Desperate for Mother’s Day ideas? Well, in my world new cookbooks never go astray – so here are three I’ve had a look at recently and offer for your consideration.
Margaret and Me by Kate Gibbs (Murdoch Books, RRP $39.99)
I grew up in a house where cooking was looked upon as a necessity, rather than a joy, and with a grandmother for whom the novelty of grandchildren had worn off by the time she got to me, so I approached this book with more than a hint of envy. Author Kate Gibbs is the granddaughter of the matriarch of Australian cooking, Margaret Fulton, on the end of whose loving apron strings she grew up. Fulton was a single parent to Gibbs own mother, Suzanne, through some difficult times and in a period when single motherhood was far less acceptable than it is now, so the women in this family are tight – very tight.
The love that these three generations have shared is reflected in their shared love of food, resulting in this collection of memories and recipes which Kate refers to as a ‘foodoir’ rather than a memoir. Gibbs engagingly serves up episodes from both her own and her grandmother’s life, both highs and lows, along with 50 beautifully photographed recipes. With a family legacy like hers, it’s no surprise to find that this girl can cook and the book covers traditional favourites that clearly hark back to the Fulton Scottish heritage, like potted shrimps and eccles cakes, to more contemporary dishes such as pomegranate, pumpkin and goats cheese with quinoa or Bloody Mary butter with green oil and grilled prawns – the latter being the kind of dishes that Fulton has led Australian cuisine towards, through her own extensive range of cookbooks, for well over 50 years.
This is a warm and loving book to thumb through, dipping in and out of, and the affection between grandmother and granddaughter is endearingly palpable. After all, who could fail to love a woman who has shared the biggest love of her life with the most loved people in her life. Or, indeed, who could fail to love a woman who “once said she likes enough butter on her bread ‘so I can see my teeth marks in it’.” Now that’s my kind of granny.
Courtyard Kitchen by Natalie Boog (Murdoch Books, RRP$39.99)
Anyone who loves cooking usually has one or two herbs growing in their garden or in a pot not far from the kitchen but, if you are like me, these herbs usually find their way into the same dishes time after time. Most herbs are dead simple to grow, once you know a thing or two, and add wonderful flavour and new dimensions to food but I’ll bet I’m not the only one who really fails to make the most of them.
Offering more than most cookbooks, Courtyard Kitchen has practical hints and tips on growing, harvesting and storing nine different herbs and fruits. Each chapter is dedicated to one plant, offering a selection of delicious and easy to prepare recipes. The cultivating tips are perfect for even those without a green thumb and none of the recipes is going to frighten a novice cook, but they will show you how to make a simple recipe dazzle that little bit more.
Anyone can grow a few herbs, no matter where they live – from a backyard plot to a planter on a window sill – and this book will help you not only grow them, but simply and clearly show what to do with the fruits of your harvest.
Gennaro Slow Cook Italian by Gennaro Contaldo (Pavilion, RRP $39.99)
It’s a gloriously sunny day here in the Adelaide Hills today, but the autumn chill is nipping and I lit my much-loved slow combustion kitchen stove, Stanley, back at Easter time. It’s been quietly humming along since then and this delicious book was just made for it.
Anyone who has ever picked up one of Jamie Oliver’s cookbooks will have heard of Gennaro Contaldo – he is the chef who inspired Oliver when they worked together at Antonio Carluccio’s Neal Street restaurant and he co-presents the gluttonously gorgeous “Two Greedy Italians” television show with Carluccio. Slow cooking is one of his – and my – favourite ways to cook. At it’s best it is simple, rich and flavoursome and offers a stress-free way to get exceptional dishes on the table.
This book brings together more than 100 recipes, both sweet and savoury, for dishes which can be literally popped on to the back burner on top of a stove, put into a slow oven or even adapted and put into a slow cooker. It is just perfect for me in the cooler months as I can start a hearty soup or braise on the hotplate, or a roast in the hot oven, and then put it into Stanley’s bottom, slow oven and forget all about it until the hungry hordes begin circling the kitchen.
I’m a huge fan of chicken and cookbooks that treat it properly, so one of the first recipes in this book I tried was Gennaro’s Pollo all Cacciatora. This dish is a knockout – rich and lip-smacking, but made with simple ingredients – and comes with slow cooker instructions. Give it a try!
Pollo alla Cacciatora
- 750 g/1lb 10oz chicken thighs and drumsticks
- salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 1 large onion finely sliced
- 1 garlic clove crushed and left whole
- 1 small red chilli sliced
- 2 sprigs of rosemary
- 2 sprigs of thyme
- a handful of parsley roughly chopped
- 2 bay leaves
- 4 sage leaves
- 125 ml/4fl oz/½ cup dry white wine
- 1½ tbsp tomato purée paste, dissolved in 3 tbsp lukewarm water
- 175 g/6oz cherry tomatoes halved
- Rub the chicken pieces all over with salt and pepper. Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan, add the chicken and seal well all over.
- Add the onion, garlic, chilli and herbs and cook for a couple of minutes on a medium heat. Add the wine, increase the heat and allow the wine to evaporate slightly. Add the diluted tomato purée, then stir in the cherry tomatoes. Reduce the heat to low, cover with a lid and cook gently for 1¼ hours, until the chicken is cooked through; the flesh should come away from the bone and there should be no sign of pink when you pierce the thickest part. Serve hot.
- For a slow cooker
- Heat the oil in a large deep frying pan and cook the chicken as above. Continue as above, add the tomatoes, plus 300ml/10fl oz/1¼ cups chicken stock. Bring to the boil, then transfer to a large slow cooker pot. Cover and cook on Low for 7–8 hours or until there are no pink juices when the chicken is pierced with a small knife.
Lambs’ Ears and Honey received review copies from the publishers of all of the above books.