I’m reading Dolce E Salata, a food-centric memoir by chef and food writer Marlena de Blasi, about her and her husband’s move from Venice to the simple life in Tuscany. So far, so cliched, you’ll think from my description. It’s actually very good – mainly for the insights it gives into how people in that region eat. I mean insights you don’t get from news stories on” the wonders of the rural Italian diet”, especially concerning the benefits of olive oil consumption. I mean, we all know they tell us olive oil is great for our health, but what they don’t say is what Marlena reveals:
“We stop along every frantoio and taste olive oil until we find one we like enough to fill our twenty-liter spigotted vase… At the usage rate of one liter a week, the supply will serve until December”.
These guys are knocking back a litre a week – that’s between two of them. Hell! There’s the bloody secret – it’s not what they’re glugging, it’s how they’re glugging! And I’ll bet a great deal of that olive oil is used raw; after all, it’s health-giving properties are killed off by heat. Memo to self: throw that oil round like it ain’t no thang.
How much olive oil do you use? What are your favourite brands, and favourite ways to use it in its raw state?
Dolce E Salata, Marlena de Blasi, Allen & Unwin, 2004.
Al Brown’s second title is all about the glory of cooking outdoors – preferably over wood or charcoal, though most of the recipes can be attempted indoors, too – albeit detracting somewhat from the romance. I like the chunky and practical design – the recipe names are all bold caps, the ingredients easy readable down the left column, symbols for appropriate cooking methods, and ‘steps’ in the method to break it up into major processes. All this makes for easy to follow recipes. Kieran Scott’s photography is, as always, magnificent: how he manages to make some guy in a polar-fleece jumper in front of an old garage door, or a white plastic tub labelled ‘salt’ sitting on a shelf look arty I don’t know, but he has a knack for it.
There’s a community feel to parts of Stoked. Brown visits a Kiwi-Chinese family to watch them cook a whole pig inside a burning hot pipe, collects edible seaweed with a couple near their isolated bach on the Wairarapa Coast, cooks in a home-made tandoor oven with a Cuba St grocer, and enjoys a hangi looking down on the Whanganui River. It’s full of useful advice and tips – how to light a fire outdoors, tie up cuts of meat, build a wood-fired oven (oh lordy how I want one). Stoked is for the most part full of pretty approachable recipes for the home cook, and ones which might get us using less-favoured cuts of meat, preparing a charcoal or wood fire to cook over, or even get us out foraging for greens, seaweed and mushrooms – knowing that the end result will be a flavour and texture revelation.
Stoked: Cooking with Fire, by Al Brown
Random House, October 2011, RRP $70
Metro presents dinner with Rick Stein on October 20 at Cibo in Parnell. There’s a Malaysian theme – Rick is appearing in partnership with Metro magazine, as well as Martrade and the Malaysia Kitchen programme, who have been responsible for some pretty cool promotion of Malaysian food in Auckland over the past six months or more. Over five courses of his Malaysian dishes with matching wine, the always-jovial Rick will be spinning travel and food yarns and popping by tables to chat with those lucky enough to afford the ticket price. Sadly, that’s not me, though I would dearly like to be able to. Have heard great reports of Rick’s (I feel uncomfortable calling him that, it seems so matey) live appearances and I always love the look of everything he cooks on-screen and in his books.
The latest of which – Rick Stein’s Spain (BBC Books, 2011, distributed by Random House in NZ) is gathering a proliferation of post-its in my possession. From something as simple as A Stew of Mixed Summer Vegetables (page 111), to the rich, textural dream that Pork in Almond Sauce (page 188) looks to be, pretty much every single thing in this book looks utterly delicious, and not too complicated, either. There are some lovely recipes with broad beans that would do well right now, and the odd sounding Garlic Soup with Eggs (page 205) could make for an epiphany of a brunch. Having just bought some fennel seeds the other day, and with churros an all-time favourite of mine, I’ll definitely be giving the Fennel Seed Fritters with Thick Hot Chocolate (page 285) a go.
Spooning with Rosie: Food, Friendship & Kitchen Loving, Rosie Lovell, Fourth Estate, London, 2009
I’ve had this heavy paperback sitting on my shelf for a long time without ever having done much more than quickly flick through. I’ve still yet to cook from it, but after a more concentrated effort at flicking, have marked a good deal of recipes I’d like to try very soon, including a risotto using pearl barley, little semolina and orange cakes and individual baked yoghurts, which look so adaptable and easy I can’t wait to give them a go.
Author Rosie Lovell opened Rosie’s Deli in Brixton, London, in the same year I moved out of Herne Hill, just down the road from there, and over the other side of the Thames. Bummer, I wish I’d known about her deli because judging by this book, the food looks mighty fine. Not every recipe is photographed, but there’s enough photos to keep you satisfied, along with plenty of cutesy hand drawings and musings in between, which is a trend in cookbooks that will surely start to look a bit tired soon, but is actually kind of nice for now. Her ‘Munching Maps’ give an ingredient and radiating out from it, all the ingredients that go well with it. What I love about this is that it encourages us to cook based on instinct and knowledge of flavours rather than by rote or strictly from recipes. A great spread of different ethnic recipes, all given her own twist – it’s very much the way I like to cook, so this book gets a big thumbs up from me. Ahh, makes me miss London, too.
The New Zealand Cook’s Bible: Classic Recipes & Step-by-Step Techniques, by Lesley Christensen-Yule & Hamish McRae
This comprehensive overview of how to work a kitchen is a must-have on your bookshelf, and will, I promise you, become one of your most-used and trusted companions. It has a reassuring text-book tone which makes you feel you’re in good hands, and you are, since both Christensen-Yule and McRae teach professional cookery and the book was born from a gap in the market for a cookbook that would provide more than recipes and pretty pictures.
I like that it covers all the basics. Many in my generation (myself included), and today’s youngsters, are learning to cook in a somewhat haphazard manner, without ever acquiring the time-honoured foundations of traditional cookery. That’s not always a bad thing, because it means don’t feel constrained by rules and principals when cooking. But basic knowledge of cooking methods can only be of benefit, no matter how you use it, and there is so much informative material in this book to be soaked up by anyone eager to get a better handle on how to be in charge of taking food and turning it into cuisine. It is, indeed, a manual for kitchen use, and as such, I’d bet there a many copies around the country (and abroad) gradually collecting soup splatters, dog ears and the fond gaze of a grateful owner.
I’m not huge on cooking from recipes – or at least, following recipes to the tee. Not intentionally, mind, it’s just that I’m a bit impatient like that. Even with baking – I’m guilty of measuring haphazardly. Yes, they say when baking you should never do such a thing, but I do it all the time and it’s never killed anyone, and so far most things have emerged from my oven looking, smelling and tasting just about right. That isn’t to say you can’t trust the recipes I post on here, because when I write them down, I pay a careful mind to amounts and methods and all that jazz.
So when it comes to poring over cookbooks, I’m often in it more for inspiration than actual recipes, as are many of you, too, I’m sure. ‘m not on any distributors’ lists for review copies (yet?) but I do love sharing a good book when I find one, so thought I’d add a cookbook (or food-related book, really) category to my blog. I’m calling it Read it and Eat. So every now and then I’ll blog about a new book I’ve discovered, or, more likely, favourite books from my collection, or others’ collections I’ve plundered.