By Skye Gyngell
Photographs by Jason Lowe
Ten Speed Press 2010
Buy it on Amazon
Inspired by seasonal eating, Skye Gyngell has assembled her favorite ingredients and given them star treatment in casual, stunning recipes. The lush flavor combinations are daring but not at all fussy, and her mindful use of ingredients and simple techniques result in utterly embraceable food.
Her sixteen favorites range from single items like cherries, chocolate or honey, to more complex categories, like shellfish. There's lots of wiggle room in each chapter to find what you crave, and even in the dead of winter the possibilities for something sumptuous are at your fingertips. Sometimes a category is a little less accessible, like game birds, for instance, but after reading the recipe, heck, you kind of want to track down a partridge even if you have to go out and shoot it yourself. Oddly enough, after reading the recipe, I noticed that my butcher advertises partridges. Live, learn, and eat well.
See what we tested and whether it's worth buying after the jump.
Takeaway tips: The Skye's the limit. Gyngell really captures versatility. Whether she's exploring varieties of a particular ingredient -- nuts, tomatoes, olive oil -- their flavor pairings, or cooking methods, it never feels boring. There are lots of little wake-up calls. Some less-familiar ingredients ride shotgun with commonplace items: Jerusalem artichokes make an appearance in the nut chapter. It made me stop and think that in the future I'll pay them more mind.
Gyngell's got a message -- she champions making fresh, seasonal and sustainable choices. It's not the first time we've heard this, but she brings it all home with satisfying recipes. It's truly good food you can truly feel good about, and it's little wonder that Alice Waters adores her.
Quality of pictures: Jason Lowe's cross-processed photos are drop-dead gorgeous, and the book's not stingy with them. There's also a quirky pattern riot going on with many of the plates, which made me smile.
What we tested: The casualness of the dishes called out for a Sunday supper. I'm a big proponent of greed and sloth, so I lean toward recipes that require a relatively small shopping bag and not a lot of fuss. There were plenty of options to choose from.
On a lazy Sunday, I made Stracotto, a long, slow braise of chuck simmered in Chianti. I love braising because it takes almost no effort. Little did I know how much self-restraint would be required as the apartment filled with killer aromas. But for all that time spent lounging as it cooked, over 6 hours total, it vanished from our bowls in a New York minute. Even lazier, leftovers did double duty on pasta for a second sumptuous dinner.
I was also intrigued by the gratin of white asparagus. I haven't cooked with them often, and generally pass them over in the market. I figured I'd give it a go but with strong reservations over the wanton use of crème fraiche, butter, and cheese. Yes, it was one helluva rich dish, and yes I could have heeded her advice about just serving it with a salad, but the asparagus still shone through, crisp, light and delicate.
Worth the investment: This book is an inspiration, but it's not a nightly go-to. Several ingredients haven't made it over the pond and sometimes the American conversion of quantities made me scratch my head (like a 12-ounce can of tomatoes), but a resourceful cook can use these recipes and adapt or improvise where necessary and eat really well.