As a cook I am not big on meat. I grew up vegetarian, and am more comfortable with fennel in the kitchen than beef. Veg, to me, is easier, and mostly more pleasurable to eat. Although there are times when I love a beautifully seared, rare steak, this tends to be an infrequent treat rather than the norm. But a salad of fennel, orange and olives is the kind of everyday pleasure that I really enjoy. My style of cooking is simple but colourful. I like good ingredients that haven’t been messed about with too much. My taste in cookbooks, I think, reflects this.
I have an on-going debate with a friend from the allotment, also a keen cook, but one more on the carnivorous spectrum than me, about the relative merits of Nigel Slater. Despite studiously avoiding any of his television offerings, I can’t get enough of his books. She says that his recipes often don’t work. I’m on a campaign to win her over to team Nigel.
The first Slater book that Mr. J and I bought was Real Fast Food. It’s an unglamorous paperback. No photos. Pretty straightforward. It has sections on quick stuff to do with eggs, chicken, fish, rice, pasta – that kind of thing. It’s the kind of book that when there is nothing in the fridge but a carton of mushrooms and a scraping of butter, will tell you a meal that can be conjured from it. And nothing (other than the risottos) takes longer than twenty minutes to cook. For the busy or the slothful it is beautifully handy little volume, and I think that everyone should have a copy.
The frittata section, for example, provides a basic recipe and then a list of good things to combine in a frittata – crushed fennel seeds and potato, browned onion and parsley, aubergines and crushed garlic etc. etc. Same with risottos. The mushrooms above can be fried and added with the butter to some boiled basmati rice and served. Or if you are fortunate, as we are, to have a green-grocers around the corner, or if you have your own herb patch, a handful or two of freshly chopped parsley can be added for freshness. Mr. J likes this especially with the addition of cubed bacon and it’s fat (instead of the butter).
If it all sounds a bit rustic, there are definitely more luxy recipes – like the simple but very flavoursome chicken with brown butter. This dish combines a range of store cupboard spices with butter atop a grilled chicken breast for a most aromatic and indulgent supper. I would happily serve this to friends. And, as with all the recipes it takes less than 20 minutes to prepare.
The danger with home cooking is that it can become a huge chore after a long day. Although the food preparation itself is often relaxing and can create a nice punctuation between day and evening, menu planning alone is enough to drive a person to distraction. Real Fast Food eliminates the problem, and the food is delicious. If I had to choose only one cookbook from my collection, this would be it.