A Curious Absence of Chickens by Sophie Grigson

A Curious Absence of Chickens Sophie Grigson

A Curious Absence of Chickens is ‘a journal of life, food and recipes from Puglia’. On the cusp of her 60th birthday, renowned British food writer Sophie Grigson made the life-changing decision to relocate permanently from her home in Oxford to the small town of Candela in Puglia in southern Italy. In 10 chapters, the book covers a period of just over a year from June 2019 to Autumn 2020 and explores the culture, history and geography of the region all through the prism of food, documented in short essays and recipes.  And that title? Grigson says you won’t find chicken on a restaurant menu in Puglia which she attributes to the fact that, traditionally in the region ‘a laying chicken was just too precious to kill off’.

The author is Sophie Grigson (daughter of legendary food writer Jane Grigson) who has written more than 20 books and has presented nine TV series for various British broadcasters.

You should buy A Curious Absence of Chickens for the carefully collated and curated collection of mostly traditional Puglian recipes (none of which are pictures, the only illustrations in the book are Kavel Rafferty’s charming drawings) including polpette di carne (meatballs);  bombette (thinly sliced pork shoulder rolled with pancetta, parsley and cheese; ciambotto (fish stew with squid, chillies and tomatoes) and ciceri e tria (a dish from Salento in the south of Puglia of  chickpeas cooked with cherry tomatoes and pasta and topped with fried pasta strips).

Although the book stems from a personal life choice, don’t expect Grigson to give too much away about herself in the book, which is more a journalist exploration of the regions food culture (and an excellent one at that) than traditional memoir.  

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

Buy this book
A Curious Absence of Chickens by Sophie Grigson
£20, Headline Home

This book was longlisted for the Andre Simon Food Award. Read more here.

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Taste: My Life Through Food by Stanley Tucci

Taste by Stanley Tucci

Taste: My Life Through Food is a food-centric memoir with recipes.

The author is Stanley Tucci, the much loved American actor, writer, film producer and director, most noted for his performances in The Devil Wears Prada and The Hunger Games. However, foodies will know him best for the films Big Night and Julie and Julia and his excellent food and travel TV series Searching for Italy. He is the author of two cookbooks, The Tucci Table and The Tucci Cookbook.  

You should buy Taste: My Life Through Food first and foremost if you are a fan of Tucci. The handful of recipes are for very familiar Italian dishes such as pasta alla Norma or are so simple, like a tomato salad or lamb chops, as to hardly warrant a recipe at all. Perhaps I’m missing the point.

However, you do get the recipe for Timpano, the spectacular centrepiece dish featured in Big Night that Tucci describes as ‘a baked drum of pastry-like dough filled with pasta, ragu, salami, various cheeses, hard boiled eggs, and meatballs’. There’s also some of Tucci’s favourite cocktails (including his now notorious shaken not stirred negroni), his wife’s recipe for roast potatoes and American BBQ chef Adam Perry Lang’s chimichurri sauce among other things.

But Tucci is an engaging writer and you will have fun discovering his childhood in upstate New York (as well as a year in Florence), his time working as a nineteen year old bar man in Alfredo’s restaurant in Manhattan and anecdotes from his life in the movie business.

Cuisine: Italian
Suitable for: For beginners/confident home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating: Three stars

Buy this book
Taste: My Life Through Food by Stanley Tucci
£20, Fig Tree

This book has been shortlisted for the Andre Simon Food Award. Read more here.

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Freekeh, Wild Wheat and Ancient Grains by Ruth Nieman

Freekeh
Freekeh, Wild Wheat & Ancient Grains is a collection of 80 ‘healthy’ recipes based around ancient grains including freekeh. The book’s six chapters also chart the 10,000 year history of the discovery and cultivation of grains including barley, rye and sorghum and wild wheats such as emmer and einkorn. 

The author is London-based food writer and former nurse and then caterer Ruth Nieman who specialises in the food of the Middle East. Her first self published book The Galilean Kitchen included home recipes from women of the northern Israeli region.  

You should buy Freekeh, Wild Wheat & Ancient Grains if you are interested in food history and finding out more about lesser known ingredients, as well as eating nutritious dishes such as pearl barley soup  with fennel, dill and feta which Nieman says is protein rich and contains fibre and antioxidants. The tone tends toward the  academic and there’s a distinct lack of food styling in the photography which gives the book a less than polished feel which may limit its appeal for some readers. 

Cuisine: Middle Eastern 
Suitable for: For beginners/confident home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating: Three stars

Buy this book
Freekeh by Ruth Nieman
£20, Prospect Books

This book has been shortlisted for the Andre Simon Food Award. Read more here.

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Ripe Figs by Yasmin Khan

Ripe Figs
Ripe Figs is a culinary journey through Greece, Turkey and Cyprus documented by recipes and the stories of the people the author encountered on their travels.

The author is food writer Yasmin Khan, a former human rights campaigner. She is the author of two other books, The Saffron Tales and Zaitoun.

You should buy Ripe Figs for the knock out food of course, but it’s so much more than a recipe book. Khan brings the Eastern Mediterranean to vivid life with tales from her journey through the region. She meets Lena Altinoglou, one of four female founders of Nan restaurant in Mytilene in the Greek island of Lesvos, a social enterprise established so that Greek nationals and refugees to the area could work side by side and help bring the two communities together, while in Istanbul, she visits the apartment of Berrak Gocer to learn how to cook yoghurt soup and lamb meatballs with orzo pilaf. The book contains classics such as skordalia, kleftiko and halva as well as Khan’s own creations that include sweet potato, chickpea and tahini salad.

Cuisine: Mediterranean
Suitable for: For beginners/confident home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating: Five stars

Buy this book
Ripe Figs by Yasmin Khan
£26, Bloomsbury

This book has been shortlisted for the Andre Simon Food Award. Read more here.

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The Modern Preserver’s Kitchen by Kylee Newton

THE MODERN PRESERVER'S KITCHEN - Kylee Newton

The Modern Preserver’s Kitchen is a guide to making and using jam, chutney, ferments and pickles with recipes for the preserves themselves and 70 dishes in which to use them.

The author is Kylee Newton is the New Zealand-born, London-based founder of the  Newton and Pott preserving company that makes small batch jams, pickles and chutneys that are available at Selfridges, Harrods and Harvey Nichols as well as local London markets. She is also the author of The Modern Preserver.

You should buy The Modern Preserver’s Kitchen if you are new to the subject and want to learn how to vinegar-brine vegetables and fruit, ferment vegetables to make things like sauerkraut and kimchi, make savoury chutneys relishes and pickles including cranberry sauce and sweet and hot tomato chilli jam and sweet jams, marmalades and jellies such as rhubarb and hibiscus jam and lime and tequila marmalade. If you’re already an expert preserver, recipes including  sweet chilli chicken wings with kimchi fried rice will provide plenty of inspiration of what to do with all those delicious store cupboard ingredients.

Cuisine: Preserving
Suitable for: For beginners/confident home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating: Five stars

Buy this book
The Modern Preserver’s Kitchen by Kylee Newton
£22, Quadrille

This book has been shortlisted for the Andre Simon Food Award. Read more here.

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Sea and Shore by Emily Scott

Emily Scott Sea and Shore

Sea and Shore is a collection of recipes by a chef inspired by living and working in Cornwall. As there isn’t really such a thing as ‘Cornish cuisine’, it’s probably best to think of it as one cook’s personal culinary response to the produce and surroundings of the county.

The author is Emily Scott, chef of Emily Scott Food in Watergate Bay in north Cornwall and the former owner and chef of St Tudy Inn near Bodmin. She recently hit the headlines as one of the team who catered the G7 conference at Carbis Bay in Cornwall in 2021. Scott also appeared on the BBCs Great British Menu series in 2019.

You should buy Sea and Shore because you’ll want to make Cornish crab linguine with chilli, lemon and parsley; slow roasted lamb shoulder with smoked paprika, garlic and thyme; little gem tart with Keen’s Cheddar, spring onions and flat leaf parsley; meringue roulade with clementine curd, cream and passionfruit and Cornish faring biscuits made with coconut, ginger and golden syrup, plus many of the other 80 simple recipes, making it an ideal book for novice cooks. The food looks colourful and appetising while the Cornish landscape photography will inspire your next English summer holiday.

Cuisine: British
Suitable for: For beginners/confident home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating: Four stars

Buy this book
Sea and Shore by Emily Scott 
£26, Hardie Grant

Colu Cooks by Colu Henry

Colu Cooks by Colu Henry
What’s the USP? Cookbooks are all about USPs at the moment. Whether they focus in on a single region’s cuisine, or promise a wealth of recipes that can be produced with nothing more than a roasting tin and a lot of patience for the scouring pad you’ll need after, these hyper-specialised cookbooks are, generally speaking, quite welcome. It’s lovely to know that should I wish to learn the nuances of fermentation, or become a master of teppanyaki, I can find a book that will support that. But it perhaps means that we see less of the other type of cookbook: the cook’s book.

There’s a small joy in rummaging through an individual’s favourite recipes, knowing that the overwhelming theme they want to share with you is as follows: these are the delicious things that I like to eat. Though the two great Nigels (Slater and -la Lawson) have each delivered excellent cook’s books over the last couple of years, I’m always excited to root about through the choice meals of a cook that I trust. And that’s exactly what Colu Cooks offers.

Who wrote it? Colu Henry, who ironically first came to my attention thanks to her hyper-specialised first book. In my late twenties, and keen to learn how to make pasta dishes that were slightly more accomplished than the jar of sauce/chopped up sausage combo I’d been relying on for years, Henry’s Back Pocket Pasta became a key source of flavour and fresh inspiration.

Five years later, and Henry is back with her second book. Pasta still features throughout – we never forget our first love – but exists as one facet in a book overflowing with flavour. Colu Cooks is a collection of recipes linked by little more than the author’s love for them.

Is it good bedtime reading? It’s not bad bedtime reading, which is more than we can say for a lot of cookbooks. For the most part, chapter introductions are short and sweet, and individual recipes get a paragraph or two each. There’s the list of pantry staples that no cook’s book goes without, and a lovely section at the back where Henry, who is no big fan of desserts, hands over the sweetest section to a roster of friends. But for the most part the reading is limited, if lifted by Henry’s likeable and honest voice.

What’s the faff factor? Pretty low. The book’s subtitle promises ‘easy fancy food’, which seems to be the case in no small part because those are precisely the recipes Henry loves most after all. Dishes are mostly pitched as taking less than half an hour to make, and those that take a little longer are often the simplest of all. I decided to knock together the Spatchcocked Lime Pickle Roasted Chicken one morning to offer a friend over for lunch, and barely even noticed the process as we chatted together in the kitchen.

How often will I cook from the book? The joy of ‘easy fancy food’ is that though most dishes in the book would impress dinner guests, they’re equally suited to a weeknight meal. Put your mind to it, and you could easily work your way through the entire cookbook in a year.

What will I love? Everything looks and sounds delicious. It’s hard to resist most dishes. Danielle Youngsmith’s design and Tara Donne’s nostalgic photos manage to perfectly capture the feel of a 1970s food magazine that Henry wanted. A smattering of cocktail recipes only add to the vibe. It’s a fun look that recalls Lucky Peach’s books – a retro feel complimenting modern, exciting cookery.

What won’t I love? As with so many cook’s books, the dishes aren’t always as easy or cheap to source as you’d like. This isn’t Colu Henry’s fault, of course – ideally we should all be able to find good quality short ribs at affordable prices, but there are plenty of accessible dishes here nonetheless.

Killer recipes: Swordfish with Burst Tomatoes, Peppers, Za’atar and Preserved Lemon, Smoky and Spicy Shrimp with Anchovy Butter and Fregola, A Dirty Bird (aka Potato Chip Chicken), Braised Lamb Shanks with Gingery Meyer Lemon Relish, Dregs and Fruit Crumble, Nutella Fudgsicles, Guvie’s Ramos Gin Fizz

Should I buy it? A celebration of food that is as indulgent as it is manageable, Colu Cooks is fun and flavourful. Such a passionate and engaging celebration of one individual’s favourite dishes gives us an opportunity to think about our own favourites, and build a cook’s book that best represents us. Chances are most people will find something here that they’ll want to add to theirs.

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

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

Buy this book
Colu Cooks by Colu Henry
£25, Abrams Books

Cook from this book
Swordfish with Burst Tomatoes, Peppers, and Za’atar and Preserved Lemon by Colu Henry
Spring lamb ragu with anchovies and pea shoots by Colu Henry
Smoky and Spicy Shrimp with Anchovy Butter and Fregola by Colu Henry

Seared by Genevieve Taylor

Seared by Genevieve Taylor
There are few better qualified people to write a guide to barbecuing meat than Genevieve Taylor. As well as authoring ten previous cookbooks, including Charred: The Complete Guide to Vegetarian Grilling and Barbecue, Taylor runs the Bristol Fire School where she teaches cooking over fire. She shares her knowledge and expertise in the practical side of barbecuing in an extended introduction that’s the next best thing to attending one of her classes. Taylor covers all the key areas of cooking over fire including all the equipment you’ll probably ever need as well as what sort of fuel you should consider buying and how to create various fuel set ups for cooking different cuts of meat.

Divided into two main chapters of ‘Beast’ (covering beef, pork, lamb, veal, venison and goat) and ‘Bird’ (chicken, turkey and duck), the collection of globally inspired recipes covers both fast and slow cooking methods and will help barbecue newbies and more experienced practitioners alike expand their repertoire. The creative dishes include pork tenderloin with pistachio crust and grilled spring veg; tandoori venison kebabs, and even a Thai red curry with meatballs and green beans.

The ubiquitous and often mundane barbecue double act of sausages and burgers are given a makeover with homemade pork butt and beef chuck Texas hot link sausages spiced with smoked paprika and cayenne, and minty lamb smash burgers served with feta and beetroot. Ribs get an entire chapter to themselves and have never sounded more tempting than in the guise of Sri Lankan black pork spare-ribs with curry BBQ sauce or cola and gochugaru flanken-cut (across the bones) beef ribs.

With guides on brines, marinades and rubs, how to cook the perfect steak (with or without bone), techniques for smoking and braising on the barbecue and a quick reference infographic guide to the internal temperatures for all the included varieties of meat, Taylor covers all the barbecue bases and lives up to the claim in the book’s subtitle that this is ‘The Ultimate Guide to Barbecuing Meat’.

Cuisine: Barbecue
Suitable for: Beginner and confident home cooks/professional chefs
Cookbook Review Rating: Four stars

Buy this book
Seared by Genevieve Taylor
£20, Hardie Grant

This review was first published in The Caterer magazine. 

Kamo Negi – Duck With Grilled Leeks by Brendan Liew

TUL_Izakaya_Kamonegi

Like bacon and eggs, kamo (duck) and negi (leek) can be listed as just two ingredients on a menu, but the combination is so well known in Japan that people can envisage the dish based only on those two words alone. Kamo negi is usually seared, thinly sliced duck breast accompanied by the whites of leeks that have been slowly pan-fried or roasted to have nicely brown grill marks. It could be served plated
as an okazu (side dish) as part of a larger feast, or made into a delightful noodle soup. I’ve included both versions of the dish here, as you can double the amount of duck breast and turn it into two completely different meals. It is best to start this recipe the day before, to allow the duck breast to cure with the salt and sansho overnight. This draws out water from the meat while seasoning the duck at the same time, resulting in crispier duck skin and more flavoursome meat.

2 duck breasts
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon ground sansho pepper
1 thin leek, cleaned, whites cut into 4 pieces, greens discarded or used for stock
30 ml (1 fl oz) soy sauce
30 ml (1 fl oz) sake
15 g (1/2 oz) zarame or sugar

PLATED VERSION
1 bunch of spring onions
(scallions)

SOUP VERSION
500 ml (2 cups) dashi (see page 32 of book for recipe)
250 g (9 oz) ramen noodles, home-made (see page 130 of book for recipe) or store bought
1 bunch of green vegetables, washed and cut into bite-sized pieces
shichimi togarashi, to serve

SERVES 2
Using a sharp knife, remove any silver skin from the underside of the duck breasts. Rub 1 teaspoon salt over the skin and meat of each breast, then rub the sansho pepper over only the flesh. (We season only the meat side with the sansho, because the sansho will burn on the skin side, which is pan-fried for a longer time than the meat side.) Place the duck breasts, skin side up, on a rack with a tray underneath. Leave uncovered in the refrigerator for up to 24 hours, but at least 2 hours.

When ready to cook, use a sharp knife to cut lines down the duck skin, along the length of the breast, about 2 mm (1/8 inch) deep and 1 cm (1/2 inch) apart. This creates channels for the duck fat to render out, resulting in a crispier skin.

Place the duck, skin side down, in a cold frying pan and turn the heat to medium–low. When the duck starts sizzling and a thin layer of rendered duck fat coats the bottom of the pan, add the leek to the pan.

Cook for 15 minutes over medium–low heat, skin side down the whole time; there should be a light frying noise. Every 5 minutes, drain the fat from the pan, reserving it for roasted potatoes or stir-fries. Turn the leek over after 7 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a small saucepan, heat the soy sauce, sake and zarame just enough to dissolve the zarame.  At this point, you can take the recipe in two different directions.

FOR THE PLATED VERSION:
Wash the spring onions, then divide into the green and white parts. Shred the green bits and very thinly julienne the whites, keeping them separate.

After the duck has finished cooking on the skin side for 15 minutes, turn it over onto the flesh side and sear all the parts that appear uncooked. After you’ve seared each side, leave the duck on the meat side for a further minute (it should be 2 minutes in total), then transfer the duck and leek from the pan to a plate and allow to rest for 5 minutes. Take the pan off the heat, but do not wash.

After 5 minutes, place the pan back on the heat and turn the heat up to high. Add the spring onion greens and stir-fry until wilted. Add the soy sauce mixture and any accumulated juices under the duck. Allow to bubble until slightly thickened, then remove from the heat. Slice the duck, then place on your serving dish with the leek. Pour the sauce over, garnish with the spring onion whites and serve.

FOR THE SOUP VERSION:
While the duck is cooking, bring the dashi to a simmer and prepare a pot of boiling water for cooking the noodles.

After the duck has finished cooking on the skin side for 15 minutes, very quickly sear the flesh side of the duck just to colour it, then remove from the pan with the leek. Don’t worry if you think it’s still raw; it will cook further in the soup.

Quickly blanch your vegetables in the boiling water; remove with tongs and place in a colander to drain. Boil the noodles in the same water, then pour into the colander to drain, shaking the colander to remove as much excess water as possible.

Divide the noodles and vegetables among bowls. Add 3 tablespoons of the soy sauce mixture to the simmering dashi. Taste and add more of the dashi mixture, or salt, until you are happy with the flavour. Pour it over the noodles and top with the greens. Slice the duck breast and fan it out over the noodles with the leek. Serve with shichimi togarashi for sprinkling over.

Cook more from this book
Salmon Ochazuke by Brendan Liew
Mizu Shingen Mochi – Raindrop Cakes by Brendan Liew

Buy this book
Tokyo Up Late by Brendan Liew
£26,  Smith Street Books

Read the review
Coming soon

Swordfish with Burst Tomatoes, Peppers, and Za’atar and Preserved Lemon by Colu Henry

SwordfishWithBurstTomatoes_p104a_ColuCooks
My dad ordered swordfish a lot when we vacationed on the Cape in the eighties. He also spent a lot of time unsuccessfully surf casting on Nauset Beach, but that’s another story. In the years following, swordfish became so overfished that for many years it was taken off menus. Since then, a lot of work has been done to rebuild the population and I’m so pleased we’re able to eat them responsibly again. They are meaty, flavorful, wonderful fish that hold their own with punchy flavors, which you’ll see here. If you can find the Italian Jimmy Nardello varietal of peppers for this recipe, please do. They are up there as one of my favorite peppers, and when cooked, their sweetness intensifies and almost becomes a bit smoky. I first had them in Napa and was thrilled when the farmers at Sparrowbush started growing them here in Hudson. Clearly a bell pepper will also work, but I think the Nardello’s are worth tracking down.

Serves 4
Time: 35 minutes

INGREDIENTS
4 tablespoons (60 ml) olive oil
3 Jimmy Nardello peppers or 1 medium red bell pepper, seeded and cut into long thin strips
2 pints (290 g) mixed heirloom cherry tomatoes, halved if large
2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1 chile pepper, such as cayenne, serrano, or jalapeño, thinly sliced
2½ teaspoons za’atar (a Middle Eastern spice blend consisting of dried herbs and sesame seeds)
¼ cup (112 g) seeded and roughly chopped preserved lemon (both peel and flesh)
½ cup (120 ml) dry white wine
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 (6-ounce/170 g) swordfish steaks, about ¾ inch (2 cm) thick
2 tablespoons fresh oregano leaves
Flaky salt, for finishing (optional)

METHOD
Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a deep-sided 12-inch (30.5 cm) skillet over medium heat. Add the sweet peppers and cook, stirring occasionally, until they are softened and beginning to turn golden in spots, 6 to 8 minutes.

Add the cherry tomatoes to the skillet and cook, stirring occasionally, until they start to burst, 5 to 7 minutes, pressing the tomatoes gently with the back of a spatula or wooden spoon to get them nice and jammy. (I like to keep some with more structure than the others for texture’s sake.) There should be a fair amount of liquid released in the pan. If not, add a few tablespoons of water. Stir in the garlic, chile pepper, za’atar, and preserved lemon and cook for 2 to 3 minutes more, until the garlic is fragrant and the spice mix is lightly toasted.

Pour in the white wine and bring to a simmer, scraping up any brown bits that have formed at the bottom of the pan, and cook for 10 minutes or so, allowing the flavors to get to know each other and the sauce to slightly thicken. Taste and adjust with salt and pepper.

Meanwhile, prepare the swordfish steaks. Season the fish well with salt and pepper. Heat the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil in a large non-stick skillet over medium-high heat. Add the fish and cook for 3 to 4 minutes, and then gently flip to finish cooking, 2 to 3 minutes more, or until the flesh is opaque all the way through. Arrange the swordfish in the pan with the tomatoes and peppers and scatter the top with the oregano leaves. Season with flaky salt if you like. Spoon more of the sauce over the top and serve from the pan.

Cook more from this book
Spring lamb ragu with anchovies and pea shoots by Colu Henry
Smoky and Spicy Shrimp with Anchovy Butter and Fregola by Colu Henry

Buy this book
Colu Cooks by Colu Henry
£25, Abrams Books

Read the review
Coming soon