Beauty, passion, and a deep knowledge of seasonal produce infuse Skye Gyngell's My Favorite Ingredients, a book filled with 16 of the author's most beloved foods. From asparagus to chocolate, it's hard not to turn the pages and feel inspired.
Title & Publisher: My Favorite Ingredients: An Enticing Collection of Recipes, by Skye Gyngell. US edition. Published by Ten Speed Press, 2010. (Originally published as My Favourite Ingredients by Quadrille, 2008).
First impressions: This softcover book's thick, uncoated paper stock gives it a warm feel, while the dimensions (9 x 6.5 inches) make it as easy to hold and read in bed as in the kitchen. (In fact, reading it bed might be preferable, as it unfortunately does not lie flat when open.) One of the biggest attractions is Jason Lowe's gorgeous color photography featuring raw ingredients and plated dishes.
Number of recipes: About 100, organized in chapters for Asparagus, Cherries, Fish & shellfish, Olive oil, Leaves, Citrus, Beans & grains, Tomatoes, Nuts, Vinegar, Garlic, Game birds, Apples, Cheese, Honey, and Chocolate. About half of the recipes include meat or seafood.
The angle: Seasonal, produce-driven recipes from Skye Gyngell, Head Chef at Petersham Nurseries Café in Richmond, Surrey. As Gyngell writes, "My Favorite Ingredients highlights some of the rich and beautiful ingredients that I am privileged to work with throughout the culinary year. Most of the recipes are simple in their execution. For certain, there are no daunting or complicated techniques—just simple ways of combining good produce in order to maximize and fully appreciate its flavors."
Strengths: One might expect a book organized around 16 ingredients to be limited in scope, but it has surprising range. Although some of the chapters are indeed very specific (asparagus, cherries), others are actually broader categories (beans and grains, nuts) or have diverse applications (olive oil, vinegar). Gyngell's chapter introductions contain useful information about selecting, storing, and preparing the ingredients, while the recipes themselves are clear and easy to follow. With the focus on good quality ingredients, preparation techniques are generally simple and the resulting dishes are casual yet elegant.
The other stuff: The book's unconventional organization, as well as its design, might prevent it from becoming a cookbook in regular rotation. However, as we mentioned previously, this is a good book to curl up with, so at the very least one might appreciate it for the photography, Gyngell's infectious passion for her subjects, and the inspiring examples of ingredient pairings.
Recipes for right now: Asparagus, rice, and pancetta soup; Deep-fried artichokes and lemon with mint and anchovy dressing; Blood oranges with warm honey and rosemary; Wild garlic and white bean curry; Baked garlic and shallots with fino; Bruschetta of sheep's milk ricotta, lemon oil, and bresaola
Recommended? Yes. We wouldn't consider this an essential cookbook, it's definitely beautiful and inspiring.
• Buy the book: My Favorite Ingredients, $16.32 at Amazon
• Get the recipe pictured above: Sauce vierge (Tomatoes) at Petersham Nurseries
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(Image: Random House)