Wine and food writer
Samantha Clark and Samuel Clark
If you love Spanish food there are few books so accessible, and the results are good enough to keep a restaurant going for 20 years without much in the way of proliferation (there are now a couple of Moritos, their more informal outpost, but that’s pretty recent). Sam and Sam’s Chicken with Bay, Garlic and White Wine is my favourite way to cook chicken – and I love to cook chicken – while the Chickpeas with Spinach (and cumin and saffron) is the best accompaniment I have yet found for Manzanilla sherry – and believe me, my research has been extensive.
Root, an American newspaper journalist in mid-20th century France, has fallen out of fashion, although I once opened a book that had belonged to Elizabeth David and out fell a torn-out newspaper review of one of Root’s books; it was by Cyril Connolly (and decidedly waspish). But I love Root’s broad interest in history and culture, with recipes casually lobbed in along with wine recommendations; this is not a cookbook in the modern sense but you will learn more about France and her habits from Root than from more careful gatherers and measurers – for instance, he divides the country into her cooking fats: butter in the north, lard in the middle and olive oil in the south. And you’ll have more to talk about when you sit down to dinner, too.
Her manner is invariably peremptory, her recipes occasionally impossible – David, more than almost any other cookery book writer, assumes you can cook. (She also assumes common sense, which is flattering but not always helpful.) And yet – persist, and the food is great, with a whiff of the lazy south of another era, where the bottle of Macon, Beaujolais or Châteauneuf du Pape upended easefully into the Coq au Vin would have been better than most of us can now afford to drink, and the time spent around the table for a single meal would have sufficed to write another book. Even if you don’t want to cook her food, David’s digressions are worth reading – I will remember Senator Couteaux taking a week to catch his hare for Lièvre à la Royale, then substituting the recipe for his usual political column, when all the recipes are forgotten.
I don’t love Richard Olney only for the respect he accords wine, but it helps, because any cook who considers the wine an integral part of the meal can feel a little ill-served by cookery writers (and that’s most of them) who just ignore the whole issue. Olney’s chapter on wine here is one of the best-informed and best written summaries of French wine I have yet read, but his recipes are also superb, and so well thought out that I suspect Olney is David’s ideal reader – and he writes precisely for people who aren’t.
I love salads and vegetables of all kinds: the belief that a meal isn’t really generous unless it features vast amounts of meat or fish seems to me a hangover from an era when it was a rare treat for ordinary people to get their hands on good protein. Restaurateur-food writer Ottolenghi doesn’t discriminate against any plant or cereal, to say nothing of the spices, herbs and other accompaniments that best enliven them – perhaps because he was born in Israel and grew up with the tastes of the Mediterranean. So this book of meat-free salads and other veg-centric dishes is as thumbed and stained as any cookbook I own.
Recipes for the Passionate Cook is the subtitle of this book, and Wolfert isn’t kidding. Still, if you haven’t time to make any of these recipes (and for Wolfert, Slow-Roasted Stuffed Tomatoes, at around 4 hours, is knocking together a quick dinner), just sit down and read them: Wolfert is the antidote to dinner in a dash, fast food, microwave meals and all other such grim modern methods of saving time eating. (For what? What could possibly be more important than dinner?) Her Pork and Orange-Flavoured Beans are one of the tastiest dishes I’ve ever made; they’re even better reheated she says, or in other words, an extra day is an advantage.
I have seen the legendary kitchen of the title; I went to interview Lulu, who was 99 at the time (she is now 100, and still going strong as of this writing) and no longer cooks much. But when she did, my goodness: the rabbits and chickens sizzled on the open fireplace and the table was arrayed with spreads and crusts and dips and grilled sardines, all of it fresh that morning from the market, the roadside stalls, the port or Lulu’s own garden. The lucky guests sat at a long table topped with white cloth, to better display the beautiful colours of the wine: Domaine Tempier, which Lulu and her late husband Lucien crafted into a legend, nourishing the reputation of their region, Bandol, along with the vines they planted. Olney was a friend and frequent guest, and the happy combination of his art and hers, plus their mutual affection, makes for a near-perfect cookbook.
The only struggle with Roden is which of her books to nominate. A Book of Middle Eastern Food, the first? The Food of Spain, the most recent? I will opt for Arabesque, for its fascinating explanation of the food and cooking cultures of Turkey, Lebanon and Morocco, their similarities and vast differences, and for recipes such as Lamb Stew with Vinegar and Aubergines which, as she calmly points out, does not look very nice – but tastes wonderful.
This huge tome by the acclaimed Australian restaurateur and cook Stephanie Alexander runs from abalone to zucchini – but that’s not its charm. As well as Mrs Atkins’ Marvellous Fruit Slice or Pine Forest Mushrooms with Garlic, Cream and Parsley, there are learned yet readable pages on everything from melons to mint, and the margins have lists of other foods that complement the featured item, as well as yet more recipes – as if, in over a thousand pages, Alexander still can’t quite stuff in all she wants to tell us.
I never knew the pure joy of frying mustard seeds until they explode before I started using this book; now, there seems to me a metaphor for cooking itself in their exuberant enjoyment of the hot oil, the way they leap and pop. Jaffrey ranges across Asia and far beyond in her quest for comprehensiveness – not the purest form of any given curry but the most interesting, even if that means a little borrowing from another continent. But this makes more sense, curry being, in the best sense, a hodgepodge, and one now happily owned by all sorts of odd places, including Britain.