Cook the Books – A Year of Good Eating

. March 02, 2016
Photography by David Parker.
Cook the Books – A Year of Good Eating

Nigel Slater's latest release A Year of Good Eating reads partly like a journal and partly like a love letter to some of his favourite recipes. Our practical recipe book reviewer David Parker made the book's Green Olive and Thyme Foccacia and wrote Nigel a letter to let him know it went...

Dear Nigel,

It’s me again, David. I'm not sure if you got all of my previous letters as I haven't received any replies from you? Maybe they got lost in the mail, or maybe my letters got lost in the mail to you? Either way, I thought I would start with a recap of my previous letters to you incase they never found their way to your hands.

I'm a big fan of your work! I've enjoyed you on the shows Nigel Slaters Simple Suppers, Nigel Slaters Simple Cooking and of course, most recently Nigel Slater: Eating Together. You seem to have a genuine enthusiasm for food and people and I love the way you present, the way you talk about food is so inspiring. You make me want to cook things.

I had no idea that you wrote books however, I mean of course you have but I don't remember being conscious of them until Dish sent me A Year Of Good Eating. Apparently your 14th book! And the third instalment in your Kitchen Diaries series. It certainly wasn't what I was expecting from a cook book – it was more like a book that also happens to have recipes in it. It would be perfect for taking away on holiday and dreaming about the recipes I'd cook while also having something substantial to read. 

I had a look through the summer section of the book trying to pick something to cook but gave up because I couldn't look past the gorgeously browned and dimpled Green Olive and Thyme Foccacia. Anyway, bread's an all-year-round thing right? 

I tried to follow your directions to a T, starting by mixing the flour, dried yeast, sea salt, olive oil and water together and then kneading. You said to knead by hand and I knew could do that, I have baked enough bread to prove to myself that I can knead a bread dough.

But, now I have a stand mixer and I didn't buy it to sit on my bench and watch me knead. I'm sure you would've kneaded it by hand but I'm also sure you wouldn't look down on using a stand mixer. 

Then I covered the bowl with cling film (or Gladwrap as we say here in New Zealand) and let it rise for just over an hour. It had risen nicely so I punched it down and pulled it out ready to add the olives.

Fortunately I found lemon marinated green olives really easily. I thought they'd be impossible to find and I'd have to marinade my own or settle for regular green olives, but it was really easy. However they weren't pitted so I had to do that by hand as I roughly chopped them, not too difficult, I just cut around the olive and squeezed the two halves off the pit. 

Then I sprinkled the olives and thyme leaves over the dough and kneaded them into the dough before putting the dough into a tin that I had lined with paper. So typical of you to just grab a sheet of paper and make it fit, no fussing over perfectly lined tins! 

I left the dough to proof in the tin covered in cling-film for another 30 minutes. When it had risen again I pulled the cling-film off and poked holes into the dough with my finger, always the best part of making focaccia! Then I poured over the olive oil and sprinkled the remaining sea salt. I looked at the photo in the book and there were some olives and some sprigs of thyme on top of your bread, I'm sure you just trusted my common sense to figure out that I should add my own so I did.

After baking I anointed it again with the last olive oil – so much olive oil! 

It looked really good, just like yours, dare I say. However I was a little confused, from the photo in your book I can't really tell how tall your focaccia came out. I made sure to use the same size pan as you did but mine rose a lot. I'm just used to focaccia being a flat bread? I might be wrong but this didn't seem very focaccia-y. What it lacked in focaccia-y-ness it certainly made up for in deliciousness! It was very soft, fluffy almost. I considered putting some of the lemon into the dough but with just the olives it still had a subtle hint of lemon along with the perfume of the thyme and the sharp bites of the olives. It was gone pretty quickly. 

Before it all went I popped out into the garden to pick some cherry tomatoes to have with hummus on the bread. Great combo, that I would recommend! We've got so many cherry tomatoes at the moment I've been eating them at any opportunity. 

It was a good bread but I'm still not sure it should be called a focaccia? Maybe the dough was meant for 2 tins? Any tips Nigel? 

Yours sincerely,


The Book Cooked
Level of expertise required: A Year of Good Eating keeps it pretty basic, there won't be much to challenge your skills, its more about inspiring flavours and seasonal cooking.
How many trips to the supermarket were required? Just one for this recipe although you'll find that A Year of Good Eating takes inspiration from not only British food (and the months of the seasons are based around a British year) but cultures from all over Europe and Asia. So some of the recipes might take a bit of a hunt for particular ingredients but they shouldn't be too hard to find.
How closely did dishes resemble those in the book? 9/10 maybe? It's all pretty rustic stuff so shouldn't be too hard to emulate. 
Ease of reading: If you're wanting purely a cook book and intend to use this as such I probably wouldn't recommend it, I think it is clever that it has been made into more of a traditional novel sized book because there is a lot of non-recipe specific writing and it is laid out more like a book that occasionally features a recipe. However the recipes aren't too hard to find and most recipes do still have a photo next to them. 
Pretty on the coffee table or designed to be battered through overuse? I'd probably say pretty on the bedside table, while the book is split about 50/50 with writing and recipes I'd say it is more designed more for reading than it is cooking. But that shouldn't stop you, the recipes contained within are well worth a go!