eating at home with friends and relations, not replicating restaurant plates of food".  His follow-up book is "Beyond Nose to Tail" and is just as good as the first but with a greater focus on baking, having more input from St John's terrific baker, Justin Piers Gellatly.