What is it? TV tie-in to Nigella’s latest BBC TV cookery show with about 100 recipes celebrating home cooking.
Nigella who? You’re kidding, right? Nigella is the famously sultry queen of British food writing and broadcasting who could sexualise a sultana at 100 paces. She has ten other books to her name including How To Be a Domestic Goddess, numerous TV shows and appearances and a hugely popular website.
In 2013, she transcended foodie-fame to became tabloid fodder due to a messy divorce from former ad-man and art gallery owner Charles Saatchi. In the same year, revelations were made about her drug use during a court case involving the couple’s personal assistants.
What does it look like? A cook book. There are recipes. There are (mostly) overhead shots of the dishes to illustrate the recipes. The food styling is kept to an absolute minimum and anyone hoping for images of all those gorgeous rose-gold utensils, copper KitchenAid stand mixer, or indeed Nigella in her now-famous map-of-Venice silk dressing gown from the TV series will be sorely disappointed.
Is it good bedtime reading? Sort of. This is first and foremost a recipe book but Nigella has such a distinctive and well developed writing voice that the extended introductions are just a joy to read at any time.
Killer recipes? Coconut shrimp with turmeric yoghurt; Turkish eggs; toasted Brie, Parma ham and fig sandwich; sweet potato tacos; white miso hummus; roast loin of salmon with Aleppo pepper and fennel seeds; Chicken barley (the list goes on).
Will I have trouble finding ingredients? You may need to head online for Nigella’s favourite ingredient du jour, Aleppo pepper, but the book seems to be designed with the supermarket shopper in mind.
What’s the faff factor? Nigella doesn’t understand the meaning of the word. She is faff antimatter that annihilates the very idea of unnecessary arsing about in the kitchen. If she can make something simple and easy, she will.
How often will I cook from the book? At My Table is a book you could turn to for mid-week meal inspiration, a weekend baking session, special occasion dining or when entertaining friends. So if you like Nigella’s style, you won’t be leaving her on the shelf.
What will I love? The sheer range of the recipes, from simple tray bakes with familiar, comforting ingredients and flavours like chicken and peas to more exotic creations such as Moroccan vegetable pot and brussels sprouts with preserved lemon and pomegranate. ‘Subverting the spiralizer’ cocks a well deserved snook at the clean eating brigade by re-purposing the movement’s emblematic gadget to make down and dirty shoestring fries.
Nigella is always reliable when it comes to desserts and baking and At My Table doesn’t disappoint with the likes of sunken chocolate amaretto cake and warm blondie pudding. She knows her booze too and negroni sbagliato made with prosecco, Campari and red vermouth is destined to become the drink of the chattering classes, and just anyone who buys the book.
What won’t I like? Some may object to Nigella’s shortcut style (‘better behaved cooks would tell you to skim off the frothy bits that rise to the top but, frankly, I’m to lazy to’ she admits in the method for her chicken barley stew) but we know what we think of those people don’t we?
Should I buy it? Despite the almost utilitarian design, you should welcome Nigella to your table. You won’t regret it.
Suitable for: Beginners and confident home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating: 4 stars
Buy this book
At My Table: A Celebration of Home Cooking
£26, Chatto and Windus
What is it? Sixty-odd soup recipes based around six base broths and their variations.
Who wrote it? Drew Smith, a former Good Food Guide Editor and author of Oyster: A Gastronomic History with Recipes.
What does it look like? The clean, elegant layout makes it a pleasure to use and Tom Regester’s unfussy photography and simple food styling means soup has never looked so good.
Is it good bedtime reading? Apart from a short introductory chapter, this is primarily a recipe book for the kitchen rather than the nightstand.
Killer recipes? Quick tom yum; flaming oxtail broth; scampi, pea shoots and tofu in miso broth.
Will I have trouble finding ingredients? There is nothing really obscure here and you will probably find most things you need in your local Waitrose, although you will need to shop in the organic aisle for your veg (‘you don’t want to be making a consomme of pesticides’ warns Smith). Head to your nearest Asian supermarket for some of the ingredients used in the chapter on kombu and develop a good relationship with your neighbourhood butcher and fishmonger (if you are lucky enough to have them) for items like pig’s trotters, oysters and gurnard.
What’s the faff factor? Depends on which recipes you choose. If you cook from the ‘Meat’ chapter, you’ll need to spend 2 days preparing the basic beef bone broth before you’ll be able to tackle some of the actual soups. On the other hand, you can whip up gazpacho in a few minutes. On the whole though, Smith favours ‘cooking slowly’ so be prepared to stick around for a few hours to tend something gently bubbling away on the hob or in the oven.
How often will I cook from the book? If you follow Smith’s example, at least once a week, otherwise you’ll need to be in the mood for a bit of a kitchen project.
What will I love? Smith’s obvious passion for his subject comes through loud and clear; he really wants you to not just enjoy eating soup, but take great pleasure from making it. If you are in tune with the concept of mindfulness, you will lap up Broth to Bowl.
What won’t I like? At 160 pages, the book is a bit on the short side. You may wonder why Smith couldn’t come up with more variations on each of the broths. Some aspects of the recipes are glossed over. The introduction for vegetable tea says to ‘ vary the spices, vegetables and herbs with the seasons’ but gives no example substitutions. The method for basic beef bone broth says to ‘ ‘spread the meats and bones across the bottom of a large casserole’ but the ingredients list doesn’t include bones. Garnishes are dealt with in one page with no recipes and no suggestions of which soups in the book they could be served with.
Should I buy it? If you eat soup on a regular basis and are looking for inspiration of new things to put in your bowl, then, despite some shortcomings, this could be the book for you. You may also want to consider A Celebration of Soup: With Classic Recipes from Around the World (Cookery Library) by Lindsey Bareham.
Cuisine: Modern European
Suitable for: Beginners and confident home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating: 3 stars
Buy this book
Broth to Bowl: Mastering the art of great soup from six simple broths
£20, Modern Books
300ml Chicken Stock
150g unsalted butter, softened
1 medium red onion, peeled and chopped
1 head celery, washed and finely chopped
300g risotto rice
750ml Amarone di Valpolicella wine
150g Parmesan, freshly grated a little double cream (optional)
sea salt and coarsely ground black pepper
Heat the Chicken Stock and check for seasoning. Melt two-thirds of the butter in a large heavy-bottomed pan and gently fry the onion and celery for about 20 minutes or until light brown. Add the rice and stir to coat with butter.
Increase the heat and gradually pour in 500ml of the wine, slowly letting the wine be absorbed by the rice. Then add the hot stock, ladle by ladle, stirring all the time and only adding more stock when the rice has absorbed the previous addition.
When all the stock has been absorbed and the rice is almost cooked, gradually add the remaining wine, stirring. The rice will have taken on the colour of the wine.
Add half the Parmesan and the remaining butter or a little cream and season, taking care not to overstir. Serve with the rest of the Parmesan and a drizzle of cream on top, if using.
River Cafe 30 by River Cafe 30 by Ruth Rogers, Sian Wyn Owen, Joseph Trivelli and Rose Gray
£28 Ebury Press
In a world of rules, including the seminal one that you must never put cheese on a fish pasta, this eccentric recipe combining Pecorino and langoustines commits the cardinal sin. It is incredibly delicious and proves that rules are made to be broken.
600g mezze paccheri
60g unsalted butter
150g Pecorino, freshly grated, plus extra for grating on top
360g medium langoustines (4–5 langoustines per person), cooked and peeled
about 20g coarsely ground black pepper
Cook the mezze paccheri pasta in plenty of boiling salted water until al dente. When draining the pasta, reserve some of the cooking water for the sauce. Melt the butter with the Pecorino in a separate large pan over a low heat, using some of the reserved pasta water to create a sauce.
Cut the langoustines into pieces and add to the Pecorino sauce with black pepper to taste. Add the hot cooked pasta and mix until you have a glossy sauce coating the pasta, adding more reserved pasta water if needed.
River Cafe 30 by Ruth Rogers, Sian Wyn Owen, Joseph Trivelli and Rose Gray
£28 Ebury Press
“God, my feet are killing me”, “If that commis messes up again he’s out the door”, “Wow, who’s the new waitress”. Just some of the thoughts that probably pass through the mind of your average chef on any given day. Happily, Think Like A Chef, the first cook book published by Top Chef judge and former head honcho at New York’s Gramercy Tavern, has it’s mind on slightly higher things.
First comes some basic techniques like roasting, and in particular, braising. Then Colicchio focuses in on three of his favourite ingredients: tomatoes, mushrooms and artichokes, demonstrating how they can be used as building blocks to simple or complex dishes.Chef Tom would like to “help you trust your instincts” and “free you from the feeling that you must follow a recipe”. The book is based on Colicchio’s cooking classes and as a result has a slightly unusual format.
Next, a chapter is devoted to a number of recipes based around a trilogy of ingredients, and illustrates how the application of various methods and techniques can produce a variety of results. Further chapters on components and favourites round out the “course”.
Colicchio is, suprise suprise, of Italian extraction. His food is influenced by his early home life, so pasta features heavily. However, his professional career has seen him working alongside such diverse talents as Alfred Portale of the Gotham Bar and Grill, Thomas Keller and Michel Bras. Colicchio has taken a little from each to create his own style.
Photography is as stunning as you would expect, and looks particularly attractive on the high grade glossy paper used for the book. The design is clear and uncluttered, with an understated use of colour which gives the whole thing a very classy feel. The book is very well written, with easily followed instructions and recipes. Key recipes from the book include Braised Fresh Pork Belly, Seared Tuna with Roasted Tomato Vinaigrette and Fennel Salad and Artichoke Ravioli with Artichokes, Peas and Asparagus. The book also contains some wonderful condiments like corn relish and balsamic onion marmalade.
The unusual approach makes a welcome change from the bog standard recipe a page formula but most importantly, Colicchios passion for food and his desire to educate come through loud and clear, which makes for a highly entertaining read.
Think Like A Chef is useful not only for it’s excellent recipes, but also as a reference work for fundamental cooking techniques like stock and sauce making as well as the definitive method for braising meat fish and vegetables. Essential for all dedicated cooks.
Suitable for: Beginners, confident home cooks and professionals
Cookbook Review rating: 4 stars
Buy this book
Think Like a Chef
£16.99 Crown Publications