This paper’s campaign last year in association with The Felix Project to tackle London food waste tapped into something fundamental: a sense that waste is just wrong. It turns out that unease is widely shared. Bread is Gold (Phaidon, £23, Buy it now), the most remarkable cookbook of the year, came about because a Michelin-starred Italian chef, Massimo Bottura, had the idea of turning discarded food from the Expo 2015 world fair in Milan into meals for those in need.
Night after night, chefs cooked three courses for homeless people from ingredients that would have been thrown away, and wrote down the recipes. Not any old chefs either: the list of contributors reads like a who’s who of global gastronomy: Alain Ducasse, René Redzepi, Ferran Adrià et al. The result is a terrific collection of recipes.
The principle of avoiding waste is evident in Ed Smith’s On the Side (Bloomsbury, £14, Buy it now), too: recipes for things to accompany your main course. Did you know you should eat not just cauliflower stalks but that the leaves are good too? Smith has a wonderful way with veg. And, just so you know, no self-respecting cauliflower gets boiled these days: they’re baked — stalks, leaves and all.
Another very good vegetable book is Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s River Cottage Much More Veg (Bloomsbury, £12, Buy it now), which goes with the grain of the whole vegan thing — there are lots of them about. For me it would make life seem like one unending Lent — these recipes not only eschew meat, eggs and dairy products but “no honey either, because I want the book to be completely vegan-friendly”. Also bread and pasta. Whatever: these recipes are good, inventive and welcoming.
Jamie Oliver’s latest is also consciously restrictive: 5 Ingredients (Penguin, £11, Buy it now), as the title implies, uses a limited number of components, but as he says, “as you haven’t got loads of stuff to buy I’m hoping it will give you an excuse to buy the best… you can find”. But really, with five ingredients you can make any number of delicious things — though I may say he cheated with his Speedy Steamed Pudding Pots by using olive oil without listing it. But this collection of unfussy but delicious stuff is Jamie back on peak form.
Nigella, too, has returned to the fray with At My Table: A Celebration of Home Cooking (First Edition, £10, Buy it now). These recipes are accessible, mostly simple and good. But I fear she has missed the point of her books. There are no pictures of Nigella except on the cover, just the dishes. This will be a tragic let-down for male readers, for whom the point is a series of gorgeous Nigella photos. So what if some recipes seem to replicate River Café ones? Originality isn’t the point of cookbooks.
Michel Roux has never lost his touch since his and his brother’s New Classic Cuisine first transformed British cooking. His latest, Cheese (Quadrille, £6, Buy it now), is a fabulous succession of dishes with cheese… sorry, vegans, but hot melted cheese is the food of the gods. I made his chestnut soup with actual champagne (without the equipment specified) last night, and it was yum. I could cook from this entire book happily, and probably shall.
My favourite bakers, Justin Gellaty and his wife Louise, and Matt Jones have reproduced in Baking School (Penguin, £17, Buy it now) the best of the excellent classes from Bread Ahead. It’s good to see British traditions take their due place with Italian, French and Eastern European recipes.
Tom Kitchin’s Meat & Game (Bloomsbury, £7, Buy it now) is ideal for this time of year: it has really interesting ways with everything from partridge to woodcock (if only…). It makes you think again about the possibilities of game, the ultimate free-range meat.
Nigel Slater is not just a recipe writer. To use his latest book, The Christmas Chronicles (4th estate, £11, Buy it now), is to enter his world — and how inviting a world it is. He immerses himself in every aspect of the season, not just the food.
Olia Hercules has single-handedly brought the cooking of the Caucasus to the radar: Kaukasis (Mitchell Beazley, £10, Buy it now), her latest, has dishes from Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan which are a revelation in flavours. Mind you, I’ve yet to track down blue fenugreek and dried marigold.
Pen Vogler’s Dinner with Dickens (Cico, £16.54, Buy it now) brings us back to Blighty with a charming evocation of the dishes that crop up in Dickens. Bring on the walnut sandwiches and rabbit pie! Though I draw the line at steak-and-kidney pud without suet.
Yotam Ottolenghi’s latest, Sweet (Ebury, £13, Buy it now), is a wonderful collection of cakes, biscuits and puddings. But for those who find all the above too complicated, let me commend 52 Recipes From the Man Cave (amazon.co.uk, £20, Buy it now) by Gentleman Jim, which includes recipes for boiled eggs with soldiers, and gin and tonic. The pictures are a hoot.
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