I have yet to embrace the world of TikTok, and so I hadn’t come across the Poppy Cooks phenomenon during lockdown, during which her cookery videos got over 100 million views and, among other things, galvanised a generation of hesitant cooks with her passion for potatoes! I have made her acquaintance only through the pages of this, her first book, and I can see immediately that she is not simply a social media sensation but, heartwarmingly, the actual, real thing. Not that that is surprising in itself: the virtual world (along with the one irl, to be sure, if you’ll allow me to slip into the lingo) may feast on novelty, but the camera can be an unsparing phoniness detector.
And beneath the high-octane, brightly coloured pages, and the exclamatory, I’m-talking-to-my-mates informality of the recipe introductions (which, I hasten to add, are endearing rather than irritating) is a disciplined chef with a deep love for home cooking and a you-can-do-it gift for encouraging that most important quality in cooking, confidence. If I had a child at Uni who was struggling to feed her or himself, this is the book I’d be putting in their stocking this Christmas.
In line with Victorian cooking manuals, though in every way so very different from them, Poppy Cooks begins with sauces, then leads you to the recipes that exultantly can be based on them. And those recipes are unshowy, unfussy (for all her Michelin training) and simply make you want to go skipping into the kitchen to cook. Yes, I say emphatically, to her Aubergine Parmigiana; her super-gooey Mac’n’Cheese; her wonderfully named, punchy gratin, Bacon-y Garlic-y Potato-y; her Potato-Topped Pizza Spud Breads; her Halloumi, Sweet Potato and Red Onion Salad; Buffalo Buttermilk Chicken with Blue Cheese Dressing; Cheese and Onion Pie; Cherry Bakewell Cheesecake; Butterscotch Apple Crumble; the enticing Custard Spudnuts (doughnuts made with a yeasted potato dough); and Simply the Zest Lemon Meringue Pie. And between the recipes, or by following them, rather, is a unforced, skills-building, almost old-fashioned cookery course.
The recipe I am delightedly bringing to you today is her Garlic-buttered Crispy Gnocchi. She is the High Priestess of The Potato, after all!
Recipe from Poppy Cooks: The Food You Need by Poppy O’Toole (Bloomsbury, £16.99)
Photography © Louise Hagger