When Diana Henry was sixteen she started a menu notebook (an exercise book carefully covered in wrapping paper). Planning a menu is still her favorite part of cooking.
Menus can create very different moods; they can take you places, from an afternoon at the seaside in Brittany to a sultry evening eating mezze in Istanbul. They also have to work as a meal that flows and as a group of dishes that the cook can manage without becoming totally stressed. The 24 menus and 100 recipes in this book reflect places Diana loves, and dishes that are real favorites.
The menus are introduced with personal essays in Diana's now well-known voice- about places or journeys or particular times and explain the choice of dishes. Each menu is a story in itself, but the recipes can also stand alone.
The title of the book refers to how Italians end a meal in the summer, when it's too hot to cook. The host or hostess just puts a bowl of peaches on the table and offers glasses of chilled moscato (or even Marsala). Guests then slice their peach into the glass, before eating the slices and drinking the wine.
That says something very important about eating - simplicity and generosity and sometimes not cooking are what it's about.
Henry (A Bird in Hand), a British food journalist and James Beard Award winner, wonderfully evokes relaxing meals of simply prepared seasonal ingredients. Inspired by the memory of Moscato-infused sliced peaches she ate during her first visit to Italy, Henry has assembled 24 seasonal menus featuring 100 recipes. Using menu planning "rules" (eat seasonally, avoid repeating ingredients, utilize small plates, etc.), she offers menus of three to five courses for stress-free entertaining; dishes primarily utilize French, Italian, or Mediterranean cooking techniques. A menu for the warm months includes zucchini ricotta fritters, nasturtium-festooned raw sea bass salad, lemony roast chicken, and apricot tart. Come autumn, scallops in brown butter, slow-roasted duck legs in plum sauce, and a pear-blackberry-hazelnut cake offer cold weather comfort. Along with navigating some British culinary terminology, American cooks may have difficulty finding such ingredients as pandan leaves, ox cheek, and Indonesian soy sauce, though online sources are listed; recipes provide both international measurements and American equivalents by weight. For Henry, cooking is "about revisiting places." Her stories of unforgettable meals along with sophisticated-yet-simple menus will encourage cooks to create their own food memories.