I don’t know about you but one of my favourite pastimes is taking recipe books to bed with me (not in a weird way!) and this book, ‘The Good Table’ by contemporary cook Valentine Warner is perfect for late night perusal (and laughs – but more on that in a minute). Whether it be with a cup of steaming Chai (p356) or something more potent like ‘Dicks Rum Shack Punch on page 345 (I like the sound of this one a lot), this book really is a joy to read.
Valentines quirky writing style (sometimes so quirky that I don’t quite get it – but that’s me, not him) and even quirkier metaphors, has drawn me to recipes that I would have otherwise overlooked. Who couldn’t be enticed by his description of razor clams as ‘like Cuban cigars in an elastic band, pale feet lolling out like the tongues of tired horses’! This, is essentially what I love about his recipes, they make me want to get out of my comfort zone and embrace new ways of preparing, cooking and eating food. I’m at a stage where I want to experiment more in the kitchen, not forgetting those all important regular family meals I have perfected of course (Bolognese, lasagne, chilli, curry, risotto) but building on my culinary repertoire to include…well razor clams for a start!
The book is split into 8 well thought out chapters starting with Meat and Bird, where Valentine espouses the use of cheaper cuts of meat and also lesser used meat such as rabbit and venison. Recipes that sparked my interest included Faggots – the old school classic, Picked Onion, Steak and Ale Pudding and Venison Curry. It is here he also places great value on provenance and locality – a deep rooted belief for him.
Valentine then moves on to talk about fish, sustainably caught fish of course as he mentions more than once the concerns of overfishing and the practice of ‘discard’ – a practice he finds completely unacceptable, wasteful and disrespectful. He urges you to read labels and make informed choices about the fish you buy. The charmingly named Lapland Fish Soup looks stunning as does the simple Tuna Tostada.
Next comes Vegetables and Foraged food and this chapter is full of ideas for eating with the seasons. As he says himself ‘seasonaility is a game to be played when out shopping; it demands the cook to be adventurous, trying to find multiple ways to romance the ingredient until the affair is over’. I’ve tried his Spanish Salad and it was delicious but the Beetroot Ravioli really stood out – with it’s wonderfully deep pink colour.
The ultimate standout recipe for me though can be found in ‘Bread, Eggs, Cheese’ and is the Autumn Macaroni with button onions, pancetta, hazelnuts and fontina, - comfort on a plate, no?
The puddings in the last chapter are primarily fruit based (although I spied some Chocolate Lime Fondants on page 328), not that the lack of chocolate really bothers me. I am absolutely going to be trying the Lemon Posset soon, a recipe I have been meaning to make since I saw Tamsin Day Lewis making it on TV about 10 years ago and I will follow Valentine’s lead by adding a glug of elderflower cordial. The Autumn Trifle is another recipe I love the sound and look of…and I have just bought myself the perfect Trifle bowl too as does this Fool!
Rhubarb and Stem Ginger Fool
I'm not sure my children would go for some of the dishes if I produced them at the table, but in our house you have to try it before you say you don’t like it – I’ll let you know how I get on with the razor clams.
My final thought relates to the very clear, simple message that resonates through this book - Valentine wants us to love food as much as he does – and who can argue with that.
The Good Table by Valentine Warner £25 (Micheal Beazley). Thanks to Fiona at Octopus for sending this through.