The magic of five ingredients

Fish with Anchovy and Almond Sauce.
Fish with Anchovy and Almond Sauce.

With this era of fuss-free cooking comes a huge demand for limited-ingredient cookbooks.

Australian Kim McKosker's series of four-ingredient cookbooks have sold 4.5 million copies internationally, while her compatriot Jill Dupliex has tried to out-do her with a three-ingredient cookbook.

But really, there's no good food without a modicum of effort, which is why a five-ingredient cookbook seems to make more sense.

Wellington chef Margot de Cotesworth has produced just such a collection of recipes, Take Five – The Dinner Book, which she too intends to turn into a series. Five being all you can count on one hand, de Cotesworth regards it as the perfect number.

"It's enough to achieve a satisfactory result but not too many to make it hard work."

Another reason she uses five ingredients is that every recipe in her book begins from scratch: there are no pre-made cake mixes, no melting Mars bars over this or that. The ultimate endorsement, she says, is to hear that people are using the book, particularly men.

"Although men don't cook so much, some have looked at my book and said 'I can do that'."

One male friend is even working his way systematically through every recipe, which de Cotesworth finds hilarious.

Cordon Bleu trained, de Cotesworth began her cooking career at Rockefellers in Oriental Bay, a cafe she owned jointly with her brother Martin. That was back in the hedonistic 1980s, when, she recalls, customers used to drink cocktails with brunch.

Also in tune with the decadence of the times was Rockefeller's Mile High Icecream Pie – a recipe from New Orleans which involved mounding icecream over a pastry base, covering it with meringue and putting it under the grill.

Later she organised staff and wrote the menu for "31", a fine-dining restaurant on the top floor of the Williams Building, with furniture luxuriously upholstered in cream leather.

For a time, de Cotesworth had The Storehouse, a deli in Strathmore where you could buy previously unheard-of delicacies such as aioli and moroccan bastilla – chicken wrapped in filo and sprinkled with almonds, cinnamon and sugar.

Another legacy is to be found in her book, in the form of the Storehouse Icky Sticky Chicky – chicken marinated in equal quantities of soy sauce, peach chutney, honey and balsamic vinegar, then roasted in the oven.

In recent years, de Cotesworth cooked at Greenmantle Lodge in Paraparaumu, where she enjoyed the creative licence of cooking multi-course meals for only four people.

"I loved being able to spend time making something fabulous."

These days de Cotesworth still works closely with her brother Martin, demonstrating recipes at expositions and catering in exotic locations around the world.

On a recent trip to Saint Martin, a Caribbean island, they catered for the crew and cast of a show. While there, Margot had the idea of stuffing miniature red capiscums with soft, creamy white chevre, then drizzling them with a mixture of fresh tomato pulp, olive oil and white wine vinegar.

Another recipe dreamed up in the Caribbean was simmering a whole lobster in white rum and coconut cream. The cooking liquid is then reduced into a sauce and sharpened with lime juice, before being served over the lobster meat with fresh coriander.

An even stronger Mediterranean thread runs through the book, stemming from the year Margot took her children to live in Lucca, the famous olive producing region of Tuscany, near Florence.

She loved the respect for tradition and the continuing sense of regionalism – the fact that serving ravioli with mustard fruits might be considered normal in one region, but regarded with aghast in another.

"In Florence, we sometimes ate at a pizzeria above the city where the pizzas were out of this world."

To illustrate her book, de Cotesworth drew on the photographic talents of another Wellington food hero, Kent Baddeley, formerly of Petit Lyon and now chef patron of Ten Twenty Four in Hawke's Bay.

"If you have access to beautifully fresh fish", writes de Cotesworth, "you must consider yourself blessed. Serve it often, simply and never allow yourself or anyone else to overcook it. If you can't decide where to start cooking in this book, try this recipe – it's absolutely gorgeous."

Fish with Anchovy and Almond Sauce

½ cup toasted almonds

1 clove garlic

4 anchovy fillets

¼ cup olive oil

175g fish per person.

Combine the almonds, garlic and anchovies in a food processor. Pour in the oil while the motor is running. Taste, season and taste again. Grill the fish. Serve on heated plates with the sauce drizzled over.

■ Take 5 and Cook – The Dinner Book $49.90 (Original Dreams Publishing);

Wellington chef Margot de Cotesworth
Wellington chef Margot de Cotesworth

The Dominion Post