The TV chef is back with his newest book. Lauren Taylor finds out what it’s all about and rustles up some dishes.

After the huge success of Jamie Oliver’s 2017 cookbook, 5 Ingredients, it was only a matter of time before the TV chef published another iteration. This time taking influence far and wide across the Mediterranean – from Italian pasta to Moroccan tagines.

According to wife Jools, the original 5 Ingredients is “the book all the parents at school talk about”, so Oliver felt compelled, he says in his newest offering.

The 48-year-old’s latest venture in a very long time of accessible cookbooks (22 to be exact) – and accompanying Channel 4 show Jamie Cooks The Mediterranean – takes us from Southern Europe to the shores of the Middle East to Northern Africa.

Over the years (The Naked Chef first graced our TV screens in 1999), it’s fair to say Oliver, with his jovial, no-nonsense, man-of-the-people image, has made home cooking doable for many people who otherwise wouldn’t cook and given others a go-to stash of reliable recipes when you don’t have the time or inclination for complicated. One thing’s usually a given though – the dishes will be tasty.

Luckily, I’m Oliver’s target market for this particular ‘solution-based’ book as he so calls it; as a working mum, I’m time-poor, my skills in the kitchen are fairly basic – but I’m a foodie and will always be looking for flavour-packed dishes.

Great British Life:  5 ingredients Mediterranean by Jamie Oliver 5 ingredients Mediterranean by Jamie Oliver (Image: Penguin)

So, what can you expect from 5 Ingredients Mediterranean?

The concept – of just a handful of ingredients needed for each dish – is, at its core, uncomplicated and easy to digest. For beginner cooks, long lists of ingredients can be intimidating, not to mention costly, and even seasoned home cooks need ease sometimes, too.

Using just five (helpfully individually pictured on each page) requires some clever additions to pack in flavour, though – a bag of mixed frozen veg counts as one, for example, or shop-bought tzatziki. So purists might not approve, but the time-poor among us will really appreciate the simplicity and corner-cutting.

As with all his recent books, you’ll need a few very basic pantry ingredients like olive oil and red wine vinegar, and not one of the recipes is longer than half a page – some even just one paragraph.

Chapters are pretty standard (but practical) covering salads, soups and sarnies, pasta, veg, pies and parcels, seafood, fish, chicken and duck, meat, and finally, sweet things. You’ll find Spanish influence in grilled asparagus with salmorejo (usually a type of soup) sauce, pata negra and paprika, a French Marseilles fish soup with fennel, Greek pork and prune stew and Italian pistachio panna cotta, inspired by Arabic flavours found in Sicilian cuisine.

Oliver then crosses the Med for the likes of Tunisian kafteji (chopped-veg street food) and Moroccan-inspired squash tagine with chickpeas, ras el hanout, olives and dates; before heading east for Turkish flatbreads called pides are packed with colourful veg, mint, pistachio and feta and Palestinian-style spiced chicken generously covers dark, sticky onions, pine nuts and flatbreads (which are shop-bought, no judgment from us).

What are the recipes like to cook?

Great British Life: Lauren Taylor’s version of Jamie Oliver’s roasted squash lasagneLauren Taylor’s version of Jamie Oliver’s roasted squash lasagne (Image: Lauren Taylor)

Well, I start simple for a weekday dinner and attempt the baked tomato soup. Reminiscent of Italian panzanellas, this dish couldn’t have been simpler to put together (although not super-quick) is nutritious, comforting and very tasty, with the added bonus of cheap ingredients.

Another night I rustle up Oliver’s roasted squash lasagne, with chestnuts, taleggio and crispy sage, for a family dinner – the autumnal ingredient combination sounds delicious, but I do have trouble getting hold of one of the five. Taleggio, a mild Italian semisoft, wash-rind cow’s milk cheese, wasn’t in a large supermarket or cheesemonger – who suggested a French Mont des Cats instead.

There’s no better way to get flavour out of a butternut squash than to roast it, and aside from the time this takes, it’s an easy – and fun – dish to put together, scooping out the roasted flesh and spreading across fresh lasagne sheets before crumbling over fried chestnuts and cheese and assembling. The result isn’t as ‘oozy’ as Oliver’s picture suggests, but my substitute cheese could be to blame, nonetheless everyone agrees it’s very tasty – while feeling lighter than a traditional lasagne.

Great British Life:  Lauren Taylor’s version of Jamie Oliver’s okra salad Lauren Taylor’s version of Jamie Oliver’s okra salad (Image: Lauren Taylor)

One of the easiest recipes in the book has to be the charred okra salad. All you have to do is dry fry the okra and tomatoes and assemble on top of tahini-laden yoghurt and season with red wine vinegar and dukkah (which I made from dry-frying ground cumin, coriander, sesame seeds, fennel seeds and almonds instead of buying). It’s truly idiot-proof.

The creaminess of the yoghurt-tahini sauce marries perfectly with the sweet pops of tomato and vibrant okra, and the overall fanciness of the dish made it seem like I spent a lot more time on it than I actually did. Although delicious, it was slightly one note – it might work better as a side dish in a symphony of Mediterranean small plates, rather than the star of the show itself.

Cooking multiple dishes for entertaining feels very doable when each recipe only calls for five ingredients, and I try this tactic for a Sunday lunch. The lemon tzatziki (whole) chicken marinates for two hours in the Greek cucumber yoghurt dip before it cooks, and alongside the roasted onions and jammy lemons, it is delicious, but the consensus is we can’t really taste the tzatziki – although the dip may have contributed to general juiciness of the meat.

Desserts can be a bit daunting, but Oliver’s minimal-ingredient recipes are a great place to start. With bitter dark chocolate and just a hint of espresso in a very rich mousse, ‘Jools’ chocolate dream’ couldn’t be easier to make – and the individual pots are a hit among my guests.

Great British Life: Lauren Taylor’s version of Jamie Oliver’s baked cheesecake.Lauren Taylor’s version of Jamie Oliver’s baked cheesecake. (Image: Lauren Taylor)

If you’ve got more mouths to feed, the baked cheesecake is worth a go. Aside from the masses of cream cheese you need to buy, it’s easily created from what’s probably already sitting in your kitchen cupboards, like icing sugar and eggs. Perhaps I’m not a very skilled baker, but the prep takes much longer than the 10 minutes Oliver stipulates. You need to plan four hours to chill (I didn’t and we ate it at 11pm), but it’s easy, even total beginners can create quite an impressive dessert centrepiece.

The texture is perfect, creamy, but firm enough to hold together and slightly golden on top. It needs something to balance out the richness – Oliver suggests serving with fresh fruit, but I make a sharp raspberry coulis which works perfectly. In theory it serves 12, but I think we’ll be tucking into this cake for weeks.

5 Ingredients Mediterranean by Jamie Oliver is published by Penguin Michael Joseph © Jamie Oliver Enterprises Limited (2023 5 Ingredients Mediterranean).