'A must for any serious cookbook collection' runs the breathless blurb on the book’s jacket. This is not a new release, but a re-issued hardback of a book first published in 1970, written by a very well-regarded author (but one that many readers may not be familiar with). It’s attractively packaged, though there are no pictures of the finished dishes, which may make it one for serious food-lovers rather than the sort who insist on full-colour plates and carefully numbered steps in their recipes.
Several things are striking about the book. One is that, whether she’s writing about olives or recalling an English child’s first summer in France, Costa’s prose seems as fresh today as when it was first written, proving that really good food-writing never goes out of fashion.
Like Elizabeth David, her main points of reference are France and Italy, so it’s recipes from the Mediterranean, as well as British classics, that are most strongly represented. Equally contemporary is the book’s approach: the focus is on seasonal eating and so it’s divided up into four seasonal chapters, with shorter sections on the likes of asparagus, strawberries, nuts, mussels, etc.
Like many seasoned restaurant-goers, it saves room for sweets; some of the most enticing-sounding recipes are found in the sections on cakes, baking and ‘proper puddings’. Of course, the food world has moved on since 1970, and not always for the better. The introduction to the chapter on salmon is a case in point: there’s not the merest mention of farmed salmon which then didn’t exist, while these days, it’s difficult to buy anything but.