Cookbooks on a plate

And yea, it has been decreed that every publisher must bring out many tomes, stately, pleasurable, biblical and whimsical, in time for Christmas, making the harvest of cookbooks feast-like in its abundance. Sybil Kapoor gives her blessings to the best
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Indy Lifestyle Online

More cookery books than ever appear to have been published this autumn. It's almost impossible to squeeze into the cookery section of book shops without risking injury from towering piles. Unfortunately, increased competition has not improved the proliferation of books with sloppy, colloquial writing and dodgy recipes. So, whether buying for yourself or considering what to wrap for someone else, choose carefully. Volumes with simple text and good ideas are still few and far between.

More cookery books than ever appear to have been published this autumn. It's almost impossible to squeeze into the cookery section of book shops without risking injury from towering piles. Unfortunately, increased competition has not improved the proliferation of books with sloppy, colloquial writing and dodgy recipes. So, whether buying for yourself or considering what to wrap for someone else, choose carefully. Volumes with simple text and good ideas are still few and far between.

Kitchen groupies

The romance between professional and armchair chefs is thriving this autumn with another bumper crop of cheffy cookbooks. Rick Stein's Seafood (BBC, £25) is one of the best; it's unpretentious and genuinely useful with clear sections on fish preparation, identification, cookery methods and recipes. Gordon Ramsay's Just Desserts with Roz Denny (Quadrille, £25) is also excellent, and packed with inspiring and easy-to-follow recipes such as raspberry and lemon grass jelly or banana ice cream. The recently translated La Cuisine de Joel Robuchon: A Seasonal Cookbook (Cassel, £16.99) is worth seeking out. It's a collection of articles written by this Michelin-starred chef for the Journal du dimanche, each of which is themed around an ingredient and accompanied by a classically simple recipe.

Other chefs' books appear to be written to persuade customers that it's easier to eat in their restaurants than to try to emulate their cooking style. Formulas for Flavour by John Campbell (Conran Octopus, £20), for example, claims to provide an insight into restaurant cooking, but in practice Campbell's recipes show how but not why. They sound good – pork loin, white beans and grain mustard (with pickled braised fennel, a red wine jus and garlic confit) for example – but are so complex that they require several days' preparation. If you know any chefs or catering students this one's for them. Nobu: The Cookbook (Quadrille, £25) is even more likely to remain unopened by the celeb-packed restaurant's clientele, but pored over by its rivals. Recherché in the extreme, it requires access to Japanese produce like fresh abalone, yuba (the skin of heated soya milk) and pickled yamagobo root (woodland thistle root)!

Independent, yes impartial, no

It won't have escaped the notice of regular readers that both Annie Bell and Simon Hopkinson have books out this autumn. As everyone who has collected cuttings of their weekly columns will have come to expect, both are brimming with tempting recipes such as hake cutlet au poivre (Simon Hopkinson) and braised courgette flowers (Annie Bell). Roast Chicken and Other Stories: Second Helpings (Macmillan, £20) follows the formula of Simon Hopkinson's earlier classic, giving recipes for some of his favourite ingredients preceded by his highly personal writing. Living and Eating by John Pawson and Annie Bell is a design and lifestyle manual that collates many of Bell's unintimidating recipes – they'll taste as good made in a normal, messy home with wobbly saucepans as they look in the book's high-concept setting.

Bible studies

Everyone who loves to cook needs a culinary bible and, unusually, more than five authoritative tomes have appeared this year. My favourite is Gastronomy of Italy by Anna del Conte (Pavilion, £29.95). It's a fabulous book – beautifully written, packed with information on all aspects of Italian food and filled with delicious recipes like stuffed peaches or zabaglione. A must for anyone interested in Italian food.

The recently revised Larousse Gastronomique (Hamlyn, £60) is chock-a-block with classical French recipes, and strange culinary trivia (the Marquis de Sade, a firm believer in good food, addressed his wife as "fresh pork of my thoughts"). Take with a pinch of salt, however; its coverage of other world cuisines is not always accurate.

The New Penguin Cookery Book (Michael Joseph, £20) is by Jill Norman who has edited some of our best-known cookery writers including Elizabeth David and Claudia Roden. Unillustrated, and although not as comprehensive as the title might suggest, it is informative, and contains useful nuggets such as why a cake rises unevenly or how to fillet a fish. The recipes are typically urban modish – all roast duck with figs and spiced split-pea puree – but it should prove a useful addition to any kitchen. Rivalling it as an everyday manual Darina Allen's Ballymaloe Cookery Course (Kyle Cathie, £30), has a slightly provincial mumsy air with its advice on table manners, freezers and such like. The recipes may sound international, but many are surprisingly old-fashioned.

Round the world in ate ways

Of the plethora of German, Italian, French, Middle Eastern and Thai books, the best are the reprint A Taste of India by Madhur Jaffrey (Pavilion, £12.99), Bringing Italy Home by Ursula Ferrigno (Mitchell Beazley, £20) and Simple French Cooking, Recipes from our Mothers' Kitchens by Georges Blanc and Coco Jobard (Cassell, £20). Bringing Italy Home is filled with tempting, mainly vegetarian Italian recipes and evocative photographs which make you want to cook supper. Photographs are not the best part of Simple French Cooking. Look between the horrid pictures and you'll discover the intriguing story of the great female chefs (mères) in Lyon at the end of the 19th century, and find examples of their recipes, such as country-style terrine and warm apple pastry.

Curious cooks

Rather than a comprehensive guide, The Cheese Room by Patricia Michelson (Michael Joseph, £14.99), owner of the wonderful La Fromagerie in north London, is an intriguing, anecdotal and personal book with recipes. It opens the door on a subject about which the author is passionate and knowledgeable. Seemingly more specialist, Trifle by Alan Davidson and Helen Saberi (Prospect Books, £8.99) is an amusing confection delving into the global history of this famous pudding with dozens of illustrative recipes.

If this sounds rather too tame, outdoors types will find Antonio Carluccio Goes Wild (Headline, £25) covers everything from hop shoots to wild boar. Even if in practice it is designed to appeal to adventurous shoppers more than scavenging cooks (pine kernels and prickly pears being easier to find in a Shepherds Bush supermarket than growing in Borehamwood), it's entertaining and appealing.

For foraging of a different type, Eating England by Hattie Ellis (Mitchell Beazley, £14.99) journeys across the country to explore our relationship with food. Instead of recipes, it includes a guide to the places and producers the author meets and interviews in her travels.

Culinary romantics

True lovers of cookbooks cannot resist curling up and reading the catalogue from second hand book dealers. Who knows, you might find a fragile 1818 volume of The Cook's Oracle by Apicius Redivivus (Dr Kitchiner) or the beautifully illustrated Lovely Food by Ruth Lowinsky (1931). Looking at the bibliographies of your favourite cookery writers will often introduce you to fascinating old food books and sources of recipes. Jane Grigson's English Food, for example, led me to discover The Anatomy of Dessert by Edward Bunyard (1929). Cooks Books, 34 Marine Drive, Rottingdean, Brighton, Sussex BN2 7HQ (01273 302707), and Janet Clarke, 3 Woodside Cottages, Freshford, Bath, BA2 7WJ (01225 723186) both produce a catalogue of second hand books, sell them mail order will look out for any particular titles you're trying to find.

Cooking the books

As if it weren't hard enough to resist buying cookery books, at the recently reopened and revamped Books for Cooks in London it is impossible not to. With over 8,000 cookery titles to choose from, allow yourself hours to browse in the comfort of the bright, glacé cherry-red leather sofa – if someone else hasn't got there first. At Books for Cooks they really do cook the books and serve everything from muffins and cakes to soups and salads, from some of the millions of recipes to hand, in their tiny restaurant. But beware, the scent of Anna del Conte's risi e bisi cooking is enough to make you buy the book. The best 120 or so recipes are then added to the latest collection Books for Cooks 5 which comes out later this month, and costs £4.99. The shop also has daily demonstrations upstairs with authors such as Ursula Ferrigno.

Books for Cooks, 4 Blenheim Crescent, London W11 1NN (020-7221 1992), www.booksforcooks.com. For queries email: info@booksforcooks.com

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