Angela Clutton reflects on the latest gathering of the Cookbook Club. This time: From Venice to Istanbul, by Rick Stein
One of our Cookbook Club members emailed me after our June events to say how great it was that “people with a broad range of opinions can come together, openly express how they feel and laugh of any differences, and then carry on eating together in a wonderful spirit of bonhomie”. That message filled me with joy, of course, because it perfectly sums up so much of why the Cookbook Club is so loved—and also reflected the experience of the event that while fame can be deeply polarising, good food absolutely isn’t.
Let’s get the fame out of the way first. The book this time was Rick Stein’s From Venice to Istanbul. As is always the way when we do a book from a big household name like Rick (just like with Jamie Oliver, Nigel Slater, Nigella Lawson, Delia Smith et al at previous events) our members come with firmly held and very different opinions born of this person having been on their television screens, on their bookshelves and in their kitchens for years. They—we—justifiably feel we know them. Our gatherings ran the full spectrum: from those who record every Rick Stein sighting on television and have all his books, to those who were aware of the name but (before Cookbook Club, anyway) not too much more, and really everything in between.
Simplicity and accessibility
The unity—as ever—came with the food and then our discussions about this sumptuous book. A theme that kept coming up was the simplicity of the recipes and the way Rick conveys how to make them. The dishes from the breadth of the nations running through his journey from Venice to Istanbul were popular with the Cookbook Club, but the stand-out for this book was the accessibility of Rick’s approach.
None of that is some sort of code for simplicity resulting in dishes being muted in their depth of flavour. Quite the opposite. Stand out dishes we enjoyed together were rich lamb stew with aubergine puree; kid goat stew with peas; gigantes with tomatoes and greens; and a Greek salad that I made twice and will definitely be making again. Special mention to ‘the best chicken pie in Greece’, which was also the best chicken pie many of us could remember having. It showed off the flavour power of poaching chicken and was its cook’s first ever go at filo. How I love it when the Cookbook Club pushes us out of our culinary comfort zones. Desserts were a triumph too. Highlights included galaktoboureko with orange syrup (a sort of custard tart with candied oranges), karidopita walnut cake, and Croatian cherry strudel.
From Venice to Istanbul is a beautifully put together book. It is gorgeously photographed and the images, along with Rick’s words and recipes, make this in many ways a travelogue as much as a cookbook.
I’ll leave the last word on it all to another Cookbook Club-er, who wrote after the events that it was “overall a well-deserved win for Rick Stein!” Well said.
Tuesday 16th & Saturday 20th July: Four Seasons Cookery Book by Margaret Costa