Hunger makes beans taste like almonds – Italian folk saying
It was cold today.
That feeling of winter has been creeping in for a few weeks now, the leaves piling up and swirling around the bottom of trees and against walls, things turning brown, dying, hibernating.
It felt like winter, and I’ve started to cook winter food. Tonight, we had parsnips for the first time this season, fried in butter with coriander, cardamom and chilli flakes, finished in the oven until crisp and eaten with a simple piece of grilled chicken. There were big flavours, but warming and comforting ones…creamy parsnips and cutting chilli. Food that matches the weather.
Diana Henry’s Roast Figs, Sugar Snow: Food to Warm the Soul fits this feeling perfectly. Her book is a collection of recipes that relies on the tastes and flavours of winter in cold places, places where winters are hard, where the environment changes the way people cook and eat.
Life slows down and so does cooking. Cold-weather dishes undergo slow transformations: alchemy takes place as meat and root vegetables, through careful handling and gentle heat, become an unctuous stew, a dish far greater than the sum of its parts. The techniques employed in the kitchen fug the windows and seal you in, and you find you want different foods. You can’t argue with your body as it craves potatoes and pulses: the winter appetite is about survival.
Much of the food of winter is exactly about survival. It’s about using things stored away in the fat months to use in the lean, about making the most of the more limited resources the season offers. Of course, the need to preserve and hoard food is less acute in these days of hi-tech refrigeration and worldwide distribution, but there still exists a sense of seasonality that, as Henry points out, makes the body crave starchy foods, regardless of whether or not we can get fresh summer vegetables in the depths of winter.
Henry worries about the “Mediterraneanisation” of food, fearing that our collective love of all things from that region is eating away at the traditional food of the cooler climes.
I’d suggest that’s not the case, and present Henry’s own book as evidence.
There’s a huge range of inspiring cooking here, recipes from many countries and cuisines, styles and cultures. All share a tendency towards the warming and restorative.
This is not all heavy food, stews, roast meats and the like. There’s plenty of variety, plenty of breadth and scope, plenty of beautiful, simple, seductive food, described and photographed with engaging enthusiasm and verve.
It’s a lovely collection, and a superb book.