Root by Rob Howell

Roots by Rob Howell

What’s the USP? A collection of modern, inventive vegetable-forward, often vegan recipes that also includes seafood and meat dishes. 

Who’s the author? Rob Howell is the head chef of Root, the Bristol restaurant that’s set in a converted shipping container on the city’s Wapping Wharf.  

Is it good bedtime reading? Aside from a brief introductory section that includes a forward from Root’s co-founder Josh Eggleton, an introducton from Howell himself and notes on  seasonality, produce and seasoning, the bulk of the reading material lies in the short but informative recipe introductions. So one more for the kitchen than the nightstand.  

Will I have trouble finding ingredients? Salsify is still one vegetable that’s still a little tricky to get hold of, at least in the UK, so crispy frying it and serving it with roasted garlic mayo might take a little bit of effort, similarly kolrhabi for a slaw to accompany grilled flatbreads with babganoush. You’ll need a good cheesemonger for ewe’s curd to add to turnip and apple-filled chicory leaves and a decent deli for smoked rapeseed oil to add to yoghurt to serve with salt-baked beetroot.  You’ll hopefully have a good butcher who will get you ox heart to grill and serve with pickled red cabbage and sweetbreads to glaze with Marmite and maple syrup (God, that sounds good), plus a reliable fishmonger for pretty much everything in the fish chapter. That aside, the recipes include many accessible ingredients.  

What’s the faff factor? This is a book by a chef based on recipes from a small plates restaurant so you won’t be surprised that many dishes require several elements to be prepared and then brought together; easier to do in a professional kitchen compared to a domestic one. Often, you’ll need to put quite a bit of effort into something that will only be big enough to form one course of a meal. Therefore recipes such as oysters two ways (fresh with chilli ginger and gherkin and crispy with tartare sauce) or grilled red mullet with a sauce made from the bones will remain dinner party fodder. However, there are plenty of dishes like chilli and ginger Sharpham Park spelt with chestnut mushrooms or courgette ragu baked in a marrow that are  straightforward and satisfying enough to make a delicious mid-week meal.  

How often will I cook from the book? Although the book probably sits in the hobby/weekend-cooking category, there are dozens of delicious sauces, dressings, dips, relishes, pickles and savoury jams that you’ll want to add to your regular repertoire, as well as simple salads and vegetable courses that could be adapted as side dishes, making it a book that you’ll want to refer to often.    

Killer recipes? Roasted squash with kale pesto, squash barigoule prune puree and Old Winchester;  buttermilk-fried celeriac with Korean-style sauce; crispy potato and cheese terrine; hassleback parsnips with honey-mustard mayonnaise; heritage tomatoes with grilled focaccia, aubergine puree and tomato jam; baked seaweed hake with tikka masala-style sauce and bok choi; chicken schnitzel with garlic, parmesan and fresh anchovies; carrot jam-filled doughnuts with mascarpone vanilla cream. 

What will I love? The ‘larder’ chapter will help modernise your cooking with recipes for trendy items like seaweed vinegar, burnt onion puree, kale pesto and pickled wild garlic capers.  

Should I buy it? Root is bursting with exciting and inspirational ideas that any keen cook will delight in. The accent on vegetables is bang on trend and will help those of us in search of help in cutting down our meat intake.  One of 2021’s essential purchases. 

Cuisine: International
Suitable for: confident home cooks/professional chefs
Cookbook Review Rating: Five stars 

Buy this book
Root: Small vegetable plates, a little meat on the side
£26, Bloomsbury Absolute

One Pot, Pan, Planet by Anna Jones

One Pot, Pan, Planet by Anna Jones

What’s the USP? It’s a cookbook that offers ideas on how to live and eat more sustainably, with a selection of plant-based recipes that offer ‘a greener way to cook for you, your family and the planet’.

Sorry, I should have explained. USP means ‘unique selling point’. Haven’t we seen all this before? It’s certainly true that sustainable and plant-based cookery is very much on trend in the cookbook world at the moment. That said, the quality of the books has been fairly high all round, so it seems a little bit petty to call them out on it. Is anybody really complaining about the influx of interesting new ways to eat your veg?

Besides, One Pot, Pan, Planet has real pedigree. Anna Jones has made a name for herself as a columnist for The Guardian, and with her first three cookbooks (A Modern Way to Cook, A Modern Way to Eat and The Modern Chef’s Year). All three were built around healthy and overwhelmingly vegetarian cooking. Anna Jones hasn’t adapted to meet the current trends; the current trends have finally caught up with Anna Jones.

Is it good bedtime reading? There’s plenty to read here, with recipe-free chapters on sustainability scattered amongst the dishes. it’s not exactly great bedtime reading, unless you enjoy falling asleep with questions of biodiversity and soil health on your mind. Jones writes to inform rather than entertain, and though these sections are both enlightening and useful, they aren’t quite the same vibe as a chef rambling on amiably about sea urchins off the Amalfi coast, or the joys of growing your own rhubarb.

That said, Jones does make space for a spectacular chapter on vegetables that sits right in the centre of the book. Galloping through a list of ten well-loved veg, the chapter gives essential rundowns on when to buy each ingredient, how to prep and cook it, and what flavours it pairs with, before offering up ten no-nonsense ideas for each one. Nothing groundbreaking, perhaps – but immensely practical.

Will I have trouble finding the ingredients? Generally speaking, absolutely not. This is simple and accessible food using ingredients you’ll be able to pick up anywhere.

What’s the faff factor? Again, Jones strives for simplicity. As the title suggests, most dishes can be completed in a single pot or pan. All can be achieved on a single planet, but that’s not really an achievement. The idea behind this is that the cooking process, too, plays a part in sustainable cooking. Using a single dish requires less energy for the heating process and less water for the washing up.

How often will I cook from the book? How often do you want to skip on the meat? For vegetarians and vegans there are enough dishes here (and enough variety) to cover most meals if you’re really short on cookbook funds. Meat-eaters looking to cut back on their intake can readily fill their meat-free days with the filling and hearty dishes on offer here, from Arepas with black beans & salsa verde to Lemongrass & tofu larb.

Killer recipes: Sweet potato, ginger & coconut stew, Corn risotto, Golden rösti with ancho chilli chutney, Carrot & peanut nasi goreng, Chocolate & muscovado fudge cake

Should I buy it? There has been no shortage of excellent sustainable plant-based cookbooks over the past year or two, but One Pot, Pan, Planet still manages to stand out as one of the very finest. With creative and varied dishes that are built to be as achievable as they are sustainable, Jones has written a book that would be at home on any shelf.

Cuisine: Vegan
Suitable for: Confident home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating: Five stars

Buy this book
One: Pot, Pan, Planet: A greener way to cook for you, your family and the planet
£26, Fourth Estate

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