Inspired by Rod’s list of yuletide reading, I thought I might put together a list of some cookbooks – three that I’ve got; three that I haven’t – that are ripe for giving and receiving this year:
The Art of Simple Food: Lessons from a Delicious Revolution, by Alice Waters.
I’ve written about this book before, and everything I said back then still stands. We’re now about six months into using it, and at this point the binding is fraying and half the pages have fallen out – perhaps this testifies to shoddy construction, but I suspect that it has much more to do with how frequently it gets opened (about 4-5 meals a week, I’d say). Whether you’re an inexperienced cook hoping to be introduced to the art of keeping a kitchen and preparing meals from scratch, or an experienced one looking to refine your techniques, it really doesn’t get much better than this. Just make sure you have some time on your hands.
This will always be the first truly great cookbook I owned, and Zuni’s roasted chicken with bread salad will always be the first truly great meal I’ve ever made. (We’re planning to do it again this Christmas.) Rogers cooks in a very similar style to Waters (indeed, I seem to recall that she worked at Chez Panisse for a while), but part of what makes this book so wonderful in ways that Waters’s book is not is the writing. And even if you can’t manage to cook all of the (usually very non-simple) recipes Rogers gives you, a great number of the tips she offers (like: how and why to salt your meat, how to test a fig for ripeness, how to prepare a cheese course, etc.) will translate quite naturally to your more everyday meals.
My Bombay Kitchen: Traditional and Modern Parsi Home Cooking, by Niloufer Ichaporia King.
If Zuni is my first truly great cookbook, then this is my first truly great “ethnic” cookbook. It is, once again, a great bit of reading (a friend to whom we gave it as a wedding gift wrote to say that she’s been keeping it on her nightstand), and once you get past the unfamiliarity of the ingredients and cooking styles you’ll find that it opens up a whole new world of recipes. Parsi cooking is likely to be something you haven’t experienced before (it’s not the same as Indian), but it is exceedingly delicious and fun to cook.
And now for a couple that I haven’t yet got (hint, hint):
Fat: An Appreciation of a Misunderstood Ingredient, With Recipes, by Jennifer Mclagan.
Still waiting, Santa. My family is really big on fat – thanks to Nina Planck’s advice, we cook with lard whenever we can afford it, and we never use Crisco instead of butter – and this cookbook is the perfect opportunity to kick it up a notch. A half-pound of pasta with a whole stick of butter? Pumpkin soup with the fat from a half-pound of bacon? Slow-roasted pork belly? Count me in, please.
Doña Tomás: Discovering Authentic Mexican Cooking, by Thomas Schnetz and Dona Savitsky.
Doña Tomás is a Mexican restaurant in Oakland, run by what I take to be a couple of gringos. We haven’t eaten there, but they have a taquería in West Berkeley that’s simply excellent, and I recently paged through a display copy of their cookbook. Like all of the cookbooks I’ve listed, this one is heavy on narrative: they explain basic techniques, crucial ingredients, cultural heritage, and so on. But to my mind that’s exactly what makes a great cookbook great: it’s an opportunity, not only to cook some great meals, but to learn some things as well – including, one hopes, some lessons that will translate into a greater degree of independence down the line.
Anything I’ve missed, readers?