She was and still is one of our most celebrated food writers. Her first book was published in 1950 in those dark days after the Second World War finished and before normal life began again. One could liken her work to the equivalent of colour TV arriving in our sitting rooms. Yes, we had enjoyed the monochrome original, but how much more did we appreciate vibrant hues.
Elizabeth David introduced the sober British public to the flavours of the South. Not the South of England, although she has always been proud of traditional English food, but those far off exotic climes of the Mediterranean coast. She plied us with pasta and that unfamiliar bread-based staple, pizza. (This collection has a lamb-topped Middle Eastern version as well as the more familiar European.) Her recipes might have seemed daring half a century ago but they are still prized these days for their timeless quality. Good food never goes out of style.
At Elizabeth David’s Table is a collection of some of her best and most accessible dishes. They are a broad selection that will give any reader new to the Grande Dame of cooking a sense of the woman’s passion for the good things of life. She was slightly outrageous and risqué and presented just what was needed to propel us out of the culinary doldrums.
I confess to being a fan of proper and un-cheffy food and this volume is a showcase for such dishes. Plenty of the classics, and a few which might be new to younger home cooks. They reflect the way we eat in the 21st century and present recipes for economic meals as well as those for celebrations. I have many favourites and they are mainly for the less pricey fare.
A simple and authentic slice of Alsatian Onion Tart is hard to beat. There are few ingredients but the result of those being sympathetically combined is memorable. The sweetness of the gently cooked onions is the epitome of comfort. Nutmeg is the spice of choice in this particular recipe, but I often substitute that with a little caraway seed.
Potato Pie is a crustless creation which makes the best of left-overs. A layer of mash, a layer of cheese and ham and boiled eggs, and a topping of more mash with a pouring of melted butter is baked in the oven. 1kg of potatoes will provide five or six people with a delicious meal, or perhaps it’s a meal for two greedy people on two consecutive weeknights. OK, it’s not quite as good the next day but it’s instant and much better than a takeaway when served with baked beans. Not smart, but I am sure Ms. David would approve.
It will soon be Christmas. Turkeys will be flying out of butchers’ shops to feed families of hungry revellers. But what of us folk with only two at the festive table? A whole turkey would be outfacing and a chicken hardly marks the day as special. Elizabeth David offers Turkey Breasts with Marsala. This dish can be increased if friends decide that your dinner sounds a bit more interesting than the usual roast bird.
At Elizabeth David’s Table is a gift-quality collection of some of the best from this mighty writer. Great value for money.
At Elizabeth David’s Table – Her very best everyday recipes
Author: Elizabeth David
Published by: Michael Joseph – Penguin
Cookbook review by Chrissie Walker © 2018