Potato by James Martin

Potato by James Martin

What’s the USP? I can’t believe you didn’t get this from the title. It is Potato, a book that celebrates the potato, by the human equivalent of a Maris Piper, James Martin.

I know that name. He’s the Saturday morning guy, right? Martin has been a mainstay of our weekend television for sixteen years now, yes – first on the BBC’s Saturday Kitchen, and more recently for ITV’s Saturday Morning with James Martin. But let’s not pretend those are his only credentials – he won acclaim from restaurant critic Jay Rayner for his work at The Talbot Hotel and, last year, relaunched everybody’s least favourite option at the food court, SpudULike in collaboration with potato company Albert Bartlett.

So this new book is a cynical ploy funded by Big Potato? Now, now. It’s also entirely possible Martin is massively enthusiastic about taters. Whatever the case, ingredient-focused cookbooks are something of a miniature trend right now, from Claire Thomson’s Tomato to the Lea-Wilson family’s Sea Salt. Also, at the very least, the book gives us one of the most unintentionally funny front covers in recent memory: an uncertain looking Martin in front of what may as well be a stock photo of spuds, and, in massive letters at the bottom of it all ‘Potato James Martin’. Brilliant. Five out of five for that then.

So it’s a five star cookbook then? Woah, woah, woah. Easy now. It’s a five-star cookbook cover. The actual book itself is a lot less impressive. Titles that lean in heavy on single ingredients live and die on two things: the insight they offer around that ingredient, and the use they make of the ingredient in the recipes. Claire Thomson, for example, is a passionate champion of the tomato, and offered a range of vibrant and original dishes in her title. Sea Salt, which presented a wealth of recipes that used salt but, for obvious reasons, didn’t make it the star ingredient, struggled.

Martin doesn’t offer us much insight at all into the history of the potato, which is a great shame, given the fascinating impact it has had on our culinary world. A staple of diets across South America for perhaps ten thousand years, they did not find their way to Europe until the late 1600s, and yet have since become an indispensable part of our daily cuisine.

Our potato-loving author doesn’t seem all that bothered with sharing this history with us, though. In fact, the history of the spud gets about two sentences of attention across the entire book. But then, this is not a title for those who are looking for effusive food writing. The recipe introductions occasionally offer a little insight into a dish’s provenance – but frequently Martin phones them in with the briefest filler text. His introduction to a recipe for a sandwich is printed simply as ‘Why not?! The question is: to butter or not to butter…? You know it makes sense!’

It might make sense, James, but do you?

What about the recipes themselves? There are some dishes to play around with here, certainly, but for the most part Martin delivers to a core audience of fans who don’t want to try anything too wacky. Potatoes might be the embodiment of unshowy workmanship in vegetables, but their versatility also opens them up to a much more interesting range of recipes than those on show here.

Martin leans on the most obvious of dishes but does them well. And so, we have Coquilles St Jacques, Tartiflette, Fish and Chips, and Lamb Hot Pot. There’s also plenty of room for the greatest hits that always pop up in the cookbooks of popular TV chefs: beer can chickens and hasselback potatoes.

Does he venture any further afield than France for his recipes? Thankfully, yes – and this is where some of the cookbook’s few unexpected ideas get a look in. There’s the always tempting South African curry-in-a-loaf-of-bread, Bunny Chow, and Sweet Potato and Pecan Cookies. One recipe pairs a humble crab cake with a katsu curry sauce – though Martin is quick to credit this to Ynyshir’s Gareth Ward. And that’s… that’s about it for the book. There’s a short section towards the back that offers up stand-alone potato recipes for those occasions when you want to knock up some Pommes Parisienne or Dauphinoise as a side, and a very handy chart that shares the various uses of twenty-eight of the most common varieties, but neither of these are worth the price of admission by themselves.

Should I buy it? The thing with potatoes is that they aren’t exactly under-represented in cookbooks already. Do you have five to ten cookbooks on your shelf? Are two of them centred on English or French cuisine? Then you’ve probably already got most of what you’ll find here at your fingertips. This is a book for fans of Martin, and people who enjoy owning cookbooks with inadvertently funny front covers, and that’s about it.

Cuisine: European
Suitable for: Beginner home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating: Two stars

Buy this book: Potato by James Martin

Review written by Stephen Rötzsch Thomas a Nottingham-based writer. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram at @srotzschthomas

 

Snacks for Dinner by Lukas Volger

Snacks for Dinner by Lukas Volger
What’s the USP? A cookbook celebrating the picky tea – albeit the more refined, small plates version rather than baking trays of beige freezer food. All the recipes are vegetarian or vegan with the premise being that many smaller dishes of dips, pickles and salads with doughy or crispy things to dip into them is a more satisfying way to eat than one plate of the typical protein, carb and veg trio. It’s a proposition that’s hard to argue with.

Who’s the author? Lukas Volger a writer for many notable American food publications and the author of three other vegetarian cookbooks. The inspiration for Snacks for Dinner came from visiting a friend who emerged with several pre-prepared dishes for a lunchtime feast meaning minimal time in the kitchen and more time socialising. The ease and informality of this dinner left such a lasting impression on Volger it altered his perception of what dinner could be, authoring this cookbook and also making me wonder if he’s ever had a ready meal.

What will I love? Cookbooks based around concepts rather than cuisines can sometimes run out of steam, trying to find recipes to fit the premise rather than having a natural selection to begin with. This isn’t the case here. Snacks for Dinner delivers on its formula, following through on the idea from start to finish and being meticulous in its execution. It begins with an incredibly detailed introductory chapter that lists kitchen accessories, ingredients and tips for planning a snack-based dinner.

The chapters are colour coded for quick searching and based around traits like crispy-crunchy, tangy-juicy or scooped + smeared. The cutesy names aside, this makes planning a meal from the book incredibly easy with the suggestion you choose one recipe from each of the different traits to create a balanced meal.

In practice, this works exceptionally well. I put together several meals of varied and interesting dishes each representing different flavour profiles and textures. Favourites were the Umami Roasted Tomatoes, Beer Cheese Gougeres, Spicy Zucchini Quick Pickles which delivers what it promises and a delicious Creamy Sweet Potato Chipotle Dip that was so easy to make I felt like a fraud for receiving any credit for having cooked it. It should also receive commendation for being a vegetarian cookbook and resisting the urge to put a hummus recipe in the dips section.

What won’t I love? Despite its efforts to make the recipes straightforward and accessible, cooking them all simultaneously does take time and skill. You will need to be across several recipes at once, all requiring different cooking times, ingredients and preparations. Of course, many of these dishes can be cooked progressively and left until they’re needed though this will only mean more time in the kitchen.

It can also occasionally read like a utopian vision of millennial living with references to friends who text when visiting the farmer’s market, checking Instagram to find your new favourite micro-bakery or having an olive oil subscription. This isn’t to the book’s detriment and at this point, I’m just being pedantic and likely bitter about not having my own olive oil subscription. There is however, definitely a time and place for it and not something I would make a full meal from regularly, especially over the long winter months.

Should I buy it? If your idea of a meal is more than an assortment of dips and a trail mix made from puffed rice then Snacks for Dinner probably isn’t for you. However, if you’re into eating lots of lovely things smeared and scooped onto other lovely things then absolutely. It’s a well thought out book, with a clear throughline and full of inviting, often effortless recipes.

Cuisine: International
Suitable for: Beginner and confident home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating: Four stars

Buy this book: Snacks for dinner by Lukas Volger 
£25, HarperWave

Review written by Nick Dodd a Leeds-based pianist, teacher and writer. Contact him at www.yorkshirepiano.co.uk

Pistachio madeleines by Sam and Sam Clark

277_Pistachio_Madeleines
Madeleines are always best served straight out of the oven. Make the batter, then bake the madeleines 10–15 minutes before you want to serve them. They are an excellent accompaniment to the ice creams.

Makes 24

100g butter (room temperature) + extra for greasing
100g caster sugar
2 free-range or organic eggs, lightly beaten
finely grated zest 1 lemon + extra for serving
70g very finely ground pistachios + extra for serving
50g self-raising flour, sieved + extra for dusting

Beat the butter and sugar until very pale and light, approximately 10 minutes. Stir in the eggs one by one, ensuring the first is fully incorporated before adding the second, followed by the lemon zest and pistachios. Once combined, gently fold in the flour. Leave the batter to rest in the fridge overnight.

Preheat the oven to 190°C/375°F/gas 5.

Generously grease two madeleine or cupcake trays with butter and lightly dust with flour, tapping off any excess.

Spoon a dessertspoon of the mixture into each mould, being careful not to overfill them – this quantity should make 24 madeleines. Bake for 10–12 minutes, until golden.

Serve with the extra pistachios and lemon zest sprinkled over.

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Buy this book: Moro Easy by Sam and Sam Clark

Read the review

Roast squash, sweet vinegar, garlic and rosemary by Sam and Sam Clark

119_Roast_Squash_Sweet_Vinegar

The sweetness of the squash contrasts beautifully with the vinegar. Delicious with labneh, fish, chicken or lamb, like the Maghrebi slow-roast shoulder of lamb or tomato bulgur with lamb and cinnamon yoghurt.

Serves 4
1 large butternut squash or sweet potatoes, approx. 800g, peeled, deseeded and cut into 3cm chunks
5 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
3 tablespoons finely chopped rosemary
3 tablespoons aged, good-quality red wine vinegar like cabernet sauvignon, or sherry vinegar (page 303) + pinch sugar if not sweet
1–2 teaspoons finely chopped red chilli (to taste)

Preheat the oven to 200°C/400°F/gas 6.

Toss the squash with 2 tablespoons olive oil, the cinnamon, salt and pepper. Lay on a large roasting tray and roast in the oven for 20 minutes, until soft and caramelised. Check for seasoning.

Meanwhile, heat the remaining olive oil over a low to medium heat. Add the garlic and rosemary and fry gently for 2–3 minutes until the garlic is golden, then add the vinegar, taking care it doesn’t spit too much, and simmer for 30 seconds. Spoon the vinegar mixture over the squash and serve with the chilli on top.

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Pistachio madeleines by Sam and Sam Clark

Buy this book: Moro Easy by Sam and Sam Clark

Read the review  

Roast shoulder of pork marinated with orange and cumin by Sam and Sam Clark

239_Roast_Shoulder_Pork

This really is a delicious way to cook pork shoulder. It is slow-roasted until the meat is soft and tender and the marinade has turned into a gravy delicately flavoured with orange and cumin. We recommend spinach, pine nuts and sultanas (page 133) and some fried potatoes to go with it.

Serves 4

1 boneless pork shoulder, 1.2–3kg

Marinade
100ml orange juice
zest 1 orange, finely grated
2 rounded teaspoons roughly ground cumin seeds
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
¼ teaspoon smoked sweet paprika
¼ teaspoon hot paprika
pinch saffron
1 small onion or banana shallot

Blitz all the marinade ingredients together in a food processor or with a hand blender and season with salt. Smear the marinade all over the meat and leave for a minimum of 30 minutes or overnight.

Preheat the oven to 190°C/375°F/gas 5.

When you are ready to roast the meat, wrap it tightly in tin foil and place it on a roasting tray. Slow-roast for 3 hours, then remove from the oven and let it rest for 20 minutes.

When you take off the foil, take care to keep all the juices from the marinade. Slice the meat and spoon over the juices.

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Roast squash, sweet vinegar, garlic and rosemary by Sam and Sam Clark
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Buy this book: Moro Easy by Sam and Sam Clark

Read the review

More than Yorkshire Puddings by Elaine Lemm

More than Yorkshire puddings

What’s the USP? It all depends on who you’re asking. According to the front cover, More Than Yorkshire Puddings features ‘food, stories and over 100 recipes from God’s Own County’. This isn’t exactly the truth, though. The back cover does a much better job, promising ‘both much-loved Yorkshire favourites and a wealth of multicultural recipes’. 

Who wrote it? Yorkshire-born food writer Elaine Lemm, who seems equally confused about the purpose of her book. In her preface, she starts by explaining the long route taken to get to this point. She originally pitched her idea to publishers Great Northern several years ago: a cookbook championing the culinary wealth of Yorkshire. There is more to Yorkshire than Yorkshire puddings, and she planned to celebrate all of it. In a move that is far funnier than it really should be, Great Northern promptly turned her down, waited six months, and then commissioned her to write a book solely about Yorkshire puddings. It did very well, by her own account.

A few years on and, as Lemm is keen to point out, after a change of management at Great Northern, she finally gets to offer us the book she envisioned all along. And the end result is… well, still very different from what was originally pitched.

Different how? More Than Yorkshire Puddings takes its title and ignores the final word. It offers us some classic Yorkshire dishes, sure. But the overwhelming majority of the book has nothing to do with Yorkshire at all. The back cover blurb does allude to this, suggesting that we’ll be offered a look at Lemm’s culinary journey. But what journey is really on show here? There’s no real throughline that connects the recipes. Some are inspired by her time training in Tuscany. Others are presented without any apparent reason or context at all.

There’s plenty of room on my bookshelves for cookbooks that capture the culinary id of the author. Titles filled with relatively disparate dishes connected by stories, or personality. But Lemm’s book frequently falls back on others for inspiration. A recipe named ‘The Ultimate Chilli’ comes with the disclaimer ‘at least according to my husband… given it is not my thing!’ Elsewhere, a recipe for BBQ Rib Eye Steak, Grilled Asparagus and Teriyaki Sauce, though tempting, appears to be provided unedited, photo and all, ‘courtesy of British Asparagus’. It makes for a cookbook that under-delivers on every promise it makes. 

So does Yorkshire feature at all? Yes! Enough to confuse readers further, but not so much to offer any real value. Though the front cover promises ‘over 100 recipes from God’s Own County’ there are only 88 recipes in the book itself, and barely 30 of them are even tangentially connected to Yorkshire. 

It’s a real shame, because being England’s largest county, Yorkshire has a wide and fascinating culinary culture to draw on. It is, indeed, more than Yorkshire puddings. There are varied traditional foods, including parkin, pikelets and curd tarts – only two of which are covered (briefly) here. It is home to the world famous Rhubarb Triangle, represented by just two recipes and a single mention. Hell, it’s the county that’s given us Jelly Babies, Kit-Kats, and Terry’s Chocolate Oranges. They aren’t high cuisine, but they’re all iconic parts of the British culinary landscape. But Lemm doesn’t seem that committed to the concept that she’s apparently been fighting for years to deliver. A brief introductory chapter knocks through the classics (yorkshire puds, game pies and treacle tarts), before the book gives way to a hodge-podge of unrelated dishes, from Cantonese Ginger Fish to dhal, stromboli, and chicken marbella. There’s a two page spread dedicated to the filipino noodle dish pancit, and the book rounds off with a recipe for risalamande, a sort of Danish Christmas pudding. 

What will I love? Look, the dishes themselves often look very tasty. It’s just that they usually have nothing to do with Yorkshire. You’ll love the rich, bright Torta di Pomodoro, the Burrata and Grilled Peaches, and the Coconut Shrimp – but is that what you bought a book about Yorkshire food for?

What won’t I love? Apart from the confused premise and pick and mix approach to recipes? More Than Yorkshire Puddings also boasts one of the worst indexes I’ve ever seen in a cookbook. There’s no individual listings for ingredients, types of dish, or even Yorkshire places referenced – it lists only the 88 recipes of the book and does so using the exact name used on the page. Which means that readers looking for the classic gingerbread cake parkin will need to know not to look under ‘P’, but rather ‘T’ for ‘Traditional Yorkshire Parkin’. Looking to make a Yorkshire Curd Tart? You’ll want to remember that Lemm’s recipe is for individual ones, and so they’re listed under the letter ‘I’. 

Should I buy it? Probably not. There’s a wealth of interesting cookbooks drawing on traditional British foods at the moment, including recent additions from Ben Mervis and Carol Wilson. Though both of those cover much bigger regions, they’re frankly still likely to feature slightly more dishes that authentically represent Yorkshire cuisine than this book.

Cuisine: British/International
Suitable for: Beginner and confident home cook
Cookbook Review Rating: Two stars

Buy this book: More than Yorkshire Puddings by Elaine Lemm
£19.99, Great Northern Books Ltd

Review written by Stephen Rötzsch Thomas a Nottingham-based writer. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram at @srotzschthomas

Torta pastiera by Theo Randall

torta pastiera

This recipe is inspired by my friend Maria Hedley, who originates from Sorrento and has made torta pastiera for me on many occasions. Last Easter (the traditional time for eating it), at her place in Dorset, we had had a magnificent Neapolitan lunch of cannelloni and needed a long walk to burn off the carbs. We walked for miles and miles along the stunning coastline, and throughout the walk we had the happy thought that we still had the torta pastiera to return to. Long strides of anticipation carried us back to Maria’s, where she made a pot of hot coffee, gave us each a small glass of cold, homemade orange liqueur (much like limoncello but with orange) and a slice of her torta… Heaven. As a tip: the great thing about this cake is that it tastes even better after a couple of days. 

Serves 8  

For the pastry
250g (9oz) tipo OO flour
100g (3½oz) unsalted butter
75g (2½oz) icing (confectioner’s) sugar, plus extra for dusting
pinch of sea salt
1 egg, beaten
2 tablespoons whole milk
1 tablespoon runny honey
zest of 1 lemon
zest of 1 orange

For the filling
150g (5½oz) grano cotto (or, pre-boil some risotto rice in water for 15 minutes until al dente; drain and cool)
350ml (12fl oz) whole milk
zest of 1 lemon
2 whole eggs
2 egg yolks
250g (9oz) caster (superfine) sugar
400g (14oz) sheep’s ricotta
75g (2½oz) candied orange and lemon peel, chopped
seeds from 1 vanilla pod
2 tablespoons orange blossom water (optional)

First make the pastry. Sift the flour into a large bowl, and add the butter, icing (confectioner’s) sugar and salt. Run your hands under the cold tap for a minute to make sure they are really cold, then dry them and, using your fingertips, work everything together until the mixture is almost like breadcrumbs. Add the beaten egg, along with the milk, honey and lemon and orange zests. Mix well to combine, bringing the dough together into a smooth ball. Flatten the ball into a disc about 2cm (¾in) thick with the palm of your hand. Wrap the disc in cling film (plastic wrap) and leave it in the fridge to rest for 15 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 170°C/150°C fan/325°F/Gas 3.

Meanwhile, make the filling. Place the rice in a large saucepan with the milk and lemon zest. Place the pan over a medium heat and bring the mixture to a simmer. Simmer for 15 minutes, then pour the mixture out over a large, clean baking tray to cool down.

In a large bowl, ideally with an electric hand whisk, whisk the whole eggs and egg yolks with the caster (superfine) sugar until pale in colour. In another bowl, again using the electric hand whisk if you have one, whisk the ricotta for about 4 minutes so it is light and fluffy. Fold the ricotta into the beaten eggs. Add the cold cooked rice mixture, candied orange and lemon peel, vanilla seeds and orange blossom water (if using). Gently fold everything together so all the ingredients are well combined. Leave to one side.

Dust your work surface with icing (confectioner’s) sugar and remove the pastry from the fridge. Roll out the pastry to a disc about 5mm (¼in) thick, then transfer the disc to a loose-bottomed cake tin and press the pastry into the tin, leaving an overhang. Using a sharp knife, cut off the excess pastry and shape these trimmings into a ball. Roll out the ball of trimmings to a rectangle about 5mm (¼in) thick and, using a pasta ravioli cutter, cut strips from the rectangle of dough. Leave to one side.

Pour the filling mixture into the raw pastry case, then cover it with the strips of pastry and trim any overhang (see photograph). Bake the torta for 80 minutes, until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean. Transfer the torta in the tin to a wire rack and leave it to cool completely. You can eat it on the day you bake it, but Italians tend to eat it at least one day after baking, as the flavour just gets better. Dust with icing (confectioner’s) sugar before serving.

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Paccheri with leeks, parmesan and prosciutto di Parma by Theo Randall

20220110_TheoPantry_Prosciutto_Di_Parma_035

I first had a leek pasta dish at a restaurant called Da Cesare in Monforte D’Alba back in the mid-90s. It was probably one of the best meals I have ever eaten. The fresh pappardelle was almost orange in colour as it had so much egg yolk in the dough. The leeks had been very slowly cooked and were so sweet in flavour – a great example of how a single ingredient cooked carefully can turn into something amazing.

In this recipe I have used paccheri pasta, which is lovely as the sauce gets stuck inside the tubes. I think it has the best texture of all dried pastas. The addition of cream brings out the salty prosciutto di Parma flavour. If you prefer, you can use butter. 

Serves 4 

6 slices of prosciutto di Parma, sliced
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 leeks, cut into 1cm (½in) pieces and thoroughly washed
100ml (3½fl oz) double (heavy) cream 1 tablespoon chopped flat-leaf parsley leaves
1 garlic clove, crushed to a paste with a little sea salt
500g (1lb 2oz) dried paccheri
100g (3½oz) parmesan, grated, plus extra to serve
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Heat a large, non-stick frying pan over a medium heat. Add the sliced prosciutto di Parma and cook it for a couple of minutes until crispy, then remove it from the pan and set it aside. Add the olive oil to the frying pan, then add the leeks, and cook them for 20 minutes over a low heat, stirring occasionally. When the leeks are soft and sticky, add the cream, parsley, garlic and crispy prosciutto. Stir and keep everything over a low heat while you cook the paccheri.

Bring a large saucepan of salted water to a boil. Add the paccheri one piece at a time so that the pasta doesn’t stick together. Stir well (paccheri is a heavy pasta so can stick to the bottom of the pan if you’re not careful) and cook the pasta for 3 minutes less than the packet suggests. Use a slotted spoon to remove the pasta from the water and add it to the frying pan. Add 2 ladlefuls of pasta cooking water to the sauce and cook the pasta and sauce together for a further 2 minutes, stirring all the time.

Sprinkle in the parmesan and toss the pasta so the sauce emulsifies and coats the tubes. Add a little more pasta water if you need to. Serve in warmed bowls with extra parmesan and black pepper sprinkled on top.

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Aubergine and Courgette lasagne by Theo Randall

20220215_TheoPantry_Aubergine_Lasagne_053

My mother used to make the most delicious lasagne – I used to get so excited when I knew it was coming. She was brilliant at making the béchamel sauce – it was always perfectly creamy but never thick and floury. The trick to this was to cook it very slowly and use equal quantities of flour and butter.

This is a vegetable lasagne, but it has as much flavour as the traditional meaty offering because you roast the aubergines (eggplant) first. Try to use egg-based lasagne sheets as they tend to have more flavour and are not as brittle when you cook them (or, better still, make your own sheets of pasta).

Serves 6
4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 red onions, finely sliced
500g (1lb 2oz) courgettes (zucchini), cut into 1cm (½in) rounds
1 garlic clove, finely sliced
500g (1lb 2oz) tomato passata
8 basil leaves, roughly torn
3 aubergines (eggplants), sliced into 2cm (¾in) rounds
300g (10½oz) egg-based dried lasagne
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the béchamel
75g (2½oz) unsalted butter
75g (2½oz) plain (all-purpose) flour
500ml (17fl oz) whole milk, warmed to just below boiling point
150g (5½oz) parmesan, grated, plus extra for sprinkling

Preheat the oven to 200°C/180°C fan/400°F/Gas 6. Heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil in a non-stick frying pan over a medium heat. Once hot, add the onions, courgettes (zucchini) and a good seasoning of salt. Cook for 20 minutes, until the onion and courgettes are soft. 

Heat another tablespoon of the olive oil in a separate saucepan, then add the garlic. Fry the garlic for 30 seconds, then add the passata and cook the mixture gently for 20 minutes, until reduced by half. Season with salt and pepper, then stir through the basil.

Brush both sides of the aubergine (eggplant) slices with olive oil and season them with salt. Place the aubergines in an even layer on a baking sheet lined with baking paper. Bake them for 15 minutes, then turn them over and bake them for a further 15 minutes. Remove the slices from the oven and, when they are cool enough to handle, cut them into halfmoons. Set them aside and leave the oven on.

To make the béchamel, melt the butter in a medium saucepan over a low heat. When the butter has melted, add the flour and cook it out for a couple of minutes, stirring to combine. Next, add the hot milk and stir continuously to avoid any lumps forming. Cook the sauce gently for 20 minutes, stirring all the while, until smooth and thickened, then mix in the parmesan and check the seasoning. Leave to one side.

Mix the aubergines, courgettes, onions and tomato sauce together in a large bowl and check that everything is seasoned well. 

Use the remaining olive oil to oil a baking dish, then place a layer of lasagne sheets in the base of the dish. Add one-third of the vegetable mixture in an even layer, then top this with one-quarter of the béchamel sauce. Repeat this twice more, then finish with a layer of lasagne sheets and a final layer of béchamel sauce. Sprinkle the top with some more parmesan, then bake the lasagne for 35 minutes, until the pasta is cooked and the top is golden. Serve with a little extra grated parmesan on top, if you like.

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£26, Hardie Grant

The Italian Pantry by Theo Randall

The Italian Pantry Theo Randall

It’s always a delight to get a new book by Theo Randall. Head chef and proprietor of his eponymous restaurant in the Intercontinental Hotel Park Lane since 2006, and before that, famously head chef of The River Cafe, Randall knows his way around an Italian recipe. His fourth collection is dedicated to his late mother and is inspired by her pantry that was stocked with produce from vineyards and markets collected on family holiday camping trips to Italy. 

The book is divided into ten chapters, each themed around what Randall considers ‘essential Italian ingredients’ including tomatoes, polenta, parmesan, pine nuts, porcini and ricotta, as well as things that are less instantly recognisable as Italian such as breadcrumbs, lemons and leafy greens. All however are used to fine effect in delicious sounding dishes you’ll want to cook and eat. The book errs on the side of comfort food with warming oven baked dishes including aubergine and courgette lasagne and slow cooked chicken thighs with porcini mushrooms and marsala but there are lighter options too including a quinoa and charred vegetable salad. 

Whether writing about familiar dishes like pork shoulder cooked in milk (a version of a River Cafe classic) or some less well-known Italian specialities that he’s unearthed such as torta pastiera (a pie from Sorrento filled with grano cotto – cooked wheat –  rice, eggs and ricotta) Randall is always informative and engaging.  

In the introduction to the recipe for a simple Meyer lemon cake, he reminisces about his time working at Chez Panisse with Alice Waters in California where the thin-skinned fruit that Randall says taste like a cross between mandarin and lemon ‘grew in people’s back gardens, just like apples trees do in the UK, and are so plentiful you can barely give them away when they are in season’. It’s evocative stuff and the book is full of similarly inspirational anecdotes and musings that will have you raiding the Italian larder as enthusiastically as Randall himself.

This review was originally published in The Caterer. 

Cuisine: Italian
Suitable for: Beginners/confident home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating: Five stars

Buy this book 
The Italian Pantry by Theo Randall
£26, Hardie Grant

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On The Himalayan Trail by Romy Gill

On The Himalayan Trail by Romy Gill

What’s the USP? An exploration of the food from northernmost India – specifically Kashmir and Ladakh, which sit amongst the Himalayan mountain range and are home to a cuisine notably different from more southerly regions.

Who wrote it? Romy Gill, who has become such a familiar name in British food writing that it’s something of a surprise to see this is only her second cookbook. Gill has been a regular across a number of publications for some time now, and has previously run two acclaimed restaurants as well. 

The writing of On The Himalayan Trail was fuelled by a trip to the region in April 2021, deep into the pandemic, ‘when [India’s] ever-increasing case rates and deaths were making global headlines’. Gill justifies this decision in her introduction with a quote from Anthony Bourdain, and by claiming that ‘great things never come from staying in your comfort zone’ – a rock and roll attitude that feels a little at odds with the end goal: writing a cookbook.

Is it good bedtime reading? Besides the usual opening section, there are plenty of short essays scattered throughout the book, exploring the ingredients and geography of Kashmir in particular. It’s enough to raise the book above your average regional cookbook, at least in terms of reading.

How annoyingly vague are the recipes? Vague enough that my first attempt to cook one of its recipes was an unmitigated disaster, that’s for sure. I was keen to try the Kaleji Tchokh Charvan – a ‘spicy liver’ dish that subjects the liver to around 45 minutes of cooking, which seemed a little much. A final fifteen minutes simmering in what felt instinctively to be too little water finished it off – I looked away for three minutes and returned to a dried out pan full of burned food. Now, I don’t doubt that this mess was in no small part my fault – but I can’t remember the last time I’ve ruined a cookbook recipe to quite this extent, so Gill isn’t getting off entirely scot-free here.

Will I have trouble finding the ingredients? Attempting to authentically recreate the dishes of one of the more remote regions of a country on the other side of the planet will always involve some shopping for some new ingredients, but for the most part Gill’s asks aren’t out of reach to British shoppers. On those occasions that you are asked to source something relatively obscure, like ‘turtle bean flour’, a more accessible alternative is given (in that case, buckwheat flour).

How often will I cook from the book? This one feels likely to be drawn from your shelf only occasionally. There are a fair few dishes here that would suit a weeknight cook, but On The Himalayan Trail is unlikely to be your first port of call.

What will I love? The book itself is gorgeous – Poras Chaudhary and Matt Russell’s photos are evocative and have a quiet reverence about them. The design, too, is clean and modern, and a step up from the year’s other big Himalayan title – Taste Tibet, which suffered from a dated and frequently overcrowded design.

What won’t I love? That spicy liver dish has left me feeling burned (though not as much as my dinner), and though my second foray into the book’s recipes turned out as expected, I wasn’t won over by the Gaad Te Tamatar: fish in a tomato gravy. 

Killer recipes: Kong Kokur (a saffron roast chicken dish), Muslim Rogan Josh, and Gogji (a turnip curry). 

Should I buy it? This is strictly one for people with a keen interest in Kashmir and Ladakh, I think – but those looking for exactly that are unlikely to be disappointed by a well-designed and well-researched book. Was it the greatness that Gill sought as she travelled amidst a global health crisis? Probably not.

Cuisine: Indian
Suitable for: Confident home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating: Three stars

Buy this book
On The Himalayan Trail by Romy Gill
£27, Hardie Grant Books

Review written by Stephen Rötzsch Thomas a Nottingham-based writer. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram at @srotzschthomas

Quick and Easy Gluten Free by Becky Excell & The Gluten-Free Cookbook by Cristian Broglia

The most common thing people say to you when they find out that you’ve been diagnosed with coeliac disease is this: ‘well, thank god it’s happening to you today, and not ten years ago. There are so many gluten free options now.’ 

It’s meant to be helpful. A kind statement to offer a sense of reassurance as you begin your path through the joyless, run-down end of Flavour Town. But it ignores two fundamental truths. First, that almost without exception, gluten-free alternatives are significantly more expensive and absolutely nowhere near as tasty. And second, that you are not capable of seeing the positive side, because you are in mourning. You have just lost the ability to enjoy good pasta, pizza, or bread that comes in slices larger than a cream cracker. A cream cracker that you also cannot eat, for that matter.

Telling a newly diagnosed coeliac that they’re lucky the supermarkets now stock three types of shit biscuit is a bit like telling a recent widower to be grateful that their winter fuel costs will be more affordable now they only have to heat the house for one.

All of this is to say hello, my name is Stephen. Two months ago I was diagnosed with coeliac disease, and I’m still fuming.

Gluten is one of those invisible qualities in food that exists almost everywhere, has a phenomenal impact on the texture and quality of what we eat, but is also barely ever thought about by anyone who doesn’t absolutely have to. It rocks up in all the obvious places – anywhere you might reasonably expect flour to be involved. But it also works its way into foods you would never necessarily think of, like soy sauce, crisps and even, thanks to shared factory environments, Dairy Milk chocolate.

I’m lucky in one way I will happily admit: I’m already confident in the kitchen and know my way around lots of the simpler gluten-free substitutes. I also have a fairly decent amount of cookbooks that are filled with recipe ideas that are, in many cases, naturally gluten free. But one of the biggest issues facing coeliacs, and those with gluten intolerances, is that of convenience. Sufferers aren’t able to grab any book off the shelf, select the dish that looks best in the moment, and dive straight into cooking. There are ingredients to check, and processes to adapt. And so, to this end, gluten-free cookbooks offer many a lifeline.

The undisputed queen of the gluten-free cookbook world right now is Becky Excell, an influencer who was herself diagnosed with IBS in 2009, and has since released four titles aimed at enabling those on gluten-free diets to enjoy the sorts of food they might otherwise have considered forever off the table. Her latest, Quick + Easy Gluten Free, specifically offers up a range of meals that will take less than 30 minutes to cook – a godsend when takeaways are almost entirely inaccessible for those avoiding gluten. 

Like her previous books (which have included How to Make Anything Gluten Free and How to Bake Anything Gluten Free), Excell’s book focuses on offering authentic-tasting versions of dishes that traditionally would feature unworkable ingredients. Her approach of replicating those much-missed takeaway staples like crispy Vegetable Spring Rolls or even a Gluten Free Boneless Banquet inspired by KFC is an inspired change from the health-kick leanings of many other GF cookbooks, which often cater more to fad dieters than they do to those forced to give up their favourite foods.

Quick + Easy Gluten Free isn’t perfect by any means. Excell’s writing is firmly stuck in blog-mode, and she relies too often on recipe introductions that simply tell us how much she used to enjoy eating the dish before her diagnosis got in the way. Listen: I get it as much as anyone. We’re all mourning here. But Becky, you’ve got this, and there’s no need to tell your readers how good a dish once was when you’ve generally managed to create a near pitch-perfect copy. 

There’s a good variety in Excell’s book, too – from Swedish Meatballs to a Sticky Jerk-Style Chicken that isn’t authentic but is absolutely delicious nonetheless. Too often gluten free cookbooks end up offering the same small rotation of dishes – uninspired, unoriginal, and limited to exactly the drab corners of the food world that you feared upon initial diagnosis. Quick + Easy Gluten Free avoids this – but another recent addition to the free-from bookshelf manages to absolutely destroy any notion of gluten-free eating restricting your diet. 

I have long-standing issues with Phaidon’s global cookbook range, and was predictably wary about The Gluten-Free Cookbook, which was released at the beginning of the year. Phaidon’s books are notoriously low on both pictures and descriptions of the dishes they feature, which means home cooks often have to undertake an additional Google, or simply hope for the best when undertaking a recipe. At the same time, though, Phaidon is always on the money for authenticity, and so a sprawling volume featuring over 350 gluten-free recipes from around the globe will prove hard to resist to anyone who, like me, has no intention of letting coeliac disease get in the way of ambitious, fun cooking. 

Organised into broad chapters (‘Breakfast’, ‘Meat and Poultry’, ‘Desserts and Sweet Treats’), the recipes in Cristian Broglia’s book rarely seek to replicate more troublesome dishes, à la Becky Excell. Instead, the majority are already naturally gluten free favourites from every corner of the globe. Even the ‘Bread and Wraps’ chapter focuses almost exclusively on recipes that traditionally use alternative flours, from Serbian corn bread to the teff of Ethiopia’s injera. This is a joy: the opportunity to explore international flavours freely, without worrying about what’s going into the dish is what every person on a gluten-free diet dreams of.

Unfortunately, one of Phaidon’s common problems does get in the way here: too often in these huge recipe tomes poor editing leads to mistakes getting through into the final edition. In other cookbooks, this isn’t a huge issue. But here it could cause major discomfort for readers. At varying points throughout the volume, ingredients like Shaoxing cooking wine, Worcestershire sauce and gochujang are called for but all of these generally are not gluten-free, and nowhere does Broglia give adequate warning. Still, this is a relatively easy issue to fix, and given how useful the title will be to those on a gluten-free diet, one hopes there’ll be many future editions in which these amendments can be made. 

For now, then, readers will just have to undertake a little extra vigilance as they work their way around the world through The Gluten-Free Cookbook’s pages. There’s a phenomenal range to choose from: Belgian roasted potato soup, shrimp pad Thai, Canadian poutine, and several of Brazil’s most famous traditional dishes, including moqueca, pão de queijo and feijoada. Ingredients aren’t always easy to source, but that will prove no obstacle to an audience well-versed in digging around to find gluten-free goods that don’t taste like cardboard. 

It’s never going to be easy going gluten-free, but Becky Excell and Cristian Broglia have each offered up a spectacular cookbook that will make life a lot easier for thousands upon thousands of people. Either one of these titles could well claim to be the only gluten free cookbook you’ll ever need, but together they represent an absolutely indispensable gluten-free cookbook shelf.

Cuisine: International
Suitable for: Beginners, confident home cooks
Quick + Easy Gluten Free Review Rating: Four stars
The Gluten-Free Cookbook Review Rating: Five stars

Buy the books
Quick + Easy Gluten Free
£20, Quadrille
The Gluten-Free Cookbook
£35, Phaidon

Review written by Stephen Rötzsch Thomas a Nottingham-based writer. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram at @srotzschthomas

Mezcla by Ixta Belfrage

Mezcla by Ixta Belfrage

Mezcla, meaning ‘mixture’ in Spanish, is a celebration of fusion food and represents a journey through author Ixta Belfrage’s childhood experiences of Italy, Brazil and Mexico. You may recognise Ixta as the co-author of Flavour alongside benevolent culinary overlord Yotam Ottolenghi. 

Many of the recipes are the meeting point of these cuisines. Cannelloni enchiladas for instance, with the tortillas swapped for lasagne sheets or the Brazilian beef dish rabada com agrião covered in Mexican mole. Alongside, are plenty of other dishes that take inspiration from around the globe and introduce us to unique interpretations of familiar dishes.

There is so much joy to be found in this book, not least from Yuki Sugiura’s photography which is almost as satisfying as eating the actual dishes. The recipes are positively unsubtle, vibrant and as if designed by algorithm for maximum satisfaction (there’s a recipe for half a loaf of sourdough with cheese, honey and chilli butter for goodness sake). 

Highlights of the quick cooks include oyster mushroom skewers covered in rose harissa and roasted until charred; a ricotta dip with hot sauce and pine nuts; marinated prawns with burnt lime; and a bavette steak covered in a soy and maple butter. A butternut and sage lasagne gratin, in which I wanted to submerge myself and never return, is a standout of the Entertaining section, alongside noodles made from omelette with a charred red pepper sauce; a mushroom and sesame roll; and a prawn lasagne with habanero oil.

It must be noted as the Belfrage does in the foreword, that fusion food comes with baggage. Despite all cuisine in some way being a result of thousands of years of migration, invasion, trade routes and cultural exchange, there are legitimate concerns around appropriation and the dilution of tradition.

We are in safe hands here though. Mezcla presents distinctive takes on recipes that feel familiar and new at the same time while still respecting the traditions from which they derive. It is a mezcla of playful, personal and imaginative cookery with recipes and inventiveness that you won’t find anywhere else.

Cuisine: International
Suitable for: Beginner, confident home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating: Five stars

Buy this book
Mezcla by Ixta Belfrage

Review written by Nick Dodd a Leeds-based pianist, teacher and writer. Contact him at www.yorkshirepiano.co.uk

That Sounds So Good by Carla Lalli Music

That Sounds So Good

What’s the USP? What we have here is one of my favourite themes a cookbook can have: food is good, but sometimes it’s exhausting, let’s make it easier. That Sounds So Good offers up ‘100 real-life recipes for every day of the week’, and in its introduction author Carla Lalli Music says each of the dishes in the book ‘is designed to help remove any psychic and emotional barriers that get in the way of cooking at home’. A lovely sentiment, if one that sounds like the author’s editor might also be her therapist.

Who wrote it? Carla Lalli Music, who is perhaps best known for her video work at Bon Appetit, until she quit in 2020 in solidarity with her BIPOC colleagues, who had been chronically mistreated by the organisation. Music is also behind 2019’s Where Cooking Begins, which focused on uncomplicated recipes, and was as much about how to shop for food as it was how to cook what you bought.

Is it good bedtime reading? Better than many cookbooks. Often the titles with the most to read are those that have specific themes that allow for deep-dives on history, culture and so on. A short essay on the cheesemaking process. A few pages on the socio-economic impact of grains on Western European culture. Given that Music’s book is essentially ‘here are some nice recipes to try’, she gets a decent amount of writing in. From a lengthy introduction that takes in essential kitchenware and revisits ideas around food shopping to chunky histories for various recipes, there’s a lot to browse here.

How annoyingly vague are the recipes? Everything is kept neat and simple here, with ingredients kindly presented first in metric and then in the usual US-friendly imperial measurements. There’s also handy little sections at the bottom of each recipe that cover variations and substitutions that might aid the process.

How often will I cook from the book? Music’s promise of real-life recipes is definitely fulfilled here, and you could plausibly find yourself revisiting this book a few times in any given week. Perhaps the biggest achievement is that the end results don’t look or feel like quick and easy dishes thrown together in a relatively short amount of time.

When Jamie Oliver offers up an idea for a Gnarly Chicken with Sizzlin’ Broccoli, or whatever the hell he’s suggesting this time around, it does the job, but it rarely looks particularly impressive. Music’s dishes manage so much more: they are rich and varied, feel fresh and healthy, and would impress any guest passing through your dining room that evening.

Killer recipes: Pantry Eggs in Purgatory, Seared Sweet Potatoes with Kale and Lime Pickle, Spaghetti with Melted Cauliflower Sauce, Banana Galette with Cashew Frangipane… there are honestly too many to mention.

Should I buy it? Carla Lalli Music has hit upon a winner with this book, which offers an absolute wealth of original ideas and inspired twists on classic dishes. It almost does itself a disservice by reducing its central promise, ‘100 real-life recipes for every day of the week’ to a fraction of its vibrant cover. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but there’s something of a cost of living crisis going on right now, and books like Music’s are exactly what we need. Filled with affordable food and adaptable recipes, I can see dishes like Brothy Basil Beans and Split Pea Soup with Mustard-Chilli Sizzle offering some affordable warmth in many a cold home this winter. The dishes here don’t just sound good – they look good, taste good, and feel good too.

Cuisine: American
Suitable for: Beginner and confident home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating: Five stars

Buy this book: That Sounds So Good by Carla Lalli Music
£25, Hardie Grant Books

Review written by Stephen Rötzsch Thomas a Nottingham-based writer. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram at @srotzschthomas

Hazelnut Roulade with Rosewater and Raspberries by Cindy-Marie Harvey

Hazelnut Roulade with rosewater & raspberries

Paired Wine: Sparkling Rosé NV from Wiston Estate 

If you are reading this recipe on a dark, grizzly November day, I urge you to make this roulade and open a bottle of Wiston Sparkling Rosé. You will instantly be transported to a long, lazy, summer Sunday lunch in a sunny English garden. Roulades are a bit of a go-to in my kitchen if I need something that looks very impressive but is a doddle to make, be it sweet or savoury. Although I have suggested raspberries here, you could use redcurrants, rhubarb or strawberries, all of which match the red-fruit aromas in this delectable sparkling wine. As an aside, this rosé is also the ideal wine to serve with sweet-cured bacon and ricotta pancakes for brunch!

SERVES SIX TO EIGHT

4 egg whites
225g caster sugar
50g roasted hazelnuts, finely chopped, plus extra to serve
300ml double cream
Rosewater, to taste
200g raspberries, plus extra to serve Neutral vegetable oil, to grease 

Preheat the oven to 180°C fan/200°C/gas mark 6. Grease a Swiss roll tin (23 × 33cm) with neutral vegetable oil and line with baking parchment.

Put the egg whites into the scrupulously clean bowl of a stand mixer. Whisk until stiff points form.

Still whisking, gradually add the sugar, about a heaped teaspoon at a time, and whisk well. By the time all the sugar is added the meringue should be glossy with very stiff peaks. Spread into the prepared tin, sprinkle with the nuts and bake for 8 minutes – it should be lightly coloured.

Reduce the temperature to 140°C fan/160°C/gas mark 3 and bake for another 20 minutes. Meanwhile, lay a large sheet of baking paper on a flat surface.

Remove the meringue from the oven and turn it over onto the sheet of baking paper (the nutty side will be underneath). Carefully peel off the lining paper from the meringue. Allow to cool for about 10–15 minutes.

Meanwhile, whip the cream until soft peaks form. Add the rosewater according to taste. It is quite enthusiastic in flavour, so start with 1⁄2 teaspoon and taste to see if you need more.

Spread the whipped cream over the cold meringue and scatter with the raspberries.

Now form it into a Swiss roll shape. Using the base sheet of paper as an aid, roll the meringue firmly from one long side. Wrap in a fresh sheet of baking paper and chill in the fridge for an hour before serving.

Serve the roulade in thick slices, perhaps with more fresh raspberries on the side and a few chopped hazelnuts.

Cook more from this book
Roasted Monkfish Tail with ’Nduja, White Beans and Samphire by Cindy -Marie Harvey
Twice-Baked Goat’s Cheese and Wasabi Leaves Soufflé by Cindy-Marie Harvey

Buy the book: Watercress, Willow and Wine

Read the review

Read an interview with Cindy-Marie Harvey

Twice-Baked Goat’s Cheese and Wasabi Leaves Soufflé by Cindy-Marie Harvey

Goats Cheese and Wasabi

Paired Wine: Bacchus from Lyme Bay Winery

These are perfectly behaved soufflés, with the second baking giving you, the cook, a comforting reassurance rather than blind panic as guests arrive. Surprisingly perhaps, since wasabi is associated with Japanese cuisine, this type of horseradish is grown in the south of England, and its fresh leaves give a peppery kick to dishes. It is available online but if it is hard to find, here you could instead use chives or watercress leaves (no stems). The citrus notes of the goat’s cheese match those in the Bacchus beautifully.

SERVES SIX

50g butter
25g panko breadcrumbs, blitzed briefly in a blender until very fine
40g plain flour
300ml milk, preferably full-fat
150g soft goat’s cheese, chopped or crumbled
3 tbsp chopped fresh wasabi leaves (washed and dried thoroughly)
3 large free-range eggs, separated 50ml double cream
30g Parmesan cheese, grated
Sea salt and black pepper

Preheat the oven to 180°C fan/200°C/gas mark 6.

Melt about 10g of the butter in a pan and sparingly brush the insides of six ramekins (approx. size 250ml). Coat the first with panko by rolling the breadcrumbs around until the base and sides are fully coated then tip the rest into the next ramekin and so on.

Melt the remaining butter in the pan over a medium heat. Add the flour and stir to cook for about 2 minutes.

Gradually add the milk – it should be full-fat but as I seldom buy it for one recipe, semi-skimmed works too if that is what you have in the fridge. Stir and gently bring to the boil. Cook for 3–4 minutes until it thickens. 

Remove the pan from the heat, add the cheese, wasabi leaves and egg yolks. Beat well, taste and season, bearing in mind that you must slightly overseason to offset the neutrality of the egg whites. 

Whisk the egg whites until stiff peaks form. Mix an initial spoonful into the yolk mixture, which helps to blend it, and then carefully fold in the rest using a metal spoon, trying not to knock the air out.

Divide between the ramekins, almost to the top. Run a fingertip around the edge – this gives the soufflé a better chance to rise. 

Put the ramekins in a deep-sided baking tray. Fill the tray with boiling water so that it comes halfway up the side of the ramekins. Bake for 15–20 minutes. Remove from the oven and out of the water bath and allow to cool. You can make these ahead at this point and keep in the fridge for baking later or the following day. 

When you are ready to serve, preheat the oven to 200°C fan/220°C/gas mark 7. Run a round-bladed knife around the inside edge of the soufflés and turn out into a buttered ovenproof dish. You can do this in individual dishes or a larger ceramic serving bowl. 

Pour the cream over the top, sprinkle with the Parmesan and bake for 10 minutes. Serve at once, possibly with a simple watercress salad on the side. 

Cook more from this book
Roasted Monkfish Tail with ’Nduja, White Beans and Samphire by Cindy -Marie Harvey
Hazelnut Roulade with Rosewater and Raspberries by Cindy-Marie Harvey

Buy the book: Watercress, Willow and Wine

Read the review

Read an interview with Cindy-Marie Harvey

Roasted Monkfish Tail with ’Nduja, White Beans and Samphire by Cindy -Marie Harvey

Monkfish Tail

Paired Wine: Native Grace Barrel Chardonnay from Henners Vineyard

The original dish that I planned to match with this wine was whole roasted turbot with fennel – and that would be delicious. But after a splendid tasting at Henners, I enjoyed a fabulous barbecued monkfish at the outstanding restaurant The Salt Room in Brighton. The smokiness of the ’nduja balances the barrel ferment, though you can replace it with smoked paprika for a less punchy element in the dish, while the ‘meaty’ texture of the monkfish is heaven with this wine. I was so taken with enjoying the English wine, the English seafood and great company, I neglected to ask the Chef for the recipe, so this is my reinvention from that inspiration.

SERVES TWO

Large jar of alargada white beans (about 700g undrained weight)*
Olive oil, for frying
1 large white onion, finely chopped
115g ’nduja
400–450ml vegetable stock (homemade if possible – keep on a simmer until needed)
1 monkfish tail (800g–1kg) – whole on the bone, skin and membrane removed
30g butter
100g samphire
Sea salt and black pepper

To serve:
Extra-virgin olive oil Smoked paprika (optional) Zest of 1 lemon

* The Perelló brand of alargada white beans is excellent but you can also make this with butter beans or even chickpeas. Do, however, buy them in jars not cans, as the texture and taste is so much better.

Please do read the method first because you can either cook the beans while the fish is cooking, or get ahead and prepare earlier – the beans (before the samphire is added) are very forgiving at being reheated. You won’t use all of the beans from a large jar but they are delicious next day as a salad with tomatoes and feta, or even on toast with some bacon!

Empty out the white beans into a sieve, rinse and drain. 

Heat a couple of glugs of oil in a large, heavy-based casserole (Le Creuset style) over a medium heat. Add the onions and leave to soften but not colour – about 10 minutes – stirring occasionally. Turn down the heat if they start to catch.

Add the ’nduja and, keeping the heat low, mix in well until it breaks down completely and the onions take on a rich red colour – about 5 minutes.

Tip in the drained beans and mix well with the onions. Add the heated stock and stir well again. Smush a couple of spoonfuls of the beans against the side of the casserole with a cooking spoon. This will give the dish a creamy texture. Continue to cook over a gentle heat for about 15 minutes – keep an eye on the stock level and add bit more if required.

Preheat the oven to 130°C fan/150°C/ gas mark 2.

Season the monkfish lightly with salt (bear in mind the samphire will give lots of saltiness to the dish).

Melt the butter until foaming in a large frying pan. Brown the monkfish on all sides (allow 4–5 minutes) and transfer to a roasting tin. Pour melted butter from the pan over the fish. Place in the preheated oven for 20 minutes, then turn the fish over and cook for further 20 minutes.

Remove from the oven, cover with aluminium foil, and set aside to rest for 10 minutes.

Ensure the bean mixture is hot and stir through the samphire – just enough to warm it through for 1 minute so that it does not lose its crunch. Do not be tempted to add more salt – the samphire will be naturally salty enough.

To serve, portion beans and samphire onto two plates, slice each fillet of monkfish down the side of the bone and place on the beans and samphire, drizzle with extra-virgin olive oil and a pinch of smoked paprika. Finish with fresh lemon zest. 

Cook more from this book
Twice-Baked Goat’s Cheese and Wasabi Leaves Soufflé by Cindy-Marie Harvey
Hazelnut Roulade with Rosewater and Raspberries by Cindy-Marie Harvey

Buy the book: Watercress, Willow and Wine

Read the review

Read an interview with Cindy-Marie Harvey

Watercress, Willow and Wine by Cindy-Marie Harvey

High-Res Cover image

Watercress, Willow and Wine is a celebration of all things English wine covering the regions, vineyards and the wines themselves.  There are food pairings for a featured wine from each of the 33 wineries included in the book in the form of some of the best ingredients and food items produced local to the vineyard, as well as a matched recipe.

The author Cindy-Marie Harvey is a wine expert and former wine importer and owner of Love Wine Food Ltd, a private wine tour company. She has travelled continually for almost 25 years, visiting iconic wine estates across Italy, New Zealand, South America, Portugal and many others. This is her first book.

You should buy Watercress, Willow and Wine if you are curious about English wine and want to learn more, and would like to try some delicious recipes to match with some bottles you may not have tried before. How about mackerel tacos and gooseberry compote with a glass of Ridgeview Blanc de Noirs fizz, or linguine with crab, bottarga and lemon with Rathfinny’s Cradle Valley White?

Covering vineyards in the English counties of Cornwall, Devon, Dorset, Hampshire, West Sussex, East Sussex, Kent, Buckinghamshire, Berkshire and Surry, as well as urban wineries in London and Gateshead, the book also acts as a useful touring guide to English wine country.

In addition to an overview of the English wineries and profiles of each of the wineries – some like Nyetimber that you will certainly have heard of, and some like Sugrue you may not have – Harvey has included lots of other useful stuff like a guide to the grape varieties used in English wine making, a glossary of wine terms and a guide to matching food and wine.  Beautiful hand drawn illustrations from Chloe Robertson complete the package.

As Julia Trustram-Eve of Wines of Great Britain says in her introduction, ‘The wine industry of Great Britain is at a pivotal moment in its history, so it couldn’t be a better time to discover more about this exciting wine region’. We agree and recommend you pick up a copy of Watercress, Willow and Wine, you won’t find a better introduction to English wine.

Cuisine: British
Suitable for: For beginners/confident home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating: Four stars

Buy this book: Watercress, Willow and Wine
£25, Love Wine Food Books

Cook from this book
Roasted Monkfish Tail with ’Nduja, White Beans and Samphire by Cindy -Marie Harvey
Twice-Baked Goat’s Cheese and Wasabi Leaves Soufflé by Cindy-Marie Harvey
Hazelnut Roulade with Rosewater and Raspberries by Cindy-Marie Harvey

Read an interview with Cindy-Marie Harvey

Outside by Gill Meller

Outside by Gill Meller

What’s up?  You haven’t had a look on your face like that since your tortoise died. 

I’m not sure I can go through this again 

Through what?

It’s another one. By him. 

Have you had a stroke? What are you talking about?

Gill Meller, he’s got a new book out.

Who?

Don’t tell me you don’t remember. The last one was during lockdown. I’m still not really over it.

Oh, you mean Gill Meller, alumni of Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall’s River Cottage organization and chef, food writer and teacher. His first book Gather won the Fortnum and Mason award for Best Debut Food Book in 2017 and his other books include root, steam, leaf, flower and Time, both of which you’ve reviewed.

Why are you talking like that? You sound like a newspaper article or something.

I’m not talking like anything. Anyway, I don’t know why you’ve got such a problem with him, I think he’s great. The books always look fantastic, and his recipes are ace. Let me see. Oh, it’s Andrew Montgomery doing the pics. I like him. That one of Meller in the woods, that’s stunning.

Hmm, what do you know? I’m the cookbook blogger. Give it here. Actually, before you do, check something for me.

What? That Gill Meller is still better looking and more successful than you, you bitter old…

Poetry. Is there any poetry in the book? 

Oh, good point. That’s what tipped you over the edge last time wasn’t it? Let me have a look. Nope, nothing, unless you count the recipe for ‘The Bacon Sandwich’ which is better than an Amanda Gorman stanza.

It’s called ‘the’ bacon sandwich? 

Yeah. Why? What’s the problem with that?

Nothing. Not really, it’s just, you know…

Oh God, I remember, you’ve got a problem with his recipe titles, haven’t you? ‘Unnecessarily overwritten, arch and twee constructions like ‘A tart for May’ and ‘Aubergines and roast tomatoes for everything’ are like fingernails down a blackboard to me’ is what you said. What is wrong with you?

Tell me some other titles, go on. Do your worst, let’s get it over with. 

Well, sorry to disappoint you, but they’re all just sort of normal.

What?! Let me see. 

Alright, don’t snatch! Learn some manners.

This is weird, ‘Salted cabbage salad with chestnut mushrooms and flaked seaweed’, ‘Wild garlic polenta with barbecued asparagus and crispy stinging nettles’. They are just sort of normal. No poetry, no offensive recipe titles. It’s almost like he’s read my review. 

Oh, do not flatter yourself! You sound ridiculous.

I’ll have you know I’m an internationally renowned food writer.

*yawns*

What is Outside actually about? Let me have a look at the back cover. ‘We shouldn’t be shutting doors anymore – we should be opening them’. That’s terrible advice. One, obvious security issue, who leaves their front door open? Two, you’re going to let all the heat out and no one can afford to do that, hasn’t he heard about the cost-of-living crisis? And three, you’re not really using the full functionality of a door if you’re just opening it are you? Doors by their very nature open and close. You might as well just have a hole in the wall if you’re never going to shut it. Stands to reason. 

Very funny, have you considered a career in stand up? Russell Howard must be shitting himself.    

Anyway, it doesn’t make any sense, I’m going to have to read the introduction, aren’t I?

I see you’ve deliberately ignored the bit on the back cover where it also says ‘Gill Meller’s new book Outside is a thoughtful celebration of the joys of cooking and eating outdoors’, but you know, comic effect is more important than accuracy. And it is your bloody job to read the introduction. 

Suppose.

*sighs*

Read out the best bits otherwise there’s just going to be a blank space.

You mean a silence? 

Erm, yeah, whatever. 

I’m through the first paragraph, no problem. I think everything’s going to be OK…

Well done you. Keep going. You’re a hero. 

Oh shit…spoke too soon. 

What is it now? Jesus. 

Writing. Creative writing. So much. Can’t breathe. Heart is racing. Must stay calm. 

Read it out, you’ll feel better. We’ll all feel better. 

What do you mean ‘we’ll all feel better’? Who is ‘we’?

Just read it, there’s a dear. 

So, he’s writing about moving to the countryside from the town when he was a kid and getting into bird watching as way of adapting to the change. Which is all fine, and then he says, ‘the rooks would fall on to the wing and dance up over the pine, tumbling, shrieking, wheeling to the weather. They cut a shifty, marauding form, but squabbled with eloquence as they turned and raked together, a black ballet in the afternoon.’ 

Gosh. That’s…a lot. It’s very descriptive though, isn’t it? I mean, who wouldn’t enjoy a black ballet in the afternoon. Don’t get distracted, what’s the book actually about?

OK, now were getting to it. He’s having a Proust’s madeleine moment except it involves a flask of soup and some bread. The general idea seems to be that by cooking and eating outside we can reconnect with a kinder gentler time when we were closer to nature and not so tied to technology. 

What, by having a picnic? 

Actually, yes. 

Well, you can’t beat Ginster’s and a packet of Frazzles in the park can you? 

Don’t forget your four pack of Special Brew, will you? That doesn’t sound very ‘elemental’ does it, you’re not going to discover ‘another aspect of our primal hardwiring’ with that heart attack on a paper plate are you? No, Gill has something a little more sophisticated in mind for you, like wild mushroom and thyme sausage rolls or a ham hock, potato and parsley terrine.  

Ooh, fancy. Actually, I do fancy that. Go on, what else is in the book?

Why don’t you have a look yourself? 

Because you’ve got to tell me. Otherwise, this doesn’t work.

What won’t work? Honestly, you are in a strange mood today. Well, there’s a chapter on cooking over fire, one on eating out (don’t even think about making a joke, it’s beneath even you) that’s based around raw preparations, a chapter on camping out (I’ll just pause for a moment here. Are you done? Good) which is really just more cooking over fire, a section on wild things (foraging) and an early autumn feast that’s based around setting a sheep on fire by the looks of things. 

That doesn’t sound very PC. 

Hold that call to PETA. It says, ‘A Sheep on Fire’ but what it actually means is ‘A Sheep on a Fire’ which is an entirely different thing. It’s already dead and has had a pole stuck up its…

That’s quite enough detail thanks. So, what are you cooking for us tonight then, oh former Masterchef semi-finalist. 

Can you be a ‘former Masterchef semi-finalist’? You either are or you aren’t. It’s a bit like being a president. 

What, do you tart about insisting people call you by your title? When they ask you for your name at Starbucks do say ‘Masterchef semi-finalist Lynes’.

No, of course not. At least not since the, er, incident. I’m not cooking anything if you’re just going to take the piss.  

Just pick a recipe.

Alright, I’m thinking. I’m not setting fire to a sheep, that’s for sure. I could make the hispi cabbage with miso, honey, tamari and sesame. Sounds nice. Oh, hold on, I’ll need ‘a bed of hot chunky embers’ and some clay to wrap the cabbage in. Maybe not. Smokey anchovies with baked wet garlic? But where am I going to get fresh anchovy fillet and wet garlic from? Venison cured with blackberries, elderberries, juniper and bay…no good, got to marinate the meat for 24 hours. 

You’re just looking for problems, aren’t you? Give me the book. Look, what’s wrong with lentils cooked with garlic, chilli and rosemary with baked eggs and kale. Or spatchcock chicken, aioli and toast. Or a lovely vegetarian ‘Campervan’ stew?

*shrugs*

Sorry, I didn’t hear you. 

I said ‘nothing’. 

Right then. Supermarket it is. Well, shall we go?

Yes, let’s go. 

They do not move.

Cuisine: British
Suitable for: For confident home cooks/professional chefs
Cookbook Review Rating: Three stars

Buy this book: Outside by Gill Meller
£30, Hardie Grant

 

Interview: Cindy-Marie Harvey, author of Watercress, Willow and Wine

What inspired you to come up with the idea for the book?
Like many people, there has been a potential book meandering around the edges of my mind for quite a while, and it was always going to be about food & wine pairing. But in lockdown, as all of the tours that I organise to vineyards around the world were not happening, I started doing online Zoom tastings for clients. I would choose between 6 – 10 wines and I would send recipes to match for clients to cook at home and share on screen during the tasting. I would also send suggestions of cheeses or charcuterie as easy pairings, and discovered a wealth of lesser known artisan cheeses and cured meats made in Britain. So after one particular English Wine tasting, with a glass of Pinot Blanc in hand, the germ of Watercress, Willow & Wine was created.

Why is it the right time for a book about English wine now?
English Wine is experiencing a really exciting time, as wine lovers both at home and abroad are starting to discover its quality and diversity. No longer a “patriotic one off” purchase, English wine is establishing a very loyal following – from sparkling wines that have repeatedly beaten top Champagne producers in blind tastings at international awards, through to crisp whites that delight the palate, fruit filled Rosés perfect for a picnic, even the fickle grape variety of Pinot Noir has found a happy new home in the South of England.

How did you develop the recipes for the book – were they directly inspired by your visits to the vineyards and tastings of the wine?
Some of the recipes draw inspiration from the produce of the county where the wine is produced, such as watercress in Hampshire. Some of them are inspired by my meanderings around the vineyards of the world, so might have an Italian influence but using clams from Cornwall or apples from Kent. Some of them indeed direct from the vineyards themselves. But the starting place was always the featured wine from each producer in the book. So it was a case of pouring a glass of the chosen wine, sitting quietly with a notebook and giving my creative food-brain free range to see what flavours the wine could inspire. It was such a tough job!

There’s a wide range of cuisines in the book, were you surprised at how adaptable the wines were in terms of dishes they would pair with?
Not really, as that was one of the reasons that I wrote the book – to share this incredible versatility with people. At the moment, quite a few wine lovers still think that we only make sparkling wines in this country – so spreading the word about what great food friendly still English wines there are being produced – and that will pair happily with a myriad of food styles. I hope the book encourages people to try new pairings – I’d love to see more people drinking white wine with cheese (rather than red) and also more people understanding that Sparkling wines are not just as an aperitif – but are fabulous with a meal as well.

It’s a beautiful book and I love the illustrations. Why did you decide on the drawings rather than photographs?
Much as I love great food photography, for this book I wanted a very quintessentially English feel – and was lucky enough to discover the brilliant illustrator, Chloe Robertson who lives just down the road from myself in the South Downs. As I envisioned the book as taking readers on a voyage of discovery of English wine, I wanted to make it as accessible as possible . I feel that illustrations are a lot more forgiving to the home cook – I’m sure that I’m not alone in having cooked a recipe for the first time and looked at the spectacular accompanying photo and been slightly disheartened at the comparison! Chloe’s beautiful illustrations give the cook an idea to aim for whilst still allowing for home creativity.

It’s arguable that, although English sparkling wines have been embraced by the public, the still wines are perhaps less well understood. Is there one wine and recipe pairing in the book that you would point to that would open people’s eyes to English still wines.
I absolutely agree, our still wines are getting better known but still don’t have the wider spread fame of our sparkling wines (yet!). A hard call to mention just one, but perhaps the Pinot Gris from Stopham in West Sussex paired with Chameleon Curry. The off dry style of the Pinot Gris is fabulous with a host of spicy foods but also so much more.

Readers will probably be familiar with the big named vineyards in the book like Nyetimber and Chapel Down. Where would you recommend people to start if they wanted to explore some of the lesser-known vineyards?
If they are lucky enough to live close to a vineyard, then start by booking a tasting visit on their own doorstep as it were! There are so many smaller, family run wine estates that welcome visitors by appointment, where a warm welcome awaits from the people who actually grow the grapes themselves! Do visit winegb.co.uk as they have over 200 wine estates listed – You can search by location, those that offer lunches, those with accommodation and everything you need to know for a visit! From the private English Wine tours that we have organised, I can definitely say that a day out visiting a couple of English wine estates, is a great way to celebrate a birthday or just getting together with friends.

How do you think English wine tourism compares to other wine regions around the world?
In its infancy for sure, but growing rapidly and generally in the right direction. It’s great to see winery restaurants opening up such as the new one at Wiston (West Sussex), at Sandridge Barton (Devon) and at Hambledon (Hampshire). But also smaller estates that offer platters of local cheeses, or as at Nutbourne (West Sussex), a glorious picnic full of home baked goodies and heritage tomatoes from a few fields away! Looking ahead, I think it’s important that wine estates remember that all visitors are different, and not to follow the “one size fits all” approach of some of the New World Cellar Door operations, where the personal touch has been lost.

Did you come to any conclusions about English wine as a region in terms of style compared to other regions around the world?
Not in terms of style, as there is so much diversity – from Bacchus grapes fermented in terracotta amphorae to late harvested Ortega grapes resulting in delicious dessert wine. But one thing that did emerge, was that being a relatively young wine region, that our winemakers are unfettered by tradition, which gives them a huge scope for experimentation – which is great news for us, the curious wine drinkers.

What will be your next project?
Well once I’ve been to Sicily, Alto Adige, Piemonte and Chile on tour this Autumn, I’ll start focusing on my next book – but a few more glasses of wine are still needed yet, for creative purposes of course, before I decide which region to focus on!

Cindy-Marie Harvey’s book Watercress, Willow and Wine is published 15 September 2022 by whitefox. Visit Cindy-Marie’s website, Love Wine Food, to find out more: lovewinefood.com

Buy this book: Watercress Willow and Wine by Cindy-Marie Harvey
£25, Love Wine Food Books 

Read the review 

Cook from this book
Roasted Monkfish Tail with ’Nduja, White Beans and Samphire by Cindy -Marie Harvey
Twice-Baked Goat’s Cheese and Wasabi Leaves Soufflé by Cindy-Marie Harvey
Hazelnut Roulade with Rosewater and Raspberries by Cindy-Marie Harvey

Core by Clare Smyth

Core by Clare Smyth
As the first and currently only British female chef to hold three Michelin stars, Clare Smyth needs no introduction. But in case you didn’t know, before opening Core restaurant in Notting Hill in 2017, Smyth was chef-patron of Restaurant Gordon Ramsay, worked for Alain Ducasse in Monaco and staged at Thomas Keller’s The French Laundry and Per Se, all of them three Michelin starred establishments. So it’s no surprise to flick through the gold lined pages of this sumptuously produced book to find immaculately presented, highly detailed and technically brilliant dishes.

From a ‘Caviar Sandwich’ – a perfect, tiny wedge of buckwheat pancake layered with sieved egg white and yolk bound in mayonnaise, creme fraiche, puffed buckwheat and caviar served on a beautiful bespoke wooden sphere – to a pear and verbena Eton mess that belies its name with a Faberge-like construction of upturned meringue dome filled with lemon verbena cream, pear puree, verbena jelly,
compressed pear pearls and pear sorbet, topped with miniature discs of pear and meringue, each of the 60 recipes (there are also a further 70 recipes for stocks, sauces and breads) is an elegant work of culinary art.

Smyth calls her style ‘British fine dining’, eschewing and ‘excessive reliance on imported luxury ingredients’ and instead celebrating world class produce from the British Isles such as Scottish langoustines and Lake District hogget. In Smyth’s hands, even the humble potato (from a secret supplier she won’t reveal the name of) is transformed into a signature dish of astonishingly intense flavours. Cooked sous vide with kombu and dulse, topped with trout and herring roe and homemade salt and vinegar crisps and served with a dulse beurre blanc ‘Potato and Roe’ is an homage to the food of Smyth’s Northern Ireland coastal upbringing.

With a forward by Ramsay, introduction by journalist Kieran Morris, essays on subjects such as Smyth’s suppliers and informative recipe introductions, there’s plenty to read, while the colour food and landscape photography – and black and white shots of the restaurant in action –are stunning. It all adds up to an unmissable package that any ambitious cook will find inspiring.

Cuisine: British
Suitable for: For confident home cooks/professional chefs
Cookbook Review Rating: Five stars

Buy this book: Core by Clare Smyth 
£45, Phaidon

Live Fire by Helen Graves

Live Fire by Helen Graves

Live Fire is a book so dedicated to the subject of barbecue that it will convince you that you can cook over live fire all year round. But this isn’t just a barbecue book for all seasons, it’s for all cuisines too with carefully researched recipes from around the globe, bolstered by interviews with experts in many of the national and regional traditions featured.

The author is a widely published London-based food writer and editor of the highly rated, independently published Pit magazine that’s not just about food and fire, but also is about it, if that makes sense. Live Fire is Graves’s first book.

You should buy Live Fire if you are new to barbecue and need some guidance on equipment, accessories, what fuel to burn and cooking techniques. But you should buy it especially if you are an experienced barbecue cook and are looking to expand your repertoire.  With more than 100 recipes covering everything from a simple plate of sugar snap peas with mint (the sort of thing you’d imagine Fergus Henderson cooking if you let him near the barbecue) to expert-level smoked and braised ox cheek tacos, Graves has got every skill level, taste and occasion covered.

Things get even more interesting when Graves delves into those aforementioned global live fire culinary traditions that include suya – spicy beef skewers from West Africa, Vietnamese bun cha – barbecued pork with noodles and a dipping sauce, and Jamaican jerk chicken among many others. Each comes with a well researched and fascinating essay, making the book as much of an entertaining and informative read as it is a cooking manual.  That said, it’s worth the cover price alone for Graves’s version of the legendary tandoori lamb chops from Tayyabs restaurant in Whitechapel.

There are many barbecue books on the market, but none I’ve seen are quite like Live Fire. Even if you don’t have a barbecue and never intend buying one, I’d still recommend getting hold of a copy of this book. As Graves points out, you can use a cast iron griddle pan to cook many of the recipes. The result may not be quite the same, but at least you won’t be missing out on all those delicious dishes.

Buy this book: Live Fire by Helen Graves
£26, Hardie Grant

Cuisine: Barbecue
Suitable for: For beginners/confident home cooks/professional chefs
Cookbook Review Rating: Five stars

Curry Everyday by Atul Kochhar

Curry Everyday by Atul Kochhar
Curry Everyday is a curry cookbook that isn’t entirely about curry. Instead, it’s introduced as a kind of culinary cultural exchange programme where the plant-based recipes are linked vaguely by the techniques, ingredients and heritage of making curry.

In the foreword, Atul Kochhar, Michelin-starred chef, restaurateur and author of this book as well as Atul’s Curries of the World and 30 Minute Curries defines curry as “a spiced dish with a sauce, gravy or masala base”. And here they are: Cauliflower Korma, Paneer in a Tomato and Cashew Nut Gravy and a series of dals, featuring alongside their colleagues from other countries such as Japanese Katsu and Thai curries. Then there’s soups and stews, Laksa, Iranian Fesenjān (called “Persian Curry” here) and saucy spiced things like Shakshuka which in a dim light and a bit of goodwill, give a decent impression of curry. And finally, what can only be avant garde, Free Jazz interpretations of curry like Pad Thai, Tteokbokki, Momos, stir-frys and salads.

There is much to love in this book. It’s a backpacker’s tour of continents, subcontinents and countries with recipes from places that are certainly underrepresented in my culinary output. There’s dishes from Yemen, Zimbabwe, the Maldives, Ethiopia, Nepal, Tibet, Iran, Afghanistan as well as Indian recipes from all points of the compass. Its globe-trotting nature however means you’ll need a multilingual spice cupboard or a well-stocked international supermarket nearby and some disposable cash.

The book is all business: a brief foreword, sparse introductions and meticulous descriptions of preparation, occasionally calling for bespoke spice powders without substitutes. I did however make one recipe that began with the preparation of sweetcorn and instructions to set aside for later use, only for it never to be mentioned again. In the scheme of things, not something to write to your local MP in outrage over but somewhat annoying when the recipe is called “Potato and Sweetcorn Curry” (so you can sleep easy, I chucked it in at the end).

This omission felt at odds with the otherwise exacting nature of the recipes and summarises some of the contradictions in this book: a publication called Curry Everyday that isn’t really about curry or for cooking from every day. There’s certainly curry recipes, though many that aren’t and while there’s meals that can become weeknight staples, lots call for complex ingredients making for longer cooking times. But like the sweetcorn, put it aside, forget about it and enjoy a fascinating and diverse range of recipes from across the world.

Cuisine: International
Suitable for: Beginner, confident home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating: Three stars

Buy this book: Curry Everyday by Atul Kochhar 
£26, Bloomsbury Absolute

Review written by Nick Dodd a Leeds-based pianist, teacher and writer. Contact him at www.yorkshirepiano.co.uk

Sea Salt by The Lea-Wilson Family

Sea Salt by Lea-Wilson Family

Sea Salt is the latest book to build itself around a single ingredient – but in letting that ingredient be ‘salt’, it might also be the most shoddily realised. See, salt isn’t a flavour most people aspire to taste. We use salt, every day, sure – but only to enhance the other flavours in our dish. ‘Salty’ is a term we use negatively to refer to our food. And so building an entire book around the concept of ‘salt’ doesn’t really work. Sea Salt doesn’t say ‘look at all these lovely dishes we built around salt’, but rather ‘here is a collection of dishes we like, that can be made even better with salt’.

The authors are ‘The Lea-Wilson Family’, but don’t worry if that means nothing to you. This isn’t a cookbook from the latest household of podcasting celebrities (see: Jessie and Lennie Ware, Chris and Rosie Ramsey, Idris and Sabrina Elba); this is the clan behind salt company Halen Môn. There is, then, a rather vested interest in selling the virtues of salt and, by extension, their specific range of goods.

You should buy Sea Salt for one reason, and one reason only: it has some lovely representation for Welsh food and culture. As well as each recipe’s name being transcribed in both English and Welsh, there are a few dishes that really champion what is perhaps Britain’s least recognised cuisine. So we have instructions for a Welsh Rarebit, of course, but also Fritto Misto and Moules Frites that, though Italian and French in origin, champion the local seafood.

The rest of the dishes look lovely and fresh, but offer very little originality. Worse: when something exciting does pop up, it often reveals the decidedly middle class world of the Lea-Wilson family. No sentence in a cookbook has ever isolated me more from the author than ‘use the mincing attachment on your mixer’. It’s not the fact they have one – it’s the fact they don’t seem to consider for a second that someone might not.

Cuisine: British
Suitable for: Confident home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating: Two stars

Buy this book
Sea Salt by The Lea-Wilson Family 
£26, White Lion Publishing

Review written by Stephen Rötzsch Thomas a Nottingham-based writer. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram at @srotzschthomas

The Year of Miracles by Ella Risbridger

The Year of Miracles Ella Risbridger

The best food writing is never really about the food. There is almost always something else that sits at the heart of the food writing that most appeals to us; the essays, memoirs or cookbooks that we read cover to cover as though they were a novel. Food, when written well, is a character that interacts with the world around it. In the same way that The Great Gatsby isn’t really about Gatsby, or Nick, the very best food writing uses food to tell us more about ourselves, and who we are as individuals. 

Nigel Slater remains one of the finest food writers around – whether he’s using food nostalgia as a means to explore family is his memoir Toast, or simply to meditate on the value of the seasons in books like his two Greenfeast volumes. Even Julia Child seems to have a sort of philosophy on her mind when she writes about food. In My Life in France she writes that ‘No one is born a great cook, one learns by doing’, and comes across as a sort of gourmand Yoda. 

The Year of Miracles is the second cookbook by Ella Risbridger and, like its predecessor Midnight Chicken (& Other Recipes Worth Living For), is about so much more than the recipes within. As debut cookbooks by non-household names go, Midnight Chicken was a phenomenal success, becoming a bestseller both in classic hardback and the less traditional novel-sized paperback formats, and winning Cookbook of the Year at the Guild of Food Writers Awards in 2020. 

And, excellent a collection of recipes as it was, this success is every bit as much down to the real subject matter of the book. It was a book not about food, but finding peace for oneself through food. About coming to terms with what life has given you, and learning how to build something you want around that. Much of the book speaks lovingly of ‘The Tall Man’ – Risbridger’s partner with whom she shared a home. Their relationship is portrayed evocatively as one that, though not without its clashes, was built on mutual respect and a deep, empathetic love. Which made the revelation that was tucked away amidst the acknowledgements a tremendous gut punch for those readers who were not already aware of Risbridger’s story. Much of the book was written whilst her partner was receiving treatment in hospital. Around the time she handed in her final draft, The Tall Man passed away. Though this part of Risbridger’s life doesn’t directly feature in the book itself, it impacts it at every turn, with the author’s view the world inevitably tied to what that world is presenting to her. 

Now, three years on from the publication of Midnight Chicken, we are gifted The Year of Miracles. It doesn’t feel entirely right to call the new title a sequel – we should reserve those for superhero films and YA adaptations on Netflix. This is simply: a life, continued. We return to Risbridger at the beginning of 2020, as she leaves the tiny flat she had shared with The Tall Man (here named Jim, though this is a pseudonym, as are all the other friend’s names throughout the book). Some months have passed since Jim’s death, and though she continues to grieve, the action of moving into a new home with a close friend feels like the opportunity for a fresh start. Of course, fresh starts were few and far between at the beginning of 2020, and so a food diary about change and new beginnings turns into something that is about grief, and solitude, and friends, and the family we build for ourselves as the world falls apart around us. 

Fans of Midnight Chicken will find nothing to disappoint them here. Everything that made Risbridger’s first book so lovable returns for this, her fourth (she’s tucked a children’s novel and a poetry anthology in between). Elisa Cunningham’s bright illustrations return, offering imperfect visions of dishes that are sort of meant to be imperfect. Risbridger does not fuss with stiff, precise recipes. Her dishes are flexible, so that they can fit around whatever life is throwing at you. Her ingredients lists are gloriously candid, filled with little asides offering ideas for substitutes, or simply reassuring you. She calls for vanilla extract a number of times – the first comes with a plea ‘(not essence! never essence!)’, the second with practical advice: ‘(don’t worry about using very expensive stuff; they’ve run tests and you can’t tell in baked goods)’.

The recipes themselves are similarly unpretentious, with instructions that kindly explain why you do the things you do or, just as frequently, politely request that you ‘just trust me’ on the matter. As in Midnight Chicken, the dishes are a mix between big meals you might serve to friends (Bourride! Pho! Fish Pie!) and small moments of sustenance that will keep you going when you need them most. These dishes are often the most fun in the book – a celebration of the unlikely combinations we discover in our early adulthood, and can be raised infinitely with a smart food-centric mind like Risbridger’s. Here we have a Salt & Vinegar Crisp Omelette, Jacket Potato Garlic Soup, or Marmite Crumpet Cauliflower Cheese. 

These recipes might not speak to everyone, but they will resonate with many. Risbridger approaches food as a restorative action. For the soul, for the heart, and for just about anything else that might need it. Every element of The Year of Miracles offers an element of comfort. Even as we touch on grief, guilt and the frustrations of living through a pandemic, Risbridger’s prose is written with such a contemplative warmth that it is impossible not to feel comforted – if only in knowing that we are not suffering alone. 

As the miraculous year ticks along, and the seasons change, and lockdowns are lifted, we are exposed more and more to the friendships that fuel both Risbridger and the book itself. The best food writing is never really about food. Here, it is a way of connecting with friends, with those we love, those we have lost, and those we are only just getting to know. The food has as much to say as anyone in this story, and it serves as a means to bring people together – for a conversation in the park, a cry in the kitchen, or a singalong in the back garden. We don’t need food for any of these things, but it is there nonetheless, and it is something that can be shared between whoever might be nearby. Something to bring us all together. 

It seems very likely that we can expect a third cookbook from Ella Risbridger at some point. After these first two, it would be a huge shame if there were not. What’s harder to guess is whether that third book will be all that similar to the two that came before it. The Year of Miracles itself was never intended to look like this, with the author initially pitching a ‘cheerful dinner-party’ cookbook. Perhaps that’s what we’ll get next. In a way, you sort of hope for it. For Risbridger to have an opportunity to explore something new. And down the line, maybe, there’ll be time again for another book like this. Not a sequel, simply: a life, continued.

Cuisine: International 
Suitable for: Beginner, confident home cooks 
Cookbook Review Rating: Five stars

Buy this book:
The Year of Miracles by Ella Risbridger
£22, Bloomsbury Publishing

Review written by Stephen Rötzsch Thomas a Nottingham-based writer. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram at @srotzschthomas

 

Kin Thai by John Chantarasak

Kin Thai by John Chantarasak
Ahead of the opening of his AngloThai restaurant later this year in central London, cult chef John Chantarasak has published his first cookbook. Kin Thai (‘eat Thai’) contains 60 recipes fusing Thai cuisine with British ingredients, reflecting Chantarasak’s heritage as a Liverpudlian born to an English mother and Thai father. In Chantarasak’s hands, the classic salad of som tam becomes ‘som tam farang’ (farang is Thai slang for ‘white foreigner’) with the usual unripe green papaya replaced by thinly shredded carrot, celeriac and parsnip which are pounded in a pestle and mortar with chillies, garlic, palm sugar, tamarind, fish sauce and lime juice to make a dish with the quintessential Thai taste combination of spicy, salty sweet and sour.

Chantarasak has been generous in sharing knowledge acquired from childhood trips to Bangkok where he ate his grandmother’s food, the 18 months he spent in the city working in David Thompson’s kitchen at Nahm, and as sous chef of London’s highly regarded Thai restaurant Som Saa. The expansive introduction covers the regional cuisine of Thailand and the British ingredients Chantarasak favours such as sea arrowgrass that he says has a flavour reminiscent of coriander, as well as Thai staples including yellow soybean sauce, dried shrimp and white cardamom.

He also outlines equipment, such a traditional clay mortar and wooden pestle, heavy cleaver and spice grinder that are ideal for preparing the book’s recipes that are divided into chapters covering salads and laab (Thai steak tartare), grilled dishes, relishes, soups and braises, stir fries, curries, snacks and sweets. Some of the dishes, such as Muslim-spiced curry of beef short rib, require numerous ingredients and are labour intensive, but many, including a classic pad thai or grilled coriander and garlic chicken, are much more straightforward.

The clearly written and easy to follow methods and informative chapter and recipe introductions mean that even chefs new to Thai cuisine will feel like instant experts after a few days spent studying the book, which, with its mouth-watering food photography and design as colourful and vibrant as the recipes it contains, would be no hardship at all.

Cuisine: Thai
Suitable for: Beginner, confident home cooks and professional chefs
Cookbook Review Rating: Five stars

Buy this book:
Kin Thai by John Chantarasak
£22, Hardie Grant

Greenfeast by Nigel Slater

Greenfeast is a two-part collection of seasonal, no-frills plant-based recipes from multi-award winning author, journalist and presenter Nigel Slater. These books represent some of his most recent output, alongside A Cook’s Book, in a career now spanning three decades. My parents cooked from his books, as I do now and in a testament to his quality and longevity, I wouldn’t be surprised if in thirty years time my children do too. His work is to have a constant reassuring presence in the kitchen, the culinary equivalent of calling your mum or putting on a favourite jumper. (He also really looks like my friend’s Dad, so maybe I feel like he’s been a bigger part of my life than most people.)

The first volume Spring, Summer contains lighter recipes for lighter nights, the kind of thing to throw together to eat on a picnic blanket and moan about how hot it is. The second collection of recipes, Autumn, Winter are heartier and more nourishing, ones to draw the curtains, leave to simmer and long for the days of moaning about how hot it is. Both books are divided into vague chapters such as In a Bowl, On a Plate and With a Ladle – the latter being to serve, not to consume with. Regardless of what you eat them with, the recipes are straightforward, informal and wholly appetising.

You should buy Greenfeast if you want to grab a few ingredients, mix together with a handful of this, a dollop of that and get something tasty to eat. There’s plenty to go on here: broths, stir-frys, curries, salads, pastas, stews, burgers and more. Some are spectacular in their simplicity like Spring, Summer’s mushrooms on toast with a pea, herb and lemon puree; and orzo with smoked mozzarella and thyme from Autumn, Winter. Most recipes though are unfussy, hearty food. Spring, Summer highlights include aubergine, chilli and soy; shiitake, coconut, soba noodles; and fettuccine with samphire and lemon. From Autumn, Winter: milk, mushrooms and rice; sweet potato, cashew nut and coconut curry; and beetroot with sauerkraut and dill. The writing is masterful – it’s Nigel Slater, guys – descriptive, homely and approachable all at once. You get the impression that these are the sort of things he would cook you if you popped round for tea, waiting politely while he nips out to the garden to grab a few more broad beans to chuck in the lasagne.

The seasonal approach to cooking is a great idea in principle but considering we have roughly three days of summer in this country, most recipes will be suitable for all year round. If you were to get one, I would say Autumn, Winter has the most diverse and interesting recipes, though both would make great additions to the kitchen shelf for the next thirty years or so.

Cuisine: International
Suitable for: Beginner and confident home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating: Four stars

Buy this book:
Greenfeast: spring, summer
£24, 4th Estate
Greenfeast: autumn, winter
£22, 4th Estate

Review written by Nick Dodd a Leeds-based pianist, teacher and writer. Contact him at www.yorkshirepiano.co.uk

Flavour by Yotam Ottolenghi

Flavour by Yotam Ottolenghi

What’s the USP? Flavour is the third in the series of Ottolenghi’s veggie focused books following on from Plenty and Plenty More. This edition focuses on maximising the distinct characteristics of different vegetables and exploring cooking techniques to ramp up their flavours to create “flavour bombs”. The book is divided into three categories – Process, Pairing and Produce – with each featuring subcategories discussing further techniques for making the most of vegetables. Process for instance, delves into charring and ageing; Pairing has sections dedicated to acidity and chilli; while Produce is all about the ingredients themselves. 

Who wrote it? Yotam Ottolenghi, who if you’re reading this blog likely needs no introduction. If you do need a reminder, he’s the reason you chargrill your broccoli rather than boil it. And if you need more than that, he’s an internationally renowned writer, chef and restaurateur. He’s joined by frequent collaborators from the Ottolenghi family Ixta Belfrage and Tara Wigley. 

Is it good bedtime reading? Only if you want to get back out of bed to start cooking. There are insightful and in-depth forewords to each of the book’s sections though the main value of this book will be found in the kitchen. 

How annoyingly vague are the recipes? Not at all. Everything is written with the utmost care and attention to weight and size with all opportunities for doubt removed. Instead of fretting about whether your small onion is actually medium-sized or if your handful of herbs depends on how big your mitts are, it’s listed in precise measurements (if you’re interested, one small onion is 60g). 

Will I have trouble finding the ingredients? We often have a philosophical Ottolenghi-chicken or egg debate in our household: do the Ottolenghi team make recipes based on what they can find at Waitrose or do Waitrose stock Ottolenghi ingredients knowing their customers are likely to own a copy or two? All of this is to say you can get 99% of what you need in this book from Waitrose, including the more unusual ingredients such as dried black limes or Aleppo chilli flakes. You’ll also find them more affordably at an international supermarket if you should have one near. Failing that, Ottolenghi have their own online pantry for you to order from including the 20 main ingredients you’ll need for this book. 

What’s the faff factor? That definitely depends on what you’re making. Some of these recipes take hours and are all the better for it such as Spicy Mushroom Lasagne and Aubergine Dumplings alla Parmigiana. Many others require little effort and with most recipes, you can take shortcuts to reduce the time. My first try at Swede Gnocchi with Miso Butter took most of the evening making the gnocchi from scratch. The second time took minutes, simply making the sauce and using pre-made gnocchi. 

How often will I cook from the book?  While suffering from a bout of COVID-19 at the beginning of the year, I itemised every recipe I wanted to cook from every cookbook I own to pass the time (don’t judge me, it was a simpler time). Such is the depth of the recipes in this book, I listed almost every recipe from Flavour. There are meals for all occasions in here: quick weeknight dinners such as Spicy Berbere Ratatouille with Coconut Salsa, adventurous weekend cooking projects like Cheese Tamales, or adventurous weekend cooking projects that can be modified to be quick weeknight dinners like the Stuffed Aubergine in Curry and Coconut Dal. I have yet to stop returning to this book for old favourites or to find something new.

Killer recipes: Stuffed Aubergine in Curry and Coconut Dal, Spicy Berbere Ratatouille with Coconut Salsa, Hasselback Beetroot with Lime Leaf Butter, Miso Butter Onions, Oyster Mushroom Tacos, Tofu Meatball Korma, Charred Peppers and Fresh Corn Polenta with Soy-Cured Yolk… I really could list the whole book here.

Should I buy it? If you haven’t already bought it by this point I haven’t done a good enough job in this review. 

Cuisine: International
Suitable for: Beginner and confident home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating: Five stars

Buy this book
Ottolenghi, Flavour
£27, Ebury Press

Review written by Nick Dodd a Leeds-based pianist, teacher and writer. Contact him at www.yorkshirepiano.co.uk.

Tokyo Up Late by Brendan Liew

Tokyo Up Late by Brendan Liew
Tokyo Up Late is a guide to the after-dark dishes of Japan’s sprawling capital city. Taking you through the long night with recipes that reflect that breadth of gastronomical options Tokyo offers even in the depths of the witching hour, the book attempts to offer something fresh in the increasingly crowded Japanese cookbook market. Whether it succeeds is another matter entirely.

Starting with the food you may find in izakayas – Japan’s popular type of bar, which often serves a range of light meals and snacks that put your local Greene King to shame – the book also offers a look at a cross-section of the city’s society. From makanai (meals served to restaurant workers at the end of their shifts) to fast food, convenience stores and the late night snacks eaten once the evening comes to a close, there’s plenty of ideas here, but very little that hasn’t been shared elsewhere already.

The author is Brendan Liew, whose last book, Tokyo Local, offered a similar look at the practical everyday eating of the city. Liew’s writing here is well researched, but frequently let down by the book’s design, which clumps paragraphs together into a hard to read mass. It’s not the only design flaw in a title that often feels fairly claustrophobic to look at. Gorta Yuuki’s photography and Yuko Yamaguchi’s food styling both work hard to overcome the oppressive colour scheme and blocky prose, but it’s too big an ask.

You should buy Tokyo Up Late for a friend who has a real obsession with recreating Japanese food at home, and the commitment to follow through. Whilst many of the ideas here have been presented previously (and more accessibly) in books like Tokyo Cult Recipes or Tim Anderson’s recent Your Home Izakaya, Liew is a stickler for authenticity, and regularly calls for hard-to-find ingredients like zarame or usukuchi soy sauce. There are some tasty looking dishes here, including a lovingly-presented egg sando and a tempting instant ramen carbonara. But Japan’s cuisine is well-represented on bookshelves at the moment, and this is unlikely to be anybody’s first port of call – especially at the end of a long day.

Cuisine: Japanese
Suitable for: Confident home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating: Two stars

Buy this book
Tokyo Up Late by Brendan Liew
£26, Smith Street Books

Review written by Stephen Rötzsch Thomas a Nottingham-based writer. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram at @srotzschthomas

Taste Tibet by Julie Kleeman and Yeshi Jampa

Taste Tibet by Julie Kleeman and Yeshi Jampa

Taste Tibet is a collection of recipes from Tibet, drawing on the warming foods that feed local cooks in the often challenging climate of the region. 

The author is Julie Kleeman, who works in close collaboration with her husband Yeshi Jampa. Kleeman might do the heavy lifting on the writing front, but it’s Jampa who brings the authenticity, having learnt how to cook in a tent on the Tibetan plateau, where he grew up herding livestock with his family. The pair now live in Oxford, serving Tibetan dishes from a restaurant that shares its name with this book.

You should buy Taste Tibet for an insight into the culture of the region – though perhaps not as much insight into its ongoing independence movement as you might expect. Those looking for comforting foods will certainly find something here – though the book received a spring release, its dishes are better suited to the colder months. There’s not as much variety as one might hope for – the same base ingredients star in an overwhelming amount of the dishes. It’s tempting to put this down to the limited options available to locals in the region, but that doesn’t ring entirely true – Taste Tibet is one of a number of recent books exploring the cuisines around the Himalayas, and others (including Santosh Shah’s Ayla and Romy Gill’s On The Himalayan Trail) manage to do so with much more variety. Perhaps opt for those, unless you are specifically interested in Tibet.

Cuisine: Tibetan
Suitable for: For beginners/confident home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating: Two stars

Buy this book
Taste Tibet by Julie Kleeman and Yeshi Jampa
£25, Murdoch Books

Review written by Stephen Rötzsch Thomas a Nottingham-based writer. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram at @srotzschthomas

Coriander & peanut chutney (Badam ko chutney) by Santosh Shah

Badam ko chutney - Coriander & peanut chutney
MAKES 4–6 SERVINGS

The freshness of this chutney is perfect to accompany Sherpa Roti (Sherpa Fried Bread, see page 180) and Pyaj Ke Kachari (Crispy Onion Beignets, see page 39). To keep the colour a vibrant green, prepare it at the last minute.

ingredients
150g (5½oz) fresh coriander
50g (⅓ cup) blanched peanuts
15g (½oz) fresh ginger, peeled and chopped
3 garlic cloves, chopped
3 green chillies, tailed and chopped
75ml (⅓ cup) vegetable oil
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon caster (superfine) sugar
1 teaspoon salt
An airtight container, for storing

Method
Wash the coriander and pat dry with kitchen paper (paper towels). Chop roughly.

Combine all the ingredients in a large pestle and mortar and crush to obtain a thick paste. Alternatively, blend all the ingredients in a small food processor.

Taste and adjust the seasoning, adding more sugar, salt or lemon juice as needed.

This should be eaten on the day it is made, and stored in an airtight container until ready to serve.

Cook more from this book
Steamed chicken momos with ginger and chilli with a tomato sesame chutney (Kukhura ko momo) by Santosh Shah
Crispy chilli chicken (Swadilo piro tareko valeko masu) by Santosh Shah
Aloo ko tarkari – potato curry by Santosh Shah

Read the Review
Coming soon

Buy this book
Ayla: A Feast of Nepali Dishes from Terai, Hills and the Himalayas by Santosh Shah.
£20, DK

Photographer: Matt Russell

Steamed chicken momos with ginger & chilli with a tomato sesame chutney (Kukhura ko momo) – by Santosh Shah

Kukhura ko momo - Steamed chicken momos with ginger & chilli with a tomato sesame chutney

MAKES 20 (ALLOW 5 PER SERVING)

Originating in Tibet, momos are now Nepal’s most popular dish – we have them for breakfast, lunch or dinner. Minced (ground) buffalo meat is often used in the filling, but you can substitute a meat filling with a mixture of finely chopped vegetables, such as cabbage, cauliflower, green beans, carrots, broccoli and asparagus. They can be served with any chutney but I like to pair them with a Tomato Sesame Chutney.

Tip: If you prefer, you can skip making the momo wrappers and substitute these with 20 sheets of store-bought round dumpling pastry.

For the wrappers
200g (1½ cups) plain (all-purpose) flour, plus extra for dusting
¼ teaspoon baking powder
1 good pinch of salt
3 tablespoons cornflour (cornstarch), to dust

For the filling
250g (9oz) free-range chicken thighs, skinned, boned and finely chopped
½ red onion, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
2.5-cm (1-in) piece of fresh ginger, peeled and finely chopped
2 fresh green bird’s eye chillies, finely chopped
1 spring onion (scallion), finely chopped
1 small lemongrass stick, finely chopped
1 teaspoon black peppercorns, crushed
1 tablespoon fresh coriander (chopped)
30g (2 tablespoons) unsalted butter, melted
¾ teaspoon salt
Juice of ½ a lemon

To serve:
Served with any chutney. I like to pair them with a Tomato Sesame Chutney (page 151 in Ayla)
Finely sliced red onion and chopped coriander (cilantro)

Special equipment: A large steamer basket

Method:

For the wrapper dough (if making), sift the flour and baking powder onto a clean work surface. Make a well in the centre, sprinkle in the salt and 50ml (3½ tablespoons) of water. Start working the dough with your hands. Add another 50ml (3½ tablespoons) of water and continue to work until the dough is formed. Knead the dough for about 5 minutes, until smooth and elastic. Cover with a dry kitchen towel (dishcloth) and set aside for 30 minutes.

While the dough is resting, make the filling. Place all the ingredients for the filling in a large bowl and mix until well combined. Adjust the seasoning to taste with salt and set aside.

Make the wrappers. Transfer the dough onto a tabletop well dusted with flour. Roll with your hands into a long cylindrical shape about 2.5cm (1in) in diameter. Cut into pieces about 2.5cm (1in) wide. Dust with flour and flatten each piece into a circular shape. Roll out each piece with a rolling pin until you have a circle about 8cm (3¼in) in diameter and the thickness of 1–2mm. Dust the pastry with cornflour between each layer and cover the wrappers with a damp kitchen towel (dishcloth) to prevent them from getting dry.

Take a momo wrapper and wet the edge of the pastry with a little water. Place a heaped teaspoonful of the filling mixture in the centre and starting from one point on the outer edge of the wrapper, make a succession of small pleats, in a circular motion, until you come back to the starting point. Now hold all the pleats together and twist them slightly to seal the opening. Repeat the process to make the rest of the momos and keep them covered. Transfer all the momos into a large steamer basket. Steam over high heat for 10–12 minutes, until the filling is well cooked. To serve, place a dollop of chutney on a serving plate, place 5 momos on top and garnish with sliced red onion and a sprinkle of chopped coriander.

Cook more from this book
Coriander and peanut chutney (Badam ko chutney) by Santosh Shah
Crispy chilli chicken (Swadilo piro tareko valeko masu) by Santosh Shah
Aloo ko tarkari – potato curry by Santosh Shah

Read the Review
Coming soon

Buy this book
Ayla: A Feast of Nepali Dishes from Terai, Hills and the Himalayas by Santosh Shah.
£20, DK

Photographer: Matt Russell

Crispy chilli chicken (Swadilo piro tareko valeko masu) by Santosh Shah

Swadilo piro tareko valeko masu - Crispy chilli chicken
One of our most popular street foods in Nepal is a direct influence from our Indo-Chinese borders: crispy chilli chicken. It is found everywhere, usually served with soup and chow mein. The success of this dish is all in the technique. First the chicken cubes are coated and deep-fried until golden and beautifully crispy. Then the sauce, prepared in an extremely hot wok, wraps the crispy chicken in a caramelized, charred, umami seal.

It is traditionally served with Amilo Piro Tato Kukhura Ko Jhol (Hot & Sour Soup, see page 68 in the book).

For the chicken
2 tablespoons cornflour (cornstarch)
2 tablespoons plain (all-purpose) flour
¼ teaspoon Kashmiri chilli powder, or medium hot chilli powder
¼ teaspoon salt
400g (14oz) skinless, free-range chicken breasts, cut into 2.5-cm (1-in) cubes
500ml (2 cups) vegetable oil, for deep-frying

For the sauce
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
15g (½oz) fresh ginger, peeled and finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
4 fresh green chillies, finely chopped
100g (1 cup) chopped onion
150g (1⅓ cup) diced mixed (bell) peppers
½ chicken stock cube
1 tablespoon dark soy sauce
1 teaspoon white wine vinegar
2 tablespoons cornflour (cornstarch) mixed with 2 tablespoons water
1 large pinch of timmur peppercorns, or Sichuan peppercorns
¼ teaspoon ground cumin
¼ teaspoon Luiche Masala (Chicken Garam Masala, see page 193 in the book)
4 tablespoons finely sliced spring onions
2 tablespoons fresh coriander, chopped

Equipment: A kitchen thermometer

To serve (optional)
Amilo Piro Tato Kukhura Ko Jhol (Hot & Sour Soup, see page 68 in the book)

Method
First, marinate the chicken. Place the cornflour, plain flour, chilli powder and salt into a mixing bowl. Add 4 tablespoons of water and mix until well blended. Add the chicken cubes and toss until well coated.

Heat the 500ml (2 cups) of oil in a large wok until it reaches 180°C (350°F). Deep-fry the coated chicken cubes, in batches, for approximately 7–8 minutes until golden and crispy. Drain on kitchen paper (paper towels) and set aside. Discard the oil.

To make the sauce, heat the oil in the wok over high heat. Stir-fry the ginger, garlic and chillies for 1 minute, until golden. Add the onion and (bell) peppers and cook over high heat for about 5 minutes until charred, stirring frequently. Add about 200ml (scant 1 cup) water and the ½ chicken stock cube and cook for about 3 minutes, until reduced by three quarters. Add the fried chicken pieces, soy sauce and vinegar, and stir-fry for a few seconds, then add the cornflour mix and cook for 1 minute until the mixture is thick enough to coat the chicken and the mixture is well caramelized. Finish by adding the timmur, cumin and garam masala. Adjust the seasoning and add salt if needed, then add the coriander.

Serve the chicken hot and crispy, topped with the sliced spring onions. Offer a bowl of the hot and sour soup, if you like.

Cook more from this book
Steamed chicken momos with ginger and chilli with a tomato sesame chutney (Kukhura ko momo) by Santosh Shah
Aloo ko tarkari – potato curry by Santosh Shah
Coriander and peanut chutney (Badam ko chutney) by Santosh Shah

Read the Review
Coming soon

Buy this book
Ayla: A Feast of Nepali Dishes from Terai, Hills and the Himalayas by Santosh Shah.
£20, DK

Photographer: Matt Russell

Aloo ko tarkari – Potato curry by Santosh Shah

Aloo ko tarkari Potato curry

SERVES 4

Aloo Ko Tarkari (potato curry) is so often eaten with puri, that I have combined the two recipes for you here. Puri are also served alongside other dishes, such as Chana Ko Dal (Spicy Chickpeas, see page 93 of the book). The puri here are vegan, but see page 177 of the book for an alternative recipe, with the option of ghee (clarified butter), and if you want to make them without the potato curry.

For the puri (makes 20)
500g (3¾ cups) plain (all-purpose) flour or roti (chapati) flour, or an equal mixture of both
2 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon vegetable oil, for working into the dough
1 litre (4 cups) vegetable oil, for deep-frying
2 tablespoons vegetable oil, for rolling

For the potato curry
2½ tablespoons vegetable oil
1 teaspoon fenugreek seeds
½ teaspoon cumin seeds
½ teaspoon nigella seeds
½ teaspoon garlic paste
½ teaspoon ginger paste
500g (18oz) red-skinned waxy potatoes, unpeeled and diced
½ teaspoon salt, or to taste
2 dried hot red chillies, crushed
¼ teaspoon Kashmiri chilli powder, or medium hot chilli powder
½ teaspoon Sakahar Barha Masala (Vegetable Garam Masala, see page 194 of the book)
½ teaspoon ground turmeric
500ml (2 cups) vegetable stock, or water

A kitchen thermometer

Method

First, make the puri dough. Combine the flour and salt into a bowl. Add the 1 tablespoon of oil and, using your fingers, work the oil into the flour until well incorporated. Make a well in the flour and measure out 250ml (1 cup) of water. Add some of the water into the well and start mixing the dough, gradually adding the remaining water, a little at a time, until a firm dough forms. Knead the dough well with your hands for about 10 minutes until soft and elastic. Cover with a clean damp cloth and set aside for 15 minutes. Divide the dough into 20 pieces and keep them covered.

Make the potato curry. Heat the oil in a medium non-stick frying pan. Add the fenugreek seeds and let them crackle until they turn dark brown.  Add the cumin and nigella seeds. Cook them for a few seconds just until they crackle. Add the garlic and ginger pastes, potato cubes, salt, crushed red chillies and all the ground spices. Sauté for a couple of minutes, until the potatoes are well coated with oil and spices. Add the vegetable stock or water, bring the mixture to the boil, and then turn down the heat to low.

Simmer on low heat for about 30 minutes until most of the liquid has been absorbed and the potatoes are soft. When the potatoes are soft enough, start stirring them while lightly crushing them with a spatula. You want the potatoes to absorb all the liquid and to have some chunkiness and texture. When they are thick and glossy from the juices, they are ready.

While the potatoes are cooking, fry the puri. Heat the oil in a deep sauté pan until it reaches 190°C (375°F). Roll one of the dough pieces in your hand to make a smooth ball. Apply a little oil on the dough ball and roll it out on an oiled surface with a rolling pin to obtain a 10-cm (4-in) disc. Repeat with the other dough balls. Keep the discs covered with a wet cloth. Place a puri in the hot oil. When it rises to the surface, press it down very gently into the oil with a skimmer. The puri will start puffing up. Flip it over and cook for a few seconds. When the puri are crisp and golden brown – this should take a couple of minutes on each side – remove from the oil and place on kitchen paper (paper towels) to drain.

Serve the potato curry hot with the crisp puri on the side.

Cook more from this book
Steamed chicken momos with ginger and chilli with a tomato sesame chutney (Kukhura ko momo) by Santosh Shah
Crispy chilli chicken (Swadilo piro tareko valeko masu) by Santosh Shah
Coriander and peanut chutney (Badam ko chutney) by Santosh Shah

Read the Review
Coming soon

Buy this book
Ayla: A Feast of Nepali Dishes from Terai, Hills and the Himalayas by Santosh Shah.
£20, DK

Photographer: Matt Russell

 

Ottolenghi Test Kitchen: Shelf Love by Noor Murad and Yotam Ottolenghi

Ottolenghi Test kitchen
Think of Shelf Love as a culinary extemporisation by the Modern Ottolenghi Quintet featuring Noor Murad, Verena Lochmuller, Ixta Belfrage, Tara Wigley and Gitai Fisher. They are the key players who work at the Ottolenghi Test Kitchen (OTK) in a converted railway arch in north London devising recipes with Yotam Ottolenghi for his cookbooks and restaurant and cafe empire. Shelf Love is the first of a planned series of OTK-branded cookbooks and is designed to help you work with what you have in the house and make the most of (and improvise with) the ingredients lurking on your shelves, in your veg box, in your fridge and in your freezer. There’s a chapter on sweet things too thrown in for good measure.

You should buy Shelf Love if you ever find yourself staring vacantly into your fridge at six o’clock at night wondering what on earth you are going to make for dinner. The book is not only packed with thrillingly delicious recipes such as magical chicken and parmesan soup with papparedelle; one pan crispy spaghetti with chicken; spicy pulled pork vindaloo; sweet potato shakshuka with sriracha butter and pickled onions, and carrot cake sandwich cookies, but each one comes annotated with a ‘make it your own’ footnote with suggestions for substitutions and alternatives. As you cook through it, Shelf Love encourages you to think for yourself so that one day you may not be left with unloved ingredients at the back of your fridge, but you will still want to keep the book in a prominent position on you kitchen bookshelf.

Cuisine: International 
Suitable for: 
For beginners/confident home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating:
 Four stars

Buy this book
Ottolenghi Test Kitchen: Shelf Love by Noor Murad and Yotam Ottolenghi
£25, Ebury Press

Weekend by Matt Tebbutt

Weekend by Matt Tebbutt

Weekend is an old fashioned famous white bloke’s cookbook. The 100 motley recipes that brazenly raid global cooking traditions – like famous white bloke’s cookbooks  tend to do – are hung around the thin premise of ‘weekend’ cooking when notionally you have more time to spend in the kitchen.  In reality, you could knock many of the recipes up at any time of the week. But no matter, the concept doesn’t seem to detain Tebbutt too much, who expounds on it briefly in some fleeting introductory passages, so let’s not let it spoil our fun. There’s some nice things to cook here.

The author is Saturday morning BBC TV’s Mr Wobbly Head Matt Tebbutt, presenter of Saturday Kitchen. He formerly ran The Foxhunter pub in Wales and has worked in the kitchens of top chefs Marco Pierre White and Alistair Little, among others.  That dates him.

You should buy Weekend if you want to cook some nice things to eat. It’s really no more complicated, or interesting than that. Recipes are divided into six chapters: Friday Night (I’m not even going to try explain what that’s meant to mean as I’ll have to use the phrase ‘ fuss-free fodder’ and then I’d have to kill myself); breakfast and brunch; lunch and BBQ; Saturday night (when you’re not watching Britain’s Got Talent in your PJs with a Domino’s, apparently); Sunday lunch and Desserts.

The head-spinningly varied collection careens from Portuguese chicken, coriander and garlic soup to Malaysian nasi lemak, and from a Reuben sandwich to biltong. There’s Mexican-style grilled corn, Italian malfatti dumplings with tuna, American cobb salad and Cape Malay lamb curry.  It’s not what you’d call cohesive, or true to any particular culinary heritage, style or tradition. It’s all over the bloody place, but then, isn’t that how many of us cook at home?

You’re not going to learn anything profound from the book, it’s not going to change your life, but you will almost certainly enjoy cooking from it. It’s something for the weekend.

Buy this book
Weekend by Matt Tebbutt
£22, Quadrille 

Cuisine: International 
Suitable for:
For beginners/confident home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating:
Four stars

Sambal Shiok by Mandy Yin

Sambal Shiok by Mandy Yin

Sambal Shiok is ‘The Malaysian Cookbook’ according to its subtitle. However ‘A Malaysian Cookbook’ might be more accurate; not due to any shortcomings but simply because, by the author’s own admission, the book is not intended to be definitive – ‘several of my dishes are not what you may traditionally find in Malaysia but are firmly rooted in Malaysian flavours,’ says Yin.

The author is Mandy Yin, a London based lawyer-turn-street food vendor who now runs Sambal Shiok (which means ‘shockingly good sambal’) Laksa Bar restaurant in the Holloway Road. This is her first cookbook.

You should buy Sambal Shiok. That’s it. Trust me, click the link below immediately, you’ll love it. Still need convincing? Well, if you happen to be new to the irresistibly spicy, sweet, savoury and sour delights of Malaysian cuisine, then this is the perfect introduction.

The selection of essential ‘Hawker-Centre Favourites’ includes chicken satay with peanut sauce, anchovy fried rice (nasi goreng), fried flat rice noodles (char kway teow); curry laksa noodle soup, and coconut rice with egg and sambal (nasi lemak). If that isn’t already making you feel very hungry indeed, then how about some home style dishes like Malaysian chicken curry; beef rendang; tamarind prawns, or classic spiral curry puffs? Yin’s own non-traditional dishes include the satay burgers that launched her food career.

Thanks to a chunky introductory section and generous recipe introductions, there’s plenty to read about Yin’s own food journey as well as Malaysian food culture and background information to the dishes.

Yes, the ingredients lists can look a little long and daunting, but once you’ve got your Malaysian store cupboard stocked up, the recipes are actually mostly very  straightforward.  Have you ordered it yet?

Cuisine: Malaysian
Suitable for: For beginners/confident home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating: Five stars

Buy this book
Sambal Shiok by Mandy Yin
£20, Headline Home

This book was shortlisted for the Andre Simon Food Award. Read more here.

andre simon logo

Sicilia by Ben Tish

Sicilia by Ben Tish

Sicilia is a gastronomic tour of Sicily in recipes and essays courtesy of one of London’s top chefs.

The author is Ben Tish, chef director of the London-based Cubitt House group of upmarket gastropubs. His CV also included opening the Sicilian-Moorish influenced restaurant Norma, and the position of chef director of the acclaimed Salt Yard restaurant group, both in London. He is the author of five previous cookbooks, contributes to a number of newspapers and magazines and makes regular appearances on TV.

You should buy Sicilia for the tomato sauce and pasta all norma recipes alone, but also if you want to understand more about the diverse culinary heritage of Sicily. A regular visitor to the island and its satellites, Tish’s introduction takes a brief look at various aspects of the cuisine and food culture, from the influences from the Moors and the Berbers to the food markets and a hidden restaurant gem,  Terra Mia on the slopes of Mount Etna. The main body of the book contained in nine chapters covers recipes for bread, fritti, pasta and rice, vegetables, fish, meat, sweets, granita and ice creams and sauces and basics.  Other must-cook recipes include bignolati (Sicilian sausage bread ring); baked conchiglioni (pasta shells) with pumpkin and rosemary; grilled quid with peas, mint, tomato and sweet vinegar; stuffed and braised lamb’s hearts with broad beans and lemon, and iris (chocolate and ricotta-filled doughnuts), among many others.

Cuisine: Italian
Suitable for: For beginners/confident home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating: Five stars

Buy this book
Sicilia by Ben Tish
£26, Absolute

A Curious Absence of Chickens by Sophie Grigson

A Curious Absence of Chickens Sophie Grigson

A Curious Absence of Chickens is ‘a journal of life, food and recipes from Puglia’. On the cusp of her 60th birthday, renowned British food writer Sophie Grigson made the life-changing decision to relocate permanently from her home in Oxford to the small town of Candela in Puglia in southern Italy. In 10 chapters, the book covers a period of just over a year from June 2019 to Autumn 2020 and explores the culture, history and geography of the region all through the prism of food, documented in short essays and recipes.  And that title? Grigson says you won’t find chicken on a restaurant menu in Puglia which she attributes to the fact that, traditionally in the region ‘a laying chicken was just too precious to kill off’.

The author is Sophie Grigson (daughter of legendary food writer Jane Grigson) who has written more than 20 books and has presented nine TV series for various British broadcasters.

You should buy A Curious Absence of Chickens for the carefully collated and curated collection of mostly traditional Puglian recipes (none of which are pictures, the only illustrations in the book are Kavel Rafferty’s charming drawings) including polpette di carne (meatballs);  bombette (thinly sliced pork shoulder rolled with pancetta, parsley and cheese; ciambotto (fish stew with squid, chillies and tomatoes) and ciceri e tria (a dish from Salento in the south of Puglia of  chickpeas cooked with cherry tomatoes and pasta and topped with fried pasta strips).

Although the book stems from a personal life choice, don’t expect Grigson to give too much away about herself in the book, which is more a journalist exploration of the regions food culture (and an excellent one at that) than traditional memoir.  

Cuisine: Italian
Suitable for: For beginners/confident home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating: Five stars

Buy this book
A Curious Absence of Chickens by Sophie Grigson
£20, Headline Home

This book was longlisted for the Andre Simon Food Award. Read more here.

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Taste: My Life Through Food by Stanley Tucci

Taste by Stanley Tucci

Taste: My Life Through Food is a food-centric memoir with recipes.

The author is Stanley Tucci, the much loved American actor, writer, film producer and director, most noted for his performances in The Devil Wears Prada and The Hunger Games. However, foodies will know him best for the films Big Night and Julie and Julia and his excellent food and travel TV series Searching for Italy. He is the author of two cookbooks, The Tucci Table and The Tucci Cookbook.  

You should buy Taste: My Life Through Food first and foremost if you are a fan of Tucci. The handful of recipes are for very familiar Italian dishes such as pasta alla Norma or are so simple, like a tomato salad or lamb chops, as to hardly warrant a recipe at all. Perhaps I’m missing the point.

However, you do get the recipe for Timpano, the spectacular centrepiece dish featured in Big Night that Tucci describes as ‘a baked drum of pastry-like dough filled with pasta, ragu, salami, various cheeses, hard boiled eggs, and meatballs’. There’s also some of Tucci’s favourite cocktails (including his now notorious shaken not stirred negroni), his wife’s recipe for roast potatoes and American BBQ chef Adam Perry Lang’s chimichurri sauce among other things.

But Tucci is an engaging writer and you will have fun discovering his childhood in upstate New York (as well as a year in Florence), his time working as a nineteen year old bar man in Alfredo’s restaurant in Manhattan and anecdotes from his life in the movie business.

Cuisine: Italian
Suitable for: For beginners/confident home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating: Three stars

Buy this book
Taste: My Life Through Food by Stanley Tucci
£20, Fig Tree

This book has been shortlisted for the Andre Simon Food Award. Read more here.

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Freekeh, Wild Wheat and Ancient Grains by Ruth Nieman

Freekeh
Freekeh, Wild Wheat & Ancient Grains is a collection of 80 ‘healthy’ recipes based around ancient grains including freekeh. The book’s six chapters also chart the 10,000 year history of the discovery and cultivation of grains including barley, rye and sorghum and wild wheats such as emmer and einkorn. 

The author is London-based food writer and former nurse and then caterer Ruth Nieman who specialises in the food of the Middle East. Her first self published book The Galilean Kitchen included home recipes from women of the northern Israeli region.  

You should buy Freekeh, Wild Wheat & Ancient Grains if you are interested in food history and finding out more about lesser known ingredients, as well as eating nutritious dishes such as pearl barley soup  with fennel, dill and feta which Nieman says is protein rich and contains fibre and antioxidants. The tone tends toward the  academic and there’s a distinct lack of food styling in the photography which gives the book a less than polished feel which may limit its appeal for some readers. 

Cuisine: Middle Eastern 
Suitable for: For beginners/confident home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating: Three stars

Buy this book
Freekeh by Ruth Nieman
£20, Prospect Books

This book has been shortlisted for the Andre Simon Food Award. Read more here.

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The Modern Preserver’s Kitchen by Kylee Newton

THE MODERN PRESERVER'S KITCHEN - Kylee Newton

The Modern Preserver’s Kitchen is a guide to making and using jam, chutney, ferments and pickles with recipes for the preserves themselves and 70 dishes in which to use them.

The author is Kylee Newton is the New Zealand-born, London-based founder of the  Newton and Pott preserving company that makes small batch jams, pickles and chutneys that are available at Selfridges, Harrods and Harvey Nichols as well as local London markets. She is also the author of The Modern Preserver.

You should buy The Modern Preserver’s Kitchen if you are new to the subject and want to learn how to vinegar-brine vegetables and fruit, ferment vegetables to make things like sauerkraut and kimchi, make savoury chutneys relishes and pickles including cranberry sauce and sweet and hot tomato chilli jam and sweet jams, marmalades and jellies such as rhubarb and hibiscus jam and lime and tequila marmalade. If you’re already an expert preserver, recipes including  sweet chilli chicken wings with kimchi fried rice will provide plenty of inspiration of what to do with all those delicious store cupboard ingredients.

Cuisine: Preserving
Suitable for: For beginners/confident home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating: Five stars

Buy this book
The Modern Preserver’s Kitchen by Kylee Newton
£22, Quadrille

This book has been shortlisted for the Andre Simon Food Award. Read more here.

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Sea and Shore by Emily Scott

Emily Scott Sea and Shore

Sea and Shore is a collection of recipes by a chef inspired by living and working in Cornwall. As there isn’t really such a thing as ‘Cornish cuisine’, it’s probably best to think of it as one cook’s personal culinary response to the produce and surroundings of the county.

The author is Emily Scott, chef of Emily Scott Food in Watergate Bay in north Cornwall and the former owner and chef of St Tudy Inn near Bodmin. She recently hit the headlines as one of the team who catered the G7 conference at Carbis Bay in Cornwall in 2021. Scott also appeared on the BBCs Great British Menu series in 2019.

You should buy Sea and Shore because you’ll want to make Cornish crab linguine with chilli, lemon and parsley; slow roasted lamb shoulder with smoked paprika, garlic and thyme; little gem tart with Keen’s Cheddar, spring onions and flat leaf parsley; meringue roulade with clementine curd, cream and passionfruit and Cornish faring biscuits made with coconut, ginger and golden syrup, plus many of the other 80 simple recipes, making it an ideal book for novice cooks. The food looks colourful and appetising while the Cornish landscape photography will inspire your next English summer holiday.

Cuisine: British
Suitable for: For beginners/confident home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating: Four stars

Buy this book
Sea and Shore by Emily Scott 
£26, Hardie Grant

Colu Cooks by Colu Henry

Colu Cooks by Colu Henry
What’s the USP? Cookbooks are all about USPs at the moment. Whether they focus in on a single region’s cuisine, or promise a wealth of recipes that can be produced with nothing more than a roasting tin and a lot of patience for the scouring pad you’ll need after, these hyper-specialised cookbooks are, generally speaking, quite welcome. It’s lovely to know that should I wish to learn the nuances of fermentation, or become a master of teppanyaki, I can find a book that will support that. But it perhaps means that we see less of the other type of cookbook: the cook’s book.

There’s a small joy in rummaging through an individual’s favourite recipes, knowing that the overwhelming theme they want to share with you is as follows: these are the delicious things that I like to eat. Though the two great Nigels (Slater and -la Lawson) have each delivered excellent cook’s books over the last couple of years, I’m always excited to root about through the choice meals of a cook that I trust. And that’s exactly what Colu Cooks offers.

Who wrote it? Colu Henry, who ironically first came to my attention thanks to her hyper-specialised first book. In my late twenties, and keen to learn how to make pasta dishes that were slightly more accomplished than the jar of sauce/chopped up sausage combo I’d been relying on for years, Henry’s Back Pocket Pasta became a key source of flavour and fresh inspiration.

Five years later, and Henry is back with her second book. Pasta still features throughout – we never forget our first love – but exists as one facet in a book overflowing with flavour. Colu Cooks is a collection of recipes linked by little more than the author’s love for them.

Is it good bedtime reading? It’s not bad bedtime reading, which is more than we can say for a lot of cookbooks. For the most part, chapter introductions are short and sweet, and individual recipes get a paragraph or two each. There’s the list of pantry staples that no cook’s book goes without, and a lovely section at the back where Henry, who is no big fan of desserts, hands over the sweetest section to a roster of friends. But for the most part the reading is limited, if lifted by Henry’s likeable and honest voice.

What’s the faff factor? Pretty low. The book’s subtitle promises ‘easy fancy food’, which seems to be the case in no small part because those are precisely the recipes Henry loves most after all. Dishes are mostly pitched as taking less than half an hour to make, and those that take a little longer are often the simplest of all. I decided to knock together the Spatchcocked Lime Pickle Roasted Chicken one morning to offer a friend over for lunch, and barely even noticed the process as we chatted together in the kitchen.

How often will I cook from the book? The joy of ‘easy fancy food’ is that though most dishes in the book would impress dinner guests, they’re equally suited to a weeknight meal. Put your mind to it, and you could easily work your way through the entire cookbook in a year.

What will I love? Everything looks and sounds delicious. It’s hard to resist most dishes. Danielle Youngsmith’s design and Tara Donne’s nostalgic photos manage to perfectly capture the feel of a 1970s food magazine that Henry wanted. A smattering of cocktail recipes only add to the vibe. It’s a fun look that recalls Lucky Peach’s books – a retro feel complimenting modern, exciting cookery.

What won’t I love? As with so many cook’s books, the dishes aren’t always as easy or cheap to source as you’d like. This isn’t Colu Henry’s fault, of course – ideally we should all be able to find good quality short ribs at affordable prices, but there are plenty of accessible dishes here nonetheless.

Killer recipes: Swordfish with Burst Tomatoes, Peppers, Za’atar and Preserved Lemon, Smoky and Spicy Shrimp with Anchovy Butter and Fregola, A Dirty Bird (aka Potato Chip Chicken), Braised Lamb Shanks with Gingery Meyer Lemon Relish, Dregs and Fruit Crumble, Nutella Fudgsicles, Guvie’s Ramos Gin Fizz

Should I buy it? A celebration of food that is as indulgent as it is manageable, Colu Cooks is fun and flavourful. Such a passionate and engaging celebration of one individual’s favourite dishes gives us an opportunity to think about our own favourites, and build a cook’s book that best represents us. Chances are most people will find something here that they’ll want to add to theirs.

Cuisine: American
Suitable for: Beginners/confident home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating: Five stars

Review written by Stephen Rötzsch Thomas a Nottingham-based writer. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram at @srotzschthomas

Buy this book
Colu Cooks by Colu Henry
£25, Abrams Books

Cook from this book
Swordfish with Burst Tomatoes, Peppers, and Za’atar and Preserved Lemon by Colu Henry
Spring lamb ragu with anchovies and pea shoots by Colu Henry
Smoky and Spicy Shrimp with Anchovy Butter and Fregola by Colu Henry

Seared by Genevieve Taylor

Seared by Genevieve Taylor
There are few better qualified people to write a guide to barbecuing meat than Genevieve Taylor. As well as authoring ten previous cookbooks, including Charred: The Complete Guide to Vegetarian Grilling and Barbecue, Taylor runs the Bristol Fire School where she teaches cooking over fire. She shares her knowledge and expertise in the practical side of barbecuing in an extended introduction that’s the next best thing to attending one of her classes. Taylor covers all the key areas of cooking over fire including all the equipment you’ll probably ever need as well as what sort of fuel you should consider buying and how to create various fuel set ups for cooking different cuts of meat.

Divided into two main chapters of ‘Beast’ (covering beef, pork, lamb, veal, venison and goat) and ‘Bird’ (chicken, turkey and duck), the collection of globally inspired recipes covers both fast and slow cooking methods and will help barbecue newbies and more experienced practitioners alike expand their repertoire. The creative dishes include pork tenderloin with pistachio crust and grilled spring veg; tandoori venison kebabs, and even a Thai red curry with meatballs and green beans.

The ubiquitous and often mundane barbecue double act of sausages and burgers are given a makeover with homemade pork butt and beef chuck Texas hot link sausages spiced with smoked paprika and cayenne, and minty lamb smash burgers served with feta and beetroot. Ribs get an entire chapter to themselves and have never sounded more tempting than in the guise of Sri Lankan black pork spare-ribs with curry BBQ sauce or cola and gochugaru flanken-cut (across the bones) beef ribs.

With guides on brines, marinades and rubs, how to cook the perfect steak (with or without bone), techniques for smoking and braising on the barbecue and a quick reference infographic guide to the internal temperatures for all the included varieties of meat, Taylor covers all the barbecue bases and lives up to the claim in the book’s subtitle that this is ‘The Ultimate Guide to Barbecuing Meat’.

Cuisine: Barbecue
Suitable for: Beginner and confident home cooks/professional chefs
Cookbook Review Rating: Four stars

Buy this book
Seared by Genevieve Taylor
£20, Hardie Grant

This review was first published in The Caterer magazine. 

Salmon Ochazuke by Brendan Liew

TUL_Back Home_Ochazuke
This is the most common ochazuke type in Japan and abroad, and for good reason. The flaky, salty, slightly rich salmon pairs well with the clean, pure flavour of the rice and green tea. Feel free to change the toppings and the soup to suit your tastes.

2 x 100 g (31/2 oz) salmon fillet pieces, skin on
300–400 g (101/2–14 oz) hot cooked rice
2 spring onions (scallions), white part only, finely sliced
2 tablespoons takana (pickled mustard greens)
2 tablespoons tororo kombu (finely shredded kombu)
2 teaspoons wasabi paste
2 tablespoons shredded nori (kizami nori)
2 teaspoons sesame seeds, ground

SOUP
500 ml (2 cups) green tea (or tea of your choice)
1 handful of katsuobushi (bonito flakes)
2 teaspoons usukuchi soy sauce
2 teaspoons mirin
1 teaspoon salt

SERVES 2

Preheat the oven grill (broiler) to high. Season the salmon fillets on both sides with salt, then place on a greased tray lined with foil, skin side up. Grill for 8–10 minutes, depending on the thickness of the fillet and how you like your salmon cooked; it should be flaky.

Meanwhile, in a saucepan, heat the green tea to a simmer, then add the katsuobushi and turn the heat off. Leave for 5 minutes, then strain into a clean saucepan. Save the katsuobushi for another use (see note on page 216 of the book).

Bring the soup back to a simmer and season with the soy sauce, mirin and salt. Taste and adjust if necessary. Scoop the rice into serving bowls. Top with the cooked salmon, followed by the remaining ingredients, finishing with the soup.

Cook more from this book
Mizu Shingen Mochi – Raindrop Cakes by Brendan Liew
Kamo Negi – Duck With Grilled Leeks by Brendan Liew

Buy this book
Tokyo Up Late by Brendan Liew
£26,  Smith Street Books

Read the review
Coming soon

Mizu Shingen Mochi – Raindrop Cakes by Brendan Liew

TUL_Izakaya_Mizu Shingenmochi
This may be called a ‘cake’ in English, but it is really a jelly. A jelly that is very lightly set using agar, and resembles a crystal-clear raindrop, accompanied by a flavoured syrup. I’ve gone with a matcha syrup for this recipe, but traditionally it is served with the black sugar syrup (see page 188 of the book) and sprinkled with kinako (roasted soy bean flour). A raindrop cake looks spectacular, and with the right moulds (spherical ice moulds or semicircular moulds) is very easy to prepare. This makes it a great, easy dessert for busy izakayas, and a refreshing end to a meal.

1 g (1/28 oz) kanten agar
400 ml (14 fl oz) water
80 g (23/4 oz) sugar
2 teaspoons matcha powder, plus extra for sprinkling

SERVES 4
Set out four small bowls or circular moulds, about 6 cm (21/4 inches) in diameter. In a small saucepan, combine the agar, water and 20 g (3/4 oz) of the sugar. Bring to a simmer, stirring constantly to dissolve the sugar and agar. Working quickly, so the liquid doesn’t start solidifying in the pan, pour the mixture into the bowls, then refrigerate for at least 2 hours to set.

Make a matcha syrup by whisking together the matcha powder and remaining (60 g) sugar in a small bowl. Heat 30 ml (1 fl oz) water in a small saucepan until simmering, then slowly stream it into the matcha powder and sugar, whisking well.

Pour the mixture back into the saucepan and cook over low heat, just until the sugar has dissolved. Pour the syrup into a container and refrigerate.

When the cakes have set, unmould each one onto a serving plate. Spoon the matcha syrup around them, sprinkle a little matcha powder over and serve.

Cook more from this book
Salmon Ochazuke by Brendan Liew
Kamo Negi – Duck With Grilled Leeks by Brendan Liew

Buy this book
Tokyo Up Late by Brendan Liew
£26,  Smith Street Books

Read the review
Coming soon

Kamo Negi – Duck With Grilled Leeks by Brendan Liew

TUL_Izakaya_Kamonegi

Like bacon and eggs, kamo (duck) and negi (leek) can be listed as just two ingredients on a menu, but the combination is so well known in Japan that people can envisage the dish based only on those two words alone. Kamo negi is usually seared, thinly sliced duck breast accompanied by the whites of leeks that have been slowly pan-fried or roasted to have nicely brown grill marks. It could be served plated
as an okazu (side dish) as part of a larger feast, or made into a delightful noodle soup. I’ve included both versions of the dish here, as you can double the amount of duck breast and turn it into two completely different meals. It is best to start this recipe the day before, to allow the duck breast to cure with the salt and sansho overnight. This draws out water from the meat while seasoning the duck at the same time, resulting in crispier duck skin and more flavoursome meat.

2 duck breasts
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon ground sansho pepper
1 thin leek, cleaned, whites cut into 4 pieces, greens discarded or used for stock
30 ml (1 fl oz) soy sauce
30 ml (1 fl oz) sake
15 g (1/2 oz) zarame or sugar

PLATED VERSION
1 bunch of spring onions
(scallions)

SOUP VERSION
500 ml (2 cups) dashi (see page 32 of book for recipe)
250 g (9 oz) ramen noodles, home-made (see page 130 of book for recipe) or store bought
1 bunch of green vegetables, washed and cut into bite-sized pieces
shichimi togarashi, to serve

SERVES 2
Using a sharp knife, remove any silver skin from the underside of the duck breasts. Rub 1 teaspoon salt over the skin and meat of each breast, then rub the sansho pepper over only the flesh. (We season only the meat side with the sansho, because the sansho will burn on the skin side, which is pan-fried for a longer time than the meat side.) Place the duck breasts, skin side up, on a rack with a tray underneath. Leave uncovered in the refrigerator for up to 24 hours, but at least 2 hours.

When ready to cook, use a sharp knife to cut lines down the duck skin, along the length of the breast, about 2 mm (1/8 inch) deep and 1 cm (1/2 inch) apart. This creates channels for the duck fat to render out, resulting in a crispier skin.

Place the duck, skin side down, in a cold frying pan and turn the heat to medium–low. When the duck starts sizzling and a thin layer of rendered duck fat coats the bottom of the pan, add the leek to the pan.

Cook for 15 minutes over medium–low heat, skin side down the whole time; there should be a light frying noise. Every 5 minutes, drain the fat from the pan, reserving it for roasted potatoes or stir-fries. Turn the leek over after 7 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a small saucepan, heat the soy sauce, sake and zarame just enough to dissolve the zarame.  At this point, you can take the recipe in two different directions.

FOR THE PLATED VERSION:
Wash the spring onions, then divide into the green and white parts. Shred the green bits and very thinly julienne the whites, keeping them separate.

After the duck has finished cooking on the skin side for 15 minutes, turn it over onto the flesh side and sear all the parts that appear uncooked. After you’ve seared each side, leave the duck on the meat side for a further minute (it should be 2 minutes in total), then transfer the duck and leek from the pan to a plate and allow to rest for 5 minutes. Take the pan off the heat, but do not wash.

After 5 minutes, place the pan back on the heat and turn the heat up to high. Add the spring onion greens and stir-fry until wilted. Add the soy sauce mixture and any accumulated juices under the duck. Allow to bubble until slightly thickened, then remove from the heat. Slice the duck, then place on your serving dish with the leek. Pour the sauce over, garnish with the spring onion whites and serve.

FOR THE SOUP VERSION:
While the duck is cooking, bring the dashi to a simmer and prepare a pot of boiling water for cooking the noodles.

After the duck has finished cooking on the skin side for 15 minutes, very quickly sear the flesh side of the duck just to colour it, then remove from the pan with the leek. Don’t worry if you think it’s still raw; it will cook further in the soup.

Quickly blanch your vegetables in the boiling water; remove with tongs and place in a colander to drain. Boil the noodles in the same water, then pour into the colander to drain, shaking the colander to remove as much excess water as possible.

Divide the noodles and vegetables among bowls. Add 3 tablespoons of the soy sauce mixture to the simmering dashi. Taste and add more of the dashi mixture, or salt, until you are happy with the flavour. Pour it over the noodles and top with the greens. Slice the duck breast and fan it out over the noodles with the leek. Serve with shichimi togarashi for sprinkling over.

Cook more from this book
Salmon Ochazuke by Brendan Liew
Mizu Shingen Mochi – Raindrop Cakes by Brendan Liew

Buy this book
Tokyo Up Late by Brendan Liew
£26,  Smith Street Books

Read the review
Coming soon

Swordfish with Burst Tomatoes, Peppers, and Za’atar and Preserved Lemon by Colu Henry

SwordfishWithBurstTomatoes_p104a_ColuCooks
My dad ordered swordfish a lot when we vacationed on the Cape in the eighties. He also spent a lot of time unsuccessfully surf casting on Nauset Beach, but that’s another story. In the years following, swordfish became so overfished that for many years it was taken off menus. Since then, a lot of work has been done to rebuild the population and I’m so pleased we’re able to eat them responsibly again. They are meaty, flavorful, wonderful fish that hold their own with punchy flavors, which you’ll see here. If you can find the Italian Jimmy Nardello varietal of peppers for this recipe, please do. They are up there as one of my favorite peppers, and when cooked, their sweetness intensifies and almost becomes a bit smoky. I first had them in Napa and was thrilled when the farmers at Sparrowbush started growing them here in Hudson. Clearly a bell pepper will also work, but I think the Nardello’s are worth tracking down.

Serves 4
Time: 35 minutes

INGREDIENTS
4 tablespoons (60 ml) olive oil
3 Jimmy Nardello peppers or 1 medium red bell pepper, seeded and cut into long thin strips
2 pints (290 g) mixed heirloom cherry tomatoes, halved if large
2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1 chile pepper, such as cayenne, serrano, or jalapeño, thinly sliced
2½ teaspoons za’atar (a Middle Eastern spice blend consisting of dried herbs and sesame seeds)
¼ cup (112 g) seeded and roughly chopped preserved lemon (both peel and flesh)
½ cup (120 ml) dry white wine
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 (6-ounce/170 g) swordfish steaks, about ¾ inch (2 cm) thick
2 tablespoons fresh oregano leaves
Flaky salt, for finishing (optional)

METHOD
Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a deep-sided 12-inch (30.5 cm) skillet over medium heat. Add the sweet peppers and cook, stirring occasionally, until they are softened and beginning to turn golden in spots, 6 to 8 minutes.

Add the cherry tomatoes to the skillet and cook, stirring occasionally, until they start to burst, 5 to 7 minutes, pressing the tomatoes gently with the back of a spatula or wooden spoon to get them nice and jammy. (I like to keep some with more structure than the others for texture’s sake.) There should be a fair amount of liquid released in the pan. If not, add a few tablespoons of water. Stir in the garlic, chile pepper, za’atar, and preserved lemon and cook for 2 to 3 minutes more, until the garlic is fragrant and the spice mix is lightly toasted.

Pour in the white wine and bring to a simmer, scraping up any brown bits that have formed at the bottom of the pan, and cook for 10 minutes or so, allowing the flavors to get to know each other and the sauce to slightly thicken. Taste and adjust with salt and pepper.

Meanwhile, prepare the swordfish steaks. Season the fish well with salt and pepper. Heat the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil in a large non-stick skillet over medium-high heat. Add the fish and cook for 3 to 4 minutes, and then gently flip to finish cooking, 2 to 3 minutes more, or until the flesh is opaque all the way through. Arrange the swordfish in the pan with the tomatoes and peppers and scatter the top with the oregano leaves. Season with flaky salt if you like. Spoon more of the sauce over the top and serve from the pan.

Cook more from this book
Spring lamb ragu with anchovies and pea shoots by Colu Henry
Smoky and Spicy Shrimp with Anchovy Butter and Fregola by Colu Henry

Buy this book
Colu Cooks by Colu Henry
£25, Abrams Books

Read the review
Coming soon

Spring lamb ragu with anchovies and pea shoots by Colu Henry

SpringLambRagu_p143a_ColuCooks
I originally made this dish for an intimate Buona Pasqua dinner. Intimate meaning for myself and Chad. Usually for Easter, we get together with Jenn, Steve, and their daughter Brynn and grill some cut of lamb over open fire, but that particular year was very different due to sheltering in place. Determined not to let it dampen my spirits, I made Chad drive all over town in hunt of forsythia to cut down, to bring some spring into the house and make our dinner feel celebratory—crankily (him) and sadly (me), we came home empty handed. Moments later and completely unprompted, Jenn texted to ask if we’d like some forsythia from her yard and I couldn’t believe my luck. Her husband Steve arrived on our porch an hour later, arms full of branches. I quickly put them in water in a big vase on the dining room table and Chad and I sat down to a late-afternoon spring supper of thick egg noodles tossed with lamb, the season’s first pea shoots, and lots of butter and herbs. Celebrate we did.

INGREDIENTS
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large leek, trimmed, rinsed of grit, then thinly sliced (about 1½ cups/125 g) or 1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
Kosher salt
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
3 oil-packed anchovies
2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh rosemary
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 pound (455 g) ground lamb
Freshly ground black pepper
½ cup (120 ml) white wine
1½ to 2 cups (360 to 480 ml) chicken stock
12 ounces (340 g) pappardelle or tagliatelle
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 ounces (85 g) pea shoots, arugula, or other baby greens
2 teaspoons lemon zest (from 1 large lemon), plus lemon juice for finishing
½ cup (25 g) loosely packed fresh herbs, such as flatleaf parsley leaves, mint leaves, and snipped chives
Freshly grated pecorino, for serving

SERVES 4
TIME 35 minutes

METHOD
Heat the olive oil in a deep-sided 12-inch (30.5 cm) skillet or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the leek and cook until soft and translucent, 4 to 5 minutes. Season with salt. Stir in the garlic, anchovies, rosemary, and tomato paste and cook until the anchovies have melted and the tomato paste has toasted slightly, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the lamb and cook, pressing the meat firmly into the bottom of the pan until it begins to crisp up and stirring until it is browned through, 5 to 7 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Pour in the white wine and cook until it is reduced by half, 3 minutes or so. Pour in 1½ cups (360 ml) of the chicken stock and allow the sauce to simmer, stirring occasionally, while you make the pasta. If it looks like it’s drying out, stir in the remaining ½ cup (60 ml) stock.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook the pasta according to package directions, just shy of al dente. Drain the pasta and reserve 1 cup (240 ml) of the cooking water. Add the pasta to the skillet with the lamb along with the butter and pea shoots. Toss together, adding in a few tablespoons of the reserved pasta cooking water if needed, until the pasta is glossy with sauce, the pea shoots have wilted, and the butter has melted. Add half the herbs, the lemon zest, and a good squeeze of lemon juice and toss again. Plate in bowls and top with the remaining herbs.

Serve with some grated cheese.

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Colu Cooks by Colu Henry
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