Review: The Food of Morocco by Paula Wolfert

Eggs On The Roof Reviews

The Food of Morocco by Paula Wolfert

Pub­lished by Bloomsbury

Septem­ber 2012 — Price £35.00

When Paula Wolfert states unashamedly that her book is full of ‘pre­vi­ously uncol­lec­ted’ recipes rather than brand new ones, you know you’re in the hands of an expert. The Food of Morocco is the res­ult of Paula’s fifty years of research and, rather than fea­tur­ing showy twists and fancy trills on his­toric recipes or start­ling com­bin­a­tions of tra­di­tional ingredi­ents, it’s a glor­i­ous and exhaust­ive com­pen­dium of centuries-old Moroc­can cooking. To give you an idea of its heft, it was delivered to me, not in a pad­ded envel­ope, but in a large card­board box.

I doubt I’ll ever get through all her recipes — in fact, I fully intend to avoid some of them. Spiced Brain Salad with Pre­served Lem­ons or Liver and Olive Salad, sound ter­ri­fy­ing. I will how­ever, be try­ing the ingeni­ous recipe for warqa pastry, which comes with pen and ink draw­ings to explain the method.

As a long-time fan of the writ­ing of Paul Bowles, I can’t wait to make the recipe for Chicken Tagine with Prunes and Almonds in the Style of the Rif Moun­tains. Wolfert heard about the dish from mem­bers of the ‘Tangier lit­er­ary set’. The Moroc­can writer Mohammed Mra­bet had cooked it for them, but des­pite all their attempts to describe it to her, Wolfert couldn’t get the recipe right. ‘Finally Paul Bowles, who had dis­covered and trans­lated Mra­bet, recalled the meas­ure­ments for me from memory’. A recipe whose labyrinth­ine path took it from Tangier, via Mra­bet, trans­lated by the great Paul Bowles, is as appeal­ing to me as any­thing I’ve ever cooked in my life.

As the owner of three slightly unpre­dict­able quince trees, I’m delighted to find a book with so many quince recipes. Chicken with Car­a­mel­ised Quinces and Toasted Wal­nuts sounds and looks exquis­ite, as does Lamb Tagine with Quinces from Mar­rakech. Wolfert’s stun­ning col­lec­tion also includes an Avo­cado and Date Milk Shake, which is worth try­ing for its oddity alone. I intend to cook from this book for years.

The Food of Morocco radi­ates integ­rity, schol­ar­ship and expert­ise. It shim­mers with Wolfert’s pas­sion for her sub­ject. It’s so detailed that it should really be turned into a PhD thesis, but it also has a huge sense of romance and fun. When read­ing a book for the first time, I always look at the acknow­ledge­ments page. Authors often reveal their true char­ac­ters when they thank — or don’t thank — those that have helped them. Any writer who pays a spe­cial trib­ute to ‘the snail wran­glers of Sonoma and Napa’ — a group of Wolfert’s friends who attemp­ted to col­lect enough snails for her to make Mar­rakech Snail Soup — is ok by me. The soup may have been dis­astrous, but the exper­i­ence was a tri­umph — in other words, it demon­strates the per­fect atti­tude to life. Just because some­thing doesn’t work, doesn’t mean that it wasn’t worth doing.

Review: Polpo by Russell Norman

Eggs On The Roof Reviews

Polpo by Rus­sell Norman

Pho­to­graphed by Jenny Zarins

Pub­lished by Blooms­bury, July 2012

Price £25.00

Polpo’s food, in its res­taur­ants and in this book, is so stripped back as to be almost inde­cent. Eat at Polpo and you will be served Venetian-style cichèti, or small snacks and plates of food, with simple china, no linen and very little cut­lery. Even the lux­ury that Lon­don­ers have come to expect of being able to book a table, has been sliced away in Rus­sell Norman’s mania for sim­pli­city. Polpo’s first cook­ery book includes all the clas­sic recipes that smit­ten cus­tom­ers love and expect: Anchovy & Chick­pea Crostini; Fritto Misto; Panzanella.

Pan­zan­ella pho­to­graphed by Jenny Zarins

Amongst the hun­dreds of cook­ery books in my col­lec­tion, just about every style, cat­egory, method and region of food is covered. Or that’s what I thought. But with the arrival of Polpo, I real­ised that I’d been lack­ing some­thing… a post­mod­ern cook­ery book.

If you’ve been read­ing Eggs On The Roof for a while, you’ll know I have a weak­ness for the post­mod­ern. Post­mod­ern­ism plus food would, you’d think, be an abso­lute win­ner as far as I’m con­cerned. And you’d be right. But how does Polpo show off its post­mod­ern status? The answer is, on its spine. Rus­sell Nor­man has taken his pas­sion for reduc­tion to new post­mod­ern heights and stripped away the book’s outer spine too, to reveal its decon­struc­ted, stitched and glued interior.

Show-off post­mod­ern­ism for its own sake is tedi­ous. It wrecks its ori­ginal inten­tions and becomes merely tedi­ous pos­tur­ing. But this is where Nor­man and his pub­lish­ers have been so clever. The sub­vers­ive act of strip­ping away the book’s spine makes this the very first cook­ery book I’ve ever owned that sits entirely flat on the table when it’s opened. And that makes it a joy to use.

Pho­to­grapher: Jenny Zarins

The recipes are as spare and simple as the ideo­logy behind them. Typ­ic­ally, as a former Eng­lish teacher, Rus­sell Nor­man turns to lit­er­at­ure to encap­su­late that ethos. “We have a rule that a dish is ready to be put on the menu only when we have taken out as many ingredi­ents as pos­sible. As Ant­oine de Saint-Exupéry said: ‘Per­fec­tion is achieved not when there is noth­ing to add, but when there is noth­ing left to take away.’”

I rev­elled in recipes with only three or four ingredi­ents, in com­bin­a­tions that require no cook­ing, in fresh ingredi­ents that seem to have gone on a blind date, intro­duced them­selves to each other on the plate and found per­fect har­mony. This is simple cook­ing at its best: Grissini, Pickled Radic­chio & Salami; Rocket & Wal­nut Pesto Crostini; Pizz­etta Bianca; Pros­ciutto & But­ter­nut Squash With Ricotta Salata.

Broad Bean, Mint & Ricotta Bruschette pho­to­graphed by Jenny Zarins

Warm Octopus Salad pho­to­graphed by Jenny Zarins

So is this book, are these recipes, too simple to merit all the fuss? Abso­lutely not. To bor­row another phrase from Ant­oine de Saint-Exupéry, as the fox tells Le Petit Prince, ‘It is the time you have devoted to your rose that makes your rose so import­ant.’ It’s the time that Rus­sell Nor­man and head chef Tom Oldroyd have devoted to their pas­sion for remov­ing things that makes the remov­ing of those things so important.

Review: Everybody Everyday and Eat Your Veg

Eggs On The Roof Reviews

Every­body Every­day by Alex Mackay

Pub­lished by Blooms­bury May 2012

Price £20.00

Devis­ing a new twist on an old favour­ite isn’t easy, as the cre­at­ors of the umbrella hat, the fluffy mono-slipper and the Leonardo da Vinci action fig­ure will tell you. But, remark­ably, I think Alex Mackay has done it. Every­body Every­day is a superbly prac­tical book in which he demon­strates how to cook six basic ingredi­ents, six sauces and six slow-cooked meals and then offers a won­der­ful series of vari­ations on each. Mas­ter the basics and the pos­sib­il­it­ies are seem­ingly endless.

Hav­ing been a cook­ery teacher for years, work­ing with Ray­mond Blanc and Delia Smith, Alex knows how to get his mes­sage across. He’s a bril­liant chef, but he makes his recipes appear effortless. Take for instance the sec­tion on baked chicken breasts. Alex has devised the fol­low­ing ways to cook them: with por­cini, pars­ley sauce and spin­ach, with tomato, lemon and almond dress­ing, with soy, honey, orange and ginger, with mus­tard, chives, run­ner beans and peas, with corn and chilli rel­ish and finally with sweet and sour kid­ney beans and avo­cado salsa. All the recipes are clear, straight­for­ward and easy to make and there are fur­ther chapters on sal­mon, auber­gine, risotto, pesto, tapen­ade and green curry paste, amongst oth­ers. Every recipe includes advice on how to adjust ingredi­ents such as salt or chilli for babies and children.

This is a book that knows what it’s doing and knows who it’s aimed at. It’s inform­at­ive without being pat­ron­ising and it’s ima­gin­at­ive without being intim­id­at­ing. Shrewdly, Every­body Every­day doesn’t get dis­trac­ted by starters or puddings. I sus­pect though, that if the book is a suc­cess, which it cer­tainly deserves to be, Every­body Every­day: For Afters will surely be next in line.

Eat Your Veg by Arthur Potts Dawson

Pub­lished by Octopus May 2012

Price £25.00

Arthur Potts Dawson’s CV must have to be prin­ted in pamph­let form. He was trained by the Roux broth­ers, Row­ley Leigh and Pierre Koff­mann and went on to be head chef for Ruth Rogers and Rose Gray at The River Cafe, for the Soho House Group at Cecconi’s, for Jamie Oliver at Fif­teen and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall at River Cot­tage HQ. He foun­ded Lon­don eco-restaurants Acorn House and Water House for the Shored­itch Trust and has slung in a few tele­vi­sion pro­grammes for good meas­ure. And yet, to look at his pho­to­graph, you’d think he was still 17.

Eat Your Veg is my kind of cook­ery book. It’s not a manual about becom­ing a veget­arian; it simply makes veget­ables the star of the show. Roas­ted car­rots with caraway and chilli cream, beet­root soup with cumin and cori­ander, wine-braised artichokes stuffed with herbs and creamed gir­olles with grilled polenta are all recipes that read like poetry and taste like heaven. There are oddit­ies too, like roas­ted sweet potato with marsh­mal­lows and maple syrup or iced pea and mint lol­li­pops, that I haven’t tried yet. But as far as I’m con­cerned, if Arthur says some­thing works, then it works.

The only thing I’m not smit­ten by is the title. Eat Your Veg is just too stolidly pro­saic a name to encom­pass the poetry that’s going on inside the cov­ers. But, all things con­sidered, that’s a pretty small com­plaint. Eat Your Veg is inspir­ing, cre­at­ive and ori­ginal. If I was a veget­able I’d be say­ing to myself, “finally, someone’s giv­ing me the atten­tion I deserve.”

Review: Eat London² and Hazan Family Favorites

Eggs On The Roof Reviews

Eat Lon­don² By Peter Prescott & Ter­ence Conran 

Pub­lished by Con­ran Octopus

April 2012 — Price £20.00 

The dif­fi­culty all res­taur­ant guide­books wrestle with is how to stay cur­rent and author­it­at­ive when the food industry is so mer­cur­ial. Eat Lon­don² hits that prob­lem with its very first entry. Peter­sham Nurs­er­ies Cafe and Tea­house may have been run by the chef Sky Gyn­gell, ‘one of the top food per­son­al­it­ies in Lon­don’, but, much to the dis­ap­point­ment of her fans and, pre­sum­ably, the authors of this book, she’s now left. But this is where Eat Lon­don² plays such a clever, smart game. Pub­lished to coin­cide with the Lon­don Olympics and the Dia­mond Jubilee, Eat Lon­don² shrewdly offers so much more than a guide to the capital’s great res­taur­ants. Ter­ence Con­ran and Peter Prescott recom­mend cafes, baker­ies, fish­mon­gers, butchers, food mar­kets and — new to the guide­book game — pop-ups.

Atmo­spheric pho­to­graphs by Lisa Linder and invent­ive recipes from the chefs of the res­taur­ants fea­tured, make this a good buy as a cook­ery book as well as a beau­ti­fully pro­duced guide­book. As far as I’m con­cerned, it’s worth get­ting for Row­ley Leigh’s recipe for Parmesan Cus­tard and Anchovy Toast alone. Hav­ing eaten his exquis­ite sig­na­ture con­coc­tion at Le Cafe Anglais I’ve puzzled ever since exactly how to rep­lic­ate it.

Ter­ence Con­ran and Peter Prescott proudly admit this isn’t an ‘object­ive’ book. It’s their idio­syn­cratic view of what makes a great res­taur­ant — ‘quirk­i­ness, won­der­ful per­son­al­it­ies, ser­vice, ambi­ence, design, loc­a­tion…’ With recom­mend­a­tions from Twick­en­ham to Brick Lane and Stoke New­ing­ton to South­wark, as well as fold-out maps for new vis­it­ors to Lon­don, it’s a per­fect example of what a guide­book should be: beau­ti­ful in its own right and full of insights, per­son­al­ity and insider knowledge.

 

Hazan Fam­ily Favor­ites By Giuli­ano Hazan, Fore­word by Mar­cella Hazan

Pub­lished by Stew­art Tabori & Chang

May 2012 Price £19.99

Last night my teen­age daugh­ter embarked on a com­plic­ated dough recipe without check­ing how long the vari­ous stages would take to com­plete. With school the next morn­ing, she was in bed and fast asleep hours before the dough was finally ready. I prom­ised to fin­ish the bak­ing for her, but at 1 am, still apply­ing the glaze to the admit­tedly beau­ti­ful buns, I was won­der­ing why she couldn’t have opted for a plain old Vic­toria sponge instead.

Get­ting your tim­ings wrong isn’t a mis­take Giuli­ano Hazan would let you make. Each of his recipes starts with a brisk ‘time from start to fin­ish’ guide and the instruc­tions are both simple and con­cise. It’s a book that is char­ac­ter­ised by the calm, cap­able charm that must make him such a reas­sur­ing tutor at the cook­ing school in Ver­ona that he runs with his wife, Lael.

Hazan Fam­ily Favor­ites is as much a trib­ute to fam­ily as it is to food, filled as it is with pho­to­graphs of Giuli­ano as a boy, his mother Mar­cella, his daugh­ters and his wife. Each recipe is accom­pan­ied by Giuliano’s memor­ies of eat­ing it as a child, or watch­ing one of his grand­moth­ers cook it. He has a her­it­age that’s rich in food influ­ences. His paternal grand­par­ents were Seph­ardic Jews who settled in Italy and then fled to the United States. His mater­nal grand­par­ents brought the cuisine of the Emilia-Romagna to the table, along with Arab-influenced dishes from his grandmother’s time liv­ing in Egypt. The res­ult is a style of cook­ing that is tra­di­tional and yet with a light, mod­ern touch.

A test of any cook­ery book is do you want to head for the kit­chen? I have an over­whelm­ing desire to make Swiss Chard Tor­telloni with Tomato sauce imme­di­ately. This is a book that I would give to someone who loves to cook, but who wants to become more con­fid­ent and know­ledge­able. At break­fast this morn­ing, I presen­ted my daugh­ter with a plate of her time-consuming buns that I finally com­pleted at 1.30 this morn­ing, along with a copy of Hazan Fam­ily Favor­ites on the side. ‘Can you try cook­ing from this one next time?’ I asked.

Review: Tasting India by Christine Manfield

Eggs On The Roof Reviews

Tast­ing India by Christine Man­field
Pub­lished by Con­ran Octopus, Novem­ber 2011, £40.00
Pho­to­graphy by Anson Smart

Com­batants in the fight over e-cookery books versus prin­ted ones have new ammuni­tion. Or should that be heavy artil­lery. If you believe paper books take up too much room, you’ll no doubt point accus­ingly at Christine Manfield’s new book, Tast­ing India. It’s vast — the biggest, heav­iest and most lav­ish cook­ery book I’ve ever seen. Its tur­meric yel­low satin cover embossed with vivid pink pea­cocks is just about as showy as it’s pos­sible to be.

Yes, it’s imprac­tical — one splash from an unruly, bub­bling pan of dahl and its gleam­ing golden jacket would be ruined. And yes, its girth puts it in the super heavy­weight class. It’s not a book to amble through so much as rock-climb over. But, call me a romantic if you like, I’ve fallen in love with it.

The Aus­tralian chef Christine Man­field has been vis­it­ing India for more than twenty years. Her rev­er­ence for the coun­try, tempered with a prag­matic under­stand­ing of its faults, shines through the text. It’s part travelogue, part encyc­lo­pe­dia, part mem­oir, part cook­ery book. Where she’s been so shrewd is to avoid a ped­es­trian, dogged tramp through each region. That’s not how cuisine works, and cer­tainly not in India. As she says, ‘For me, part of the excite­ment of con­tem­por­ary Indian cuisine lies in the way each cook or chef car­ries the recipes and her­it­age of their home­land with them, wherever they hap­pen to find themselves.’

Immerse your­self in the pages of this book — there are nearly 500 of them, so it will take a while. Mar­vel at the stun­ning pho­to­graphs by Anson Smart. Savour the recipes for tea-leaf frit­ters, scal­lops in spiced coconut, desert-bean koftas with onion curry and curd dump­lings soaked in saf­fron milk. Just ima­gine what they must taste like, or throw cau­tion to the wind and lug this book into the kit­chen and actu­ally cook from it. Either way it’s entrancing.

Review: The Good Table by Valentine Warner

Eggs On The Roof Reviews

Pub­lished 12th Septem­ber (Mitchell Beazley, £20.00)

Pho­to­graphs: Jonathan Lovekin

Toma­toes with Dijon mus­tard and cream on toast

In the dreary sea of food writ­ing cliche, where toma­toes ‘smell of sun­shine’, chocol­ate is ‘scrummy’ and cakes are ‘moist’, Valentine Warner is a perky, plucky life­boat. I want to eat what he’s cooked but more than that, I want to read what he’s writ­ten. How could you not love a man who describes razor clams as look­ing ‘like Cuban cigars in an elastic band, pale feet lolling out like the tongues of tired horses.’ Or a cook who claims that if his pickled onion, steak and ale pud­ding were a per­son it would be ‘the local thick-wristed, silent giant who whops crick­ets balls from the vil­lage green to king­dom come.’

Apply­ing the test in reverse, if Valentine Warner was trans­formed into a recipe, he’d be his ‘Dor­set Break­fast’ — sub­stan­tial, sur­pris­ing, full of good cheer and eccent­ric­ally Eng­lish. His writ­ing is the per­fect comic side-kick to his ser­i­ous food, although it has to be said that at times he reaches for a meta­phor bey­ond my grasp. I struggled with his descrip­tion of a steak that tastes of ‘bull sweat’ and was utterly baffled by his instruc­tion that potato for gnoc­chi should be grated on ‘the set­ting you would do children’s Ched­dar on.’ But when the food and the prose are as good as Valentine Warner’s, I really don’t care.

I can’t think of another con­tem­por­ary food writer who would dare include a delib­er­ately ined­ible recipe for burnt toast, boiled egg and black tea, con­clud­ing with the instruc­tion that you should ‘put everything on a tray, take it to the invalid and remove, uneaten, 1 hour later.’ But read­ing that recipe gave me as much pleas­ure as devour­ing his instruc­tions for more sybar­itic pleas­ures such as ‘cod with mus­sels and cel­ery’ and ‘ceps and apples in puff pastry.’

There’s a gen­er­os­ity of spirit to this book, a lack of pom­pos­ity and a huge joie de vivre. He exhorts us to ‘cook with love, shop like a European and don’t ignore the knobbly veg. Scrape the mould off the chut­ney, don’t for­get to hon­our the things at the back of the fridge; and above all remem­ber that this book, is, in a sense, no longer mine but rather yours.’ As if com­edy, fine prose and divine food aren’t enough — he’s giv­ing us demo­cratic rights to boot! As a mani­festo for life, The Good Table gets my vote.

Review: In at the Deep End by Jake Tilson

Eggs On The Roof Reviews

Wafts of fishy scent drift insist­ently into my nos­trils as I talk to artist and writer Jake Tilson in his Peck­ham stu­dio. ‘Oh, it’s that’, he says, point­ing upwards, when I ask him what the smell is. Hanging from the ceil­ing above my head is a large dried cod. The wizened, grey fish is just one of lit­er­ally thou­sands of fishy souven­irs piled up around us: nets, floats, snorkels, dried squid, pack­aging, a plastic grilled plaice, empty tins of sprats, boxes of anchovies and fish-shaped jelly sweets.

The heaps of fishy objects are the flot­sam col­lec­ted over years which Jake has used to illus­trate his beau­ti­ful book, In At The Deep End. He’s a pas­sion­ate, obsess­ive col­lector and con­siders noth­ing too small, crumpled or insig­ni­fic­ant to bring home. While in Japan he gathered hun­dreds of soggy fish labels which had been trampled under­foot in the vast fish mar­ket. Before fly­ing home he washed them in his hotel bath­room and dried them on the heated loo seat. When he spot­ted a par­tic­u­larly fine wooden fish crate, he tried to pack it into his suit­case but found it was a frac­tion too large. So he simply bought a ham­mer, took the box to pieces and rebuilt it in Peckham.

In At The Deep End began as an attempt to shrug off a fish pho­bia that developed from read­ing a lav­ishly illus­trated book about sharks when he was a boy. But his research turned into a pas­sion­ate desire to know everything about just about every edible spe­cies. By the time this eclectic, magical and indis­pens­able book ends, it’s moved from pho­bia ther­apy to become a gently per­suas­ive polit­ical mani­festo, alert­ing us to the eco­lo­gical dangers of over-fishing. Think of it as a recipe book, mem­oir, travelogue and a cul­tural his­tory and you will get just a hint of what In At The Deep End con­tains within its jaunty yolk-yellow covers.

Jake has designed, pho­to­graphed, drawn and writ­ten this work of art with a metic­u­lous eye. Each double-page spread took him up to a week to con­struct, made up as it is of a mosaic of images, draw­ings, frag­ments of text and pho­to­graphs blen­ded and over­laid. He designed spe­cific typefaces for each chapter, so the sec­tion on Scot­land uses let­ter­ing inspired by the regis­tra­tion num­bers hand-painted on Scot­tish fish­ing boats. The chapter on Aus­tralia uses a typeface developed from the intric­ate, lacy iron­work that appears on the bal­conies of Fed­er­a­tion era houses in Sydney. In At The Deep End is a fishy cor­nu­copia on a breath­tak­ing scale that con­tin­ues to reveal new delights with every reading.

Jake’s wife, the ceram­icist Jen­nifer Lee known as Jeff, and their daugh­ter Han­nah trav­elled with him to Sweden, Venice, Scot­land, Aus­tralia, New York and Japan to research the book, devel­op­ing recipes as they went. The book is as much a touch­ing test­a­ment to fam­ily as it is to food. The delight with which Jake describes find­ing a flattened, rusty tin on the floor of a fish mar­ket, know­ing that Jeff will be thrilled because ‘she loves rust’ is infec­tious. ‘The book wouldn’t, couldn’t have exis­ted without the three of us trav­el­ling together’, he says dis­arm­ingly. ‘Jeff and Hannah’s names should really be on the front too.’

For a man so obsessed by visual details, it’s per­haps odd that he prefers to buy cook­ery books without pic­tures. ‘It’s because I get very bored by styled recipes’, he says. ‘I don’t do any styl­ing at all. I might move things to the light, but that’s it. It’s a protest against the norm.’ There’s a won­der­ful pho­to­graph in the book, taken at his mother-in-law’s farm­house in Scot­land to illus­trate a recipe for smoked had­dock and bacon. The star of the pic­ture is an ancient fry­ing pan, its cracked handle proudly and defi­antly stuck together with par­cel tape. 

In At The Deep End has been seven years in the mak­ing, a remark­able test­a­ment to hard work and per­sist­ence. Not that Jake cares how long some­thing takes. ‘I just love mak­ing things. I am a cre­ator. If you were writ­ing a novel you wouldn’t dream of cal­cu­lat­ing your hourly rate. I’m the same about design. You have to be gen­er­ous with your time. I look at my book now and I’m just very happy that it’s finally here. In the end it’s the one copy that sits on my shelf that mat­ters. If other people like it, then I’m pleased.’

Like it? I’m mad about it. So much so that I was for­lorn when I got to the final page. In At The Deep End is a book to read, study, mar­vel at, cook with or simply to smile at. It’s the finest book about food and fam­ily that I’ve read in years.