Thursday, October 17, 2013

Favorite Cook Books reviewed By Sarah Merrigan

Favourite cook books

Hi there,

My name is Sarah Merrigan (  and I write about my great passion - food. Like all food writers I have a lot, and I mean a lot, of cookbooks. It's not that I follow recipes every time I cook - far from it actually. My books are for flicking through, mooching over a cup of tea during those stolen moments of calm during the busy day. They sow the seeds of inspiration that send me off in a new direction at dinnertime or remind me of old favourites I've forgotten. Sometimes they're a starting point for when I sort of know what I want to make (rhubarb polenta cake recently) and don't really know where to start. Either way, whether you follow the recipes or not they're indispensible. With my posts I'd like to walk you through some of my favourite food writers and books then maybe share a recipe they've inspired as well.
With several bookshelves groaning under the weight of my collection I've told myself (repeatedly!!) that I have to stop collecting but when a new book by a food writer you love comes out I'm there. Nigel Slater is one such writer. If I had to recommend a book to any aspiring cook his Tender Vol 1 A cook and his vegetable patch and Vol 2 A cook's guide to the fruit garden (Fourth Estate) would be one of my first choices.

Why? Because Slater manages to breathe magic into everyday ingredients while always keeping things simple. His prose is amazing. You read him and want to eat.....everything. It all sounds good, from the "supper of golden pumpkin with a crisp crumb-crust flecked with parsley and garlic" to the pears "stuffed with whipped cream, florentines or ginger biscuits and trickled, Jackson Pollock style, with dark and piercingly bitter chocolate". The combinations rarely startle but it's far from dull. It's food you know but so much better.
These books focus on the fruit and vegetables he grows in his London garden and each volume is broken up into sections based around individual varieties. There's a preamble about the growing stage, hints, pitfalls and a comparison of different varieties which gardeners will love. Then we move onto the flavor and general uses of each fruit or vegetable. These riffs are a joy to read, packed with anecdotes and tips There are probably at least as many recipes and ideas here as there are in the more formal ones that follow. Then there's a list of possible pairings and seasonings which is brilliant if you're in a hurry and don't have time for prose. Some will seems obvious, Jerusalem artichokes and bacon, peas with mint.... while others suprise, parsnip and mace was a new one on me and it was a brilliant tip. From these sections alone even the casual cook can get started.
And then there's the recipes. From the very simple - the perfect roast potato to the more unusual pepper stuffed with memorabilia (pearl couscous), paprika, mint and coriander. All work beautifully. I can truly say I've never met a Nigel Slater recipe I didn't like. He's not a particularly prescriptive cook so there usually a little wiggle room - don't have sage? a little rosemary will work just fine. This kind of approach makes me nervous with a lesser cook but with Slater I trust and haven't been disappointed.

The photographs by Jonathan Lovekin are nothing short of stunning and really add to the pleasure. A starting point for any kitchen library.

And now the recipe....

Nigel is known for his generous (ahem) use of bacon and while these combinations work wonderfully I'll admit I often dial down the amounts especially if there's dairy involved as well. In Tender he waxes most lyrical on the beauty of broad beans and ham together and he's so right - they're made for each other. My recipe is a very simple salad - broad beans and jamon serrano with mint. Great seasonal ingredients with minimal fuss....... Nigel style.

Broad beans with Serrano ham and mint (starter for 2 or a picky pre-dinner thing for more)

You'll need:

500gr broad beans podded
100gr Serrano ham  in very thin slices then torn into pieces
A sprig of fresh mint shredded
A drizzle of your best olive oil

Begin by steaming your beans. This will take about 2 minutes. When they're tender, rinse in plenty of cold water to stop any further cooking then pop them out of their skins. Do this by making an incision with your nail at the top of each bean then gently popping it out. I know, it seems a bit faffy but it's worth it. Heat a little oil in a pan. You only need regular olive oil rather than your pricey extra virgin for this. When the pan is nice and hot throw in the ham and toss for about 30 seconds before adding the beans. Toss everything together then take off the heat. All this should take no more than a minute. Drizzle the salad with oil, top with mint. Serve with crusty bread.