Image: Penguin

Image: Penguin

Is there a genre of book more universal than the cookbook? It's not just that we all need food to stay alive, but because the best cookbooks, nowadays, include so much more than just recipes. The very best are beautiful to look at, stuffed with such delicious food styling and photography that you'd sometimes rather leave them on the coffee table for dinner guests to drool over rather than risk staining their pristine pages with grease or wet egg.

But they also tell stories. From tales of the dish to delicious family secrets, the best chefs can whisk you headlong into their world before you've even put a hand on an actual whisk.

“The internet really ought to have killed cookbooks,” the renowned food writer Helen Rosner wrote in The New Yorker last year, “.... yet somehow [they] stuck around.” The reason? The cookbook reinvented itself. “What once were primarily vehicles for recipes became anything but: the recipes still mattered, but now they existed in service of something more – a mood, a place, a technique, a voice.”

And this year has been no different. So, with moods, places, and voices in mind, here are eight of the best books for food lovers out in 2020. And for even more table inspiration, check out our sister site The Happy Foodie.

Cook, Eat, Repeat by Nigella Lawson (29 Oct)

“A recipe, much like a novel, is a living collaboration between writer and reader,” writes Nigella Lawson in Cook, Eat, Repeat. “And in both cases, it is the reader who keeps it alive.”

But her new book is more than just a collection of wonderful recipes. Spliced between them are narrative essays on everything from ‘A Loving Defence of Brown Food’ to a celebration of “the bacon of the sea” called 'A is for Anchovy'. Family dinners, vegan feasts and solo suppers are all subjects of Nigella's witty and gorgeous prose.

As for the recipes, well, here's a taster: Burnt Onion and Aubergine Dip; Butternut with Beetroot, Chilli and Ginger Sauce; Brown Butter Colcannon. Dig in.

7 Ways by Jamie Oliver (20 Aug)

A year feels oddly naked without a new Jamie Oliver cookbook. Fortunately, 2020 is fully covered with the release of 7 Ways, the Naked Chef's latest attempt to help out busy parents overwhelmed by the weekly domestic routine.

It's not so much for “foodies”, in the high-brow sense of the word. Rather, it's for families who love food. It's the usual Oliver fare – simple, fuss-free food ideas that you can whip up between the school run and wine o'clock.

The book's ethos is about cooking up delicious meals with the food you've got in the fridge anyway – so no last-minute dashes to the supermarket for truffle oil or Himalayan sea salt. Instead, Oliver says, “with everything from fakeaways and traybakes to family and freezer favourites, you'll find bags of inspiration to help you mix things up in the kitchen.”

The Happy Pear: Vegan Cooking for Everyone by David and Stephen Flynn (9 Jul)

Twins David and Stephen Flynn are "vegangelists" in the truest sense – they're chest-beating vegans and they literally want to shove it down your throat (well, really they want to inspire you to shove vegan food down your own throat, but you get the point).

The brothers, also known as The Happy Pear (geddit!?), are two of Ireland's best-known and beloved vegan chefs, and their third book is a sumptuous delight whether you're vegan or not.

Their energy is infectious, even in print, and their 200 plant-based recipes range from fluffy coconut granola to home-made vegan pizza, creamy broccoli pie to carrot cake with vegan cream cheese frosting.

It is, they say, a handbook that caters for both plant-based newcomers to and old vegan hats, thanks to their “encyclopaedic” knowledge of all foods green and healthy.

Which Wine When by Bert Blaize and Claire Strickett (13 Aug)

You're learning to cook properly, so you'd might as well learn how to drink properly too. And that doesn't mean pounding three glasses of red in the kitchen before you've even turned off the oven. Which Wine When is about moderation; about drinking wine for wine's sake, as well as yours, and not just for the 13.5% proof.

It's also about how to avoid that sinking feeling most of us get in the supermarket drinks aisle, as we spend 15 minutes cowering beneath a wall of wine we've never heard of, only to go home with a Casillero del Diablo, again.

In Which Wine When, you can look up any dish or style of cooking (from curry to roast dinner), and it will give you three wines that go with it. And if the shop doesn't have it, Bert Blaize and Claire Strickett will give you the words to ask for exactly what you want.

Nadiya Bakes by Nadiya Hussain (3 Sep)

Since winning the Great British Bake Off in 2015, Nadiya Hussain has become a national treasure. She's had four BBC series, three children’s books, a novel, a homeware range, has an MBE and cooked the Queen's 90th birthday cake.

Then there are her cookbooks, of which she has four. This is the latest. And – as you'd expect from Britain's baker du jour – it's a real tummy-rumbler.

It is, as she says, the ultimate battle plan to “conquer cakes, biscuits, traybakes, tarts and pies, showstopping desserts, breads, savouries, and even 'no-bake' bakes.”

The book covers both humble, homely food, such as buttermilk baked chicken, and the more complex – if there's one recipe you try, please for the love of bees, make it the Honey Cake with a Salted Hazelnut Crumb! – all with Hussain's trademark sense of humour and warmth that makes every recipe feel doable.

A Half Baked Idea by Olivia Potts (30 Jul)

Olivia Potts was 25 when her mother, Ruth, died very suddenly. Potts – then a criminal barrister and rising star of the bar – was so grief-stricken by the loss of her “best friend” that she came to a direction-shifting realisation: her life needed fewer courtrooms and more cake.

So she swapped her wig for a whisk and became a wedding cake baker. This book is the story of that transformation, marbled through with delicious recipes ranging from passionfruit pavlova to her mother's shepherd's pie.

There are parts that should come with a warning: do not eat cake while reading, for you may well choke on your laughter. There are other parts, though, that are so cry-your-eyes-out heartbreaking that you'll be grateful you saved that cake to gorge on.

It is, in short, a gorgeously written memoir about loss, grief and the soul-nourishing power of baking (which, of course, always tastes better when you've done it yourself). 

Table Manners: the Cookbook by Jessie and Lennie Ware (5 Mar)

If you haven't listened to Jessie and Lennie Ware's podcast, where have you been? Since the mother-daughter duo started it in 2017 it has become a global phenomenon, with more than 80 million downloads.

The format is simple: Jessie invites one of her showbiz pals to dinner – Ed Sheeran, Mark Ronson, Keifer Sutherland, Lady Gaga, you get the idea – her mum cooks a gourmet treat (usually with a Jewish bent), and they sit down, drink wine, grill their guests and chew the fat.

The podcast is a Full English of hilarity, and this cookbook is the perfect sauce to accompany it. It's stuffed gorgeous recipes straight out of the Lennie Ware school of cookery – from chicken soup with matzo balls to no-churn cappuccino ice cream – divided into user-friendly sections like “Effortless”, “A bit more effort”, “Chrismukkah” and “Jewish-ish”.

It is a book, they say, designed for “real people with busy and sometimes chaotic lives with the ultimate goal of everyone eating together so unfiltered chat can flourish.” As for Jessie and Lennie, they are, as Yotam Ottolenghi put it, “as madly entertaining to read as they are to be around.”

Eat a Peach by David Chang (4 Feb 2021)

In 2004, David Chang opened a noodle bar in the heart of Manhattan. His ambitions were low: to make great food for busy New Yorkers, and to stay afloat for at least a year. Sixteen years later, those noodles have wriggled their way around the world, evolving into a Michelin-starred restaurant empire that's turned the humble pork bun into a thing of epicurean beauty.

Which is to say, he does a lot more than just noodles now. His story is an inspiration. But this is no self-gratifying chronicle of success. It's a new kind of chef's memoir that's bracingly honest about the mental health challenges that led him to give up a dead-end teaching job in small-town America to risk everything on a dream.

It's also packed with many of the recipes that turned him into one of the world's most influential chefs. Funny, wise and refreshingly humble, Eat a Peach is a delectably written journey into the noodle of the man who made noodles cool.

Flavour by Yotam Ottolenghi and Ixta Belfrage (3 Sep)

Process, paring and produce are the buzzwords of Yotam Ottolenghi's latest cookbook – and this time he's turning his gastro-attentions to veg. The third instalment in the award-winning chef's PLENTY series (co-written with recipe developer and Test Kitchen chef Ixta Belfrage), Flavour is broken up into three parts, which together reveal “how to tap into the potential of ordinary vegetables to create extraordinary food.”

First, Process explains how to elevate the humble vegetable into a showstopping dish. Pairing is about what goes best with what for optimum flavour. While Produce offers “impactful vegetables that do the work for you.” The recipes may be the meat (or veg) of the book, but home cooks won't help but drool over the genuinely gorgeous photography that illustrates each dish.

As for the dishes themselves (more than 100 of them!), think Hasselback Beetroot with Lime Leaf Butter, Miso Butter Onions, Spicy Mushroom Lasagne and Romano Pepper Schnitzels. Never again let it be said that vegetables are just a side dish. Yotam just won't have it! You may never look at an aubergine in the same way again.

You can add all the books featured here to your Amazon shopping basket by clicking here.

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