Summer is the season of abundance — a time when the raw ingredients are so delicious they (generally) need little more than a light char and some artful assembly. As Jess Lea-Wilson, recipe creator and co-author of one of this summer’s most inspiring cookbooks (see below) says: “When it’s really hot outside, I want to eat something that requires so little effort that it’s barely a recipe — but still tastes absolutely more than the sum of its parts.”
Heatwave weather brings out the charlatan in all of us - but luckily, even the laziest of cooks will find something to make (or artfully assemble) in this crop of cookbooks.
Sea Salt: A Perfectly Seasoned Cookbook by the Lea-Wilson family
The Lea-Wilson family have been making award-winning sea salt for decades and in this beautifully shot tome, they explore the intricacies of the world’s most used (and misused) condiment. It’s at once an homage to fresh, local ingredients (the family hail from the Welsh isle of Anglesey, where they produce the flakey salt beloved of Michelin starred chefs), and to the transformative power of salt.
The joy of this book is that it teaches you all the tricks of proper seasoning. In between snapshots of family life, the recipes hand-hold the reader through everything from the best ways to prepare a side of meat (generously salted, just before cooking) to brining almost anything. The idea is that small tweaks are all it takes to make any dish sing — heartening for any novice cooks.
Plus, there are plenty of recipes dedicated to pickling. As Lea-Wilson points out: “Traditionally, late summer is the season for pickling, to save an abundance of seasonal produce that all ripens at once.” And you don’t have to make a massive batch if you’re not lucky enough to have a heaving kitchen garden, says Lea-Wilson: “‘quickles’ are every bit as flavoursome but not quite as much effort. I make an overnight courgette pickle this time of year – using salt to draw out the liquid from the veg and give it that satisfying crunch. Serving pickle alongside really simple dishes – a salad or a toastie – really makes them into something more.”
The Spanish Home Kitchen by Jose Pizarro
Split into four different sections, dedicated to vegetables, fish and seafood, meat and sweet - this is Pizarro’s love letter to his mother’s home cooking. A tour de force through Spanish gastronomy that feels, on the one hand deeply personal (he explores his own memories around the recipes), and on the other a useful guide to understanding the food of Spain.
It’s a glorious one to turn to in the height of summer thanks to a surfeit of fresh, simple recipes like citrus salad with chorizo and crispy fried egg - or these completely delicious pickled oysters.
Photography ©Emma Lee
MEZCLA: Recipes To Excite by Ixta Belfrage
This is the first solo cookbook from Ixta Belfrage (a of protégé Yotam Ottolenghi, she spent four years helping invent recipes in his test kitchen, and co-wrote Flavour with him in 2020) and is an enchanting mix of flavours and influences from one of London’s most exciting fusion cooks.
Think Brazilian, Mexican, Italian (all countries which, let’s be honest, are known to produce the best hot weather foods) all muddled together to form ambitious, bold plates. Take, for instance, the Chicken, Pineapple and ’Nduja Bake: chicken, pineapple, chipotle and tangerine, all held together with the spicy basenote of nduja. It’s a dish which could sit on a menu in any number of international cities and not look out of place.
Belfrage’s writing between the recipes will inspire even the least adventurous of home cooks - and she makes said recipes sufficiently idiot proof, so that even those of us who’d prefer straight assembly can turn out something spectacular. My favourite was a peach sorbet - made with lemon peel and roobois tea, it’s the perfect afternoon pick-me-up in a heatwave.
Photography by ©Yuki Sugiura
TOMATO: 80 Recipes Celebrating the Humble Tomato by Claire Thomson
Tis’ the season after all. Late summer is the time when tomatoes are at their most delicious (and abundant), and Claire Thomson has compiled 80 recipes to help us make the most of it. It’s a fun and frisky tour de force through all things tomato. From making the perfect gazpacho to the perfect frying pan pizza. And it’s not just the fresh fruit — Thomson also works through the best ways to deploy tinned and pureed varieties to make the richest sauces and soups.
One of my favourite recipes is this peach, tomato, grape, feta and oregano salad — an innovative take on a traditional Greek, it has a lovely mix of sweetness from the fruit and umami from the tomatoes, with the perfect level of sharp acidity from the red wine vinegar dressing.
Photography ©Sam Folan