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.
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