Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Best Cookbooks of 2012

It’s time to look back over 2012 and share my picks for the five best cookbooks of the year. As with 2011 (here), my list contains a mix of books published in England and the United States. So, without any further ado, and in alphabetical order, I present the five best cookbooks of 2012.

The Art of Fermentation by Sandor Ellix Katz. Chelsea Green Publishing.

Edible Selby by Todd Selby. Abrams.

Every Grain of Rice by Fuchsia Dunlop. Bloomsbury Publishing.

SPQR by Shelley Lindgren and Matthew Accarrino with Kate Leahy. Ten Speed Press.

You’re All Invited by Margot Henderson. Fig Tree / Penguin Books

So why these books?

The Art of Fermentation passionately examines fermented foods and beverages (e.g., pickles, meads, beers, wines, breads, and cheeses). Katz’s book inspired me to look beyond vinegar-based pickles and to explore a broad range of fermented vegetables. As I write, I have a jar of lacto-fermented okra in the refrigerator and two jars of sauerkraut bubbling away on my kitchen worktable. In response to Katz’s infectious enthusiasm, I even purchased an authentic onggi from Adam Field Pottery to try my hand at kimchi. It’s only a matter of time before I start in on mead and rice beer…

Some might argue that Todd Selby’s Edible Selby isn’t really a cookbook at all. (What is it then? A style, travel or design book?) I get inspired every time I flip through this visually stimulating work and want to rush into the kitchen and cook something. (Isn’t that what a good cookbook should do?) Does it contain recipes? Well…yes, some. But I don’t think anyone will buy this book for its recipes. (In fact, some are pretty much impossible to read.) Buy this book to enjoy Selby’s incredible eye, sense of style and playful creativity. Edible Selby profiles chefs, bakers and other culinary artisans, including a slew of my food and wine favorites: Arianna Occhipinti, an outstanding young Sicilian winemaker; Russell Moore, chef at Camino in Oakland, California; Chad Robertson and Elisabeth Prueitt (here) of Tartine Bakery in San Francisco. And there’s even a section on Margot Henderson (of You’re All Invited fame, below) and her husband, Fergus Henderson (here) of St. John in London. Cookbook or not, it makes my list.

In Every Grain of Rice, Fuchsia Dunlop focuses on Chinese home cooking and basic kitchen techniques. Her previous cookbooks, Land of Plenty and Revolutionary Chinese Cookbook, present recipes from the Sichuan and Hunan Provinces, respectively. Every Grain of Rice covers home-style dishes from these and other regions across China. If you want a primer on simple and comforting Chinese food, I highly recommend this excellent book. Do try Ms. Dunlop’s recipe for Silken Tofu with Pickled Mustard Greens. (And yes, you can pickle your own mustard greens. It is really easy.)

As a follow up to A16, an excellent 2008 cookbook that interprets Southern Italian cuisine, SPQR presents its take on Northern Italian food. Matthew Accarrino, the chef of San Francisco’s SPQR restaurant, joins Shelley Lindgren on this new book. Working from classic Northern Italy’s food—think Ragù Bolognese from Emilia-Romagna and Sardines in Saor from the Veneto—Accarrino offers his refined, modern (yet respectful) interpretation of traditional dishes using local ingredients. Lindgren expertly covers the wines of Northern Italy. As a subscriber to SPQR’s wine club, I can personally attest to her incredible taste. SPQR’s pasta dough recipes deserve special recognition.

Last but not least, You’re All Invited takes The Grand Prize as my favorite cookbook of 2012. This delightful book features recipes from Margot Henderson’s work as a caterer for Arnold & Henderson and restaurateur at London’s Rochelle Canteen. The book is subtitled “Margot’s Recipes for Entertaining” and who could ask for a more gracious host. I want to cook everything in this brilliant work. I keep coming back to a couple of recipes in particular: Bacon and Egg Pie, which she describes as “an old school pie from New Zealand”; and Sausages and Parsley Liquor, a braise of naked (i.e., peeled) sausages served with mashed potatoes. Need to serve 4, 10, 20 or 30? Not a problem! Ms. Henderson has graciously scaled many of the recipes in her book. Perhaps the before and after photographs that grace the front and back of the book’s slipcover encapsulate the spirit of this collection: comfortably gracious and charmingly playful. Buy this cookbook!

If you decide to add any of the above books to your collection or to give them to friends or family during these holidays, please do consider buying your copies from a friendly, independent bookseller. If we don’t support them, they might just disappear! And where would we be then?!