A good cookbook is one of life’s cosy pleasures, particularly during the winter. If you come across a good one, you can glean almost as much joy in the reading as in the eating. So as winter approaches, here’s a selection of the best cookbooks to help keep the cold at bay…
Good Things to Eat, Lucas Hollweg
Considering we live in the age of the celebrity chef, it is surprising that Lucas Hollweg isn’t better known. That’s not to say that his talents aren’t recognised – he was named Evelyn Rose 2012 Cookery Journalist of the Year and winner of the Guild Food Writers Cookery Journalist in the same year. His food probably isn’t revolutionary enough to grant him a television show, or endless merchandise with adorned with his name – but that’s what makes his dishes perfect for winter. The ones in Good Things to Eat (Collins, £20) are laid-back, homely and truly delicious. His pot-roast chicken with chicory is one of the simplest and most comforting meals you can find. (Picture by Tara Fisher).
Fresh India, Meera Sodha
This was christened ‘the pervy cookbook’ in our house because it became an object of obsession: there was a period of about six months where no meal reached the table that had not been conceived by Sodha in Fresh India (Fig Tree. £20). A sequel to her phenomenally successful Made in India, Fresh India features vegetarian recipes, which make for cheap and easy cooking. Sodha was brought up in Britain and tries to use accessible ingredients (no wailing in the aisles or tireless internet shopping for obscure seeds required). The best thing about her recipes is they are extremely hearty. I’ve fed 30 on the pumpkin, black-eyed bean and coconut curry, while the Sri Lankan dhal with coconut and lime kale makes for a satisfying (and healthy) lunch.
At My Table, Nigella Lawson
Nigella’s latest offering (her 12th cookbook), At My Table (Chatto & Windus, £26), is, she says, ‘a celebration of home cooking.’ I’m not sure, however, that it’s providing us with much to celebrate, with the recipes less exciting than her halcyon days of ham boiled in Coca-Cola with chilli cheese bread. The puddings are slightly more attuned to the Nigella of the naughties: take the rose and pepper pavolva or the pear, pistachio and rose cake. What At my Table is best for, however, is that moment when it’s dark outside, and it’s been a long day at work, and you’ve got something in your fridge that needs putting with something else, but you can’t quite work out the food maths. In other words, any winter’s evening.
Simple, Diana Henry
Simple (Mitchell Beazley, £25) first came to my attention when my aunt served pork chops with mustard and capers – see, simple – some time ago. It turns out I was (as ever) late to the party: Henry has written nine books with different focuses. Simple works because it is like a dictionary of food: you cannot fail to leaf through it and find something that looks both delicious and not too frightening to make. It doesn’t concentrate on one country or culture, but this makes it all the more appealing to an indecisive and hungry cook. In fact, I defy any reader to turn the pages of Simple and not to find a recipe that appeals because it is both slightly adventurous and surprisingly easy to rustle up at the same time.
Love in a Dish and Other Pieces, MFK Fisher
Love in a Dish and other pieces (Penguin, £6.99) may not, strictly speaking, count as a cookbook, but it is one of the best book’s ever written on food. And it is perfect for a winter’s evening, or a winter’s day, or a winter’s morning, when you want to read and escape and be transported to an altogether more delicious place, without actually going to the effort of finding a frying pan. From curious observations (‘Probably one of the most private things in the world is an egg before it is broken’) to achingly brilliant descriptions of why we love food (‘It seems to me that our three basic needs, for food and security and love, are so mixed and mingled and entwined that we cannot straightly think of one without the others. So it happens that when I write of hunger, I am really writing about love’), Fisher’s book is pure poetry from beginning to end.