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The best food books of 2008

by Natasha Hughes, 12/08

Ottolenghi: The Cookbook

One of my special treats every summer is to bunk off work on a sunny day and head down to one of the Ottolenghi delis to pick up some of their wonderful salads and patisseries for a picnic. Imagine my delight when I discovered that Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi were due to publish a cookbook this year. The trademark punchy flavours I've enjoyed on many an alfresco occasion feature in all the recipes - and dishes like rack of lamb with a coriander and honey dipping sauce or chargrilled broccoli with chilli and garlic are both simple to prepare and a delight to eat. Recipes in the baking section are a tad more complicated, but it's worth persevering with the sour cherry and walnut stick or the lavender and honey teacakes. I can see myself enjoying this book for years to come - a real modern classic. Ebury Press, £25. (buy at Amazon for £16.25)
  

My Favourite Ingredients

Another potential modern classic is Skye Gyngell's My Favourite Ingredients. Although perhaps not in quite the same league as her brilliant first book, A Year In My Kitchen (which has been published in paperback if you didn't get it first time round), this new book features plenty of the brightly flavoured dishes that have made Gyngell's restaurant at Richmond's Petersham Nurseries such a hit. I'm a big fan of the punchy ribollita, a hearty bean and vegetable soup, and the baked pears with honey, marsala and bay, although I felt a little bit gypped by the inclusion of suggestions such as sliced porcini with Parmesan and crème fraîche, which are more in the nature of ideas for assemblages than real recipes. Still, I'm looking forward to trying the recipe for baked garlic and shallots with fino just as soon as the new season's garlic comes into the shops next spring. Quadrille, £25 (buy at Amazon for £12.50)
  

Wine With Asian Food

The science - or possibly the art - of matching wines to Asian dishes is still in its infancy, so I rather enjoyed delving into Patricia Guy and Edwin Soon's book. It kicks off by exploring the various components of both food flavourings and wine styles, looking at how different elements interact with each other. The second part of the book is devoted to matching specific dishes with wines. So, for instance, you might find a recipe for Thai laap, a spicy chicken salad, along with suggestions of Old and New World wines that would work with the dish - and a brief explanation of why. In this instance, northern Italian Gewurztraminer and a Sauvignon Blanc from the Adelaide Hills are among the recommendations, while Italian Primitivo, aged Bordeaux or Rioja are listed as potential partners for an Indian dish of Raan, a spiced roast leg of lamb. While I don't necessarily agree with all the matches, this book provides a fascinating departure point for anyone wanting to experiment with Asian food and wine pairings. Tide-Mark, £16.99. (buy at Amazon for £16.25)
  

Balance & Harmony

Talking of Asian recipes, Australian super-chef Neil Perry (kind of a down-under version of Gordon Ramsay) recently published Balance & Harmony: Asian Food (Murdoch Books). It's a stunningly pretty book (as many of the Murdoch books are), with a delightful peony-strewn padded cover, stunning photography and a slick layout. The recipes featured run the gamut from the fairly mundane (sweet and sour pork and prawn toast) to the simply sublime (tea- and spice-smoked duck and sour orange curry of salmon). The book was written for an Australian audience, so you'd have to find substitutes for kingfish or Murray cod, but the recipes have real universal appeal. Murdoch Books, £30. (buy at Amazon for £15.00)
  

Venezia: Food & Dreams

The same publisher is also responsible for Tessa Kiros's Venezia: Food & Dreams, an evocative volume whose gilt-edged pages are full of recipes for authentic Venetian dishes like sarde in soar, sweet and sour sardines; risotto di zucca, pumpkin risotto and luganega e polenta (luganege are the local pork sausages). You'll also find recipes for some of the more contemporary dishes that are now creeping onto Venetian menus - a radicchio lasagne, for instance, or duck with anchovies and capers. The photographs that amply illustrate the book are truly beautiful, conjuring up the atmosphere of la Serenissima and the lives of its inhabitants with effortless ease. It made me want to jump on a plane right away - but as I can't, I'll settle for a hearty plateful of linguine al granchio, crab linguine, instead. Murdoch Books, £25. (buy at Amazon for £12.49)
  

Black Pudding & Foie Gras

Talking of beautiful books, Andrew Pern's Black Pudding & Foie Gras is another stunner (was there some kind of cookbook beauty pageant going on this year that I wasn't aware of?). Pern is the chef-patron of North Yorkshire's Harome Inn, which has a growing reputation as one of England's most innovative country restaurants. The pages of this book are filled with information about Pern's suppliers and an account of the way the produce used in the restaurant changes according to the seasons, anecdotes from the frontline of restaurant management and glorious, grainy pictures of the dishes, the people and the local countryside. The recipes aren't bad either, if a bit 'restauranty' in parts. The only problem with the book is that, perhaps seduced by the look of the thing, the publishers have opted for a brown suede-effect cover. This is one for the coffee table rather than the abuse meted out to cookbooks in most kitchens. Face, £39.99. (buy at Amazon for £25.99)
  

The Clatter Of Forks And Spoons

Another chef who writes passionately about his suppliers and seasonality is Richard Corrigan, the Irish-born chef who now owns two branches of Bentley's, one in London and one in Dublin, as well as a new venture, Corrigan's Mayfair. The Clatter Of Forks And Spoons may evoke the atmosphere of a restaurant in its title, but its contents are refreshingly down to earth - you very much get the feeling that Mr Corrigan wants home cooks to feel inspired rather than overwhelmed. As well as polemics on the importance of sourcing and seasonality, there are hands-on (quite literally) guides to such practicalities as the correct preparation of squid and octopus, discourses on the joys of cheesemaking and digressions into Corrigan's history in the restaurant trade. The recipes are for good, honest dishes like fish pie, roast partridge with pears and parsnips and poached chicken with herb dumplings. 4th Estate, £25. (buy at Amazon for £13.25)
  

The Riverford Farm Cook Book

Of course ethical eating is becoming increasingly important to more and more of us - and as a result, many of us are opting for boxed fruit and veg to be delivered to our doorsteps instead of opting for making our purchases from the air miles-gobbling supermarket displays. The trouble with weekly boxes is that you can end up running out of inspiration, particularly in winter, when the appearances of root vegetables, onions and cabbages, to the exclusion of much else, seem to take on a dreary inevitability. Even in summer it can be difficult to work out what to do with all those courgettes and tomatoes. The Riverford Farm Cook Book: Tales From The Fields, Recipes From The Kitchen comes from one of the pioneers of the box delivery movement, and is packed full of information on storing and preparing all kinds of vegetables and fruit, as well as intriguing recipes to help you get through those mountains of mushrooms, piles of potatoes and concatenations of carrots. 4th Estate, £16.99. (buy at Amazon for £8.49)
  

Much Depends On Dinner

There's no great theme to the collection of recipes offered in this book, subtitled A Year In The Telegraph Kitchen, although they are arranged into four seasonal chapters. The Telegraph Magazine's food editor, Carolyn Hart has selected some of the best recipes to have featured in the magazine's food pages since it launched in 2004. Chefs, food historians, producers and readers have all contributed, and I've been particularly inspired by dishes like potée Champenoise, a hearty harvest-time dish from northern France; Tom Aikens' recipe for sea bass with coriander yoghurt sauce and lemon purée and Rose Prince's leek and potato soup with poached oysters and toast. Those with a sense of the absurd will also enjoy the tarte aux raisins that, according to the tale told above the recipe, is based on the one made from grapes picked in Krug's Clos de Mesnil. Apparently one and a half kilos of the grapes could make either three tarts or one bottle of Champagne. Tough choice... Simon & Schuster, £20. (buy at Amazon for £13.00)

  

Viva La Revolucion

You may have noticed that Mexican food is starting to move beyond the clichés of bean burritos and chile con carne, so it's wonderful to see a book like Fiona Dunlop's Viva La Revolucion: New Food From Mexico, which delves into the delights of the country's regional cuisine. From the bright colours and fresh flavours of Veracruz-style red snapper to the deep, rich intensity of mole poblano and the zesty citrus notes of a prawn ceviche and the creamy texture of a zapotec blancmange, made with masa harina and muscovado sugar, this book shows there's far more to Mexican food than most of us realise. True, not all of it is wine friendly - but sometimes there's nothing better than an ice-cold beer for washing down your dinner. Mitchell Beazley, £20. (buy at Amazon for £13.00)
  

Today's Special

When Arbutus opened in London about three years ago, it took wowed both restaurant critics and wine buffs alike. The former raved about Anthony Demetre's food (now Michelin-starred), the latter were bowled over by the fact that every wine on the eclectic list (which features Galician Godello, Uruguayan Tannat and Austrian Blauer Zweigelt as well as Chablis Grand Cru and Bordeaux blends from Margaret River) was available by the 250ml carafe as well as by the bottle. Now some of Demetre's recipes have been collected into a book, Today's Special: A New Take On Bistro Food. This is the kind of grub that really gets my juices flowing - and unlike many 'cheffy' books, this one doesn't daunt the amateur. I've already enjoyed the tartare of mackerel with pickled cucumber, and am looking forward to tucking into wood pigeon with spätzle, chestnuts and pomegranates as well as roast leg of salt-marsh lamb in a salt crust. Quadrille, £20. (buy at Amazon for £12.00)
  

A Culinary Voyage Around The Greek Islands

I spent a marvellous week in Northern Greece earlier this year, visiting wineries, so it may well be nostalgia for that trip that has inspired me in my last recommendation. Theodore Kyriakou was the man who brought upmarket Greek dining to the UK with his restaurant The Real Greek and its sister operation, Mezedopolio. He sold up a couple of years ago, and has obviously been having a whale of a time back in Greece. His sheer enjoyment the Greek way of life comes across in A Culinary Voyage Around The Greek Islands, and recipes for dishes like mackerel fillets with caper leaves and fresh dill, lemony pilaf with cockles, savoury loukoumades (a kind of doughnut) and elephant bean casserole with orange and fennel really do speak volumes about the pleasures of simple food based on quality ingredients. Quadrille, £20. (buy at Amazon for £13.00)
  




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