Saturday, 22 December 2007

Roast figs, sugar snow by Diana Henry


This book has been my constant companion for the last three days, while I decided what to contribute to Christmas cooking. And it's been a pleasure to spend time in its company - for a start it is beautifully produced, with the most unctuous set of photographs I can remember. More than that, I can't read it without my mouth watering all the time. When I want to cook I generally head for my pasta cookbook, since I love Italian food and the range of dusky tomato-y sauces loaded with basil and other pungent herbs, but a visit to Genoa reminded me how delicious northern Italian dishes are. This book ranges from New England and Quebec, through Scandinavia and Russia through the Alps to northern Italy, celebrating winter food and making me long to create slow-cooked stews of wild boar, Friulian winter salads (spicy sausage, walnuts and radicchio) and melting apple cakes.

The book is subtitled "Food to warm the soul" and it does. Each chapter (with titles redolent of hedgerow and bonfire) has a long, informative introduction discussing the range of dishes which can be made from particular ingredients, the food common to an area, or offering further suggestions; each dish also has a brief preamble, usually a celebration of dish or contents, and there are carefully chosen snippets of poetry and other quotations sprinkled throughout, combining to offer a pleasurable read while curled up in front of the fire (although I usually read my cookery books in bed with a dog, so we drool together).
Some familiar flavourings, such as ginger, allspice, cinnamon, caradmom and dill, can be given a new slant by looking at how they are treated in other cool climates. Dill, for example, is an comforting, non-assertive herb...Or try caraway, once popular in Britain in breads and cakes, and now a signature flavouring in Austria, Hungary and Alsace, rubbed into roast pork or fried with potatoes.
Caraway cake was the bane of my childhood; I can't think how many times we would arrive at a relative's house to be told, "I've just made a caraway cake." You'd know that you would have to eat it to be polite, and that every mouthful would taste of dust and mice. (Why mice? I don't know, but that's what it tasted of.) But Diana Henry persuades me that I might fry a spoonful in with the saute potatoes, just to see. After all, she's convinced me that beetroot is delicious.

If you are looking for a real comfort food book, I heartily recommend this one.

7 comments:

elizabethm said...

What a fabulous sounding book - I have added it to my list of mustbuys after Christmas. sounds just my sort of thing. Happy Christmas - hope you have a great time.

GeraniumCat said...

It's a lovely book, makes you want to cook...hope you are having a wonderful Christmas.

Tara said...

I'm a cookbook junkie and this one looks gorgeous!

GeraniumCat said...

We're a house full of cookbook junkies, Tara, so I plan to post on some more, with a bias towards UK publications; my comments are based on their "drool" qualities (I'm no dinergirl!), as I cook so little but I have cooked from Roast Figs over the holiday (Georgian lamb, scrumptious!)

mutterings and meanderings said...

Sounds utterly fab.

Never had caraway cake though.

GeraniumCat said...

I'd avoid it like the plague if I were you, M&M! I think it's rather gone out of fashion, which is all to the good, as far as I'm concerned.

LittleBrownDog said...

Love the idea of Food to Warm the Soul - sounds absolutely perfect for this time of year. Also agree wholehartedly about carraway cake - I mean, what is the point?

And thank you so much for your helpful gardening comment on my page. Have tried a couple of ferns there without success - think it's the dreaded "dry shade" provided by a thirsty horse chestnut and a 60-ft high walnut tree. Will look into the ones you suggest, though - I have a gut feeling that Ferns could be the Way Forward...