Every autumn, publishers bring out shelves full of tempting cookery books for our Christmas lists. Leslie Geddes-Brown chooses her recommendations
By Leslie Geddes Brown
Find the best cookery books to give this Christmas, and save on your shopping by buying them at The Country Life bookshop, where you get special offers on all the below books – indicated by the asterisk price.
Cookery books: city themed
My favourite of this Christmas’s intake is Five Quarters by Rachel Roddy (Saltyard, £25 *£20). The recipes come from the author’s tiny kitchen in a working district of Rome, once centred on the abattoir. Unpretentious, unusual and delicious, half a dozen dishes, such as pork chops with fennel and juniper berries, are already on my list of regulars. We meet her gutsy suppliers, her young son and the delights of the Testaccio district, a little-known part of the capital.
By coincidence, this season also sees a second book on Roman cookery, Rome by Katie and Giancarlo Caldesi (Hardie Grant, £25 *£20). The authors are restaurateurs who have already covered Venice and the Amalfi coast. They start here with an excellent history of Roman food and a herb salad dating back to BC. Cooking up a Storm, edited by Marcelle Bienvenu and Judy Walker (Chronicle Books, £18.99 *£17.09), remembers the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, which ripped through New Orleans a decade ago. The local paper, The Times-Picayune, decided to collect and save the city’s old recipes in the face of the disaster. And here is Louisiana food in hardback: all the jambalayas, po-boys and Creole chickens are recorded.
Tokyo Cult Recipes by Maori Murota (Murdoch Books, £20 *£18) is one of a series of combined cookery and travel info following similar books on New York and, again, Venice. The aim is to demystify Japanese cooking, but you’ll need determination and a good larder to see you through.
Jennifer Joyce toured the cities of the world for My Street Food Kitchen (Murdoch Books, £18.99 *£16.99). Her recipes are all that street food should be: instantly tasty, usually simple and often fast.
The best Nordic cookbooks
Phaidon has cornered the cookbook- as-bible market already, with tomes on Italian, Mexican and Thai food. Now, it has brought out a monster compendium, The Nordic Cookbook by Magnus Nilsson (Phaidon, £29.95 *£26.95)—more than 750 pages long and taking in cuisines from the Faroes to Greenland. Some dishes are welcome—browned cauliflower and Norwegian smoked cod’s roe—but I doubt I’ll ever make boiled seal’s intestines with blubber and crowberries, a delicacy from Greenland, or Faroese puffin stuffed with cake, and I would probably be prosecuted for killing these delightful little birds.
There are two other Nordic books: Darra Goldstein’s Fire and Ice (Ten Speed Press, £27.50 *£24.75), which is more manageable in every way, is especially good on fish. Stefan Wettainen’s photographs are terrific, too. The Scandikitchen by Bronte Aurell (Ryland Peters & Small, £16.99 *£14.99), is ideal for Nordic beginners. All three of these books mention my favourite dish, Pytt-i-Panna or, more prosaically, beef hash.
Coast by Rachel Allen of Ballymaloe fame (Harper Collins, £25 *£20), explores coastal Ireland from Cork to Donegal, where one meets fishermen, farmers and cheesemakers. Not Nordic, I agree, but with similar reliance on fish, foraging and winter traditions. The recipes are simple, but insist on the best fresh ingredients.
Cookery books with singular subjects
Books that concentrate on a single subject, such as poultry or leftovers, are always in demand. Hattie Ellis, following her splendid book on honey, has now written The One Pot Cook (Head of Zeus, £20 *£18). Actually, this style of cooking allows surprising latitude, with not only soups and stews, but puddings and exotic one-pot dishes too. There’s also a useful bibliography.
A Year in Cheese by cheesemongers Alex and Leo Guarneri (Frances Lincoln, £20 *£18), is sensibly divided into seasons. A gooey, baked Vacherin is perfect for a winter evening before the fire; a Fleur de Maquis ideal with spring vegetables. But be warned, the cheeses are mostly French.
Claire Macdonald is the perfect choice for a Game Cookbook (Birlinn, £17.99 *£16.19), as she lives and cooks in the Highlands. This is traditional stuff: there’s no pheasant vindaloo or casseroled squirrel, she says. But there is wild boar—game cookery without playing games.
Chicken and Other Birds by Paul Gayler (Jacqui Small, £25 *£22.50), is divided into cooking methods such as smoking, roasting and barbecueing. It’s helpful on preparing and carving and contains accessible, adventurous recipes. Roger Saul almost singlehandedly revived spelt. His book, Spelt (Nourish, £16.99 *£15.29), is inspiring for people like me who are a bit scared of unusual grains.
Sally Clarke’s 30 Ingredients (Frances Lincoln, £25 *£22.50), was intended to celebrate her restaurant’s 25th anniversary with 25 ingredients. Five years later, five ingredients more, this makes a charming and clever book. I recommend her on fennel, chicory, rocket and sage. And porcini, if only we could get them fresh.
Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s Love your Leftovers (Bloomsbury, £20 *£18), may not be romantic, but it’s certainly useful, especially after Christmas. Try roast carrot paté, pork in rosemary-and-cream sauce and a whole section on Christmas leftovers. You will feel virtuous.
Tom Parker Bowles’s Let’s Eat Meat (Pavilion, £25 *£20), roams the world for real meaty stuff, so the chapter on ‘No Meat’ seems a bit unnecessary. Yotam Ottolenghi with Ramael Scully’s NOPI (Ebury Press, £28 *£25.20), is unashamedly cheffy and not for beginners. However, even if you don’t tackle each full recipe, it has lots of combinations of ingredients to explore. Best for aspiring professionals and, as always, beautifully designed.
Annie Bell’s How to Cook (Kyle, £25 *£25.50), is my second favourite book in this intake. It may aspire to be simply for beginners, but it’s much more. Each recipe has a footnote, ‘The Knack’, suggesting a helpful tip. Other lists include stockists and buying hints. It will certainly be on my go-to shelf.