We research this season's cookbooks for you
Fromage blanc from The Gourmet Farmer Deli Book, by Matthew Evans, Nick Haddow and Ross O'Meara.
Thoughts on a few recent-release cookbooks that have crossed my desk recently:
The Gourmet Farmer, Deli Book: Food As It Used to Taste, by Matthew Evans, Nick Haddow, Ross O'Meara (Murdoch Books, $49.99)
The authors' track record? Matthew Evans is one of my favourite people in the food world; ethical, enormously energetic, no-bullsh*t, reflective, modest. Started life as a chef, turned to food-writing, was The Sydney Morning Herald's restaurant reviewer and editor of The Good Food Guide for a few years in the early noughties, before, in his own words, starting to ''suspect that the best produce in the land was eaten by people I'd never heard of, I moved from inner city Sydney to rural Tasmania where I breed pigs and grow Brussels sprouts''. His Gourmet Farmer blog is a thing of beauty. There's an SBS series to match. He's written several previous books including the epic Real Food Companion. Evans's buddies Nick and Ross are no strangers to this subject matter either. Nick makes cheese on Bruny Island; chef Ross rears rare breeds and runs a market stall with Evans selling salami, rillettes and smallgoods made from their own animals. I'm dying to get to one of their Common Ground feasts.
And the book? Not for the faint-hearted or the time poor but I love its scholarly enthusiasm and am envious of the lives the book shows these three blokes have: milking animals, catching fish, shooting game, digging up vegetables. Hard work to be sure but the rewards seem undeniable. The Gourmet Farmer is fundamentally a textbook of age-old, hand-made techniques divided into the chapter headings, ''Milk'', ''Meat'', ''Fish'', Vegetables and Condiments''. There are recipes for clotted cream, crème fraîche, cultured butter, mascarpone, fetta and yoghurt, prosciutto, American bacon, Toulouse sausages and cotechino, chorizo and coppa, rillettes, smoked whole trout and salt-cured anchovies, sauerkraut, pickled onions and Grandpa Steve's Tomato Sauce. Good instructions and plenty of ''notes'' to make things clearer. Also includes recipes to use what you've made. Think ''tipsy'' cake with orange blossom mascarpone, roast tomato and crème fraîche custard tart and braised squid stuffed with chorizo and garlic with cherry tomatoes.
Design bang for your buck: What's a cookbook these days without a sharp design? The Gourmet Farmer is attractively rustic with cloth cover, neutral tones, clear typography, textural matt paper and elegant line drawings. Photographer Alan Benson.
Recipes that turn my head: I'm keen to make the recipe for crème fraîche. Ingredients: 500ml pouring cream and 2 tablespoons cultured buttermilk. (A note at the bottom of the recipe adds: ''Real buttermilk is hard to find but if you make the cultured butter (see pages 12-13) you will have some ‘live' cultured buttermilk. If not, substitute natural ‘live' yoghurt (see pages 56-57) as your culture to begin the fermentation in the crème fraîche.'' Gives some indication of the work involved in some of these recipes.)
Zenbu Zen: Finding Food, Culture & Balance in Kyoto, by Jane Lawson (Murdoch Books, $69.99)
The author's track record? Kyoto-based Jane Lawson started her career as a chef before moving into publishing (you'll find her blog here). Her books include Snowflakes and Schnapps, A Little Taste of Japan and Grub.
And the book? I'm a sucker for anything Japanese so my critical faculties are low when it comes to a book such as this. Lawson, who is also the very talented photographer of the book's lovely images, starts the book with the chapter title, ''The Realisation'' or ''Genjitsuka''. As a cookbook publisher she was dealing with crazy hours, ridiculous stress levels and a medical student's textbook of ailments, from anxiety and allergies, to vertigo, weight gain and a hacking cough. Quitting her job and moving to Kyoto was her escape clause. I'm dead jealous already. Zenbu Zen (that ''ultimately everything is Zen, and it will all be okay in the long run'') starts with December and her move into a Kyoto apartment and recipes for the foundation of Japanese food — dashi. From there she moves through the months of her stay (January, February, March and April) with appealing recipes and stories of her time in Kyoto (''There were new textures and patterns at every turn and I wanted to transport it all home with me: from the roof tiles to wooden slats, manhole covers and stone walls, to the fine variegated points of a dark red momiji (Japanese maple) leaf, and even the desiccated shell of a once-robust flower).
Design bang for your buck? It's beautiful, with a wrap-around dust-jacket that folds out into a poster. Wonderful photographs including dishes, still-lifes and beautiful snatches of Kyoto life.
Recipes that turn my head? Grilled tofu with sansho miso, ''year-crossing soba noodles'', slow simmered pork belly with shoyu and black sugar, chawan mushi, rice gruel with snapper and yuzu.
Limoncello and Linen Water, by Tessa Kiros (Murdoch Books, $59.99)
The Author's track record? Does Tessa Kiros make the world's prettiest cookbooks? From Falling Cloudberries (a collection of family recipes from around the world) to Piri Piri Starfish: Portugal Found, Tuscan-based Kiros has made a business out of creating sweet confections of cookbooks with a gasp factor. They typically feature evocative vintage imagery and ephemera, design flourishes, pretty pictures and just a little saccharine.
And the book? More of the same. This time an ode to her mother-in-law, Wilma, ''and the many other wonder women that roam freely about''. If you can move past this introductory mention conjuring up images of Wilma and her ilk pecking in backyards everywhere you'll find Kiros hasn't finished with her old-fashioned rhapsody: ''This is an ode to the matriarchal figures in my life. Wilma and others who have inspired me with their stories and recipes. Their collectings and gatherings. Their offerings. They have sung well, and amongst the trousseaux they have prepared for us they have slipped in diamonds of wisdom, snippings of experience of mystery — of what to layer between our sheets, of how to hold the man down (through his stomach).'' In case it's not clear, Wilma is her Italian husband, Giovanni's mother. And I need to tell you about the sheets — ''embroidered by hand and stitched with love and memories … This was the woman's value. What she brought to the marriage. To the home'', says Kiros in her introduction. I'm glad we've cleared that up. And thankfully, the first chapter is ''The Linen Cupboard''. All about how to keep sheets in order and free of dust. How to fold them. And how to tie them in neat bundles with a coloured ribbon ready for the cupboard. Recipes for linen water and jasmine garlands follow. But there are recipes for edible things too: from preserved vegetables to fruit salad tart. (Big fail mark for sullying spaghetti aglio, olio, peperoncino with avocado.)
Design bang for your buck? You name it: pink hues, heavy styling, design flourishes (eg, doilies fringing a page), and plenty of sepia images, plus a pretty pink velvet ribbon marker.
Recipes that turn my head? Red radicchio marmalade, baked crumbed chicken with mozzarella, anchovies and capers, and the limoncello recipe (with its kilogram of sugar).
Sydney Seafood School Cookbook: Tips, Techniques & Recipes from Australia's Leading Chefs, by Roberta Muir (Penguin Lantern, $49.99)
The author's track record? Roberta Muir, who holds a Master of Arts degree in Gastronomy from the University of Adelaide, has helmed the Sydney Seafood School since 1997. She's also an accredited cheese judge. Spends more time than is decent taking wonderful food holidays abroad with her husband, Franz Scheurer.
And the book? A showpiece for the Sydney Seafood School, one of the few things the Sydney Fish Markets can be proud of. The book pulls together the collective wisdom of the dozens of chefs to have led classes at the school over the years, from the big Italian Alessandro Pavoni (ocean trout crudo with cuttlefish ink mayonnaise and crisp mandarin) and Alex Herbert (fish and chips), to Frank Camorra (scallops baked in their shells with white wine and breadcrumbs). Divided into categories (Finfish, Shellfish, Cephalopods and Crustaceans) with great information on selecting and storing. Picture series show how to scale, fillet and skin, butterfly small fish, prepare abalone, shuck oysters, debeard mussels, and prepare squid, cuttlefish, octopus, crabs and prawns.
Design bang for your buck? Feels summery, from blue-hued cover with its white paint-stroked title to the pretty pale blue-grey end papers with rows of clams. Hand-writing flourishes throughout. Photography by Alan Benson.
Recipes that turn my head? David Thompson's hot and sour soup of blue mussels. Plus, I'm always a sucker for Cantonese-style steamed fish, so am eyeing off Kylie Kwong's steamed whole coral trout with ginger and spring onions. And, I swear, one day I'll learn to shuck oysters. ''Twist to pop the shell open.'' Now that seems straightforward enough.
Whole Larder Love: Grow, Gather, Hunt, Cook, by Rohan Anderson (Penguin Viking, $29.99)
The author's track record? I've admired photographer Anderson's blog, Whole Larder Love, for some time now. His photographs of his rural life (he lives near Ballarat in an old schoolhouse), his life as a contemporary hunter-gatherer, are intoxicating. (Not everyone can make a dead rabbit look pretty!) Recent posts on his blog focus on the log cabin smokehouse he built, curing pork legs, picking up some pullets for his chookyard, a stinging nettle harvest and an unsuccessful trout fishing expedition in the driving rain.
And the book? It has a ''subversive undertone'', according to Anderson, a big, bearded bloke. ''I walk through the aisle of a supermarket looking at all the fake food and cringe at what we've become as a society … the current age of broad-acre food production is undeniably flawed.''
Anderson writes that he set himself the goal of becoming completely self-sufficient. ''I taught myself many new tricks, like how to raise my own seedlings, which was a big money saver. I learned how to rotate crops, the intricacies of companion planting, and how to plant with less crop clustering to avoid insect predation. I learned more about the benefits of composting and the ‘joys' of weeding.'' He reduced his consumption of meat and looked to find a reliable, local alternative. The Ballarat area's ample supply of European rabbit and hare, its ducks, trout, eel and yabbies, were the answer. He talks about storing food: tomato passata, jams and relishes, cured pork and sausages, dried herbs and chillies — and also of establishing a food harvest network, sharing produce with friends and family.
The book unfolds then, through chapters on ''From the Garden'', ''From the Wild: Hunted'', ''From the Wild: Foraged'', ''From the Wild: Fished'' and ''From the Paddock''. Notes along the way cover such things as skinning a rabbit, tools of the trade (leather lace-up boots, a blood bag, a pocket knife or leatherman) and fly-fishing tips.
Design bang for your buck? The book is a petite paperback, they're Anderson's own photographs and the design is optimistically rustic and bitsy with hand-lettering bringing Anderson's voice out of the page.
Recipes that turn my head? Nettle pappardelle, ''sneaky'' eel dip and barbecued lamb kofta.
The Food of Morocco, by Paula Wolfert (Bloomsbury, $65)
The author's track record? San Francisco-based Paula Wolfert has been writing about Mediterranean and Moroccan food since the early '70s. She's considered a guru of these cuisines and her shelves are stacked with awards (the Julia Child Award, the James Beard Award, the M. F. K. Fisher Award among them).
And the book? Sad to say, I ate poorly during a two-week trip to Morocco last year. I left with the suspicion that the good food was behind closed doors in the hilly rabbit warren of Fez's streets, or behind blue-paint-peeling doors in the seaside township of Essaouira. I left hoping never to see another tagine. Let's count: Wolfert's book offers recipes for dozens of them, from lamb tagine with layered onions to chicken tagine with caramelised quinces and toasted walnuts. This seductive 518-page tome convinces me I need to give them another go. But there's more to love than its tagine recipes: the map identifying regional specialties is excellent, as is the ''Essentials'' chapter, which offers information about everything from earthenware tagines (how to season and burnish them, cook with them and wash them) to preserved lemons, olive varieties, the most frequently used spices and fragrant waters (such as orange flower water). But that's just the beginning: the recipe chapters that follow, starting with salads and running through to drinks, are hefty and dazzling. I like, too, the scattered quotes from writers who have been through Morocco, from Edith Wharton to Paul Bowles.
Design bang for your buck? It's all about the photography. Quentin Bacon's pics are magic. From the purple saffron crocus on the cover with its tremblingly precious orange stigmas, to the photographs of markets, Moroccans, still lifes and food.
Recipes that turn my head? Goats cheese and honey briwats, chicken stuffed with rice, almonds and raisins and, yes, tagines: fish tagine with tomatoes, olives and preserved lemon and tagine of baby squid with red pepper and tomato.