Thursday, May 26, 2011

Let’s not get carried away

I wonder if I am alone in finding it curious when a cookbook is described as ‘the only one you’ll ever need’. I’ve seen it fairly often, and it always occurs to me that the marketing brain behind such a claim must have precious little understanding of how the average cookbook-buyer’s mind works.

The idea of only ever owning one Indian cookbook, say, depresses me enormously. Gordon Ramsey said that Giorgio Locatelli’s Made in Italy: Food and Stories was the only Italian cookbook one would ever need. But what of it? Cookbooks — these days — are not about need; they are about desire. Gordon clearly has no inkling of the frenzied thrall that grips a foodie’s mind when passing the cookbook shelves at their local Exclusive Books.

The sheer pleasure of bringing home a new one, still crisp-smelling and splatter free, ensconcing oneself on the couch with a cup of tea or a glass of wine and something to nibble (NEVER read a cookbook on an empty stomach), is one of the greatest I know.

I could scold myself for not making more use of the multitude I already own, but I actually do make use of them. I can quite happily spend an entire morning paging through each one, getting reacquainted. Faced with the if-your-house-was-on-fire-what-would-you-save? scenario, I’d probably go for my grandmothers’ jewellery, but I would pause for one last mournful look at my cookbooks, with deep regret.

I own not one, but four River Cafe cookbooks, and the thought of picking a favourite is unthinkable — a bit of a Sophie’s Choice (aha, okay, let’s not get carried away) — but, if pressed (and you are pressing me, right?), I would have to say that the latest, the River Cafe Classic Italian Cookbook, is my favourite.

It came out about two years ago, and contains all the authors’ favourite recipes, with a little note on where and how they discovered each dish. If I feel like a quick trip to Italy (in my head), I open this book. But I am not going to do a review here and now. Perhaps another time.

I would, however, like to share with you a beautifully simple recipe from it that is quite breathtaking in its simplicity, and just plain scrumptious. The only catch is that you’ll have to get hold of some chickpea flour, but this should be available at a good deli or health shop. I got mine from Wellness Warehouse.

It’s basically a thick, savoury chickpea pancake, crispy on the outside and soft on the inside. Ideally served as a snack before a meal with a good red in winter, or some fizz in summer. Plus it makes your kitchen smell wonderful.

Faranita con rosmarino
Chickpea faranita with fresh rosemary
Serves 6

1 litre warm water
300g chickpea flour
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
approx. 200ml extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary

1. Pour the water into a large bowl. Sieve in the chickpea flour and whisk until the mixture has a smooth consistency. Add one tablespoon of salt and one teaspoon of black pepper and stir to combine. Cover with a cloth and leave to rest in a warm place for at least two hours.
2. Preheat your oven to 250C, or as high as it will go. Skim the foam from the surface of the batter and stir in 100ml olive oil. Pour one tablespoon of oil into a faranita pan, or a frying pan with an oven-proof handle, and place in the hot oven for about five minutes, until the oil is smoking.
3. Give the batter a good stir, then  pour just enough into the pan to make a layer approximately 1cm thick, tilting the pan to spread it evenly. Sprinkle a little rosemary over the top, and return the faranita to the oven to bake for about 20 minutes. The top should be brown and the pancake should have a crisp texture, but be soft in the centre. Slice into wedges and serve immediately as an appetizer, with a glass of Prosecco, while you get on with making the rest of the pancakes. This amount should make three.


  1. Your description of walking past the cookbooks in Exclusives makes me wonder whether you are spying on me. I am powerless - POWERLESS - to the lures of a new cookbook, and especially one where the author takes you on a virtual trip either to an exotic country or down memory lane. I think I need to get my hands on the new River Cafe (would you believe I own not even one? Sacrilege, I know).

  2. Oh My Lord girl, but that does sound the best tasting straight from the oven comfort food. We're having a cold old winter (don't think its even officially winter here in Oz & yet it feels like late July weather...., brrrr!), so I'm seriously into comfort foods and I do like the sound of pairing this straight from the oven scrumptiousness with a lovely glass of prosecco too.
    I'm with you on the 'you'll never need another cookbook' statement. I'm a chef & know lots of chefs (& awesome cooks) who have the best cookbook & personal recipe book selection - of course we need more cookbooks - its food porn - dah :)
    Have a lovely weekend Robyn, keep warm (if its as cold there as here).

  3. Thanks for the lovely feedback Marisa and Anna - wish I could make you both a batch x

  4. I have to say, I love my shelves and shelves of cookbooks, but I really wouldn't mind if there WAS just one recipe book I'd ever need because it would save me a lot of money!

  5. Risotto is a favorite, I had an Italian claiming to know all things risotto give mine a taste a grudging approval. Yet I still must do the squid ink-looks fab. And the chickpea dish is begging some fresh summer seafood here!

  6. oh this looks delicious! I love your advice - I always get SO hungry reading through blogs and food magazines/books!

  7. There is no way to choose just one book to tell it all. It just doesn't exist, in my opinion. Chickpeas and rosemary are a match made in heaven.

  8. i love simple and yummy dishes. this one is for me :)
    have a great weekend,

  9. The labneh link is faulty and I really want the recipe please help? :)