The Hairy Bikers are two of my favourite celebrity cooks and my all-time favourite show of theirs is the Bakeation, during which they travelled around Europe, learning about the baking traditions of different countries. As I love baking, travel and languages, it was inevitable that I would enjoy the show. I firmly believe that the absolute best way of exploring another culture is by speaking the language. However, I’m aware that that is not always practical. Therefore, the second best way of exploring another culture is to the eat the food produced by its people.
I enjoy the Hairy Bikers’ travel shows so much because they seem to understand the importance of food as a means of exploring a culture. When they travel, they visit big fancy restaurants and talk to local food producers, but they are also invited into people’s homes, where they learn how to cook local food from local people. Sometimes there are pretty obvious language barriers, but they and their interviewees always seem to make it work.
Given that the Bakeation is one of my favourite TV shows, it follows that the accompanying book (The Hairy Bikers’ Big Book of Baking) is one of my favourite books. It’s divided into chapters based on the countries they visited, which include both Western Europe (France, Germany, Italy) and Eastern Europe (Hungary, Slovakia). I seem to have cooked most from the section on Hungary – the bacon scones have become a staple in our kitchen – but the recipe I tried recently is the courgette tart from the Italy chapter, otherwise known as scarpaccia. I needed to use up some extra virgin olive oil, so thought I would give this a whirl. I wasn’t really sure how this would turn out or how to eat it – reading through the recipe suggested to me that it was basically a fancy Yorkshire pudding, with the addition of courgettes, cheese and a few other flavourings baked into the batter. This wasn’t quite accurate. The batter is similar to a Yorkshire pudding, but it cooks more like a cross between an oven-cooked pancake and the filling in a quiche. I originally served it alongside roast chicken, but it worked way better as a special treat for lunch. I tend to think I know a lot about Italian food – it’s fairly well-known in the UK nowadays – but this was a completely new idea for me. This is a good example of how this book can expand my horizons regarding some of the food traditions of Europe.