Food: Read them and eat

Want to avoid genetically modified food, learn the naked truth about Jamie Oliver, or just find how to make a bouillabaisse? Sybil Kapoor rounds up summer food books
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Indy Lifestyle Online
Browsing through the latest cookery books is one of those pleasant weekend distractions that lessen the onerous task of weekly shopping. A quick sneak look, perhaps with a cup of coffee, restores one's bonhomie with the world. Actually buying a cookery book is, of course, quite another matter. Occasionally, it is on impulse, but more often than not, it is to answer new requirements. The constant need for fresh ideas for supper or possibly the feeling that one's dinner party repertoire has to be updated. The summer crop of food books is now out and they cover a gamut of interests.

The Big Red Book of Tomatoes by Lindsey Bareham, Michael Joseph, pounds 17.99 (published 24 June)

Every food writer is encouraged by their publisher to develop an easily identifiable style. Think fast food and Nigel Slater springs to mind, think social glamour and Nigella Lawson pops up. Lindsey Bareham opted for staple ingredients. In Praise of the Potato and Onions without Tears are just two in this series that she is writing for Michael Joseph. Her latest is The Big Red Book of Tomatoes and it is very good. If anyone doubts there is a whole book's worth of recipes using tomatoes, Bareham easily proves them wrong with a writing style rich in affection and humour. The chapters and recipes are punctuated by entertaining anecdotes and quotes. As you read it, you feel as though you are entering a lively conversation between a bunch of tomato addicts. The chapters have been carefully chosen to be practical for the ordinary cook. They include Tomatoes Alone, Tomato Soup, Tomatoes and Bread, and Salads, Vinaigrettes and Dressings. But you can dip into a chapter on tomato tarts or tackle a tomato glut; you can even hit the tomato cocktail section. Recipes are taken from all over the tomato-eating world: lime-roasted vine tomatoes and wild rocket salad, spanakopitta with herbed tomatoes or green tomato fool. Unlike many cookery writers, Bareham acknowledges her wide range of recipe sources - everyone from Simon Hopkinson to the fine Indian food writer Julie Sahni. She ruthlessly pulls tomato recipes from books, newspapers, restaurants and friends. The result is a book of mouth-watering recipes that will not only lead to happy cooking, it will also introduce readers to new cookery books.

How to Avoid GM Food by Joanna Blythman, Fourth Estate, pounds 4.99

Strong opinions are often regarded as anti-social, whereas bland sentimentality is admired. All may not yet be lost, for Joanna Blythman appears to be reinstating the art of pamphlet writing. How to Avoid GM Food is short, passionate and unashamedly partisan. Unlike many of her predecessors, she does not risk imprisonment for printing her views, but she has been subjected to a great deal of flak from interested parties. It is an idiot-proof book in that everything is not just set out, it is spelt out, beginning with, "Why you might not want to eat genetically modified food". The main issues of health, environment and over-dependency on the new GM monocultures are outlined before she goes on to describe the present state of play in Britain. It is horrifying. According to Blythman, genetically modified foods are already widely used in processed products and many more are in the pipeline. She explains the current labelling requirements - woefully inadequate - and lists foods and brands that are likely to contain GM ingredients. She describes the current situation with restaurants, supermarkets and political parties. It is not written in a scientific manner and anyone from that background may well feel frustrated. But as Blythman explains: "I wanted to try and address the growing concerns people were expressing about GM foods. It was written as a short-term book for now, not as something to sit on the bookshelf." She has succeeded in her aim. The book is clear, easy to read and full of constructive advice. Everyone should read it, if only to fuel the debate.

Traditional Foods of Britain - an Inventory by Laura Mason with Catherine Brown, Prospect Books, pounds 19.50

Tom Jaine, the man behind Prospect Books, is famous in the food-writing world for publishing wonderful books that nobody else would consider financially viable. His latest, Traditional Foods of Britain - An Inventory, comes from the unlikely source of the European Union. To help protect small specialist producers it was decided, in 1992, that each European country should compile a list of national foods with regional associations, such as our own chocolate Bath Olivers, clotted cream and Stilton. The final report was published in France in 1996. Tom Jaine decided that it was only right and proper that it should also be published in Britain. All of which sounds very worthy but not very tempting. Do not be misled, however: this book is a treasure-trove that every food lover should own. As soon as you dip into its pages you will be smitten. It is chock-a-block with fascinating nuggets of information that make addictive reading. Did you know, for instance, that the Edwardians loved to eat bletted (rotten) medlars with their port? The book is divided into food categories such as vegetables, fats, fish and seafood, or aromatics and condiments. If you turn to the latter, you will find rowanberry jelly sharing its pages with the likes of Marmite, piccalilli, pickled damson, sea lavender honey, Worcestershire sauce and Tewkesbury mustard. Even if you intended to learn about pickled damsons, you can't stop yourself from reading the history of pickled onions or from glancing at the techniques for making pickled walnuts. This is a book that throws a refreshing and idiosyncratic light on British food. Skim through its pages and you will discover that nasturtiums, char, North Ronaldsay sheep, Mendip wallfish (Somerset snails), Cumbria air-dried hams and Irn-Bru are all part of our culinary heritage. It opens up the imagination and supplies an excellent bibliography for further reading. What is more, it lists source addresses, so that if the urge takes you, you can sample gull's eggs or buy a Gloucester Old Spot pig.

Nose to Tail Eating - A Kind of British Cooking by Fergus Henderson, Macmillan, pounds 20

I always approach chefs' cookery books with extreme caution. All too often they require the reader to hire a brigade of chefs to make one simple dish. Worse still, they are so glossy that you dare not use them in the kitchen for fear of sticky splodges. Fergus Henderson's first book comes as a lovely surprise. Beautifully laid out, with only a few photographs, you soon feel that he won't mind if his recipe for stuffed lamb hearts gets splattered with blood. In fact, you suspect that he would be delighted to know that you were busy trimming the hearts of their excess fat, sinews and blood clots in preparation for a delicious meal with mashed swede. Since Henderson has gained a reputation for cooking all manner of meaty bits, there are plenty of recipes for tongues, ears, hearts, bellies, trotters, knuckles, brains et al. Blood cake and fried eggs, pheasant and pig's trotter pie with suet crust or pea and pig's ear soup to name a few. This is not a book for the squeamish. However, although his recipes are reasonably clear, they do presume a certain level of culinary knowledge. You need to use your judgement over and above the recipes. If you are an intelligent cook, who also happens to think nothing of finding a kid (as in goat) to cook with fennel, and will happily salt a cod six days in advance of eating it warm in a salad with little gems and tomatoes, this is a book for you.

The Naked Chef by Jamie Oliver, Michael Joseph, pounds 18.99

The Naked Chef was written to accompany the young Mr Oliver's television series of the same name. He has been heralded as the next sexy chef on the scene and much has been made of his youth. At 23 he is a mere pup compared with the likes of Gary Rhodes. He works at the River Cafe in London. His book is written in a youthful tone which may well strike a chord with adolescent girls. The following extract for chickpea and leek soup is typical of his style: "This is a recipe that my Aussie friend Bender found in some old recipe book. It is quick and easy to make and it tastes fantastic. The chickpeas go really creamy and moreish and the leeks go silky and sweet. These are just two simple flavours, and even though I'm a bit of a fresh-herbs boy, this lovely light soup is very tasty." You either love it or hate it. The book gains its title from his culinary approach which, the jacket claims, is based on the "strip it bare then make it work principle". I suspect marketing ploys, because although Oliver's food is modern and appetising, it's definitely not "stripped bare". Broad bean, asparagus and French bean salad with mustard dressing sounds delicious, but most cooks would be stunned at the idea of having to pod all their broad beans and then divide them into three categories: tiny for raw, small for cooked, large for cooked and shelled - and all this for one recipe. Nevertheless, Oliver is a clever young chef. He has transposed what he has learnt in restaurant kitchens both to the TV and this book. If you take the recipes at face value, without the hype, you should be rewarded by sound advice and good food.

Joy of Cooking by Irma S Rombauer, Marion Rombauer Becker and Ethan Becker, Simon & Schuster, pounds 25

Joy of Cooking is clasped closer to the bosom of every aspiring American hostess than her upwardly mobile husband. It guides her through the pitfalls of seating people at table, teaches her the nutritional value of roasted skinless chicken breasts and shows her how to use chopsticks. All of which is essential to American ladies who lunch - as it was when it first appeared in 1931. Irma Rombauer, an astute Cincinnati widow, realised that America was rapidly becoming populated by women who needed to know how to cook and entertain. The result, an encyclopaedic cookery manual, was so well-received that 14 million copies have since been sold around the world. This is the sixth and latest edition, ostensibly adapted for the British market. It meticulously tries to cover every aspect of cooking in its 1,100-plus pages. Sensible advice is given on healthy eating, menus and cooking methods. It has clear illustrations to help you understand everything from pastry blenders to pasta shapes, along with step-by-step guides to filleting fish, cutting up ducks and so on. The 32 recipe sections include all manner of useful topics: sandwiches, burritos and pizzas, for example, or salad dressings and yeast breads. Recipes span everything from mayonnaise to naans. There is no doubt that it is an American book. It is written in a quaint old-world style and some of the recipes may seem a little off the mark to British readers, while many of the Eastern recipes have been Americanised to the point where they lack authenticity. In other words, it is the sort of book you would enjoy being given, despite the fact that you probably wouldn't buy it for yourself.

Classic Great Dishes of the World by Robert Carrier, Boxtree, pounds 12.99

Robert Carrier was one of the great culinary icons of the Sixties. His first book, Great Dishes of the World, was printed in 1963 and sold 20,000 copies in its first week. Aspirational yet homely, it was the perfect book for jet-set Britain. Elizabeth David had schooled a generation in the restrained art of French provincial cooking, Robert Carrier set it alight with glamorous fun food. You might be young and living in digs, but you could experience a little bit of Greece by making an exotic dish of moussaka at home. As you flicked through the pages you travelled the world: creole jambalaya, Spanish paella, pork in sweet and sour sauce, Italian beef stew, American strawberry shortcake or rhum au baba. The question is, are we all now too well travelled to appreciate this updated version of that Sixties bestseller? I think not, provided you remember that this is still very much a book of its time. Robert Carrier has always written wonderful classic recipes that work, time and time again. I still use his cookery books from the Seventies, despite the fact that they are quite literally falling apart. You can dip in and out of this new book, according to your needs, as it is divided into subject areas such as appetisers, eggs, fish, shellfish, beef, salads and desserts. Carrier's recipes are a pleasure to read and always easy to follow. Some of the ingredients have been updated - fresh herbs have replaced dried ones, sake is used in place of sherry and so on. They are not always 100 per cent authentic - for example, most Indians would blanch at Carrier's use of curry powder - but they still taste very good as Robert Carrier dishes. I suspect that this book will quietly return to many kitchens, for it not only gives you plenty of delicious ideas for supper, it also supplies you with some rather excellent dinner-party staples.

Patricia Wells at Home in Provence by Patricia Wells, Kyle Cathie, pounds 14.99

At first glance the paperback edition of Patricia Wells at Home in Provence looks like one of those glossy lifestyle books that you will linger over longingly on a rainy afternoon, pretending that you too could live like that. But a second glance reveals a good cookery book. It is jam-packed with delicious, fresh-sounding recipes, clearly laid out and well written. I simply have to flick the pages to see chilled cream of pea soup with its home-made chicken stock, double cream and mint; onion Parmesan gratin; potatoes roasted in sea salt; the winemaker's duck with olives and artichokes ... you see what I mean? It is virtually impossible to find a dish that you will not want to cook among these pages. Patricia Wells at Home in Provence is presented as a gastronomical notebook of the Wells' life in northern Provence. Individual chapters cover the usual range of palate openers and appetizers, salads, soups, pasta, meat, desserts and pantry. Each recipe has a short but informative introduction and ends with a useful wine suggestion. As you are drawn further and further into the book you will begin to change your life. After all, it is necessary to adopt Provence time if you are going to have a go at making Monsieur Henny's rabbit bouillabaisse, fragrant with garlic, saffron and fennel. Who needs a holiday? I'm off to make my baby chocolate brioche dough, so that it can sit in the fridge ready to be baked la chez Wells for breakfast tomorrow