random recipes #18 – my cookbooks
I’ve never entered anything to random recipes before, I’m still relatively new to all of this. But as Dom says it’s so much fun to think about other people’s kitchens, there bookshelves, what adorns them and why. I have recently moved house and while my galley style kitchen isn’t quite Rachel Khoo proportions it is on the planning list of tasks, ‘No.159 – extend kitchen’. Granted it does seem to lag behind ‘No.157 – build orangery’ on MrsT’s priorities but it is up there near the top of mine. Until I can save my pocket money though I am currently left with what I have. Which means that my cookery books are a little hidden behind various items at the bottom of a shelf. I have removed said items like mortar & pestle and vinegar bottles so that you can see them, this isn’t a blog about my favoured producer of apple balsamic after all.
So these are the ones that have been saved from storage boxes or other ignominious treatment and they can probably best be filed autobiographically rather than chronologically. Each and every one of the people whose books adorn my little shelf have at one time or another been a major influence on my cooking. Some of them still are.
The Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking by Marcella Hazan was my first proper cookbook, still remains my most favourite, most inspiring and most used. I bought it about 15 years ago for the princely sum of £14.99 (the sticker is still on the back) as I wanted to be able to cook Italian food properly. Girls like boys who can cook properly, right? It was a lot of money all those years ago but I would never be without it, it has repaid itself countless times over. Even today as I look at what I have available in the garden and vegetable basket for making risotto this evening I find myself leafing through it for an idea on what I could use. I have used the Bolognese recipe in it for years, loving the stages in the process which takes hours and gives the authentic rich, sweet ragu sauce. Although I do still tend to serve it with spaghetti. Not at all authentic. If you had to ask me to take one book from all those I have with me it would be this, there’s not even a thought about it. Thank you Marcella, you turned a thought into a passion.
Jamie Oliver and Rick Stein – as a student Jamie stripped dishes back to ingredients that I had or could afford without a 40 item shopping list. He seems to split opinion these days but he taught me how to bake the bread that I made for MrsT the first night I cooked for her and that she didn’t believe was mine. He made fresh, tasty, fuss free food with fancy flavours accessible to people like me. Rick Stein took this a bit further with the idea that there could be local food heroes that could give me these flavours on a local and seasonal basis. By this time I’d moved to the south of England and was delighted to find the game dealer he recommended was on my street! This opened my eyes to farmers markets in Kent, vineyards in Sussex as well as delis and cheese shops in London. The supermarket was no longer the only source of supply for GT.
Others who have helped along the way include Diana Henry with possibly my second favourite book, Crazy Water, Pickled Lemons. In there you will find amazing flavours from the Middle East, Mediterranean and North Africa. The influence of culture and climate coming to the fore and I swear the heat and aroma from those places comes alive when you open the cover, look at the pictures and read the words. I have also made the title dish, crazy water, many times, it is delightful. Don’t ask me what it is, buy the book. Valentine Warners books on seasonal eating have been fab and HFW is a personal hero. Again he seems to split opinion but I think he makes food fun, he inspires us to think about what we are eating, how it has lived and died and the effect that we’re having on the planet. I have a passion for cheap cuts cooked very slowly to release so much flavour. I am sure that Hugh has had a huge influence on this.
As I’ve previously blogged my two most recent books have been food and flavour based rather than recipe based cookbooks. If you’ve read my review of What to Eat by Joanna Blythman you’ll know why I think it fabulous and a 21st century must read. The Flavour Thesaurus by Niki Segnit is another amazing piece of work. It looks at the simple complexity of food matching and opens up so many possibilities. Like a roadmap of flavour rather than the end result of recipe. She plants ideas in your head, it’s up to your creativity to make them blossom. And surely that’s what food is all about? It’s a huge source of excitement for me, when a combination of flavours comes into my head and I know they will work, Niki has set that thought process running wild with possibilities that I’d never have dreamed of. Anchovy and pineapple anyone?
Since I bought my first book all those years ago my philosophy hasn’t changed. I’m still out to impress girls, it’s just that now they are my wife and children. I have learned a huge amount about flavour from these books, about sourcing and health, nutrition and welfare. I now read cookbooks like I would a novel, they are a journey these days rather than just a collection of recipes, almost a guidebook (every time I go to France I take Rick Stein!). Cookbooks have adapted for me, and now Twitter and blogs are like one big cookbook, full of inspiration from passionate people who just love to share. Just like me.