My Top Five Favourite Cookery Writers

We all have them, don’t we, the cookery writers whose books we can turn to time and again and they'll never let us down. The writers whose ingredients we tend to stock in our kitchens anyway, and whose tastes are inclined to match our own; the writers capable of transforming the chore of a weekday supper into a delight. Theirs are the books whose dustcovers are spattered in fat and whose pages resemble a table cloth after a well-lubricated dinner party. The pages may tire from overuse, but we will never tire of their contents.

Here, then, in descending order, are my personal five top all-time-great cookery writers:

NUMBER FIVE: DELIA SMITH

The goddess of British cooking,(the thought of which in itself might not get your taste-buds going, but bear with me), Delia has been gracing British TVs and book shelves for years now, becoming so influential that if she recommends a certain wooden spoon, you can be sure it’s out of stock within hours. I only have one Delia book but it’s a whopper – Delia Smith’s Complete Illustrated Cookery Book – a ‘best of’ which covers all aspects of cooking and baking in a simple, no-nonsense manner. On the rare occasions I want to make anything traditional, Delia’s my girl. Thanks to her, I once made my French neighbours a Lancashire Hotpot followed by Queen of Puddings. In all honesty, they still didn’t think much of British cooking at the end of it, but the point is, it was Delia I turned to, and my English-food-loving partner was in seventh heaven. And, sacré bleu, whenever I want to make a Coq au Vin or a Moules Marinière, it’s in Delia I trust, too.

NUMBER FOUR: MARCELLA HAZAN

A Rome-based American friend of mine gave me Marcella Cucina for my birthday, and, put off by the second-rate photography, I barely touched it. Then, one day, bored with my usual repertoire of pasta sauces, I gave Marcella a go, and became an instant convert. While more celebrity-oriented books rely on stunning photography but are perhaps less successful in the taste department, Marcella has a depth of understanding about food that comes with years of experience – emphasising the need either to chop parsley leaves or use them whole, and distinguishing between slicing, chopping or crushing garlic in a gently firm, grandmother-knows-best kind of way. All the recipes are prefaced with a little story about her life with husband Victor. Admittedly one of my favourite pasta sauces, combining rosemary, sage and pancetta, was created out of Victor’s reluctance to eat the lamb stew she’d spent all morning preparing, but I’ll forgive her lack of feminism for the sheer pleasure she brings to the palate.

NUMBER THREE: MADHUR JAFFREY

If you want fabulous and accessible Indian food, look no further than Madhur Jaffrey. While Indian food tends to be a complex affair, with multi-layered use of flavours and spices, her recipes are easy to follow and about as straightforward as Indian food can be – but there are no short cuts. Admittedly I don’t bother to roast my spices as she often advises, and my spice pastes tend to be rather thrown together, but the taste is always sumptuous. I have two of her books: Madhur Jaffrey’s Indian Cookery , which is undoubtedly my favourite, and Madhur Jaffrey’s Flavours of India , which allows you to theme your meals to various regions. Highlights include her spicy basmati rice, to which I am completely addicted, and her whole leg of lamb in a spicy yoghurt sauce, which for me is the ultimate special occasion winner.

NUMBER TWO: CLAUDIA RODEN

The authority on Middle Eastern and North African cuisine, which, with its emphasis on vegetables, fruit and pulses, is surely one of the healthiest and tastiest in the world. (Admit it, a chunk of quivering raw fish dunked in miso sauce, or a tender piece of lamb that’s been simmering slowly with apricots and spices? I thought so.) Traditional Middle Eastern cookery considers meat as a treat to be enjoyed on special occasions, and so its cookbooks are full of fantastic vegetarian dishes to complement the rich, gently spiced stuff for carnivores. Tamarind & Saffron is no exception, packed with recipes I turn to again and again, such as Aubergines in a Spicy Honey Sauce, Roasted Red Peppers with Preserved Lemons and Capers, Chicken with Preserved Lemon and Green Olives, Marinated Coriander Fish and Spinach cooked with Tomatoes and Almonds. And come to think of it, I haven’t even mentioned the Rice with Herbs and Saffron Caramel Cream, both of which are Iranian inspired. And the glorious thing is, most of her recipes are throw-everything-in-a-pot-and-sit-down-with-a-glass-of-wine easy, even if the Iranians might not approve.

But now, for my absolute favourite, the house is burning down, which book do I choose, cookery writer…

Can you contain your excitement???!!!

NUMBER ONE: NIGEL SLATER

Not nearly as famous as Jamie Oliver, Nigel Slater is, I believe, a far more knowledgeable chef with an instinctive understanding of food, depth of flavour and – that busy cook necessity – intelligent cheating. I first discovered Nigel when I bought his Marie Claire Cook Book , a compilation of recipes featured in Marie Claire magazine, for which he used to write. Lured by the fabulous photography, I quickly became seduced by his easy style and delicious recipes. He went on to write at least two books that, in my opinion, every self-respecting home-maker should own: Real Fast Food and The 30 Minute Cook . Real Fast Food demystifies cooking and shows the reader how to make a decent meal out of everyday household foods, including the tins shirked by most culinary authors. He also writes in a fabulously charming, witty manner. It’s like having a helpful friend by your side – he’ll make you smile as he shows you how to stir-fry. The 30 Minute Cook is just that – every recipe takes no longer than thirty minutes so there are no unpleasant surprises as you try to make supper before your favourite TV show starts.

Even if I have all the time in the world I often turn to this book, and if I could only keep one out of my entire collection, this would be it.

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