Some of my favourite food books: autumn/winter 2021
This cookbook season has been a joy, probably because many other things have not, which is why this is an extensive list- let’s take our pleasures where we can.
Each book has been read cover to cover; this is not a selection drawn from press releases. They happen to be my favourites drawn from the many books I have read since the end of August. Some of them are more ‘cheffy’ in tone, but you don’t need to slavishly follow their recipes to feel you have got your money’s worth; I think a good cookbook can inspire in a more subtle way.
I have not focused solely on books published in the UK, and I’ve also included some food-related children’s books published over the last year; please let me know if you’d like to read more about this genre in the future.
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Provecho: 100 Vegan Mexican Recipes to Celebrate Culture and Community by Edgar Castrejon (Ten Speed Press; 12 Oct. 2021. £25)
My tweet about Edgar Castregon’s new book received quite the reaction on Twitter. It was clear that it was keenly anticipated, not only for its vegan ethos but because books like this are part of the vanguard of new writing about Mexican food. Castrejon is a first-generation Mexican-American whose parents migrated to California from the town of Tacámbaro in Michoacán. He became a vegetarian in his early twenties. A degree in horticulture and plant science further cemented an interest in plant-based lifestyles leading to this book whose ‘veganized’ recipes have not sacrificed the Mexican flavours and techniques familiar to which his family are accustomed.
A helpful section on ingredients includes tips about the best mushroom substitutes for a meaty texture. The ‘cauliflower’ mushroom’s cluster of ripples and frills make it a practical vegan substitute for tripe, so Castrejon offers us his take on a menudo, a “rich soup that’s typically eaten for breakfast because it’s said to cure hangovers.” There’s a recipe for flour tortillas made with avocado oil instead of the more common lard (but he makes it clear that this technique will take practice); some Sweet Potato and Kale Tacos (a brilliant way of mediating the kaleness of kale!) enriched with tamari and nutritional yeast; a skillet of Vegan Queso Fundido made from tofu (and the recipe for vegan queso fresco itself); an earthy bowlful of Papas Con (vegan) Chorizo; a creamy, thick fermented crema made from cashews and vegan yoghurt, and an oat milk version of the famous Mexican drink called horchata. I also love the puddings (postrecitos), especially a bowl of Colada de Plátanos where green plantains and plant milk are blended, cooked together to make thick custard and topped with maduros (sweetly caramelised ripe plantains)- so clever. He even includes a recipe for vegan condensed milk! This is an excellent book for experienced and beginner vegan cooks alike.
The Latin American Cookbook by Virgilio Martinez (Author), Nicholas Gill (Contributor) (Phaidon Press; 11 Nov. 2021. £35)
This cookbook could so easily have been a disaster. How on earth does one distil the culinary essence and history of a massively diverse continent into one (albeit huge) volume without generalisations? Yet Peruvian Chef Virgilio Martinez, the James-Beard-nominated writer and photographer Nicholas Gill, and Mater Iniciativa have managed to do this. The task began with travel to a recipe’s source to “experience it in all its beauty, implanting the flavours in our mind.” And this itself is no small feat because sources are often disputed or multiple in their origin. They aimed to come up with recipes which wouldn’t be out of place in their place of origin, “that if someone from that place tastes the dish, even if it isn’t exactly like how their family would make it, they would find the ingredients and preparation fitting,” Martinez writes.
Chapters are ordered into the broadest of categories, and each recipe’s economical headnote lays out the cultural and geographical background of what you are about to cook. Suppose you have a rhea egg to hand. In that case, Martinez will show you how to prepare them (in charcoal, flavoured with parsley and pepper, and there’s no reason why you can’t substitute hens, ostrich or duck eggs). I am desperate to try a (pre-Colombian in origin) Guatemalan Highland Chicken Stew and an enticing Rapa Nui-Style Banana Bread Pudding from Easter Island. Martinez quotes the poet Neruda in his preamble to a recipe for Cusk Eel Chowder: “In the storm-tossed Chilean sea lives the rosy conger, giant ell of snowy flesh” and offers suggestions for substitutes (whiting, ling) if you can’t get eel. There’s a high-protein tonic from Panama called Icing Glass made with dried Irish moss seaweed, lime, cinnamon, gum arabic, and two kinds of milk which I am dying to make; a Cassava with Slaw and Pork Crackling from Nicaragua and Costa Rica; and a plethora of recipes for corn, green vegetables, potatoes, cassava and manioc as well as more meat and fish-heavy recipes. This is a comprehensive work with lots of jumping-off points for further research, but there’s nothing dry about it, and you don’t need to have a good knowledge of Latin American cooking to benefit. No, you probably aren’t going to sit down and read this volume in one go, but that’s not the point of books like this.
The New Native Kitchen: Celebrating Modern Recipes of the American Indian by Freddie Bitsoie and James Fraioli (Abrams; 25 Nov. 2021. £28.99)
“Food history isn’t like history in a history book…It evolves,” said Chef Freddie Bitsoie in an interview with AZ Central back in 2016. And when your culinary heritage is Indigenous and therefore oral by tradition, this has extra significance. Bitsoie is a member of the Navajo Nation and led the kitchen at Mitsitam Native Foods Café at the Smithsonian Museum in Washington D.C. In this, his first book, and written in collaboration with James O. Fraioli, the James Beard Award-winning writer, he continues his quest. “Trying to identify what native cuisine is and how I can popularise it and explain it to many people, that’s my job. That’s my goal in life,” he has said, and The New Native Kitchen does this in spades; it is an excellent introduction if the subject is new to you.
Single-page sections about different tribes remind us that Indigenous people are not homogenous. Their cooking is seasonal by nature, but the continent is vastly differentiated, resulting in an enormously diverse cuisine. I find this incredibly freeing; it considers seasonality at a fundamental level, the migration of people across land and time, and heritage. There is a kinship with rural cooks the world over. It is incredibly in tune with our increasing interest in cross-cultural cooking too. One great example is Bitsoie’s Cherrystone Clam Soup, a dish made by the Northeastern Wampanoag tribal people who lived in a swathe of territory across southeastern Massachusetts and Rhode Island at the beginning of the 17th century. His parents used to tell him stories about these tribes and how they’d eat the sweet flesh of the clams and use their shells as tools, currency and decoration. Initially, this soup had only three ingredients; clams, sunchokes and water, but Bitsoie has incorporated classic French techniques to create a soup with a base of onions, garlic, leeks and aromatics. It is more than likely that our modern-day cream-based chowders have their roots in this recipe. His dish of fiddleheads sauteed with apple is similar; it uses shallots, apple and garlic to reframe a fern that is an integral part of the diet of Indigenous people from the northeastern USA and southeastern Canada.
Don’t worry if you can’t access all the ingredients, though. Remember the Indigenous ethos of using what you have, and you’ll find a way of making all of these recipes. I love the sound of Rabbit Stew with Corn Dumplings, an Amaranth Salad with White Wine Vinaigrette, Roasted Duck and Summer Berries, Sumac-Seared Trout with Onion and Bacon Sauce, Chocolate Bison Chili, a Chocolate Piñon Nutcake (use pine nuts if you can’t get piñon) and a Pumpkin Bread pudding.
The Little Prairie Book of Berries: Recipes for Saskatoons, Sea Buckthorn, Haskap Berries and More by Sheryl Normandeau (Touchwood Editions; 21 Sept 2021. £16.25)
Even though I don’t live in North America and some of the berries mentioned in this Canadian book are unfamiliar, I love this practical, charmingly-designed, personable book. It’s packed with horticultural knowledge presented in a non-intimidating way, has lots of cooking tips and suggestions for substitutions, references other sources (so beneficial if you are thinking about growing some of the berries in other parts of the world), and it is packed with gorgeous (achievable) recipes which made my mouth water. What tempts me most? Baked Brie with Chokecherry Drizzle, Tomato-Basil Buckwheat Salad with Chokecherry Dressing, and a Chokecherry Rosewater Jelly; Currant Ketchup and parsnip fries to dip into it, and Currant Butter Tarts; Sea Buckthorn Berry and Butternut Squash Soup and a Sea Buckthorn Berry and Earl Grey Tea Cocktail; and a Sour Cherry Glazed Chicken Wings. I would have liked to have seen more focus on the Indigenous use of berries and other North American ingredients, one example being a recipe for wild rice with currants that is crying out for its hinterlands to be explored.
A Cook’s Book by Nigel Slater (Fourth Estate; 14 Oct. 2021. £30)
A lovely current flows through this book, Slater’s twenty-fifth. There is a powerful and quiet strength to his writing. This is a food writer in possession of “an endless curiosity with the new.” Who is “never going to be someone who repeats the same old dishes, year in year out, as if on some sort of culinary treadmill.” His words flow towards a future where he may one day stop “making notes and writing down recipes. Who knows? But it is my belief and hope that I will always cook,” he adds.
A Cook’s Book is a life story told through a house (and especially its kitchen) and food. Slater has “now cooked in the same space for two decades”, and if you are familiar with the story of his childhood (written about in his memoir, 'Toast’), you’ll realise just how important this must be. I was surprised by how emotional this book made me. (I am not particularly labile.) There is a sense of self-determination, safety and sanctuary in a home he has renovated, slowly and carefully, which I find so moving.
Whether he is giving us a traditional recipe or writing about it as part of a preamble or in an essay, the food is glorious. Yet Slater doesn’t ‘live to cook and eat’ and is firm about this, which is a refreshing change: “As I see it, making something nice to eat should not be an obsession, it should simply be part and parcel of everyday living.”
Slater can be arch and unafraid to pull rank when necessary: “Sauerkraut held a place in my life long before the current rage for ferments,” he says in a preamble to his recipe for Kielbasa, Sauerkraut and Mushroom. This made me smile. His writing, when required, is muscular. I detest bread sauce but adore the introduction to his recipe for it: “A softly-textured sauce which, when made with care and robustly seasoned, is a perfect contrast for the crisp-skinned chicken.” Can you see how skillfully constructed and firm this sentence is, telling you everything you need to know about how bread sauce fits into a meal?
I should list some of my favourite recipes, so here goes: a Butternut and Bacon Tart. Nigel’s Delightful Trifle (which is suffused with blackcurrants cooked till bursting). Crab and Harissa Croquettes. Apricot and Lemon Curd Cake. Green Thai Bubble and Squeak Fritters. Pork Ribs with Kimchi and Cucumber (and how fresh does this sound?). A Herb cream thick with tahini and lemon juice to go with all sorts of things. A simple dish of griddled asparagus on top of lemon mash. A pared-down plate of Rice and Salmon with Japanese Pickles. A Deep, Double Ginger Cake with Orange Icing. Apricot Pan Pie. There’s not a single dud, though.
Black Food: Stories, Art, and More than 75 Recipes from Across the African Diaspora (A Cookbook) by Bryant Terry (Ten Speed Press; 19 Oct. 2021. £27.50)
In 2019, Sarah Ladipo Manyika, the British-Nigerian writer, was at the Open Book Festival in Cape Town. A member of the audience asked her what Toni Morrison’s house smelled like, a question that surprised and delighted her and inspired one of the most beautiful essays I have ever read. You can find Manyika’s contribution early on in Bryant Terry’s striking book, which collates food essays, recipes, poetry, art, playlists, and calls to action by more than 100 creators drawn from the African Diaspora. Terry himself is no under-achiever—he’s an NAACP Image Award winner, a James Beard Award-winning chef and educator and the author of Afro-Vegan and Vegetable Kingdom. It is an extraordinarily generous book, no doubt because of him, packed with stellar names: Michael Twitty, Zoe Adjonyoh, Klancy Miller, Alexander Smalls, Yewande Komolafe, Mashama Bailey, Erica Council, and Nicole Taylor are but a few.
The recipes are to die for: Cheryl Day gives us peach hand pies; ‘The Best Potato Salad Ever- Yeah I Said It!’ by Monica Dayo is flavoured with tarragon and bound with aioli; Shannon Mustipher’s ‘Good Bones’ cocktail with soursop, honey syrup, Rhum and guava draws from the story of Haiti; and Omar Tate’s Vegetarian Gumbo tested his faith— his wife prayed for him— as he contemplated what might be lost through using tofu. “How do I keep the bones, make up its skin, what of its heart, how does it smile?” he asks in an accompanying essay. As Terry says in the introduction: "These pages offer up gratitude to the great chain of Black lives, and to all the sustaining ingredients and nourishing traditions they carried and remembered, through time and space, to deliver their kin into the future. We pray that this collection facilitates reflection on and veneration of our sacred foodways.” I am so moved by this book.
Cook As You Are: Recipes for Real Life, Hungry Cooks and Messy Kitchens by Ruby Tandoh (Serpent's Tail; 7 Oct. 2021. £19.99)
This is the book Ruby Tandoh was born to write, and it shows. “No two people cook alike,” she writes, and nobody writes quite like her either. There’s a sense of authorial freedom between its pages, a feeling that Tandoh’s principles and personality have not been limited or watered down in its creation. And when you are writing a book with inclusivity and non-judgement at its heart, that is important.
“We try to cook ourselves better somehow,” she writes. “Maybe into a different body or a bigger kitchen or a more accomplished persona, instead of meeting our hungers here and now, as we are.” Yet we are good enough as we are right now, no matter how bad we feel. Tandoh wants you to know this. The joy of feeding oneself or being fed should not be dependent on class, culture, ability, income or volition. I know from experience that someone completely unable to feed themselves because of dementia will radiate joy from every part of their body when a chocolate button melts on their tongue. In that one perfect moment, they are free. Tandoh knows this too. She wants that for you.
So these are recipes that are not dependent on massively sophisticated equipment, a bank of knowledge learned at grandma’s knee, or some kind of culinary epigenesis where we are expected to instinctively ‘know’ what to do. You don’t have to enjoy cooking; you don’t need to find it relaxing. If you have a fraught relationship with food and eating, you will find sanctuary here. Her recipes are not complicated and embody her awareness of flavours, timing, spatial needs, and energy levels. A Zesty Lemon and Thyme Pudding takes ten minutes in the microwave, and a recipe for Clementine Hot Chocolate takes even less. A Watermelon, Peanut, Sumac, and Lime salad is light and bright for hot days, whether the heat is in your head or from the sky. There’s a section on snacking in style and an essay about shopping which celebrates the “many different ways to shop as there are to eat.” (The entire book is studded with gorgeous little pieces of prose.) Non-daunting guidance on the baking of bread, the making of jam, frying plantains, making ice cream from packet butterscotch whip, plus reading lists in each section alongside multiple references to the stellar work of others (Tandoh is generous to other writers), information about timings, tips for people with extra mobility, energy and access needs, and substitutions mean you will feel like you’re winning at life every time you put food in your mouth. (There’s an ‘easy read’ version of the book too. More here.)
Your Home Izakaya: Fun and Simple Recipes Inspired by the Drinking-and-Dining Dens of Japan by Tim Anderson (Hardie Grant Books (UK); 14 Oct. 2021. £25)
“My perception of Japanese food culture is in line with that of the historian Eric Rath, who proposes that we should adopt the term Japan's cuisines as opposed to 'Japanese cuisine,” writes Tim Anderson in his new book Your Home Izakaya. Japanese food is not monolithic, and the snacks and meals served in Izakayas warmly, joyfully and skillfully reflect this. They cross cultures and regions. This book is written by an author in possession of real knowledge, hard-won over time, and exquisitely designed by Evi O.
Anderson tells us the original Izakayas were sake shops that allowed customers to drink on their premises and went on to cook and serve snacks and small sustaining dishes to encourage people to stay longer. Your Home Izakaya is a perfect book for the colder months when we're craving the warm, welcoming fug of the local bar or pub or drinks on the sofa with delicious snacks. Stir-Fried Beansprouts with Dried Chilli, Fish Finger Hand Rolls, Hash Browns with Miso Ketchup, and Zōsui (a warm pale brown sop of chicken stock make me swoon at the very thought of making and eating them. I am also much taken with an Udon Carbonara with Bacon Tempura, Keema Curry Rice Gratin, Sweet Potato Mont Blanc (!) a pink and green Radish and Watercress Salad with optional baby anchovies, and Tomatoes marinated in Ginger Tsuyu. And to drink? A Salted Grapefruit Schōchū Highball, a 'Nanhattan' from ‘Nanban’, Anderson’s own Izakaya in London, and plenty of helpful intel on sake. He helpfully includes recipe names in English, Japanese characters, and useful words when shopping for ingredients and you don't speak or read Japanese. (The Counter have just published an essay about the importance of this.) Nigella loves this book too!
The Sweet Roasting Tin: One Tin Cakes, Cookies & Bakes – quick and easy recipes by Rukmini Iyer (Square Peg; 2 Sept. 2021)
There’s a reason why Rukmini Iyer’s ‘Roasting Tin’ series has sold over one million copies to date: it’s because they deliver on their promise to deliver easy, delicious, achievable family food cooked in one tray. “Have a bath, help the children with their homework, or, my preferred option, flop on the sofa with a glass of wine, reading Nora Ephron on crisp potatoes and true love,” Iyer said in the introduction of her first book and plenty of us have been able to do just that, thanks to her work.
The Sweet Roasting Tin gives us 75 recipes that can all be made in standard baking tins. Each recipe is accompanied by variations, which means you are getting a lot more for your money (and this series is very reasonably priced). Iyer includes ideas for vegan, gluten-free, diabetic-appropriate treats, marries the traditional and new (Iyer’s traditions are drawn from all over the world) so you get recipes that include her mother’s Coconut Burfi, and an Apple, Cheddar and Clove Galette; a Marzipan Stollen, a recipe for classic Chelsea Buns where apples and caramel come to the fore, and a lovely Chocolate-Lime Truffle traybake. Just gorgeous.
One Tin Bakes Easy: Foolproof cakes, traybakes, bars and bites from gluten-free to vegan and beyond by Edd Kimber (Kyle Books; 14 Oct 2021. £17.99)
Edd Kimber continues to capture the spirit of the age on a plate- or should that be in a tin? This is a book that reflects our wintry post-Lockdown need for comfort and safety perfectly, even though many of these bakes are just as suitable for the hottest of summer days (How refreshing does his Grapefruit Poppyseed Snack Cake sound?) This book makes me feel happy. Kimber is quite simply a brilliant writer of recipes, and his mastery of flavour makes him one of the best bakers around. He understands the needs of a home cook, and I have never gone wrong with one of his recipes. I don’t know anyone who has, from inexperienced cooks to professionals. Conveniently, every recipe can be baked in the same-sized tin, making this a handy book for people who don’t have a lot of equipment. Kimber also offers advice on gluten-free and vegan baking.
‘Traybake’ sounds very homey, but Kimber isn’t provincial when it comes to ingredients. Many of his recipes result from culinary cross-pollination, where he takes a technique from one kind of classic bake and combines it with another. Banoffee Poke Cake combines the famous English pie with a retro American baking technique; the British Victoria sponge is given the sheet cake treatment, and lemonade is used to leaven and flavour blueberry scones. There’s a handy no-bake section, too: I particularly loved a Summer Mango ‘Tiramisu’ with a base of Cointreau-soaked sponge fingers and a recipe for Salted Pistachio Rose Brittle. The ‘Dessert’ chapter has an even more playful reimagining of the beloved Arctic Roll, a Self-Saucing Ginger Pudding with Macadamias and Malt Ice Cream (which made me think of Australia), and a clever idea for a ‘Slab Pancake’.
Mooncakes and Milk Bread: Sweet & Savory Recipes Inspired by Chinese Bakeries by Kristina Cho (Harper Horizon; 28 Oct. 2021)
Born into a Chinese American restaurant family, Cho trained as an architect and lived and worked in San Francisco, starting a blog (Eat Cho Food) because her profession didn’t fully satisfy her need to create. A move to Inner Richmond, the city’s unofficial second Chinatown, further inspired: “What was most helpful in the transition from architecture to food was the unrelenting process of iteration and development.” Architecture taught her to “balance artistry with precision when explaining techniques, presenting dishes and writing recipes.” What is so special about Cho’s book is how it is rooted in a diasporic experience of cooking, eating, and the recreation of food memories. Recipes for many of Cho’s favourite Chinese bakery offerings are hard to find (she cites Hot Dog Flower Buns, Brown Sugar Shao Bing, and Macau-style chocolate-hazelnut cookies as examples), and she wanted to change that.
“Aside from copious amounts of food, you’ll also find community in a Chinese bakery,” she writes in her introductory notes. Her book reflects this, introducing readers to four respected Chinese bakeries in the USA and outlining different establishments from ‘grab and go’ to ‘sit-down cafes’, the latter modelled on Hong Kong’s cha chaa tengs. There’s a guide on how to shop at an Asian grocery store, lots of intricately pleated detail about ingredients and techniques, and an exploration of foundational bread before we dive into the many recipes using these. And what recipes! Honey Pistachio Moon Cakes, Snow Skin Icecream Moon Cakes, Black Sesame Souffle Cheesecake, Rose Siu Mai, Bacon and Kale Potstickers, Everything Bagel Bao, Asian Pear Turnovers with Miso Glaze all excite me, but the entire recipe index will fill your heart with longing. My only criticism is the fact that not all recipes have volume and metric measurements. Some do, and some don’t, resulting in a bit of extra work for less confident cooks.
Cookies: The New Classics by Jesse Szewczyk (Random House; 26 Oct 2021)
“When I first set out to write a cookie book, I struggled to figure out what I could add to the conversation that hadn’t already been said,” writes Szewczyk in the opening paragraph of his book’s introduction. The result? A visually striking reinterpretation of traditional, familiar and modern cookie recipes categorized via a series of single-word chapter titles focusing on each cookie’s dominant flavour profile. ‘Smoky’ has cookies scented with smoked applewood, ancho, or smoked butter; ‘Boozy’ has Red Wine Brownie Cookies and Fudge Squares made with salted absinthe; ‘Fruity’ has a beautifully rustic peach crisp skillet cookie; the chewy flourless pistachio cookies in ‘Nutty’ sound divine, and I have already made- and devoured- the Salt and Vinegar Potato Chip Cookies in ‘Tart’. You’ll find a ‘Savoury’ and a ‘Spiced’ chapter too. (I am intrigued by the flavour combination of vanilla bean and sumac, and the Cacio e Pepe Slice and Bake and Parmesan Cheesecake Bars sound excellent.) Szewczyk’s skills are solid, and you are in safe hands. Handily, both metric and volume measurements are offered with guidance on techniques, ingredients, and equipment, although the names of ingredients are in American-English. Google is your friend here.
Istria: Recipes and stories from the hidden heart of Italy, Slovenia and Croatia by Paola Bacchia (Smith Street Books; 14 Oct. 2021. £26)
“Istria is a promontory at the northern crux of the Adriatic Sea. It is placed like a keystone in the arch of the folding hills and valleys where Italy, Slovenia, Austria and Croatia meet,” writes Paolo Bacchia. Her first visit to the country of her father’s birth was back in the seventies when he returned to the region after a twenty-four-year absence. One can only imagine what that must have felt like for a man who talked about Istria and his istriani friends every day. He was one of many Italian Istrians who left in the late 1940s when most of the peninsula was ceded to Yugoslavia.
“Istria has Roman ruins, Hapsburg edifices and carved Venetian lions high on the facades of buildings… For millennia, many cultures have flourished side by side.” And this, as is so often the case, is reflected in the region’s food where you will find Viennese-style pastries in coffee shops, goulash from Hungary, light seafood stews from the Veneto and Adriatic seaboard, Balkan skewers of meat, and Liptauer, a Ricotta Spread with Paprika from Trieste which was once part of Austria. I am particularly tempted by Busara de Sarde, a dish of slow-cooked sardines with potatoes and parsley, Hazelnut Cheese Biscuits from an old recipe by Marchesa Eta Polesini, Spiced Cheese Strudel, Gnocchi di Ciliege (a Hapsburg dish of potato dumplings with cherries, orange and cinnamon), a Mushroom and Capsicum Goulash whose recipe is a legacy of the old Austria-Hungary Empire yet carries regional variations to this day, and a Braised Zucchini with Cinnamon, an ancient recipe with a Balkan feel.
If you haven’t already swooned, you will when you reach the cakes and desserts section. The photographs are ethereal, filled with light and shade, and the accompanying essays (‘Stories Told Over Black and White Photos’ is a prelude to ‘Nita’s Apple Cake’) are delicately written. I particularly like the sound of an Apricot Strudel, a Fig and Walnut Loaf from the southern tip of Istria, and Baked Apples with a secret filling from a notebook kept by Bacchia’s nonna. I love how Bacchia had to guess which was the secret ingredient referred to in the title. Prunes or crushed amaretti cookies? Who knows.
Italian American: Red Sauce Classics and New Essentials: A Cookbook by Angie Rito and Scott Tacinelli (Random House Inc; 19 Oct. 2021)
Red sauce joints used to be seen as inferior, and the name became a derogatory term for Italian food that bore only a passing resemblance to anything served by Nonna in the motherland. But Italian American asks you to see the food for what it is- a cuisine redefined and possessed of its own separate identity that emerged as Italian immigrants to the USA learned to make do in a strange new land. By framing it in this manner, we avoid falling into the Nonna Trap, where culinary evolution and innovation risk being stifled by nostalgia and fetishisation.
Its authors? Angie Rito and Scott Tacinelli, the husband-and-wife team of Michelin-starred Don Angie in NYC, and this is their first book. And what a livewire it is! I have to cook it all. You’ll be shown how to make their famous Pinwheel Lasagne, whose inspiration came from coiled, baked cinnamon buns in a pan. There are recipes for Stuffed Shells with Clams, Spinach and Pancetta, Semolina Crepe Manicotti, Savoy Cabbage with Browned Butter, Tomato and ‘Mozz’, and Stuffed Mussels with Pepperoni Rice. My other favourites? Spicy Giardiniera Alla Kimchi for cold antipasti, Scacciata with Swiss Chard and Spinach (“think of this as almost like a stuffed focaccia”), a profoundly soothing Cacio e Pepe version of the pastina they had made for them as children, delectable potato and polenta Gnocchi served with Honey and Toasted Sesame, and a Saltimbocca-Style Fennel layered with Prosciutto and Fontina. The puddings and desserts both reflect the authors’ descent from a long line of bakers and NYC’s rich blend of cultures: Polenta Snickerdoodles, a Ricotta Pie with Coconut and Lime, Honey Zeppole and Tres Latte Olive Oil Cake are just some of the playful results. I adore this book. (Measurements are volume only.)
Gabriel Kreuther: The Spirit of Alsace, a Cookbook by Gabriel Kreuther with Michael Ruhlman (Abrams; 25 Nov. 2021. £45)
This is a serious book at a serious price, but if you are keen to learn about regional French food, ‘The Spirit of Alsace’ is a good investment. It's a book you consult and read for pleasure, and despite its size, the way it is organised makes sense. There are two main sections: the classic recipes of Alsace and, then, recipes from Restaurant Gabriel Kreuther in New York City, inspired by the memories Kreuther has of growing up on a farm in rural Alsace, near the German border. “Because I came from a poor farm, I include a recipe for flour soup- —just flour and stock and seasonings—and ways to turn it into a three-star dish,” he writes in the introduction.
Kreuther’s uncle owned a small country inn in the Vosges frequented by Chancellor Kohl and Presidents Mitterrand, who would meet there for a meal because of its position equidistant to the German and French capitals. Kreuther began helping out in the kitchen, and his interest in a culinary career was cemented. In 2015, Restaurant Gabriel Kreuther opened and only three months later earned its first Michelin star, the second arriving in 2018. French-German farm food is the “anchor”, allowing Kreuther to develop a cuisine influenced by the multicultural city where he lives and works. There are recipes for Choucroute Garni, traditional pretzels with Horseradish Mustard Dip and a layered meat and potato bake called Baeckeoffe cooked in a communal village oven, its top sealed with a bread dough crust. Green Walnut Liqueur, Bettelman (beggar’s cake with cherries made with old bread) and his Grandfather’s Cinnamon Prune Pie all tempt. Then, before we move on to the next section, there’s a handy guide to Alsatian wines.
Kreuther is very generous in acknowledging the chefs he has learned from (and it is one hell of a list). His recipes from the New York City years are, he writes, a collective achievement. The recipe for his restaurant’s famous Pretzel Grissini is credited to his pastry chef, Marc Aumont. I enjoyed an essay about pâte de fruits that precedes several recipes for what he calls ‘The Last Word’ in them. Yes, they are fiddly to make, but Kreuther wants you to succeed. You can feel it. This is food meant to make you gasp when it is placed before you (although to be fair, if I am hungry I’ll gasp at a Milky Way), but there are lots of ideas to inspire home cooks too. I love Kreuther’s Potato Galette with Hickory Smoked Bacon, Onions and Comté, and a recipe for Riesling Braised Scallops. He even takes inspiration from Cajun cuisine, layering crawfish and wild mushrooms into his version of the classic Baeckeoffe. Country cooking meets the city; I like it. (All measurements are in volume and metric.)
Slovenian Cuisine: From the Alps to the Adriatic in 20 Ingredients by Janez Bratovž and Noah Charney (Skyhorse; 20 Jan. 2022)
I’m so pleased Slovenian Cuisine has finally been translated into English. It first came out in 2018, won awards, and, since then, I have longed to read it. Slovenia is a small nation snuggled between the Alps and the Adriatic. Once part of the Roman and Austrian-Hungarian Empires, then, finally, Yugoslavia, its proximity to Italy and the wider Istrian peninsula influenced its cuisine. Ljubljana, the capital city, is where you will find Janez Bratovž’s eponymous, award-winning restaurant. He has become known as the father of Slovenian cuisine.
Bratovž and co-writer Noah Charney travel all over Slovenia to search for twenty Slovenian ingredients key to his cooking and meet the producers. They travelled with Matjaž Tančič, a photographer and food photographer Manca Jevšcek. We read about Syrian pumpkin oil, so delicate it can be used to dress simple ice creams, prosciutto (pršut) whose production is so specialised only 80 legs a year from blackstrap pigs are prepared, and coastal salt from Piran’s Karstic flats where local cooks use it to cure fish which is served family-style, on large platters.
Bratovž’s earliest food memories are of meals at his grandmother’s house. She had little money. Meat and eggs were a treat and, because of this, one of the meals he remembers most fondly is a simple dish of eggs fried in cracklings. At his restaurant, he treats diners to a fresh egg yolk onto which the hot oil from cracklings is poured. The heat cooks the egg, and bread sops up the pork fat.
Recipes are paired; first, Bratovž offers a traditional method of preparation followed by the modern takes for which he is famous. Hazelnut Ice Cream with Gregor Lisjak’s Olive Oil, Dark Chocolate, and Fleur de Sel conjure the deciduous forests that edge part of the nation’s coastline (Slovenia is the third most forested country in Europe by a percentage of total land area); Sauerkraut Sorbet is made with the famous red cabbage from Lbujljana; a Chanterelle Sauce and Sour Cream accompany Soft Red Polenta made with local red cornmeal, and trout from the Soča river is served rare with vinegar and vegetables. (It took a while for Slovenians to accept anything other than well-cooked meat and fish, but eventually, Bratovž won them over.) If you are interested in reading Paola Bacchia’s Istria, might I suggest this book as a companion read?
Fried Eggs and Rioja: What to Drink with Absolutely Everything by Victoria Moore (Granta Books; 4 Nov 2021. £12.99)
I am so glad I picked this up in the bookshop and bought it because I know it is destined to become an endlessly valuable companion and complement to one of my favourite and most-consulted books, Nicky Segnit’s The Flavour Thesaurus. Moore is the author of the bestselling The Wine Dine Dictionary which Fried Eggs and Rioja is based. So, if you need help to find a glass of wine to go with the meals you eat at home, this is the book for you. There are twelve portraits of wine and a section on ‘quick look matches’ (I particularly like the ‘on toast’ suggestions) alongside an A-Z of foods ranging from abalone to zander (and Moore suggests a Reisling from Alsace to go with the latter) interspersed with twenty recipes for meals. (Moore recommends a red that “reminds you of soil and heat” to go with a recipe for Khoresh Gheimeh, a classic Iranian dish and, to go with an onion tart, a Nebbiolo because “it loves a bit of egg, cream, and cheese.”) She’s amusing, which is essential if, like me, you’re not that confident when it comes to wine pairings and require a bit of levity with your learning.
May Your Life Be Deliciosa by Michael Genhart and Loris Lora (Cameron Kids; 30 Sept. 2021)
I have such fond memories of Christmas tamaladas (although this is not the only time of year Mexicans prepare and eat these delicious cornhusk-wrapped morsels), the fact that I’d love this book was a given, and I think your children will too. Every word and image is a feast for the senses as a family gathers together for the labour-intensive ritual. And I adore Loris Lora’s illustrations which capture perfectly the vibrancy and love of author Genhart’s homage to the women of his Mexican-American family. “What is the recipe?” I ask. Abuela laughs. “It is in my heart, Rosie. I use mis ojos, my eyes, to measure. Mis manos, my hands, to feel. Mi boca, my mouth, to taste. My Abuela gave it to me, and I am giving it to you.”
Hungry Hearts: 13 Tales of Food & Love edited by Elsie Chapman and Caroline Tung Richmond (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers; 18 Jun. 2019)
This is a charming anthology where each story is connected to ‘Hungry Hearts Row’, a place where the desire for food, love, home and belonging is met via its many cafes, bakeries, and restaurants. There are hungry ghost festivals, dim sum as a cure for fear of death, a boy called Hasan who seems to have fallen from the sky, and a gathering of Mangkukulan women who can change people’s lives with different foods as long as they do not transgress one rule: never make it personal. The cast of characters is diverse, and, wonderfully, they all pop up in each other’s stories. I particularly enjoyed Anna-Maria Mclemore’s ‘Panadería-Pastelería’, where Lila, who has been busy baking for everyone throughout the anthology, finally gets to tell hers.
Arab Fairy Tale Feasts: A Literary Cookbook by Karim Alrawi, Sobhi al-Zobaidi, Tamam Qanembou-Zobaidi and illustrated by Nahid Kazemi ( Tradewind Books; 15 Oct. 2021)
In 2013, Tradewind Books published the wonderful Jewish Fairy Tale Feasts: A Literary Cookbook by acclaimed folklorist Jane Yolen, so I am pleased to see a sequel in the same series. Karim Alrawi is an award-winning author (HarperCollins/UBC Prize for Best New Fiction) and follows the ancient tradition of Arab cookbooks by melding recipes, stories and art to ‘give a flavour of Arab culture’. And the result is delightful. Alrawi approaches the task of writing a cookbook for children with great respect; there is no sense that it is a lesser genre. The chapter titles captivate: ‘Juicy Apricots’, ‘The Dream Garden’, ‘Fish Soup in Gaza’, ‘Why Chicken and Ostrich Cannot Fly’ and the recipes and tales are exquisitely illustrated by Nahid Kazemi. “Nothing heals the body like a good meal,” Alrawi writes. “and nothing soothes the soul like a good story.”
Vanilla Bean: A story about trying new things by Katie Turner (Cottage Door Press; 18 May 2021)
Bean only likes plain vanilla ice cream and has no intention of changing this until an accident at the ice cream factory left him no choice but to try sprinkles. This is a gentle, sweet little book dealing sensitively with the challenge of the new for 2-5-year-old readers in a no-pressure way. A book like this is a good way to talk to children about food preferences and how we all have them.