Wine From Another Galaxy: Noble Rot by Dan Keeling and Mark Andrew

Wine from another galaxy

What’s the USP? The none-more-hip guide to the world of upmarket European wine, with an emphasis on the natural wine movement, from the team behind Noble Rot, one of London’s best wine bars/restaurants and an acclaimed wine and food magazine of the same name.

Who are the authors? Noble Rot’s founders, who are Dan Keeling, a former record company executive (whose claim to fame is signing Coldplay, but we won’t hold that against him) and Mark Andrews, a wine retail and hospitality professional. This is their first book.

Is it good bedtime reading? With two highly acclaimed restaurants to their name, food is a very big part of what Noble Rot but, as you will have guessed from the title, this is not the Noble Rot cookbook. It contains just four recipes with wine pairing suggestions, not plucked from their own menus, but recycled from old books: crab and tarragon salad by Ottolenghi, quail and peas by Simon Hopkinson from the excellent Week In, Week Out and Onglet Braised in Pinot Noir by Henry Harris from one of my all time favourite books Harvey Nichols: The Fifth Floor, the cookbook of a restaurant where I did a few work ‘stages’ in the kitchen back in the 90s, plus an uncredited dessert of rose-scented strawberries. So, Wine From Another Galaxy is all about bedtime reading. Or preferably, favourite-chair-and-glass-of-what-you-fancy reading.

What will I love? The book is divided into two parts (ok, I realise that’s nothing to get excited about in itself, but bear with me). The first ‘Shrine to the Vine’ comprises a series of essays that variously tell the story behind the Noble Rot empire (with a contribution from restaurant critic and Noble Rot investor Marina O’Loughlin), explain how to order wine in a restaurant, provide a brief overview of the wine making process and lay out the characteristics of the main grape varieties used in wine making. There’s also a guide on how to serve wine, how to judge wine, how to detect faults in wine and how to talk about it, so you’ll be fully primed to pull out terminology like ‘energy’, ‘texture’, ‘tension’ and ‘originality’ over a glass of Muscadet at your next oh-so-ironic cheese and wine party.

Although it’s all done with a certain style and attitude (which we’ll come back to), there’s much in the book that feels familiar from other introductory wine books such as The Richard and Judy Wine Book , a reference that may fit Noble Rot’s definition of ‘so un-cool, it’s cool’ (a phrase that appears in the book and also as a category on their wine lists) but sadly I’m not cool enough to know. However, whether or not it’s cool to be using the terms ‘un-cool’ and ‘cool’ in 2021 is definitely up for debate.

Part two, ‘Rotters’ Road Trip’ is where things get really interesting. Our intrepid heroes set out a across Europe to visit winemakers in France, Spain, Portugal, Italy, Germany and Greece before returning to England to, very briefly, investigate the sparking wine scene. The first hand reportage adds authority to the writing and, unless you are a serious wine geek, you will encounter producers such as Jonatan Garcia Lima in Tenerife and perhaps even some wine regions like the Gredos Mountains in Spain that may be new to you.

What won’t I like? The insistence on continually drawing comparisons between the worlds of wine and music (wine is the new rock’n’roll man!) becomes a little wearing. By the time you read that Cornas from Northern Rhone has a ‘character so feral it could have its own chapter in Mötley Crüe biography The Dirt’ you may well be rolling your eyes.

Despite O’Loughlin’s claim in the book that ‘exclusionary wine bollocks has never been what Noble Rot is about’ it’s difficult to shake off a sense of elitism about the whole thing. There’s the celebrity associations including Keira Knightly, Marc Ronson, Eno and James Murphy of LCD Soundsystem and a focus on wines that will require some time, effort and often money for many readers to track down. You certainly won’t find any of these wines at you local supermarket -‘their shelves are mostly full of competent yet bland, industrially made bottles’ we are told. I also struggled to find producers mentioned in the book at my local independent wine merchants. Readers in London will certainly have more luck and the online stores of big merchants such as Berry Brothers and Rudd are the best bet for those outside of the capital.

In the know ‘jokes’ such as including Petrus 1991 in a list of rare ‘unicorn’ wines (1991 was one of the years Petrus didn’t declare a vintage. What? You didn’t know? Oh, OK. Perhaps a bottle of M&S Classic Claret is more your speed?) also don’t help foster a sense of inclusivity.

Should I buy it? Despite the above detailed misgivings, Wines From Another Galaxy is a great introduction to the subject of wine, is an enjoyable read and well designed. Part two of the book also makes it suitable for those who know their subject

Suitable for: Wine newbies and more experienced drinkers.
Cookbook Review Rating: Three stars
Buy this book: The Noble Rot Book: Wine from Another Galaxy
£30, Quadrille Publishing Ltd. 

Pizza: A book by Pizza Pilgrims by James and Thom Elliot

Pizza by Pizza Pilgrims

What’s the USP? The ultimate book about pizza! As well as recipes, Pizza offers up interviews with figures central to the pizza-eating world, pop cultural insights, and lessons in etymology and maths.

Who wrote it? Brothers James and Thom Elliot, who are best known as the founders of Pizza Pilgrims – a small chain of restaurants that evolved out of a single street food stand in London. Named after a toe-to-top journey through Italy that the brothers undertook in 2011 as an attempt to discover the secrets of great pizza, the brand has since become one of the most celebrated names to hoist a margherita upon the British people.

Is it good bedtime reading? Look, this is nothing if not filled with bedtime reading. In fact, it’s probably better not to think of Pizza as a cookbook, but rather food writing with added recipes. The book comes in just shy of 270 pages, and yet features only 26 pizza recipes, plus some pizza-adjacent ideas that bring the total recipe count to 30.

It’s hard to know exactly how to feel about this number. Pizzas are relatively intuitive things once the dough is made, and the overwhelming majority of the recipes that make the cut are both innovative and enticing. There are only so many pizzas one needs to be told how to make, after all. I’m not convinced there is much need to spell out how to put together a Hawaiian, for example, so it’s hard to fault the brothers for excluding it.

The rest of the content falls broadly into one of three categories. Firstly, there’s the genuinely interesting stuff, like a deep dive on the perfect pizza dough, and the city guides that champion the best pizzerias in Naples, Rome, and a smattering of other cities across the world.

Secondly, there’s the missed opportunities. Chief amongst these is the four-page section that looks at collaborative pizzas the Pilgrims have created with other restaurants over the years. Given the relative lack of actual pizza recipes in the book, it seems a tremendous waste to list twelve delicious sounding hybrids like the Dishoom-inspired Bacon & Egg Naan Pizza and not provide the means to create them at home.

Finally, there’s the filler – and, frustratingly, much of the book falls under this category. In an attempt to create a definitive text on pizza, the Elliots have included some genuinely useless sections. A two-page spread entitled ‘Pizza-Loving Celebrities’ lists thirteen famous people who have publicly professed to liking one of the most popular foods on the planet. There are four pages on the best fictional pizzerias and, later on, a further four pages on pop culture moments for the dish. Both of these amount to little more than a slightly wordy Buzzfeed list. Home Alone gets significant coverage in each.

Occasionally, the book gets really desperate – a gallery of pizza box designs customers have drawn up over the years, an advert for their ‘pizza in the post’ DIY delivery service and, most bafflingly, one-dimensional interviews with corporate figures from Domino’s, Pizza Hut and Papa John’s. There might be some interesting insights to be found in the development kitchens of these brands, but half a page with the UK operations director of Domino’s ultimately amounts to nothing but empty calories.

Oof. So you’re not a fan, then? Well, see this is the problem. Perhaps eighty percent of this book is useless to a serious home chef – but the twenty percent that remains is brilliant. The recipes frequently show the value of the brothers’ initial pilgrimage through Italy, demonstrating a depth of knowledge and understanding that results in genuine learning opportunities.

My favourite choice at my local takeaway is a light ham and sweetcorn affair that is revealed here to be a version of the Mimosa pizza. I had no idea that it was something of a nostalgic favourite in Naples, where children think of it in much the same way that Brits might think of fish fingers and chips.

The Elliots also champion the frying pan as their preferred method for cooking pizzas at home – an idea I might have been unconvinced by before, but will likely be my standard going forward. These sorts of revelations are worth the price of admission by themselves.

I’m not going to deny, either, that there will be audiences who lap this up. The style of the book reminds me of cash-in influencer titles at times, and for better or worse, it will appeal to plenty of people as a result. It might also offer an excellent entry point for pizza lovers who perhaps haven’t previously considered making their own at home. 

What will I love? The recipes are faultless, even if there aren’t all that many of them. Alongside those inexplicable big brand takeaway interviews, there’s also a lovely conversation with Antimo Caputo, who makes flour that enjoys a cult status in pizza circles. It’s worth taking a moment, too, to celebrate the inspired cover design, which mocks up a takeaway pizza box with joyful, tactile precision.

What won’t I love? The recurring feeling that the publishers are trying to make the book thick enough to charge twenty quid for. The frustration that instead of achieving this by including more recipes, they threw in filler pages with titles like ‘Pizza Facts’. The sheer incredulity you feel when the first fact on the ‘Pizza Facts’ page – that the pepperoni pizza emoji is the most used emoji in the US – is so obviously, quantifiably not true that it renders the entire page pointless. It’s the ‘face with tears of joy’ emoji, by the way, and you (or the publisher’s fact checkers) can confirm that with one four word Google search.

Killer recipes: There are no duds amongst the recipes, but the Mimosa, Datterini Filetti and Mortadella & Pistachio pizzas are particular highlights.

Should I buy it? This is definitely a browse-in-the-shop-first book. Anyone really passionate about homemade pizzas will benefit from the advice here, and I suspect this would be a great book for a young person who is getting increasingly ambitious in the kitchen. More confident cooks might want to consider if they can really afford to give up valuable space on their cookbook shelf to a title that barely fits the description of ‘cookbook’ in the first place, though.

Cuisine: Italian
Suitable for: Beginner home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating: Three stars

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

Buy this book
Pizza: History, recipes, stories, people, places, love (A book by Pizza Pilgrims)
£20, Quadrille Publishing Ltd

Vegetarian round up: The Part-Time Vegetarian’s Year and Italy: The World Vegetarian

What’s the USP? Two USPs, actually! Having explored meat-free options from India and Japan with their initial installments earlier this year, Bloomsbury’s ‘World Vegetarian’ series takes its first step into Europe with Christine Smallwood’s volume on the food of Italy. Meanwhile, Nicola Graimes follows up 2015’s The Part-Time Vegetarian with a seasonal take on her flexitarian cooking.

Are they good bedtime reading? Once the recipes are out of the way, there’s not a lot of extra-curricular writing in Smallwood’s book on Italy. Like many cookbooks that form part of a larger series, this is a fairly utilitarian affair. This isn’t a book for reading over cosy winter evenings, but rather a practical volume you can take down from the shelf when you need dinner on the table in forty minutes.

The Part-Time Vegetarian’s Year has a lot more to offer on this front – the division of a cookbook by seasonal availability has been something of a trend in the last couple of years, and lends itself brilliantly to vegetarian cooking (as Nigel Slater demonstrated with his brilliant Greenfeast books). So here we have practical advice about how best to utilise your freezer, how to minimise your food waste and, of course, handy lists of which vegetables are in season when.

Will I have trouble finding the ingredients? One of the most underrated elements of vegetarian cooking, I think, is that recipes are usually incredibly easy to source. Dishes rely on the flavours of the vegetables and the method of cooking to extract as much flavour as possible out, and as such rarely call upon more hard-to-source ingredients. Smallwood’s book, drawing as it does from a cuisine that has been so warmly taken in and appropriated by Britons, features nothing but instantly recognisable ingredients that can be found most anywhere you care to shop. Graimes might send you out into the world for hoisin sauce or silken tofu, but you’re not going to consider that much of a challenge, are you?

How often will I cook from the books? Both titles are filled with interesting and vibrant dishes – though Italy: The World Vegetarian probably has the upper hand on this front. Smallwood’s dishes are ready made for weeknight cooking, and you could easily find yourself picking out a simple but effective recipe from this book once or twice a week.

Graimes’ Part-Time Vegetarian’s Year asks a little more from the reader – both in terms of culinary skills and commitment of time to the dishes. The results are equally as tempting, though, so will likely find their way onto your dinner table a couple of times a month without any trouble.

What will I love and what won’t I love? For all of The World Vegetarian’s positives, the book is just a bit, well, drab. It’s hard to really put your personality into a pre-existing format – and in terms of Smallwood’s involvement this is much more ‘Gary Barlow takes over X-Factor’ than ‘Taika Waititi shakes up the Marvel Cinematic Universe’. We’re spoiled for vegetarian cookbooks at the moment, and sheer practicality isn’t necessarily enough of a selling point to really make a mark. This is something The Part-Time Vegetarian’s Year understands – it’s significantly more vibrant, and the reader gets a much stronger sense of Nicola Graimes’ voice and personality. It’s also, dare I say it, more fun. The flexitarian options allow for the entire thing to feel more interactive, more of a loose guide than the overt instruction manual vibes of Smallwood’s book.

Killer recipes: Italy: The World Vegetarian’s highlights include Sciatt with Cicoria, Spicy Farro Soup and Assassin’s Spaghetti. The Part-Time Vegetarian’s Year travels a little further afield to offer Sesame Empanada Pie, Mushroom Noodle Larb and Spiced Leek Flatbreads with Mint Aioli.

Should I buy it? Both will find a place on any vegetarian’s shelf. Smallwood’s entry to the World Vegetarian series is perhaps better suited for cooks seeking to expand on their own repertoire of dishes – though it’s probably the more useful of the two offerings, it lacks the pizazz we tend to seek in the books we give to others. The Part-Time Vegetarian’s Year, however, has exactly that. It’s accessible and fun – and the flexitarian element means it will be equally loved by both vegetarians and those looking to cut their meat-consumption down in the future.

Cuisine: Italian/Global
Suitable for: Beginners/Beginners and confident home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating: Three stars/Three stars

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

Buy the books
The Part-Time Vegetarian’s Year: Four Seasons of Flexitarian Recipes
£25, Nourish Books 

Italy: The World Vegetarian
£20, Bloomsbury Absolute

Japanese Cooking for the Soul

japanese cooking for the soul_fc_100%

What’s the USP? A collection of 70 Japanese dishes ‘inspired by’ chefs from the Hana Group (the name behind 14 Asian food concepts that’ll you’ll find in supermarkets and other retailers around the globe including Sushi Gourmet, Wok St and Poke-Lele) that celebrate the Itadakimasu ritual of gratitude and reflection.

So, spirituality meets global commerce? Sounds grim. Yeah, probably best to ignore the veneer of mindfulness that’s been applied to the faceless, corporate behemoth that’s behind Japanese Cooking for the Soul to try and make it look more human (spoiler altert: they failed) and stick to the meat of the book which is the rather good recipes.

They’re authentic then? I think we’ve all agreed authenticity is a problematic and nebulous concept when applied to food in the modern global age haven’t we? Or maybe we’re about to roll all of that back and enter a new age of puritanism. In any event, some may raise an eyebrow when they discover that the recipes have been written by former Good Housekeeping Cookery Editor Emma Marsden. If you insist on your Japanese recipes being written by a chef or food writer from Japan or of Japanese heritage, then this book is not for you. If however you’re in the market for an approachable selection of dishes that include sushi and maki; teppanyaki and noodles; poke and Japanese salads; gyoza and dim sum; robata, ramen and tempura, as well as some desserts, then you can’t go far wrong.

Will I have trouble finding the ingredients? You will need to find a fishmonger who deals in sushi-grade fish if you want to tackle salmon and tuna sushi or cristal salmon rolls, but you’ll find most, if not all of what you need at the supermarket. Online stores like Sous Chef will be able to fill in any gaps.

What’s the faff factor? By their very nature, things like sushi or shumai dumplings will take a bit of care and attention and the assembly of various elements, but there are plenty of straightforward dishes like grilled salmon in balsamic onion glaze and stir fried rice with chicken that you can knock up on a work night without too much sweat.

How often will I cook from the book? It’s easy to imagine the book becoming well thumbed and food splattered in no time at all. It’s full of delicious and achievable dishes suitable for quick mid-week diners, and for when you want to spend a bit of hobby-time (is that a thing? Lets assume it is) in the kitchen and prepare a feast.

Killer dishes: Pork and cabbage gyoza; yakitori chicken skewers; beef ramen; prawn tempura with spring onions; teppanyaki duck and many more.

Should I buy the book? If you don’t have any other Japanese cookbooks in your collection, this will serve as a fine introduction to the subject. If you want to delve much further into the cuisine, try Japan:The Cookbook. But at fifteen quid, or less if you click on the link below, this is something of a bargain and a purchase you won’t regret.

Cuisine: Japanese
Suitable for: Beginners and confident home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating: Three stars

Buy this book
Japanese Cooking for the Soul: Healthy. Mindful. Delicious.
£14.99, Ebury Press

A Table for Friends by Skye McAlpine

What’s the USP? A celebration of communal eating, offering up advice and recipes that will allow you to host the perfect dinner party!

Wait a moment. Are we supposed to be having dinner parties at the moment? Oh, Christ. It’s complicated, isn’t it? I think so. I think we can host dinner parties as long as only one other household is invited.

What if I make everyone sit in the garden? Well, given we’re in September now, so you’d look like a bit of a tyrant. 

I’m lost. Yes, we’re all a bit lost here. Look, the general vibe is yes, you can host a dinner party, but no, you probably shouldn’t. I doubt Bloomsbury were planning for a global pandemic when they commissioned Skye McAlpine’s latest cookbook though.

Skye McAlpine? The Times columnist and daughter of the late Baron McAlpine of West Green, yes. Real salt-of-the-earth type. This book reads, funnily enough, a little like a modern take on the society handbooks of old. No etiquette guidelines, thankfully – but plenty of ideas on table setting, menu planning and why you should skip on starters (too formal, apparently). 

Is it good bedtime reading? There’s plenty to be getting on with in the opening chapter, where McAlpine runs through all of the above, champions the napkin, and encourages us to place bowls of fruit and veg on our table for decorative purposes (‘gnarly lemons’, red onions and – in a move that was also popular with colonial Britons – pineapples). Beyond here, though, we’re in standard cookbook territory: chapter and recipe introductions, and idyllic claims about the ‘wonderfully renaissant quality’ of a potato dish, or the ‘virtues of a good Tuscan bread salad’.

Will I have trouble finding the ingredients? Nope – McAlpine does do a fantastic job of making sure almost every ingredient you could possibly need will be readily available at your average supermarket. Occasionally you might want to try a butcher instead, but for the most part you’ll get by just fine with off-the-shelf cuts.

What will I love? The way the book is split up is rather brilliant, with sections for mains (rather gratingly referred to as ‘stars’ because they ‘look and taste extravagant and impressive’), sides, sweets and extras. The first three of these chapters are then divided based upon the mode of preparation – ‘throw together’, ‘on the hob’ or ‘in the oven’.

McAlpine also puts a lot of work into helping you to create a cohesive menu for your socially-distanced/morally-inadvisable/maybe-just-happening-in-the-distant-future dinner party. Most recipes finish with suggestions for possible accompanying dishes, and an extensive section at the end of the book suggests set menus based on loose themes, seasons, the number of people attending, or how long you have spare for prep. It makes a book that might otherwise seem a little overwhelming a great deal more accessible.

What won’t I love? McAlpine’s decision to skip out on starters makes sense once you realise that the section would have nabbed many of its dishes from the mains anyway. Several of the salads and soups here feel like they’d have been a better fit as a starter than a ‘star’ course, and the Carpaccio of Figs with Lardo, Honey & Rosemary is clearly better suited to being a side, or perhaps even finger food for when your guests first arrive. Also, and this is a very personal thing, the fennel and parmesan puree is no doubt delicious, but looks like a giant platter of baby food.

Killer recipes: It’s all very Italian here, continuing McAlpine’s love for the food she grew up with in Venice. Highlights include the Tagliatelle Gratin, which looks like a cross of carbonara and macaroni cheese, and the Salted Honey Ice Cream – four words I am very happy to see together.

Should I buy it? This is by no means an essential cookbook – but it will be very welcome for a select demographic. In a lot of ways, A Table For Friends covers the same ground as Diana Henry’s popular How to Eat a Peach from a couple of years back. Whilst Henry’s title arguable offered a more varied and interesting selection of dishes, McAlpine’s is much more practical a tool for the dinner party host, and offers myriad mix-and-match options for dishes (where Henry instead presented a collection of pre-curated set menus).

If you are one to regularly host dinner parties, and are looking to serve light Italian-influenced dishes, you can do no wrong here. If you’re looking to cook for two, frankly, there’s still plenty of adaptable recipes that would more than work for a Tuesday night (and that handy index-by-time at the back will help you find which ones fit the bill). Ultimately, though, I’d have liked a wider catalogue of influences to draw ideas from. There are three recipes for roasted potatoes, two roast chickens (and a roast poussin to boot) and three or four tomato salads, depending on how you’d like to call it. There’s a lot here to like, but this is definitely a cookbook that requires a quick browse in the shop to determine whether it’ll fit your needs, your tastes, and your personality.

Cuisine: Italian
Suitable for: Beginners and confident home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating: Three stars

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

Buy this book 
A Table for Friends: The Art of Cooking for Two or Twenty
£26, Bloomsbury Publishing

Cook from this book
Sicilian Couscous Salad by Skye McAlpine
Spaghetti with creamy lemon sauce by Skye McAlpine
Berry Cloud Cake by Skye McAlpine

Jikoni by Ravinder Bhogal

Jikoni by Ravinder Bhogal

What’s the USP? A ‘proudly inauthentic’ cookbook, that mashes together flavours from across the globe – with particularly heavy influences from South Asian and African cuisines and a whole lot of love for tamarind.

Who wrote it? Jikoni is the passion project of Ravinder Bhogal, the chef and restaurateur behind the Marylebone joint of the same name. Born in Kenya to Indian parents, Bhogal grew up in Britain, and has clearly learnt a joyful irreverence towards the strict cultural boundaries we impose upon food. This, as someone who regularly makes katsu curry schnitzel with spätzle, is an idea worth getting behind. You get the sense that Bhogal would have no qualms adding chorizo to a paella, if she thought the dish called for it.

Is it good bedtime reading? There’s plenty to be getting on with here, with short essays to open each chapter, occasional treatises on ingredients or dishes, and vivid descriptions to introduce each recipe. Bhogal’s writing is locked into the language of the contemporary cookbook, which is to say that the heady nostalgia and wide-eyed admiration of the food she grew up with doesn’t necessarily feel new or exciting to read, but will have you salivating over the very concept of a samosa nonetheless.

Will I have trouble finding the ingredients? The short answer is yes, probably. Whilst the majority of ingredients are easy enough to find, many recipes have at least one addition that will stump your local supermarket. Often these are optional, though, allowing you to choose an inauthentic recreation of Bhogal’s inauthentic dishes.

As an added bonus, most elements of the dishes are created from scratch, meaning the number of ingredients frequently tumbles deep into double figures. The Duck and Pistachio Pierogi with Hot Yoghurt Sauce and Pul Biber Butter requires around 30 individual ingredients, including multiple varieties of some: dried and fresh mint, ground allspice, and allspice berries. Stocking up for even two or three of these dishes will be enough to topple most spice racks.

What’s the faff factor? Max faff. All the faff. Here’s the thing: everything in Jikoni looks, and no doubt tastes, absolutely delicious. But my god, is it a lot of effort. Take the Prawn Toast Scotch Eggs with Banana Ketchup. That is, without a doubt, one of the top five most appetising recipe names I’ve ever seen in a cookbook. Prawn toast scotch eggs. Jesus Christ. Even at a conservative estimate, I reckon I could devour six of those right now – and that’s before we even consider that the recipe calls for quail eggs. Did I say six? Let’s double that, easily.

But now take a moment to ruminate on that title. Scotch eggs are a faff at the best of times. But we’re replacing the sausagemeat with raw tiger prawns that need peeling, deveining and processing into a suitable substitute? And then we’re making our banana ketchup from scratch? Don’t get me wrong – it’s all very do-able. But this is not a weeknight dinner cookbook. This isn’t even a weekend treat cookbook, for the most part. This is a dinner party host seeking redemption for all their past sins cookbook.

Killer recipes: Bhogal’s recipes are frequently a little overwhelming at first glance, but when they tempt you, boy do they tempt you. The inspired Duck Rendang looks as tasty as anything I’ve seen this year, and I’m sure I’d have made it multiple times already if I only had an easy source of fresh turmeric and galangal (and dried bird’s eye chillies, and shrimp paste). In fact, the curries are frequently attention grabbing, from Goose Leg Qorma to the Massaman Pork and Peanut Curry with Pineapple Relish. The Oyster Pani Puris, too, look incredible – but also seems like the most complex and stressful dish in the whole book, despite a very reasonable seven ingredients.

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

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

Buy this book
Jikoni: Proudly Inauthentic Recipes from an Immigrant Kitchen
£26, Bloomsbury Publishing

Cook from this book
Lamb and Aubergine Fatteh
Lemongrass Poussin with Green Mango and Peanut Salad
Banana Cake with Miso Butterscotch and Ovaltine Kulfi

Which Wine When by Bert Blaize and Claire Strickett

Which Wine When by Bert Blaize and Claire Strickett

What’s the USP? An accessible and practical introduction to pairing wine with food from takeaways to Sunday lunches and everything in between.

Who are the authors? Sommelier Bert Blaize has worked at Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons and The Clove Club in Shoreditch. He has won the title of the UK’s Top Young Sommelier, and currently takes care of the wine at Serge et le Phoque in London’s Fitzrovia. Claire Strickett’s has worked in kitchens, then restaurant marketing, publicity and recipe writing for leading chefs and restaurateurs, including Skye Gyngell, Rowley Leigh, Russell Norman, Gail’s Bakery and Byron.

Food and wine matching? That’s all a bit elitist, isn’t it? If you’re in a posh restaurant and the sommelier is pressuring you to have the premium wine flight to go with your already ruinously expensive tasting menu, then it certainly can be. But Blaize and Strickett are coming from a very different angle on the subject. As explained in the introduction, the book ‘doesn’t assume you know much about wine, have a big budget or hang out in trendy wine stores. It just assumes you’re a greedy person who wants to know more about which wine to drink when but doesn’t know where to start.’

So should I take the book along with me when I next go to a fine dining place in order to fend off the sommelier’s advances on my wallet? Not really. There’s a couple of pages dedicated to the authors’ top ten tips for drinking wine in restaurants but this is more for when you’re cooking or ordering-in food at home and want to buy a nice bottle or two to go with your meal.

What can I expect to find in the book then? The ‘wine basics’ chapter is designed for genuine wine newbies, the sort of people who have previously only drunk fruit-flavoured cider, alcopops, tequila slammers and one-armed scissors. For those that know their Viognier from their Vermentino, the book becomes more interesting during the central six short chapters (the book is less than 200 pages long) where all the matching actually happens.

What do I get for my tenner? A total of 79 dishes (including snacks and cheeses) each get a one-page (about 200 words) entry with matching wine. Each is broken down into the same question-led format (not a million miles away from the style of the reviews on this site) that asks and answers ‘What’s The Wine?’, ‘Why This Wine’, ‘If you can’t find this, go for…’, and ‘If all else fails, asks for…’.  For example, in the Home Cooked Classics chapter,  sausage mash and gravy is paired with South African Shiraz for its warm smoky flavours and cracked black pepper notes. A Syrah/Shiraz from the Rhone or Australia or any spicy, medium-bodied red are offered as alternatives. In addition, there are ‘at a glance’ charts covering what wines to drink with Chinese, Indian, Mexican and  Japanese food, pizza, roasts, fish and hot puddings that offer dozens of more food and wine pairings.

What if I’m an experienced wine drinker? Will I get anything out of Which Wine When? Depends. When was the last time you considered drinking Asti Spumante with Goan fish curry, Manzanilla sherry with fried chicken or pairing your lamb doner kebab with a cheeky glass of off-dry Mosel Riesling?

Fair enough. So, I should buy it then? If you like your wine books light-bodied with a well balanced, simple structure and just a little bit fruity, this is for you.

Suitable for: Aspirational drunkards
Cookbook Review Rating: Three stars

Buy this book
Which Wine When: What to drink with the food you love
£9.99, Ebury Press

root, stem, leaf, flower by Gill Meller

root stem leaf flower

What’s the USP? Go wild (go wild!) go wild in the country, where nettles in a bush are absolutely free. It’s time to eschew meat and fish for all that lovely fruit and veg that you know will do you good. And here’s Gill Mellor with dirt on his hands and love in his heart to show you ‘how to cook with vegetables and other plants’.

Who is the author? You’ll know Gill Mellor from such books as Outdoor Cooking: River Cottage Handbook No.17 and Time by Gill Meller previously reviewed on this site and awarded a whopping 4 stars (I must have been feeling generous that day. I’m kidding. Or am I?). As I mentioned in that review, Meller is an alumni of Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall’s River Cottage organization and is a chef, food writer and teacher. His first book Gather won the Fortnum and Mason award for Best Debut Food Book in 2017.

Is it good bedtime reading? There’s a fairly chunky introduction to the book and the recipe introductions are interesting and informative, but this is a cookbook for the kitchen rather than one for the bedside table. If you actually enjoy what there is to read will depend on your tolerance for Food Writing with a captial F and capital W; the stuff that usually results from an English degree and a lifetime reading Elizabeth David, Richard Olney and Nigel Slater. It’s the sort of adjective-heavy prose where radishes have a ‘tussle of coarse green leaves on top’ and you find ‘lucent green’ gooseberries among a ‘burr and wrangle of thorns’.

It will also depend on your tolerance for being told how to shop and cook. There is nothing particularly radical in Meller’s suggestion to eat organic, local and seasonal, or in his assertion that ‘we need to be eating less meat and fish’ and that what we do eat should come from ‘ethical and sustainable sources’ and from ‘animals that have led natural, happy lives’. But it’s easy for him as a professional food writer to say that and less easy for those working full time with a family to feed and limited time and financial resources to live up to those lofty ideals. Meller places all the onus on the individual to do the right thing and makes no suggestion that changes should be made at the food supply chain level in order to make produce that meets his stringent criteria easily available and affordable to all. Instead, there is the implication that you are falling short as a human being if you don’t buy organic, sustainable, ethically produced goods. And frankly, fuck that.

Will I have trouble finding the ingredients? If you are going to adhere to the Meller mantra of organic, sustainable, ethically produced stuff, then you will be narrowing the field substantially. However, most of the actual ingredients are not that obscure and you should be able to track them down without too much effort, especially if you are willing to eat ordinary people’s food. You’ll die sooner and be killing the planet with every single bite, but at least you’re not a serial killer with someone chained up in your cellar. Are you? I mean, if you are, I don’t approve obviously, but it’s interesting, isn’t it? I know lots of people are bored with serial killers but I think there’s an enduring fascination. Drop me a line, there’s a contact widget somewhere on this site, tell me about your sickness.

What’s the faff factor? Have we stopped talking about serial killers already? Oh well. WHAT’S THE FAFF FACTOR? IS THAT WHAT YOU WANT TO KNOW? IS THAT REALLY WHAT’S BOTHERING YOU RIGHT AT THIS PRESENT MOMENT IN TIME? Sorry, I don’t know why I’m shouting. I haven’t had my meds today and lockdown is really starting to get to me. Faff factor, yes, good point. You should know about that before you buy a book. You work hard for your money, you don’t want to waste it on something you’re never going to use. It’s a reasonable question. I don’t know why I’m making such a big deal about it. I mean, I write the bloody questions myself, it’s not as though someone is dictating to me what I need to tell you. So, faff factor. Faaaaaaaaf faaaaaactor. Try saying that out loud. It’s funny. Like the Shadrack scene in Billy Liar.You know the bit. Actually, you’re probably too young. Or from a country where they never showed the film on the telly. You should stream it. Anyway, where were we? Oh yes, faffing about. No, the recipes are fine really, they’re mostly short and straightforward. You can judge for yourself; I’ve posted a couple of recipes for you to try (the publisher only allowed two instead of the usual three for some reason. Gill’s special. So special.) The links are at the bottom of the page because this is such a well-designed site.

How annoyingly vague are the recipes? You will find the odd ‘small pinch of sea salt’ which is fine, and a ‘small handful’ of this and that which is OK if you’ve got small hands or know someone who has that could come to your house and grab a handful of herbs for you, although exactly how small their hands need to be isn’t really clear. Just be sensible about it. Perhaps ask a child. No, don’t do that. Unless you’re related to them, then it’s OK.

More annoying is ‘the juice of half a lemon’. Why do recipes rarely give ml measures for lemon juice? I mean, it’s a liquid just like any other isn’t it? And the amount you put in a recipe will affect the final result. I don’t know if you’ve bought a lemon recently, but the amount of juice that you get out of them varies massively from a meager teaspoon to a flood. They are as unpredictable as, erm, something that it’s politically correct to describe as unpredictable. I’m not sure what that might be. Me. I’m unpredictable. The amount of juice you get out of a lemon is as unpredictable as the mood I’ll be in when I wake up on any given day. And that’s pretty unpredictable. Imagine the mood I’m in now, writing this. You don’t want to know.

How often will I cook from the book? How often do you imagine you might fancy ‘tomatoes in the hole’ instead of toad? That’s the question you need to ask yourself. Ultimately, the amount you use this book will depend on precisely how middle class you are. That’s just the truth. Take this stupid quiz and find out. When you discover that the stupid quiz appeared in the Mirror and you decide you don’t want to take it because you don’t want anything to do with that disgusting rag, congratulations, you are middle class and you will cook from this book a lot. If you do decide to take the quiz, it doesn’t matter what your score is, you have read something in the Mirror and are by default not middle class and the book will collect dust languorously on your shelf. Power to the people.

Killer recipes: Do we have to do this? OK (sighs) they include: sweetcorn, rosemary and smoked cheddar soufflé; squash, lentil, tomato and rosemary pie; salted chocolate pumpkin tart; asparagus and quinoa salad with peas and broad beans.

What will I love? The photography by Andrew Montgomery is up to his usual very high standards and there’s a good amount of variety in the recipes, given the relatively narrow subject matter. That was sensible wasn’t it?

What won’t I like so much? Meller’s editors have failed to dissuade him from writing poems. I love poetry. I read lots of it, from Renaissance to 21st Century (give Reckless Paper Birds by John McCullough a go) and I even write some myself. I’m just not convinced a cookbook is the right platform for it. Or maybe I just don’t like Meller’s poems. Sorry Gill.

Should I buy it? This book isn’t really for me, but that doesn’t mean it’s not for you. There’s nothing really wrong with it, so if you need some inspiration in the fruit and veg department and you feel the stylistic issues I’ve outlined above won’t be problematic for you, then go ahead. Oh, I forgot to mention the recipe titles. 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 (the same goes for the book’s title and the lack of capitals). But most of them aren’t like that, they’re just normal so it’s not the end of the world. Don’t let it put you off. I know it probably wouldn’t but I’m just saying. It’s honestly more about my odd sensitivities to certain tropes of Food Writing, which I think far too much about, than anything else. I shouldn’t have said anything. It’s fine, really.

(Have you had enough of this yet? I could go on all day like this. Once I get on a roll it’s difficult to stop me. What shall we talk about next? No, maybe you’re right, let’s leave it there. Till next time then.)

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

Buy this book
Root, Stem, Leaf, Flower: How to Cook with Vegetables and Other Plants
£27, Quadrille Publishing Ltd.

Cook from this book
Courgette flatbreads with lots of herbs and goat’s cheese
Raspberry and rhubarb crumble

Courgette flatbreads with lots of herbs and goat’s cheese by Gill Meller

Courgette flatbreads Gill Meller

Cooking courgettes slowly with garlic and olive oil has to be one of my favourite ways to deal with this summer vegetable. Fistfuls of herbs go in at the end, then you could simply pile the courgettes on to warm bruschetta, but these flatbreads are infinitely better.

MAKES 3

FOR THE FLATBREADS
500G (1LB 2OZ) STRONG WHITE BREAD FLOUR,PLUS EXTRA FOR DUSTING
1 TSP FINE SEA SALT
1 TSP FAST-ACTION DRIED YEAST
2 TSP CRUSHED FENNEL SEEDS
FINELY GRATED ZEST OF 1 LEMON
2 TBSP EXTRA-VIRGIN OLIVE OIL, PLUS EXTRA FOR GREASING
4 TBSP NATURAL YOGHURT

FOR THE TOPPING
4 TBSP EXTRA-VIRGIN OLIVE OIL
2 GARLIC CLOVES, THINLY SLICED
1.2KG (2LB 10OZ)COURGETTES, SLICED INTO 5MM (¼IN) ROUNDS
1 SMALL HANDFUL OF DILL, CHOPPED
1 SMALL HANDFUL OF MINT,LEAVES PICKED AND THINLY RIBBONED
1 SMALL HANDFUL OF BASIL, CHOPPED
1 SMALL HANDFUL OF CHIVES, CHOPPED
150G (5½OZ) SOFT GOAT’S CHEESE
PINCH OF CHILLI FLAKES (OPTIONAL)
SEA SALT AND FRESHLY GROUND BLACK PEPPER

Make the flatbreads. Place the flour, salt, yeast, fennel seeds and lemon est in a large bowl. Add the oil, yoghurt and 275ml (9½fl oz) of water and mix everything thoroughly until it forms a dough. Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and knead for about 10 minutes, until soft and smooth. (You can use a stand mixer with a dough hook for this part.) Shape the dough into a rough round and place in a lightly oiled bowl; cover with a clean cloth and leave to rise in a warm place for up to 24 hours.

When you’re ready to make the flatbreads, start the topping. Place a large, heavy-based pan over a medium heat. Add half the olive oil and when it’s hot add the garlic and sizzle for a few seconds, then add the courgettes. Season with salt and pepper. Cook the courgettes slowly over a gentle heat,stirring regularly, for about 25 minutes or so, until they break down but still retain a little of their shape. They should be soft without colouring too much and almost spoonable in texture.

Take the pan off the heat, stir all but a handful of the herbs into the courgettes, then season again to taste with plenty of salt and pepper. Place 3 baking sheets in the oven (alternatively, bake one at a time if you have limited oven space) and heat the oven to 240°C/220°C fan/475°F/ gas mark 8.

Turn out the dough onto a lightly floured surface, then cut it into 3 equal pieces. Form each piece into a nice neat round and leave to rest for 20 minutes or so. When you’re ready to bake the flatbreads, roll out the pieces of dough. They want to be quite thin, but don’t worry if they’re not especially round, that doesn’t matter.

Take the hot baking sheets out of the oven and place a rolled-out dough on each. Spread the courgette mixture evenly over the top of each. Dot the goat’s cheese over the top of the courgette mixture and trickle all over with some of the remaining olive oil. Add the chilli flakes, if using, and a sprinkling of salt and pepper, too.

Place the trays in the oven for 12–14 minutes, or until the dough is puffed up and golden around the edges. Remove from the oven and slide onto a board. Sprinkle with a few reserved herbs and serve.

Cook more from this book
Raspberry and rhubarb crumble by Gill Meller

Buy this book
Root, Stem, Leaf, Flower: How to Cook with Vegetables and Other Plants
£27, Quadrille Publishing Ltd.

Read the review

Raspberry and rhubarb crumble by Gill Meller

Raspberry and rhubarb crumble Gill Meller

When you sit down to a bowl of warm raspberry and rhubarb crumble, it’s easy to forget that the apple ever existed at all. In fact, you forget anything that begins with A, or anything green. For in that moment, your world literally crumbles away, leaving you with reds and gentle, sugary pinks and the magic that happens when these two ingredients are cooked together. I like to pack my crumble topping full of oats and bake it separately from the fruit, at least for a while. It becomes remarkably crunchy this way.

SERVES 4

FOR THE OAT CRUMBLE
100G (3½OZ) PLAIN FLOUR
PINCH OF FINE SEA SALT
100G (3½OZ) UNSALTED BUTTER, CUBED AND CHILLED
75G (2½OZ) UNREFINED CASTER SUGAR
75G (2½OZ) JUMBO OATS

FOR THE FILLING
ABOUT 400G (14OZ)RHUBARB STALKS, TRIMMED AND CUT INTO 2–3CM (¾–1¼IN) PIECES
ABOUT 200G (7OZ)RASPBERRIES
100G (3½OZ) UNREFINED CASTER SUGAR
1 TSP VANILLA EXTRACT

First, make the oat crumble. Heat the oven to 175°C/155°C fan/335°F/gas mark 3–4. Combine all the ingredients in a large bowl and rub them thoroughly together until you have formed clumps and lumps. Line a large baking tray with a piece of baking parchment. Tip out the mixture onto the tray and distribute evenly. Set aside.

Make the filling. Place the rhubarb in a 25cm (10in) baking dish. Add the raspberries, sugar and vanilla along with a couple of tablespoons of water and tumble everything together. Place the dish of fruit in the oven as well as the tray of crumble and bake for 20 minutes, turning the crumble mixture over three or four times during baking, until clumped together, biscuity and golden. Spoon the crumble mixture onto the fruit and continue to cook for a further 10 minutes, or until the rhubarb and raspberries are soft, the juices are bubbling away and the crumble is
golden brown.

Cook more from this book

Buy this book
Root, Stem, Leaf, Flower: How to Cook with Vegetables and Other Plants
£27, Quadrille Publishing Ltd.

Read the review