Food columnist Felicity Cloake talks about her new book, The The A-Z Of Eating
“To be completely honest, I’ve always been quite a greedy person,” says Felicity Cloake simply.
Starting out behind the scenes in publishing, before realising she wanted to write herself, Cloake is best known for her Guardian column, ‘How to make the perfect...’.
Each week, she picks a dish, tries out different recipes for it, steals the best bits and then pronounces the definitive ‘perfect’ recipe at the end.
Though she already has another three books under her belt, she says working on her latest, The A-Z Of Eating, which draws on her own ideas and kitchen experiments, felt like she was “writing my own stuff for the first time”.
Featuring 26 chapters divided into her favourite ingredients (rhubarb and kale rank highly), the London-based foodie explains that she set out to “explore the possibilities of the ingredients beyond the obvious”, and “shake people out of their comfort zone”.
As a result, recipes for home-made Angel Delight and mini-cheese and Marmite donuts rub shoulders with Guinness jelly (“It’s so satisfying bringing it to the table and having it all wobbly”), and even a Japanese noodle version of carbonara.
“I really love Angel Delight, I don’t eat it really any more but I’ve got this nostalgic fondness for it, and I thought it must be possible to recreate it without all of the weird preservatives and emulsifiers you find on the back of the packet,” says Cloake, who went and invented her own version of the classic butterscotch flavour. “I think it might even be - I hesitate to say it, because it’s a bold claim - but more delicious than the original!”
Those mini-cheese and marmite bites were born from time spent wondering why there are so few savoury doughnuts to be found.
“I’m a bit of a purist when it comes to doughnuts, and I’m not a big fan of these really overstuffed, very sweet ones that are quite fashionable at the moment. I like them to be quite savoury and then you get that nice pop of jam,” muses Cloake. “I started thinking about molten cheese, then I couldn’t resist trying it out and was so happy when they worked.
“I don’t often get the chance to cook the stuff I might be inclined to cook, because I’m always testing recipes for the column,” she adds.
Is there anything she’s featured in the past, that she did to death and now can’t eat?
“Trifle I would never get sick of, but there are some things,” Cloake begins.
“I did ‘perfect’ hummus and I haven’t been able to make it since,” she admits with a grimace.
Of course, there are also some ingredients she just can’t abide regardless.
“Truffles I really would love to like, because truffles are one of those things that’s meant to be completely delicious and people go mad for them, and I can’t see it.
“I was reading recently that with truffles, like coriander, there might be some sort of genetic reason why some people enjoy them and some can’t stand them,” she adds.
When it comes to inspiration, Cloake always reaches for Diana Henry’s books (“I think she’s brilliant, everything she’s done”), Giorgio Locatelli’s Made In Italy and “anything by Nigel Slater”.
“He’s the man who got me into cooking in the first place,” she says, recalling the uninspiring recipe books her mum had in the Eighties. “Suddenly, Nigel Slater came along, and he wrote so wonderfully and made it sound fun, and the photography was beautiful.
“I was like, ‘Ohh, this is a bit more interesting than I thought it was’.”
Feeling adventurous? Here’s an ingenious recipe from Cloake’s new book...
SHRIMP AND GRITS WITH BACON AND PARMESAN
500ml chicken stock
100g stoneground grits (you can find them online, alternatively use cornmeal or polenta)
1tbsp double cream
40g Parmesan or Grana Padano, grated
2 rashers of smoked streaky bacon, finely chopped
10 large raw prawns, peeled and deveined, but tails left on
A small bunch of chives
Salt and pepper
Combine the stock and milk in a medium saucepan and bring to a simmer, then pour over the grits, whisking vigorously to combine.
Turn down the heat to low and simmer for about 20-30 minutes, until the grits are thick and creamy, stirring regularly to make sure they aren’t sticking.
Once they’re ready, take off the heat and stir in the cream and cheese, then season to taste.
Keep warm while you cook the topping.
Heat a dry frying pan over a medium-high heat and fry the bacon until crisp and beginning to brown. Scoop out with a slotted spoon and add the prawns.
Saute until pink on both sides, then scoop out and add to the bacon (if you leave them in the hot pan while you assemble the dish they will continue cooking). Divide the grits between two shallow bowls. Top with the prawns, then scatter the bacon around them. Finally, snip over the chives to serve.