Potato by James Martin

Potato by James Martin

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

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

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

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

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

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

It might make sense, James, but do you?

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

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

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

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

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

Buy this book: Potato by James Martin

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

 

Snacks for Dinner by Lukas Volger

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pistachio madeleines by Sam and Sam Clark

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

Makes 24

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

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

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

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

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

Serve with the extra pistachios and lemon zest sprinkled over.

Cook more from this book
Roast shoulder of pork marinated with orange and cumin by Sam and Sam Clark
Roast squash, sweet vinegar, garlic and rosemary by Sam and Sam Clark

Buy this book: Moro Easy by Sam and Sam Clark

Read the review

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

119_Roast_Squash_Sweet_Vinegar

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

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

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

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

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

Cook more from this book
Roast shoulder of pork marinated with orange and cumin by Sam and Sam Clark 
Pistachio madeleines by Sam and Sam Clark

Buy this book: Moro Easy by Sam and Sam Clark

Read the review  

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

239_Roast_Shoulder_Pork

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

Serves 4

1 boneless pork shoulder, 1.2–3kg

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

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

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

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

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

Cook more from this book
Roast squash, sweet vinegar, garlic and rosemary by Sam and Sam Clark
Pistachio madeleines by Sam and Sam Clark

Buy this book: Moro Easy by Sam and Sam Clark

Read the review

More than Yorkshire Puddings by Elaine Lemm

More than Yorkshire puddings

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Torta pastiera by Theo Randall

torta pastiera

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

Serves 8  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cook more from this book
Paccheri with leeks, parmesan and prosciutto di Parma by Theo Randall
Aubergine and Courgette lasagne by Theo Randall

Read the review
The Italian Pantry by Theo Randall

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

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

20220110_TheoPantry_Prosciutto_Di_Parma_035

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

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

Serves 4 

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

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

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

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

Cook more from this book
Aubergine and Courgette lasagne by Theo Randall
Torta pastiera by Theo Randall

Read the review
The Italian Pantry by Theo Randall

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

Aubergine and Courgette lasagne by Theo Randall

20220215_TheoPantry_Aubergine_Lasagne_053

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cook more from this book 
Paccheri with leeks, parmesan and prosciutto di Parma by Theo Randall
Torta pastiera by Theo Randall

Read the review 
The Italian Pantry by Theo Randall

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

The Italian Pantry by Theo Randall

The Italian Pantry Theo Randall

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

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

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

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

This review was originally published in The Caterer. 

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

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

Cook from this book
Aubergine and Courgette lasagne by Theo Randall
Paccheri with leeks, parmesan and prosciutto di Parma by Theo Randall
Torta pastiera by Theo Randall