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My favourite cookbooks of 2018

My favourite 10 cookbooks published in 2018 –these have stood out amongst a superabundance of new cookbooks: excellent recipes, absorbing writing and beautifully produced, these will stand the test of time in a library, as well as becoming dog-eared through constant use in my kitchen.

 

La Grotta Ices is a stylishly retro and eye-catchingly colourful book by ice-cream guru Kitty Travers. Travers has spent years learning about ice-cream all over the world, especially in Italy. Recipes are interspersed with tales of these trips including a citrus pilgrimage in Sicily to discovering Mussolini’s kiwi farms outside Rome. Her focus is on simple techniques and the best natural ingredients (Travers eschews milk powders, dextrose and other artificial tricks used commercially) and finds combinations that highlight and augment their flavours: Prune and Earl Grey sorbet; peach leaf milk ice; brown sugar and rum or chocolate caramel icecream all beg me to get churning. It’s worth buying an icecream machine just to accompany the book. Penguin £18.99

Nordic Baking by Magnus Nilsson is a magnificent opus looking at the baking traditions of Finland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden and Denmark. Nilsson has documented over 400 recipes from home cooks in the region to create a comprehensive collection, ranging from cinnamon buns to Icelandic layer cake with prune jam; muffins, flat breads, savoury breads and crackers, with regional variations and modern twists. He calls it “a snapshot of what people actually bake today..with the occasional look in the rear view mirror..(that) explains something about how we do things now.” Nordic Baking tells the story of how geography has formed these traditions: windy areas could harness the power for mills and therefore make softer breads with finer flour. Illustrated with simple drawings and photographs of landscapes of the region, the book also contains essays on grains, a history of Nordic bread and Nilsson’s baking notes and tips. Phaidon £29.95

The recipes in Joseph Trivelli’s The Modern Italian feel completely original in a genre that is awash with repetition. Trivelli (who also happens to be head chef of the River Café) writes about how an Italian cooks now – his Nonna’s dishes adapted modern life. With pasta recipes like rigatoni with yellow peppers and basil, or gnocchi with chickpeas and rosemary, he shows us how satisfying and unusual a simple dish can be. Trivelli’s expectations of a Modern cook are realistic too, he talks about cooking for a family when time is short, making use of the seasonal ingredients in his weekly vegetable delivery (roasted celeriac, celery and chestnuts for an autumnal idea), as well as dishes to make when there is more time to spend on shopping and preparation: pork chops with quince and vinegar or bream in a pan with porcini mushrooms immediately inspired me. Trivelli’s writing is truly individual too, his depth of experience is obvious but his tone is modest and generous – just the sort of companion one needs in the kitchen.  Seven Dial £25

How to Eat a Peach by Diana Henry. Diana’s writing just gets better and better and in this book she revisits a lifetime of memories and food experience – a sort of MFK Fisher with recipes too. Henry says this book came as an answer to her realisation that “people care about these small things”: what to choose to eat, how it will work with other dishes, where you are eating it and with whom? Short essays introduce each chapter and set the scene and the menus are inspired by these places: Mexico (where the markets and chillies mended her broken heart), California, evenings in Italy or just at home during a hot summer. This is deeply personal writing and every recipe forms a snapshot of a life steeped in the enjoyment of good food. And who could resist a book whose cover has the fuzzy texture of a peach?  Mitchell Beazley £25

Copenhagen food by Trine Hahnemann, has focused on the food culture of her home city, Copenhagen in her latest cook book: Copenhagen Food. Including her favourite dishes of breakfast eggs, local specialities like Cinnamon Kringle or liver pates and prawns with dill, as well as a modern take on Danish hotdogs. She takes us on a photographic journey through the city, to its markets, street food stalls and to bakeries for hot chocolate and sweet raisin buns.  Quadrille £25

Five Seasons of Jam a new book by London Borough of Jam founder, Lillie O’Brien, is an essential for anyone who loves to preserve, forage and celebrate the ingredients at the peak of their seasons. Lillie has a skill for making jams and preserves that encapsulate the character of each ingredient, whilst bringing a unique and fresh angle on flavour with combinations like elderflower and lovage; raspberry and anise hyssop or peach and fig leaf. There are more than just jam recipes too, you’ll find bubbles, candied citrus fruits, vinegars and syrups.  Kyle Books £20

First Catch – Study of Spring Meal by Thom Eagle breaks away from the traditional cookbook format of ingredient lists, recipes and pictures. Pure (and beautifully written) prose fills 300 pages as Eagle meanders through the preparation of a long Spring meal. Rather than being wordy and boring, he takes time to investigate the techniques involved with coaxing the best out of your ingredients. Chapters explore cooking methods: with water; with fire; with wine and vinegar as well as how to season, pickle and cure. Eagle writes with knowledge (he is an award winner writer, chef and restaurateur) and yet retains a humility and curiosity which gives the reader the feeling of being in conversation with an experienced tutor. Eagle describes this as “the conversation we call cooking” and it’s a welcome antidote to glossy, picture filled books, bursting with endless recipes. Reading this book will show you how to become a better cook.  Quadrille £16.99

 

Rowley Leigh’s A Long and Messy Business. This is the sort of book that could live by your bedside as well as in your kitchen. Full of classic recipes that I long to cook, peppered with fantastic writing, the book is a collection of recipes (written for the home cook) but built on Leigh’s long career as one of London’s best chefs. Some cook book authors are much more than just good recipe writers. Rowley’s voice is authoritative, entertaining and full of knowledge. He’s the one to turn to if you want to make the best Daube de Boeuf, Iman Bayildi or rice pudding. Don’t expect short cuts though and I think you’ll agree with him “most enjoyable cooking takes a little longer”. Unbound £25

Sybil Kapoor’s Sight, Smell, Touch, Taste, Sound takes a refreshing sensory approach to inspire us to think about cooking in an instinctive way. It’s full of delicious sounding recipes – salted salmon with tarragon butter; chilli prawn cakes with ginger dip and chocolate spice biscuits – which put the ideas into practice and interesting culinary references that show the author’s depth of thought and research which has gone into this. Pavillion Books £24

Feast by Anissa Helou brings a lifetime of food writing and travel experience from all over the Islamic cultures of the world, from Egypt to Syria, Iran to Indonesia and Morocco to Zanzibar. With over 500 pages of exotic recipes, typified by the use of fragrant herbs and spices including ideas for feasts of fish, meats, salads and sweet treats. This book will become my best reference for anything from smoky aubergine dips, Moroccan tagines, to Indonesian biryanis, Arabian spice mixtures and Lebanese pastries. Bloomsbury £45

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