Publishers and authors, it seems, have got weary of the old cookery-book formula of lots of recipes and pretty pictures. Leslie Geddes-Brown selects some different offerings.
The New Art of Cooking by Frankie Unsworth
This book takes the pretty-picture idea and explains how it’s done. Miss Unsworth is a stylist, who has organised photography for books by Michel Roux and Rachel Khoo, among others. Her tips include piling your prosciutto high to make it look generous, cutting multi-coloured tomatoes through the equator or leaving them on the vine and dyeing hard-boiled eggs beetroot red or turmeric yellow. I’m finding it a great pleasure to use.
The Art of the Larder by Claire Thomson
The Art of the Larder fulfills my need to learn more about ingredients and less about recipes. Divided into chapters such as spices and vegetables, the author lists ‘larder basics’ to have on hand and follows this with recipes using the goods. Very useful, although I would have liked more and rarer ingredients and fewer recipes.
A New Way to Cook by Sybil Kapoor
The author started by asking herself ‘What makes a recipe delicious?’ and her answer is to employ all five senses—sight, smell, touch, taste and hearing—in cooking and eating. The book is divided into these sections (although hearing gets a poor deal). This is a book that should be read carefully for its thoughts rather than for its recipes.
Lateral Cooking by Niki Segnit
Following on from the success of The Flavour Thesaurus (more than 250,000 copies sold), Niki Segnit produces this huge tome (without a single photograph) that shows how to cook by instinct and ingredient rather than by recipe. She describes a basic recipe, then appends a ‘leeway’ section suggesting variations of ingredients or spices to suit what you have in the house. The books takes a bit of understanding, but already I’m finding it thought-provoking and useful.
A Long and Messy Business by Rowley Leigh
At last, a publisher has had the sense to reprint those articles from newspapers that are so fleeting. In this case, the pieces come from Rowley Leigh’s Financial Times columns and each not only has a recipe, but also a useful introduction to it. Mr Leigh says: ‘I get fed up with the number of cookbooks that promise a quick and easy meal.’ One of his, for minestrone, took me 31/2 hours (plus overnight soaking for the beans), but it was worth the effort.
Venice: Four Seasons of Home Cooking by Russell Norman
The other trend is the complete eclipse of French cuisine by Italian cucina. There are two weighty books on Venetian food. Venice, I would have thought, is the Italian city least suitable for this treatment, but, of course, the architecture is wonderful. ‘Venice: Four Seasons of Home Cooking’ by Russell Norman takes full advantage of this, with numerous photos of the author, scowling and bearded, out in the streets (the book is also a useful guide to the city). The recipes are just what you want—characterful, delicious and fairly simple. The book follows Mr Norman’s other cookery book on Venice—his award-winning Polpo.
A Table in Venice by Skye McAlpine
The second offering is A Table in Venice by Skye McAlpine. This is a debut cookery book by the daughter of Tory peer Lord McAlpine, who’s lived in the city since childhood. It’s full of knowledge and careful local detail and the photographs, lively with Venetians enjoying themselves, are her own. As you’d expect, there are lots of recipes for fish. If I had to choose between these two books, I’d find it difficult, but I think this one wins by a nose.
The Modern Italian Cook by Joe Trivelli
Mr Trivelli is the co-head chef at the River Café and admits that he owes a huge amount to its founders, Rose Gray and Ruth Rogers. He’s half-Italian and his cooking takes the traditional dishes and translates them for British tastes. Some of his dishes are hard to achieve—whole porcini in a pan, for example, as I have yet to see a whole porcini for sale anywhere here. Baby octopus is a bit difficult, too. However, most dishes are not just tasty, but interesting as well.
Vegetables all’Italiana by Anna Del Conte
Miss Del Conte is a veteran writer on Italian food and this is a distillation of decades of cooking experience. With both vegetarian and vegan cooking currently so trendy, this is a book to have. Most of the ingredients can be easily found.
Vegetariano by Slow Food Editore (Translated Natalie Danford)
Slow Food, which has collected dishes from restaurants, tavernas and cooks for this book, was started in 1989 to preserve local foods. Here, there are more than 400 recipes, including pasta, pizzas, puddings and soups. It’s a wonderful compendium.
Eataly: All About Pasta
Eataly has 40 shops worldwide selling Italian food and drink (philosophy: the more you know, the more you enjoy). Pasta dishes may be popular in Britain, but we don’t know the half of it. This book will widen your eyes and your knowledge.
Risotto and Beyond by John Coletta
Risotto is the other great staple of Italian food and here are recipes for soups, salads, antipasti and puddings that show how adaptable rice can be. I particularly love the selection of puddings, from rice pudding with peaches to strawberry rice cream.
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