Easy does it

Jane Pikett meets Jane Lovett to talk about her new cookbook, from which we showcase three simple bowl recipes

Chatting to Jane Lovett, author of four best-selling recipe books, I realise I am allowing my mind to drift into imagining how nice it must be to be her house guest. Perhaps even what it would be like to live in her house and never have to cook again.

We have drifted into chatting about having family and friends to stay and how she enjoys planning all the meals ahead; making sure everything is on the table when it should be, planning around trips out. “But I enjoy that,” she says. “That’s why I include get-ahead tips with my recipes. If you’ve all been out for the day you need dinner on the table within half an hour of getting back. It just takes a little planning.”

She’s right, of course; I’d just like to be the person to benefit from her hard work, rather than being the one in the kitchen worrying about getting everyone fed on time. I suspect that while I’m a frazzled mess by the time I serve dinner (late) to my patient house guests, Jane is the epitome of grace and culinary style. That, and despite the fact that she cooks for her job, she enjoys it, which is quite the feat of endurance, bearing in mind, for instance, that her latest book contains more than 100 recipes which have each been through several iterations and been tested to the limit by Jane herself.

Her new book, Deliciously Simple, is her fourth. It is full of her signature stress-free, straightforward recipes and is set to follow in the successful footsteps of the three books which preceded it – Make It Easy, The Get Ahead Cook, and Just One Pan. Not that she has a lot of time to think about the release of this new volume, as when we speak on the eve of publication she is close to deadline for book five. While that is a story for another day, what this demonstrates is that Jane has achieved that very rare thing – she is an in-demand cookbook author.

It is notoriously difficult to get a publisher in any genre, and cookbooks are one of the toughest nuts to crack, so Jane’s success is noteworthy. But she is entirely modest about it, putting her success down to good fortune. She was first published, she says, when an editor turned up at one of her cookery demos in London and offered her a book deal there and then. “I honestly couldn’t believe it,” she says. “I was very fortunate on that occasion, and because prior to that someone who had come to a demo had kindly put me in touch with an agent.”

Jane’s books are loved for her delicious yet straightforward dishes and the get-ahead tips that can make life so easy, even when you have a house full of hungry mouths to feed. Fortunately for someone in such demand by her publisher, she loves what she does. “I can’t look at an ingredient and not want to make a recipe out of it,” she says. “I’ve always done it.”

Having trained at Le Cordon Bleu in London, over the years she has run her own successful London catering business, taught at Leith’s School of Food & Wine in London, and spent some years testing recipes and styling photo shoots for cookbooks and magazines in the capital. Moving to Northumberland years ago with three young children, after a while she started putting on classes, as she had in London but on smaller scale, and things grew from there.

Deliciously Simple is a collection of delicious, deceptively straightforward, quick recipes. From pan suppers (meatballs with honey and mustard sauce; spicy coconut chicken); to oven dishes (spicy one-pan Spanish chicken; haddock, potato and fennel traybake); it also includes sharing platters (cheat’s Coronation chicken; roasted spiced cauliflower with butternut squash and maftoul salad); speedy side dishes, quick nibbles and easy drinks.

Jane says that while she learnt much at Le Cordon Bleu, it was actually at Leith’s Good Food (Prue’s City of London catering company) where she really got stuck in, as she puts it. “I turned up at 8am on day one and was told to roll up chocolate roulades for 100 people. I’d been to Le Cordon Bleu, where I’d never had to deal with large quantities. Yet within the first week at Leith’s I was making vast vats of mayonnaise. That’s when I got stuck in to cooking.”

As a home economist and food stylist, she tested and refined recipes, and styled dishes for photographers. She did this for well-known authors’ books, including one by Prue Leith which took over a year, she says, as every step of each recipe had to be photographed. “It took forever!” she remembers.

Jane’s ethos is simple. “I’ve spent my life trying to make recipes easy,” she says. “I absolutely love food. I’m greedy; to be honest it’s all I ever think about. I like growing food in the garden and I like going out and buying ingredients. I love everything to do with food and I want to share it so that everyone cooks from scratch, which to me is a no-brainer. I can see that with busy lives people might turn to ready meals, but cooking from scratch can be so quick, a lot healthier and much cheaper. I make a batch of soup to last the week and that’s lunch every day. It’s not a lot of effort. I just want to encourage people to cook and enjoy it. We all get a sense of achievement from that. And cooking for someone else is an act of love.”

The new book includes suppers all done on the hob, there are sides and salads, nibbles, cocktails in jugs, delicious things on toast, and delicious bowl food, as featured on the following pages. Meanwhile, the puddings in the book, she says, are so simple that, “some of them can’t really be described as a recipe as such, and they can all be prepared in advance.”

After much thought, she says her favourite food is North Sea crab, which she gets from her fish man in a van who arrives at the door every Thursday morning. And she loves chicory braised or in salad with blue cheese and walnut. Her husband John does not cook (why would he?). “Not a clue!” she says. “But he can do a nice scrambled egg, and when I’m away his thing is chicken legs coated with harissa paste. All he has to do is coat them and then put them in a dish lined with foil (to save washing up), drizzle them in olive oil and salt, roast them and serve with a roast potato. Hot ham is another favourite. If I’m away I buy a joint called a half horsehshoe; he knows to put it in the bottom right oven of the Aga (I leave a note telling him for how long) and it will last him all week.”

Fortunately for John, Jane is never bored of cooking, which is useful when you consider how many iterations each recipe in a book may go through. “Sometimes they work pretty much first time around, but some take ages,” she says. “The thing is, when I get an idea for a recipe, I simply have to do it right there and then. Fortunately, I love it.”

Deliciously Simple by Jane Lovett is published by Headline Home and is out now, priced £26


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