Angela Clutton reflects on the latest gathering of the Cookbook Club which this month focused on Diana Henry’s Food From Plenty
If you are reading this and have Diana Henry’s Food From Plenty sitting on your shelf, I urge you to go and grab it, read the first half dozen or so pages, then come back. In that introduction, Diana sets out a food philosophy for cooking and eating more meaningfully. It was a big part of why I so wanted to do this book for the Borough Market Cookbook Club and why I read out at the event the sentence in that intro that really sums up her philosophy:
“We need to value our planet, our bodies, the people who produce our food, the animals who provide it, and those we feed every day. It makes for a much happier life.”
With that as the context for the cookbook and the dishes the members were bringing along I always felt September’s event was going to be a rather special evening of terrific food and shared experiences and it absolutely was.
We had, as usual, a good mix of savoury and sweet. The salmon, mango and rice salad was one of the hits of the night; as was the green bean salad with feta, chilli and tarator. With the Ethiopian spiced pumpkin soup we heard about how the spices had been ground by hand in front of the TV the night before; and Diana’s Moroccan seven-vegetable couscous was given an inventive twist by switching the harissa in the recipe for sriracha. That worked really well.
One of great things about Cookbook Club events is how honest members are about their experiences of cooking from the book. If you know Food From Plenty you’ll know there’s a whole section on cooking with roast meat leftovers. There are lots of lovely recipes there which rely on having however many grams of cooked meat left over. Brilliant if you do, but we’d all just been talking about how potentially awkward it was to make from scratch a recipe that called for leftover rare roast lamb.
The member making it had needed to cook the meat specifically for the recipe and (rather guttingly) using the wrong cut for this kind of recipe, meaning it ended up not quite as she’d hoped. Although it should be said that the dish’s roast pepper salad with garlic and anchovy cream was just delicious.
On to the puddings. Diana’s plum and almond upside-down cake is a variation on the apricot version. It was interesting to hear contrasting views across the members on the way many Food From Plenty recipes come with alternatives. That one was certainly a winner. Especially with another member’s brown bread and whisky ice-cream.
We rounded things off with the cardamom, honey and orange roast apricots. That was the evening’s favourite for many people—which is saying something given it came at the end of quite a feast. I hope that appreciation was reward for it having been tested out three times and it then being quite hard to find more apricots when actually making the dish for the club!
There was—as ever—a lot of food. In the nicest possible way I am always a bit surprised at how much gets eaten through the night, and certainly at the end none goes to waste. Members packed up boxes of each other’s leftovers before leaving and I find it rather heart-warming to know that quite a few lunches the next day will be courtesy of the Cookbook Club love.
We turn to Italy next with Anna Del Conte’s Amaretto, Apple Cake and Artichokes. Can’t wait.
PS: To any members who came along but whose dish isn’t mentioned here that is no reflection on anything other than there being too many to possibly include them all!
17th October: Amaretto, Apple Cake and Artichokes by Anna del Conte
22nd November: Jerusalem by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi
6th December: Happy Christmas by Delia Smith
Images: John Holland