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

The Italian Deli Cookbook by Theo Randall

Italian Deli Cookbook

Theo Randall’s third cookbook is a pean to instinctive cooking inspired by store cupboard ingredients.  Divided into 17 ingredient-themed chapters, the book covers much of what you’d expect to find on an Italian deli’s shelves, from tinned and smoked fish to olives and cheese, and salumi and Italian sausages to olive oil and vinegars, and much else besides.

Dishes such as wild rocket and cannelini bean soup with pesto; roasted lamb rump with polenta and creamy olive and anchovy sauce, and vegan dark chocolate and coffee tart with coconut ice cream and croccante demonstrate Randall’s knack for writing attention-grabbing and delicious sounding recipes.

You’ll have to buy Randall’s first book Pasta if you want his excellent pasta dough recipe but, in keeping with the book’s theme, he has included seven dishes made with dried pasta including orecchiette with anchovies and cima di rappa (bitter greens with a ‘turnip-like flavour’ and a signature Randall ingredient)  and spaghettini with garlic, chilli and parsley, a staff-food favourite from his time as head chef of The River Café.

For Randall, the devil is in the detail. He recommends tracking down dried borlotti beans from the protected area of Lamon in Veneto which, he says, combined with roasted Italian sausages and ‘nduja sauce, are ‘heavenly’; specifies pagnotta, a Puglian semolina bread for a bruschetta of courgette, olive and ricotta salata, and suggests spaghetti from Gragnano in Southern Italy (recognised as the home of dried pasta) for his take on spaghetti alle vongole.

There are other instantly recognisable classic Italian dishes in the book, but each has Randall’s imprimatur. So fritto misto is finished with mint and chilli, potatoes are roasted with balsamic, pancetta and red onion, and tuna carpaccio is accompanied by fennel and lemon. Even Randall’s version of tiramisu has an unusual genesis and is inspired by the recipe of a pizzeria in Antigua.

But fundamentally, Randall is not aiming for novelty or difference for difference sake, but rather to make ‘simple food with exceptional ingredients’. The Italian Deli Cookbook is further evidence that he is the master of that particular craft.

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

A version of this review first appeared in The Caterer magazine. 

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

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

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

Vegetarian round up: The Part-Time Vegetarian’s Year and Italy: The World Vegetarian

What’s the USP? Two USPs, actually! Having explored meat-free options from India and Japan with their initial installments earlier this year, Bloomsbury’s ‘World Vegetarian’ series takes its first step into Europe with Christine Smallwood’s volume on the food of Italy. Meanwhile, Nicola Graimes follows up 2015’s The Part-Time Vegetarian with a seasonal take on her flexitarian cooking.

Are they good bedtime reading? Once the recipes are out of the way, there’s not a lot of extra-curricular writing in Smallwood’s book on Italy. Like many cookbooks that form part of a larger series, this is a fairly utilitarian affair. This isn’t a book for reading over cosy winter evenings, but rather a practical volume you can take down from the shelf when you need dinner on the table in forty minutes.

The Part-Time Vegetarian’s Year has a lot more to offer on this front – the division of a cookbook by seasonal availability has been something of a trend in the last couple of years, and lends itself brilliantly to vegetarian cooking (as Nigel Slater demonstrated with his brilliant Greenfeast books). So here we have practical advice about how best to utilise your freezer, how to minimise your food waste and, of course, handy lists of which vegetables are in season when.

Will I have trouble finding the ingredients? One of the most underrated elements of vegetarian cooking, I think, is that recipes are usually incredibly easy to source. Dishes rely on the flavours of the vegetables and the method of cooking to extract as much flavour as possible out, and as such rarely call upon more hard-to-source ingredients. Smallwood’s book, drawing as it does from a cuisine that has been so warmly taken in and appropriated by Britons, features nothing but instantly recognisable ingredients that can be found most anywhere you care to shop. Graimes might send you out into the world for hoisin sauce or silken tofu, but you’re not going to consider that much of a challenge, are you?

How often will I cook from the books? Both titles are filled with interesting and vibrant dishes – though Italy: The World Vegetarian probably has the upper hand on this front. Smallwood’s dishes are ready made for weeknight cooking, and you could easily find yourself picking out a simple but effective recipe from this book once or twice a week.

Graimes’ Part-Time Vegetarian’s Year asks a little more from the reader – both in terms of culinary skills and commitment of time to the dishes. The results are equally as tempting, though, so will likely find their way onto your dinner table a couple of times a month without any trouble.

What will I love and what won’t I love? For all of The World Vegetarian’s positives, the book is just a bit, well, drab. It’s hard to really put your personality into a pre-existing format – and in terms of Smallwood’s involvement this is much more ‘Gary Barlow takes over X-Factor’ than ‘Taika Waititi shakes up the Marvel Cinematic Universe’. We’re spoiled for vegetarian cookbooks at the moment, and sheer practicality isn’t necessarily enough of a selling point to really make a mark. This is something The Part-Time Vegetarian’s Year understands – it’s significantly more vibrant, and the reader gets a much stronger sense of Nicola Graimes’ voice and personality. It’s also, dare I say it, more fun. The flexitarian options allow for the entire thing to feel more interactive, more of a loose guide than the overt instruction manual vibes of Smallwood’s book.

Killer recipes: Italy: The World Vegetarian’s highlights include Sciatt with Cicoria, Spicy Farro Soup and Assassin’s Spaghetti. The Part-Time Vegetarian’s Year travels a little further afield to offer Sesame Empanada Pie, Mushroom Noodle Larb and Spiced Leek Flatbreads with Mint Aioli.

Should I buy it? Both will find a place on any vegetarian’s shelf. Smallwood’s entry to the World Vegetarian series is perhaps better suited for cooks seeking to expand on their own repertoire of dishes – though it’s probably the more useful of the two offerings, it lacks the pizazz we tend to seek in the books we give to others. The Part-Time Vegetarian’s Year, however, has exactly that. It’s accessible and fun – and the flexitarian element means it will be equally loved by both vegetarians and those looking to cut their meat-consumption down in the future.

Cuisine: Italian/Global
Suitable for: Beginners/Beginners and confident home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating: Three stars/Three stars

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

Buy the books
The Part-Time Vegetarian’s Year: Four Seasons of Flexitarian Recipes
£25, Nourish Books 

Italy: The World Vegetarian
£20, Bloomsbury Absolute

A Table for Friends by Skye McAlpine

What’s the USP? A celebration of communal eating, offering up advice and recipes that will allow you to host the perfect dinner party!

Wait a moment. Are we supposed to be having dinner parties at the moment? Oh, Christ. It’s complicated, isn’t it? I think so. I think we can host dinner parties as long as only one other household is invited.

What if I make everyone sit in the garden? Well, given we’re in September now, so you’d look like a bit of a tyrant. 

I’m lost. Yes, we’re all a bit lost here. Look, the general vibe is yes, you can host a dinner party, but no, you probably shouldn’t. I doubt Bloomsbury were planning for a global pandemic when they commissioned Skye McAlpine’s latest cookbook though.

Skye McAlpine? The Times columnist and daughter of the late Baron McAlpine of West Green, yes. Real salt-of-the-earth type. This book reads, funnily enough, a little like a modern take on the society handbooks of old. No etiquette guidelines, thankfully – but plenty of ideas on table setting, menu planning and why you should skip on starters (too formal, apparently). 

Is it good bedtime reading? There’s plenty to be getting on with in the opening chapter, where McAlpine runs through all of the above, champions the napkin, and encourages us to place bowls of fruit and veg on our table for decorative purposes (‘gnarly lemons’, red onions and – in a move that was also popular with colonial Britons – pineapples). Beyond here, though, we’re in standard cookbook territory: chapter and recipe introductions, and idyllic claims about the ‘wonderfully renaissant quality’ of a potato dish, or the ‘virtues of a good Tuscan bread salad’.

Will I have trouble finding the ingredients? Nope – McAlpine does do a fantastic job of making sure almost every ingredient you could possibly need will be readily available at your average supermarket. Occasionally you might want to try a butcher instead, but for the most part you’ll get by just fine with off-the-shelf cuts.

What will I love? The way the book is split up is rather brilliant, with sections for mains (rather gratingly referred to as ‘stars’ because they ‘look and taste extravagant and impressive’), sides, sweets and extras. The first three of these chapters are then divided based upon the mode of preparation – ‘throw together’, ‘on the hob’ or ‘in the oven’.

McAlpine also puts a lot of work into helping you to create a cohesive menu for your socially-distanced/morally-inadvisable/maybe-just-happening-in-the-distant-future dinner party. Most recipes finish with suggestions for possible accompanying dishes, and an extensive section at the end of the book suggests set menus based on loose themes, seasons, the number of people attending, or how long you have spare for prep. It makes a book that might otherwise seem a little overwhelming a great deal more accessible.

What won’t I love? McAlpine’s decision to skip out on starters makes sense once you realise that the section would have nabbed many of its dishes from the mains anyway. Several of the salads and soups here feel like they’d have been a better fit as a starter than a ‘star’ course, and the Carpaccio of Figs with Lardo, Honey & Rosemary is clearly better suited to being a side, or perhaps even finger food for when your guests first arrive. Also, and this is a very personal thing, the fennel and parmesan puree is no doubt delicious, but looks like a giant platter of baby food.

Killer recipes: It’s all very Italian here, continuing McAlpine’s love for the food she grew up with in Venice. Highlights include the Tagliatelle Gratin, which looks like a cross of carbonara and macaroni cheese, and the Salted Honey Ice Cream – four words I am very happy to see together.

Should I buy it? This is by no means an essential cookbook – but it will be very welcome for a select demographic. In a lot of ways, A Table For Friends covers the same ground as Diana Henry’s popular How to Eat a Peach from a couple of years back. Whilst Henry’s title arguable offered a more varied and interesting selection of dishes, McAlpine’s is much more practical a tool for the dinner party host, and offers myriad mix-and-match options for dishes (where Henry instead presented a collection of pre-curated set menus).

If you are one to regularly host dinner parties, and are looking to serve light Italian-influenced dishes, you can do no wrong here. If you’re looking to cook for two, frankly, there’s still plenty of adaptable recipes that would more than work for a Tuesday night (and that handy index-by-time at the back will help you find which ones fit the bill). Ultimately, though, I’d have liked a wider catalogue of influences to draw ideas from. There are three recipes for roasted potatoes, two roast chickens (and a roast poussin to boot) and three or four tomato salads, depending on how you’d like to call it. There’s a lot here to like, but this is definitely a cookbook that requires a quick browse in the shop to determine whether it’ll fit your needs, your tastes, and your personality.

Cuisine: Italian
Suitable for: Beginners and confident 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 
A Table for Friends: The Art of Cooking for Two or Twenty
£26, Bloomsbury Publishing

Cook from this book
Sicilian Couscous Salad by Skye McAlpine
Spaghetti with creamy lemon sauce by Skye McAlpine
Berry Cloud Cake by Skye McAlpine

Rye Crostata with Peas and Asparagus

235 rye crostada

Gluten-free
Preparation Time: 30 minutes plus resting time
Cooking Time: 1 hour
Serves: 6 to 8

To enhance the flavor of the sesame seeds, toast them, covered, in a heavy-bottomed frying pan over medium heat until they start to crackle, then transfer to a plate and let cool. For a vegan version of the recipe, replace the egg yolks with a heaping tablespoon of millet flakes.

  • 1¾ cups (220 g) farro (emmer) flour, plus more for sprinkling
  • Scant ½ cup (50 g) all-purpose (plain) flour
  • 3 tablespoons black sesame seeds
  • 1 tablespoon brown flaxseeds (linseeds)
  • ¼ cup (60 ml) plus 3½ tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 4 spring onions, chopped
  • 1 bunch asparagus, thinly sliced
  • 11/3 cups (200 g) shelled fresh peas
  • Scant 1 cup (200 ml) soy milk
  • Grated zest of ½ lemon
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 2½ tablespoons sunflower seeds
  • Salt and black pepper

In a food processor, combine the farro flour, all-purpose (plain) flour, sesame seeds, flaxseeds (linseeds), 3½ tablespoons of the olive oil, and a pinch of salt and process the mixture until crumbly. With the motor running, drizzle in 1/3 cup (75 ml) cold water and process until the dough comes together and forms a ball. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap (cling film) and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C) with a rack in the lower third.

In the meantime, in a heavy-bottomed frying pan, heat the remaining ¼ cup (60 ml) oil over medium heat. Add the onions and asparagus and cook for 2 to 3 minutes. Add the peas and a scant ½ cup (100 ml) water and cook for 7 to 8 minutes, until the liquid has evaporated. Sprinkle the vegetables with farro flour, drizzle in the milk, and stir.

Reduce the heat to low and cook the sauce for 5 to 6 minutes. Season with salt and pepper, then stir in the lemon zest. Remove from the heat and let the sauce cool. Add the egg yolks and stir to combine.

On a lightly floured surface, roll out two-thirds of the dough into a 2 mm-thick sheet and transfer it to a 9-inch (22 cm) round baking pan. Fill the crust with the vegetable mixture. Roll the remaining dough into a thin sheet and cut it into ¾-inch-wide (1.5 cm) strips. Arrange the strips over the filling to form an open lattice. Press the lattice strips against the bottom crust to seal, then trim the excess dough around the edges.

Brush the lattice with a little water and sprinkle with the sunflower seeds. Bake the tart in the lower third of the oven for about 40 minutes. Serve warm.

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The Vegetarian Silver Spoon: Classic and Contemporary Italian Recipes (FOOD COOK)
£35, Phaidon

The Vegetarian Silver Spoon

Vegetarian Silver Spoon

Vegetarianism and veganism are on the rise in the UK. According to the shopping comparison website, finder.com, 12 million people claim they will be vegetarian, vegan or pescatarian by 2021. The Vegan Society say that the number of vegans quadrupled between 2014 and 2019 with 1.16% of the population (about 600,000) now living a vegan lifestyle. That’s a lot of home cooks and chefs on the look-out for something delicious and a bit more inventive than the ubiquitous mushroom risotto. With 200 Italian vegetarian recipes, many of them dairy free, gluten free or vegan (symbols identify which category or categories each recipe fits into, and there are lists for each category in the back of the book, making them quick and easy to find), The Vegetarian Silver Spoon is a godsend for anyone looking to expand their plant-based repertoire.

The book draws on the archives of The Silver Spoon, Italy’s bestselling cookbook first published in 1950, and also includes 150 new recipes developed by The Silver Spoon kitchen team. Divided into eight chapters, the book is a comprehensive survey of traditional and contemporary Italian vegetarian and vegan cooking covering snacks and small plates; breads and pizzas; salads and sides soups and stews;  pasta, dumplings and crepes; vegetable tarts and pastries;  grains, gratins and stuffed vegetables, and desserts.

There’s a homely feel to many of the recipes such as chard and chickpea soup with tofu; buckwheat lasagne with broccoli and eggplant-tomato strudel. Lesser known ingredients such as black chickpeas (used in a salad with apple and Jerusalem artichoke); millet (paired with beets and Romanesco), and Kamut flour (derived from Iranian red Khorasan wheat that’s high in protein, vitamins and minerals and used to make calzone with asparagus and egg) will invigorate any cook’s interest in meat and fish-free cooking, making The Vegetarian Silver Spoon a valuable addition to their cookbook collection.

This review was originally published in The Caterer magazine.

Cuisine: Vegetarian
Suitable for: Beginners and confident home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating: Four stars

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The Vegetarian Silver Spoon: Classic and Contemporary Italian Recipes (FOOD COOK)
£35, Phaidon

Cook from this book
Rye Crostata with Peas and Asparagus

 

The Incredible Lemon Pie from Big Momma Cucina Popolare

279 Tarte Citron.jpg

Lemon meringue tart (pie)

Per 6 amici

Preparation time: 25 minutes
Chilling time: overnight
Cooking time: 30 minutes

Ingredienti
For the pastry (pie dough)
90 g/3 and 1/4 oz (6 tablespoons) unsalted butter
20 g/ 3/4 oz (scant 3 and 1/2 tablespoons) ground almonds (almond meal)
50 g/1 and 3/4 oz (generous 1/3 cup) icing (confectioners’) sugar
2 large (US extra large) eggs
150 g/5 oz (1 and 1/4 cups) plain (all-purpose) flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
For the lemon custard
1 leaf (sheet) gelatine
3 unwaxed lemons
3 eggs
70 g/2 and 1/2 oz (1/3 cup) caster (superfine) sugar
140 g/5 oz (1 and 1/4 sticks) unsalted butter
For the Italian meringue
230 g/8 oz (scant 1 and 1/4 cups) caster (superfine) sugar
2 tablespoons water
juice of 1 lemon
4 egg whites

Come fare

Make the pastry. In a bowl, soften the butter with a spatula. In a mixer with a paddle (flat beater) attachment, beat the softened butter, ground almonds (almond meal) and icing (confectioners’) sugar until smooth. Then add the eggs, one at a time, while beating. Incorporate the flour and salt. Mix the pastry dough until crumbly. Form the dough into a ball, wrap in clingfilm (plastic wrap) and rest overnight in the refrigerator.

Make the lemon custard. Soften the gelatine in a bowl of cold water for 5 minutes. Zest two of the lemons and squeeze all three. In a bowl, beat the eggs with a fork. Combine the lemon juice, sugar and butter in a pan and bring to the boil. Gradually add the eggs, incorporating with a whisk. Cook over a low heat until the mixture comes to a gentle boil.

Pour the mixture into a bowl. Squeeze the gelatine and incorporate. Add the lemon zest. Use an immersion blender to mix well. Put into an airtight container and rest overnight in the refrigerator.

Preheat the oven to 175°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4). Roll out the pastry dough into a 6-mm/1/4-inch-thick disc. Grease a tart pan with butter and line with the pastry. Bake in the preheated oven for 15 minutes.

Make the Italian meringue. Dissolve the sugar into 2 tablespoons of water and the lemon juice in a pan over a low heat. Bring to the boil and cook until the mixture reads 120°C/250°F on a cooking thermometer. If you don’t have a cooking thermometer, put a little of the syrup in a spoon and let one drop fall into a glass of cold water. If it forms a small, soft ball, the syrup is ready. In a grease-free bowl, whisk the egg whites to stiff peaks. Pour the syrup in a thin stream into the meringue while whisking until the mixture cools.

Fill the pastry case (shell) with the lemon custard. Use a plastic spatula to cover the tart with meringue, creating a dome in the centre. Caramelize with a chef’s blowtorch. Chill in the refrigerator for 1 hour before serving.

Cool to know
‘If it’s not big, it’s not big enough’ is one of our mottos, so now you know why our meringue stands 20 cm/8 inches high…

Cook more from this book 
La Gran Carbonara
Green Pizz’

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Big Mamma Cucina Popolare: Contemporary Italian Recipes
Phaidon, £27.95