Pasta, Pane, Vino by Matt Goulding

pasta-pane-vino-1

What’s the USP? Not a cookbook but rather a culinary travelogue through the regional cuisines of Italy.

Who’s the author? Matt Goulding is co-founder of Roads and Kingdoms a travel, food and politics website. Goulding is also the author of Grape, Olive, Pig: Deep Travels Through Spain’s Food Culture and Rice, Noodle, Fish: Deep Travels Through Japan’s Food Culture. Goulding’s correspondence with the late Anthony Bourdain about Italy and Goulding’s plans for the book form the foreword. 

What does it look like? At 16.5cm by 19.8 cm, Pasta, Pane, Vino is a cute, squat volume. Clocking in at 352 pages, it’s also a weighty tome, packed with 200 colour photographs portraying the chefs, farmers, fishermen and other figures behind Italy’s culinary traditions, as well as the food, landscapes and cityscapes of Rome, Puglia, Bologna, Sicily, Naples, Sardinia , Piedmont and Lake Como.

Is it good bedtime reading? This is definitely one to keep on the bedside table, to send you off dreaming of carbonara in Rome, pizza in Naples and spaghetti alla marinara in Sardinia.

Killer quote: ‘In the end, it’s not a book about grandmas and their sacred family recipes (though they have a few delicious cameos); it’s a book about a wave of cooks, farmers, bakers, shepherds, young and old, trying to negotiate the weight of the past with the possibilities of the future’.

What will I love? Goulding is a writer from the top drawer. He not only knows how to construct a sentence and turn a memorable phrase (for example, the opening line of the book – ‘Long after the sun has set behind the Palatine Hill, after the sands of the Colosseum have been swallowed by shadows, after the tint of the Tiber has morphed from acqua minerale to Spritz to dark vermouth, you come upon a quiet piazza on a meandering cobblestone street…’), he’s also really done his research. Unless you know Italy extremely well, you will discover things about the country’s culinary scene you didn’t know before, from a hidden gem of a trattoria in Rome to the best time to visit Ballaro market in Palermo and much, much more.

What won’t I like? It’s difficult to find fault. In addition to the main body text of the chapters, the book is peppered with double page spreads such as ‘Anatomy of a dish’ (explanations of items like bistecca al la Fiorentina and caffe that are particularly significant to regional Italian cuisine), and ‘Postcards’ (an overview of destinations like Matera in southern Italy and Ragusa in Sicily not otherwise covered in the book)  which add variety and value and help break up the main text. You could argue that the only thing missing are some authentic recipes from each of the eight destinations covered, but that’s nitpicking.

Should I buy it? Do you like food? Do you like travel? Do you need everything spelled out to you?

Cuisine: Italian 
Suitable for:
Culinary tourists 
Cookbook Review Rating: 
Five stars

Buy this book
Pasta, Pane, Vino: Deep Travels Through Italy’s Food Culture (Roads & Kingdoms Presents)

Pie and Mash down the Roman Road by Melanie McGrath

pie and mash down the roman road by melanie mcgrath

What’s the USP? The story of an East End pie shop and the family who have owned it for nearly a century.

Who’s the author? Melanie McGrath has several strings to her authorial bow. She not only writes mysteries and thrillers such as Give Me The Child under the nom de plumes of MJ McGrath and Mel McGrath, but also specialises in non-fiction about the East End of London including Silvertown and Hopping which she writes under her own name.

Is it good bedtime reading? This is not a cookbook, there are no recipes, just 244 pages of social history centered around Kelly’s pie and mash shop on the Roman Road in East London. The book does include some culinary history, including of the dish of pie and mash, but the book primarily tells the stories of the people connected with the shop and the area including the customers, suppliers, employees and owners, and the historical conditions they lived in and events they lived through.

Killer quote: ‘To get to the real meat of us as islanders, Britons, and Londoners, why not start there, with something as simple and as iconic as a shop selling the Londoner’s meal of pie, mash and eels? …just as an archaeologist in revealing a scrap of pottery or fragment of mosaic in a rubble of a building site…can cast light on the history of the Roman empire and its citizens, a light shone on a pie and mash and eel shop in what might at first seem to be a unremarkable road in east London can help illuminate more general truths about who we really are.’

Should I buy it? If you don’t mind the use of the historical present (historical events narrated in the present tense), which some readers may find mannered, irksome and distracting, and are as interested in British social history as you are food, then this is the book for you.

Cuisine: British 
Suitable for:
Anyone interested in British culinary and social history
Cookbook Review Rating: 
Four stars

Buy this book
Pie and Mash down the Roman Road: 100 years of love and life in one East End market
£18.99, Two Roads

Fare magazine

Fare Glasgow

What’s the USP? They say, ‘Fare is a bi-annual print publication exploring city culture through the intersection of food, history, and community.’ If I wanted to be profoundly annoying, I’d say it was a bookazine, but as I don’t want to be profoundly annoying, let’s just say, it’s its own thing. So, not a cookbook and there’s no recipes, but if you like Cook Book Review you are probably going to be interested in Fare.

Who’s the editor? Ben Mervis is a food writer who has previously worked at Noma restaurant in Copenhagen and has worked as a researcher and industry expert with the excellent Chef’s Table documentary series on Netflix. Contributors include some of the top names in food writing, including in the latest issue, Sunday Times restaurant critic Marina O’Loughlin.

Is it great bedtime reading? It’s nothing but great bedtime reading. Each edition of the magazine takes a city as its subject and delves deep into it’s culture through a series of essays, photo-stories and illustrations. Destinations covered so far are Istanbul, Helsinki, Charleston, Seoul and, in the latest edition published July 2019, Glasgow

What will I love? It’s a beautiful object. Printed on a mix of high quality matt and gloss paper and roughly the size of a hardback novel (although the magazine itself is soft cover) it just feels great to hold and read. The art direction by Ric Bell is top class, and with roughly equal space given to word and image, there’s room for both satisfyingly long form writing and aesthetically pleasing visuals.

What won’t I like? You’ve come to Cook Book Review for the food, so in that context it’s worth underlining that Fare is not a food magazine exclusively, but the subject is dealt with comprehensively. In the Seoul issue for example, there are articles about Buddhist nun and chef Jeong Kwan (featured in an episode of Chef’s Table), Mingles restaurant, Fritz Coffee Company, budae jjigae (or army base stew), the Korean dish of ‘cold noodles’ and a photo essay on Noryangjin fish market, among others.

Should I buy it? I don’t know of any publication quite like Fare. It’s fascinating, educational, a pleasure to read and looks cool. Surely worth twelve quid (plus shipping) of anyone’s money.

Buy this magazine: Fare

 

Bread and Butter by Richard Snapes, Grant Harrington and Eve Hemingway

Bread and Butter Richard Snapes

What’s the USP? The history and culture behind the world’s greatest gastronomic double act, covering traditions, flavours and processes, plus recipes covering both the sweet and savoury incarnations of bread and butter.

Who are the authors?Richard Snapes runs The Snapes Bakery in Bermondsey that supplies the likes of Jose Pizzaro restaurants and Casse-Croute; Grant Harrington is a former chef who worked for Gordon Ramsay and now runs Ampersand Cultured Butter in Oxfordshire, supplying 20 Michelin starred restaurants (Snapes and Harrington met selling their wares at Maltby Street Market in London), and Eve Hemingway is a food writer who specialises in traditional food culture.

Killer recipes?  Buttermilk fried quails; ribollita fritters; brioche and brown butter ice cream; Tibetan butter tea, and a recipe from home brewed beer using stale bread from London’s Toast Ale brewery.

How annoyingly vague are the recipes? There are just 50 recipes in the book, with ‘The Field Loaf’, the signature bread of Snapes Bakery taking up no less than six pages and a twelve-page section on cultured butter, buttermilk and its variations, so it’s all about the detail. Recipes in the final ‘Bread & Butter’ and ‘Leftovers’ chapter feature contributions from all three authors where the specificity goes out the window somewhat with ‘knobs’ of butter and ‘splashes’ of olive oil and ‘handfuls’ of herbs.

Is it good bedtime reading? Top notch, and by all rights should probably be enjoyed with a late night sandwich made with Snapes Bakery bread and Ampersand butter. The first third of the book is dedicated to exploring the twin subject matter in depth with extended essays on Ancient Origins; Production and Craft; Bread and Butter Today; and Global Tastes and Traditions.

What will I love? The 360-degree approach to the subject unearths all sorts of fascinating material, including that the first recorded mention of bread and butter being eaten together was in a 15th century treatise on fly fishing, and a straightforward explanation of the Chorleywood mass production process and its disastrous impact on the quality and flavour of bread.

What won’t I like? There is a slight sense of compromise about the book; serious bakers might want more content on bread; those interested in butter may feel short changed by the number of pages given over to the subject and those in search of a recipe book may not be satisfied with just 50 of them.

Should I buy it? Reservations aside, the book will be of particular interest to anyone interested artisan food production as well as chefs wanting to offer something a bit special when it comes to the bread and butter course in their restaurants.

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

Buy this book
Bread & Butter: History, Culture, Recipes
£22, Quadrille

First, Catch by Thom Eagle

First catch

 

What’s the USP? When is a cookbook not a cookbook? When its a ‘hymn to an early spring meal’, all 226 pages of it. This is food writing in the purest sense, a series of extended essays ruminating on the process of cooking a single meal; a sort of exercise in culinary mindfulness.

Who’s the author? Thom Eagle is the head chef of Little Duck: The Picklery, a ‘fermenting kitchen and wine bar’ in East London (unsurprisingly, there is a fair amount on fermentation in the book) and writes the food blog ‘In Search of Lost Thyme’. First, Catch is his debut in print.

What does it look like? A novel. Forget glossy photographs, this is all text interspersed with some black and white line drawings of pots, pans and assorted ingredients by artist Aurelia Lange.

Killer recipes? Here’s the thing, Eagle says ‘recipes are lies’ so there aren’t any. At least not in the list-of-ingredients-followed-by-a-method format that we all know and love. Instead, they are snuck in by stealth, so for example, a recipe for quick-cured lamb loin, complete with measurements for the simple salt and sugar cure appears spread over three pages at the end of chapter one, ‘On Curing With Salt’ and one for salsa verde is nestled quietly in chapter 10 ‘On Wild and Domestic Celeries’.

What will I love? Eagle is a thoughtful sort of bloke with a particular view on all things culinary which gives the book a distinctive tone. When was the last time you heard someone say that they ‘go out of their way’ to visit old salt-pans’? Eagle has travelled from Kent to Sicily to look at the damn things, trips which have helped him, and now, in turn, his readers ‘appreciate the importance of salt throughout our history’.

What won’t I like? Eagle is very self consciously ‘a writer’ (he studied American Literature at uni) and consequently there is a fair bit of ‘food writing’ to get through; raw vegetables aren’t seasoned but ‘subjected to the violence of lemon and salt’ which you’ll either think is incredibly creative writing or just plain irritating, depending on your taste in literature.

Should I buy it? It may be a little pretentious and overwritten, and it’s debatable whether the ‘stealth’ recipes are an improvement on the traditional format, but Eagle has genuine insight into the practical and philosophical sides of cooking, as well as extensive knowledge of international cuisines and culinary history, making First, Catch well worth reading.

Cuisine: Modernist British
Suitable for: Anyone really interested in cooking and food writing
Cookbook Review Rating: 3 stars

Read an extract

Buy this book
First, Catch by Thom Eagle
£16.99, Quadrille

 

 

 

Book extract: First, Catch by Thom Eagle

First catch

I seek out and devour food writing in all of its forms – from lengthy and flowery introductions, through drily academic histories to the tersely scribbled instructions you sometimes find tucked into old cookbooks. But when I think of all the recipes I have read, professionally or otherwise, stacked up as it were in one gigantic pile on an overflowing workbench, the main sensation I feel is frustration.

All those neat little lists – take this, take that – as if cooking begins when you pick up an onion, or finishes as the dish goes on to the plate. So much more surrounds a meal and its making than just the bare facts of its enumerated parts. At the top of the page it just says ‘two onions,  chopped’, but someone had to grow them, to pick them, to store and transport and buy them, all before you take them from the vegetable rack or the fridge, halve them from root to tuft, and peel off the outermost layers of brown parchment; before you cut first in a wedging arch and then across, remembering the cook who taught you to let the onion fall into its own layers rather than force it apart into rigid dice, and wondering perhaps in passing why you are doing so, when the other recipe said sliced, when the other recipe contained no onion at all. The Koreans have a description for the specific qualities of a person’s cooking which translates as something like ‘the taste of your hands’; they know, I suppose, that knowledge rests in muscle and bone, which is never written down.

I have nothing against recipes. In fact I use them all the time, and am suspicious of cooks who claim never to do so. Recipes are a record of social and emotional histories as well as a means of travelling to almost any country or place you care to name, including, of course, the past. Anyone who tries to separate food from all of these things cooks for reasons I do not understand; it can only, I think, be vanity, trading the deep satisfaction of time for immediate gratification.

Yet, while useful to cook from, there is so much that recipes miss. The satisfaction of peeling a ripe, thick-skinned tomato, for instance, or unzipping a pod of broad beans; the smell of rosemary hitting gently warming olive oil; the yielding of a wing of skate to a gently pressing finger; the sight of a simply laid table in spring, awaiting the arrival of both people and lunch. None of this can be captured in a written recipe. These are sensations we feel behind the lines of our cookbooks, but the rigid lists that now fill them leave little room in which to do so, let alone to think about what we will do with this dish once we have cooked it. ‘Serve immediately’, these instructions end, but who to? Even a thousand recipes don’t make a meal.

Of all the contexts surrounding the acquisition and transformation of food, I think the meal itself is the most often forgotten. We cook in competition with ourselves now, imagining some bespectacled judge pacing around our chopping board and offering disparaging comments on our knife skills, our plating and our personal hygiene, while we collect and compare recipes of so-called genius and perfection, to be followed to the last detail. Whatever tortured dish emerges from such a process is designed not to be dug into with a questing fork, but to sit as it were under glass, to be admired one-on-one, alone. A plate is one part of a course, which is one part of a meal, so why fuss over the recipe so? I’d rather have, for example, a litre of wine, a pile of fresh pea pods, and many hands to peel and pour – with maybe a piece of cheese for afterwards.

Extracted from First, Catch: Story of a Spring Meal by Thom Eagle (Quadrille, £16.99)

Buy this book
First, Catch by Thom Eagle