Summer Kitchens by Olia Hercules

What’s the USP? A passionate love letter to Ukraine, written in everybody’s favourite love language: good food.

Who wrote it? Olia Hercules, who grew up in Ukraine before moving to Cyprus and eventually settling in the UK, has some chops in this field. Giving up her career in film business reporting after the 2008 financial crisis, she retrained at Leith’s and has worked as chef de partie at Ottolenghi. This is her third book – Mamushka and Kaukasis, her well-loved previous efforts, both drew on the traditions of a number of eastern European countries. Hercules tightens her vision to her homeland here, acknowledging throughout that the ever-shifting borders and populations of the region mean influences seep in from across the continent.

Is it good bedtime reading? The book is filled with evocative and fascinating prose, and is a little reminiscent of James Rebanks’ writing on shepherding – writing in such a way that even hardship is given a silver lining through the emergence of community spirit and creative solutions. The summer kitchens of the title are traditional outbuildings in Ukraine. When a young couple gets married, they share this single room kitchen/bedroom hybrid – often raising their families whilst they save to build a house. That home itself is built through a great community effort – Hercules’ descriptions reminded me of the barn building scene in Witness. Once the end result is completed, often many months later, the old structure becomes a ‘summer kitchen’ – a workshop-esque space for cooking and making the most of the produce grown in the garden. Stories like these permeate the book, making it as much a champion of Ukrainian culture as it is the recipes themselves.

Will I have trouble finding the ingredients? None at all – these are simple, homely recipes that create filling dinners from a range of ingredients you wouldn’t struggle to pick up from your local Aldi or Lidl. Classic staples make up the overwhelming majority of ingredients required here – vegetables, grains and plenty of eggs.  Occasionally you might need to visit a butcher for some goat, but most calls for meat are catered perfectly to what’s readily available in a supermarket – something that even our biggest celebrity chefs often fail to manage.

What’s the faff factor? Hercules is happy to devote a little time to her dishes, and you’ll need to do so as well. Noodles are made from scratch, and there are plenty of recipes that will require a leisurely afternoon in the kitchen. But nothing will test your skill as a chef – another benefit of the simple home cooking approach.

How often will I cook from the book? The time required for many of the dishes will relegate this to a weekend-only book for many, but there’s variety enough for at least a fortnightly visit.

Killer recipes: The chicken broth with bran kvas, noodles, mushrooms and lovage – a comforting Ukrainian take on the chicken noodle soup – looks set to cure any ailment you might present it with. The yeasted buns with slow-roast pork are irresistible too; crisp and soft rolls stuffed with unctuous belly, prunes and sauerkraut. Hercules also offers up some tempting fish ideas – be they deep-fried Odesan sprats or simple but delicious fishballs in tomato sauce.

Should I buy it? There’s a lot to love here, from the passionate celebration of Ukraine’s melting-pot culture to the extended section dedicated to pickling and fermenting. Olia Hercules has form, clearly, in the bottling of magic – and whether that’s in the form of fatty pork shoulder preserved for the winter months, or a love of her homeland, preserved for all to enjoy, it’s worth taking a bite of whatever she’s offering.

Cuisine: Ukrainian
Suitable for: Beginner and 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
Summer Kitchens: Recipes and Reminiscences from Every Corner of Ukraine
£26, Bloomsbury Publishing

Shortlisted for the Andre Simon Food and Drink Book Awards 2020. See all the shortlisted books here.
andre simon logo

Dan Dan Noodle Soup with Lamb

071_Mr Lee's Dan Dan Noddle Soup with Lamb_Chinese

Serves 2
Wok to wonderful in 20 minutes
Showing Off /Vegan Option
Hero ingredients: garlic and ginger

A ‘dan dan’ is the pole that noodle sellers use to carry the baskets of fresh noodles and sauce, with one at either end. The star is Sichuan chilli bean paste, or toban djan (see page 17) but you can use other chilli pastes if you can’t get your hands on it. Combined with the Sichuan peppercorns, you get a lip-tingling intensity. You can also try it as a stir-fry dish by omitting the stock water, and using fresh noodles.

½ tablespoon vegetable oil
230g (8¼oz) minced (ground) lamb (or frozen vegan mince and 1/4 tsp yeast extract for a vegan alternative)
2 teaspoons garlic paste, or 3–4 garlic cloves, crushed and chopped
1 tablespoon ginger paste or 5cm (2in) piece of fresh root ginger, chopped
1 carrot, finely diced
1 large onion, finely diced
120g (4¼oz) dried wheat noodles
1 spring onion (scallion), finely sliced, to garnish

 FOR THE SOUP:
600ml (20fl oz) boiling water, or ready-made fresh vegetable stock
1 tablespoon crushed yellow bean sauce, or brown or red miso paste
1 tablespoon chilli bean paste, or 1 teaspoon any hot chilli paste
2 teaspoons crunchy peanut butter
½ teaspoon ground Sichuan peppercorns
1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil

Prepare the soup mixture by mixing all the ingredients together in a large bowl or jug, then set aside until needed. Heat the oil in a large wok over a high heat. Throw in the minced lamb (or vegan mince) and brown for a few seconds. Then add the garlic, ginger, carrot and onion and cook for another 2 minutes, stirring continuously. Your kitchen should smell amazing at this stage, so take a second, stop and breathe it in. But don’t take all day, we’re on a schedule!

Next pour the soup mixture into the pan and mix well, simmering for another 3 minutes. Now it’s noodle time. Put the noodles in a saucepan and cover with boiling water. Boil for 3 minutes, then drain. Divide your hot noodles between 2 serving bowls and pour over the soupy mixture. Sprinkle over the chopped spring onion (scallion). Strap in your taste buds: you’ll never forget your first Dan Dan Noodle Soup.

Cook more from this book
Hong Kong Street Beef
Seafood Ramyeon with Korean Red Pepper

Buy this book
The Noodle Cookbook: 101 healthy and delicious noodle recipes for happy eating
£15.99, Ebury Press

Read the review

Hong Kong Street Beef

075_Mr Lee's Hongkong Street Beef_Chinese

Serves 2 Wok to wonderful in
30 minutes
Showing Off
Hero ingredients: ginger and broccoli

Mr Lee’s Hong Kong Street Beef noodle pot is a customer favourite, so we just had to adapt it for our very first cookbook. The richly flavoured and aromatic soup base, combined with the savoury hit of the steak, wraps you in a warm, beefy blanket of contentment. It’s the best kind of comfort food: Tastes like it took hours, but ready in minutes. Winner!

1 tablespoon crushed yellow bean sauce
1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
½ tablespoon vegetable oil
250g (9oz) rib-eye steak, or use sirloin/
porterhouse if you prefer
85g (3oz) sprouting broccoli, or use regular
broccoli cut into bite-sized pieces
120g (4¼oz) dried thin wheat noodles (or use
thin rice noodles for a gluten-free alternative)

FOR THE SOUP:
230g (8¼oz) lean minced (ground) beef, or substitute
900ml (1½ pints) of ready-made fresh beef stock
2 small onions, finely diced
2 whole star anise
1 large black cardamom pod
½ teaspoon Chinese five-spice powder
1 teaspoon ginger paste, or 2.5cm (1 inch) piece of fresh root ginger, finely chopped
1 teaspoon garlic paste, or 2 garlic cloves, crushed and chopped
½ teaspoon sea salt, or to taste
½ teaspoon finely ground black pepper
1 tablespoon crushed yellow bean sauce
900ml (1½ pints) boiling water (if not using stock)

FOR THE GARNISH:
1 spring onion (scallion), finely sliced
handful of fresh coriander (cilantro), roughly torn (optional)
2 tablespoons chilli oil (optional)

Heat a medium saucepan over a medium–high heat and brown the minced beef (if using). Then add all the other soup ingredients except the water or stock.  Keep stirring for 2–3 minutes, then add the water (or stock, if using). Cover the pan with a lid and leave all those lovely flavours to simmer and intensify over a low heat for 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, mix together the yellow bean sauce and toasted sesame oil on a plate. Now it’s steak time! Put the steak on the plate and really rub the marinade all over, then set it aside for a few minutes. Heat a wok over a high heat and add the vegetable oil. Pan-fry the steak for about 3 minutes on each side. This will cook it medium – but it’s your steak, so cook it how you like. If you want it a bit pinker, then cook it for up to 2 minutes each side.

The super-high heat will seal the meat and keep it nice and succulent. As soon as the steak is cooked to your liking, put it on a chopping board, cover it with foil and let it rest for a bit. Place another medium saucepan on the hob and half-fill with boiling water. Add the broccoli and boil for 2 minutes, then add the dried noodles and simmer for another minute. Drain and divide the broccoli and noodles between two large, deep soup bowls.

Using a fine sieve, strain the soup broth as you pour it over the noodles in each bowl, discarding the aromatics. Slice the steak into strips, then layer on top of the noodle soup. Garnish with spring onion (scallion) and fresh coriander (cilantro). Serve with
a small pot of red chilli oil on the side for drizzling, and you’re good to go.

Cook more from this book
Dan Dan Noodle Soup with Lamb
Seafood Ramyeon with Korean Red Pepper

Buy this book
The Noodle Cookbook: 101 healthy and delicious noodle recipes for happy eating
£15.99, Ebury Press

Read the review

Overnight Oats by Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall

Overnight Oats

Soaking oats is a time-honoured route to a tender, tasty high-fibre breakfast – Bircher muesli is the classic example and ‘overnight oats’ the trendy interloper. This super-simple version uses jumbo oats, omega-rich seeds and skin-on almonds, which plump up and soften as they soak in orange juice and kombucha (or water). The result is juicy and mild, ready to be sweetened with a little fruit; I like a handful of raisins (which you can soak with the oats), or a grated apple – or both. If you include chia and/or flax seeds you’ll get that distinctive slippery texture, which not everyone loves but I do!

Serves 4
120g (7–8 tbsp) jumbo oats (or porridge oats)
A generous handful (30g) of mixed nuts and seeds (such as almonds and pumpkin, sunflower, poppy, flax and chia seeds)
Juice of 1 large or 2 small oranges
A small glass (about 150ml) kombucha (page 244) or water

To serve
A handful of raisins, chopped dried apricots or other dried fruit (soaked with the oats if you like), and/or a handful of berries, or a sliced small banana, or an apple, chopped or coarsely grated
1–2 generous tbsp natural yoghurt or kefir (page 246), optional
Toasted buckwheat groats (optional)

Combine the oats, nuts and seeds in a breakfast bowl (adding some dried fruit if you like). Add the orange juice and the kombucha or water. Mix well.

Cover the bowl and place in the fridge or a cool place for 6–8 hours or overnight. If possible, take the soaked oats out of the fridge half an hour before you want to eat them, so they’re not too chilly.

Serve with your chosen fruit. You could also add a spoonful or two of yoghurt or kefir and, to bring some crunch, a few toasted buckwheat groats.

Cook more from this book
Spicy roast parsnips
Seedy almond cake

Buy the book
Eat Better Forever: 7 Ways to Transform Your Diet
£26, Bloomsbury Publishing

Read the review 

First Catch Your Gingerbread by Sam Bilton

First Catch Your Gingerbread

What’s the USP? Everything you always wanted to know about gingerbread, but were afraid to ask, including the history of gingerbread from ancient times to present day, plus gingerbread and ginger cake recipes. It is part of Prospect Books’ series ‘The English Kitchen’ that looks at dishes and their place in history and which has previously included books on quince, soup and trifle.

Who’s the author? Sam Bilton is a food historian and writer and is probably best known for her historically-themed supper club Repast. She’s also worked on projects with English Hertiage and the National Trust. This is her debut book.

Is it good bedtime reading? The first 80 pages are given over to the scholarly ‘The Story of Gingerbread’ that begins with its pre-history in the ‘reverence given by ancient civilisations to the medicinal properties of spices’ and continues with it’s medieval incarnation (including an appearance in The Canterbury Tales as ‘gyngebreed’) and includes the importance of treacle in the history of gingerbread, how the recipe migrated from England to America and the difference between the two varieties, historical gingerbread moulds and other related creations, and it’s more modern incarnations and enduring appeal.

Will I have trouble finding ingredients? You will find virtually everything you need in the supermarket. However, you will probably need an online supplier for grains of paradise (a West African spice that looks like black peppercorns but is in fact a member of the ginger family) if you want to make Små Pepparkakor, the ‘intensly crisp, aramatic small gingerbreads’ from Sweden, and for long pepper to make Dulcia Piperata (Roman Peppered Honey Cake). There are savoury recipes in the book too so you’ll want to visit your fishmonger for the langoustine and crayfish for an unusual stew that includes gingerbread crumbs.

What’s the faff factor? Some recipes will take a little bit of planning, for example a game terrine or chocolate stuffed lebkuchen (a spiced shocolate cake), both of which are two-day processes, although neither are particularly complicated. But generally speaking, the recipes are very approachable, especially for home bakers with some experience.

How often will I cook from the book? If you have a sweet tooth and are a keen baker, the book is a treasure trove of interesting, unusual and, most importantly, delicious recipes that you’ll want to work your way through. The inclusion of savoury recipes makes it useful for when you want something just a little bit different for a dinner party or even just a family meal.

Killer recipes? Ormskirk gingerbread; Elisenlebkuchen (chocolate-glazed spice and nut biscuits from Germany); Indian gingerbread; Ginger scotch rabbit; baked Camembert with gingerbread; carrot and ginger roulade with honeyed ricotta;

What will I love? This is quite obviously a labour of love. Bilton has unearthed a fascinating history behind an everyday cake shop favourite and curated a selection of appealing recipes that you’d struggle to find anywhere else.

Should I buy it? For keen bakers and lovers of food history, it’s a no-brainer.

Cuisine: International
Suitable for: Bakers/beginners/confident cooks
Cookbook Review Rating: Four stars

Buy this book
First Catch Your Gingerbread By Sam Bilton
£15, Prospect Books

Also available at Amazon
First Catch Your Gingerbread (English Kitchen)

The Hand and Flowers Cookbook by Tom Kerridge

Hand and Flowers Cookbook by Tom Kerridge

What’s the USP? A brief history of and recipes from the world’s only two Michelin starred pub.

Who is the author? Chef Tom Kerridge has recently become known for his dramatic weight loss and series of diet-friendly TV shows and books including Dopamine Diet, Lose Weight and Get Fit, and Lose Weight For Good. His real claim to fame however is as proprietor of The Hand and Flowers pub in Marlow, Buckinghamshire, the only two Michelin starred restaurant in the world. He also runs The Coach, The Shed and The Butcher’s Tap in Marlow, Kerridge’s Bar and Grill in London and The Bull and Bear in Manchester. He is also the founder of the Pub in the Park, a touring food and music festival. Earlier in his career, he worked for such British restaurant luminaries as Gary Rhodes and Stephen Bull in London and David Adlard in Norwich.

Is it good bedtime reading? There’s a chunky introductory section telling the story of the pub, chapter introductions and full page introductions to all of the recipes, making the book a very enjoyable read. As a restaurant nerd, I would have loved to have read about Kerridge’s career before opening the Hand in 2005. As a good proportion of the book’s audience is bound to be professional chefs who would be equally interested to read about Kerridge’s rise through the ranks to stardom, it seems something of a missed opportunity. We can only hope there’s an autobiography in the works.

Will I have trouble finding the ingredients? Specialist ingredients in the book include Alba white truffle oil, agar agar, foie gras, squab pigeon, caul fat, veal tendons, Sosa Airbag Pork Granet, Sosa Antioxidant gel powder, meat glue, lamb sweetbreads, pig’s head and trotter and meadowsweet among others. There are plenty of far more mainstream ingredients too, although if you are going to go to the trouble of attempting these recipes you’ll want to head to your butcher, fishmonger and greengrocer rather than rely on standard supermarket gear.

What’s the faff factor? If you want to prepare a complete dish with all it’s  various elements – for example lemon sole grenobloise made up of stuffed lemon sole, brown butter hollandiase, brown bread croutons, confit lemon zest, crisp deep fried capers and anchovy fritters – then you need to be prepared to put in some serious kitchen time. For many home cooks, probably the best way to approach the book is to pick and choose between the constituent parts and either make a simplified version of the dish with just the key elements or take the recipe for a garnish, such as the famous Hand and Flowers carrot that’s braised in water, sugar, butter and star anise, and use it to accompany something simple like a roast, grill or stew. The good news is that many of the recipes for the individual parts are relatively straightforward and it’s the quantity of constituent elements that make cooking a complete Hand and Flowers dish daunting for non-professionals.

How annoyingly vague are the recipes?   There are the usual suspects such as a  squeeze of lemon, sprig of thyme or half an onion (how big is an onion? How long is a piece of string?) and one dish calls for meat glue but gives no quantity. However, you should have no problems with the vast majority of the recipes.

How often will I cook from the book? Will you be knocking up a torchon of quail with crispy quail leg and verjus everyday? Probably not. But you might well find yourself making the ‘Matson’s sauce’ (a ‘super-posh’ chip shop curry sauce named after Kerridge’s favourite fish and chips shop) that goes with it pretty regularly. Ambitious home cooks will find much to inspire them, and may well turn to the book  when planning a celebratory meal, a dinner party or just to indulge in a weekend of hobby cooking. But as previously noted, a close reading will reveal a treasure trove of sides and sauces, as well as some achievable main elements that will ensure the book won’t permanently reside on your coffee table and will get regular use in your kitchen.

Killer recipes: Smoked haddock omelette; crispy pigs head with black pussing, rhubarb and pork crackling; fish and chips with pea puree and tartare sauce; halbut poached in red wine with bourguignon garnish; slow cooked duck with duck fat chips and gravy; braised shin of beef with roasted bone marrow, parsnip puree and carrot; sweet malt gateau with malted milk ice cream and butterscotch sauce.

What will I love? If you know the pub, you’ll be glad to see all the classic dishes have been included and that the book’s claim to be a definitive collection of the pub’s recipe is an accurate one. At over 400 pages, the book has a pleasing heft, the design is colourful yet classic and elegant, and the food photography by Cristian Barnett is simply stunning.

What won’t I like so much?  If you’re after more of Kerridge’s diet friendly fare, you are definitely barking up the wrong butter, cream and foie gras-laden tree.

Should I buy it? If you are a fan of Tom Kerridge’s restaurants and want to challenge yourself in the kitchen, this is the book for you. It will also be of particular interest to professional chefs.  

Cuisine: British
Suitable for: Confident home cooks/Professional chefs
Cookbook Review Rating: Five stars

Buy this book
The Hand & Flowers Cookbook
£40, Bloomsbury Absolute

Cook from this book
Smoked haddock omelette
Slow cooked duck
Vanilla crème brûlée by Tom Kerridge

The Whole Chicken by Carl Clarke

The Whole Chicken Carl Clarke

What’s the USP? It’s nose-to-tail cooking, but for chickens! So beak-to-tail-feather, then. The Whole Chicken breaks down the bird both literally and metaphorically, with chapters dedicated to all our favourite cuts, as well as mince, offal, bones, skin and, in a move that technically fits the bill but feels a little too eager to get the chicken on the table, eggs.

Who wrote it? Author Carl Clarke has definite chicken-cred. I mean, I imagine his credibility is at rock bottom with actual chickens – he keeps eating them. But through Chick ‘n’ Sours and spin-off Chick’n he has two of the coolest bird-and-apostrophe-centric restaurants in London to his name.

Is it good bedtime reading? Though Clarke skips out on chapter introductions (who needs to be told that thighs are the best bit of the chicken for the umpteenth time?), he quickly makes up for it with passionate and practical introductions to each recipe. Forget about the bedtime reading though, it’s the kitchen dance-offs that you’ll be focused on: the book offers five brilliantly curated playlists to keep you entertained whilst you prepare, cook and eat the whole of your chicken.

How annoyingly vague are the recipes? Not even a little bit. Clarke goes into a decent amount of detail throughout. There’s a refreshing commitment to clarity, in fact. The book lists both metric and imperial measurements at every opportunity, and even features both British and American terms where necessary (cling film/plastic wrap, etc).

What’s the faff factor? Clearly marked at the side of the page. A small scale next to each recipe ranks the dish as either ‘easy peasy’, ‘almost breezy’, or ‘worth the effort’. That said, quite a lot of the dishes fall into that latter category. The scale isn’t particularly consistent either. The Next Level Breville grilled sandwich is listed as ‘worth the effort’, and whilst it’s certainly a lot more of a commitment than your usual toastie, it pales by comparison to the Chicken Nuggets with Kimchi Bacon Ranch Dip and Spicy Shake.

What will I love? The sheer range of dishes on offer here. Clarke draws on a number of different cuisines, though East Asia and the United States are perhaps the most obvious influences. Everything here looks absolutely delicious, and the design of the book itself only emphasises this. The Whole Chicken is intensely cool, and you’ll be a little surprised to find that it’s willing to hang out with you and your other cookbooks.

What won’t I love? There’s a disappointing amount of recipes representing the less commonly used pieces of the chicken. Given the title of the book is ‘The Whole Chicken’, you’d perhaps expect a little more attention to be paid to these areas. Instead, the overwhelming majority of the book is dedicated to those traditional cuts. The entire offal section comprises of just five recipes, meaning that those looking for inspired uses for chicken heart (a delicacy in several countries) will find just one stand-alone recipe. The same goes, inexplicably, for the liver, gizzards and feet – despite each of these having myriad uses in various global cuisines.

Killer recipes: My Friend Romy’s Butter Chicken Recipe, Doritos-Coated Schnitzel with Fried Eggs and Anchovies, Gunpowder Wings, Xian-Spiced Chicken Scratchings and Cherry Cola Chicken Legs.

Should I buy it? Despite not fully realising the promise of its title, The Whole Chicken does offer up an irresistible wealth of dishes drawn from genuinely global influences. It isn’t the first book to do a deep dive on the chicken, but it feels very much of its own space. I have Diana Henry’s lovely A Bird in the Hand on my shelves too, but comparing the two here feels a little like throwing Delia Smith in the ring with David Chang.

Cuisine: Global
Suitable for: Beginner to confident home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating: Four stars

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

Buy this book
The Whole Chicken: 100 easy but innovative ways to cook from beak to tail
£22, Hardie Grant

Australian Food by Bill Granger

Australian Food by Bill Granger

Bill Granger could not have picked a better time to publish his first book in six years. With its bright, orange, red and yellow cover and vibrant, globally inspired recipes, Australian Food brings some very welcome sunshine from down under into these gloomy lockdown autumn days. Granger first came to international attention in 2002 when the New York Times dubbed him ‘The Egg Master of Sydney’ and described the scrambled eggs at bills restaurant ‘as light as the breath of an angel’.

The recipe (the secret of which appears to be quite a lot of whipping cream and some careful cooking) is included in a chapter of ‘classics’ that features other signatures such as chocolate banana bread, and ricotta hotcakes with honeycomb butter and banana, a dish much-copied by the likes of Nigella and Ottolenghi. These breakfast specialities might be the foundations of a restaurant empire that now includes London, Honolulu, Seoul and Japan, but Australian Food confirms there’s much to the self-taught chef’s repertoire.

Australian chefs have long been renowned for incorporating Southeast Asian flavours into their food (Neil Perry of Rockpool Dining Group is just one high profile example) and Granger does it better than most. Deftly sidestepping issues of authenticity and appropriation, dishes such as turmeric-spiced chicken in lettuce parcels with green chilli dipping sauce, or grilled pork chops with cashew satay with pineapple and cucumber relish employ ingredients with gleeful abandon to create something delicious and decidedly Australian.

Italy also looms large in Granger’s gastronomic imagination so there’s also recipes for braised lamb ragu with tagliatelle and pecorino and green herb risotto with raw summer salad.  But he doesn’t stop there. With chapters on barbecue, bowl food, small plates and bakery (Granger is an excellent baker as his miso caramel brownies prove), the book leaves no culinary stone unturned.  The sheer variety on offer makes Australian Food a pandemic kitchen panacea but Granger’s skill as a creative chef and recipe writer, honed over more than a quarter of a century, ensures it will have enduring appeal.  

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

Buy this book
Australian Food
£20, Murdoch Books

 

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

Duck liver parfait by Ben Crittenden

B27A4528
300g duck livers
100g foie gras
100g hazelnut butter
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp curing salt
100ml madeira
100ml port
100ml brandy
200g shallots
4 garlic cloves
1 sprig thyme
1 bay leaf
5 eggs
400g melted butter

Roughly chop the shallots and garlic. Sweat down with the thyme and bay for 5-10 minutes. Add the Madeira, port and brandy and reduce until barely any liquid is left. Allow to cool slightly then blitz in the Thermomix with the livers, foie gras, hazelnut butter and the 2 salts. Then add the eggs and blitz again. Then slowly add the butter on speed 7 until it is thoroughly mixed. Now pass through a fine sieve into a container. Cover the top with cling film on the surface of the parfait mix and allow to set over night. Divide into 2 vacuum pack bags and seal. Cook at 63c for 1 hour then empty the mix back to a blender and blitz for 30 seconds or until smooth. Now allow to set in the fridge ready to serve.

ORANGE PURÉE
1 orange
100g sugar
300ml orange juice
Ultratex

Cut the orange into 6 and vacuum with the sugar and orange juice. Cook sous vide 85c for 5 hours or until the skin is soft. Add to bender and blitz on full until smooth. Add a tbs of Ultratex and blitz. Check consistency add more Ultratex if needed until you reach a smooth thick purée.

DUCK LEG
150g course sea salt
1 tbs black pepper
1 bulb garlic
1/2 bunch thyme
8 fatty duck legs
4 shallots
50ml brandy
25g parsley

Blitz the salt, garlic, thyme, and peppercorns. Rub this cure mix into the duck legs, cover in a container and leave for 24 hours in fridge. Wash off the salt mix and place the duck legs in vacuum pack bags (3 per bag). Cook at 88c for 6 hours. Dice the shallots and sweat. Add the brandy and reduce by 1/2. Remove the ducks from bags. Flake the flesh down and mix with the shallots. Allow to cool slightly and add chopped parsley then using cling film roll into neat ballotines.

GINGER BREAD
225g self-raising flour
20g ground ginger
Pinch salt
100g demerara sugar
100g butter
100g treacle
175g golden syrup
1 egg
150g milk

Heat the butter, sugar, treacle and golden syrup gently until the butter has melted. Beat into the flour, ginger and salt and mix well to ensure there are no lumps of flour. Beat the egg and milk together and slowly add to the mix. Divide into 2 inch ring lined with tin foil. Bake for 30 minutes at 160c. Remove from the rings and refrigerate overnight so the cakes firm up. Then slice as thinly as possible into discs and dehydrate for minimum of 8 hours.

TO SERVE
Toasted hazelnuts
Chervil

Cook more from this book
Poussin, korma, grape
Pecan pie, banana, chocolate

Buy the book
Stark by Ben and Sophie Crittenden
£30, A Way With Media
Also available at Amazon Stark

Read the review