Long before she became a finger- lickin’ television star Nigella Lawson’s ability to conjure tastes in vivid prose and her celebration of the pleasures of eating were known to readers of The Spectator as she was this magazine’s first restaurant reviewer. And it was the writing in her first book, How to Eat, with its confidential tone of voice, her larky attitude to cooking and eating, as well as brilliant, original recipes that brought her legions of fans. To them she became what Elizabeth David had been to their grandmothers. Nigella’s latest book, Feast (Chatto, £25), which arrives without benefit of a television boost, is another big, comprehensive book, its subject nothing less than ‘food that celebrates life’. It includes food for the great religious feasts (many faiths are included) when even the non-cook must wield the pans, to private pleasures — a midnight feast for the first time your lover stays the night — and simple pasta teas for children. There is also a poignant chapter on cooking for funerals. The recipes are terrific, I haven’t found a duff one yet; even the notorious chocolate orange cake works like a dream if you make it in a food processor, as she suggests. Her curry banquet to celebrate Eid (which marks the end of Ramadan) was easy to make and magnificent to eat, as were banana pancakes, and the ‘super juicy turkey’ should see off the sawdust-dry festive bird for ever. My only cavil is that while she exhorts one to plan for the huge occasion that induces ‘panic, weight of expectation and family tension’, she is short on logistics.
Equally wide-ranging and personal in tone is Falling Cloudberries (Murdoch, £25) by Tessa Kiros, whose family of keen cooks is a permanent presence in her book. With a Finnish mother and a Greek-Cypriot father, Kiros grew up in South Africa, then settled in Tuscany. She gives the classic recipes from these cultures, from Finnish salmon soup to South African milk tart, with additions and twists unique to her family, in a pretty-looking book. Childhood memories also marked Anissa Helou, whose elegantly designed book on offal and off-cuts of meat, The Fifth Quarter (Absolute, £20), is uncompromising in its approach. The author was brought up in Lebanon where her favourite childhood treat was raw liver, still warm from the slaughterhouse, eaten for breakfast on pitta bread with a slice of tail fat. Some of her recipes (for spleen, or poached brain and eyes with fleur de sel) are not for the squeamish, but there are more approachable ones too. Her sweetbread boreks are wonderful.
Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall also looks his subject firmly in the eye, not flinching even at the abattoir. In his new book The River Cottage Meat Book (Hodder, £25) there is a series of photographs of his own beasts being slaughtered. Nor does he shy from the ethics of being a carnivore: its first 200 pages (of 523 — it is quite a tome) deal with sourcing good meat, poultry and game, but it is not a harrowing book and there are good recipes too for meaty meals from Sunday lunch to an outdoor pig roast.
If only all the men who put on an apron once a year to take charge of a barbecue had Hugh’s knowledge and charm. Most barbecue food leaves one wondering uneasily about salmonella, as one bites into the bloody interior of a chicken thigh, simultaneously picking its charred skin from one’s teeth. But the know-how and recipes in Blistering Barbecues (Absolute, £14.95), by a company that specialises in barbecue catering, inspire confidence and might almost induce one to have another try.
There is no hesitation at all in trying the recipes in Casa Moro (Ebury, £25), the second book by Sam and Sam Clark, husband and wife chefs at Moro restaurant in Clerkenwell. In the book they continue their exploration of Spanish and north African food with many good salad and vegetable dishes (Turkish sweet and sour leeks are particularly successful), and some unusual, quickly made meat dishes that make one long to get cooking, though it is reading the recipes rather than the somewhat downbeat photographs that provides that impetus. The opposite is the case in A Taste of Morocco (Hachette, £20), a hybrid travel/cookery book, whose good, authentic recipes by Maria Seguin-Tsouli, culinary consultant to the Institut du Monde Arabe in Paris (which serves the best food to be found in any museum restaurant) are complemented by evocative food and location photography. This would make a good present for an adventurous cook or a traveller who, ‘like Webster’s dictionary [is] Morocco-bound’.
Another essential book for travellers is the new Concise Gastronomy of Italy by Anna del Conte (Pavilion, £14.99), which contains all the information from her previous definitive doorstopper book of the same name (without its garish full-page photographs) on regional food specialities and wines of Italy, with her masterly recipes, in a paperback format handy for trips to market or trattoria.
Anthony Bourdain’s Les Halles Cookbook (Bloomsbury, £20), based on recipes from his restaurant, a French bistro in Manhattan, is written in his raunchy, tough-guy style, but the book is of limited use to a British reader; our cuts of meat are different and some ingredients are unobtainable here. I have found it very hard to find the pig’s caul he demands in his p