I’ve got a large collection of recipe books. Despite regular and judicious weeding, the shelves get heavier with every passing year. You know me well enough to realise that Nigel Slater gets a shelf all to himself, which he shares with my latest new cooking best-friend, Diana Henry.
In among are certain stand-alone favourites: Denis Cotter’s ‘Paradiso seasons’ – stylish vegetarian recipes from an Irish restaurateur: Pushpesh Pant’s encyclopaedic ‘India cookbook‘: a reliable guide to quick and easy suppers from Sandeep Chatterjee’s ‘Indian Vegetarian Cookery’: and ‘Persia in Peckham’ by Sally Butcher, a great book to browse through and read, as well as to cook from.
Yet for all that, I find myself increasingly visiting the internet when hunting for new ideas. Any page that is immediately greyed-out by a superimposed advert is banished without further ado. So is any recipe that comes expressed in the cups so beloved of Americans and Australians (A tablespoon of butter? Oh, please no.)
I’m likely to find what I want among the pages of my favourite food bloggers. And here they are, in no particular order. What they can all do is write, and communicate their pleasure in the dishes they make with me, their reader. Perhaps you’ll come to enjoy them too.
Once upon a time, just after I’d left school, I worked in Italy, in Florence. As an au pair living en famille, I had no need to cook, but I remember those intriguing food shops; corn-yellow chickens, feathered heads intact, hanging in long lines from hooks above the counter; vast wheels of parmesan, fragrant hard flakes dusting the counter from the last-cut slice; the salumeria, with dusky cured meats and salamis suspended from the ceiling, and piled into baskets. I remember thick soups of fagioli ad’oglio and the excitement of first eating such simple dishes as soft cushions of mozzarella dressed with tomatoes, olive oil and pepper. Mainstream now, but so exciting back in the 60’s. Rachel’s blog puts me back in touch with those days.
Rachel is a young English woman living with her small son Luca in the Testaccio district of Rome. I think perhaps she chooses to lives there, in Testaccio, as much as anything because of its busy daily market, with its stalls of just-picked vegetables and fruits, its fresh local cheeses and cured meats all sold by the people who’ve grown and produced these goods. Back home, she transforms what she’s just bought into simple tasty and achievable recipes which I always want to cook the second I’ve read about them. If ‘slow food’ is the motto you live by, Rachel’s your woman, because she’ll always point out that so many of the dishes she enjoys require time to develop a range of complex flavours, though otherwise not too much effort. Here’s the last dish of hers we enjoyed.
I think that Kath is the less-than-ordinary cook I aspire to be. Like me, she learnt from her mother – my earliest cooking memories are of helping to chop up candied lemon and orange peel for the Christmas cake, aged about 4. Like me, her cooking school was family life. Like me, she enjoys it when her children cook with her. Unlike me, she seems to be able to get away with cooking a lot of cakes and puddings: I like to make them, but taking 2 slices out of a whole cake before it goes stale isn’t a great idea. Kath is always keen to try things she’s never embarked on before, such as making her own butter. Any woman who provides a recipe for damson ice cream gets my vote. She’ll tweak a standard favourite and make it into something new: gooseberry and elderflower cheesecake comes to mind. There’s a lot of baking, but also plenty of ideas for inexpensive tasty main meals such as chorizo, lentil and bean stew. Good stuff.
Vegetarianism is by no means mainstream here in France. It’s seen as cranky, even. Outside the big cities, you’ll struggle to find a restaurant offering meat and fish-free main dishes (so take a bow, le Rendez-vous at Léran, for your daily vegetarian choice). On a domestic level, the vegetarian diet here tends to be … well …. brown. ’70’s retro, really. Lentils and chick peas, tasty items in themselves, tend to be offered without the revitalising additions of brightly coloured vegetables or zingy spices. How I long to thrust Natalie Ward’s blog in front of French vegetarian cooks. Here is what she says on her ‘About…’ page:
‘This blog is to share our enthusiasm for fantastic food with a world flavour. Using seasonal produce, grown locally where possible, we aim to excite with global vegetarian cuisine . Our inspiration comes from what fruit & vegetables we see growing while walking the dog in the “campo” in the morning and we hope to share some of the beauty of Andalucia in the process.’
She succeeds alright. She favours fresh, bright yet often quite complex flavours that excite the palate. Almost every recipe of hers that I have cooked has become part of my repertoire. It’s the sort of food I can make for non-vegetarians, who will have cleared the plate and asked for more even before they’ve realised that there’s not a mouthful of meat on offer.
I offer this recipe to those of you who despair over what to do with yet another mound of courgettes from the kitchen garden.
I love London. Why wouldn’t I ? Visiting gives me the chance to stay with my son and daughter-in-law. It gives me chances to expose myself to ‘culture’ with big and small ‘c’s’ of all kinds. And I love shopping there. No not THAT kind of shopping. Food shopping.
I love to nosey round Lewisham, maybe beginning with a rich dark espresso at the noisy and friendly Italian delicatessen, crowded with members of the local Italian community; going on to the Turkish shop; the Polish and Latvian stores; the Caribbean stalls on the market. Then there are Indian stores, various kinds of African ……
Rachel Kelly, aka Marmaduke Scarlet enjoys London too. She lives there. Having a metropolitan address doesn’t stop Rachel from eating seasonally, from locally sourced ingredients, including the wild leeks from her own garden. She celebrates the cultural diversity of London, using ingredients which we poor provincials sometimes struggle to find. She asks herself why some things work best one way rather than another, and wonders how to be creative with those leftovers. She tells a good story. She loves Nigel Slater. She makes me feel hungry as I read her latest post. Really, what’s not to like? You could try this one, maybe.
I hardly seem to need to recommend this. I note that half the blogs I read already have him on their blog roll. A professional American cook and baker living in Paris, he writes wittily about his life in the city and as he travels Europe and the world. I wouldn’t think of visiting Paris now without checking first on the various food shops, bars and restaurants he recommends, and his recipes are worth a go too. Those Whole Lemon Bars: once tasted, never forgotten.