Despite our apparently unwhetted appetite for the TV tie-in cookbooks that bloat our bookshops (Jamie, Nigella, Hugh, James, Nigel and, yes, Yotam: enough already) this has also been a good year for new voices.
For those who like to gossip while they cook, Claire Macdonald's Lifting The Lid (Birlinn, £17.99) takes the biscuit. Covering the 40 years that she and her husband, clan chief Godfrey Macdonald of Macdonald, ran Kinloch Lodge on Skye, it's liberally sprinkled with personal anecdotes and digs at politicians, tradesmen and critics among inspirational recipes from all four decades, starting with the 1970s "dinner party-type food" she created from her collection of Cordon Bleu magazines. The early menus are a timely reminder of how difficult it once was to source fresh fruit and veg on the Western Isles, experiences which have made Lady Claire a vocal champion of fresh local produce.
Foodie nostalgia, it seems, is no longer a thing of the past. Margaret Powell's Downstairs Cookbook (Macmillan, £9.99) describes her life as a household cook from the 1920s, when people didn't eat out much and spent a considerable portion of their incomes on food for entertaining. Hors d'oeuvres were a new-fangled thing, and such delicacies as larks' tongues pate, cold consomme with prunes, calves' brains in scallops and rook pie with boiled eggs eerily echo a very modern obsession with our collective culinary heritage.
Loading article content
Fergus Henderson, the chef who famously stated back in 1995 that it would be "disingenuous to the animal not to make the most of the whole beast" and thus started a tsunami-like trend for eating "forgotten" cuts such as oxtail, kidney, cheek, skirt, marrow, brawn and testicles, has finally published the book to capture the philosophy that underpins the cooking at his Clerkenwell restaurant St John's. The Complete Nose To Tail – A Kind Of British Cooking, co-authored with Justin Piers Gellatly (Bloomsbury, £30) has already been endorsed by the likes of Anthony Bourdain and Nigel Slater, so you get an idea of his following.
Instructions on how to master such fundamentals as rendering, clarifying and salting are fulsome and strict. There are lamb's kidneys in their suet; rolled pig's spleen; dried, salted pig's liver with radishes and boiled eggs; and a decidedly esoteric dish of salted back fat and wet walnuts. If its tone sometimes verges on the pretentious (we're reminded to check the size of our ovens before purchasing a whole suckling pig), this is nevertheless a must-have for fashionable foodies.
A follow-up to Tom Kitchin's From Nature To Plate – which endorsed his own take on the "whole animal" philosophy – is Kitchin Suppers (Quadrille, £20) which whisks us away from his Leith restaurant and into his Edinburgh home to illustrate how even a Michelin-starred chef can embrace some downtime to rustle up informal meals for friends and family. Pork fillet with apple, black pudding and Calvados; curried crayfish cocktail on rye bread; wood pigeon with celeriac; and whisky babas with berries showcase his cutting-edge French-Scottish vibe, complete with lots of designer tartan tweed between the chapters.
Even if you've never got near Russell Norman's Polpo bacaro in London's Soho (they don't take bookings), it's quite possible to be utterly seduced by his first book of recipes – effectively a paean to his beloved Venice. The speed at which Norman's simple concept of recreating authentic Venetian small plates has wrapped its tendrils round foodie London has been astonishing. Thankfully the key message of Polpo, A Venetian Cookbook Of Sorts (Bloomsbury, £25) is restraint, and some recipes require no cooking at all. Just by opening a tin of chickpeas and adding a tablespoon of tahini, a few anchovies and some oil, for example, you can reproduce his famous anchovy and chickpea crostini. There are more complicated dishes, but stunning photography by Jonathan Lovekin eases the journey, like a gondola gliding effortlessly along a Venetian canal.
Staying in Italy, an appropriate stocking-filler for the porcinely inclined would be Mary Contini's humorous little gem The Italian Sausage Bible (Birlinn, £5.99), which aims to claim the salsiccia's central role in Italian culture and cuisine. The founder of Edinburgh's Valvona & Crolla Italian deli explains that in her spiritual homeland the sausage even has its own patron saint. At just 100 pages, with 55 recipes, this is a timeless gem if ever there was one.