COOKING THE BOOKS
Judith Elen pores over the latest food publications, from great holiday reads to practical kitchen guides and mouth-watering recipes
MMoro East by Sam and Sam Clark (Ebury Press/Random House, $69.95) is practical, exotic and inspirational. Moro is a London restaurant that opened in 1997, when the Arabic tastes of the eastern Mediterranean were little known in Britain, and has since become an institution. There have been two earlier books, and this one features recipes linked to a year in the life of the garden allotment the two Sams set up amid the broken glass and rusty metal of London’s East End. Behind the garden gate is a community of Cypriot, Kurdish and Turkish home gardeners. The recipes are robust, flavourful Middle Eastern, such as pigeon salad with figs and pomegranates, rhubarb and rosewater fool. The allotment is to be razed before the 2012 Olympics in London. Y French Vue: Bistro Cooking at Home by Shannon Bennett (Simon & Schuster, $49.95) is the second cookbook by the celebrated chef of Melbourne’s Vue de Monde. There’s a food and wine-matching guide and an excellent run-through of basic (modern) ingredients. Recipes are straightforward and succulent (cold duck sausage is completely achievable, with no weird machines or pig’s intestines). Dishes are satisfyingly bistro with a touch of genius (rabbit with mustard and lavender, fish with carrot vinaigrette and broccoli couscous or ginger jus, bouillabaisse risotto). Sumptuous desserts range from french toast with berries to chocolate orange custards. Simon Griffiths’s photography is gorgeous. Kitchen Seasons by Ross Dobson (Hardie Grant Books, $45) contains recipes celebrating seasonal organic food. In Britain the seasons are usually more focused than ours (although there are exceptions), which adds to the pleasure of the book, and there is nothing that can’t be translated. There are nice spring dishes (including spiced lamb cutlets with tomato and feta gratin), but they don’t do hot weather as well as we do and the winter dishes are the stars. Robust and rustic rather than surprising (tagines and soups of root vegetables, fig and honey croissant pudding), they sing of cold weather walks and open fires. Delicious: 5 Nights a Week by Valli Little ( ABC Books, $39.95) is packed with lovely home recipes, as Little’s fans and readers of Delicious magazine would expect. At 250-odd pages, this is a substantial book of imaginative (yet practical) dishes, such as fig and three-cheese tart, Thai-style bouillabaisse, chermoula fish with pistachio couscous, lemon and oregano lamb. Christmas ploughman’s is a very simply made pate of leftover turkey, ham or chicken that comes out looking like expensive, time-consuming rillettes. Large format, with full-page colour images. The Weekend Cook by Matthew Evans (Random House, $34.95) is a book of manageable size in the kitchen and a good browse. Evans, a food journalist and critic who has worked as a chef, aims to capture the spirit of weekend food. Recipes are divided according to the kind of weekend you’re planning: slow, busy, romantic, social, lost. Busy efforts speak for themselves and include a Sicilian one-pot pasta, cheesy crunch, spiced oranges with honeyed ricotta; all luscious and deliciously manageable. The Lost list includes cocktails, coddled eggs, biscuits, shortcake, crumbles: indulgent rather than cripplingly difficult. Photographs are straightforward and alluring. Barbecue Seafood by Peter Howard (New Holland, $35) is a gem for the bored barbecue buff. After all that meat, the many aficionados of the outdoor fire and grill need to know the fine points of cooking fish. Howard says in his foreword he’d be a rich man if he had a dollar for every time he’s been asked such advice. Recipes involve lobster medallions, prawns and skewered tuna incorporated with fresh salads such as Asian greens or blood orange and beetroot, or mixed treats such as Thai fish patties. A wide range of sauce recipes are for marinating or garnishing.
Robert Muir of Syndey Fish Market’s Seafood School has compiled crucial guidelines for buying and storing. Howard also has used fish and seafood not on the list of endangered species, a vital point. Holiday by Bill Granger (Murdoch Books, $49.95) sets out with pictures of cushion, basket and vacuum flask, seashells and a frangipani hanging over a beach fence. Picnic and barbecue recipes feature, and images of barefoot Bill, but the usual kids’ treats are not here and that’s a relief.
Holidays are sometimes most alluring sans the kids; indeed, not everyone has them. So there are recipes for intimate breakfasts and dinner dates and for entertaining.
Recipes are still simple (souffles, blinis, pannacottas and chocolate puddings are not new) but simple can also be good: semolina-fried prawns with aioli, for example (what could speak more of a beachside holiday?), puffed apple pancake and duck, radicchio and fig salad. Pier by Greg Doyle, Grant King and Katrina Kanetani (Murdoch Books, $85) is the weighty book from awardwinning Sydney restaurant Pier at Rose Bay. You’ll show off by giving it or owning it, and the recipes are showpieces as well. These supremely elegant dishes are not for knocking up on the weekend but they are painstakingly explained and make enlightening reading for all interested in how exquisite restaurant food is prepared. They also seem possible, given patience and close attention to the instructions, which include practical points such as storing elements of the dish during preparation, as would be done in the restaurant.
Photographs are gorgeous and make you want to have a go, or at least yearn to eat them. Soffritto by Lucio Galletto and David Dale (Allen & Unwin, $49.95) has been named Australian winner of the best book on Italian food at the Gourmand World Cookbook Awards (see Food Detective). It relates the food-fixated travels embarked on by Sydney chef Galletto (of Lucio’s restaurant in Paddington) with David Dale to Liguria in northern Italy. Dale talks to people and records their conversations about food, its preparation, their memories; about history and family. The wonderful photographs by Paul Green embrace the time (past and present) and place, restaurants and streets, and food, food, food: being prepared, on the plate or in the market. Eating for England by Nigel Slater (Fourth Estate/HarperCollins, $35) isn’t a cookbook. ‘‘ To my knowledge,’’ the British author writes, ‘‘ we are the only country in the world that takes delight in eating boiled and crushed swede. Compared (with) a bunch of asparagus in June, the swede is hardly the most painterly of vegetables.’’ Slater has an encyclopedic grasp of food and this is a chunky little hardcover book to delve into, a cruise around British eating past and present, from weirdly named traditional dishes to commercial food, farmers markets and eating rituals. ‘‘ Our food culture is about the gentle, buttercup-scented cheese made in a village barn the colour of honey, and the childish delight of unwrapping a foil triangle of Dairylea,’’ Slater writes. Table Talk by A. A. Gill (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, $55) is the archetypal Christmas holiday book: entertaining and idiosyncratic. It’s a selection of Gill’s columns in Britain’s TheSunday Times and The Tatler on food and dining, with sections on travel food, home and away, appetite (vegetarians, organic, Ramadan) and ingredients (durian, blood and beluga, roses, pomegranate). The pages of short quotations before each section are alone worth buying the book for: ‘‘ Main courses would have got a Third World airline grounded. My lamb would only have been of gastronomic interest to a man who had never eaten a sheep. The mushrooms wouldn’t have tasted wild if you’d soaked them in ecstasy and given them guns.’’ The Basics by Filip Verheyden and Tony Le Duc (Hardie Grant, $45), with its Bible-black cover and gilt-edged pages, looks like a slim version of the holy book, deeply satisfying in the hand and beautifully bound. Rather than Ten Commandments, it contains more than 150 descriptive guidelines on the skills and techniques that can make a cook. Caramelising, cutting, creating a chiffonnade, cold sauces, cooking in a salt crust: these are just some of the entries under C. Kitchen lovers will covet this gem of a stocking filler, which won the silver medal in the 2007 Gourmet Voice Awards. Cooking by James Peterson (Ten Speed Press/Simon & Schuster, $65), the other extreme from The Basics (above), has more than 540 pages with every detail you could think of. Instructions are matched with practical photographs. Hand-making pasta dough, for example, kneading it and rolling it with a machine or cutting it by hand is followed by making ravioli and twisting tortellini, sauces and fillings. There are instructions for boning and slicing duck, chicken and meats of all kinds, and details of soups, sauces, cakes, pastry and cookies. This is an American book, with typically American seriousness about cuisine sans the vulgar excess. For more fabulous food books, see From the Shelves ( Travel & Indulgence, October 13-14) or visit www.theaustralian.com.au/ travel/alfr.