Fall’s New Cookbooks
I know I recently wrote at some length about cookbooks. But as this is the time of year when the most, and usually the best, get published, and because they make great holiday gifts, I wanted to offer some suggestions for a few new ones that I think are worth knowing about.
You may have already read some of the new cookbook round-up stories that have appeared elsewhere. For example, in New York Magazine, at Eater.com, The New York Times, or at Epicurious.
Here are six I’d add to the lists.
Ciao Italia: My Lifelong Food Adventures In Italy by Mary Ann Esposito
Mary Ann Esposito is largely responsible for bringing authentic Italian cuisine to America’s kitchens. She’s currently celebrating her 30th year on PBS and is the longest-running cooking program on television -- which is amazing if you think about how food and cooking shows have changed in the last three decades (30 years ago cooking with olive oil was still exotic!). To coincide with that longevity and to keep her millions of fans happy, she has just written her 13th cookbook, Ciao Italia: My Lifelong Food Adventures in Italy (Peter Randall Publisher, ©2018, 452 pages, hardcover with color photography, $39.85) and it may be her best.
It has 160 recipes. Some of the dishes are classics so you might recognize them, like Risotto alla Milanese, but others you probably won’t. Like Spaghettini in Purgatorio. So this is not just a collection of greatest hits. Instead, taken together -- the classics and the lesser known regional treasures -- the recipes are like a survey course in Italian cooking – antipasti, soups, breads, sauces, rice, pasta, seafood, meats, salads, and sweets. Here is a sample (and Mary Ann is particularly gifted when it comes to Italian breads) -- her quick and accessible Foccacia al Rosmerino, Pepe Nero e Aglio (Foccacia with Rosemary, Black Pepper, and Garlic).
There are tempting food images but also personal photographs of scenic towns and markets that Mary Ann has visited for decades. She is not just a authentic Italian cook but also a natural teacher and so the book has a generous amount of guidance about ingredients (e.g., salt, olive oil, and artichokes) and methods (making fresh pasta or buying fish), plus stories that showcase her intimacy with the Italian culture and appetite.
The recipes come from the entire country and from Mary Ann’s intimate understanding of the Italian kitchen, having spent so many years visiting and cooking the country from the top to the tip of the boot. It is this perspective that makes this friendly, personal, passionate, and soulful book possible.
Five Seasons of Jam by Lillie O’Brien
This year’s harvest is nearly over and our Greenmarkets have shifted from tomatoes and peaches to cauliflower and apples, but it’s never out of season to make jam. At least that’s the view of Lillie O’Brien, author of Five Seasons of Jam (Kyle Books, ©2018, 192 pages, hardcover with color photography by Elena Heatherwick, $24.99) and a pastry chef who turned a hobby into an enterprise with a major fan base. Born in Australia, she is now the force behind London Borough of Jam, the only dedicated jam shop in London.
For canning novices like me, I’ve always thought we had to get our preserves made by the end of summer, like my mad September dash to “put up” six quarts of tomatoes and half-pints of peach preserves. But for her, there is no limit to the seasons and there should be no mad dash. Instead for Ms. O’Brien making jam is a meditation, stressing that “… jam cannot be rushed.”
She honors ingredients and respects seasonality, and there is a delicate candor to her writing that is rare among cookbook writers. There is much to jam-making that is more science than art, but Ms. O’Brien is quite artful in how she teaches the essentials of choosing and using year-round ingredients and in seeking flavor combinations.
The photos are rather dreamy and crafted, fitting for a book that is so simultaneously precise and poetic. If you have made jam or have a wish to do so, I can’t imagine you finding a better teacher.
Melt, Stretch & Sizzle: The Art of Cooking Cheese by Tia Keenan
In her second splendid and expert book about cheese, a subject she knows much about, Tia Keenan takes on the tempting world of cooking with this luscious ingredient. If you think cheese is just for eating by hand with some walnut bread and a bunch of grapes, or as an occasional sprinkle of Parmesan, Melt, Stretch & Sizzle (Rizzoli New York, ©2018, 192 pages, hardcover, with photography by Noah Fecks, $35.00) will open a whole new world for you, one that will make you feel very sorry for anyone who is lactose intolerant.
Written in a breezy, playful style that does not undermine her connoisseurship, Tia’s book is an expert guide to exploring, buying, handling and cooking with this international product. She has worked in some of New York’s finest restaurants as a cheese specialist, rather like a cheese sommelier, helping both chefs and customers make their choices. Now she’s helping home cooks with both advice and dozens of recipes. Lucky us.
I wasn’t surprised to see her raise the bar for classics like grilled cheese sandwiches, gougeres, soufflés, gratins, fondues, rarebit, raclette, and poutine with gravy (and yes, poutine is a classic). But then I got stopped in my tracks by her Smoked Gouda & Bacon Dutch Baby and her seductive Potato Gratin with Pancetta & Leeks that she makes with Taleggio and Parmesan. And she got my heart going with her version of Mac & Cheese that is studded with cubes of ham and finished with a whole burrata buried amidst the pasta, Mornay Sauce, and little peas. She also goes global with dishes from Ireland, Bavaria, South Asia, the area of the former Yugoslavia, France and Italy, of course, plus Portugal, Georgia (the country) and even Wisconsin (the state).
Tia doesn’t leave you on your own with all these recipes. There are guides for which cheeses to buy (she’ll give you lots of choices and name names), the best oils to use to fry cheese, how to make the perfect Mornay Sauce for that Burrata Mac & Cheese, choosing beverages to go with cheese dishes, making stock which you’ll need for the French Onion Soup, and why she calls cast iron pans the Parmigiano Reggiano of cookware. Work with this book and you’ll end up being a better cook, and not just of cheese.
We've added a link to the podcast interview we did with Tia about her first book, The Art of the Cheese Plate. She is a joy to talk with and listen to, and I encourage you to hear what she has to say.
Venice: Four Seasons of Home Cooking by Russell Norman
When I was offered a review copy of a book about Venetian cooking, I hesitated. I’ve been to Venice several times and it was the only place I’ve been in Italy -- a country I’ve traveled extensively -- where I've had a bad meal. Two, in fact. The city is under terrible stress from cruise ships vomiting thousands of day tripping tourists onto its fragile and flooded streets. Who raves about Venetian food any more?
It seems the fault was mine. I just hadn’t known where to look and where to eat. Venice: Four Seasons of Home Cooking (Rizzoli New York, ©2018, hardcover with color photography by Jenny Zarins, $40.00) is a wonderful and engaging book, written by Russell Norman who is a London restaurateur, a columnist for Esquire Magazine, and someone who managed to find the true treasures of Venetian cuisine. The book documents a year he spent there, cooking and eating in neighborhoods far from the tourists, finding flavors and recipes that are still true to the Veneto’s culinary history.
The book is handsome, beautifully photographed by Jenny Zarins, and flavored with seasonal discoveries, as emphasized by the book’s four chapters: Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter. Maybe because I am writing this in October, I was mostly drawn to the colder months, with recipes like Warm Radicchio, Pancetta and Chick Pea Salad (the first recipe I made from the book and it is brilliant), Ribollita, Duck Rigatoni, and Fried Meatballs. Among the 100 recipes are also Arancini, Scallops with Lemon and Peppermint, Braised Peas with Basil, Red Onion Pizza, Nectarines with Walnuts, Rosemary and Gorgonzola, Aged Parmesan Risotto, Lemon Polenta Cake and Bellini Sorbet.
This book is not a cliché post card but instead a modern look at a timeless cuisine. Russell Norman is clearly enchanted by Venice and knows it intimately, especially through its kitchens. For anyone who is planning a trip to Italy and will have the good sense to spend a few days in Venice and the Veneto region – long enough to escape the crush of the cruise ships and venture into the shaded, quiet streets and neighborhoods, far from the Rialto Bridge – bring this book with you. It has a small directory of restaurants and bars, plus Norman’s favorite bakery, and its stories and photographs will seduce you.
Here is a recipe for a classic northern Italian dessert, Olive Oil Cake, to help inspire you.
Milk Street: Tuesday Nights by Christopher Kimball
If you’ve been reading my cookbook reviews over the years, it’s obvious that I’m a fan of Christopher Kimball. I relied upon his magazines, cookbooks, and television programs long before I launched The City Cook and there are recipes from those early years that are still in my regular repertoire. His inventive approach to teaching home cooking made me a better and a more confident cook.
He’s still doing that. Milk Street Tuesday Nights (Little, Brown, ©2018, hardcover with color photography, $35.00) is his second cookbook since launching Milk Street and I was a bit surprised that it came so soon after his terrific introductory volume, Christopher Kimball’s Milk Street: The New Home Cooking. But Chris is passionate about bringing our cooking out of America’s kitchens and into the world’s and he’s clearly got a lot to say with his PBS series, Milk Street Radio, which are also podcasts (and really fun if you haven’t yet listened), and a bimonthly magazine. Tuesday Nights is also the name of a regular column in the Milk Street magazine, subtitled “casual dinners, fast” which to my thinking is how most of us cook every other night of the week, too.
The cookbook has more than 200 recipes. The chapters are organized as Fast, Faster and Fastest, all dishes made in under an hour but some made in as little as 15 minutes. Then there are chapters that speak to how we want to cook and eat today – Pizza Night, Easy Additions (i.e., side dishes), Supper Salads, Roast and Simmer, and a closer called Sweets because that, too, is what we want.
The recipes are terrific. They cover the world – Asia, Europe, Africa, America (North and South) – they use accessible ingredients, although you may need to get a few things online, such as spices or fish sauce. There are recipes with gluten and without, vegan or with meats, familiar and unexpected, and there are salads, pastas, soups, fish roasted or poached, biscuits, chops, steaks, and tofu. The instructions are clear, complete, and with useful tips, such as when to stir in the yogurt so that it doesn’t separate, or the heads-up to not confuse sesame chili oil with chili oil. These are the kind of details that make the difference in the outcome and that make us cook better, guiding us to be more confident with new flavors and ingredients.
The first recipe I tried was for Parmesan and Herb Turkey Burgers. I was skeptical because turkey burgers are usually like pallid hockey pucks. But these? They were amazing, helped by an herbed panko paste that boosted flavor and lightened density, plus a quick sauce of mayonnaise, lime juice and fresh mint, scallions, and cilantro (I subbed parsley since I can’t eat cilantro) made it feel not like Tuesday but Saturday night. Here is a recipe for Chili Chicken Tacos that was inspired by pulled pork but it's made more quickly and it produces a versatile partner to Mexican rice or garnished and turned into tacos.
If you regularly make dinner for your family or friends or just you, this book will up your game and you will eat much better and with vastly more flavor.
Feast: Food of the Islamic World by Anissa Helou
Anissa Helou’s vast, rich and inspiring book about the cuisines and recipes cooked and eaten by a quarter of the world’s population was actually published last spring but it merits continuing attention so I’ve included it here.
Feast: Food of the Islamic World (Ecco, an inprint of HarperCollins Publishers, ©2018, 544 pages, hardcover with color photography by Kristin Perers, $60.00) is a culinary tour of the Islamic world. But don’t think that this means its focus is entirely Middle Eastern cooking since this world encompasses an enormous variety of cuisines including those of Indonesia, Zanzibar, Uzbekistan, India, Turkey, Morocco, Senegal, Nigeria and elsewhere. Just as Tip O’Neill famously said, “all politics is local,” so, it seems, is cooking.
With the curiosity of an anthropologist and the flair and appetite of a chef, she digs into the history and culture of foods that date back to the 7th century when the religion was founded and then brings us to the modern dinner table. As Islam spread to peoples around the world, the foods they ate were influenced by their faith and religious calendar as well as local climates and ingredients, proximity to the spice routes, the evolution of empires, and the traditions of Persian cooking on which many of the cuisines remain based today.
There are eight chapters – Bread; The Whole Beast; Rice, Grains, Pasta and Legumes; The Sea; Spices, Spice Mixtures and Spice Pastes; Fresh Produce; and A Sweet Tooth. I don’t know how many recipes are in this 544 page beautiful book; there are too many to count but certainly 300 or more. But it’s not overwhelming due to the book’s elegant open design and its narrative.
Because Ms. Helou presents a cuisine that is both diverse and constant, you’ll find multiples for many traditional dishes. For example, there are seven biranis, three versions of the Garam Masala spice mix, nine kebabs, six tagines, and numerous pitas and other flat breads. There are also dishes you may already know, like Tabbouleh that she attributes to Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Palestine.
Each recipe has a headnote, often with a story, but primarily it’s about history and preparation. There are many photos of finished dishes plus ones showing technique and method, which is useful with pesky ingredients like phyllo dough.
This is a delicious guide for anyone who wants to become skilled in using global spices to bring flavor and complexity to simple ingredients. Even more, if you are interested in food as culture and as a lens through which to view history, this volume is impeccable and fascinating. And if you love the foods of the countries where our Islamic global neighbors and friends live, Feast is just that.