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The 10 best food books of 2007
- and one near-miss

by Natasha Hughes, 12/07

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ONE

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Of all the recipe books published this year, Greg and Lucy Malouf's Arabesque: Modern Middle Eastern Food (£20, Quadrille) is the one that had me salivating the most. This repackaged assortment of recipes (first published in Malouf's native Australia in 1999) is not only bang on trend with its use of Middle Eastern ingredients, it's packed to the gunwhales with unfussy, flavoursome dishes such as roasted snapper with walnut-coriander dressing, goat's cheese baked in vine leaves and nut-stuffed quinces. The book is divided into sections by ingredient, and is designed to get you thinking about flavourings like almonds, coriander and quinces rather than meat, poultry and vegetables.
  

TWO

The flavours of the Middle East have also had their impact on the third book in Sam and Sam Clark's Moro series, Moro East (£25, Ebury Press). The 'east' of the title doesn't refer to the Middle East - although there are plenty of recipes inspired by the cuisine of the Middle East, Spain and North Africa - but to the East End allotment where the Clarks grew their own vegetables before it was bulldozed to make way for the 2012 Olympics. The recipes in this book reflect the changing seasons, as well as the inspiration the Clarks derived from the Turkish and Cypriot families who shared the allotment with them.
  

THREE

If your appetite for Spanish food has merely been whetted by the recent wave of Spanish cookbooks, you should enjoy Paul Richardson's A Late Dinner: Discovering The Food Of Spain (£16.99, Bloomsbury). This lively account of the food and travel writer's exploration of the Spanish countryside provides an in-depth look at the country's regional cuisine, drawing out the links between food, history and culture. A helpful index at the back of the book provides a guide to the author's favourite restaurants in Spain and a helpful glossary of Spanish, Catalan, Basque and Gallego food terms.
  

FOUR

There's more practical advice in another book published this year, Charles Metcalfe and Kathryn McWhirter's The Wine And Food Lover's Guide to Portugal (£16.95, Inn House Publishing). This region-by-region guide to the of Portuguese wine and food is exactly what you need if you're planning a gastronomic tour. The book provides an overview of each region's wines and foods, as well as detailed information on places to stay, eat, taste and shop (for food and wine, of course). You'll also find plenty of ideas for things to do between visits to wineries and restaurants.
  

FIVE

Almost as useful for those planning trips - to Tuscany this time - is Lori de Mori and Jason Lowe's Beaneaters & Bread Soup (£20, Quadrille). The book is based upon 25 'portraits' (both written and photographic) of those involved in Tuscan gastronomy in one way or another. The chapter on the 'Famiglia Tistarelli', for instance, takes a look at life on the Aia della Colonna farm, where the Tistarellis raise a herd of Cinta Senese pigs and Maremman cows. With plenty of evocative stories, authentic recipes and lavish photos of the people, the animals and the Tuscan countryside, this book provides a wonderful snapshot of traditional Tuscany.
  

SIX

Stéphane Reynaud's Pork & Sons (£24.95, Phaidon Press) features a similar mishmash of recipes, text and photos as Beaneaters. As the name suggests, the focus of the book is on all things porcine, and it kicks off with an account of a traditional pig slaughter in a village in France's Ardèche highlands. The book is divided into chapters based on patés, sausages and hams, before moving on to 'granny pig' (traditional recipes), 'barbecued pork' and 'a piggy party'. The line drawings of cycling pigs, pigs swinging on Tarzan ropes and pole-dancing pigs are whimsical in the extreme - but that's all part of this book's charm.
  

SEVEN

There's not much in the way of whimsy in Simon Hopkinson's Week In, Week Out: 52 Seasonal Stories (£20, Quadrille), a collection of recipes from the author's food column in The Independent during the 1990s. Instead what you get is good, honest, no-frills recipes based on seasonal ingredients. There's nothing revolutionary about the dishes in the book, but Hopkinson's attitude to food has always been 'If it ain't broke, don't fix it' - and there's nothing 'broke' about recipes like boiled ox tongue with caper sauce, fresh anchovies with garlic and breadcrumbs and tomatoes stuffed with crab and basil.
  

EIGHT

Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall is another man with a down-to-earth attitude towards food. It was only a matter of time before he published a sister volume to his meat compendium, and this year he (in tandem with Nick Fisher) published The River Cottage Fish Book (£30, Bloomsbury). Like its sibling, the new book contains plenty of practical advice on choosing fish, different cooking methods and a plea for sustainability as well as loads of mouthwatering recipes inspired, in the main, by traditional British, French and Italian cuisines (along with the odd excursion into Asia). The last 200 or so pages of the book contain a detailed guide to Britain's edible fish and shellfish.
  

NINE

Fergus Henderson's Beyond Nose To Tail: A Kind Of British Cooking Part II (£17.99, Bloomsbury), a book he co-authored with St John's pastry chef Justin Piers Gellatly, is infused with a kind of erudite Billy Bunterish glee for all things edible. There's a playfulness in the way Henderson uses language and a real sense of relish for the reality of cooking and eating animals that we Brits are often all too squeamish about - he refers to the wobbliness of pig's head, recommends those with guns to 'aim for smaller bunnies' and advocates the use of Bic razors to remove hair from pig's trotters before cooking them.
  

TEN

In the preface to his latest book, Eating For England: The Delights & Eccentricities Of The British At Table (£16.99, Fourth Estate), Nigel Slater writes about having been invited on to a radio show in New York, where he was asked to describe British food. This book, a selection of short pieces on everything from sherry trifle and Jaffa cakes to Welsh rarebit, Colman's mustard and Marmite, is Slater's attempt to come to terms with our culinary heritage - the bad as well as the good. Written in Slater's inimitable, accessible style, this book is bound to get you musing on just how to define British food in the 21st century.
  

THE NEAR MISS...

I really wanted to like John Radford and Mario Sandoval's Cook España, Drink España: A Culinary Journey Around The Food And Drink Of Spain (£20, Mitchell Beazley). After all, a book that combines the two things closest to my heart - wine and food - had to be a sure bet, or so I thought. Sadly, the two halves of the book didn't mesh. Organised by region, Cook España explores the local food specialities, provides recipes and wine-matching suggestions, then follows up with a spread on the area's wines. Sadly, the book's two topics seem divorced from each other - and even when an effort has been made to combine them in pairings, there's nothing to explain why these particular bottles have been chosen to accompany each dish. Given that many of the wines will be unfamiliar to readers, surely it would have made sense to provide some rationale behind their choice. As for the dishes, many of them feature ingredients difficult to obtain here in the UK - Mahón cheese, secreto or scorpionfish, for instance - while others suffer from being too 'restaurant-ey' in style (no surprise, perhaps, given that Sandoval is a Michelin-starred chef). A real disappointment and a wasted opportunity.
  


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