Some of the books of 2013

Sweet Greek: Simple Food & Sumptuous Feastsby Kathy Tsaples (Melbourne Books), $39.95

Sweet Greek takes its name from the author’s shop at Prahran Market, and it is one of the better books on Greek food, and one of the best accounts of Greek life in Australia. It tells Kathy Tsaples’ own story, and that of her family. It’s an attractive book, and the recipes are clearly easy-to-follow, and have a family authenticity about them all.  There are some really good vegetable dishes (for me, always the strength of domestic Greek cooking), and a range of menus for the occasions of the Greek year – Easter, Independence Day, her father’s name day. The roast shoulder of lamb for Easter is particularly good, so is the cauliflower salad, the version of spinach quiche, the stuffed vegetables, and the beetroot salad, with fetta.

Toscano’s Family Tableby Joanne Toscano (Slattery Media), 49.95

Let me declare my interest here: I am dependent on the Toscano family for much of the quality of the food on my table. I shop at Toscano’s, and have for nearly 30 years. The greengrocer has grown from a simple single-fronted store that was started by Joanne’s grandfather more than 50 years ago into three large stores (Kew, Victoria Gardens, Malvern Road). What I love about the store (and the family) is that the quality of the produce is so high, and that there is always someone around who can tell me where it was grown, and by whom.

That knowledge, constantly updated, is in the book, along with a terrific range of Italian family recipes. For some years, there have been tips and recipes in-store, and this book is an extension of those. Some familiar dishes, and many less known – fennel and celeriac soup, mushroom ragu on sloppy polenta, lemon polenta and ricotta cake.

Nearly half the book is an alphabetical guide to fruit and vegetables – when they are in season, where they are grown, how best to prepare them.

Love Italy, by Guy Grossi (Lantern), $100

Certainly the biggest book of the year – and not the book to have open on the kitchen bench, because it is bigger than many kitchen benches. This is a cook’s tour of Italy – Guy Grossi’s road-trip through Italy to meet favourite producers and to explore their cooking and eating.

Wonderful people – like the Pieropan family (wine), and Leonardo and Silvia Gagliardo (white corn), and Sergio Dondoli (gelato). Good recipes, too – most of them achievable, all of them for food you would want to eat (okay, a couple of exceptions for me).

What makes this so special is the journey, and the underlying insistence that good food and wine come from the earth thanks to the knowledge of skills of the people who tend the earth. Good cooking owes much to good agriculture.

This is a large, affectionate and handsomely photographed tribute to those in Italy who maintain the country’s gastronomic reputation.

New Classicsby Philippa Sibley (Hardie Grant) $50

Philippa Sibley is best known for her desserts, but there’s a great deal more to her cooking than that.  New Classics may not be aptly named, since so many of the dishes aren’t quite classic in most people’s sense of the word. Puy lentil soup with tiny meatballs and salsa verde is one example, and the risotto with pine mushroom, marrons and chestnuts is another.

Cookbooks by chefs often show a confusion of identity. I think this does, because it’s unclear about whether it’s book for beginners or skilled cooks. There are lots of very good well photographed instructions: how to make lamb stock, how to make crème anglaise, how to prepare tuna fillet, and so on… That’s the part for beginners. The recipes, however, are pretty much for skilled cooks, or the kinds of dishes we would expect to find in a restaurant – for example, roasted hapuka with corn puree, grilled horn peppers and sea urchin butter.  To be fair, that kind of dish is balanced by the simplicity of grilled haloumi with zucchini pickles. But most of the dishes are Philippa Sibley’s new classics, the dishes on which she has made her name.

 and earlier books…..

Jerusalem by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi (Ebury Press) is a great book – a celebration of a city as well as the partnership between Ottolenghi and Tamimi. Their restaurants are in London, not Jerusalem, but the book is about the foods of Israel, and Jerusalem in particular. I’ve cooked a number of dishes already – which is unusual, because normally I only make one or two from any new book. This time, it’s shakshuka; silverbeet with tahini, yoghurt and pine nuts; turkey and zucchini meatballs; and chicken roasted with fennel and clementines. No clementines, so I used orange slices instead. The book has great popularity in our family: my sister has a copy, so do my sons. We’re all cooking from it, and phoning each other to comment.

Those who have access to The New Yorker will find a profile of Ottolenghi by Jane Kramer in the December 3 issue. Interestingly, and sadly, Tamimi and Ottolenghi probably couldn’t  do what they do in Israel. But for them – Tamimi is Palestinian, Ottolenghi Jewish – there’s no difficulty in London.

The Cookery Book of Lady Clark of Tillypronie, with an introduction by Geraldene Holt (Southover Press, 1994) has been claiming much of my attention. I first heard of Lady Clark through the first edition of 50 Fabulous Chocolate Cakes,when a reader provided her recipe for chocolate cake, as it had appeared in a book by Florence White.

 Tillypronie is in Aberdeenshire in Scotland, and it is a luxurious estate with a wonderful garden, available for rent.

 Lady Clark (nee Charlotte Coltman) was an impressive woman; her husband and his family were equally impressive. Her father-in-law, Sir James Clark, was a physician to Queen Victoria. Her husband, John Forbes Clark, was in the diplomatic service. They married in 1851, and spent time in Paris, Brussels and Turin before returning to the UK, where they divided their time between London and the royal residence of Bagshot Park. The writer Henry James knew the Clarks and stayed with them at Tillypronie.

 Lady Clark maintained a recipe collection. Some recipes came from the cooks they had (the one in Turin was said to be particularly good). It was a collection that spanned the years from her marriage (and perhaps before) to her death in 1897, and it gives an extraordinary picture of cooking and eating over half a century. She always noted the source of any recipe, and made extremely useful observations about how things ought to be done. For example, she notes that for coffee made Lord Aberdare’s way, the beans should be half Mysore, half Mocca.

 Everything is in her collection, from how Mrs Barton’s cows are fed, to how to prevent the taste of turnips in milk.

 The cakes, breads and pastries are going to keep me busy for a while. There are Balmoral dessert biscuits from the Queen’s baker at Balmoral Castle, wafer biscuits to eat with ices, and any number of ginger cakes and gingerbreads. I am fascinated by the bread recipes, and by all the recipes for yeast. If only I can get some yellow hops (fresh green are too bitter, she says), I can start making my own.

 A question for all of you reading this: does anyone know what German yeast is? Or was? (remembering this was written in the 19th century.)

 A last moving note about the book. After her death, Sir John Clark approached someone asking that a selection of her recipes be published. The first edition appeared in 1909 (the year before he died). The edition I have was first published in 1994 – and I found it from Book Depository.

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