Give A Cookbook!
I probably love to give cookbooks to my friends because I also love to receive them. However, as useful as cookbooks are, giving someone a book about food is actually rather personal, even intimate. In the same spirit of Brillat-Savarin's "tell me what you eat and I will tell you who you are," when we give a cookbook it's a way to say to someone, here's how I see you.
Some love cookbooks just for reading and not cooking, which is a good thing since so many new cookbooks are by chefs who clearly haven't seen the inside of a home kitchen since before culinary school. Others of us are just bored and on the hunt for inspiration or new ways to become better at the cooking we already do. But no matter how a cookbook may be used, there are choices for everyone in the new crop that was released this fall. Here are a few that I liked.
The Reporter's Kitchen by Jane Kramer
The Reporter's Kitchen (St. Martin's Press, © 2017, hardcover with dust jacket, 292 pages, $26.99) is not a cookbook but a collection of 13 essays that have mostly appeared in The New Yorker where its author, Jane Kramer, has long been a staff writer and its European correspondent. Her skills as a journalist and essayist are deservedly lauded and a pleasure to read and while Kramer is not a food writer per se, somehow food often became a focus of, or at least a sidebar to her work. Even if her assignment wasn't to glean what was for dinner, the topic still frequently came up.
These essays include profiles of the influencers (chefs Yotam Ottolenghi and Massimo Bottura, cookbook author Claudia Roden, writers Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid, and others), and stories about making a medieval dinner for the Met Museum, cooking Thanksgiving in turkey-barren Morocco, foraging for herbs with Noma's chef, confessions of her cookbook addiction, and the rise of gastronomy. Unlike some food essay collections, there's only one recipe -- an Arabic lentil dish called Harak Osbao, made for that Met dinner held for the 2017 exhibit, "Jerusalem 1000-1400: Every People Under Heaven." Kramer walks the writer's tough-to-navigate line between observations and participation, occasionally drifting across it and back again, but not really doing any harm.
So for the enthusiastic eater and cookbook reader -- they needn't be a cook -- on your gift list, Ms. Kramer's essays are unexpected, amusing, personal, and eloquently superior to the blather pretending to be insights found in many blogs and food media.
I Heart Rome: Recipes and Stories from the Eternal City by Maria Pasquale
Anyone who knows me knows how much I adore Italy, especially Rome. Just this past October my husband and I spent a week there, with each day built around where we would have lunch. Since I can't help but set a high bar for any book that is about cooking the Eternal City's timeless cuisine, I was curious about the new book by Maria Pasquale, the author of the popular blog, Heart Rome, which is a celebration and guide to la dolce vita -- including food, wine, dining, lifestyle, culture (popular and high), and the arts.
Born to Italian parents but raised in Melbourne, Australia, Maria left a corporate career and returned to her heritage, making a life as a modern Roman. And now she has written I Heart Rome: Recipes and Stories From The Eternal City (Smith Street Books, © 2017, 272 pages, hardcover with color photographs, photography by Andrea Federici and Giogia Nofrini, $35.00).
I found Pasquale's book to be fun, exuberant, quite expert but accessible, and filled with stories about food merchants and pizza makers and butchers and fish fryers and Italian mammas who protect and share the legacy of one of the world's greatest cuisines. It's organized much in the way that Romans come to their food, meaning by its sources. The chapters are La Trattoria (casual dining), La Friggitoria (fried fish and street-food), Il Forno (bread and baked goods), Il Mercato (food markets), La Pizzeria (pizza Romana), Il Quinto Quarto (the real cucina Romana), La Pasticceria (cake shops), A Casa (home cooked meals), and an index on where to eat and drink in Rome. Cooking skill and tradition go deep in Italy and Pasquale clearly knows this because she is as much a recruiter as an observant participant -- nearly every recipe has a story of its source and the master craftsman or woman who shared it with her.
We're sharing her recipe for Porchetta, the irresistible crackling-wrapped boneless pork roast, which Pasquale got from Lazio butcher Paolo Tocchio. It's from the Il Forno chapter, which makes sense given that the meat slow cooks in the oven for 4 hours.
Throughout there are also stories about what Pasquale loves about Rome, as if to repeatedly say to the reader, "See? Now do you understand why I made my life here?" If you are planning a trip to Rome, dreaming of living there, or just craving its flavors, I Heart Rome will satisfy your Italian appetites.
Grow Cook Nourish: A Kitchen Garden Companion In 500 Recipes by Darina Allen
If you don't know Darina Allen, she and her family operate Ballymaloe in County Cork, Ireland, a multi-generational enterprise that encompasses a cooking school, a world-renown restaurant and inn, orchards, and 100 acres of organic gardens. She is also a leader in the Irish Slow Food movement, set up Ireland's first farmers' market, and has written fifteen cookbooks, many of which are beloved and long in print.
Her newest book is Grow Cook Nourish: A Kitchen Garden Companion in 500 Recipes (Kyle Books, © 2017, 640 pages, hardcover with color photography, photography by Clare Winfield, $45.00) and it seems to be a culmination of a life lived as an advocate for food welfare, for the sake of our planet and ourselves. If that seems in any way more like social science than pleasure, I am misleading you because this book is an extraordinary and joyous achievement. It's a doorstopper of a volume with 500+ recipes she spent a year writing (from Watercress Smoothies to Cherry Pie to Tomato & Chile Jam to Huevos Divorciados to Duck Breast with Roasted Beets & Plums to making your own Crème de Cassis) that are the rewards from learning about the foods we can grow and forage, no matter where we live.
Allen also has chapters on herbs, fruit, edible flowers, and foraging and she writes about teaching children about gardening and growing and cooking their own food, and how to reduce food waste.
If given to someone who has a garden or is interested in starting one, Grow Cook Nourish will take them from soil-to-table -- from planning a garden, sowing seeds, the harvest, and finally making satisfying dishes in flavors from global cuisines such as the recipe we're sharing with you for Pad Thai, from the Vegetable chapter's section on broccoli.
Wrap it up with a pair of garden gloves and a promise to come help pull weeds next summer. You just might get thanked with an amazing harvest dinner come the fall.
Cooking At Home With Bridget and Julia by Bridget Lancaster, Julia Collin Davison and the Editors of America's Test Kitchen
America's Test Kitchen has gone through some changes since Christopher Kimball's departure about two years ago. His absence became most noticeable earlier this year with the new season of its television programs, both America's Test Kitchen and Cook's Country, where Kimball is no longer doing intros, tastings, and sum-ups. But stepping forward are Bridget Lancaster and Julia Collin Davison who had previously co-hosted the shows and were the anchors for all the actual cooking. Now the two women -- both of them blond and funny and relate-able and very likeable -- are fully in charge on screen and they are terrific.
Kimball's departure is not noticeable in the cookbooks because they have always been created by ATK's "editors" with no other byline. But this fall Bridget and Julia (I have never met them but after reading this new cookbook, I feel like I know them well enough to call them by their first names) have put their signatures and their generous enthusiasm for home cooking on the cover and all the pages of ATK's new book, Cooking At Home With Bridget and Julia (America's Test Kitchen, © 2017, hardcover with dust jacket, color photographs, 320 pages, $35.00).
Turns out that while the two of them have been cooking together on television for more than 17 years, they each have also been cooking for their families. It also seems they have been bringing their work home from the office because much of what they learned and created at ATK ended up in their own kitchens and now in this book with its 150 recipes.
The book is personal as you get acquainted with their families and you learn that even for test cooks and ATK pros, they can have cooking disasters and dilemmas. All this adds to the charm and credibility of the book. There is a steady narrative, provided through notes and sidebars in either Bridget's or Julia's voice, that puts home cooking and each recipe into a real life. Because let's face it, while we might love the glamour of using a sous vide to poach $30 a pound halibut, or spending two days making cassoulet, what most of us want is a way to put daily cooking into our lives with flavor, affordability, and as little stress as possible, while at the same time, enjoying the process.
Bridget and Julia have written a book that shows us how that's done. The chapters are divided into how most of us live: weekend breakfasts, home-style dinners, casual entertaining, and holiday celebrations. The recipes have the reliability you expect from ATK and the entire book is eminently cookable. Give this book to a new cook, maybe to someone who has just started a family, or to anyone who has complained of boredom in the daily grind sometimes known as "what's for dinner?". We're sharing their recipe for Tiramisu, Julia's husband's favorite dessert. She writes in its sidebar, "This recipe is not only easy, but it makes you look like a rock star." Who wouldn't want that?
Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner … Life by Missy Robbins
When the generous people at Rizzoli sent me a copy of Missy Robbins' new cookbook (Rizzoli, © 2017, hardcover with color and black and white photographs, photography by Evan Sung, 232 pages, $35.00) I was not enthusiastic. I knew Robbins was a successful chef and that was my problem: I generally just don't find chef cookbooks helpful for the home cook. More often than not they read (and cook) as if delegated to an assistant who doesn't know how to make a recipe that serves four instead of forty, and never tests any recipe by shopping for it at a grocers, nor cooking from it in a city-sized kitchen.
But since my experience with Rizzoli is that they do excellent cookbooks, I opened Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner … Life and began to read. An hour later I was still reading, and ready to start cooking because in what for me is rare to find, here is a Michelin-starred chef who also knows how to cook at home.
Written with co-author Carrie King, the book reads like a memoir, telling the inspiring story of how after twenty years spent in restaurant kitchens, Robbins found herself burnt out and about thirty-five pounds overweight. She took a year-long sabbatical, during which she traveled, took back her life, and used home cooking to help her return to good health. After two decades of eating every meal at work, she had to learn how to grocery shop, stock a pantry, and cook healthy meals in a kitchen that was so small she had to lay towels on the hall floor to dry dishes.
But this was Missy Robbins, culinary star and among other things, the pasta queen of A Voce and now Lilia in Williamsburg, and she knew how good food could be. So she combined her extraordinary palate, technique, and creativity with what she learned about healthy eating and home cooking to create more than 100 appealing recipes. She also wrote this book, which can make you a better cook because in every recipe, even for something we may think we already have nailed, like meatballs, she gives you ingredient and technique tips that up your game.
The recipes are wonderful. The pastas -- the ingredient on which Robbins built her reputation -- include cacio e pepe kugel, spaghetti with ramps, and turkey Bolognese. The chapters on vegetables and salads are notable for the flavor bombs that replace high-calorie ingredients, like her semi-healthy Caesar, or her House "Italian" Dressing that I love and we're sharing here. The chapter on chicken uses the whole bird, from the fat in Schmaltzy Stuffing to her nostalgic but non-Gallic French Dressing Chicken. The chapters on fish and meats have dishes for weeknight suppers and others for company or holiday fêtes. And there are the kinds of desserts that I love best, minus sugar-intensive baking but still sweet happy endings.
This is the cookbook for anyone who is both serious and enthusiastic about cooking, who praises New York's best restaurant chefs but who also wants to be themself a better cook, and who also insists on eating for both health and pleasure.
Todd English's Rustic Pizza: Handmade Artisan Pies From Your Own Kitchen by Todd English & Heather Rodino
Unless you're lucky enough to live near one of the NYC pizza shops that has a wood-fired oven, pizza made at home is probably better than what's from the usual joint. And even if you do live near a top pizza shop, why not learn some technique and still make it at home? It will cost less, you can make it exactly to your liking, you'll have complete control over your ingredients (which to me is always one of the major reasons to cook your own food), and you won't have to trudge out to pick it up only to then have to carry a quickly cooling-off-pie as you dash home. Plus there are those bragging rights.
Todd English knew this when he first introduced his free-form thin-crusted pies at his successful Figs restaurants in Boston. He's now taken that specialty and with food writer Heather Rodino produced Todd English's Rustic Pizza, a very friendly cookbook (Castle Point Books, © 2017, hardcover with color photographs, photography by Allan Penn, 214 pages, $24.99) for anyone who wants to master making pizza at home.
Despite his career as a restaurateur and TV personality, English seems to be a pizza fanatic, insisting upon a pizza's handmade imperfection and citing all the pizza research he did during his early culinary career in Italy. In this book he touts a pizza manifesto that seeks the sweet spot between rustic authenticity for the dough, which he calls a pizza's heart and soul, and a cook's own creativity for the toppings.
All that aside, what I really like about this book is that it teaches the essentials (doughs, sauces, flavored oils and toppings), including advice about which flour to use, what can be done ahead of time, and technical tips for how to successfully turn your oven into a pizza oven. And then it inspires and coaches you on how to put it all together, making veggie, meat, seafood, and Sicilian-style pizzas. You can make classics, like Margherita, White, or Meatball pizza; get creative with toppings like Roasted Pear, Camembert and Watercress, or Cacio e Pepe, Kale and Chorizo, or Crispy Eggplant pizza; or explore global flavors as with Chicken Tikka Masala Naan pizza, or Tres Carnes flatbread, or Kielbasa, Sauerkraut, Potato, and Mustard Aioli pizza.
We're sharing English's recipe for Ricotta and Cherry Tomato Pizza, which includes a second versatile recipe for Basil Oil. Use your own favorite pizza dough or get this book and try one of English's five dough recipes, one of which is gluten-free.
This is a book that would make a fun gift to give to a family with kids when parents want to get them more involved in cooking, especially since so many of the 150-plus recipes use healthy ingredients. Mangia bene!
Have a joyous holiday season and best wishes for a healthy and delicious new year.