In my third year of university, I spent far more on cookbooks than I ever did on reading related to the course. That was when my addiction began, kept in check only by a keen awareness of its effects on my bank balance. Many of them were gifts, but they are mostly either impulse purchases or part of post-birthday or post-Christmas splurge online. For the most part, I’m not too picky either: there are those linked to TV series, some by top chefs with impossibly high standards (one suggests throwing a stock out and starting again if you can smell it, as the flavours will be lost the air instead of infusing into the liquid) and some by otherwise unknown writers sharing the foods of their homeland. My most recent purchase was the latest book by Nigel Slater, simply called “eat”.
The simplistic cover design of the book is remarkably telling of the contents. Recipes are short and sweet, put forward more as ideas than full step-by-step, prescriptive procedures. There’s also little embellishment too – gone are the extensive descriptive passages that make some of Nigel Slater’s previous books so enjoyable to read. This is certainly no bad thing however. The recipe ideas in the book are simple, with minimal preparation but effective flavour and texture combinations doing the work and with around 600 of them, they are intended as a “collect of suggestions for things you might like to make for dinner”, a more softly-softly stance to the bossier “musts” of other books.
In my last post, I wondered whether beautiful food photography and complex, high-tech cooking methods used by professional chefs put people off cooking on a day-to-day basis. This book, to me, does the opposite with a minimalistic approach to images (they’re there but every other page isn’t a full glossy photo) and a welcoming attitude to ingredient substitutions, instead of talking down to you for entertaining thoughts of an inferior replacement. The book is about inspiration and encouragement that good food can be simple and still enjoyable. Nigel Slater’s “eat” is welcome change of pace.
Taking my inspiration from the book, I put together a simple salad for dinner this week – I won’t lie and suggest I had everything lying around, instead I bought everything with this in mind and ended up changing a lot once I was in the shop. Almonds became pine nuts and serrano ham became prosciutto (though I nearly opted for bacon), but the principle remained the same and it’s little more than an arrangement of things that I like to eat on a plate!
Peel the nashi pear, halve it and remove the core with a teaspoon. Slice lengthways into thin semi-circles, rubbing with the cut face of half a lemon to stop them discolouring too much. In a frying pan, heat the rapeseed oil until very hot and add the slices of ham one at a time so that they don’t stick together. After a couple of minutes when they are beginning to crisp, remove from the pan and set aside on kitchen paper to remove excess oil. In the remaining oil in the pan, fry the pine nuts until they colour slightly, stirring often, before removing the pan from the heat. Divide the rocket, nashi pear and prosciutto between two plates. Squeeze the lemon half over the pine nuts with a pinch of black pepper (the ham is salty enough so no more is needed), and drizzle the contents of the frying pan over the salads to dress them simply. Serves 2.