Angela Clutton reflects on the latest gathering of the Cookbook Club: this time, Perfect Plates in Five Ingredients by John Whaite
A book by John Whaite comes with both the glory but also the baggage of him wearing the 2012 Great British Bake Off winner’s crown. In his Perfect Plates in Five Ingredients—John’s first book to move away from a baking focus—it is safe to say that he wears the crown, the glory and yes, the baggage, with aplomb.
It is structured by dishes to suit times of day or styles of cooking: ‘morning plates’, ‘everyday plates’, ‘worth-the-wait plates’ and more. The five-ingredient theme has store cupboard staples as allowed extras but is of course limiting. Having only five main ingredients means the flavours are necessarily punchy, with little room in the ingredients’ list for balancing nuance. And I mean all that in a good way—the flavours of the dishes totally deliver.
The consensus was that this book is aimed at new-ish cooks who are gaining confidence and looking to stretch their culinary legs into discovering how flavours can work together. Some of the more experienced cooks at our events enjoyed discussing what sixth or seventh ingredients they’d add if making the dishes again at home. They envisaged using the book as a recipe basis, to layer-up with their own creativity.
Top tips: The focaccia recipe is a cinch and all agreed Whaite’s rather more low-effort endeavour than many versions yielded great results. The hasselbacks will make your home smell like heaven and please, as well as cooking from this book, read it. The introduction to each section is some of the best food-writing I’ve read recently. It’s witty, frank, evocative, and will make you feel that John is standing alongside you in the kitchen, pouring you a glass of wine and making you smile.
What members had to say
“Good practical ideas for quickly prepared food, for busy people, that aims to widen your repertoire in the kitchen.”
“For a food lover, events like this make living in (or even visiting) London magic."
“Had such a lovely time yesterday at the #boroughmarketbookclub the food was delicious and beautiful to boot. I can’t get enough of this group. Always great food, wonderful wine provided by the super @boroughwines and wonderful people who never get tired of talking about food!”
“I now have a new favourite author @John_Whaite."
“It was such a fun day and really inspiring! Can’t wait to try some of these new recipes.”
“It has inspired me to be more adventurous.”
“It was so interesting to be able to try so many different dishes from one book, which left you feeling like you had a whole new repertoire of recipes.”
“Going to enjoy using the book for some weeknight inspiration.”
“So many fantastic flavours and as always, lovely people to connect with and to share stories with.”
The dishes we shared
—Mackerel and beetroot salad
—Gochujang roasted squash
—Lamb, cherry and split pea tagine
—Sweet potato, Gruyere and pecan gratin
—Roasted fine beans & chickpeas
—Big bowl o’spoon salad
—Garlicky, cheesy, giant hasselback potatoes
—My favourite tomato salad
—Sticky black sesame chicken
—Focaccia and infused oil
—Roasted radicchio and figs
—Tahini and honey chicken
—Roasted courgettes and tomatoes
—Beetroot and anchovy galette
—Braised fennel with halloumi and grapefruit
—Pistachio and artichoke panzanella
—Chicken, leek and cider mug pot pies
—Eastern spiced meatballs
—Puttanesca-style monkfish stew
—Spinach, artichoke and cheddar dip
—Maple-coated bacon with cinnamon baked apple
—Coconut macaroon and lime cheesecake
—Lemon and rosemary almond cake
—Amaretto apricots with brown sugar meringue
—Secret ingredient chocolate fudge cake
—Salted chocolate and liquorice tart
—Sticky toffee pudding banana upside-down cake
Saturday 14th March, 12:30-3pm / Wednesday 18th March, 6:30–9pm
Zaika by Romy Gill
Read John Whaite’s recipe for pork osso buco with turnips, anise and orange or for more inspiration, check out Luke Mackay’s John Whaite-style recipe for five ingredient fish stew