The face of cookery books is changing. Elizabeth David and Jane Grigson live on in print, but their style is long gone. Elegant prose is not considered enough to tempt you into cooking delicious recipes. If a book has no photographs, it won't sell, and since photos cost money, publishers have to sell books in bulk to justify their initial costs. As a result, the first cook-books of the 21st century are dominated by TV personalities and driven by design. If you haven't heard of or seen the author before, you have to be lured into picking up a book by its eye-catching appearance.
May is the month for the crop of cook-books aimed at summer cooking. Which means, seasonally, these focus on vegetables, barbecues, lifestyle and, slightly weirdly, baking.
Love the chef
Given the nation's current passion for Jamie Oliver, he heads up this category of "familiar faces who hope you'll buy their books" with his The Return of the Naked Chef (Michael Joseph, pounds 20, 285pp). Beautifully designed and photographed, it is hard to resist even if you have never seen his programme. It has a relaxed, fun feel which his fans will love, although non-converts might wince at such Oliver asides as "holding on to my vitals". More importantly, his recipes are appetising, with a use of clean, fresh flavours. They're clearly laid out and easy to follow, too. The simplest have no measurements, while others, like risotto, are reassuringly explicit. And as if all that were not enough, he also has handy little sections featuring dressings, marinades, stocks and sauces.
Another major production, River Cafe Book Green by Rose Gray and Ruth Rogers (Ebury Press, pounds 30, 464pp) also has a ready-made fan base, as much for their two other cook-books as their TV series. Their book is themed around seasonal fruit and vegetables. Each chapter represents a calendar month and highlights about six ingredients. Thus you will find information and Italian recipes for apricots, asparagus, broad beans, melons, spring carrots and spring onions in May. As with other River Cafe books, the look is paramount, this time at the expense of the words. Not only is it hard to read the practical advice superimposed on the photographs of each ingredient, the recipes themselves are hard to follow. Ingredients are not in any order of use, and instructions have been squashed together to ensure that each take up only a page. Selling at a hefty pounds 30, only true love should induce you to buy this book.
For inspiration on the vegetable front, turn instead to Antonio Carluccio's Vegetables (Headline, pounds 25, 320pp). "The definitive book on Italian vegetable cookery - from Britain's undisputed master of Italian cooking" overstates the blurb on the jacket. Nevertheless, this is a well laid out, if heavy, glossy book that is easy to follow. It is packed with useful information about vegetables, the recipes are more homely, the writing style chattier than that of the River Cafe's authors. Like them, his recipes are not limited to vegetarian dishes and range from beans braised in white wine to a refreshing, orange-and-cardamom-flavoured take on carrot cake.
Another beautiful chef book (I mean the book, not the chef) is One Pot Wonders by Conrad Gallagher (Kyle Cathie, pounds 16.99, 159pp). Chef at Peacock Alley in Dublin, he has ostensibly written a book that leaves you only one pot to wash, and it is divided up by type of pan: saute, wok, deep- fryer and so on - but that won't be the only one you dirty. …