Ok, fine, I will acknowledge that if I were actually to have a choice about what I brought when stranded on a desert island, a cookbook would realistically be down the list. I love reading them, I genuinely read them like I would a novel, but I will grant that it wouldn’t be practical. But, you get the picture. That being said, in the hypothetical poll, my desert island cookbook is Darina Allen’s Ballymaloe Cookery Course. For those not familiar with the Irish culinary scene, Ballymaloe House and Cookery School is an Irish institution, and Darina Allen it’s current owner/face/general guru. The cookery school is famous and well regarded, and so it is perhaps not a surprise that the cookery book is wonderful.
The book itself works around a theme of master recipes, variations on these recipes, tips on techniques and then stand alone recipes. It literally has a recipe for virtually everything you can think of. This book is my first stop for any classic recipe. It was responsible for my first successful bearnaise (made roughly ten minutes after my first disatrous bearnaise, which of course was using a different, non-Darina Allen recipe). I trust the recipes in it, and I have never been let down. In addition to this function as a basic bible of cookery, it is filled with interesting and unusual recipes.
This book won my heart when it became the first place (after numerous Italian cookbooks had let me down) that I found the recipe for a courgette lasagne that appeared to be in essence the same as I had had in a bizarre restaurant in Venice. The restaurant involved a husband cooking in the kitchen, and a wife serving the food. There was a bog-standard Italian trattoria menu in the window. Attempts to order from this were met with waving of hands. You were brought whatever the husband was making at the time you sat down. For us it was courgette lasagne, for the people who arrived ten minutes later, grilled fish.
This book is as the title suggests, a complete cookery course, without the thousands of pounds in fees. It provides the most spectacular array and variety of recipes I have ever seen in one place. It inspires and reassures with every recipe. This a textbook style cookbook, most of the recipes do not have a long explanatory narrative, but that does not stop me leafing through it time and again.