From smokey Southern BBQ to Nordic stews, Olivia Walmsley can find your perfect recipe book
In uncertain times, we crave comfort. The latter part of 2016 dished up Brexit and President Trump, so perhaps it’s unsurprising that autumn’s most pervasive cookbook trend concerned “hygge” – pronounced hue-gah – the Danish art of cosiness. Think Nordic comfort food: warm cinnamon buns; creamy, saffron- and dill-spiked fish stews.
A blizzard of recipe books descended upon us, of which Signe Johansen’s How to Hygge (Bluebird, £14.99) and Trine Hahnemann’s Scandinavian Comfort Food (Quadrille, £25) stood out. I was drawn to Johansen’s cardamom twists and Hahneman’s sweet rye bread with green anise. The recipes might be cosy, but they’re not bland.
Before we shrugged on our Faroe Island jumpers, we couldn’t ignore the rise of effervescent personal trainer-turned-lifestyle-guru Joe Wicks. If you’re not familiar with him, imagine, if you can, a fresh-faced, shiny-haired, Russell Brand (without the potty mouth). Wicks’s first cookbook and fitness guide, Lean in 15: 15 Minute Meals and Workouts to Keep You Lean and Healthy (Bluebird, £14.99), came out at the end of last year, and his books now dominate the Amazon food chart (numbers one, three and five).
His appeal, to those in search of rippling abdominals, lies in the simplicity and heartiness of his 15-minute recipes: lamb chops, with the fat snipped off, accompanied by a mountain of couscous; Philly cheese and jalapeño steak, again with the fat (and sadly, a lot of the flavour) discarded. The recipes are, by and large, assembly jobs that even the most clueless cooks can handle and the portions are huge. They will fill you up, and fuel those daily training sessions. Powered by Wicks’s social-media muscle, it’s turned out to be a hugely popular formula. Want to encourage someone to shape up? Pop this in their stocking. You might not be thanked for it on the most gluttonous day of the year, but they may be grateful come January.
Those who want to eat well should also investigate The New Vegetarian by Alice Hart (Square Peg, £25). With this clever book in your kitchen you might not even miss meat. Another wholesome offering that will delight fans of Deliciously Ella is 26 Grains (Square Peg, £20), whose author Alex Hely-Hutchinson launched her career with a porridge pop-up.
Elsewhere, meaty, smoky and blokey was the order of the day. A host of chefs were inspired by the pit-masters of the American South, and along came their odes to fire: Grill Smoke BBQ by Ben Tish (Quadrille, £25); Grillstock by Jon Finch and Ben Merrington (Sphere, £20); Fire and Smoke by Rich Harris (Kyle, £19.99); Low and Slow by Neil Rankin (Ebury, £25) and Deep South by Brad McDonald (Quadrille, £25). The message of these meat bibles, packed with fiery rubs and radical relishes, was clear: blackened bangers are no longer acceptable at a British barbecue.
In Food from the Fire (Pavilion, £25), Swedish chef Niklas Ekstedt combined two of the year’s biggest trends in the Nordic barbecue. Bear with me. Hot dogs grilled over flames with potato and caper salad and pink pickled onions, rack of lamb cooked on hot coals and doughnuts with ember-baked apples and maple syrup will keep the barbecue burning even when the summer ends.
River Cottage fans will also be busy all year once they get stuck into the monumental River Cottage A to Z (Bloomsbury, £40), which is packed with recipes you will want to revisit. Gill Meller’s Gather (Quadrille, £25) is not an official River Cottage publication, but Meller is the head chef there and his first book is similarly rooted in the British countryside and local, seasonal food. Nigella tweeted: “Does for contemporary British food what Ottolenghi has done for contemporary Middle Eastern cooking.”
Meller says Gather is a “philosophy for a more mindful way to cook and eat” but don’t let the m-word put you off. Butter-roasted barley flakes and leeks is a simple variation on leeks vinaigrette, using crisp, buttery barley flakes to add texture, while his autumnal pavlova, piled high with hedgerow pickings, is one hell of a seasonal show-stopper.
Telegraph columnist Diana Henry’s writing never fails to inspire, and her dishes deliver the goods, too. Her latest book, Simple (Mitchell Beazley, £25), is destined to become a classic. It’s straightforward but never dull; vivid yet resolutely unfussy.
Many recipes have become staples in my home, such as the chuck-it-all-in-the-oven Parmesan chicken. On an icy day it’s a joy to throw together her Turkish pasta with feta, yogurt and dill, or the linguine with walnuts and anchovies with bits from the cupboard or corner shop. Now that really is my idea of cosy food: simple.