Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Best Cookbooks of 2014

‘Tis the season to share my Best Of list for this year’s cookbooks.  I wanted to publish this list back in November, but one sluggardly publisher kept pushing back its release of a sure-to-contend cookbook. But now, with this excellent book finally released, I offer up, in alphabetical order, my choices for the top five cookbooks of the year.

Bar Tartine: Techniques & Recipes by Nicolaus Balla and Cortney Burns. Chronicle Books.

A Boat, a Whale & a Walrus: Menus and Stories by Renee Erickson with Jess Thomson. Sasquatch Books.

Bread, Cake, Doughnut, Pudding: Sweet and Savoury Recipes from Britain’s Best Baker by Justin Gellatly. Fig Tree, an imprint of Penguin Books.

Heritage by Sean Brock. Artisan, a division of Workman Publishing Company.

The Pizza Bible: The World's Favorite Pizza Styles, from Neapolitan, Deep-Dish, Wood-Fired, Sicilian, Calzones and Focaccia to New York, New Haven, Detroit, and More by Tony Gemignani with Susie Heller and Steve Siegelman. Ten Speed Press.

So why, you ask, did I pick these books? I’ll tell you why.

As its title suggests, Bar Tartine: Techniques & Recipes divides its content into two main parts: how to make ingredients like dried powders, cheeses, vinegars, pickles, pastes and stocks (Part One of the book), and how to employ these ingredients in (mostly) simple recipes (Part Two). The techniques used to make the ingredients include drying, fermenting, sprouting & soaking, and preserving. In the Recipes section, the salads really stand out as outstanding. Here’s a partial list: Chicory Salad with Anchovy Dressing; Wedge Salad with Buttermilk, Barley and Sprouts; Kale Salad with Rye Bread, Seeds and Yogurt; Tomato & Pickled Green Bean Salad with Whipped Feta; Beet and Blue Cheese Salad; and Cauliflower Salad with Yogurt & Chickpeas. Bar Tartine will appeal to an audience that wants to make ingredients from scratch and that enjoys straightforward, flavorful food. Highly recommended.

A Boat, a Whale & a Walrus offers sophisticated yet simple and comforting dishes rooted in the Pacific Northwest, but with a French sensibility. Organized by season, you’ll find a lot of lovely seafood recipes for oysters, mussels, Dungeness crab, Pacific octopus, salmon, spot prawns, and scallops. I find the salad and dessert recipes particularly tempting.

Bread, Cake, Doughnut, Pudding highlights the ample talents of Justin Gellatly, who spent 13 years at Fergus Henderson’s St. John’s restaurant.  If you already own the Nose to Tail books and Margot Henderson’s You’re All Invited, you’ll note a lot of overlap among these works and Bread, Cake, Doughnut, Pudding. No matter. Gellatly has penned an outstanding British cookbook in its own right. You’ll find recipes for Steamed Marmalade Sponge and Whisky Custard; Apple and Rhubarb Suet Pudding; Treacle and Walnut Tart; and Doughnuts stuffed with Carmel Custard and Salted Honeycomb Sprinkle. Although published in the UK, this great British cookbook deserves a large audience on this side of the Atlantic.

Sean Brock’s Heritage takes the prize for the best cookbook of 2014. Brock includes recipes for simple dishes (Cornmeal Hoecakes; Lowcountry Hoppin’ John; Fried Chicken and Gravy) and for fancy chef fare (Grilled Lamb Hearts with Butter Bean Puree, Vadouvan, and Corn and Sweet Potato Leaves; Crispy Sweetbreads with Spicy Red Pepper Glaze, Egg, Broccoli, and Puffed Rice). Really! This book should sate both home cooks and the food professionals. Brock clearly loves the Southern table and garden. Heritage celebrates the traditional and the new with a focus on the ingredients of the region. And you get Brock’s recipe for Pimento Cheese! What a great cookbook!

In 2007, Tony Gemignani traveled to Naples, Italy and became the first American to win the World Pizza Cup in the Neapolitan pizza category. His San Francisco restaurant, Tony’s Pizza Nepoletana, ranks among the best pizza venues in the United States. The Pizza Bible takes Gemignani’s great pizza-making talent, knowledge and experience and packs them into a 300-plus-page book. He’s a great and generous teacher and I cannot imagine a better manual for anyone interested in making different styles of pizza.

So, will 2015’s cookbooks offer us the same riches as 2014’s? Let’s hope so. Happy New Year everybody!