This book projects a sensible, safe, homely aura. I picked it up a number of times in bookshops as a possible purchase, but the magic didn’t seem to be happening and it went back on the shelf. Eventually, an elderly family member demanded to know my Christmas present order and this seemed like the perfect arms-length way to start a new relationship.
So, what does this say about the book, or about me for that matter? Well, obviously, I am shallow and easily drawn to flashy things, which this isn’t at first glance. But still waters can run deep and there’s a bit more going on here than you might think.
Look and feel
It’s a weighty, high quality book. Lots of lovely photographs from Laura Edwards. The cover is probably a bit brown for my taste (see above – shallow, flashy etc.) but it definitely oozes cosy winter vibes. It’s the sort of book you could gift-bundle with a lovely pair of slippers. I wonder how it will move in Spring and Summer, that’d be interesting to know.
Getting around this book is helped by a contents page that breaks it into different sections, but when you’ve landed on a section you will need to go through each page to see what the hidden delights are. Of course, if you are starting with a base ingredient that you want to incorporate in your dinner there’s a good index that will quickly point you at any relevant recipes.
What sort of food is it?
Many of the ingredients are familiar, but come in interesting combinations – ‘Salad of roast carrots, apple and lentils with chilli and preserved lemons’ (pg 138) for example.
There are lots of veg dishes, and many of them have enough going on to be the main event. In many cook’s repertoires veg as a side can be a bit boring (will we have carrots and parsnips tonight, or parsnips and carrots?) so it’s great to have pages and pages of veggy ideas to draw on.
The non-veg options are good also. Chicken figures prominently (and why not!) and even has its own chapter.
Obscure equipment needed?
In a tribute on the cover Nigella says this book is a must-have for bung-it-in-the-oven cooks and, in the main, these are one-pot meals. Yes, you might need to use a food processor, a mortar and pestle, or a bowl here and there, and maybe a bit of browning or par-boiling needs a second pan. You won’t be facing a mountain of pots and pans in the sink on Sunday morning if this is your go-to Saturday-Night-In cookbook. (Those of you who wouldn’t dream of leaving the washing up overnight can stop judging now).
Ingredients easily available?
Obviously, this always depends on whether you live in town or up the side of a hill. This bit of the review assumes that you have access to a full-service mainstream supermarket, a butcher and fishmonger, at a minimum.
There are loads of recipes in this book that will only need a quick run to the shops to pull together, as long as you have a reasonably well stocked store cupboard. See my store cupboard post for what that means to me.
I definitely hadn’t encountered a couple of the ingredients before. ‘Nduja was new for me (Italian, looks a bit like salami, meltingly lovely in loads of settings) and the author freely admits that the XO Sauce on page 115 will probably need to be sourced online. There were also a few familiar ingredients that are not quite mainstream currently – preserved lemons, dried rose petals, keta (salmon caviar) – but they only make appearances a in a handful of recipes, so not a big deal.
Who is it for?
The recipes are well laid out and easy to follow with good results*. Anyone who cooks or bakes regularly will have no problem keeping up. If you have been producing hearty casseroles, roasts and stews and are ready to experiment with slightly more exotic ingredients without going mad altogether, this would be a great step-up book for you.
Not for an absolute beginner or for anyone with a very basic store cupboard, unless it’s time to invest in some new tastes.
Like many cookbooks most of the recipes are for 4 or more people. The results are not always suitable for the freezer so the solo or couples cook will need to scale down quantities (or invite people round). It’s actually a good book for people who live alone and like to entertain without spending the night popping up and down to the cooker – a lot of the recipes will look after themselves while you look after your guests.
I like this book and I can see myself going to it a lot, particularly to alleviate the boredom of the weekday dinner menu. There are bits and bobs that could feature on a ‘posh’ dinner party menu and it’s chock-full of tasty stuff for when you have friends around the kitchen table drinking too much supermarket plonk and talking rubbish.
*For this review I cooked:
Chicken with Lemon Capers and Thyme (pg 52), a big hit and looked just like the photo!
Chicken and Cauliflower with ‘Nduja (pg 58), delicious, ramp up the cauli, it really carries the fab flavours
Roast Peppers with Burrata and ‘Nduja (pg 96) – using up my ‘Nduja!
See the book on Amazon
Publisher : Mitchell Beazley, Division of Octopus Publishing Group
ISBN: 978 1 78472 584 6
Thanks so much Nuala, very insightful!