Cooking the books: Mark Hix's recipes of the year

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Mark Hix leafs through the year's best cookbooks – and serves up his four favourite dishes

One of my favourite seasonal pastimes – after the Christmas festivities have all calmed down – is to reflect on some of the cookbooks that the past 12 months have produced. As I write this, I'm sitting in my study with a huge tower of foodie texts teetering in front of me, many of which I haven't yet had time to look at. It makes me realise what a bumper year it has been for cookbook publishers.

So what I've decided to do is choose the recipes that have most impressed me from new books by Allegra McEvedy, Richard Corrigan, Anthony Demetre and Stéphane Reynaud. But mention must go, too, to Daisy Garnett's Cooking Lessons (published by Quadrille), a witty memoir of how Daisy discovered food and fell in love with cooking; it's a great bedtime read.

There are also a couple of real heavyweight books that I thought were fantastic by those masterly chefs Heston Blumenthal, whose Big Fat Duck Cookbook is published by Bloomsbury, and Ferran Adria, whose A Day at El Bulli is from Phaidon. Both are very impressive; Heston's in terms of its sheer size – it weighs more than 5kg and costs £100!

Soupe à l'oignon pour digérer (Onion soup for the digestion)

By Stéphane Reynaud

Ripailles – which is French for "feasts" – is a fabulous hefty book by Stéphane Reynaud (published by Murdoch Books, £25) that gets right into the heart of real French cooking with lovely dishes and recipes that you would expect to find in a good country home in France. It's illustrated with interesting, non-cheffy photography and lovely quirky drawings.

This is currently at the top of my pile of French cookery books.

8 brown onions
2 glasses white wine
6 slices of baguette
Grated gruyère cheese
Olive oil
Salt and pepper

Slice the onions thinly and then sauté them in the olive oil until they brown. Add the white wine, reduce by a third, then add 2 litres of water.

Allow to cook for 20 minutes (the onions must be meltingly tender and the soup must be a nice brown colour) and season.

To serve, cover the baguette toasts with grated cheese, place on top of the soup and place under the grill to gratinate the dish.

Salt cod 'Scotch eggs' with aioli

By Richard Corrigan

Richard Corrigan's long-awaited book, The Clatter of Forks and Spoons (published by Fourth Estate, £25) is, I think, my favourite book of the year. I've chosen this recipe because we did a similar dish at the Fish House last year and called it "Cob egg", after Lyme Regis's famous landmark. Both Richard and I like to think we have pushed the boundaries on the Scotch-egg front!

"I was looking for a salt-cod recipe," Richard says, "and one day I was having a conversation with my agent Mark Wogan, who loves his food. He was talking about bacalao and poached egg, which got me thinking about moulding brandade around quail's eggs, as if you were making a Scotch egg, and deep-frying them. Having the potato in the mixture helps to bind everything and makes it cling to the egg brilliantly. When you cut into them, you get the crunch of the breadcrumbs, then the flaky fish and mash, and then the soft yolk of the egg oozing out in the centre. The salt cod has to be soaked over three days, so you'll need to plan ahead; however, you can make up the Scotch eggs the night before you need them, keep them in the fridge, and then all you have to do is fry and serve them. Like real Scotch eggs, they are also good cold."

Serves 4

500g dried salt cod
4 large floury potatoes
50ml light olive oil
24 quail's eggs
White-wine vinegar (to help peel the quail's eggs)
4 hen's eggs
100g flour
200g stale breadcrumbs
Vegetable oil, for deep-frying

For the aioli

2 slices of stale bread, crusts removed, soaked in a little water
2 cloves garlic, crushed
Zest and juice of a lemon
200ml olive oil

Place the cod in a bowl of cold water and leave in the fridge for 3 days, changing the water at least once a day. Remove from the water and pat dry. Cut into cubes.

Cook the potatoes in boiling salted water, drain and mash. Warm the olive oil in a pan, add the salt cod and cook for 2 minutes over a very low heat. Turn over and cook for another 2 minutes on the other side.

Add the mashed potato to the pan. Flake the fish with the back of a fork. It will fall apart and the potato will soak up the oil, so you end up with a thick paste. Now set aside to cool. Bring a large pan of water to the boil, lower in the quail's eggs and cook for about 3 minutes; they should be just soft. Remove from the boiling water and put into a bowl of white-wine vinegar, which will soften the shell and should make them easier to peel. Leave to cool. Once they are cool, peel immediately. They won't all be perfect; hopefully you will end up with 12 good ones.

Take a little of the salt cod mixture at a time in the palm of your hand, make a dent in the centre, put in a quail's egg, close up your hand so that you cover the egg with the rest of the mixture, and roll it in your hands into an egg shape. Lay on a plate or tray lined with clingfilm or parchment paper; put in the fridge for an hour to firm up.

Meanwhile, make the aioli. Squeeze the water from the bread and put it into a food processor with the garlic, a good pinch of salt and the lemon zest and juice. Blend together and then gradually add the oil a little at a time, as if making mayonnaise. Adjust the seasoning to taste. Keep in the fridge while you finish off the "Scotch eggs".

Beat the hen's eggs in a shallow bowl, and have the flour and breadcrumbs in similar separate bowls. Dip each "Scotch egg" first in the flour, then into the egg and then into the breadcrumbs. Pre-heat the vegetable oil to 175C in a deep-fat fryer or large pan filled no more than one-third full. Lower in the "Scotch eggs" and fry for about 2 minutes until golden brown all over.

Drain on kitchen paper and serve with the aioli.

Crisp belly of pork with lentils and Granny Smith apple purée

By Anthony Demetre

Anthony's first book, Today's Special (published by Quadrille, £20) has some beautiful pictures from our own Jason Lowe and has lots of clever dishes using less common cuts of fish and meat. I used his rabbit recipe a while back and it worked a treat using every single bit of the rabbit. You could work your way through this book and survive the credit crunch with money to spare.

"I favour apples with a high acidity, like Granny Smiths," says Anthony, "to cut through the fattiness of the pork belly. If you can't get apples that are sufficiently acidic, you can always add a little lemon juice."

1 pork belly, about 1.5kg
2 litres brine (made the day before by boiling 200g sugar, 200g salt, 2 juniper berries, 1 bayleaf and 10 white peppercorns in 2 litres water, then simmmering for 10 minutes and allowing to cool)
2 heads of garlic
2 sprigs of thyme
Olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the lentils

25g butter
2 carrots, diced
2 celery stalks, strings removed and diced
2 onions, peeled and diced
300g Puy lentils

For the Granny Smith apple purée

4 Granny Smith apples
25g butter

The day before, using a craft knife, slash the pork rind in 1cm strips, making sure that you do not penetrate the meat. Place in the cooled brine for one day. This process not only flavours the meat, but also helps release water from the fat and rind, creating a base for fantastic crispy crackling.

Next day, take the pork from the brine, place in a pan of cold water, bring to the boil, lift out the pork and leave to cool slightly. Pre-heat the oven to 160C/gas 3.

Place the garlic and thyme on the base of a roasting tray, put the pork on top, rind side up, and liberally drizzle with olive oil and salt. Pour 2cm of water into the tray, put in the pre-heated oven and roast for 1–2 hours, topping up with water now and again just to stop it drying out. When cooked, take from the oven and leave to cool down.

Pour off all the juices and reserve. Place a tray or board on top of the pork and apply 3–4 plates to press and reshape the pork in order to obtain a nice flat appearance (otherwise it develops an odd shape during cooking and cooling).

To cook the lentils, melt the butter in a large heavy-based pan and lightly sweat the diced vegetables in it. Add the lentils and reserved juices from the pork. Top up with water to cover plus 2.5cm, bring to the boil and simmer until the lentils are cooked (about 30 minutes).

To make the Granny Smith apple purée, peel, core and chop the apples. Put in a stainless-steel pan with the butter, cover and cook over a low heat until soft (about 10–15 minutes). Crush or blend to a paste. Serve the pork carved thickly, with the purée and lentils.

Moroccan meatballs

By Allegra McEvedy

When Allegra McEvedy, who runs the Leon restaurants specialising in fresh fast food, handed me her new book Leon: Ingredients & Recipes (Conran Octopus, £20), I was pleasantly inspired. It not only has great recipes, but lots of information on basic ingredients. "Meatballs are always in our top five," says Allegra. "Since we opened, our guys in the kitchen have rolled more than five million of them – side by side they could run the entire length of the Central line and back again."

Serves 6

The meatballs

One and a half wholemeal flatbreads (the smaller size, roughly 20cm in diameter) or pitta
120ml milk
1kg minced lamb
A small bunch of parsley, finely chopped
A small handful of mint, finely chopped
1tsp dried oregano
2 cloves of garlic, chopped

The sauce

30ml olive oil
3 cloves of garlic, crushed
2 x 800g tins of chopped tomatoes
1tbsp harissa paste
A handful of basil, leaves picked and chopped
A handful of parsley, chopped
Salt and pepper

Rip the flatbread into pieces and soak them in the milk for 10 minutes. Then put the bread into a mixing bowl, add the mince and stir in the parsley, mint, oregano, garlic and some seasoning. Mix well, then roll the mixture into walnut-sized balls (about 20g each).

Either on a griddle pan (best) or under a very hot grill, brown the balls quickly – it's all about colouring them and not cooking them through ... cook them for about 5 minutes in total with about three turns on the griddle.

To make the sauce, heat the olive oil in a heavy-bottomed pan and gently fry the crushed garlic. Tip in the chopped tomatoes and harissa and simmer for 25–30 minutes, until the sauce has reduced. Put in the meatballs and continue to simmer for a further 20 minutes with a lid on until the sauce looks about right. Lastly stir in the herbs and have a final seasoning check.

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