Cooking on the Big Green Egg by James Whetlor

Cooking on the Big Green Egg by James Whetlor

What’s the USP? A user manual for the Big Green Egg ceramic barbecue (referred to from here on as BGE) that’s a big hit with professional chefs, keen home cooks and barbecue enthusiasts alike, with recipes.

Who’s the author? James Whetlor is probably best known as the owner of the Cabrito goat meat business. He is the author of Goat (read our review here) and is a former chef who worked in London and for Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall at River Cottage in Devon.

Is it good bedtime reading? There is plenty for the BGE owner to get their teeth into with a meaty introductory chapter that covers everything from lighting and using your egg, to setting up your egg, fuel for your egg, tools and equipment for your egg and a guide to ingredients.

Will I have trouble finding ingredients? You will need to head to Whetlor’s Cabrito website if you want to make goat shoulder with pomegranate raan or whole roast kid; your butcher for ox heart to make pinchos morunos and a specialist shop or online retailer for the ancho and pasilla chilles required to make recipes like pork or ox cheeks with masa harina soft tortilla or mole sauce.  There are other examples but in the main, you should have little trouble tracking down the majority of the ingredients required.

What’s the faff factor? This will depend on your view on BBQ, bearing in mind that you have to prepare your BGE before you get to cook anything on it.  Some will view it as a pleasure, others a pain, although the latter probably wouldn’t have splashed a grand on a sizeable ceramic lump in the first place. In terms of the recipes themselves, they range from a simple seared onglet à l’échalote to a more involved pork shoulder with vindaloo spices. 

How often will I cook from the book? How often do you barbecue? In his introduction, chef Tom Kerridge would have you believe that ‘Big Green Eggs can become a way of life’ and that ‘Once you’ve….tried some recipes in this book, you’ll be barbecuing in February’. For most of us, in the UK at least, barbecuing is very much a summer pastime. That said, if you’ve invested in a BGE then you might well be motivated to make as much use of it as possible.

Killer recipes? At the risk of labouring a point, there are some great recipes in this book, but they will only really be of interest to BGE owners.  Some may work on other BBQ set ups, but I’m not sure why, with so many other more general BBQ books on the market, you would take the risk. That said, whole crown prince squash stuffed with pumpkin seeds and chillies; hispi cabbage with jalapeno buttermilk and ancho dressing; lamb ribs with tamarind glaze; lamb chop bhuna; paratha and orange blossom honey and pistachio pastilla all sound delicous. The short chapter on sauces and condiments including mango ketchup and harissa is extremely handy.

What will I love? The embossed cover that replicates the scaly surface of a real Big Green Egg is just great.

What won’t I like? If you don’t own a BGE, have a guess.

Should I buy it? If you’re paying a minimum of £780 for a Big Green Egg (that will get you a mini version. A basic starter pack of accessories will cost you another £134. You can pay up to £1,665 for an XL egg) you’d think you might get an instruction manual and recipes thrown in for that sort of money. Mind you, if you have that amount of disposable income, what’s another £25?

Although there are some great recipes in the book which feasibly may work on other barbecues (such as the strikingly similar Kamado Joe), the whole affair is so obviously BGE-specific that there is really no point owning this book unless you have splurged on a BGE.

Cuisine: Barbecue/International
Suitable for: Beginners/confident home cooks/professional chefs
Cookbook Review Rating: Three stars

Buy this book
Cooking on the Big Green Egg: Everything you need to know from set-up to cooking techniques, with 70 recipes
£25, Hardie Grant/Quadrille

Slow-roasted shoulder of lamb, harissa by Raymond Blanc

SIMPLY RAYMOND by Raymond Blanc. Headline Home 2021
PREP 10 MINS / COOK ABOUT 4½ HOURS / MARINATE 1 HOUR (BUT NOT ESSENTIAL)

When I was about 12 years old, I was introduced to the food of Algeria, and by strange means. This was during the Algerian War, and in France there were camps for Algerian refugees. One such camp was close to my village and, with my friend René, I would go and visit these intriguing, kind and friendly people. They fed us well. I remember seeing whole lambs roasted on the spit and, as the meat was turned, it was also painted with the spicy juices. For my young palate, it was perhaps a bit too spicy. I was the stranger who was drawn in, and have never forgotten their kindness. This dish does not require a whole lamb. When it comes to slow cooking lamb, the shoulder is the best cut, meltingly tender and incredibly tasty. When harissa is added, this is a wonderful dish, and the chickpeas will only complement it. A shoulder of lamb varies in weight, becoming heavier as the year progresses. A 2.5kg shoulder, like the one in this recipe, will take about 4½ hours; one weighing 3kg will need 5½ hours. Aim to remove it from the fridge 4–5 hours before cooking to come to room temperature.

1 tablespoon sea salt
1 tablespoon ground cumin
100g rose harissa
100ml extra-virgin olive oil
2.5kg new season’s
shoulder of lamb
300ml water

For the chickpea salad
1 jar (230g) piquillo peppers
2 preserved beldi lemons
a large handful of curly or flat-leaf parsley
2 tins (400g) chickpeas
sea salt and black pepper

TO PREPARE Mix together the salt, cumin and harissa, and then add the extra-virgin olive oil. Place the lamb in a roasting tin. Lightly score the skin of the lamb and rub it all over with the salty harissa mixture. At this point, you can leave the lamb for an hour, allowing the harissa flavours to infuse, but this is not essential.

Preheat the oven to 180°C/160°C fan/gas 4. Roast the lamb for 20 minutes, and then reduce the temperature to 150°C/130°C fan/gas 2. Cover the lamb shoulder loosely with foil, and return it to the oven to roast for a further 2 hours. Now baste the lamb, add the water and return it to the oven for 2 hours, again loosely covered with foil.
While the lamb is roasting, chop the piquillo peppers, finely chop the preserved lemons (skin and pulp) and coarsely chop the parsley. Put them to one side; you will need them to finish the dish.

Remove the lamb from the oven. Spoon out most of the fat from the tin, leaving the roasting juices. To the warm roasting juices, add the chickpeas, peppers and lemon. Add the parsley too and season with the salt and pepper. Toss together and bring to the boil on the hob. Place the lamb shoulder on a platter with the chickpea salad. Bring the lamb to the table and invite your guests to help themselves. The lamb will be tender enough to fall from the bone with a spoon, though it can be carved if you prefer.

Cook from this book 
Mussel and saffron risotto by Raymond Blanc
Pear almondine by Raymond Blanc

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Simply Raymond: Recipes from Home – The Sunday Times Bestseller, includes recipes from the ITV series
£25 Headline Home

Mussel and saffron risotto by Raymond Blanc

SIMPLY RAYMOND by Raymond Blanc. Headline Home 2021
PREP 20 MINS / COOK 40 MINS

Mussels and saffron are united harmoniously in this classic risotto. There’s no need for that constant stirring. Instead, the rice is stirred towards the end of the cooking time to activate the starches, a trick you can use with any risotto you make.

SERVES 4

For the mussels
1kg fresh mussels
1 onion
2 bay leaves
2 thyme sprigs
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
100ml dry white wine

For the risotto
1 garlic clove
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
200g carnaroli rice (or arborio)
2 bay leaves
a couple of pinches of saffron powder or strands
pinch of cayenne pepper
2 pinches of sea salt flakes
100ml dry white wine
300ml water (or fish stock)

To finish
50g Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
2 teaspoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
a handful of coarsely chopped flat-leaf parsley
100g cooked peas (optional)
a handful of baby-leaf spinach (optional)
½ lemon, for squeezing

TO PREPARE First, the mussels. Ensure that all the mussels are tightly closed and not damaged before you begin to cook; any mussels that are damaged or open should be discarded. The preparation can be done in advance. Wash the mussels in a large bowl and under cold running water. Mussels that float at this stage are not very fresh, so discard them. Remove any barnacles and beards, but don’t scrub the shells as this can end up colouring the cooking juices. Drain.

Finely chop the onion and peeled garlic and grate the cheese. In a large saucepan over a medium heat, sweat half the onion, the bay leaves and thyme in the butter for 1 minute. Increase the heat to high, add the mussels, pour in the wine, cover with a lid and cook for 3 minutes. Drain in a sieve over a large bowl and discard any mussels that have not opened. Reserve the cooking juices, you will need about 200ml to make the risotto. Once the mussels have cooled, pick the mussels from their shells, leaving a few in their shells for decoration, and put them all aside.

Now, to the risotto … Melt the butter in a large saucepan on a medium heat. Add the remaining onion, cover with a lid and cook for 2–3 minutes, until the onion is translucent. Add the garlic and stir in the rice. Add the bay leaves, saffron and cayenne pepper and lightly season with salt. Stir and continue to cook on a medium heat for 2 minutes, until the grains of rice are shiny. Pour in the wine and let it boil for 30 seconds – bubble, bubble – and stir. Pour in the mussel cooking liquor and the water or fish stock and stir again. Now cook on the gentlest simmer, with just a single bubble breaking the surface. Cover with a lid and leave for 20 minutes, but it mustn’t boil. 4

Now it’s time for 5 minutes of some serious and fast stirring. At full speed, stir the risotto. The grains rub against each other, extracting the starch, and this gives the rice its creaminess. Yet every grain remains whole, unbroken. Taste – the rice should have a slight bite. Add the cheese, butter and parsley to the risotto, along with the cooked peas and spinach, if using, all the cooked mussels and a strong squeeze of lemon. Stir, taste and correct the seasoning just before serving. 

Cook more from this book
Slow-roasted shoulder of lamb, harissa by Raymond Blanc
Pear almondine by Raymond Blanc

Read the review

Buy this book
Simply Raymond: Recipes from Home – The Sunday Times Bestseller, includes recipes from the ITV series
£25 Headline Home

Pear almondine by Raymond Blanc

SIMPLY RAYMOND by Raymond Blanc. Headline Home 2021
It’s rare to find a dessert that is both simple and extraordinarily delicious. Pear Almondine is one of my favourites. You can find some excellent preserved Williams pears in jars or tins, ideal for this recipe. This dessert is a template to accommodate many other fruits and flavours. For baking like this, I like to use a baking stone. However, if you don’t have this, it will still be a winner.

SERVES 6
6 pear halves, tinned or jarred
100g unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus extra for brushing the tin
100g caster sugar
100g ground almonds
1 teaspoon cornflour
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 medium egg (preferably organic or free-range)

To serve
a handful of flaked
almonds (for extra flavour, first toast them in a dry pan)
icing sugar, for dusting

Preheat the oven to 160°C/140°C fan/gas 3. Butter (or oil) a tart ring, about 18cm x 2cm. Cut a long strip of greaseproof paper to stick to the inside. Place the lined tart ring on a lined baking tray or baking stone. Drain the pears and slice them in half again if they are large. In a large bowl, mix the softened butter and sugar. Then add ground almonds, cornflour, vanilla and egg, and mix well. Spoon the mixture into the cake tin, spreading it evenly.

Arrange the pear halves evenly around the outside of the tart, resting them on top of the almond sponge mixture, and with the tip of each half meeting in the middle. According to size of the pears, you may require the base of half a pear to fill a space in the centre. Scatter with almonds. Bake the tart on the middle shelf of the oven, on the preheated baking stone or baking tray, for 16–20 minutes, or until golden. Leave the cake to cool for a few minutes before removing it from the ring. Before serving, dust with icing sugar.

VARIATION
In a saucepan, reduce the syrup from the jar, let it cool and add a dash of Poire William, the pear liqueur. After baking, puncture the pears with a fork and pour over the syrup. It adds colour and flavour.

Cook more from this book
Mussel and saffron risotto by Raymond Blanc
Slow-roasted shoulder of lamb, harissa by Raymond Blanc

Read the review

Buy this book
Simply Raymond: Recipes from Home – The Sunday Times Bestseller, includes recipes from the ITV series
£25 Headline Home

Book extract: A Vegetarian Monster: Revenge, Betrayal & Berries in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein from A Gothic Cookbook by Ella Buchan and Alessandra Pino

Frankenstein main image
Food humanises Dr Frankenstein’s cobbled-together creation and raises the question: who is the real monster here?

An existential crisis doesn’t sound all that appetising. Nor does a jumble of long-expired body parts, cobbled together to create something resembling a human. And nor do gaping, stomach-churning chasms of icy loneliness. Yet this enduringly classic tale of the created and the creator, nature and nurture, and the pursuer and the pursued is an endless source of discussion worthy of the most salubrious of dinner parties.

The kind that Mary Shelley might have hosted or attended with her husband, Percy Bysshe Shelley, holding court over a table groaning with glazed meats and platters laden with jewel-hued fruits. (Though Shelley may have abstained from the meat; the poet spent long periods as a vegetarian.) Guests glugging ruby wine and contributing bon mots might have included Lord Byron, who was present when the seeds of Frankenstein were sown.

In fact, one of the world’s most famous Gothic novels might not exist at all if it weren’t for Byron. Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin (she was yet to marry), Shelley, and his fellow Romantic poet Bryon were among the luminaries holidaying in Lake Geneva in 1816, which “proved a wet, ungenial summer”, according to Mary’s introduction to the 1831 edition of Frankenstein. Conversation ducked and scurried down dark, Gothic avenues and, after long discussions dissecting ghost stories and musing on the horror genre, Byron had a proposal: they each pen their own terrifying tale.

After days struggling against writer’s block, Mary – then aged just 18 – created her monster after a particularly terrifying) “waking dream”. It wasn’t (and isn’t) a ghost story in any traditional sense, but it seems safe to say that her story cast a creepy shadow over the others. The novel was published in 1818 and has since been published in more than 300 editions and turned into several movies (perhaps most famously James Whale’s 1931 version, starring Boris Karloff as the droopy-lidded, bolt-necked monster).

Its themes of exile, misery, loneliness and guilt elevate it above a simple horror story and place it firmly in the complex Gothic genre, with a sprinkling of pioneering science fiction. Much discussed, too, are the novel’s parallels with the creation story and the Fall of Man, spelled out when Victor Frankenstein’s creation quotes Satan in John Milton’s epic biblical poem Paradise Lost:

‘all Good to me is lost;
Evil be thou my Good.’

The creature didn’t ask to be created; abandoned, rejected and betrayed by Victor, he morphs into the dangerous monster others already believe him to be. But is he really a monster? Or is Victor the monster for playing God in the most godless of ways: digging up bodies and using science to bring forth life? Their relationship is at the heart of the novel’s moral muddiness (a point on which it was criticised when it was released – The Quarterly Review described its “unmeaning hollowness”).

Common confusion over the eponymous character – with the creature often misidentified as Frankenstein – reflects this ambiguity. Literary critics have pointed out the sympathetic nature, eloquence and even innocence of the so-called monster. There’s a thin, blurred and sometimes invisible line between perpetrator and victim.

Yet there is one aspect in which this line is drawn quite clearly, if you grab a knife and fork and really dig in – and that’s food.

If there’s any uncertainty and moral fogginess when it comes to the creature’s innocence – and perhaps whether he should be considered “human” – then his diet should quash those doubts. He eats, for a start – and familiar foods, at that. He’s a sentient, living, breathing being, and that poses serious questions as to the ethics of Victor’s experiment. He brought the creature into a world that would inevitably reject him.

Mary Shelley doesn’t underplay her character’s vegetarianism; it isn’t incidental to the story’s central themes. On the contrary, she makes much of his choice to eschew the flesh-eating habits of humans. It becomes a device to emphasise his empathy and how connected he is to nature, perhaps more so than his fellow man. She throws in a conundrum for readers to wrestle with: how do you categorise a vegetarian monster?

The creature’s diet becomes even more significant in light of Percy Shelley’s vegetarianism, and indeed that of his friend Lord Byron. In the 1860 edition of his Life, Letters, and Journals of Lord Byron, Thomas Moore recalls the poet asking him, over dinner: ‘Moore, don’t you find eating beef-steak makes you ferocious?’ While Shelley’s 1813 poem, Queen Mab, he blames humans devouring the “mangled flesh” of lambs for “nature’s broken law”.

In Frankenstein, vegetarianism simultaneously highlights the creature’s separation from human society (unlike them, he doesn’t “glut” his appetite with meat) and becomes a symbol of his inherent goodness. Of course, goodness is corruptible.

Banished to the wilderness by Victor, who’s horrified by his own experiment, the creature observes a family living in a cabin in the woods. He gently observes their rituals, mainly revolving around food: preparing breakfast, gathering around the table, building and lighting fires for cooking, foraging for roots and plants. Their diet, he notices, is “coarse but wholesome”. It’s simple; uncomplicated by modern society and technology. Pre-Fall, if you like. The creature mimics their routine and attunes to the changing weather and seasons.

Moved by observing their interactions and sensitive to their poverty, he makes a conscious decision to only eat fruit and nuts. He will not steal from them, he vows to himself, because that would leave them hungry. The softness he shows in these moments endears us to him. And it makes his murderous rampage later in the novel – driven by repeated rejections and injustices – all the more shocking. He metamorphosises from a philosophical, gentle grazer, hungry for friendship, to a furious being consumed by fury and bent on revenge.

His reaction is both human and monstrous. The first kill he makes for food is an act to taunt Victor, gifting him with a dead hare as he leads him to “the everlasting ices of the north”.

In a desperate, final attempt to be accepted and forgiven, the creature uses his diet as a bargaining tool with his creator. If Victor would only “build” him a female companion, and allow him to be free, he could be happy subsisting on foraged acorns and berries. He describes a kind of utopian ideal that once again evokes Eden and the Fall of Man:

‘If you consent, neither you nor any other human being shall ever see us again; I will go to the vast wilds of South America. My food is not that of man; I do not destroy the lamb and the kid to glut my appetite; acorns and berries afford me sufficient nourishment. My companion will be of the same nature as myself and will be content with the same fare. We shall make our bed of dried leaves; the sun will shine on us as on man and will ripen our food. The picture I present to you is peaceful and human, and you must feel that you could deny it only in the wantonness of power and cruelty.’

Sadly, there isn’t such a happy ending for the creature (nor for Victor, nor for anyone for that matter). The creature becomes the monster after all – one who murders from a very human impulse for revenge, out of anger that he has been judged and rejected by a world he skipped into, innocently and happily as a child, or perhaps a lamb.

The creature entered his dysfunctional life drawn to the earth, feeling a deep connection to the soil, flowers and nature. His final, heart-wrenching monologue describes the “cheering warmth of summer” and his wonder at the “warbling birds”. He tells how he was “nourished with high thoughts of honour and devotion”. He longed for companionship, for “love and fellowship”. Spurned, he retaliated against a world that had turned its back on him. There is again a reference to Paradise Lost: “The fallen angel becomes a malignant devil.”

Frankenstein’s creature, hollowed out by hunger and his unsated appetite for human kindness, is utterly, hellishly alone.

Acorn Bread

Frankenstein acorn bread image

Frankenstein’s creature ate them raw, freshly plucked from the oak tree (or foraged from the woodland floor). It seems his stomach was a little stronger than ours, as unprocessed and uncooked acorns contain tannins that can be toxic to humans. They also have a rather unpleasant, bitter taste, so you probably wouldn’t want to nibble on them, anyway. Leave them on the tree for the squirrels (and any wandering, cobbled-together creatures) and instead get hold of some acorn flour to make this dense, crumbly, delicately sweetened bread. It has a similar texture to cornbread, and is perfect for sharing. Omit the spices if you prefer something more savoury – a pinch of chilli flakes will give it a kick, and pair wonderfully with a hunk of cheese.

Makes 1 medium loaf
Ingredients
250g acorn flour
100g caster sugar
2 tsp baking powder
Pinch of salt
1 tsp ground cinnamon
A little freshly grated nutmeg (optional)
25g unsalted butter, melted
1 medium egg, beaten
250ml milk

Method
1. Preheat oven to 180°C (350°F/gas mark 6) and grease a medium (2 lb/900g capacity) loaf tin.
2. Combine all the dry ingredients, including the cinnamon and nutmeg (if using), in a large mixing bowl and make a well in the centre.
3. Whisk together the milk, egg and melted butter and pour into the well, mixing gradually with a wooden spoon until well combined.
4. Bake for around 20 minutes, until a skewer or sharp knife inserted into the middle comes away clean.
5. Remove from the oven and leave for around 10 minutes in the tin, then tip on to a wire rack to cool. (You might want to tear some off and slather it with butter before it loses all its oven-warm loveliness, though.)

Shepherd’s Breakfast

Shepherd's Breakfast from Frankenstein

While crunching on acorns and foraging berries and roots might not be hugely appealing, the “shepherd’s breakfast” – which the creature “greedily” devours, having unwittingly frightened away its preparer – sounds pretty delicious. It’s a simple platter of bread, cheese, milk and wine. This dish takes those humble plate-fellows and turns them into a warm, oozily baked savoury bread pudding. A warning, though: it can serve six people as a side but, should you be tempted to dig in a spoon just to try a little, don’t be surprised if you get carried away and end up with an empty dish, a full belly and hungry guests.

Serves 6

Ingredients
1 medium loaf of day-old or slightly stale bread, sliced
50g unsalted butter, softened
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
Handful of fresh herbs (parsley, oregano, tarragon, rosemary etc), chopped
100g hard cheese (you can use cheddar or a mix), grated
200ml whole milk
2 eggs
200ml double cream
1tsp English or Dijon mustard
Salt and pepper

For the caramelised onions:
2 red onions, finely sliced
1tbsp olive oil
50ml or balsamic vinegar
2 tbsp granulated sugar
Glug of red wine
Salt and pepper

Method
1. For the onions, heat the olive oil over a medium heat, add onions and and sauté for a few minutes or until soft. Add vinegar, sugar and wine, increase heat and cook until the liquid has evaporated and the onions are sticky. Season with salt and pepper.
2. Beat together the softened butter and garlic, stir in herbs and add a pinch of salt. Spread this mix over each slice of bread, then quarter each one into triangles.
3. Preheat oven to 180°C/gas mark 4 and grease a large baking dish. Arrange a layer of bread on the bottom, top with a layer of onions and sprinkle with cheese. Repeat the layers until the ingredients are used up, ending with cheese.
4. Whisk together the milk, eggs, cream, mustard and a little salt and pepper. Pour over the bread, pushing down so it soaks up the liquid.
5. Rest for 5 minutes then bake for 25-30 minutes, until puffy and lightly golden.

Berry Bite Squares

Berry bites

Our creature spends his first few days of existence subsisting on berries and the occasional acorn. He was happy (or, at least, willing) to do so, but we wonder if he would have enjoyed these crumbly, moreish fruit crumble squares a little better? Most probably. You can make these with pretty much any in-season fruit, from apples to rhubarbs. Eat for breakfast, afternoon tea, a snack, on a picnic…

Makes around 12 squares

Ingredients

For the crumble:
175g unsalted butter, melted
180g plain flour
125g soft brown sugar
150g rolled oats
1 tsp ground cinnamon
pinch salt

For the filling:
1 large egg at room temp
150g caster sugar
30g plain flour
pinch of salt
1 tsp vanilla extract
zest of 1 orange
400g berries (blackberries, raspberries, blackcurrants etc)

Method
1. Preheat oven to 180°C (350°F/gas mark 6). Grease and line a 20cm (8in) square tin (or similar).
2. Combine the dry ingredients for the crumble in a bowl, pour in the butter and mix.
3. Tip around two-thirds of it into the tin and press down firmly to make a base.
4. For the filling, whisk together the egg and sugar, then slowly add the flour, lemon zest and vanilla. Stir in the berries so each is coated.
5. Pour this over the base, then loosely sprinkle over the remaining crumble mix.
6. Bake for around 40-45 minutes until golden. Allow to cool completely in the tin before cutting into squares.

working cover

Extracted from A Gothic Cookbook by Ella Buchan and Alessandra Pino, with illustrations by Lee Henry. Find out more here.

The New York Times Cooking: No-Recipe Recipes by Sam Sifton

New York Times Cooking No-Recipe Recipes by Sam Sifton

What’s the USP? Sometimes food doesn’t need to be put together using precise  measurements and exact times – No-Recipe Recipes is all about the big, flavourful ideas and less fussy about what you need to do and when. Every dish here is described in loose and accessible terms so that the home chef can amble carefree through the cooking process. 

Who wrote it? Sam Sifton, the founding editor of The New York Times’ cookery website. His weekly What To Cook This Week column on the site has, since 2015, always featured a No-Recipe Recipe of his own – an easy to throw together sort of a dish that might have been influenced by something he’s eaten in a restaurant, or the passing comment of a chef friend, or simply the desire to combine two flavours and gleefully eat them. 

Is it good bedtime reading? On the one hand, there isn’t an awful lot to read besides the short and enthusiastic introduction to each recipe. On the other hand, though, the recipes read so conversationally that they become a genuine pleasure to read in their own right. This is a book that can be taken to bed and flicked through with hungry eyes as you picture yourself breezily moving around the kitchen – a splash of fish sauce here, a generous pinch of oregano there. 

How annoyingly vague are the recipes? The entire book is annoyingly vague recipes. That’s sort of the point. Thankfully, Sifton’s bright and engaging writing – he clearly loves being in the kitchen almost as much as he loves food – enables the reader to confidently join him on his quest. 

The book’s brief introductory section convincingly champions Sifton’s approach. Cooking without recipes is a valuable kitchen skill, we are told: ‘It’s a proficiency to develop, a way to improve your confidence in the kitchen and makes the act of cooking fun when it sometimes seems like a chore’. 

The no-recipe recipes themselves certainly echo the ‘cooking is fun’ mentality. It’s impossible to resent vague instructions when they are written with as much relish as Sifton’s. The frankly obscene Cheese Ravioli with Duck Liver Mousse Sauce calls for a ‘huge amount of unsalted butter’, whilst his Roasted Shrimp Tacos with Cumin and Chile demands ‘a whole mess of peeled and deveined shrimp’. 

What’s the faff factor? It would be a bold move to expect readers to create lavish and complex dishes with only the loosest of instructions, so perhaps unsurprisingly the book is filled with nothing but the simplest dishes. The Tomato Sandwich recipe is four sentences long, and calls for only bread, butter, mayonnaise and tomato – but Sifton still manages to make it seem like an unmissable addition to a hot summer’s day. Even the most complex of dishes will come together in under half an hour and create only the most minimal of washing up. 

How often will I cook from the book? I have had this book for about a month now and can confidently say that I am cooking from it at least twice a week. It has already become the first book I pull from the shelf when I’m planning my weekly shop, despite being the title that arguably requires the least planning of the lot. 

Every one of Sifton’s No-Recipe Recipes is a temptation. They are easy to buy for and fun to cook. Above all else, the gentle thrill of cooking off-book, of trusting your own instincts and finishing, every time, with something genuinely delicious is a real confidence boost for new and old home cooks alike. 

What will I love? Though the book is designed to be minimalist and simple, it is still filled with useful information. Dishes frequently come with easy modifications that can be made – either to replace more obscure ingredients, or to offer a different flavour profile. Separate ‘Tips’ sections will help beginner cooks learn key kitchen lessons, or occasionally share Sifton’s own tasting notes (he recommends avoiding chicken or vegetable gyoza for his blasphemous yet irresistible Pot Stickers with Tomato Sauce). 

What won’t I love? It’s a small complaint, but the cloth-bound cover isn’t ideal for a book that will see as much use as this one. It picks up all sorts of filth, and thanks to some spilt flour and the eager attention of two cats, my copy already looks a fair bit older than it should one month in. 

Killer recipes: It would be impossible to make enough noise about the aforementioned Cheese Ravioli with Duck Liver Mousse Sauce, which must be the most outrageously indulgent dish it’s possible to compile in under twenty minutes. But pretty much every dish in here will inspire at least some level of food lust. 

Highlights include Crab Rangoon Burgers, Quick-Broiled Pork Chops with Peanuts and Gochujang, Ham and Radicchio Toast, and Asparagus and Boursin Tart. 

Should I buy it? Of course you should. Sam Sifton’s book is not a book about the joy of cooking – it’s an instruction manual that will help you discover it for yourself. This would be a brilliant gift for someone who is just discovering the world of cooking, with bright and easy recipes that feel like an accomplishment once finished. Student cookbooks are so often drab and patronising affairs that, at best, will help someone make a competent but uninspiring lasagne. From now on, let’s send our freshers off with No-Recipe Recipes tucked in their suitcase – I would have eaten a lot less £5 pizza delivery deals if I’d known how easy it was to knock-up Sifton’s Black Bean Tacos or Sloppy Joes. 

At the same time, confident cooks who have long since found their footing in the kitchen will still find a wealth of inspiration here – fresh new flavour combinations and easy dishes that can be pulled together quickly when you’re tired after work.

No-Recipe Recipes everything you want from a cookbook – it is simple, irresistible and innovative. But above all else, it reminds you exactly how fun cooking can be.

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

Buy this book
New York Times Cooking: No-Recipe Recipes
£20, Ebury Press

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

One Pot, Pan, Planet by Anna Jones

One Pot, Pan, Planet by Anna Jones

What’s the USP? It’s a cookbook that offers ideas on how to live and eat more sustainably, with a selection of plant-based recipes that offer ‘a greener way to cook for you, your family and the planet’.

Sorry, I should have explained. USP means ‘unique selling point’. Haven’t we seen all this before? It’s certainly true that sustainable and plant-based cookery is very much on trend in the cookbook world at the moment. That said, the quality of the books has been fairly high all round, so it seems a little bit petty to call them out on it. Is anybody really complaining about the influx of interesting new ways to eat your veg?

Besides, One Pot, Pan, Planet has real pedigree. Anna Jones has made a name for herself as a columnist for The Guardian, and with her first three cookbooks (A Modern Way to Cook, A Modern Way to Eat and The Modern Chef’s Year). All three were built around healthy and overwhelmingly vegetarian cooking. Anna Jones hasn’t adapted to meet the current trends; the current trends have finally caught up with Anna Jones.

Is it good bedtime reading? There’s plenty to read here, with recipe-free chapters on sustainability scattered amongst the dishes. it’s not exactly great bedtime reading, unless you enjoy falling asleep with questions of biodiversity and soil health on your mind. Jones writes to inform rather than entertain, and though these sections are both enlightening and useful, they aren’t quite the same vibe as a chef rambling on amiably about sea urchins off the Amalfi coast, or the joys of growing your own rhubarb.

That said, Jones does make space for a spectacular chapter on vegetables that sits right in the centre of the book. Galloping through a list of ten well-loved veg, the chapter gives essential rundowns on when to buy each ingredient, how to prep and cook it, and what flavours it pairs with, before offering up ten no-nonsense ideas for each one. Nothing groundbreaking, perhaps – but immensely practical.

Will I have trouble finding the ingredients? Generally speaking, absolutely not. This is simple and accessible food using ingredients you’ll be able to pick up anywhere.

What’s the faff factor? Again, Jones strives for simplicity. As the title suggests, most dishes can be completed in a single pot or pan. All can be achieved on a single planet, but that’s not really an achievement. The idea behind this is that the cooking process, too, plays a part in sustainable cooking. Using a single dish requires less energy for the heating process and less water for the washing up.

How often will I cook from the book? How often do you want to skip on the meat? For vegetarians and vegans there are enough dishes here (and enough variety) to cover most meals if you’re really short on cookbook funds. Meat-eaters looking to cut back on their intake can readily fill their meat-free days with the filling and hearty dishes on offer here, from Arepas with black beans & salsa verde to Lemongrass & tofu larb.

Killer recipes: Sweet potato, ginger & coconut stew, Corn risotto, Golden rösti with ancho chilli chutney, Carrot & peanut nasi goreng, Chocolate & muscovado fudge cake

Should I buy it? There has been no shortage of excellent sustainable plant-based cookbooks over the past year or two, but One Pot, Pan, Planet still manages to stand out as one of the very finest. With creative and varied dishes that are built to be as achievable as they are sustainable, Jones has written a book that would be at home on any shelf.

Cuisine: Vegan
Suitable for: Confident home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating: Five stars

Buy this book
One: Pot, Pan, Planet: A greener way to cook for you, your family and the planet
£26, Fourth Estate

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

Roasted Italian sausages with borlotti beans and ’nduja sauce by Theo Randall

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Dried borlotti beans from the protected area of Lamon, in the Veneto, are the finest dried borlottis available. You don’t have to use these specifically, of course, but if you are lucky enough to come across a packet, you are in for a treat. Combined with lovely, flavoursome sausage and the spiciness of ’nduja, they are heavenly. Make sure you have a good bottle of Chianti, or other super-Tuscan red wine to drink alongside – it’s essential.

Serves 2
250g (9oz) dried borlotti beans, soaked overnight in plenty of cold water
2 garlic cloves, 1 whole, 1 finely sliced
1 plum tomato
2–3 sage leaves
3 tbsp olive oil
4 Italian sausages
2 celery sticks, finely chopped
1 red onion, finely chopped
2 carrots, peeled and finely chopped
100ml (3½fl oz) red wine
400g (14oz) tomato passata
75g (2½oz) skinned ’nduja
2 tbsp mascarpone
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
200g (7oz) purple-sprouting, calabrese or longstem broccoli, cooked and seasoned with olive oil and sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to serve

Drain the soaked beans and rinse under cold, running water for a couple of minutes. Place the rinsed beans in a large saucepan and pour in cold water so that the water comes 10cm (4in) above the level of the beans. Add the whole clove of garlic, along with the plum tomato and sage leaves. Place over a high heat and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook gently for 40 minutes, skimming off the foam from time to time, until the beans are soft enough to crush to a mash with your thumb.

Drain the beans, reserving the cooking water. Remove the tomato, sage and garlic and place them in a bowl. Using a hand-held stick blender and a little of the bean cooking water, blend to a smooth paste. Add the paste back to the beans and check the seasoning. Set aside.

Preheat the oven to 160°C/140°C fan/315°F/Gas Mark 2–3.

Heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in an ovenproof frying pan on a medium heat. When hot, add the sausages and cook for 5 minutes, turning frequently, until brown all over. Remove them from the pan
and set aside, leaving the sausage fat and olive oil in the pan.

Add the celery, sliced garlic, onion and carrots to the pan and cook gently for 5 minutes, until the onion has softened. Add the red wine and cook for a further 2 minutes until the liquid has reduced by half. Add the passata, cook gently for a couple of minutes, then add the ’nduja and stir well. Place the sausages on top of the passata mixture and bake in the oven for 15 minutes, until the sausages are cooked through. Remove from the oven, dollop over the mascarpone and check the seasoning.

Warm the cooked borlotti beans and stir through the remaining olive oil. Place on the table for everyone to help themselves, with some steaming hot purple sprouting broccoli served alongside.

Cook more from this book
Twice-baked squash and fontina soufflé by Theo Randall
Chocolate, espresso and vin santo pots with cantuccini biscuits by Theo Randall

Read the review

Buy this book
The Italian Deli Cookbook: 100 Glorious Recipes Celebrating the Best of Italian Ingredients
£26, Quadrille Publishing

Twice-baked squash and fontina soufflé by Theo Randall

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Known in Italy as sformato di zucca, this dish was one of the first I mastered, more than 30 years ago, when I was an apprentice at Chez Max in Surbiton, just outside London, where the chef-owner Max Magarian became a huge influence on my approach to cooking. I must have made thousands of these delicious soufflés (the only difference in this one is the cheese choice) and I can still remember how excited I was when Max told me I had made them perfectly.  If you’re lucky to get hold of a black winter truffle, it will bring out the best in the soufflé. You will need ten moulds and ten gratin dishes to make this (just reduce the quantities if making fewer).

Makes 10
500g (1lb 2oz) butternut squash, peeled, deseeded and cut into 2cm (¾in) cubes
olive oil, for roasting
300g (10½oz) fresh spinach
90g (3¼oz) unsalted butter, plus extra for greasing
90g (3¼oz) plain (all-purpose) flour, plus extra for flouring
1 litre (35fl oz) whole milk, hot
300g (10½oz) fontina, grated
10 organic egg yolks
12 organic egg whites
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

To finish
200g (7oz) fontina, grated
100g (3½oz) Parmesan, finely grated
500ml (17fl oz) double (heavy) cream
shavings of black truffle (optional), to serve

Preheat the oven to 180°C/160°C fan/350°F/Gas Mark 4. Butter and flour ten 180ml (6½fl oz) metal or ceramic moulds. Place the squash in a roasting tin, season with salt and pepper and drizzle with olive oil. Cover the tin with foil and bake for 40 minutes, or until soft. Remove the foil and continue baking for a further 15 minutes, so the squash dries out. Remove from the oven and leave to cool, then put through a mouli (or use a potato masher) until you have a fine purée. Set aside.

Meanwhile, bring a pan of salted water to the boil. Boil the spinach for 2 minutes, until the stalks are tender. Drain in a colander and push out any residual liquid with the back of a spoon. When the spinach has cooled, squeeze it with your hands until just damp. Set aside.

Melt the butter in a large pan over a medium heat. Add the flour and cook for 2 minutes, then add the hot milk. Stir with a whisk until there are no lumps and you have a smooth white sauce. Add the squash purée, along with the fontina and season with salt and pepper. Take off the heat and stir in the egg yolks.

Preheat the oven again to 180°C/160°C fan/350°F/Gas Mark 4. Transfer the mixture to a clean, large bowl. Whisk the egg whites until stiff peaks form, then gently fold them into the butternut squash mixture. Pour the mixture equally into the prepared moulds, filling all the way to the tops. Place the moulds into a roasting tin, then pour boiling water into the tin so that it comes half way up the sides of the moulds. Bake in the oven for 20 minutes, until the soufflé rises and goes a light golden colour. Remove the tin from the oven (but leave the oven on), then remove the moulds from the tin and leave to cool.

To finish, grease 10 small gratin dishes. Divide the cooked spinach between each dish in an even layer. Remove the soufflés from the moulds and place one in each dish on top of the spinach. Sprinkle over the grated fontina and Parmesan then gently pour some cream over each soufflé. Season each dish with salt and pepper and bake them all for 10 minutes, until puffed up and golden brown. Finish with shavings of fresh black truffle.

Cook more from this book
Roasted Italian sausages with borlotti beans and ’nduja sauce by Theo Randall
Chocolate, espresso and vin santo pots with cantuccini biscuits by Theo Randall

Read the review 

Buy this book
The Italian Deli Cookbook: 100 Glorious Recipes Celebrating the Best of Italian Ingredients
£26, Quadrille Publishing

Chocolate, espresso and vin santo pots with cantuccini biscuits by Theo Randall

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I first tasted vin santo many years ago at Paolo di Marchi’s estate Isole e Olena, in Chianti, Tuscany. After the vineyard tour, we came to a brick outhouse that had no windows, and was breezy but dry. There were bamboo mats full of the most beautifully coloured grapes that were starting to shrivel up like raisins, soon to be pressed for their juice to make vin santo. That evening, after a huge meal and lots of Paolo’s other wines, we had a glass of vin santo and a plate of homemade cantuccini biscuits. I use vin santo in lots of sweet dishes, especially ice cream, but I love chocolate, too, so I came up with this recipe. What could be better?

Serves 6

For the cantuccini

2 organic eggs
2 tbsp honey (chestnut honey is best, if possible)
1 tbsp Amaretto or brandy
zest of 1 unwaxed orange
250g (9oz) plain (all-purpose) flour
150g (5½oz) caster (superfine) sugar
1 tsp baking powder
150g (5½oz) whole almonds50g (1¾oz) shelled pistachios

For the chocolate pots
100ml (3½fl oz) whole milk
25ml (1fl oz) vin santo
300ml (10½fl oz) double (heavy) cream
200g (7oz) 80% dark (bittersweet) chocolate (use 70% if you can’t find 80%), chopped
50g (1¾oz) caster (superfine) sugar
4 organic egg yolks

First, make the cantuccini biscuits. In a large bowl whisk together the eggs, honey, Amaretto or brandy, and orange zest. Add the flour, sugar and baking powder. Using your hands, mix everything together to a dough, then add the almonds and pistachios. Mix well to distribute the nuts evenly through the dough.  Divide the dough into two equal pieces. Wet your hands and then roll out each piece of dough into a log about 3cm (1¼in) wide and 20cm (8in) long. Place the logs on a baking sheet, cover with a sheet of baking parchment and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 180°C/160°C fan/350°F/Gas Mark 4.

Bake the chilled cantuccini logs for 30 minutes, or until they are a golden brown. Remove from the oven (but leave the oven on) and transfer (off the baking sheet) to a wire rack to cool. When they are cool, using a bread knife, cut the cantuccini at a 45 degree angle into pieces 1 cm (1/2 inch) thick.

Place the cantuccini, spaced well apart, on a baking sheet lined with baking parchment. Return tot he oven for 10 minutes until crisp and golden brown.  Remove from the oven and transfer (off the baking sheet)  to a wire rack to cool completely. Once cool, place in a sealed container or serve straight away with the chocolate pots. (If you’re storing the biscuits, it’s very important that the cantuccini are fully cooked before you place them in the sealed container, otherwise the residual heat will make them go soggy.) 

To make the chocolate pots, pour the milk, vin santo and cream into saucepan and place on a medium heat. Bring to the simmer, then turn off the heart and add the chocolate. Leave for 1-2 minutes for the chocolate to soften. Using a spoon or a whisk, stir until the chocolate has melted and the mixture is smooth. 

Whisk the sugar and egg yolks in the bowl of a stand mixer on medium speed for about 3 minutes, until the mixture is pale and creamy. (Alternatively whisk by hand in a bowl for about 5 minutes.)

If using a machine, reduce the speed to its lowest setting. Slowly pour in the melted chocolate mixture and mix until an even colour. (Or do this in a bowl by hand.)

Pour the mixture into individual serving dishes (ramekings, glasses or cups will work). Refrigerate for at least 2 hours, then serve with cantuccini biscuits and really good, hot espresso. 

Cook more from this book
Roasted Italian sausages with borlotti beans and ’nduja sauce by Theo Randall
Twice-baked squash and fontina soufflé by Theo Randall

Buy this book
The Italian Deli Cookbook: 100 Glorious Recipes Celebrating the Best of Italian Ingredients
£26, Quadrille Publishing

Read the review