Tag Archive for: cookbooks

Here are my favourite food and drink books published in 2022 with something to suit everyone’s prezzie stocking. I make no apologies for kicking off with a couple addressing, in their different approaches, a wellbeing approach to eating. The health of our planet seems inextricably bound to the healthiness of what we eat.

Food For Life by Tim Spector (Jonathan Cape, £20)

Initially sceptical about yet another nutritional gospel, I was won over by the famous epidemiologist dissing ‘superfoods’ and proclaiming his own food passions, which include dark chocolate, red wine and butter alongside all those key ferments, kimchi, kombucha and sourdough bread. Such food choices for health? Im with him all the way.

The new tome is an upgrade on his The Diet Myth, (2015), which popularised the idea that each of us has a unique and constantly changing gut microbiome that is crucial to our health and 2020’s Spoon Fed, in 2020, which debunked a legacy of food misinformation that encourage us to consume many products that are of scant nutritional value. The microbiome continues to take centre stage but the research message is that each individual’s ideal diet is different and common sense should prevail.

Healthy Vegan Street Food by Jackie Kearney (Ryland Peters & Small, £20)

A key element in Spector’s message is the importance of plant-based while avoiding the trap of vegan ready meals. He is keen on spices too, so Jackie’s latest book, revisiting her food discoveries across South East Asia, is a natural companion in the stocking. The former MasterChef finalist expounds on the health value of these tasty cuisines in my recent interview with her. What really impresses is, seven years on from her debut cookbook, the lack of recipe duplication alongside the lessons she has learned about the health value of ingredients as she tackles he own auto-immune issues.

Rambutan: Recipes from Sri Lanka by Cynthia Shanmugalingam (Bloomsbury, £26)

Like with buses, you wait around for ages for a definitive book on Sri Lankan cookery and then two come along. Compendious indeed is Hoppers, from the London chain name-checking the savoury rice crepe synonymous with the island, but I prefer this more narrative-driven alternative with its 80 attractive recipes, including fabulous mutton rolls. Coventry-born Cynthia’s family hails from the northernmost tip of Sri Lanka – Tamil territory – and the book does not shy away from the terrible conflicts as it explores the ravishing culinary culture. Above all, it is a celebration of a family in exile maintaining its links via food.

Notes from a Small Kitchen Island by Debora Robertson (Penguin, £26)

Now for a read that is less dramatic but with it own distinctive, domestic voice. The chapter names reveal the wry take on food from this erstwhile Daily Telegraph columnist: No one wants brunch’; ‘Why everyone hates picnics’; ‘How to survive having people to stay’; ‘unInstagrammable, that’s what you are’. Like Nigella Lawson, I am a fan of this diarist, whose kitchen apercus straddle Co Durham and the Languedoc. 

Here’s Debs on Roast Lamb with Durham Salad: “ My slow-roast lamb is luscious and garlicky, which would probably have offended my northern antecedents, who greeted the arrival of garlic in the trattorias and brasseries of County Durham circa 1970 with no small amount of suspicion, bordering on disdain. My mother, being a free spirit and one of the first people in the county to wear cork wedges, suede trouser suits and, famously, a crocheted bikini made by my Auntie Dolly, was an early adopter and always loved, and still loves, garlic, so this is for her.”

Cooking: Simply and Well for One or Many? by Jeremy Lee (4th Estate, £30)

Distinctive voices? Well that surely bring us to ‘national treasure’ candidate Jeremy Lee, whose debut cook book has been rapturously promoted. For once, happy to endorse; this really is an instant classic – my prime Christmas prezzie recommendation. I devoted a whole article to his recipe for salsify but in my heart of hearts would settle for the signature sandwich at his Soho restaurant Quo Vadis – smoked eel.

Butter: A celebration by Olivia Potts (Headline, £26)

Jeremy Lee prefers light, unsalted butter for cooking and baking. In her debut cookbook Spectator magazine `Vintage Cook’ columnist and former barrister Olivia begs to differ. Salted is her go-to in th fridge. Who’s to argue with a cook devoting 350 pages to the glorious (and healthy) key to so many culinary delights. I’ve been cooking from it ever since it dropped through my letterbox – most notably a Wild Mushroom, Tarragon and Mushroom Pithivier.

A Dark History of Sugar by Dr Neil Buttery (Pen & Sword, £20)

Sugar – now there’s another much-debated kitchen essential, this time with a troubled history to match its place on the table. I interviewed the Levenshulme-based (and yes sweet-toothed) food historian about his research which encompassed the murky worlds of both slavery and later, teeth-rotting commercial exploitation. Dark stuff indeed, but this is a delightful read, if not for the squeamish.

The World of Natural Wine by Aaron Ayscough (Artisan, £31.99) and The Wine Bible by Karen McNeil (Workman, £31.99)

Two very different approaches to wine writing, each to be treasured, both authors from the States. Natural wine proselytiser Ayscough is based in Beaujolais, the crucible of the natural wine movement thanks to certain key figures over the past four decades. Across 400 pages he traces that timeline in depth, exhaustively explaining what make this alternative ethos superior to mainstream ‘manipulative’ winemaking. 

Karen McNeil’s encyclopaedic tome runs to 700 pages and embraces the mainstream. The first two editions have old more than 800,000 copies. This updated third now has the advantage of colour and whole new chapters on Great Britain, Croatia, and Israel. he chapters on France, Italy, Australia, South America, and the United States are greatly expanded. What I like are the little sidebars on regional food or culture anecdotes. A great, approachable yet opinionated entry in the ever-evolving world of the grape.

How best to pay homage to the passing of one of the greatest chefs of his generation? No brainer: cook one of his signature dishes. But will my take on Alastair Little’s Pollo Orvietano evoke the tastes and aromas of a chicken cooked with wild fennel and local olives at La Cacciata, the farmhouse cookery school he founded in the Umbrian hills?

The death of ‘the godfather of modern British cooking’ at the age of 72 came out of the blue, so I haven’t had time to acquire my chicken of choice from Loose Birds, Paul Talling’s unmatchable operation near Harome, North Yorkshire, but I’m happy with a Soanes from Driffield in the Wolds, bought on Todmorden Market, and serendipitously I’ve been able to supplement fennel from my daughter’s garden with a bunch inside my ‘No Dig Club’ veg bag (£14.95 via this link) from Cinderwood Market Garden.

I always associate Little with his eponymous restaurant that sprung up in Frith Street, Soho, in the mid-Eighties. Behind its Venetian blinds it offered a rebuke to haute cuisine thanks to its menu restricted to soup, salad, fresh fish and meat, plus puddings, changing twice a day according to availability of raw materials.

Paper napkins and an absence ot tablecloths contributed to the determinedly Keep It Simple ethos. That was the name of his first book, aimed squarely at the adventurous home cook. Jonathan Meades, greatest food critic of Little’s era, said of it: “What makes Alastair such a good cook (apart from talent, taste, application and curiosity), is that he possessed the un-English conviction that eating well is a normal part of a civilised society.”

There’s a recipe for Chicken Orvieto-style in there and a subtly different one on his website, referring to the town not the wine, but it would seem wrong not to use that straw-coloured, slightly bitter white for the 250ml of wine required. In the end I’ve adapted an alternative recipe from his second, equally evocative, cookbook, Italian Kitchen: Recipes from La Cacciata (pictured in the autumn mists above). It came out at around the same time as Rose Gray and Ruth Rogers’ first River Cafe Cookbook, cementing rustic Italian cucina as the aspirational ingredient-led cuisine du jour (apologies for my French).

Ingredients were always paramount for Little, always ahead of his time and a handsome, engaging champion of real food on television. In the Noughties he ran a deli-trattoria called Tavola in Notting Hill; in 2017 he moved to Australia (check out the archive of BBC Radio 4’s The Food Programme for a Sheila Dillon entertaining interview with him on the eve of his departure. He was to open a restaurant in his wife’s home town of Sydney, where he died this week. 

Alastair Little not sparing the wine in a marinade. Image: Alastair Little

The Colne-born chef had trained in top London kitchens before setting up on his own, but he initially seemed defined by his academic pedigree, having read archaeology and social anthropology at Downing College, Cambridge. He taught himself to cook in his last year,dishing up meals for, among others, his exact contemporary, Rowley Leigh (Christ’s) later a chef/restaurateur and food writer in his own right.

With them I always associate (though his only Cambridge connection was winning a choral scholarship aged eight) another chef/scholar Simon Hopkinson, two years younger. Little was from Colne, Leigh from Manchester, Hopkinson from Bury.  A fourth member of an incomparable quartet has to be Jeremy Lee, who worked for both Little in Frith Street and for Hopkinson at Bibendum in Fulham. The Scot, a mere stripling at 58, is still manning the stoves in Soho, at Quo Vadis and has a highly anticipated book coming out on September 1 – Cooking: Simply and Well, for One or Many.

Lee led the tributes from the London food world this week: “Alastair Little was a godfather of modern British cooking and a champion of keeping it simple. His cooking was just incredible, peerless. Unique, charming, brilliant, a joy to cook with, a huge inspiration, a great pal and a great boss, gone too young, too soon, much missed and never to be forgotten.”

As I write this, my own tribute is sizzling in the Aga. I’ve never cooked Pollo Orvietano before. I just hope I do it justice.


1.5 kg free range chicken; good olive oil; 500g chicken livers, cleaned and diced

2 large potatoes, cut into 1cm dice; an enormous bunch of leaf or feather fennel; 48 black olives, stoned; salt and pepper; 48 large fresh garlic cloves in their skins; 250ml dry white wine;  500ml chicken broth.


Prepare the stuffing in advance. It takes around an hour. Sauté the livers in the 4 tbsp of olive oil, stirring until coloured. Add the potatoes and gently cook until thoroughly cooked through. Add the fennel with half the olives, season well and set aside to completely cool. Pre-heat the oven to 400F/200C/gas mark 6.

Spoon as much of the stuffing as will fit into the cavity of the bird without overfilling; place the rest, lubricated with a little olive oil, in an oven-proof dish. Rub the chicken all over with a little more olive oil and season generously. Place in a deepish casserole dish, on its side, and put in the oven to roast for 20 minutes. Slide it onto its other side and continue roasting for a further 20 minutes. Finally, turn the right way up and throw in the garlic cloves. Turn the oven down a notch, put in the dish of extra stuffing and continue cooking for a further 30-40 minutes, adding the remaining olives for the last 10.

Remove the bird to a chopping board, allow it to rest. Put the garlic and olives in a dish and keep warm. Pour off any excess fat in the roasting dish and add the wine. Bring to the boil and reduce until almost evaporated. Pour in the chicken stock and reduce the lot by three-quarters. Cut the chicken into eight pieces and arrange on a serving dish surrounding the extra stuffing. Scatter with the olives and garlic and strew with more chopped fennel fronds.

We accompanied the dish with a Pheasant’ s Tears Poliphonia, a Georgian red matured in a qvevri (earthenware amphora). It’s a blend of 100 indigenous red and white grape varieties. Thanks for the recommendation, Dan at Flawd.