A Purnell’s Journey: There and Back Again by Glynn Purnell

Weighing in at 6.5kg and standing over a foot tall, Glynn Purnell’s third book dwarfs his previous two volumes. Printed on high quality matt paper and presented in a clamshell box lined with the same pattern as the wallpaper in Purnell’s eponymous Michelin-starred restaurant, it’s a lavish production. But what do you expect from a chef with ego enough to anoint himself ‘The Prince of Birmingham’? 

Purnell tells his story in a series of chapters titled with postcodes that relate to where he has lived or cooked. It begins in B37, his childhood home in the Chelmsley Wood council estate in Solihull where the closest the young chef came to foraging was helping his father carry home boxes of meat purchased in pub car park deals. The book then follows Purnell’s route to Michelin success in the heart of Birmingham’s city centre via stints at the Birmingham Metropole, Simpson’s in Kenilworth and Hibiscus in Ludlow, with detours for stages at Gordon Ramsay’s Aubergine and Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons. 

Although Purnell relates how he came to national attention and won his first Michelin star at Jessica’s in Edgebaston in 2005, the recipe for the restaurant’s signature dish of veal with caramelised squid is sadly not included. Instead, there are a selection of Purnell’s restaurant’s ‘greatest hits’ including monkfish masala with red lentils, pickled carrots and coconut garnish that ably demonstrate the chef’s knack for creating memorable dishes that stand the test of time.

Purnell is undoubtedly a macho chef and the book charts his passions for boxing, shooting, fishing and football. But there’s more than just testosterone on display here. His detailed description of the evolution of his signature haddock and eggs, cornflakes and curry oil dish proves Purnell to be a creative, thoughtful and reflective cook. 

With just 33 recipes, you may feel the need to buy Purnell’s other books to understand the full extent of his culinary talents, but There and Back Again serves up a generous enough helping of amusing anecdotes and stunning visuals to justify its hefty price tag.   

This review was originally published in The Caterer magazine.

Cuisine: Progressive British
Suitable for: Professional chefs
Cookbook Review Rating: Four stars

Buy this book
A Purnell’s Journey
£85, A Way With Media
Also available at Amazon: There And Back Again: A Purnell’s Journey

Cook from this book

Classic puff pastry by Calum Franklin

The Pie Room Book dishes

Classic Puff Pastry

I always assumed puff pastry was invented in France. It is so dominant throughout French food culture, evident in the windows of every pâtisserie, that this is an easy assumption to make. However, Spanish recipes for puff pastry precede the French with the first documented appearance right at the beginning of the seventeenth century, while the first French recipe appears mid-century.

A classic butter puff pastry is a laminated dough that rises due to the power of steam. When making the dough, many thin, alternating layers of fat and dough are created so that, when cooked at a high enough heat, the fat melts to leave a pocket of air in the dough. The moisture in the dough and fat then boils to create steam, which causes these pockets to expand. Before you cook puff pastry, it is important to make sure the oven is at the correct temperature so that this transformative process occurs quickly, allowing the structure to form and be locked in.

This recipe creates a puff pastry that rises evenly and is neater than rough puff, so it is better suited to dishes like vol au vents where a little refinement is needed. Honestly, it is a myth that puff pastry is difficult to make. All that is required for success is planning, patience, and following the instructions closely. This recipe creates a large batch of dough – if you’re going to spend an afternoon making puff pastry, you may as well make plenty – so divide it into smaller amounts based on the recipes you plan to make before wrapping and freezing for later use.

MAKES 1.5KG

For the dough
350g strong flour
200g plain flour
15g table salt
115g butter, softened and diced
250ml ice-cold water

For the lock-in butter
500g chilled butter, diced
50g strong flour

First prepare the dough. If making the pastry by hand, sift the flour into a large bowl and add the salt, butter and water. Using your fingers, gently mix to an even dough. Transfer the dough to a lightly floured surface and knead it for 5 minutes or until smooth.

If making the pastry using a mixer, sift the flour into the mixer bowl and add the salt, butter and water. Using a dough hook, work at a medium speed for a few minutes to incorporate the butter into the flour until it forms a smooth dough.

Flatten the dough into a neat rectangle, wrap it tightly in clingfilm and rest in the refrigerator for 45 minutes.

Meanwhile, prepare the lock-in butter. Thoroughly clean and dry the bowl and line a baking tray with parchment paper. Place the butter and flour in the bowl and either work the flour into the butter using a wooden spoon for 5–10 minutes, or use the mixer working at a low speed for 2 minutes or until everything is well incorporated. Scrape the butter mixture onto the lined tray and, using floured hands, shape it into a square about 1cm thick. Place the butter mixture in the refrigerator until just chilled but not completely hard. (It is important that the chilled dough and lock-in butter are similarly firm, otherwise they will not roll together evenly and this may cause rips and holes in the dough.)

On a lightly floured surface, roll out the dough into a large square that is twice the size of the lock-in butter. Place the butter in the centre of the dough but at an angle so that the corners point towards the edges of the dough. Making sure you do not trap any air, fold the corners of the dough over the butter, bringing them into the middle like an envelope. Lightly pinch together all the joins to seal and completely encase the butter.

Roll out the dough and butter into a rectangle roughly three times as long as it is wide, using the sides of your hands to make sure the edges are neat and square. Dust any excess flour from the surface of the dough. With the shortest side closest to you, visually divide the dough horizontally into thirds and very lightly dampen the centre third with a little water, then fold the bottom one third of the dough over the centre third. Repeat by folding the remaining top third over the double layer of dough, then tightly wrap the dough in clingfilm. Lightly press your finger into the bottom right-hand corner of the dough to make an indentation which signifies the first turn and how the dough was positioned on the board before you put it into the refrigerator.

Chill the dough in the refrigerator for 30 minutes. (Chilling the pastry between each roll out and fold allow the butter to harden so that clean, even layers of dough and butter are built up.)

Unwrap the dough and place it on a lightly floured surface with the indent in the same position as before at the bottom right-hand corner. Next, turn the dough 90 degrees clockwise. Roll out the dough into an 18cm by 25cm rectangle and repeat the folding process. Make sure all corners and sides are straight. Wrap the dough in clingfilm again and this time make two indents on the dough in the bottom right corner. Chill in the refrigerator for a further 30 minutes.

Repeat the turning and folding processes two more times, each time chilling the dough for 30 minutes and marking with indents in the bottom right-hand corner to make sure the dough is turned in the correct direction. After the final turn, chill the dough in the refrigerator for 45 minutes and then it is ready to use.

This classic puff pastry dough can be kept for up to three days in the refrigerator or one month in the freezer. If freezing, weigh out the dough into the quantities needed for individual recipes – it will take less time to thaw and you won’t be potentially wasting any dough. To use the dough from the freezer, allow it to come back to refrigerator temperature overnight.

Cook more from this book
The ultimate sausage roll
Hot pork pie 
Glazed apple tart  

Read the review

Buy the book
The Pie Room: 80 achievable and show-stopping pies and sides for pie lovers everywhere
£26, Bloomsbury Absolute

The ultimate sausage roll by Calum Franklin

The Pie Room Book dishes
In an attempt to find the perfect example, we have tested different flavours and textures for the filling of our sausage rolls at The Pie Room. It always comes back to one thing: simplicity. The filling should be tasty but not overcrowded with too many flavours and textures. The addition of a little chopped bacon and a few thyme leaves
to Cumberland sausagemeat are the only changes we make, but the devil is in the detail. For me, the key to the Ultimate Sausage Roll actually lies in the ratio of meat to pastry. When the meat takes longer to cook, the crisper the pastry will be.

Serves 4

400g rough puff pastry (see book for recipe or use classic puff pastry or shop-bought puff pastry)
2 egg yolks beaten with 2 teaspoons water, for brushing
pinch of black sesame seeds
pinch of white sesame seeds
Plum and Star Anise Chutney, to serve (see page 248)

For the filling
700g Cumberland sausages, skins removed
150g streaky bacon, finely chopped
25g thyme, leaves picked
⅓ teaspoon table salt
large pinch of freshly ground black pepper

Equipment
large plastic piping bag
(optional)

Line a large baking tray with parchment paper. On a lightly floured surface, roll the pastry out to 5mm thick in a 40cm x 25cm rectangle. Slide the rolled-out pastry onto the lined tray and chill in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, put the sausagemeat, bacon, thyme, salt and pepper into a bowl and mix well with your hands. Fill a large plastic piping bag with the sausagemeat filling. If you don’t have a piping bag, shape the filling into a 6cm wide sausage and wrap tightly in clingfilm, firmly twisting the ends. Chill the filling in the refrigerator for 20 minutes.

Remove the rolled-out pastry from the refrigerator and dust off any excess flour from the surface. Leave the pastry on the parchment paper.  Using kitchen scissors, snip the tip of the piping bag to make a 5cm wide opening. Working from one end of the pastry rectangle, slowly pipe the sausagemeat filling down the length of the pastry 6cm inside one edge.

Alternatively, remove the clingfilm from the sausagemeat, unwrapping it over
the pastry rectangle, and place the filling 6cm inside one edge of the pastry. Lightly brush the larger exposed area of pastry all over with egg wash, leaving the narrow 6cm border clear. Fold the egg-washed pastry over the filling to meet the narrow border, align the pastry edges and press firmly together. Lightly dust the tines of a fork with flour and tap off any excess. Working down the length of the seam, firmly press the ends of the fork into the pastry to leave an impression of the tines. Whenever necessary, dust the fork with more flour to stop it sticking to the pastry.

Lightly brush the sausage roll all over with egg wash and return to the refrigerator for 10 minutes to allow the egg wash to dry. Brush a second layer of egg wash over the sausage roll and then, using a sharp knife, lightly score the top of the pastry with diagonal lines all the way down its length. (This gives the pastry a little stretching room and stops it from tearing open at the seam.) Return the sausage roll to the refrigerator to chill for a further 10 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 190°C fan/210°C/gas mark 6½.

Trim a little off the fluted seam of the pastry to neaten it into a straight edge, then brush a final layer of egg wash all over the sausage roll. Sprinkle the black and white sesame seeds along the top of the roll. Pop the tray into the preheated oven and bake the sausage roll for 25 minutes. Check the internal temperature of the filling with a digital probe thermometer – you are looking for 75°C or above. If necessary, return the sausage roll to the oven and check the temperature again every 5 minutes until it reaches 75°C. Alternatively, insert a metal skewer into the centre of the sausage roll and then press it against your hand – it should be very hot to the touch.

Remove the tray from the oven and transfer the sausage roll to a wire cooling
rack. Leave to cool for 10 minutes before cutting the sausage roll with a serrated
knife into eight equal slices. Serve warm with spoonfuls of chutney

Cook more from this book
Hot pork pie 
Glazed Apple Tart
Classic puff pastry

Read the review

Buy the book
The Pie Room: 80 achievable and show-stopping pies and sides for pie lovers everywhere
£26, Bloomsbury Absolute

Hot pork pie by Calum Franklin

The Pie Room Book dishes

Hot Pork Pie

 For centuries, pork pies have firmly held a place in British food culture as a way to use up cuts of pork less desirable than, say, fillet or loin, but truly delicious when handled with care. The most common style of pork pie found in the UK is the cold, jellied picnic pie, however my preferred way to serve a pork pie is piping hot, just out of the oven. The pastry is crispier, the fats are still unctuous, juicy and melting, and the herbs are fragrant.

The first time I ate a hot pork pie was at a pub in the West Country: I remember so clearly wondering why we had never served a hot version in the Holborn Dining Room. As soon as I went back to work, I immediately set about rectifying that. In this recipe, a traditional pork pie dolly (a smooth wooden tool) is used to shape the dough. You can find a dolly easily online, but you could also use a jam jar or a well-buttered metal ring of the same diameter. Roll the pastry into a circle, use it to line the ring, fill and press on a lid, then carefully remove the pie from the ring. Try using a dolly though – you will feel like a character from a Dickens novel (dressing up as one is not necessary, though fully applauded).

SERVES 4

800g hot water crust pastry
plain flour, for dusting
2 egg yolks beaten with 1 teaspoon water, for brushing

For the filling

500g pork shoulder, half minced and half roughly chopped
120g smoked streaky bacon, roughly chopped
100g lardo, cut into 1cm dice
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
1 teaspoon yellow mustard seeds
1½ teaspoons fine table salt
30g sage, leaves picked and finely chopped
a few good twists of freshly ground black pepper

To serve

mashed potato
Onion, Stout and Thyme Gravy (see below)

Equipment

7.5cm diameter pie dolly and digital probe thermometer
Line a baking tray with parchment paper.

Weigh out the pastry dough into four balls weighing 150g and four smaller balls weighing 40g. On a lightly floured surface, flatten the 40g dough balls and roll out to 5mm thick circles. Lay the pastry circles on the lined baking tray and chill in the refrigerator until needed.

Combine all the ingredients for the filling in a mixing bowl. Using your hands, work everything well for a few minutes until the mixture holds together. Split the mixture evenly into four balls and set aside.

Take one of the 150g dough balls and gently flatten it out into a circle until it is slightly wider than the pie dolly. Dust the pie dolly well with flour, centre it on top of the dough circle and then firmly press it down into the dough. The dough will rise up the sides of the dolly and puff out like an inflatable swimming ring. Lift the dolly out of the dough and dust it with more flour. Return the dolly to the centre of the dough and, cupping the edges of the dough in your hands, squeeze it up the dolly while at the same time turning and also pushing down on the dolly. Imagine a pottery wheel as you turn and squeeze, keeping the pastry as tight to the dolly as possible.

Periodically, pause to lift out the dolly and dust with more flour to prevent the pastry from sticking to it. Keep working the pastry dough in this way until the wall of the pastry case is about 7–8cm in height and the base is 5mm thick. Carefully remove the dolly from the pastry case and pack it with one of the balls of pork meat filling.

Repeat with the remaining 150g balls of dough until you have four pie cases filled with the pork meat filling. There should be a slight excess of pastry at the top of each case, so gently curl that outwards to form a collar.

Preheat the oven to 190°C fan/210°C/gas mark 6½.

Take the pastry lids out of the refrigerator. Wet the pie collars with a little water and lay the lids on top. To join, firmly press the collars and lids together. Crimp the edges into the middle and then transfer the pies back onto the lined baking tray.

Using a skewer or the tip of a knife, make a small hole in the top of each pie to allow the steam to escape. Avoiding the base, brush the wall and lid of each pie with the egg wash and return the pies to the lined baking tray.

Place the tray in the preheated oven and bake the pies for 35 minutes or until the core temperature reads 70°C on a digital probe thermometer. If you don’t have a probe thermometer, insert a metal skewer into the centre of a pie and leave it there for 10 seconds – when it comes out, the skewer should be piping hot. Remove the pies from the oven and leave to rest for 10 minutes before serving with mash and gravy.

Onion, Thyme & Stout Gravy

Serves 8

1 litre beef stock
440ml stout
40g butter
2 teaspoons vegetable oil
4 Spanish onions, peeled and sliced
½ teaspoon table salt
15g plain flour
4 thyme sprigs, leaves picked

Place a pan over a high heat, pour in the beef stock and stout and leave to reduce by two-thirds. Meanwhile, melt the butter and oil in another pan and add the onions and salt. Gently cook the onions for 15 minutes, stirring frequently, until they start to brown. Do not rush cooking the onions; any water in the onions needs to evaporate fully in order for the natural sugars to caramelise. Add the flour and thyme to the pan with the onions and, stirring continuously, cook for a further 2 minutes.

Once reduced, gradually add half the stock to the pan with the onions. Stirring continuously, bring the stock with the onions back up to heat and allow it to thicken. Add the remaining stock to the pan and cook further until the gravy is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. If the gravy is too thick, add a splash of water. If the gravy is too thin, continue to reduce it for a little longer.

Hot Water Crust Pastry

Traditionally used to encase cold pork pies, hot water crust pastry is one of the oldest British pie dough recipes. With early origins showing ingredients as just flour and hot water, it was likely in the Medieval times that it developed into what we now more closely know: flour, hot water and lard. It would have been used to make huge pies for banquets, encasing goose, venison and whole swans. Over time this pastry technique has changed little; it is still worked with while hot as it firms up as it cools. In The Pie Room, however, we have worked hard at adapting the traditional recipe to form a slightly lighter, crispier crust, that is fresh with the flavour of herbs and that can be worked with at a cooler room temperature and even used again after refrigeration.

Makes 1kg

200ml water
160g lard
2 rosemary sprigs
10g salt
500g plain flour
2 eggs, beaten

Combine the water, lard, rosemary and salt in a medium saucepan. Bring to the boil, then reduce to a simmer and wait for the lard to melt fully, then turn off the heat and allow to infuse.

Sift the flour into a bowl. Using either a round-bladed knife or the paddle attachment of a mixer, start to work on a medium speed. Add the egg and mix until thoroughly dispersed through the flour – this will take 2–3 minutes.

Remove the rosemary from the pan with a fork and then bring the water and fat mix to a boil. Slowly pour onto the flour and egg mix, scraping the bowl and paddle halfway through to prevent any lumps from forming. Mix for 2–3 minutes until well combined.

Allow the dough to cool on a tray between parchment paper until the heat has dissipated and then chill for 10 minutes in the refrigerator before using.
This hot water crust pastry dough can be kept for up to three days in the refrigerator or one month in the freezer. If freezing, weigh out the dough into the quantities needed for individual recipes – it will take less time to thaw and you won’t be potentially wasting any dough. To use the dough from the freezer, allow it to come back to refrigerator temperature overnight.

Cook more from this book
The ultimate sausage roll
Glazed Apple Tart
Classic puff pastry 

Read the review

Buy the book
The Pie Room: 80 achievable and show-stopping pies and sides for pie lovers everywhere
£26, Bloomsbury Absolute

Glazed apple tart by Calum Franklin

The Pie Room Book dishes

The slightly more elegant sibling of the classic apple pie, this tart is a stunning dessert. It has similar flavours to a tarte tatin as the sugar caramelises as it cooks. You could serve this tart with clotted cream to balance the sweetness of the apples.

Serves 6

300g classic puff pastry (or shop-bought)
200g frangipane (see below)
80g caster sugar
80g unsalted butter, softened
6–8 Pink Lady or Granny Smith apples
20g icing sugar
clotted cream, to serve

Line a baking tray with parchment paper. On a lightly floured surface, roll out the pastry into a large circle about 5mm thick. Slide the rolled-out pastry onto the lined baking tray and rest in the refrigerator for 15 minutes or in the freezer for 10 minutes. Remove the tray from the refrigerator or freezer. Trim the edges of the pastry into a neat circle that measures 24cm in diameter and return to the refrigerator or freezer.

Once chilled, remove the pastry from the refrigerator or freezer, and preheat the oven to 185°C fan/200°C/gas mark 6. With the pastry still on the lined baking tray, and leaving a border of 2cm around the edge, spread around 200g of the frangipane evenly across the pastry.

Using a pastry brush, mix the caster sugar and softened butter together to make a paste.

Peel and core the apples. Using a mandoline, slice the apples to 2mm thick. Take just over one-quarter of the slices and fan them out in a circle around the outer edge, keeping in line with the edge of the frangipane. Roughly brush the apples with some of the butter mixture.

Repeat with the remaining apple slices and butter mixture to create concentric circles until the pastry is covered. Make sure the top layer of apple slices is evenly coated with the butter mixture.

Place the tray in the preheated oven and bake the tart for 30 minutes or until the apples are starting to caramelise and the pastry is beginning to crisp up.

Remove the tray from the oven. Using a sieve, dust the tart with the icing sugar and then lay another sheet of parchment paper over the top of the apples. Take a second baking tray and lay it on top of that parchment paper. Using a dish towel or oven gloves to protect your hands, quickly flip the tart over so the apples are now facing downwards on the new tray. Lightly press down the top tray and then remove it and the original parchment paper. Return the tart to the oven for a further 20 minutes.

Remove the tart from the oven. This time place a serving plate or platter on top of the pastry, and then flip the tart again. Check the apples are evenly glazed and caramelised. If it needs a little longer, flip the tart back again and return it to the oven for a further 10 minutes. Serve warm with spoonfuls of clotted cream.

Frangipane

225g butter, softened
225g caster sugar
1 vanilla pod, deseeded, seeds retained
5 medium-sized eggs
225g ground almonds

Beat the butter, sugar and vanilla seeds together until the butter has turned pale and creamy. Add one egg at a time, whisking until each is fully incorporated before adding another.  Once all the eggs are incorporated, use a large metal spoon to fold in the almonds until well mixed.

Cook more from this book
The ultimate sausage roll
Hot pork pie
Classic puff pastry

Read the review

Buy the book
The Pie Room: 80 achievable and show-stopping pies and sides for pie lovers everywhere
£26, Bloomsbury Absolute

The Pie Room by Calum Franklin

The Pie Room by Calum Franklin

What’s the USP? ‘The book for pie lovers the world over’, The Pie Room is intended to be your first port of call for pie (and pie-adjacent) recipes.

Who wrote it? Calum Franklin, the executive head chef of Holborn Dining Room – a sort of eat-in altar to pies tucked in the Rosewood London Hotel. Since opening in 2014, Franklin’s pies have been winning plaudits from all corners, from food critics to Instagram, where over 100,000 users watch in awe as he shares his intricate, luxurious creations.

It’s through Instagram, in fact, that I first became aware of Franklin’s cooking. Though I am not a particularly big fan of the pie myself, there’s something irresistible about his posts. These are pies as sustenance, as delicacy, and as art – all at once.

Sorry. We skipped over something important there. Sorry?

You don’t like pies? Ah.

What’s wrong with you? Look, look, I get it. Pies are one of the few quintessentially British food traditions that remain a part of our day to day lives, sold over the deli counter at Morrisons, or awash with gravy at the football. They’re also, frequently, not particularly interesting. We rest on our pie laurels, as a nation. Where elsewhere we innovate and reinvent our food to move with the times, pies often remain more or less the same as they always have – heavy on the stodge, uninventive in their flavours and…

They called you ‘Pie Muncher’ at school, didn’t they? Well, yes, that might come into it a little too. But here’s the thing – who better, then, to take this book on and see how functional it is as a manual to all things pie? After all, Franklin’s book takes in all sorts of pie forms, includes extensive information on pastry-making, and aims to show off the dish at its very best.

So how does the book fare when preaching to the unconverted? Pretty damn well. Franklin knows his audience, so has plenty of time to spare for all the big names in pastry. If you’re looking for a recipe for a massive bloody sausage roll, a suet pudding, or a classic gala pie, you won’t be disappointed. But Franklin also makes room for more unusual ideas – a Keema-Spice Cottage Pie with a cumulonimbus potato topping, or a Moroccan Chickpea & Feta Pie, hidden beneath filo pastry that has been scrunched up like torn wrapping paper on Christmas morning.

What’s the faff factor? Not nearly as bad as it could be. Franklin acknowledges the effort involved in making your own pastry from scratch, and is happy to accept that his dishes will work just as well with a shop-bought pastry. In fact, he doesn’t even give a recipe for filo pastry, claiming that ‘I don’t see a big enough difference in handmade and shop-bought filo that justifies the time needed to make it’.

I’ve taken on a couple of the recipes from the book so far – ‘Nduja Stuffed Brioche, and the Hot and Sour Curried Cod Pie. The former definitely took some time – I was making a brioche dough from scratch, and leaving it overnight to prove. The process itself was simple enough, though, and yielded beautiful results (as well as enough leftover dough for a brioche loaf the following morning).

The Hot & Sour Curried Cod Pie was a much quicker process. If, like me, you opt to use ready made puff pastry, it could just about work as a midweek dinner. Again, the end result was a delight – the tamarind, tomatoes and chillies all playing off one another perfectly. It’s likely to find its way back into my kitchen a few times this winter.

How often will I cook from the book? The nature of pie-making (and the potential mess you’ll need to clear up) might be enough to keep this book on the shelf much of the time. But for weekend treats and impressive dinner party dishes, this will be worth at least a few visits a year.

Killer recipes: Both the dishes I tried out proved to be worth more than the price of admission, to be honest – but there’s also the Red Onion, Carrot & Hazelnut Tatin, a ridiculously over-indulgent Mac ‘n’ Cheese Pie, a Honey & Five-Spiced Glazed Ham that looks set to liven up any Christmas lunch, and a Panettone & Gianduja Pudding that I suppose I could leave a little room for after, too. And, of course, the Beef Wellington recipe you’d expect.

Should I buy it? This isn’t going to be a cookbook everyone is going to find useful – but it’s a lot more accessible than I expected it to be, and has definitely converted this pie-skeptic. For those among us who really do aspire to eat all the pies, this is essential. For everyone else, it’s still a pretty excellent book.

Cuisine: British
Suitable for: Confident home cooks/Professional chefs
Cookbook Review Rating: Four stars

Buy the book
The Pie Room: 80 achievable and show-stopping pies and sides for pie lovers everywhere
£26, Bloomsbury Absolute

Cook from this book
Hot Pork Pie
The Ultimate Sausage Roll
Glazed Apple Tart
Classic Puff Pastry

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

Dirt by Bill Buford

Dirt by Bill Buford

What’s The USP? A food memoir by esteemed American writer and editor Bill Buford about his five-year odyssey to master the art of French cooking. The book contains detailed descriptions of the preperation of some dishes but there are no recipes and it is not a cookbook.

Who’s the author? Bill Buford has been a writer and editor for the New Yorker since 1995. Before that he was the editor of Granta magazine for sixteen years and, in 1989, became the publisher of Granta Books. He is also the author of Among the Thugs and Heat: An Amateur’s Adventures as Kitchen Slave, Line Cook, Pasta-maker and Apprentice to a Butcher in Tuscany. He was also a contributor to Daniel: My French Cuisine by Daniel  Boulud.

What’s the story morning glory? There are several main threads to the book: Buford’s experiences working in various Lyonnaise kitchens; his wider food related experiences in Lyon and the surrounding region; his academic exploration into the the Italian influence on French cooking, and how the relocation from New York to Lyon affected Buford’s home life with his wife and young twin sons. Along the way, we also meet Buford’s mentors, the late Washington-based chef Michel Richard and Michelin-starred, Lyon-born and New York-based chef Daniel Boulud.

Why do I want to read 400 pages about an old American white bloke indulging his personal obsession for French food? Admittedly, you could hardly call Dirt a zeitgeist read. Its publication in 2020, more than 10 years after many of the events of the book (Buford’s two part BBC documentary Fat Man in a White Hat, which shares much of the same material as the book was released back in 2010. You can watch the whole thing here) and when the conversation around food writing has shifted firmly towards diversity, isn’t great timing. That aside, Buford is a great writer, a master storyteller and attacks his subject with enormous vigour and infectious enthusiasm. You will learn a great deal about the history and techniques of French cuisine and be hugely entertained along the way.

What won’t I love about the book?  There is an awful lot going on. By the end of the book, Buford has spent time in Michel Richard’s kitchen,  relocated his entire family from New York to Lyon, trained at Institut Paul Bocuse, worked at Merer Brazier restaurant and Philippe Richard Artisan Boulangerie, helped slaughter a pig, visited an artisan bakery and mill, gone river fishing, made Beaufort cheese, attended the  Bocuse D’or and Meilleur Ouvrier de France cooking competitions, as well as several gastronomic conferences, made an academic study of the Italian influence on French cuisine and introduced his readers to dozens and dozens of characters including many of Lyon’s major culinary players, even the late-great Paul Bocuse himself.

By the time Buford is hiking up the Grande Montagne de Virieu, Belley to visit the abbey of Saint Sulpice in order to follow in the footsteps of food writer Brillat-Savarin for some bloody reason, I felt exhausted. I’d spent too much time inside the head of someone whose obsession I shared but couldn’t keep pace with.

One of Buford’s greatest assets as a writer is his ability to totally immerse himself in a subject. In his first book, Among The Thugs he got so close to 1980s English soccer hooligan culture that he almost became a hooligan himself. It constitutes one of the most extreme examples of what the New York Times has described as ‘participatory journalism’ and is a must-read. But that Zelig-like quality can also be a liability; Buford becomes so much a part of his subject that he can at times lose objectivity.  The various strands that make up Dirt are obviously equally important and interesting to Buford, but that doesn’t necessarily hold true for the reader. There are some clunky gear changes between personal memoir, reportage, description of cooking techniques and dishes and academic historical study.  It feels like four books in one, but maybe that just means it’s good value.

Should I buy the book? If you’ve read and enjoyed Buford’s previous books, Dirt will not disappoint. If you’re unfamilar with French cuisine, this is an excellent introduction to the subject and even if you’re a Francophile, you will almost certainly learn something new. Buford may be guilty of throwing everything but the kitchen sink into the book (actually, there are kitchen sinks) but it is nevertheless an extremely readable book, albeit one that will probably appeal most to the food and restaurant nerds among us.

Cook Book Review rating: Four stars

Buy this book
Dirt: Adventures in French Cooking
£16.99, Johnathan Cape

Penne with artichokes, peppers, spinach and almonds by Ainsley Harriot

088_ainsley_Artichoke_pasta

This pasta dish has a Spanish twist with chargrilled artichokes and roasted red peppers combined with toasted almonds. It’s a delightfully simple and tasty recipe using storecupboard ingredients and great for a mid-week supper. Use the best quality jarred artichokes you can find – the chargrilled ones in oil really do add extra flavour to the dish. If you aren’t following a vegan diet, top with some grated vegetarian hard cheese.

SERVES 4
400g dried penne pasta or other short pasta of choice
1 x 175g jar chargrilled artichoke hearts in olive oil
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 medium–hot red chilli, finely chopped
3 roasted red peppers from a jar, sliced
50g Spanish or Kalamata olives, pitted and halved
35g chopped almonds, lightly toasted
extra-virgin olive oil, for drizzling
100g baby spinach leaves
2 tbsp chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley, plus extra to garnish
zest from 1 lemon
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
a handful of flaked almonds, lightly toasted, to garnish (optional)

Bring a large saucepan of salted water to a rolling boil, add the penne, stir once, then cook until al dente, according to the packet instructions.

Meanwhile, strain the olive oil from the jar of artichokes into a large frying pan, then cut the artichoke hearts into quarters and set aside. Set the frying pan over a medium heat. When the oil is hot, add the garlic and chilli and cook for 30 seconds until fragrant. Add the artichoke hearts to the pan along with the red pepper strips and olives, season with salt and pepper and stir to combine. Cook for 2–3 minutes to warm through, then stir through the almonds and a good drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil. Cook for 1 minute, then add the spinach to the pan, a handful at a time, and allow to just wilt down.

Drain the pasta, reserving a little of the cooking water. Add the pasta to the vegetables along with 2 tablespoons of the reserved cooking water, stirring to combine. Add the parsley and lemon zest and check for seasoning.

To serve, share the pasta among warmed pasta bowls, drizzle with a little extra olive oil, if needed, and scatter with the parsley and toasted flaked almonds, if using.

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Lentil and haloumi bake
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Buy the book
Ainsley’s Mediterranean Cookbook
£20, Ebury Press

Read the review

Lentil and haloumi bake by Ainsely Harriot

067_ainsley_Lentil_Halloumi_Bake

While I was in Corsica, I tried many delicious vegetarian dishes that were simply prepared yet full of flavour from fresh herbs and garlic. Marjoram is a versatile and aromatic herb that works beautifully with vegetables; it’s similar in taste to oregano but with a milder sweeter flavour. This dish is easy to prepare for a mid-week dinner – just toss it all together in the one dish! For a creamy topping, serve with a little Greek yoghurt or hummus. This is great on its own or with my Quick Flatbreads.

SERVES 4

2 courgettes, cut into 2-cm slices
1 red onion, cut into 8 thin wedges
1 medium aubergine, cut into small cubes
2 red peppers, de-seeded and cut into chunks
1 red chilli, de-seeded and finely chopped
2 large garlic cloves, chopped
2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra for drizzling
2 tsp fresh marjoram leaves (or 1 tsp dried oregano)
1 x 400g tin lentils, drained and rinsed
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
250g cherry tomatoes
1 x 250g block halloumi, thickly sliced
zest and juice of ½ lemon
8–10 basil leaves, shredded with a few reserved whole for garnish
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

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

Put the courgettes, onion, aubergine, red pepper, chilli and garlic into a large, shallow baking dish, drizzle with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil, season well, then scatter over half of the marjoram and toss together. Roast for 16–18 minutes.

Remove from the oven and toss through the lentils and balsamic vinegar, then stir in the cherry tomatoes and sit the halloumi slices on top. Drizzle with another 1 tablespoon of olive oil and sprinkle over the lemon zest and remaining marjoram.

Roast for a further 16–18 minutes until the tomatoes start to blister and release their juices and the halloumi is golden around the edges. If you like, you can brown the halloumi a little more under a hot grill for 1–2 minutes after baking.

To serve, drizzle with a little oil, squeeze over the lemon juice and scatter with the fresh basil.

Cook more from this book
Mediterranean sea bass with potato bake
Penne with artichokes, peppers, spinach and almonds

Buy the book
Ainsley’s Mediterranean Cookbook
£20, Ebury Press

Read the review

Mediterranean sea bass with potato bake by Ainsley Harriot

105_ainsley_Mediterranean_Seabass_Potato_Bake

We ate some beautiful baked fish on our journey around the Mediterranean. One of the most memorable was in Corsica – a whole baked fish served simply on a bed of potatoes and onions. Sometimes, it’s the simplicity of dishes that make them taste so delicious; pared-back cooking really allows the ingredients to shine. This is also great with bream or snapper, or you can bake a whole fish on top of the potatoes for 18–20 minutes instead of using fillets. Try throwing
in some capers, if you fancy.

SERVES 4

4 sea bass fillets, skin on
2 lemons: 1 thinly sliced; 1 for squeezing
4 large waxy potatoes (Désirée work well), peeled and thinly sliced
1 red onion, thinly sliced
2 large tomatoes, thinly sliced
1 large garlic clove, finely chopped
2 tbsp olive oil
120ml white wine
2 bay leaves
3 thyme sprigs
3 tbsp chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
2 tsp fresh marjoram or oregano leaves
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
fresh bread, to serve

Preheat the oven to 200°C/180°C fan/gas 6. Line an ovenproof dish with baking parchment. Season the fish fillets with salt and pepper and squeeze over a little lemon juice. Set aside.

Layer the potatoes and onions in the bottom of the lined ovenproof dish, season well with salt and black pepper, then add a layer of tomatoes. Sprinkle over the garlic, then place a few lemon slices on top. Drizzle over the oil, squeeze over some more lemon juice and pour in the wine. Add the bay leaves and thyme sprigs, 2 tablespoons of the parsley and sprinkle over half of the marjoram leaves. Season well with salt and pepper, cover with foil and bake for 25–30 minutes.

Remove the dish from the oven and lay the fish fillets in the dish skin-side up. Sprinkle with the remaining marjoram and bake uncovered for a further 12–14 minutes or until the fish is cooked through (it should flake easily when cooked).

Use a spatula or fish slice to carefully remove the fish from the dish, cover loosely with foil, and keep warm. Return the vegetables to the oven to bake for a further 4–5 minutes (if needed) until the potatoes turn golden brown in places.

Remove from the oven and serve immediately, scattered with the remaining fresh parsley, with some fresh bread on the side.

Cook more from this book
Lentil and haloumi bake
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Buy the book
Ainsley’s Mediterranean Cookbook
£20, Ebury Press

Read the review