Green Shakshuka by Gizzi Erskine

Green Shakshuka c. Issy Croker

I developed this recipe in the early days of Filth, with Rosemary Ferguson. Our mission was to get extra nutrition into everyday dishes. We wanted to make a healthy breakfast, both loved shakshuka and huevos rancheros, and thought we could somehow merge them. That week, I’d made a huge vat of Green Tomato Salsa that ended up being the base of this dish. We fried some cumin seeds in oil then added the salsa, before blending it with fresh spinach to an even more nutritious, virtually Hulk-green sauce, got some roasted green peppers into the dish and baked the eggs in this sauce instead of the usual red one. We finished it with a combo of Middle Eastern and Mexican toppings and served it with flatbreads or grilled Turkish breads with some good extra-virgin olive oil. It’s a superb healthy weekend brunch dish and pretty fancy-pants in the impressiveness stakes, too.

SERVES 2
Preparation time 10 minutes
Cooking time 10 minutes

3 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp cumin seeds
400g Green Tomato Salsa (page book for recipe)
1 tsp ground coriander
85g fresh spinach, washed, wilted in a pan for a minute and drained
80g green peppers, roasted (see book for Gizzie’s method) and sliced
4 free-range eggs
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

TO SERVE
good handful of coriander leaves, chopped
a few dill fronds
a few mint leaves, shredded 2 tbsp sour cream
300g Qyeso Fresco (see book for further info) made to a firm and crumbly texture
3 tbsp toasted mixed seeds mixed with ½ tsp za’atar
freshly made Flatbreads (see book for Gizzi’s recipe) or grilled Turkish bread
extra-virgin olive oil, for drizzling

You will need 2 individual 22-25cm baking or gratin dishes.

Preheat the oven to 240°C/220°C fan/gas mark 9.

Heat the oil in a frying pan over a medium-high heat, add the cumin seeds and fry for a minute or two until toasted. Add the green tomato salsa, coriander and spinach and cook for a minute. Season with salt and pepper if necessary, then remove from the heat and blitz until smooth.

Divide the blitzed sauce between two individual (22-25cm) ovenproof baking or gratin dishes. Split the green peppers between the two dishes, then simply make two little holes in the top of the sauce in each dish and break an egg into each hole. Season each egg with salt and pepper and bake in the oven for about 8 minutes or until the egg whites are cooked through, but the eggs still have runny yolks.

Remove from the oven and top the two shakshukas with the chopped coriander, dill, mint, sour cream, queso fresco and seeds, and serve with toasted or warmed bread, drizzled with extra-virgin olive oil.

Recipe taken from Restore by Gizzi Erskine, available now (£25, HQ)’. Photography credit – c. Issy Croker

Restore

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Bibimbap

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Restore by Gizzi Erskine
£26, HQ

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Bibimbap by Gizzi Erskine

Bibimbap c. Issy Croker

One of my breakthroughs was bringing attention to Korean food in the UK back in about 2007. While working as a chef in NYC, I’d hit Koreatown in my downtime with my mates, drink ice-cold beers and eat Korean fried chicken. Koreatown was open late, and you could go from restaurant to karaoke bar eating and drinking yourself into a stupor. I fell in love with Korean food there, and fell in love with the culture 5 years later when I first visited Korea, later moving there to film my TV show Seoul Food.

I’m certain that the popular ‘buddha bowl’ has Korean culinary heritage, as it’s similar to a dish called ‘bibimbap’. In a bibimbap bowl, rice is topped with vegetables, meat (optional), egg yolk and a spicy sauce. It is quite refined -you can’t say that about a lot of Korean food – and is cooked in a searing hot cast-iron pot which is oiled before adding the rice; the vegetables and egg (and meat, if using) are swiftly put on top. By the time the rice gets to the table it has a fantastic caramelised crust that you peel away from the pot and you stir-fry everything at the table. It’s real theatre. Fear not if you don’t have cast-iron pots -you can eat it like Hawaiian poke, in a bowl with hot rice. Bibimbap is delicious, healthy and a great way to tackle a fridge forage. I’ve used traditional toppings, but do play around with seafood, tofu and different veg: the only mainstays are the rice, egg yolk and sauce.

SERVES 2
Preparation time 45 minutes
Cooking time 15 minutes

200g sushi rice
400ml water
1 tbsp sesame oil
2 tbsp sunflower oil
150g spinach
1 courgette, thinly sliced
1 large carrot, finely julienned
100g beansprouts
6 spring onions, shredded
100g shiitake mushrooms, thinly sliced
1 corn on the cob
2 free-range egg yolks
300g rump steak, finely chopped sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tbsp black or white toasted sesame seeds, to serve

FOR THE SAUCE
6 tbsp gochujang
2 tbsp Korean or Japanese soy sauce
1 tbsp rice wine vinegar
2 tbsp sesame oil
1½ tbsp caster sugar

Put the rice and water in a large saucepan with a good pinch of salt. Cover, bring to a simmer and cook for 12 minutes. Take off the heat and steam (lid on) for 10 minutes.

Gently heat the sauce ingredients in a small saucepan until emulsified. Set aside.

Mix  together the sesame and sunflower  oils. Heat a large wok or frying pan over a high heat, add 1 tablespoon  of the  oil mix and add  half the spinach with a pinch  of salt. Cook briefly until wilted, then remove and drain on kitchen paper, squeezing out any liquid. Repeat with the  remaining spinach. Add another  splash  of oil and briefly fry the courgette until golden. Remove and set aside. Repeat this process with the carrot, beansprouts, spring onions and shiitake mushrooms. Rub the sweetcorn cob with oil, salt and pepper, then brown in the pan until the kernels start to char.

Heat two stone bibimbap dishes or a wok on the hob until smoking hot. Place the stone dishes on a heatproof surface (if using). Brush the insides of the dishes (or hot wok) with the remaining oil and add the rice. Group vegetables around the edge, put the raw meat in the middle, then the egg yolks and 2 tablespoons of the sauce for each serving. Top with sesame seeds. Mix the sauce into the rice at the table with a spoon.

Recipe taken from Restore by Gizzi Erskine, available now (£25, HQ)’. Photography credit – c. Issy Croker

Restore

Cook more from this book
Green Shakshuka

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Restore by Gizzi Erskine
£26, HQ

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Red Sands by Caroline Eden

Red Sands by Caroline Eden

What’s the USP? Ever wondered what the food, people and places of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan are really like? Then here’s your chance to find out.

Who is the author? Caroline Eden is a writer and journalist specialising in the former Soviet Union. Her first book Samarkand – recipes and stories from Central Asia and the Caucasus appeared in 2016 and was named Guardian book of the year and won Guild of Food Writers ‘Food and Travel’ award in 2017. He second book Black Sea was awarded the Art of Eating Prize, the John Avery Award at the Andre Simon Awards, Best Travel and Food Book of the Year at the Edward Stanford Travel Writing Awards and Best Food Book at the Guild of Food Writers Awards 2019.

Is it good bedtime reading? It’s probably best to think of Red Sands as a travelogue through Central Asia with recipes rather than a cookbook per se (on her website, Eden describes herself as ‘a writer about places’ rather than a food writer) so you will spend at least as much time with the book learning about Nur-Sultan, the ‘purse proud and machine made’ capital of Kazakhstan as you will cooking dishes like mushroom khinkali (dumplings), something Eden ate at Café Tselinnikov in the city.

Will I have trouble finding the ingredients? Although you may be new to Central Asian cuisine (I certainly was), the ingredients will be surprisingly familiar. Meatballs are flavoured with paprika and cumin in a soup from Karaganda made with lavash and chickpeas; Laghman, a noodle dish served throughout the region, features lamb, Chinese cabbage, peppers and cumin, and even canned peaches turn up in a sour cream cake from Northern Kazakhstan. You should even be able to find Tvorog, a soft curd cheese similar to quark in your local superstore (but if not head to a Polish shop if you have one nearby) which you’ll need to make a simple and light Zapekanka cake for breakfast.

What’s the faff factor? Basically non-existent. This is simple, homely food with mostly short ingredient lists and easy methods. There are a few dumpling recipes, including steamed pumpkin khunon, which by their nature are a little more complex as you’ll need to make both dough and filling and then shape and fill the dumplings  before cooking, but apart from that many of the recipes would be ideal for beginner cooks.

How annoyingly vague are the recipes? The ingredient list for non puju, (a sort of yeasted flat bread topped with beef stew flavoured with Chinese five spice, soy and chilli)  calls for 1/2 handful of coriander which is the epitome of vagueness, but the recipes are so straightforward that the odd handful (or half) is neither here nor there.

Killer recipes: Sultan kurgan tofu; autumnal soup with rice, barley and lamb; Kulich – Russian Easter bread; sweet bread and mung bean pilaf; blushing quince jam; Grand Asia Express samsa (chicken, potato and cumin puff pastry turnovers); pickled cauliflower.

How often will I cook from the book? With accessible and delicious recipes for soups, stews, breads, snacks, pickles, preserves, desserts and breakfasts, Red Sands should prove a useful resource that you’ll return to often.

What will I love? Eden has gone to the ends of the earth (well, sort of) to research the book and writes about her subject with great authority and style. The book is packed with telling details that enliven the prose and put the reader right in the action. For example, in a market in Tashkent, northeast Uzbekistan, Eden watches as ‘one sold out vendor packed his weighing scale back up and, reversing out of the block, licked the fingers of his right hand and counted the banknotes straight on to his ballooned belly.’ Also, what about that stunning cover?

Should I buy it?  Caroline Eden is an outstanding writer and if Red Sands doesn’t win as many if not more awards than Black Sea I’ll be amazed.  An essential purchase for anyone interested in world cuisine and travel. 

Cuisine: Central Asian
Suitable for: Beginners/Confident home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating: Five stars

Buy this book
Red Sands: Reportage and Recipes Through Central Asia, from Hinterland to Heartland
£26, Quadrille Publishing Ltd

The Relation Between Us by Bo Bech

The Relation Between Us Bo Bech

What’s the USP? Travelogue meets photography portfolio meets philosophy tract meets recipe book (it’s complicated) with the aim of illustrating that ‘we are closer to each other than we think’.

Who is the author? Danish chef Bo Bech (the surname is pronounced ‘Beck’) made his name with his avant garde cooking at the Michelin-starred Paustian in Copenhagen in the early 2000’s and then opened the more casual Geist in 2011 which he left in 2020. He has appeared on a number of food TV programmes in Denmark and is also the author of ‘What Does Memory Taste Like’ and ‘In My Blood. At the time of writing, regarding Bech’s future plans, the bio on his website simply says ‘watch this space’.

Is it good bedtime reading? The majority of the book’s 368 pages are taken up with Bech’s travel photography, but there are also 20 vignettes where Bech ponders subjects such as the conflict between homesickness and wanderlust, the pursuit of the perfect restaurant, how to properly prepare to cook, a life changing meal and the correct kitchen technique.

How annoyingly vague are the recipes? Although the book lists 37 recipes, all with one word titles such as ‘avocado’, ‘pasta’, ‘scallops’ and ‘waffles’, there are no recipes in the book. At least, not what we think of as traditionally formatted recipes with a list of ingredients with weights and measures followed by a detailed method. Imagine being in a room with Bech, or on the phone with him. You’re discussing food and every so often in the conversation he’ll describe how to cook something. That’s what the recipes in The Relation Between Us are like. Many do include measurements but so don’t. You have to go with the flow.

Will I have trouble finding the ingredients? The recipes mostly concern common, easily available items that you’ll be able to find in the supermarket, online or at your butcher, fishmonger or deli. But as Bech says in his introduction, ‘Instead of handing you a a strict recipe to dutifully follow I’m giving you a suggestion for how to best begin your food journey’ so there’s lots of leeway to interpret the dishes and use what’s easily available.

What’s the faff factor? Given the conversation style of the recipes, they are, generally speaking, simple dishes that can be easily explained and executed. Some methods, like pot roasting cauliflower or slowly caramelising pineapple, will take time and attention, but this is food to be made and enjoyed rather than messed around with.

How often will I cook from the book? This is probably not a book you’ll be reaching for every day of the week, but there are plenty of dishes such as baked risotto rice flavoured with lime, soy, ginger, honey and sesame oil that will earn a place in your repertoire and that you will return to often.

What will I love? As previously mentioned, the big draw is Bech’s photographs that draw on a decade of global travels and represent Bech’s ‘peak experiences’ in locations as diverse as Nashville, Colombia, Tokyo, New Orleans, Copenhagen, Montreal, Sichuan, Saint Petersburgh, Bangkok, Cuba and the Faroe Islands (as well as many more). Often the shots are food related, taken in markets and restaurants. They may be of Bech’s fellow star chefs including Sean Brock and Daniel Boulud, or they may be of street food vendors or just local inhabitants. Bech has an eye for colour, composition and an interesting face which makes browsing the book a visual feast.

What won’t I like so much? You may find the format of the recipes off putting, although I personally found them charming and full of character and personality.

Should I buy it? Although it shares similar ideals with Rene Redzepi’s You and I Eat the Same, The Relation Between Us is a genuine one off, much like it’s larger than life author. In a time when few of us can travel much further than the local supermarket, joining in on Bech’s global gastronomic adventures, albeit from the comfort of your living room, is a real treat.  

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

Buy this book
The Relation Between Us
£43, Bo Bech

The Bull and Last by Ollie Pudney, Joe Swiers and Giles Coren

Bull and Last

What’s the USP? Recipes and stories from a landmark North London gastropub, famously a favourite of The Times restaurant critic Giles Coren who contributes a forward to the book.

Who are the authors? The pub’s chef Ollie Pudsey (formerly of Richard Corrigan’s late lamented Lindsay House in Soho, London) and front of house manager Joe Swiers.

Is it good bedtime reading? The first 80-odd pages tell the story of the pub and there are a further eight essays dotted throughout the rest of the book.

Will I have trouble finding the ingredients? The Bull and Last take a delightfully broad view of what gastropub food can encompass, so expect to be shopping for everything from mirin to squid ink; moscatel white wine vinegar to speck ham and artichoke hearts to amaretti biscuits. The good news is that there are few if any ingredients that you won’t be able to pick up at a supermarket or deli. You will however want to hit up your friendly local butcher for things like hare, rabbit and  smoked ham hock and a good fishmonger for crab, hake and whole brown shrimp, among other seafood items.

What’s the faff factor? Faff is the wrong word to use here, as it implies undue effort that fails to pay off in the finished dish. You don’t get to be one of highest rated pubs in the country by cutting corners, so you should expect to invest a bit time to produce some of the dishes in the book. For example, if you want to make The Bull and Last’s version of roast chicken you’ll first need to follow the recipes for brown chicken stock and red onion chutney, but you will end up with a stonking red wine gravy to go with your fragrant, delicious butter roasted bird that’s infused with lemon, garlic and thyme. There are plenty of more straightforward dishes in the book too, such sea trout with samphire, peas and Jersey Royals or roasted romano peppers with white soy and sesame (to accompany grilled or roasted meat or fish).

How annoyingly vague are the recipes? Handfuls, pinches, drizzles and splashes of herbs, seasonings and oils abound. However, as long as you are a reasonably experienced cook, that shouldn’t prevent you from making any of the recipes as ingredients lists and methods are otherwise sound.

How often will I cook from the book? With a good range of seasonal dishes that would suit everything from a quick weeknight meal to a long indulgent Sunday lunch or special occasion, it’s likely The Bull and Last will come in useful many times throughout the year.

Killer recipes: Killer scotch egg; smoked haddock, giant macaroni with leek velouté, egg yolk and Berkswell cheese; buttermilk fried chicken; vodka-cured salmon with lemon and dill; chicken liver with ceps, Madeira, sage and Parmesan on toast; pheasant schnitnel club sandwich; oxtail croque monsieur; sticky lamb ribs with pistachio and herb sauce; Bramley apple and nut crumble.

What will I love? It’s obvious that a lot of love has gone into the production of the book and get a real sense of the what the pub is all about. There is a luxe feel to the whole thing, from the paper stock to the elegant design.

What won’t I like so much? Giles Coren’s introduction stands out as by far the best writing in the book. It’s a shame they didn’t ask him to help out with the narrative text too which can be a little confusing to follow at times and really needed a firmer editing hand.

Should I buy it?  If you are a fan of British gastropub food, you’ll be hard pressed to find a better example of the genre and you’ll be gagging to cook from the book. The same applies if you just love tasty grub. 

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

Buy this book
The Bull & Last: Over 70 Recipes from North London’s Iconic Pub and Coaching Inn
£30, Etive Pubs Ltd

My Wild Atlantic Kitchen by Maura O’Connell Foley

My Wild Atlantic Kitchen by Maura O'Connell Foley

What’s the USP? Recollections from a pioneering Irish chef and restaurateur with 250 recipes that span her 60 year career in hospitality.

Who is the author? Maura O’Connell Foley’s career in Kenmare, County Kerry began in 1961 with Agnes, the first tea shop she ran with her mother, and continued with The Purple Heather Restaurant and Piano Bar, The Lime Tree Restaurant and  Packie’s (named after O’Connell Foley’s uncle). With her husband Tom, she continues to run Shelburne Lodge, a converted mid-18th century Georgian farmhouse which she restored over a five-year period and which she opened as a guesthouse in 1996. 

Is it good bedtime reading? A forward by Irish celebrity chef Derry Clarke of L’Ecrivain restaurant in Dublin and a lengthy introduction and cooking notes by O’Connell Foley are supplemented by introductory essays for each of the eight recipe chapters. They include breakfast, starters, fish (O’Connell Foley’s ‘real love’ which is reflected in her extensive notes on the subject), meat, vegetables, desserts and baking, sauce, stocks and staples and dinner parties. Each recipe has its own introduction that includes useful and interesting background information or cooking tips, so there is plenty to keep you informed and entertained.

Will I have trouble finding the ingredients? O’Connell Foley says that it’s ‘vital you aim to source the best ingredients, especially if you want the best outcome’.  So that means eschewing the supermarket and heading to your local butcher, fishmonger and greengrocer if you are fortunate enough to have such things in the 21st century. Otherwise, the pandemic has opened up access via the internet to highly quality ingredients usually reserved for restaurants, but they come at a price. You’ll probably need to forage for your own elderflower heads to make gooseberry and elderflower compote for breakfast, and unless you live in Ireland you’ll need to find an online supplier for Gubeen Chorizo (or just substitute your favourite brand), but that all said, you should have no problem getting you hands on most of what you need to cook from the book.

What’s the faff factor? The wide variety of recipes means you can go from the plain sailing rocket, pear and blue cheese salad with toasted walnuts and apple and walnut dressing or a classic moules mariniere to the more demanding baked fillet of turbot en papillote with salsify and red wine sauce.  

How annoyingly vague are the recipes? Very few complaints here. Weights and measures are supplied for nearly every ingredient including herbs, although ‘a few sprigs of thyme’ does crop up once or twice in the book and of course there’s the old ‘juice of a lemon’ classic (why does no one give ml quantities for lemon juice? I know, I’ve said that before in other reviews). Methods are detailed and well written so you won’t find yourself up a blind alley halfway through cooking a dish.    

How often will I cook from the book? With 250 recipes to choose from, My Wild Atlantic Kitchen offers something for pretty much any occasion. Irish classics including brown soda bread, colcannon, beef and Guinness casserole and traditional Irish stew, cooked in a sealed pot and made with waxy potatoes only to avoid mushiness, (‘Irish stew is a broth with solids, like a bouillabaisse’, states O’Connell Foley) are all present and correct.

But there are plenty of influences from around the globe too, most noticeably France with dishes such as a Normandy-style chicken Valee d’Auge made with apple brandy, cider and apples, and brochettes de fruits de mer with sauce choron. The vegetables chapter with dishes like gratin of leeks or roast fennel will come in handy for when you need inspiration for a mid-week roast or grill, and the baking chapter with sweet treats like Tunisian orange cake will fill up a weekend when you fancy spending a bit of extra time in the kitchen.  

Killer recipes: See above but also Drop Scone Pancakes with Dry Cured Bacon and Apple Syrup, Confit of Duck Leg with Pear and Ginger Salad and Twice Baked Hazelnut Goat’s Cheese Soufflé.

What will I love? Norman McCloskey’s beautiful landscape photography, the book’s timelessly stylish design, the illustrated dinner party menu suggestions and the vintage restaurant menus.   

What won’t I like so much? The indexing could have been a bit more accurate – for example, Irish stew doesn’t appear at all in the index (and yes I checked ‘I’ for Irish, ‘S’ for stew, ‘L’ for lamb and ‘T’ for traditional). 

Should I buy it? The recipes are great, the book looks fantastic and you’ll learn about an important piece of Irish restaurant history too. My Wild Atlantic Kitchen is one of my favourite books of the year and I bet it will yours too.   

Cuisine: Irish/International 
Suitable for: Confident home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating: Five stars

Buy this book
€35 Order from mywildatlantickitchen.com 

(The book is also available from Amazon
My Wild Atlantic Kitchen: Recipes and Recollections
£35, Maura O’Connell Foley)

The Whole Chicken by Carl Clarke

The Whole Chicken Carl Clarke

What’s the USP? It’s nose-to-tail cooking, but for chickens! So beak-to-tail-feather, then. The Whole Chicken breaks down the bird both literally and metaphorically, with chapters dedicated to all our favourite cuts, as well as mince, offal, bones, skin and, in a move that technically fits the bill but feels a little too eager to get the chicken on the table, eggs.

Who wrote it? Author Carl Clarke has definite chicken-cred. I mean, I imagine his credibility is at rock bottom with actual chickens – he keeps eating them. But through Chick ‘n’ Sours and spin-off Chick’n he has two of the coolest bird-and-apostrophe-centric restaurants in London to his name.

Is it good bedtime reading? Though Clarke skips out on chapter introductions (who needs to be told that thighs are the best bit of the chicken for the umpteenth time?), he quickly makes up for it with passionate and practical introductions to each recipe. Forget about the bedtime reading though, it’s the kitchen dance-offs that you’ll be focused on: the book offers five brilliantly curated playlists to keep you entertained whilst you prepare, cook and eat the whole of your chicken.

How annoyingly vague are the recipes? Not even a little bit. Clarke goes into a decent amount of detail throughout. There’s a refreshing commitment to clarity, in fact. The book lists both metric and imperial measurements at every opportunity, and even features both British and American terms where necessary (cling film/plastic wrap, etc).

What’s the faff factor? Clearly marked at the side of the page. A small scale next to each recipe ranks the dish as either ‘easy peasy’, ‘almost breezy’, or ‘worth the effort’. That said, quite a lot of the dishes fall into that latter category. The scale isn’t particularly consistent either. The Next Level Breville grilled sandwich is listed as ‘worth the effort’, and whilst it’s certainly a lot more of a commitment than your usual toastie, it pales by comparison to the Chicken Nuggets with Kimchi Bacon Ranch Dip and Spicy Shake.

What will I love? The sheer range of dishes on offer here. Clarke draws on a number of different cuisines, though East Asia and the United States are perhaps the most obvious influences. Everything here looks absolutely delicious, and the design of the book itself only emphasises this. The Whole Chicken is intensely cool, and you’ll be a little surprised to find that it’s willing to hang out with you and your other cookbooks.

What won’t I love? There’s a disappointing amount of recipes representing the less commonly used pieces of the chicken. Given the title of the book is ‘The Whole Chicken’, you’d perhaps expect a little more attention to be paid to these areas. Instead, the overwhelming majority of the book is dedicated to those traditional cuts. The entire offal section comprises of just five recipes, meaning that those looking for inspired uses for chicken heart (a delicacy in several countries) will find just one stand-alone recipe. The same goes, inexplicably, for the liver, gizzards and feet – despite each of these having myriad uses in various global cuisines.

Killer recipes: My Friend Romy’s Butter Chicken Recipe, Doritos-Coated Schnitzel with Fried Eggs and Anchovies, Gunpowder Wings, Xian-Spiced Chicken Scratchings and Cherry Cola Chicken Legs.

Should I buy it? Despite not fully realising the promise of its title, The Whole Chicken does offer up an irresistible wealth of dishes drawn from genuinely global influences. It isn’t the first book to do a deep dive on the chicken, but it feels very much of its own space. I have Diana Henry’s lovely A Bird in the Hand on my shelves too, but comparing the two here feels a little like throwing Delia Smith in the ring with David Chang.

Cuisine: Global
Suitable for: Beginner to confident home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating: Four stars

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

Buy this book
The Whole Chicken: 100 easy but innovative ways to cook from beak to tail
£22, Hardie Grant

Australian Food by Bill Granger

Australian Food by Bill Granger

Bill Granger could not have picked a better time to publish his first book in six years. With its bright, orange, red and yellow cover and vibrant, globally inspired recipes, Australian Food brings some very welcome sunshine from down under into these gloomy lockdown autumn days. Granger first came to international attention in 2002 when the New York Times dubbed him ‘The Egg Master of Sydney’ and described the scrambled eggs at bills restaurant ‘as light as the breath of an angel’.

The recipe (the secret of which appears to be quite a lot of whipping cream and some careful cooking) is included in a chapter of ‘classics’ that features other signatures such as chocolate banana bread, and ricotta hotcakes with honeycomb butter and banana, a dish much-copied by the likes of Nigella and Ottolenghi. These breakfast specialities might be the foundations of a restaurant empire that now includes London, Honolulu, Seoul and Japan, but Australian Food confirms there’s much to the self-taught chef’s repertoire.

Australian chefs have long been renowned for incorporating Southeast Asian flavours into their food (Neil Perry of Rockpool Dining Group is just one high profile example) and Granger does it better than most. Deftly sidestepping issues of authenticity and appropriation, dishes such as turmeric-spiced chicken in lettuce parcels with green chilli dipping sauce, or grilled pork chops with cashew satay with pineapple and cucumber relish employ ingredients with gleeful abandon to create something delicious and decidedly Australian.

Italy also looms large in Granger’s gastronomic imagination so there’s also recipes for braised lamb ragu with tagliatelle and pecorino and green herb risotto with raw summer salad.  But he doesn’t stop there. With chapters on barbecue, bowl food, small plates and bakery (Granger is an excellent baker as his miso caramel brownies prove), the book leaves no culinary stone unturned.  The sheer variety on offer makes Australian Food a pandemic kitchen panacea but Granger’s skill as a creative chef and recipe writer, honed over more than a quarter of a century, ensures it will have enduring appeal.  

Cuisine: Australian/International 
Suitable for: Beginners/Confident home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating: Five stars

Buy this book
Australian Food
£20, Murdoch Books

 

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

Pizza by Pizza Pilgrims

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Love for Food by Carole Bamford

A Love For Food Carole Bamford

What’s the USP? An updated edition of the 2013 cookbook from the none-more-middle-class Daylesford organic farm in the Cotswolds.

Who wrote it? According to her website  ‘Carole Bamford has been a champion of sustainable, mindful living for over 40 years. As the founder of Daylesford Organic, she is recognised as a visionary in organic farming and food retail.’ She is also the wife of Brexit-backing JCB billionaire Lord Anthony Bamford.

Will I have trouble finding the ingredients? Not if you pop along to a Daylesford Organic store. The ‘flagship’ on the farm in Kingham is as jaw-droppingly lovely as it is expensive (there are a number branches in London too). You can also buy Daylesford Organics produce through Ocado.  That said, you will have little trouble tracking down the ingredients for most of the recipes at your local supermarket, (stick to the organic aisle if you want to keep in Lady Carole’s good books).

How annoyingly vague are the recipes? If you read the introduction (and the  acknowledgements page at the back of the book – does anyone do that apart from me?) you’ll discover that long serving Daylesford chef John Hardwick ‘created’ the recipes and a great job he’s done of them too.

Little details like giving not just the diameter of the pastry case for a Bledington Blue Cheese and Broccoli tart, but the depth too make all the difference. In this instance, you now know exactly what cookware to use to ensure you get the correct ratio between tart and filling – too often recipes need trial and error to get just right.

Not every recipe is perfect however; Ginger Biscuits were a cakey disaster for me (according to a chef friend who I consulted after my disappointing effort, the mixture should have been chilled before baking which is not stipulated in the book).

What’s the faff factor? The recipes are very much designed for the home kitchen. Some, like home made corned beef,  will take time and planning ahead but most will be plain sailing for any keen cook.

How often will I cook from the book? A Love for Food is definitely the sort of volume you’ll be glad to have on your shelf when it comes time to plan your weekly menus (which, if you read this blog is almost certainly something you do). It will be well thumbed and food spattered in no time. There are also a decent number of baking, pickling and preserving projects for when you have more time on your hands (for example, during a pandemic).

Killer recipes: Slow cooked lamb shoulder with white beans and salsa verde; curried cauliflower, red pepper and nigella seeds; Rita’s baked eggs and onions; ham hock terrine with piccalilli; seven seed sourdough; vanilla rice pudding with apple and blackberry compote.

What will I love? At nearly 400 pages, there’s room for 150 recipes that cover everything from breakfast, things ‘on toast’, egg dishes, soups, salads and vegetables to savoury tarts and pies, fish, meat, puddings and baked goods, so you’re getting a lot of bang for your buck.

What won’t I like so much? Not applicable.

Is it good bedtime reading? A three page introduction is supplemented by articles on sustainablility and the environment, the market garden, Daylesford’s creamery and cheese room, it’s bakery and the farm’s animals. In addition there are page long introductions to every chapter and each recipe has its own introduction. In short, plently to keep you informed and entertained outside of the kitchen.

Should I buy it? It looks great the recipes are varied and enticing and it’s a good read. What’s not to love?

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

Buy this book
A Love for Food: Recipes from the Fields and Kitchens of Daylesford Farm
£30, Square Peg