Why buy it?
These days, food-loving Aussies are conversant with the specialties of Sicily, Emilia-Romagna and Tuscany, to name a few big-name Italian regions. Journey a little further, to Puglia, for example, and there are more culinary treasures in waiting, says Luca Lorusso.
He was born and bred in the small Pugliese town of Altamura before he met an Aussie girl, moved with her to Melbourne, and started Cafe Latte, a Pugliese-inspired restaurant in Hawksburn, where it’s been a neighbourhood favourite for over 20 years. Now, he’s co-written a cookbook, Sharing Puglia, with foodie friend Vivienne Polak, showcasing the lesser-known food offerings of the eastern-most Italian region (think the ‘heel’).
Here, fresh produce, seafood and olive oil (Puglia is the country’s largest producer with over 60 million olive trees) dominate the diet and the duo conveys the joys of the region’s simple, seasonal fare with concise chapter intros and Lorusso’s childhood recollections.
It’s also an immaculately presented title with its gorgeous bright palette, waterclour graphics, travel imagery and rustic food styling, worthy of a place on the coffee table. You’ll love it in the kitchen if you’re an Italophile, regional food enthusiast or healthy eater, too.
Cookability In Italy, Pugliese food is often referred to cucina povera; literally, cuisine of the poor, but peasant food is a better translation. Accordingly, regional dishes and those in the book require only a handful of ingredients and usually the basics – olive oil, vinegar, flour, olives and pasta – plus a few seasonal additions, like Pugliese favourites broccoli rabe and broad beans. Cooking methods are straightforward, too.
Must-cook recipe It’s winter and hard to go past the cialledda di altamura, a heart-warming vegetable soup from Lorusso’s hometown with soaked sourdough and poached egg. The apricot jam tart, lined with buttery pastry and a lattice top, looks pretty delectable, too.
Most surprising dish The beef carpaccio is not surprising in itself; however, it is traditionally made with cavallo, or horsemeat, which is favoured in the region. Orecchiette, the ear-shaped pasta, is another Pugliese darling and the pair includes an inspired version tinted red with wine.
Cook the book
1. Orecchiette with broccoli rabe (orecchiette con cime di rape) [pictured above]
Recipe and images from Sharing Puglia by Luca Lorusso and Vivienne Polak (Hardie Grant Books, $49.95, hbk).
The French Baker
Why buy it?
Every year, a swathe of new cookbooks on French patisserie is released, yet consumers never seem to tire of the topic and the strikingly similar catalogue of sweets. Why? ‘Cause French desserts are so goddamn appealing and you can never have too many cookbooks.
Enter The French Baker.
Jean Michel Raynaud is the voice behind this year’s sweet Franco offering, a lust-inducing compilation of rustic and elaborate desserts, with tales of the Marseille native’s childhood and apprenticeship in southern France, and subsequent years as head pâtissier (aka pastry chef) at Sydney sweet institutions La Renaissance Patisserie and Baroque Bistro.
Raynaud, unsurprisingly, has a soft spot for the local specialties of his former home, and these sweets, often made with Provencal and North African ingredients (think olive oil, orange blossom water, lavender and pastis), account for a handful of the 162 recipes, adding a regional flavour and another tier to this book.
The chef is also a history enthusiast and light chronicles accompany the classics, enriching this beautifully photographed title and earning it a space in our permanent French anthology.
Cookability Before La Renaissance and Baroque, where he has amassed a small cult following for his contemporary creations, Raynaud worked at Planet Cake. Basically, the guy knows his stuff. He also knows how to pare it back, and recipes are a mix of informative and accessible, with step-by-step photos for the most complex – or basic – preparations.
Must-cook recipe Fig and rose pistachio tart. The flavour combo speaks for itself, right? Wait till you see the accompanying pic. There are also recipes for savoury pastries and breads, including the indulgent potato and cream tart (think potato gratin in a shortcrust shell).
Most surprising dish While the world is still clamouring for macarons, the French have already moved on to the next new dessert, éclairs. Well, old – much like the macaron, éclairs are a French classic that have been reinvigorated with exotic flavours and bold colours. Raynaud highlights the trend with a striking example – strawberry and mandarin éclairs.
Cook the book
1. Caramel and orange blossom rice cakes (Gateaux de riz au caramel et à la fleur d’orange) [pictured above]
Recipe and images from The French Baker by Jean Michel Raynaud (Murdoch Books, $49.99, hbk).
The Larousse Book of Bread: Recipes to Make at Home
Why buy it?
If you’re reaching for this book, we don’t need to sell you on the merits of baking your own bread. In fact, you’re ready to graduate from amateur baker to budding expert, and try your hand at a pre-ferment or levain starter, specialty flours like rye, Kamut and einkorn, and European bread styles.
If so, you’ve chosen the right book. There are few titles that come with the same authority as Larousse, which established its food reputation in 1938 with Larousse Gastronomique, still one of the foremost food encyclopaedias today. Now, Larousse has branched into bread and enlisted master French baker Éric Kayser as the writer.
Kayser, a fourth-generation boulanger, has been witness and provocateur to the changes bread has undergone over the last half-century or so, from farmhouse in his father’s time, to heavily industrialised and today’s artisan resurgence, which he helped champion with the invention of a professional bread-making machine that can accommodate natural leavens.
Kayser was also a revered teacher before he opened his eponymous artisan bread chain, Maison Kayser (first in Paris; there are now 100 worldwide), and his expertise on the subject is evident in every aspect of this concise, instructional book.
Cookability Recipes are designed for home cooks in the sense that no professional experience is required and you can use your home oven (there are also step-by-step pics for each and every bread), but you’ll need to put your on student cap; this is a quasi textbook with plenty of detail. In saying that, those after the detailed science would be best investing in a professional tome.
Must-cook recipe Among the French heroes, boule, batard, baguette and ficelle, is the striking, sculptured epi that looks just like a wheat stalk in the field. For gluten-free bakers, try the dark and dense chestnut flour bread.
Most surprising dish Kayser includes over 80 bread recipes, mainly French and Italian, a mix of savoury and sweet, and predominantly classics. He veers, however, with noteworthy inclusions, like the bright green tea and orange loaf, golden turmeric loaf and a near black braided cuttlefish ink bread.
Cook the book
Recipe and images from The Larousse Book of Bread: Recipes to Make at Home by Éric Kayser (Phaidon, $49.95, hbk).
A Table in the Orchard
Why buy it?
In 1989, Peter Mayle released his now-famous memoir, A Year in Provence. It’s an envy-inducing read. Mayle, however, wasn’t the first Brit to swap miserly England for sunny southern France, nor to write about packing it in for greener pastures; it’s an enduring format 'cause we all dream of doing it.
In this vein comes A Table in the Orchard by Aussie Michelle Crawford, who, with her husband and children, swapped Sydney for a slice of Tasmania’s Huon Valley and a ramshackle house and wood-fired oven to call her own.
Crawford is the voice behind popular food-meets-country-living blog, Hugo & Elsa (read our Blog Appétit column featuring her), which caught the attention of a publisher who asked her to turn its digital posts into a paperback memoir.
Like any good tree-change tale, A Table in the Orchard takes readers back to where it all began, and traces her big and small achievements (in her case, a veggie garden, chicken coup, reviving a lemon tree, etc). For the food lovers, there’s a simple recipe to celebrate each milestone or change in the season, too.
Cookability Crawford’s cooking is pure country – uncomplicated, wholesome and darned tasty. That said, it’s also seasonal and locally inspired, which means in some cases, ingredients will be harder to procure if you’re not in Tassie. Crawford offers substitutes.
Must-cook recipe The meyer lemon spelt cordial, Craword’s take on old-fashioned British favourite lemon barley water, sounds mighty refreshing (and on trend).
Most surprising dish Haw-sin sauce, “a forager’s take on classic Chinese hoisin sauce”, made with foraged haw berries. You use it like you would tomato sauce, Crawford counsels, on a pie or with barbecued snags.
Cook the book
Recipe and images from A Table In The Orchard by Michelle Crawford (Ebury Australia, $34.99, pbk).
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