There are a couple of subjects that are close to my heart. One is literature; the book, and the author and words. And the other is food. From time to time I mention one, or the other; occasionally both.
Today a book arrived in the post. Yes I know we’re just a few days from the annual feast of over-indulgence. And the wish for a few selected titles may just be fulfilled. I’ll be sure to let you know what arrives. But the book that was delivered earlier was a little extra treat; from me to me, and perhaps, with a bit of practice, to whoever draws a chair up to the kitchen table. For it is a book of food.
In recent months we’ve been looking at the flavours of the Middle East. Firstly with the current pride of the kitchen bookshelves, Yotam Ottolenghi’s Jerusalem. At times I’ve taken those flavours, and the spices, to the soup pot that has become important in recent weeks. And with my soup I do like some fresh-baked bread to dip in, and to mop up.
I’ve been making bread for some now, from the household loaf to be sliced, to various flatbreads of assorted flavours, rolls and soda breads. Sometimes I’m happy to pound away with ingredients straight from a packet from the supermarket shelf; and at others I like to potter, with a variety of seeds & grains, or with buttermilk, fried onions, balsamic. Either way flour dusts the kitchen, and the oven smells linger and spread. There is something therapeutic about all that kneading and stretching, proving and rising, but I’ll need to practice that slapping down of the dough that Mr Hollywood says is good for it.
I gave mention a while back of an experimental bread, man’oushe, from Lebanon, which went down well . There’s going to be more of it, for that is the subject of the latest book. Man’oushe is more than recipes. It is the story of street bakeries and of life. We will be adding to Ottolenghi’s wonderful flavours with a few varieties from just a bit further north. From the staple bread, to pies, and sweets, and all based on the same simple disc of dough.
The ideal cookbook has to be more than recipes and pictures. I want the stories too; tales of the writer, of the flavours, of the life. One foodie author who takes more than her fair share of the kitchen shelf space is Tamasin Day-Lewis; for she does it in stories, from the West of Ireland to the past. Her Christmas Cake awaits icing and decoration, as usual with one or two tweaks. Smart Tart was a grand title for her last work, brought to us from Unbound, where she has another volume currently crowd-funding at the moment, on the subject of picnic food. There could some good ideas to stuff in the saddle bag when the sun eventually returns.
Ottolenghi too has mastered the art of tale-telling round his food; as did Pierre Koffman with his Memories of Gascony. But with my current taste for the flavours of the region I’m delighted that Barbara Abdeni Massaad has brought to us the stories of the bread ovens, and the toppings, and the life of Lebanon. I’m looking forward to working some fresh dough, and finding some flavours to match the soups. Armenian Meat Pie, now that could be coming up soon…