Russ Parsons' Caramelized Winter Squash
Nigel Slater's Clams with Ham and Sherry

Nigel Slater's Kitchen Diaries


In the interest of full disclosure, I'll tell you right away that I was sent a copy of Nigel Slater's latest book by his US publisher last week to review here. But I'll also tell you that I would have happily paid full price for this book, because ever since discovering the Observer Food Monthly online and then reading Toast, I am convinced that Nigel Slater is my kitchen hero.

The Kitchen Diaries is the best cookbook I've read or cooked from in a long time. Slater kept a diary of everything he had for dinner over the course of one year. Most of the time, he cooked his meals, freely admitting, however, to evenings of ordered-in bento boxes or a plate of canned baked beans with frozen french fries. But whatever Slater had to eat, his lyricism casts all of his meals in a golden light and makes each sound irresistible, whether it's a thin slice of brown bread plastered thickly with cold, sweet butter, or a four-course Christmas Day supper.

I started reading, from the beginning, on Friday night, and by Saturday I'd plowed through the entire thing. The structure of the book, and Slater's easy tone, makes the book read like the archives of a blog. Each day, you uncover a little bit more about the reader. It's enticing and funny and even bittersweet. There's a lemon ice dedicated to a dead friend here, and a strange encounter with an anonymous fan and a bag of frozen peas there. And more than anything, there is Slater's firm and unerring taste, and his literary talent.

Can I read you the entry from August 13? Actually, I'll just retype it here. And tell me if it doesn't have you clicking straight over to Amazon to buy this book. "I break my glasses, lose my watch at the gym and realize that the ripe tomatoes I intended to pick for supper have been sucked to a pulp by the snails. The day ends with me slicing a ball of mozzarella into four, trickling olive oil over it and adding some small thyme leaves in lieu of basil. Ciabatta soaks up the milky, olive-oily juices from the plate. A delight, but it does not quite soak up the whole bottle of wine."

Or how about something taken from May 30?  "Two of us ate the beets and their greens with slices of crumbly goat cheese, hacking off bits of cheese and pushing them on to the still-warm beets with ruby-stained fingers. After the fudgy, chalk-white cheese and sweet, claret roots, we filled up on slices of thickly buttered white bread cut from a cottage loaf. Oh, and I bought pinks too, a fat bunch of them, and sat them in a creamware jug on the kitchen table."

And June 23 (I promise I'll stop after this). "Five people turn up for a meeting that ends up dragging on later than anyone expected. They keep looking longingly at the oven, hoping I will suddenly produce a meal out of nothing. In truth, I'm tired and I cannot wait for them to go, and so offer them the only thing I have around - sardines on toast. We end up eating round after round with bottles of beer, till every crumb of bread is finished and my larder is looking distinctly depleted."

Slater's sure hand with ingredients, his inspired take on leftovers, his deep understanding of those days when you simply cannot cook but still need something to nourish you, his disdain for long ingredient lists, his uncanny way of turning simply everything he describes into the very thing you must have for dinner, right now, no doubt about it - these are all reasons to buy this book. I may not have 101 cookbooks, but my collection comes close and I can tell you honestly that not a single one of my cookbooks has me as inspired as this one does.

You will, I think, want to cook everything in this book. I've already started to.