Good cook books worth keeping by the stove, from Simon Hopkinson
Having just started to put together my third cookery book (a compilation of articles from this magazine, to be published next autumn), I hesitate, but find myself forced to ask the question "How many more can we possibly need?"

And I mean really, really need. A curious thought, I know, from someone who hopes to sell his own cookery title in generous numbers.

But I am anxious that most cookery books sold now do not live in the kitchen at all, but on the coffee table, by the lav or in the bedroom. There is nothing wrong with this at all, of course. Moreover, many cookery books that I have acquired, bought or which have been sent to my publishers, often start to be pored over while I am sitting on the crapper or under the counterpane. The good ones give me pins and needles orleave me with a short night's sleep.

But if the good ones are really good, I do cook from them. They also give me ideas and they answer questions. I will hope to unearth a dish I have always wondered how to cook, or a recipe for one that I enjoyed abroad, perhaps.

Last year's Traditional Spanish Cooking, by Janet Mendel (Garnet Publishing pounds 14.95) was excellent for just that. Having recently made two visits to Spain and been re-vitalised by its truly exciting cooking - which I did not really absorb too much as a boy when enjoying camping holidays on the Costa Brave - I was pleased to see that this year, Grub Street decided to re-publish, in paperback, Colman Andrews' Catalan Cuisine (Grub Street, pounds 14.99).

Andrews is passionate about eating good food of any sort. He is an American food writer who, along with a gift of making you really want to eat that which he describes, is also rare in his field in the USA as he simply adores offal - or "variety meats" as they politely refer to innards and extremities. Naturally, Spain being the subject matter, there is no shortage of those particular bits and pieces. One can tell he is in his element here. A lovely book to cook from - and an excellent and well researched read, too.

The grand mama of all Italian cooking would, indeed, be shocked and sad if she was to imagine that her latest masterwork would simply sit on a large coffee table in Fulham, gathering ruched dust. Marcella Cucina (Macmillan pounds 25) is, in my view, Marcella Hazan's most ambitious work to date. This completely new book portrays her at her most personal and helpful to the keen cook. It is, however, not without its author's familiar, authoritative and dismissive tone, as perfectly encapsulated (and not to say a little mischievously) in her marvellous introduction to making pasta.

"Pasta is the single most captivating dish any cuisine has put on the table. The Chinese do it, the Japanese do it, Hungarians and Germans do it, and even some cooks in France do it (!), but the Italians do it best." She then goes on to say: "If the only pasta you have ever had is the so-called `fresh' pasta sold in stores, or that kneaded by machine - whether that machine was in your kitchen or in the kitchen of a restaurant - then you have never had under your teeth the resilient yet sinewy body of true home-made pasta."

Words such as these are intended to be important to the cook, not simply an evocation of how pasta is believed to be fashioned by some gnarled old crone in the equivalent of a hilltop bothy in Tuscany. Marcella Hazan wants you to care, she urges you to cook, she insists that you taste. Marcella Hazan somehow manages to evoke the sheer joy of cooking to the reader just about more than any other writer I know - save, perhaps for the late Elizabeth David. This is possibly the most important cookery book to be published this year.

Restaurant cookbooks are a difficult breed. Some of the more successful ones are those that came out of the French Editions Robert Laffont stable towards the end of the 1970s and throughout most of the 1980s. And the most important one of all those, as any honest chef will admit to, was the ground-breaking Cuisine Gourmande, by Michael Guerard, published in 1978. Caroline Conran did the English editing and translation almost immediately and we then cooked off every single page. My original copy is in bits, filthy with grime (mostly chocolate from the marquis au chocolat recipe, which is still the best of all) and I still use it constantly.

Troisgros and Verge followed in the same vein (translated by CC once more) and were further absorbed into the "new cooking". Those who simply knew how to cook felt the force, whilst those who thought they had got it right, but had it all fearfully wrong, found themselves lost to the dark side: British nouvelle cuisine. However, none of those Laffont books were really "chef" cookbooks as they have now ubiquitously become today, with their big glossy pictures of impossibly complex food or out-of-focus- pics-tipped-on-their-sides, lots of jus-jus and enough garnishes to decorate Careme's headstone.

This is a very long-winded way of coming round to saying that the Ivy Cookbook (Hodder and Stoughton, pounds 25) might, to some, seem almost exactly that sort of book. But it isn't. It's brilliant. The winning decision was that it was to be about the restaurant itself. And to commission AA Gill to tell the story behind the scenes, is the crust on the cappuccino brulee.

The pictures are just fabulous, too, but - and this is why I really like the book - the dishes that have been photographed are really meant to be cooked, intended to be eaten at home, enjoyable to prepare. The recipes, to which some of the aforementioned pictures are attached, have been carefully chosen from the Ivy's vast repertoire and are at once friendly (some of which you will come to grow very fond of, if you don't already know them very well indeed), classic and classy, tinged with tradition and yet as contemporary as can be. The recipes are written by Mark Hix, the Ivy's dedicated chef.

Finally the only important omission to the book is a dedication, which should read something like this: "For Chris Corbin and Jeremy King, with much admiration"

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