Suffolk's award-winning food writer Nicola Miller takes a look at some of the best recently-released cookbooks
Cucina di Amalfi: Sun-Drenched Recipes from Southern Italy’s Most Magical Coastline by Ursula Ferrigno (Ryland Peters & Small £20)
Half an hour after picking up Ursula Ferrigno’s latest book, I rushed to the kitchen to make her Teglia di Tonno.
My tuna steaks were ordinary supermarket specimens, but after they had been marinated in white wine, mint, rosemary and garlic for an hour, fried in a breadcrumb-caper mix and finished with lemon-infused olive oil, they were spectacular. So my answer to the perennial question: ‘Do I really need another Italian cookbook?’ is yes, I do, and you probably do too.
Ferrigno’s latest focuses on the Amalfi Coast, a ribbon of land on the Sorrentine Peninsula.
Also known as ‘La Divina Costiera’, Amalfi is one of Italy’s dreamiest regions where lemons, mozzarella, seafood, fish, tomatoes, wild green herbs and vegetables come together on the plate in sunny harmony.
Her Battered Cauliflower Florets with Parmesan, Fried Fennel, Ravioli Filled with Green Chicory, Ricotta and Chile, and a dish of Veal and Pork Meatballs sound perfect for winter, while a classic Spaghetti al Limone, Prosciutto and Black Pepper Flatbread, plates of Roasted Peaches filled with Burrata, Basil and Lemon with Courgette Shavings and Amalfi Lemon Tart brim with fecundity and sunshine.
Plentiful: Vegan Jamaican Recipe to Repeat by Denai Moore (Hardie Grant, £24)
It should come as no surprise that Jamaica has an established tradition of good vegan food, home as it is to the Rastafari movement, which began in the 1930s.
And whilst we should not assume all Jamaicans follow this faith, Rastafarianism’s Ital food traditions reflect and showcase the island’s natural bounty.
The Ital diet is not the focus of Denai Moore’s first cookbook, but her delicious food is grounded in beliefs and techniques that were a natural part of her childhood diet.
Plentiful is organised into chapters that are ‘specific about the way I think about food’, she writes.
One is titled Foods That I Dream About Before Going to Bed and includes a clever Cherry Bostock made from Hard Dough Bread (a sweet yeast-based bread similar to Pan de Mie).
Food for Company includes fantastic recipes for Sorrel-Hoisin Fried ‘Chicken’ Burger and a Butterfly Aubergine with Spring Onion Salsa, where the aubergine is cut into a fan shape, whilst the Sides That Give Energy offer us Brussel Sprouts with Scotch Bonnet Romesco, and Silky Butterbeans with Roasted Corn and Hazelnuts.
I particularly love the Ackee Carbonara in Comfort Grub; it is a great example of how Moore marries Jamaican ingredients and techniques with those of other countries.
The pudding section is immensely good, too: Coconut Gizzada Streusel Loaf is based on a popular Jamaican snack where a pastry case is filled with a mixture of coconut, brown sugar and spices; her Ode to Mangos offers us a Baked Mango Cheesecake and the perenially-popular Rum and Raisin Ice Cream is cleverly veganised.
There’s a decent guide for pantry and kitchen equipment and a glossary at the back before we get to the recipes. Ingredients can be found online, in supermarkets, markets and ‘International’ stores.
Of Cabbages and Kimchi: A Practical Guide to the World of Fermented Food by James Read (Particular Books £22)
There are many excellent manuals about fermentation, but they don’t quite manage to capture, via beautiful language and imagery, the magical, alchemical nature of a scientific process that has been around for thousands of years in the way that Read – and Marija Tiurina, the book’s ultra-talented illustrator – do.
This is a triple threat of a book. More than a manual (although it offers masses of practical information about, say, the practice of fermentation, how to choose a proper Balsamic vinegar, includes lists of Read’s favourite hot sauce blends, and quick troubleshooting sections, for example), he offers us a selection of well-written recipes plus contextual mythology, stories and history.
I’ve already interviewed Read about the process of writing his book for my newsletter.
Here, I want to focus on his recipes, which will inspire confidence in anyone wishing to learn how to ferment or incorporate more fermented food into their diets.
He shows us how to make Sauerkraut and provides recipes using it (Reuben Sandwiches, Kraut and mushroom-stuffed Polish Pierogis); a section on vinegar has recipes for Four Thieves Tahini (which he describes as a ‘unique and herbaceous sauce’) and Oatmeal Stout Pickled Onions (my father would have loved these).
Homemade Kimchi spices up a Goat’s Cheese and Kimchi Quesadilla; Read’s Chilled Radish Noodle Soup uses the brine from his Dongchimi Kimchi; homemade yoghurt is used in the dough and icing for Yoghurt Cinnamon Rolls; and Kombucha flavours a recipe for Baked Quince. Read also shows us how to make and cook with Kvass, Soy and Hot Sauces.
Medlars: Growing & Cooking by Jane Steward (Prospect Books, £10, out April 20)
In 2008, Jane Steward met her now-husband and also fell for the mature medlar tree planted in his garden.
A wedding gift of a young tree led to the eventual planting of a medlar orchard in the garden of their new home in Norfolk, which went on to be awarded The Plant Heritage National Collection in 2020.
Steward produces medlar-based preserves, fruit cheeses and a liqueur via her business Eastgate Larder (the only medlar-based business in England), and this, her first book (and likely the first-ever on the subject of medlars), has just been published.
It is a compact, beautifully-designed and invaluable guide for everything you need to know about the medlar in clear, elegant prose.
The medlar grew wild between the Caspian and Black Seas and travelled west via the Greeks and northwards via the Romans.
Steward describes it as one of our ‘forgotten fruits’ despite its common names (‘dog’s bottom’ and ‘monkey bum’ are just two), being pretty unforgettable.
Steward tells us that medlars require ‘bletting’, a term derived from the French verb ‘blettir’ – to make soft – and a process that renders the fruit ready to eat; some persimmons and dates are treated similarly.
She explains the sourcing, planting and care of medlar trees (covering the requirements of growers in North America and Australasia, too) and how to cook and use their fruits.
If you have only heard of medlar jelly, this book is for you: Recipes for Medlar and Ginger Creams, Ripple Ice Cream and an ice cream made with Salted Medlar Curd, Medlar Vinegar, Chutneys and Preserves, Pheasant Breasts with Thyme and Medlar, a luscious Mincemeat, and a Walnut and Medlar Loaf are just a few.
There’s an extensive eight-page bibliography too. A royalty from each book will be donated to the G I department of the Norfolk & Norwich Hospital.
Salt of the Earth: Secrets and Stories From a Greek Kitchen by Carolina Doriti (Quadrille, £27)
Caroline Doriti’s life in Greece imbues her words and recipes with lived experience: the multi-talented producer of My Greek Table, which airs on PBS, is also a chef, editor and Athens bureau chief for Culinary Backstreets.
This accomplished cookbook takes the reader on a journey around a cuisine she describes as ‘fresh and seasonal. . . an ancient, wise kitchen with soul.’
Arranged into chapters titled Olive, Grain, Hive, Seed, and Vine, these are further subdivided into sections whose recipes highlight the specific forms or qualities of each foodstuff.
So for Hive, the subsections are Honey, Comb and Pollen.
I adore the sound of Crispy Honey Rolls with Walnuts (Diples), an orange pie called Portokalopita that uses honey in its syrup, a Lemony Bee Pollen and Yoghurt Dressing for green salads, and a Citrus Salad with Kumquats, Honeycomb and Pickled Red Onions.
Meat and fish eaters are catered to via recipes for Veal Cheeks and Chestnut Stifado with Creamed Celeriac in the Seed/Nut section and a Slow-Cooked Makaroni with Lamb in Grain/Flour, among many others.
Then flip back to the section titled Olive/Oil for a majestic Fishermen’s Soup (Kakavia) and a Salt Cod Brandada from Santorini. (It is worth remembering that much of the Greek calendar is devoted to periods of fasting where meat is avoided.)
The recipe titles make me swoon when I say them out loud: Tahini Soup with Forest Mushrooms and Leek, Pickled Vine Fronds, Stuffed Baked Quince in a Spiced brandy and Rose Syrup, Corn and Currant Pancakes with Apple and Honeycomb, and Poor Man’s Cornmeal Pie with Nettles will make you long for Greece, too.
Tekebash and Saba: Recipes from the Horn of Africa by Saba Alemayoh (Murdoch Books, £22)
Born in Sudan to Ethiopian parents, Saba Alemayoh travelled to Australia when she was just nine.
After a stint in the Australian Army, Alemayoh opened a restaurant in Melbourne with her mother Tekebash Gebre, who took charge of the kitchen, cooking for customers the food of her East African homeland.
After five years, the restaurant closed, so Alemayoh and her mother have co-written a cookbook which pays tribute to Tigray, one of nine states of Ethiopia, and Gebre’s migration journey.
“It was increasingly important that we differentiate and identify with our Tigrayness if you like,” writes Alemayoah, inviting the reader to think differently about how meals are constructed and served. “There are no starters, mains or desserts, simply dishes that are often shared as part of a communal banquet for all to enjoy.”
For readers unfamiliar with the region and its food, the book starts with essays about Tigray’s location and history and the backbone of its cuisine (namely a fermented flatbread called Injera, a spiced butter called Tesmi, and the powdered chile spice mix known as Berbere or Dilik, plus recipes for all three.)
Each chapter is themed around part of Gebre’s story: We learn about Abesh, a basic chickpea stew that was the first dish Gebre ever cooked and how she learned to make it in transit during her flight from the conflict in Tigray; how her first boss in Sudan for whom she worked as a ladies’ maid taught her how to make Bamya (made with okra and lamb); the food she craved when pregnant (Fried Tilapia with Cumin and Lemon, Tigray-Style Gnocchi made with Yoghurt) and later, in a chapter titled Raising a Child in a Tea Cart, we are given a recipe for Mes, a homemade honey wine.
Rice Table: Korean Recipes + Stories to Feed the Soul by Su Scott (Quadrille, £27)
Born and raised in Seoul, Su Scott moved to London in 2002.
In 2015 her daughter was born, a momentous event which left Scott feeling lonely, homesick for South Korea, and conflicted about her identity.
Scott wanted to pass on the Korean half of her cultural heritage to her half-English daughter, but it seemed too much had been lost via the processes of assimilation and integration.
Even speaking to her daughter in Korean made Scott feel ashamed.
“I was so far removed from it all that I felt a deep void,” she writes. “So, to satisfy that longing, I started to cook the dishes I remembered from my childhood. I read and researched and felt comforted by the tiny nuances I picked up beneath the lines.”
This deeply moves me.
“Food is the language of love my family chose, both here and back home in Korea. It is the language I choose to love my daughter the Korean way because it is the only language I speak fluently,” Scott adds.
This is a deeply personal and moving book about a woman who has melded several identities: that of mother, daughter, immigrant, wife and working professional, and how cooking helped her do this.
Scott’s writing is emotional and honest to a fault as she shows us how to “make friends with Korean ingredients” which, I suspect, is a metaphor for her own cultural experiences.
Her food is seasonal and sustainable where possible, starting with the fundamentals: sweet and savoury seasonings and sauces and a guide to Banchan, the Korean word for ‘small plate’ style dining, which, she writes, can be both plural and singular.
What stood out for me? All of it, really, but there’s an Asparagus and Citrus Salad perfect for a British spring and a little Rolled Omelette with Seaweed that I particularly liked.
I can’t wait to make Scott’s Soy Sauce Beef with Jammy Egg, a ‘delicately saline’ Water Kimchi, an intriguing and unusual Anise-Pickled Rhubarb, Soft Tofu Stew with Clams, Curried Pot Rice and the Midnight Kimchi Fried Rice for Kiki (her daughter). This is a truly gorgeous book.
Follow Nicola on Twitter: @Nicmillerstale
Winner of the Guild of Food Writers Online Food Writer Award 2020
Fortnum & Mason Cookery Writer of the Year 2022