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

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

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

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. 

Baking with Fortitude by Dee Rettali

Baking with fortitude
What’s the USP? Just because we’re not in lockdown any more doesn’t mean we’ve abandoned our national sourdough habit, does it? Either way, here’s a collection of sourdough cakes and bakes (and non-fermented recipes too) from cult London bakery Fortitude to keep your (sourdough) mother happy.  The book is the winner of  the Andre Simon Food Book Award 2021.

Who wrote it? Irish-born baker Dee Rettali was something of an organic food pioneer, opening Patisserie Organic in London in 1988. She is the former head chef of the London-based cafe chain Fernandez and Wells and opened Fortitude bakery in Bloomsbury in 2018.  This is her first book.

Is it good bedtime reading? There’s a six page introduction plus one or two page introductions to each of the seven chapters but that’s your lot.

Will I have trouble finding ingredients? You’ll need an online specialist supplier for dried meadowsweet to make the first recipe in the book, a butter loaf cake flavoured with honey and meadowsweet (one of eight butter loaf cakes recipes – the book is organised around base recipes and their variations).

Go anywhere but your local supermarket for the ‘fresh ripe’ fruit Rettali specifies for things like Lavender and Pear Butter Loaf Cake because, well,  when was the last time you bought fruit from Asda et al that was fresh and ripe? If you need overpriced stuff that is rock hard, tasteless and goes bad before it approaches ripeness then you’d be laughing.

You’ll need to buy organic flour of course, including buckwheat flour to make orange, yoghurt and polenta cake, but you should have few issues obtaining the vast majority of ingredients specified in the book.

What’s the faff factor? Although the book is billed as a collection of sourdough bakes which might sound complicated, in fact most of the recipes don’t use a starter but can be fermented if you wish to deepen the resultant flavour which Rettali claims is an innovation in cake baking.  This process takes no additional effort, you just need to plan ahead.  The base recipes, that include the aforementioned butter loaf cake as well as olive oil cake, yoghurt cake and sour milk soda bread are often just a matter of combining the ingredients in a bowl although the brioche and sourdough butter cake mixes are a little more complex.

The complete recipes range from the simple and straightforward Blueberry and Lime Little Buns to the slightly more involved Sticky Cinnamon Buns with Molasses Sugar, but there is nothing off-puttingly complex or too fiddly here. This is good old fashioned baking rather than fancy detailed patisserie work.

What will I love? Rettali has a very clear culinary vision and distinct style so that the recipes never feel over-familiar. There are some classics like Eccles cakes and  hot cross buns (albeit a sourdough-based version mad with candied orange) but also creations you may not have come across before like  turmeric custard and roast pear brioche buns or chocolate and chilli sugar olive oil loaf cake.

What won’t I like so much? Using the base-recipe-and-variations format means there is cross over and similarity among the groups of recipes (there are an awful lot of loaf cakes for example) in what, at 192 pages, is a relatively short book. You will need a food mixer for some of the recipes as alternative methods are not provided. 

How often will I cook from the book? If you are a keen baker, there is enough variety, from tahini, za’tar and sesame seed biscuits to tomato, garlic and oregano soda bread to keep you busy for many weeks.

Should I buy it? If you are an experienced baker looking to create something that little but different, this is definitely the book for you. Newbies will also appreciate Rettali’s encouraging attitude, ‘By sharing my recipes and approach to baking, I want to take away the fear. Use your hands, get your fingers right into the bottom of the bowl and feel the dough.’ 

Cuisine: British baking
Suitable for: Confident home cooks/beginners/professional chefs
Cookbook Review Rating: Four stars

Buy this book
Baking with Fortitude by Dee Rettali
£22, Bloomsbury

Cook from this book
Rose and Pistachio Little Buns by Dee Rettali

Winner of the Andre Simon Food Book Award 2021. Click the image below to find out more.

Food Longlist (3)

Rose and Pistachio Little Buns by Dee Rettali

Rose and Pistachio (1)

At Fortitude, I top these rosewater-flavoured buns with organic dried rose buds from the Merzouga valley in Morocco. I have visited this region on many occasions, where you are always greeted by the heady floral smell of organic roses.

Makes 12 little buns

12-hole muffin tin or easy-release silicone mould, greased well with oil
170ml pomace oil (or light virgin olive oil)
200g unrefined golden caster sugar
4 eggs
125g fine semolina
50g pistachios, finely ground into a flour
200g ground almonds
1. teaspoons baking powder
25ml rosewater

To decorate
250g icing sugar
25g finely chopped pistachios
12 dried rose buds (optional)

In a large bowl, beat together the pomace oil and caster sugar with an electric whisk until light and fluffy.

Add the eggs one at a time and continue to mix until combined, but do not overmix.

In a separate bowl, combine the semolina, ground pistachios, ground almonds and baking powder.

Fold the semolina mixture into the whipped olive oil mix using a metal spoon. When it is almost combined, add the rosewater and gently fold through. Leave overnight in the fridge.

Preheat the oven to 200°C/Fan 180°C/Gas 6.

Fold any oil that is sitting on the surface back into the mixture to combine again. Making sure that the muffin tin or mould is greased well with oil, divide the mixture equally between the holes of the tin or mould, then place it on a baking tray. Bake in the centre of the hot oven for 22 minutes or until the buns feel set to the touch.

Transfer the buns from the tin or mould to a wire cooling rack and leave to cool completely.

To make the icing, mix the icing sugar with just enough warm water to make a thick paste. Spread the top of each bun with the icing using the back of a spoon and sprinkle over the pistachios. If preferred, place a dried rose bud in the middle of each bun.

When stored in an airtight container in the fridge,
these little buns will keep for 7 days.

To ferment

Once mixed, store the cake batter in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 3 days to allow it to ferment. Fold any oil sitting on the surface back into the mixture before baking.

Read the review 
Coming soon

Buy this book 

Amber and Rye by Zuza Zak

Amber and Rye
What’s the USP? Touching on the cuisines of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, Amber & Rye seeks to open up the food of the Baltic nations to chumps like you and me, who are frequently a little embarrassed by how little we know about the area.

Who wrote it? Zuza Zak is something of an expert is Eastern European cooking. Her first book, Polska, was something of a hit in 2016 and explored the food of Poland, where she spent the first 18 years of her life. Now she’s back looking at the foods of the three states that border the Baltic Sea to the north.

Incidentally, and perhaps unsurprisingly given her early life in Communist Poland and close ties across the region, Zak is one of the many prominent voices in the food industry speaking out about Ukraine, and Russia’s illegal war on the nation. Like fellow food writer Olia Hercules (@oliahercules), her Instagram (@zuzazakcooks) is currently a great source of valuable resources as well as celebrations of Ukraine’s rich food traditions.

Is it good bedtime reading? Zak is a self-described ‘storyteller cook’, which sounds impractical to a ‘podcast-listening cook’ like myself. But sure, whatever floats your boat. It does mean that the book has a touch more to read than most cookbooks – though I’d have been interested to discover even more than offered here.

As well as brief chapter introductions and slightly more substantial lead-ins to each recipe, the book has an extended opening chapter exploring Zak’s own history and experiences with the region. Best of all are five sections offering short food-led looks at five of the major cities across the three nations.

How annoyingly vague are the recipes? No complaints at all. Instructions are clear and, best of all, measurements are given in both metric and imperial measurements. A book for your child, a book for your grandparents! Perfection.

Will I have trouble finding the ingredients? Like so much of the cuisines in mainland Europe, the ingredients called for are recognisable and easy to source. They lean towards the heartier end of the spectrum, which is no real surprise. So plenty of lentils, root vegetables and salt (there’s a whole chapter on the various preservation techniques of the region).

How often will I cook from the book? This may be a personal bias, but Amber & Rye strikes me as a book that will spend most of the summer gathering dust on your bookshelf before making plenty of appearances as the days draw in and we you rediscover the joys of homemade soups, or the warming hold sauerkraut has over you. There are exceptions, of course – a beetroot-loaded Springtime Millet ‘Risotto’, or a colourful Crayfish Salad From a Lithuanian Lagoon. But for the most part, this is a book for the colder months.

Killer recipes: The wild garlic is starting to emerge, so I’d be a fool to ignore either the Wild Garlic Hummus or the Fermented Wild Garlic & Buckwheat Soup. For those less inclined to forage, why not try Cepelinai Potato Dumplings with Lentils and Lovage, or the cosy Baltic Mash with Barley?

Should I buy it? Zuza Zak’s book is a well-written exploration of three nations, and is filled with comfort-heavy dishes that will keep you warm until spring becomes a little more convincing. For those looking to discover the Baltic cuisines, or just add an arsenal of flavoursome (and often quite purple) soups to their repertoire, this is a worthwhile purchase.

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

Buy this book
Amber and Rye by Zuza Zak
£26, Murdoch Books

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

This book was longlisted for the Andre Simon Award 2021. Read more here.
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Tarkari by Rohit Ghai

Tarkari by Rohit Ghai

What’s the USP? Tarkari is Bengali word that refers to any vegetable dish and  therefore a fitting title for this collection of vegetarian and vegan Indian dishes from one of the UK’s most exciting Indian chefs. 

Who is the author? Rohit Ghai is the Michelin-star winning chef of Kutir restaurant in Chelsea and Manthan in Mayfair. He was previously chef at various other highly acclaimed London destinations including Gymkhana, Jamavar, Trishna and Hoppers. Tarkari is his first book

Is it good bedtime reading? `Takari is first and foremost a recipe book, the only extras are a short introduction from Ghai and a brief chapter on ‘The Magic of Spices’ with a description of Ghai’s favoured spices and recipes for masalas, spice mixes and pastes.  

How annoyingly vague are the recipes? The recipe for aloo gobi requires ‘2 potatoes, diced’, size, weight or variety is not specified. Similarly, the other ingredients include ‘1 cauliflower’ and ‘2 tomatoes’, both of which can vary in size quite dramticaly . No doubt you can get away with your own judgement here, but the quantities of spices are quite small, two and half teaspoons in total, so you may end up with an underpowered dish if your veggies are on the large side.  This is frustrating as there are more specific recipes elsewhere in the book. For example, Courgette Mussalam requires 250g of boiled and mashed potatoes. You see, it’s not that difficult is it? And yet Tawa Salad calls for ‘100g of beetroots’ (hurrah) and ‘2 carrots’ (boo). So, yeah, a bit annoyingly vague. 

Will I have trouble finding ingredients? Starting with Ghai’s spice rack, you will probably have to resort to an online source for black moon flower (a key ingredient in his signature garam masala blend) and also amchur (dried mango powder), pomegranate powder, sambhar powder, fenugreek seeds and black cumin seeds if you don’t have a good Asian grocer near to you. I also had to order black lentils online for the rich and delicious dal makhani Kasundhi mustard may need hunting down, but pretty much everything else spice-wise should be easily obtainable. 

What’s the faff factor? To get the most out of the book, you’ll want to spend some time making Ghai’s spice blends for which you’ll need a spice blender (a very affordable addition to your kitchen batterie if you don’t already own one) or a decent sized pestle and mortar. Once you have your spice pantry sorted, the complexity of the recipes vary from a simple Chickpea and Samphire Salad or Bhuteko Bhat (Nepalese Fried Rice) to the more demanding (but still very achievable) Punjabi Samosa or Chandni Chowk Ki Aloo Tikki with its multiple elements and sub-recipes. In the main however, these are dishes that any enthusiastic home cook will be happy to tackle and feel it was worth the effort. 

How often will I cook from the book? If you love Indian food and observe a vegetarian or vegan diet then you could easily be cooking from Tarkari on a weekly basis, or even more often. If you are looking to cut down on meat, this book is full of dishes that would make excellent and delicious mid-week meals without too much effort required. 

Killer recipes: Malabar cauliflower (spicy battered and deep-fried florets); mushroom and truffle khichadi (a dish of spiced rice and lentils) ; dum aloo (potato curry); jackfruit masala; chickpea and mushroom biryani. 

Should I buy it? Covering everything from breakfasts to desserts with snacks, pickles and dips, curries, sharing plates, sides, and rice and breads in between, Tarkari is a one stop shop for vegetarian and vegan cooking. Ghai brings real flair and inspiration to the dishes making the book an essential purchase for anyone who loves Indian food or is looking for a comprehensive introduction to the vegetarian and vegan side of the cuisine.

Anyone who has had the opportunity to dine at one of Ghai’s restaurants may be disappointed that the book doesn’t include recipes for some of his sublime meat and fish dishes, but I imagine and certainly hope there will be a second volume on the horizon to cover those soon.  

Cuisine: Indian 
Suitable for: confident home cooks/professional chefs
Cookbook Review Rating: Four stars

Buy this book
Tarkari: Vegetarian and Vegan Indian Dishes with Heart and Soul
£25, Kyle Books

Truffle Hound by Rowan Jacobsen

Truffle Hound

There are few individual ingredients in the world of food as misunderstood as the truffle. Separated from large swathes of the public by virtue of its sheer expense alone, there are those who view it as a curious little marker of extreme wealth. Others still experience it only through their exposure to mid-range oil-based products: an aspirational glimpse of the true thing, seen skewed through the prism of a Pizza Express springtime menu, via chemically reproduced smells that have never met an actual tuber. 

Even those with the requisite disposable income can find themselves fooled by an industry that is built around the idea of the truffle more than the impact and effect the goods actually have on a dish. Some of the most prized truffles in the world – those marketed as Italian whites or the Périgord blacks of France are in fact shipped in from less glamorous locations simply to ensure the mystique of the truffle is preserved. 

The quest to find clarity or even just reliable information about the truffle can, at times, seem as convoluted as a forest-bound hunt for the mysterious tubers themselves. It is to Rowan Jacobsen’s credit, then, that he has produced a book that so effectively pulls back the veil on a baffling and fascinating industry. Mesmerised by the heady stench of a white Tuber magnatum he stumbles upon during dinner on a trip to Italy, Jacobsen began to explore the shadowy worlds that provide the world with their mucky little olfactory stimulants, travelling across Europe and North America to understand where the truffle industry has ventured thus far, and the promise its future holds. 

It has been, relatively speaking, a pretty good year for the truffle in culture. Last year, as cinemas reopened, I found myself absolutely enamoured by The Truffle Hunters – an unscripted, narrative-free documentary that reverentially followed the mostly elderly men who dominate the Italian truffle-hunting industry. Stubborn and occasionally treacherous in their insistence on protecting the hallowed grounds in which they hunt, this ageing group of eccentrics risk taking their secrets to their graves as they withhold all that they have learnt from the generations that will follow them in far smaller numbers. Around the same time Nicolas Cage offered up his most revered acting performance in years in Pig, an American-set drama that plays out a little like Taken, if Liam Neeson was looking for his truffle pig instead of his daughter and, also, was frankly too tired of his own existence to punch anybody.

Jacobsen’s book offers a far broader view of the industry than The Truffle Hunters’ fairly blinkered view, which touched only on a small group of individuals in Italy seeking out the Tuber magnatum and fails to even acknowledge the large amounts of this white truffle that are imported from the likes of Hungary and Croatia to fulfil the Italians’ tremendous demand. Though he meets eccentric local hunters, Jacobsen also encounters a curious mix of figures that each have their own distinct approach to truffles. In England he meets Zak Frost, a former DJ who has since made his name as tuber supplier to many of the nation’s top restaurants. In Hungary he meets the members of The Saint Ladislaus Order of Truffle Knights as well as their sworn enemy István Bagi, who has managed to exploit the nation’s strict truffle-hunting rules to his advantage. Everybody is presented with an empathetic sense of humanity that nevertheless highlights the strangely heightened world the truffle fosters.

Much time is spent championing the dogs at the heart of the hunts as well. Unlike Nic Cage, most truffle hunters prefer dogs, who are less desperately keen on the quarry and thus less likely to take off your finger as you attempt to pry it from their mouth. Jacobsen clearly is fascinated not only by the truffle dogs, but also by the different approaches their owners take to training them – in Italy they are often treated as working dogs; in the US, which is presented here as something of a New World for truffles, they are pampered and spoiled, spoken to with unashamed love. Once the main narrative of the book has rounded up, tucked between the acknowledgements and a section on recipes, Jacobsen offers an unexpected bonus chapter on an unlikely hero of America’s truffle dog championships. Told from the perspective of Gustave the chihuahua, it’s an odd little moment that nevertheless continues to celebrate the unexpected figures at the heart of the industry.

From those that hunt wild truffles Jacobsen moves on to the individuals who seek to actively cultivate truffles themselves – a practice that has been in ongoing development for hundreds of years, but has only begun to find its footings as science has begun to understand the nuances of truffle farming. From Spain, whose farms provide well of 90% of the black winter truffles passed off as French, to North American farms that defy our previous expectations for the possibilities truffle cultivation holds, Jacobsen’s travels seem to confirm two things: first, that there are truffles everywhere, if only you know how to find them and second, that if you aren’t looking for them, somebody else already is.

Ultimately, the book becomes less about the truffle itself and more about the tales of human (and animal) spirit that are rife throughout this industry. Jacobsen’s message seems to be that there is magic in the world, and with the right approach we can make a little of it our own. It’s a lovely idea for a tremendously likeable and engaging book that, had it focused in more depth on the mycorrhizal-level science could have been a much drier read that elicited far fewer out-loud laughs. Which isn’t to say that Truffle Hound doesn’t offer fascinating insight into the science of the truffle – it just always brings it back to the humans making the discoveries.

Nevertheless, this is an approach that perhaps shies away from the less charming elements of the industry. In last year’s The Truffle Hunters documentary the sheer charm of chasing eager Lagotto dogs through the woods is, at one point, brought to a sharp close as one truffle hunter loses his companion in the woods. We see him searching around his vehicle, and hear him hunting off camera. And then, in the next scene, discovers that his beloved truffle hound has been poisoned by a rival hunter. Worse still, it is the second dog that he has lost to poison in a matter of months.

Truffle Hound isn’t afraid to explore the complicated politics and economics that impact the way the truffle industry operates but, crucially, it always finds something to champion – be that the heady petroleum whiff of an as-yet unloved species of tuber, or the endeavouring spirits of those who, like their dogs, are getting dug in nose first to the truffle universe. But like a hunt for the prized goods themselves, Jacobsen could seek to dig up both the light and the dark, and it might have been interesting to have spent a moment longer lingering on those darker flavours.

Cookbook Review Rating: Four stars

Buy this book
Truffle Hound: On the Trail of the World’s Most Seductive Scent, with Dreamers, Schemers, and Some Extraordinary Dogs
£20, Bloomsbury Publishing

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

This book has been longlisted for the André Simon Food and Drink Book Awards 2022. Read about the awards here.  You can read an interview with this year’s Awards Food Assessor Yemisi Aribisala here.

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