Cooking the books: Top foodies reveal the writers that always have them going back for seconds

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Norman Tebbit

Politician and Author of 'Cooking with Game'

Sophie Grigson has written two very good books; Meat Course and Fish. Her recipe for pork fillets, prunes and cream is splendid. I was definitely influenced by Grigson's writing style when working on my own book, Cooking with Game. We ought not forget the great Delia herself. She has a wonderful book titled Christmas and, being Delia, you can trust that as long as you get the stuff in, get up early enough on Christmas Day, obey instructions and stand to attention, then everything should go to plan.

When writing my book I was determined not to have flashy coloured pictures of the food. Instead we have straightforward illustrations of the animals used in the recipes. Some of them are a bit jokey and they were inspired by an old Penguin book from 1957 called Plats du Jour by Patience Gray and Primrose Boyd. Despite its age, it's the volume I turn to when stuck for a recipe. It has the best risotto I have ever met.

Henry Harris

Head chef, The Racine, London

I bought my copy of Je Sais Cuisiner by Ginette Mathiot years ago from a cookery book dealer. It was first printed in 1932 and is a compendium of French cooking. It's packed with classic recipes like carrots in white sauce and tarte tatin.

I use it more as a reference book and browse for ideas. I have adapted some recipes for menus in the past like the snails in garlic and endive gratin, which is a great wintry dish. The only problem is the old edition is a bit out of date and the recipes can be slightly old fashioned, with methods like using flour in white sauces and cooking things for longer than needed. Luckily, Phaidon have translated it into English under the title I Know How To Cook and are releasing their new edition later this year.

Rosie Lovell

Author of 'Spooning with Rosie', owner of Rosie's Café, Brixton

Marguerite Patten's The Everyday Cook was one of my top finds at Battersea car boot sale. I love the Martin Parr-style photography in the book; Day-Glo images of meringues and pineapple upside-down cakes. In fact I'm trying to make upside-down cakes cool again by replacing the tinned peaches with exotic fruit.

Marguerite is my idol; she is well into her 90s and still going strong. She breaks everything down scientifically like the "Time Table for Boiling Vegetables", which is useful if you need to know the exact time it takes to properly boil a marrow. In contrast, I've had The Pooh Corner Cook Book since I was little and borrowed the recipe for cinnamon toast for my own book – sometimes you can't beat the oldies.

Jayne Middlemiss

TV presenter and the winner of 'Celebrity Masterchef' 2009

It has to be Jamie every time. I love Jamie's Italy, sometimes I sit down and read it like a novel! I would say he taught me how to cook. I adapted one of his recipes in the first round of Celebrity Masterchef, the scallops in Parma ham on celeriac mash from The Naked Chef.

If I need a dessert for a dinner party I turn to Nigella, the queen of sweet home baking. Another one I use, although more for reference, is Larousse Gastronomique. We were awarded a copy for taking part on Masterchef. It's my pride and joy. But for everyday cooking I stick to Jamie. In fact I've been browsing his books for dinner tonight! I'm thinking tuna steak and a summer bean salad.

Anna Hansen

Patron/Head Chef at The Modern Pantry, London

My failsafe cook book is Singapore Food by Wendy Hutton. It was published in 1989 and one of our best customers Eric, who is from Singapore, gave it to me when we opened last year. Hutton's book has inspired many dishes on the menu, though we always adapt the recipes to make it our own version. We have a done a variation on the chilli crabs, and altered an aubergine recipe, which is delicious, with dried shrimp and spiced chickpea.

Her sambol is similar to our signature dish; a sugar-cured prawn omelette. The recipes are totally authentic and easy to follow, and that is just what you need from a cook book. Another top read is Austrian chef Christine Manfield's Spice. It has a great section at the front which explains all the spices and condiments – which is perfect for beginners.

Levi Roots

Presenter of new TV series, 'Caribbean Food Made Easy', starts Monday, 24 August on BBC2

Over the past year I have been working with the NHS to try and reduce the high numbers of black patients with mental health problems. At one of my talks in Birmingham a nurse gave me Natalie Savona's cookery book The Kitchen Shrink. It's a fantastic read, highlighting the importance of eating the right foods for your body and mind which can ultimately lead to a quicker recovery. This made me consider the Caribbean diet and I think that patients need the healthy Caribbean food that their tastes are used to when they are being treated. My aim is to work alongside NHS chefs to introduce nutritional Caribbean food into the menu. My talks are very popular at the hospitals, maybe because I take my guitar, which is more famous than me now! I was at the BBC this morning and all the crew asked where it was!

Allegra McEvedy

Allegra's six-part series 'Economy Gastronomy' is currently on BBC2

Reading Claudia Roden's A Book of Middle Eastern Food is such a sensory experience that I can almost smell the rosewater and feel the almonds in my hands. She artfully manages to conjure the souks of downtown Syria. Contemporary books are always slightly dull, there's no "why?". It's just "chop up the parsley" with no story behind it. What you really want from a cook book is a glimpse beyond the ingredients. Roden manages to evoke a state of mind. The book is broken up into sections; one on egg dishes, and pickles get a whole chapter, which is a huge blessing, in my opinion. Each recipe is punctuated with stories about travelling priests and other fascinating tales from her life in Egypt. I wish you could see my copy! I got it at college about 20 years ago and it is so well thumbed it's held together with an elastic band.

Tom Parker Bowles

Food Writer and Author of 'Full English' (Ebury Press, £12.99)

Len Deighton's Action Cook Book is the ultimate read for the tough, virile man who also fancies himself as a bit of a chef. It was published in 1965 and it's just been re-released. The cover has a photograph of a secret agent staring nonchalantly at the camera, with a dolly bird hanging off one arm and the other arm tending to a pan of pasta.

The recipes are illustrated in comic-book form and are headed with captions like, "bœuf bourguignon is the father figure of the beef stew". When it was published it must have given lots of men the confidence to cook. They probably thought, "If Harry Palmer could cook it must be a manly thing."

Mark Eley

One half of fashion design couple Eley Kishimoto and a keen cook

Wakako and I have piles of recipes, some in books, but most are torn from newspapers or handwritten by family and friends. However, one book which is good for basics is The Encyclopaedia of Food and Cookery by Margaret Fulton.

We have the first edition from the Eighties which I found in a charity shop in Japan. The diverse cultural mix in our family has opened up a wide and varied diet. I am constantly inspired by the intensity that Japanese culture invests in food. When we cook at home it's usually more of a relaxed affair. We can never tell whether one of our dinner parties has been a disaster or a success, but on most occasions people leave with a full belly and a contented smile, though that may be the wine!

Daisy Garnett

Journalist and author of 'Cooking Lessons: Tales from the Kitchen and Other Stories', published by Quadrille, £12.99

I have collected many – let's face it, too many – cookbooks over the years. But the book I use and love the most, my desert island cook book, has to be the original River Café Cook Book. I love it because you can open it at any page and want to cook and eat whatever lies therein. I love it for its range (from cannellini beans to caramel ice cream, there's a lot in there), and because it is such a cohesive book that has been put together with such a particular vision.

But mainly I love it because of the recipes in it: Try the chickpeas with swiss chard (a revelation), the polenta, almond and lemon cake, or the ribollita – the best things to eat – ever. Those recipes are truly, mouth-wateringly, unbelievably delicious, and cooking them makes you happy and prompts everyone who eats with you, children included, to tell you how great you are. Really, it's not just a cook book but a self-help manual.

Nigella Lawson

'Nigella Express' is out in paperback in September, Chatto & Windus, £17.99

I am aware that I am sounding nitpickingly difficult here, but there are two diametrically opposed reasons why I find it so hard to pin myself down to a "favourite" cookbook. The first is that I am still, years after consuming and producing the things, not altogether sure of their relationship to actual cooking. That's to say, I come from a family of greedy eaters and cooks, and yet didn't even know that cookery books existed until I was 15. On the other hand, I collect food books compulsively – my library houses more than 3,500 titles at the last count – and even if some of those books are bought more for camp or comedy value (Can You Feel The Heat: Recipes from the World Wrestling Federation, or the collection of Elvis's favourite foodstuffs Are You Hungry Tonight?) than for actual use, it still means an awful lot of books to reject in favour of The One.

But if I think just of the book that I've not only read more than any other or cooked from than any other, but also bought more than any other (until it, egregiously, went out of print, it was my universal housewarming present of choice) I have to nominate Anna del Conte's Entertaining all'Italiana.

You may feel somewhat better to know that many of my favourite recipes from this book have been collected in the recently-published "greatest hits", Amaretto, Apple Cake and Artichokes, but I miss the writing of the original book, the scholarship, the elegance, the context. This book is, satisfyingly, a recipe book that shows you that there is so much more to cooking than the recipe.

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