What’s the USP? A diverse collection of recipes from the Mediterranean region, including dishes from Corsica, Sardinia, Morocco and Andalucia. The book also investigates the influence of Jordanian cooking on the food of the Med.
Who is the author? For British readers of a certain age, Ainsley needs no introduction. He is a beloved broadcaster who has achieved national treasure status. If Ainsley Harriot is an unfamiliar name to you, he is probably best known as the presenter of the hugely popular 90s tea-time cooking challenge show Ready Steady Cook. He is a trained chef (he once headed up the kitchen at the Long Room of Lord’s Cricket Ground) but also found success in the ’80s and ’90s as a comedy performer in the duo The Calypso Twins. He has presented numerous food-themed TV series including Ainsley’s Big Cook Out, Gourmet Express and Ainsley’s Mediterranean Cookbook and is the author of 17 cookbooks.
Is it good bedtime reading? With a three page introduction and two pages covering storecupboard essentials, this is not a book that will live much outside of your kitchen. That said, many of the recipe introductions go beyond just offering serving suggestions and substitute ingredients and contain lots of interesting nuggets of information Harriot picked up on his travels. But they add to the enjoyment of cooking from the book rather than making it a book you’d want to sit down and read, other than for the purposes of choosing a dish or writing a shopping list.
Will I have trouble finding the ingredients? The book covers an awful lot of culinary ground but this is Ainsley ‘Mr Mainstream’ Harriot we’re talking about so, as you might expect, you’ll encounter very little difficulty getting hold of everything you need from your favourite supermarket including baharat spice blend and pul biber. Most keen cooks will find they already have many of the storecupboard ingredients to hand.
What’s the faff factor? It’s tempting to say the book is faff-free but some of the recipes do require a bit of work. For example, if you want to make cheese and walnut-stuffed aubergines, you’ll need to simmer the aubergines, cool, cut in half, scoop out the flesh, chop it up and mix with bread soaked in milk, grated cheese, chopped garlic, beaten egg, finely chopped walnuts, lemon zest, chilli flakes and herb de Provence, put the mixture in the dried and oiled aubergine skins then fry or bake and finally serve with basil, walnuts and cheese. But it’s all very far from Michelin starred madness and nothing a keen cook would baulk at.
How annoyingly vague are the recipes? There is the odd ‘drizzle’ of oil and ‘handful’ of coriander or spinach leaves (I’d imagine Ainsley’s hands are about twice the size of mine) but in the main, the recipes are detailed enough for a competent cook to follow.
How often will I cook from the book? You might well find yourself referring to Ainsley’s Mediterranean Cookbook on a weekly basis. As well as the broad geographical scope which keeps things interesting, the book has recipes for everything from delicious lunchtime dishes like herby sesame falafels with hummus to the vegan-friendly Mediterranean stuffed peppers and beef tomatoes.
Killer recipes: Rachida’s spiced roast cauliflower and chickpea curry; Mediterranean sea bass and potato bake; dukkah crumble fish pie; best-ever beef and red wine stew with olive and thyme dumplings; beef kofta rolls; harissa lemon chicken skewers with glazed aubergines and garlic-mint sauce; orange cardamom panna cotta with spiced mandarins and pistachio crumb.
What will I love? The sunny Mediterranean feel of the dishes and the location photography will lift your spirits and inspired you to cook on even the most miserable of rainy, grey-skyed British summer days.
What won’t I like so much? If you are like me and super sensitive to Jamie Oliver-style recipe titles that give the reader the hard sell, you might bristle at the likes of ‘best-ever beef and red wine stew with olive and thyme dumplings’ or ‘mighty pork and chargrilled pepper sandwich’. Thankfully they are few and far between and don’t spoil what is otherwise a very enjoyable book.
Should I buy it? If you’re looking for an undemanding introduction to the flavours of the Mediterranean that covers what may be some unfamiliar ground in a very accessible way you can’t go far wrong.
Suitable for: Confident home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating: Four stars
Buy the book
Ainsley’s Mediterranean Cookbook
£20, Ebury Press