Book reviews | The 2020 Matching Food & Wine cookbook giftlist

Book reviews

The 2020 Matching Food & Wine cookbook giftlist

Thanks - or rather no thanks - to Covid I’ve spent more time cooking from cookbooks this year than any other I can remember. And actually cooking from a book really separates the wheat from the chaff. Or the the sheep from the goats or whatever.

If you’re giving a cookbook as a gift it’s not so much about whether it’s critically acclaimed as whether it suits the person you’re giving it to so here’s my pick tailored to the family members and friends I think would enjoy them most.

Prices are the recommended retail price but there are of course deals though I would urge you to support your local bookshop rather than Amazon.

Fangirls - and boys

Your recipient has probably got other books by this author but so what? You KNOW they’ll be more than happy to have another one.

Top of the list is Nigella (they have one word names) whose Cook, eat, repeat £26 s arguably her best book since How to Eat, certainly if you like reading in bed (see below). I can strongly recommend the crab mac’n’cheese you can also find in this Guardian article (scroll down). With champagne as I discovered when I made it a couple of weeks ago.

Ottolenghi’s latest offering - along with co-author Ixta Belfrage - is Flavour (£27), a theme which is bang on trend. Not his easiest book - a reversion to his lengthy lists of ingredients after the comparative ease of Simple - but I loved the iceberg wedges with smoky aubergine cream. I mean - Ottolenghi + aubergines. What’s not to like?

And Sabrina. Surely you know Sabrina (Ghayour), author of Persiana, Sirocco, Bazaar etc? Her latest is Simply (£26) and it is. I’ve tried - and enjoyed - so many recipes from it and have to admire her chutzpah in listing garlic granules as an essential ingredient. I’m converted. You should definitely make the marinated steak with labneh, pul biber butter and crispy onions (although ease off on the salt in the labneh if you follow her recipe). I’m still to tackle the seductive crisp-bottomed rice dishes. I regularly give her books as gifts. Everyone loves them.

Friends who don’t own - or want - many cookbooks

Not everyone is obsessed with cookbooks. Why give them one then? Basically to make their lives easier.

When I leafed through Claire Thomson’s Home Cookery Year I remember thinking this is the only cookery book you really need. Loads of inspiring ideas divided up by season. I’ve only made one so far - the roasted cauliflower with red onion and preserved lemon which was delicious but have my eye on many others particularly the guineafowl with porcini bread sauce which would make an ideal Christmas dinner for anyone marooned on their own. Thomson is a mum of three (she posts as fiveoclockapron) and understands busy lives. £30 but worth every penny. It's a bible.

Speaking of busy who doesn’t love a one tin roast? Hands up? Buy yourself (or a busy friend) Rosie Sykes Roasting Pan Suppers £14.99. I loved her The Sunday Night Book so am looking forward to getting stuck into squash, tomato and goats’ cheese strata - a delicious-sounding savoury bread pudding - and fish pie with a rösti topping. You can never have too many fish pie recipes.

Culinary adventurers

This year of all years we want to be transported beyond our four walls so if you have friends who love to explore the world through their kitchen here are four books to broaden their horizons

First the inspirational Falastin £28 by Ottolenghi’s business partner Sami Tamimi and Tara Wigley - a modern take on Palestinian food. Everything I’ve cooked from it has been brilliant - the spiced salmon skewers, with parsley oil, the kofta with tahini, potato and onion, the satta (a vibrant chilli relish). Reminds me that I still haven’t made the divine-looking sumac onion and herb oil buns or pasta with yoghurt and parsley breadcrumbs. The whole book is rammed with post-it notes.

I also love the latest book from Olia Hercules of Mamushka fame - the beautiful Summer Kitchens £26 about her homeland of Ukraine. It’s not just summer recipes though I enjoyed the lazy dumplings with green beans, poppy seeds and crispy shallots, beetroot with apple and nuts and honey and berry teacake I made a few months ago but there are some ribsticking stews and soups for this time of year like borsch with duck and smoked pears. Stunningly photographed too.

If you know someone who’s into Indian - and vegetarian - food India The World Vegetarian £20 is a brilliant and utterly reliable cookbook from Roopa Gulati. Her recipes really work (which can't be said for every cookbook!) I learnt to make paneer from her this summer and can also enthusiastically advocate her bhel puri. Almost enough to make you give up meat.

And if you know someone who’s dreaming of their next Greek island holiday buy them Marianna Leivaditaki’s evocative Aegean £26 - or make them her prawns with ouzo, orzo and courgette (you can find it on the website) Oh, Greece!

Bedtime browsers

If it’s as much about the prose as the recipes for your recipient here are three suggestions (as well as the divine Nigella):

First Miranda York’s The Food Almanac £16.99 a beguiling selection of recipes and writings from the great and the good of the food world. I’m looking at Anna del Conte’s menu for December as I write this: Leeks in a vinaigrette sauce, fettucine with sausage, mushroom and green olive sauce and pears baked in red wine. Bliss.

Then there’s Towpath: Recipes & Stories £27 by Lori de Mori and Laura Jackson from the London café of the same name . Italian-inspired mainly, divided up by month (with the quirky omission of December, January and February. They’re not open then but still .…) I have my eye on a beef and red wine stew called Peposo “which is traditionally baked in the cooling embers of a wood-fired kiln.” Want one? Me too.

You really need Kate Young’s cheerily red-bound The Little Library Christmas £15 - a follow up to her successful Little Library Cookbook - before the event to take full advantage. Maybe give it at the beginning of advent? As the title suggests it’s full of literary references so you can make her not-sausage rolls while dwelling on D H Lawrence’s Sons & Lovers. Some charming personal reminiscences about past Christmasses too.

Bakers and cakemakers

Two ideal books for those who want to hone their pastry-making skills are Calum Franklin’s The Pie Room and Julie Jones The Pastry School £25. You may have come across Julie on insta @julie_jonesuk - she makes the most incredibly beautiful decorative tarts. This book guides you step by step through how to do them though I doubt many of us could make her apple rose tart look even remotely as exquisite as hers. I’m cautiously optimistic about the super slow onion and gruyère tart though.

I have tried one of the recipes from The Pie Room £26 which is named after Calum’s takeaway outlet at the Holborn Dining Rooms - the rough puff pastry and couldn’t believe how good it was. I suggest you give it to a close family friend or neighbour who can make you his Cheesy Dauphinoise & Caramelised Onion Pie in return. You can find his Beef, Stilton and onion pie here if you want to get a flavour of the book.

And if you’ve a friend who’s into cakes they’ll love One Tin Bakes £17.99 a brilliant selection of traybakes from former Bakeoff winner Edd Kimber, aka The Boy who Bakes. Fearing for the effect on my waistline during lockdown I haven't got into it yet but am sorely tempted by the milk chocolate caramel sheet cake "the reason this book exists" and the bourbon banana bread pudding

Veggies and vegans

I’ve mentioned two good options already - Ottolenghi’s Flavour and India: The World Vegetarian but Gill Meller’s root stem leaf flower £27 is an inspirational book of vegetarian recipes to guide you through the seasons, (nice to have a picture - particularly such a beautiful one for every recipe). Tomatoes in the hole, a veggie take on Toad in the Hole is a stroke of genius, though obviously less good at this time of year. Make Gill’s cauliflower cheese with ceps or Jerusalem artichoke, kale and blue cheese tart instead. Perfect for keen gardeners with an abundant veg plot.


Finally, not a recipe book but an ideal present for a cheeselover, the highly entertaining Cheesemonger's History of the British Isles by Ned Palmer which is now out in paperback (at £9.99). The perfect lockdown distraction which is what we all need.

If you don’t end up buying at least one of these books for yourself I’ll be amazed!

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Comments: 1 (Add)

Catherine on November 26 2020 at 11:24

Thank you for this Fiona! Christmas sorted :)

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