With holiday visitors gone, I now have more time for browsing through or cooking from a pile of new books. Before Christmas, I was dazzled by the array of stunning volumes from well-respected chefs, all photographed and presented with the panache you’d expect from their restaurants. But there’s quite a gap between this type of smart restaurant food and the sort of daily fare most of us cook for family and friends.
At the risk of sounding biased, my new favourite books are all the work of female food writers, women who probably cook every night for their families. I know many men who cook, and cook very well, but these women’s books had a simplicity and practicality that’s encouraging for any cook.
Kiwi Margot Henderson lives in London with her rather famous husband Fergus Henderson of Nose to Tail fame. She’s a chef in her own right, with a small canteen and catering business, but in her book You’re All Invited (Fig Tree, distributed by Penguin, $55), she draws on the food she cooks for her husband and three children. Her simple recipes, perfect for entertaining or home cooking, are accompanied by sage advice – there’s even a selection of possible menus for all occasions.
Nigella Lawson needs no introduction, sliding across our screens as she regularly does. Her latest book, Nigellissima: Instant Italian Inspiration (Random House, $65), is packed with a rich array of tempting dishes. Pasta, meat, fish, fowl, vegetables, sweets and desserts are all covered, accompanied by mouth-watering photography. Her writing style is easy, and even the inexperienced should enjoy cooking with the excellent explanations and instructions she shares.
Our answer to Lawson, the effervescent Annabel Langbein, has another bestseller on the shelves. Simple Pleasures (Annabel Langbein Media, $59.99) has all the recipes to accompany the second season of her television series, and also suggests menus for entertaining. It’s fresh food that shows the connection with the land, sea and particularly her gardens in Central Otago.
One-pot meals are appealing for home cooks, and I am enjoying a quirky new book from a hitherto unknown English writer. Take One Pot, by Georgina Fuggle (Kyle Books, distributed by New Holland, $34.99), is filled with spicy and diverse recipes for easy cooking (and cleaning) in one dish or pan. Steamed salmon on a bed of beans, chilli and grated courgette or melting pot pork belly with fennel and rosemary are typical of the easy, throw-together recipes on offer.
Blogging and creating private supper clubs have emerged as ways for good cooks and aspiring food writers to get noticed. Two young Englishwomen did both, forming the Salad Club, which led to their establishing a restaurant in London. Their new book, Kitchen & Co, by Rosie French and Ellie Grace (Kyle Books distributed by New Holland $45), is a delight. The recipes are fresh, with the stamp of originality. I can almost imagine sitting in their kitchen and sharing their lovely home-style food.
With a summer of sausages in mind, here are two recipes to prepare ahead and enjoy. The first is a family staple of Margot Henderson, author of You’re All Invited. These sausages could also be served on mashed potatoes.
BRAISED FENNEL SAUSAGES ON POLENTA
- 4 red onions
- 4 cloves garlic
- 125ml olive oil
- 2 fennel bulbs
- 12 Italian pork and fennel sausages
- 1/2 bottle red wine
- 400g tin chopped tomatoes
- sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
- a bundle of fresh herbs tied together (thyme, rosemary, parsley and bayleaf)
- 1 litre milk
- 1 litre water
- 500g coarse polenta
- sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 100g butter, diced
- 200g parmesan cheese
Preheat the oven to 160°C. Cut the onions into wedges, then peel and thinly slice the garlic. Heat half the oil in a frying pan, then gently cook the onion and garlic for 5 minutes. Cut the fennel into wedges, then add to the pan and cook for 5 minutes. Heat the remaining oil in a separate pan on a medium heat, then brown the sausages for about 10 minutes, turning often until they have a good all-over colour. Add the wine and tomatoes and allow the sauce to bubble away for a few moments.
Arrange the fennel mixture in an ovenproof baking dish (about 32cm diameter and 5cm deep),
then add the sausages and sauce. Season with a little salt and pepper. Add the bundle of herbs and cook in the preheated oven for an hour, then turn the heat to 190°C and cook for 10 minutes. The sauce should be rich and the sausages well browned.
To make the polenta, first heat the milk and water in a heavy-bottomed pan. Once simmering, add the polenta in a slow stream, whisking constantly to avoid lumps. Change to a wooden spoon and continue to stir for 40-45 minutes over a low heat. When the polenta comes away easily from the sides of the pan, it is cooked. Season with salt and pepper, then stir in the butter and parmesan. Serve on plates with the braised sausages and sauce on top, accompanied by a rocket salad.
Wine match: shiraz.
THE FOLLOWING RECIPE from Nigellissima is delicious. As she says, simply squeeze the stuffing out of half a kilo of Italian sausages to rustle up the easiest meatballs imaginable.
SHORTCUT SAUSAGE MEATBALLS
- 500g Italian sausages
- 2 tbsp garlic oil
- 4 fat spring onions, finely sliced
- 1 tsp dried oregano
- 60ml white wine or vermouth
- 2 x 400g cans chopped tomatoes, plus water to rinse
- 2 bay leaves
- salt and pepper
- chopped parsley to serve
Squeeze the meat from the sausages and shape into cherry tomato-size meatballs, putting them
onto a plastic-wrap-lined baking tray as you do. It should make about 40. Heat the oil in a large heavy-based pan or stovetop-appropriate casserole, then add the meatballs and fry until golden. (You may need to do this in batches.) When all the meatballs are browned, add the spring onion and oregano, then stir gently. Add the wine or vermouth and tomatoes, then fill one of the empty cans with cold water. Tip it into the other can, swilling out as much of the tomato residue as possible.
Add the bay leaves and let the sauce come to a fast simmer. Leave it to cook uncovered for 20 minutes or until it has thickened slightly and the meatballs are cooked through. Season if necessary, and leave the dish to stand for 15 minutes. Sprinkle with parsley, then serve with rice, pasta or mashed potatoes.
Wine match: shiraz.
Restaurant Guides and Apps
The real clue to enjoying travel to the fullest is to make restaurant reservations before you leave home, just as you’d book flights and accommodation. After all, a satisfi ed full belly makes most of us happy. But how do you find the best places?
I recently bought Where Chefs Eat, by Joe Warwick (Phaidon Press, $30), which features restaurant recommendations from around the world. Warwick, the former editor of UK Restaurant magazine, asked top chefs in many countries and popular cities where they go to eat. The resulting volume covers much of the world, and recommendations range from simple cafes to high-end places where you could spend a small fortune eating grand food.
I checked it against my favourite places in many cities and was stunned to see they were all listed. The New Zealand section is quite substantial and plausible. The guide has maps, lots of information to guide you and is also available as an app. Don’t leave home without it.
And for some real bargains and great food in places where you never thought you’d venture, there are two recent apps to guide you. The best of cheap eating in Auckland and in Sydney’s Chinatown can be downloaded to your smart phone at www.smartmouthonline.com.