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Herb: A Cook’s Companion by Mark Diacono – Book Review

A book that is sure to inspire anyone who is thinking about starting to grow their own herbs this year to add a little extra flavour to their cooking. Reviewer Aaron Bertelsen is Great Dixter’s gardener cook.

HERB: A COOK’S COMPANION by Mark Diacono
Quadrille Publishing, £26
ISBN 978-1787136359

With Herb: A Cook’s Companion, Mark Diacono has succeeded in hitting just the right note for gardeners and non-gardeners alike. This is clearly a book written by someone with their hands in the soil, but who also has a gift for explaining the principles of cultivation in a clear, no-nonsense way – as well as a real passion for herbs.

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The book starts with the basics: understanding the conditions in your garden or yard, deciding what to grow, sowing, propagating and maintenance. It then moves to the kitchen, explaining how to treat and store herbs to get the best out of them, including by making herb salts and sugars, butters, oils and syrups.

Growing guides provide more detailed information about a huge range of individual herbs from the everyday to exotica, such as bergamot, chocolate mint, anise hyssop and shiso, with clever lists alongside of which foods each herb has an affinity with.

If you are like me, by now, you will be starting to dream about all these exciting new flavours and what you are going to make to show them off at their best. The recipes – from chutneys and spice blends to substantial main courses and puddings – are fresh and distinctive, and put the flavours of the herbs front and centre. I cannot wait to try the Roman herb and anchovy salad, or the fig leaf and lemon verbena rice pudding, and the herby egg mayo on toast is just the sort of simple, satisfying dish I like for lunch after a hard morning’s work in the garden.

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This is a genuinely intriguing and inspiring book. Diacono’s enthusiasm is infectious, and his desire to share the pleasure herbs can bring to the garden and the table shines through. With so many people now interested in growing their own food, this book really has come at the perfect time. I wish it every success.