The radio is on in the kitchen next door, and Anna Del Conte is on Woman’s Hour talking about her new cookery book. I only have one of her books, ‘Entertaining all’Italiana’ but it is a favourite. I doubt if I am unusual, in that I have lots of cookery books, most of which I use for browsing through and usually just use one or two recipes from each. Indeed, some books read really well, but somehow I just never cook from them.
Nigel Slater is one of those. He really makes food sound good, but his slathers of butter and cream just don’t accord with what most of us eat so I take his ideas and adapt. And I have two books by Annie Bell, which are lovely to read, her ‘A Feast of Flavours’ is one of the most appealing vegetarian books I have but, I don’t know why, I don’t use it much. The other book of hers, co-written, I own is ‘Living and Eating’ which is just so prescriptive. They tell you just what is ‘good taste’, to the extent that they choose your plates and cutlery, which is a bit off-putting.
I’ve had Josceline Dimbleby’s ‘Favourite Food’ for over 20 years – I bought it (reduced!) in hardback but, like many books of the 1980s it is falling apart because it was not bound properly but the spine was just stuck together. I used one of my favourite recipes from that book just the other night*, and it’s probably one of my most cooked-from books. However, although I have several other of her books I don’t often use them – sometimes, I suspect, a cookery writer starts to get a bit too anxious for new ideas to fill a book he or she is contracted to produce and aims for over-complicated recipes or a more outré combination of ingredients to fill the pages. This happened to Nigella Lawson; ‘How to Eat’ is not only a really useful and entertainly practical book to read but has excellent recipes too, but some of her later ‘TV personality’ books don’t have nearly as much to recommend them.
I borrowed the Australian restauranteur Bill Granger’s book ‘Bill’s open kitchen’ from the library and liked it enough to ask Ro for it for Christmas. Very simple, delicious recipes which encourage you to use your imagination.
Can’t miss out Delia. Is there anyone in this country who doesn’t have one of her books? I have several and they are so useful. I do know one person, actually, my friend Caroline Young. For decades, whenever she admitted to being a cookery writer, she was greeted by a brightening face “Ooh, do you know Delia?” and she developed a bit of a ‘thing’ about it (although not about the lady herself who is apparently charming). Caroline wrote some excellent books. One, written with Katie Stewart, ‘Simply Good Food’ has several quick standbys and many good things. One recipe, for chicken in a tomato, pesto and crème frâiche sauce (I’ve just given all the ingredients) is one of the most useful (ie quick and tastes as if it’s more trouble than it is) I’ve ever had, and her strawberry icecream takes 5 minutes to put together, 20 minutes to freeze, which means you have got home-made icecream ready for the table in the time it takes you to eat your first course.
I don’t think I should have started this – how can I leave out Elizabeth David (French Provincial Cooking is my favourite of hers), Jane Grigson and Sophie Grigson – I love Sophie Grigson’s puckish smile, dangly earrrings and sloping shoulders and the recipes are good too, and all the others whose books I appreciate, but I only sat down to write this on a brief whim and I think I’ve kept you long enough already.
*But this fabulous marinaded chicken is what we barbecued on Ro’s birthday this week.
1 small onion
Piece of fresh ginger, peeled
6-8 cloves of garlic
3 teaspoons ground coriander
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoons ground cardamon
half teaspoon ground cloves
half teaspoon cayenne pepper
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
3 tablespoons oil
1 tablespoon tomato purée
1 teaspoon salt.
Put the lot (chopped a bit if appropriate) in the food processor, whizz, coat chicken pieces with the aromatic mess, leave for several hours, grill or barbecue until blackening. Don’t fry, somehow the flavours vanish. It’s aromatic, not hot and the garlic doesn’t overwhelm as its pungency is balanced by the other flavours so that none stands out.