Saturday, December 3, 2011

Best Cookbooks of 2011

As this year comes to a close, it’s time to offer up my list of the five best cookbooks published in 2011. Frankly, complying this list was pretty easy—as cookbooks go, 2011 offered a lot to like. The only difficulty I had was deciding whether to include new editions of previously published works. I decided to leave these books out (with no slight intended to Paula Wolfert’s The Food of Morocco and Carol Field’s The Italian Baker). So I present, in alphabetical order, the five best cookbooks of 2011.

The Art of Eating Cookbook: Essential Recipes From the First 25 Years by Edward Behr. University of California Press.

Bocca Cookbook by Jacob Kenedy. Bloomsbury Publishing.

Heston Blumenthal at home by Heston Blumenthal. Bloomsbury Publishing.

Mission Street Food – Recipes and Ideas from an Improbable Restaurant by Anthony Myint and Karen Leibowitz. McSweeney’s Publishing.

The Mozza Cookbook by Nancy Silverton with Matt Molina and Carolynn Carreño. Alfred A. Knopf.

Why these titles?

I have subscribed to Edward Behr’s The Art of Eating, for almost its entire run. (My collection begins with Issue No. 2.) His cookbook features some of the best recipes from his excellent journal. These recipes speak to his interest in traditional food whether Italian, French, North African or American. Behr includes recipes for Caponata (Sweet-and-Sour Eggplant); Fomage de Tête (Headcheese); Asparagus Soup; Zucchini Pudding; Gâteaux de Foies de Volaille (Chicken Liver “Cakes”); and Stewed Rhubarb with Honey. The Art of Eating Cookbook is an outstanding collection of classic, time-tested dishes often overlooked in mainstream cookbooks.

Jacob Kenedy’s Bocca Cookbook captures what I love about Italian cooking: traditional, simple, ingredient-driven dishes. Although he “confesses” that the recipes in Bocca may not be completely authentic, I’m hard pressed to find any offering that doesn’t ring true. Kenedy’s pasta section shines. (This should be no surprise; he co-authored the outstanding The Geometry of Pasta.) I particularly like his lucid explanation on how to make fresh orecchiette. (Check back in 2012 for more on Kenedy’s technique.)

Heston Blumenthal’s latest cookbook further evidences his well-deserved stature as one of the top chefs and teachers of our age. Heston Blumenthal at home fits neatly between his Family Food, which features comforting home fare, and The Fat Duck Cookbook, which covers the magnificently creative and complex food served at his Michelin three star restaurant. Heston Blumenthal at home presents recipes to create sophisticated yet comforting dishes. My favorites include his Prawn Cocktail; Onion Soup; Lamb Steaks with Tapenade; and Strawberry Sundae (also with a tapenade, in this case a sweet one containing black olives and Laphroaig whiskey). And speaking of whiskey, don’t miss his Whiskey Sour recipe. Heston Blumenthal at home is destined to become a classic.

Mission Street Food probably ranks as the most enjoyable, fun yet instructive 2011 offering. Instead of repeating my praise, you can read more about Anthony Myint’s and Karen Leibowitz’s wonderful book here.

Last, and by no means least, is Silverton, Molina and Carreño’s The Mozza Cookbook. This work shares a lot of the qualities that make Kenedy’s Bocca Cookbook so appealing: fresh, direct and exciting Italian food. In its Primi section Matt Molina shares essential pasta making tips that he has acquired over time. These tips along with the book’s pasta dough recipes make The Mozza Cookbook a valuable resource for anyone interested in learning more about creating fresh pasta at home.

Let’s hope that 2012 offers as many quality cookbooks as 2011. If you decide to add any of the above books to your collection, consider buying your copy from a friendly, independent bookseller such as Omnivore Books on Food in San Francisco on Cesar Chavez Street at Church.