This is another inspirational book for me. If I am in doubt what to cook, and even to buy, I can very quickly check this and have some ideas. The first sentences of Nigel Slater’s book are instructional – “Right food, right place, right time. It is my belief – and the point of this book – that this is the best recipe of all”. I hinted a little on the ethos when I talked about the British obsession with fish and chips. Cooking ability is part of great food but ingredients and context are also important.
The book is pretty much what the title says – everyday food right through to dinner party recipes served by the author.
I am writing this at the end of January and so maybe a look at what he offers through January would be a good indicator.
Slater is very aware of seasonality and this comes through from January 1st. He begins the year by surveying the leftovers in the larger and the first thing he eats is blood orange juice. In response to his tradition of soup on New Years Day he makes Dal and Pumpkin Soup with warming flavours of ginger and chilli and a fried onion topping.
Typical of the book is the entry on 4th of January. “supper is a tightwad affair of shredded winter cabbage steamed till just bright and almost tender, tossed with shredded bacon rashers and their hot fat spiked with a dash of white wine vinegar.” It’s the kind of thing I can imagine doing but what I like is that , even with something so simple he focuses on how to make it great – keep gin some life in the cabbage, using great bacon and adding some caraway seeds. Also typical is the reality of “afterwards we eat slices of lemon tart from the deli”.
January 7th is headed with the title “frugal, pure and basic food for a rainy night” this turns out to be a stew made from neck of lamb and featuring pearl barley with thyme and bay leaves. It is left overnight and reheated for best results.
January 8th has the first rhubarb of the year. It later in the month there is game (pheasant) and mussels but all are cooked in context. The rhubarb is celebrated as something new and fresh in a new year full of promise. The book is full of little shopping discoveries like this. This is one of the ways I like to use the book. Take today’s date and look at the recipes one week either side I’m armed with a range of things to look out for or seek out on my shopping trip.
The simple, tasty snacks are some of my favourites. In January I mentioned the cabbage and bacon but there is also cheese-smothered potatoes. This is simple, real food which, in the context of dark, cold and rainy evenings sounds just the ticket and inspires the reader to try it for themselves. Some of them are buried as asides in the text. One such is a cauliflower and chickpea salad with a dressing of lemon juice, olive oil and coriander leaves served with some green olives and pitta bread.
The final crucial ingredient is that there is a warmth and reality about it. Nigel Slater is clearly cooking for himself and he isn’t shy of sharing his dislike or apathy over some ingredients – chard and cauliflower in January.
I love the book as a good source to dip into if I need a reminder about what is good right now and some good wholesome recipes to cook for my nearest and dearest.