|Tender Volume 1: A Cook and His Vegetable Patch|
|Publisher: Fourth Estate, Country: UK|
|ISBN: 9780007248490, Year: 2009|
|Link to publisher’s page or site|
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|This review is the personal opinion of the reviewer.|
Nigel Slater tells the story of his vegetable patch and provides over 400 recipe ideas for using the vegetables he grows. Already well known for seven previous recipe books, his much admired autobiography Toast and his regular columns in The Observer, Slater’s enthusiasm will no doubt tempt some readers to start a vegetable garden of their own, although this is predominantly a book about cooking. As in his previous books, Slater’s recipes are straightforward and unfussy and his approach to using fresh produce should appeal to many home cooks.
Nigel Slater has an established reputation for no-nonsense recipe books such as Appetite and Real Food, aimed at a general readership and focusing on simple ideas, offering encouragement to cooks to be more instinctive and pay more attention to the ingredients they are using rather than the recipes they are following. Tender Volume 1, the first instalment of his romance with growing his own food, is in the same vein. Here he chronicles the evolution of his vegetable patch (volume 2, due in late 2010, will deal with fruit) and provides recipes for the vegetables he has grown, inspired by his desire to move towards a more vegetable-based diet. Tender may seem an odd title for a recipe book but in this case it not only refers to Slater’s role as the tender of his vegetable patch but is an apt description of his relationship with the plants he nurtures and the food he cooks.
In this volume’s thirty chapters (arranged alphabetically) he covers a good range of vegetables from those ever popular with home gardeners, like tomatoes and salad greens, through to the less common, like celeriac and Jerusalem artichokes. Each chapter begins with an introduction to the vegetable in question followed by brief notes under the heading ‘in the garden’. The horticultural information here is very general, presented more as a diary of the author’s experience in his London garden than as definitive advice and in most chapters amounts to little more than a page of the text. Not all readers will have to worry about snow and frost and urban foxes, and the information on plant varieties will not be relevant in all cases, although a brief check of seed catalogues on the web suggests that at least one or two of those mentioned will be available in your area. Whilst this book is in no way meant to be a manifesto for self-sufficiency Slater writes eloquently and convincingly about the pleasure and satisfaction to be derived from growing at least some of your own food.
For the most-part this is a book about cooking, although not all vegetables covered here receive the same treatment. For instance, there are eighteen recipe ideas for aubergines but only eight for pumpkin. Every chapter devotes space to musings on the nature of the vegetable, its inherent qualities, good and bad, and how to make best use of those qualities in the kitchen. In each case Slater also provides a list of classic and recommended seasonings. Whilst Tender Volume 1 is a book about vegetables it is not intended specifically for vegetarians – there are recipes here using chicken, duck, various porky and beefy bits, fish, lamb, rabbit, etc. and dishes range from simple soups and salads to spicy curries, roasts, stews and even cakes but nothing about preserving, no chutneys or sauces.
Slater’s preference is for straightforward, unfussy food and all his recipes are well within the scope of anyone with rudimentary cooking skills. That said, do we really need recipes for mashed potato and spinach with bacon? Experienced cooks may not, but it is worth being reminded that even the simplest dish becomes something more than the sum of its parts when prepared with care and attention. It is not Slater’s style to be proscriptive and dogmatic. Instead, he intends his recipes to be ideas, something ‘to inspire, remind and lightly influence’ rather than instructions to be followed slavishly. For example, he describes ’squeaking spinach, sizzling bacon’ (so called because really fresh spinach ’squeaks… like the sound of wet Wellingtons on a rubber floor’) as ‘not so much a recipe as an assemblage’. His dishes are given titles such as ‘an aubergine bruschetta’, ‘a broad bean frittata’, ‘a dish of baked celery and its sauce’ to suggest that there is no right or wrong, set in concrete way of doing things. His suggestions are easy to follow, and each recipe is clearly set out. All measurements are in metric measures only, although there is also the odd ‘handful’ or ‘bunch’, and each recipe comes with an estimate of the number of servings, usually two or four.
In keeping with the author’s approach to cooking, the format of this book is also unpretentious. The slightly dull and fuzzy photographs, all taken in the author’s home, the greyish paper used for the recipes contribute to a homey, comforting feel. Like one of Slater’s recipes, the end result has been achieved by careful attention to the details from the font to the positioning of the page numbers, which conveniently appear about a third of the way down the outer edge of the page. Some readers may however question the wisdom of having the print on the contents page run vertically rather than horizontally.
As one of Slater’s fans I find it difficult to concede that some readers might find his style a little too personal and wordy, and may not feel entirely comfortable with his Englishness – there’s quite a bit of snow and cold winter nights, and surely only the English still eat supper? To get the very best from this volume you should devote some time to careful reading. Anyone familiar with his earlier books will already know that Slater writes evocatively and lovingly about food. In particular, the methods for his recipe ideas come very close to bridging the gap between the sterile written instruction and the end result, the final goal of texture and taste. For example he suggests you chop herbs finely ‘but not so small they look like tea leaves’, to avoid adding too much cream he warns that you shouldn’t expect it to cover everything but ‘just sort of lap at the edges’ and he advises that you can tell a gratin is ready when ‘the crust is patchily golden, the edges bubbling enticingly’.
Whether readers are impressed or not by the author’s prose the recipes here will have a wide appeal. Given that it is recommended we should all be eating five serves of different vegetables every day, many home cooks are looking for guidance on making vegetables the centrepiece at mealtimes. Tender Volume 1 certainly offers them plenty of inspiration and if Nigel Slater’s delight in his own vegetable patch can inspire others to think of growing something for themselves, then so much the better.
|: 5. Highly recommended
: Likely to be strongly appreciated
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