Diana Henry Selects the Best Cookery Books of the Year
The bestselling author of SIMPLE, Diana Henry, rustles up a table groaning with delights, rounding up the very best in food writing and cookery books of 2017. From store-cupboard suppers and kitchen staples to revolutionary inventions, meat-free feasts and warming comfort food classics it’s a selection with something to tempt everyone’s tastebuds.
Sweet by Yotam Ottolenghi and Helen Goh
Along with many others, I’ve been waiting for an Ottolenghi book of sweet things for a long time and this volume completely lives up to my high expectations. The sweet section of professional kitchens – cakes and pastries – is where Yotam Ottolenghi started when he began to work in restaurants and for this book he has collaborated with Helen Goh, head of cakes, bakes and puddings at Ottolenghi. There’s plenty of familiar, comforting stuff, but it’s the more unusual recipes – kaffir lime posset with papaya, custard yo-yos with roasted rhubarb icing, Middle Eastern millionaire’s shortbread with tahini caramel – that makes this title stand out. I didn’t think I needed another baking book, but every cake and pudding lover needs this.
The Christmas Chronicles by Nigel Slater
The book to curl up with on the sofa as Christmas approaches. The recipes – as you would expect – are lovely, but it’s Slater’s appreciation of Christmas and winter that draws you in. He has a childlike sense of wonder about everything from the first frost to baubles and candles. There are short ‘essays’ – on the history of the Advent calendar and choosing Christmas trees, among others – which make this much more than just a cookbook. If you can’t think of anyone to buy it for, just get it for yourself.
At My Table by Nigella Lawson
Ms Lawson returns to the home kitchen with a book of eminently cook-able dishes (the chicken and pea tray bake will go straight into your ‘easy midweek dishes’ repertoire) and classics with a twist. What I most love about this book is that Lawson so obviously cooks these dishes a lot herself. Ease is key – there is nothing fiddly here – and her prose is as poised and elegant as ever.
Kaukasis by Olia Hercules
A wonderful follow up to Hercules’s first book, Mamushka, this volume takes us beyond her home country, Ukraine, to Georgia and Azerbaijan. The food is glorious – Georgian food really is the culinary ‘discovery’ of 2017 – and the storytelling is a joy: emotional and sincere. One of the stand-out titles of the year.
The Sportsman by Stephen Harris
Stephen Harris, chef and owner of the Michelin-starred dining pub, The Sportsman, has finally written the book I’ve been looking forward to for more than a decade. Harris is a chef (self-taught), but this is not a cheffy book, as it has recipes for the everyday – it will help you to produce perfect roast pork with apple sauce, for example – as well as the elevated (brill braised in vin jaune with smoked pork). You will learn how to be a better cook just by reading it; keep it by your bed first and then move it into the kitchen. In tone it’s simultaneously elegant and gutsy, with its restrained design, simple but beautifully composed plates of food and heartfelt essays on the area of Kent in which Harris cooks.
The Modern Cook's Year by Anna Jones
A big, beautiful hymn to vegetables, this is Jones’s best book to date: seasonal, wide-ranging, intelligent and delicious. Recipes are interspersed with spreads that give a simple starting point (such as a base for a vegetable soup) followed by ideas for how to build on that, so it is a book about how to cook as well as a collection of dishes. It feels like the work of a lifetime spent in the kitchen, and you could cook out of it for a lifetime, too. Not just a book for vegetarians, anyone would love this food.
JapanEasy by Tim Anderson
Want to get to grips with Japanese food, but don’t know where to start? Tim Anderson is American but he knows his stuff: he studied Japanese, lived there, and runs a Japanese restaurant in Brixton, London. And he really wants you to love Japanese food as much as he does. Enthusiastic, friendly, straightforward, this book guides you through sushi, tempura, ramen and lots more. It’s also beautifully photographed and – thank goodness – doesn’t feel at all like a ‘how to’ guide.
Comfort: Food to Soothe the Soul by John Whaite
Whaite, a former GBBO star, really does understand how important food is in making you feel better. Food, for him, is all about emotional impact and this is his response to the ‘clean eating’ trend. The recipes – divided into chapters with titles such as ‘something sticky’, ‘something pillowy’, ‘something tender’ – make you want to plan a whole weekend at home, just cooking. Midnight French toast with blueberry and treacle sauce; Cumbrian sausage with Lancashire ‘aligot’; crab and sriracha mac ‘n’ cheese? My soul feels soothed just by reading the titles. A cookbook with a whole lot of heart as well as great recipes.
The Little Library Cookbook by Kate Young
An absolute treat for lovers of fiction and food. Kate Young – a food writer and London-based supper club host – has created recipes inspired by books (mostly novels). Part of the delight is in seeing what Young has come up with: kedgeree is inspired by The Camomile Lawn, coconut shortbread by Sarah Perry’s The Essex Serpent and mint juleps by The Great Gatsby. Books with this theme either end up with recipes that you don’t want to cook (because they’re written by readers, not cooks), or prose you don’t want to read (because they’re written by cooks, not writers). Young is a cook, a reader and a writer and this is one of the most delightful books of the year.
Home Cook by Thomasina Miers
When reviewers put together their books of the year it’s very easy to forget the volumes that were published in the spring, but I’ve probably cooked more out of this book in the last twelve months – and looked to it for inspiration – than any other. Miers is very good at combining a few interesting flavours with something workaday (such as chicken thighs) to produce a great supper. This is the perfect book for those who have to cook for a family and are stuck in a rut. Full of great do-able ideas.
The Art of the Larder by Claire Thomson
Many have tried to write this kind of book – one that is based on what’s in your cupboard and freezer – but Claire Thomson, a chef and mother of three, has really pulled it off. It’s a store cupboard book for our times, as it assumes you have a well-stocked and global larder. The dishes – Turkish eggs with yogurt, dill and brown butter, carrots slow-roasted with garam masala, sardines with preserved lemon and chilli sauce – are modern and interesting and, well, just a bit different. You do have to be prepared to be adventurous, though. With this book, and an open mind, you could really shake up your everyday cooking.
Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat by Samin Nosrat
Most cookbooks aren’t about teaching you how to cook – they are sets of instructions on how to turn out particular dishes – and those that purport to ‘teach’ cooking tend to be rather dry. But Samin Nosrat – an American who learnt how to cook at the famous Chez Panisse restaurant in San Francisco – brings cooking down to the four essential elements in the title and makes you really consider the fundamentals. It is a fascinating and thought-provoking read, but there’s no sense that you’re being talked at or lectured to: Nosrat is your friend in the kitchen and the tone is warm and accessible, though mercifully not cute. Of course no book can teach you how to cook – you can only become a good cook by doing it – but this is a great volume to have by your side as you learn or, indeed, improve. Intelligent, generous, kind, a small masterpiece.
Citrus: Recipes That Celebrate The Sour and the Sweet by Catherine Phipps
Citrus fruits have a fascinating history and lemons, in particular, are utterly indispensable in the kitchen, but I’ve never really found a cookbook that explores them so thoroughly (or so deliciously) as this. The dishes here – blood orange meringue pie, vin de pamplemousse, grapefruit and gin granita, salmon tiradito – are terrific; Phipps has a great palate and I always have faith in her recipe testing. She is very good, too, at trying to pin down the effect of various citrus juices on other ingredients. And how could you not love a book that has a section entitled ‘Citrus Economy and the Savoury Preserve’? A book for the thinking cook.
On The Side by Ed Smith
It’s amazing that nobody has written this – a book mainlining the side dishes to serve with hunks of protein – before, as it’s amazingly useful. You can choose what will go with your roast leg of lamb yourself, or refer to the sections where Smith offers help on what will work with what (in this case, flower sprouts with anchovy butter, baby aubergines with chilli and oregano, butter beans with sage). If you’re one of those people who can never think beyond boiled carrots and broccoli, this book is for you. Sides will never be the same again.
Syria: Recipes from Home by Itab Azzam and Dina Mousawi
I must admit I have only just discovered this – one of the joys of looking through a year of publishing – and it is both delicious and heartbreaking. The authors have collected recipes and stories from Syrian women who hold on to their culture (and to comfort and hope) through food, despite everything that is happening in their country. A reminder of just how important cooking is.
The Comfort Food Diaries by Emily Nunn
Memoirs with recipes are hard to pull off – many are faux-bucolic and mawkish – but American Emily Nunn is an excellent writer, as well as a big food lover. The Comfort Food Diaries recounts her journey to pull her life around after her brother committed suicide and her partner walked out on her… and Nunn hit the bottle. That sounds bleak, but Nunn is honest, brave, funny and greedy as she looks for comfort – and the meaning of comfort food – while travelling across America visiting friends and family. By the end, you want to hug her and cook her dinner.