Sunday, December 4, 2022

Best Cookbooks of 2022

Boxing, moving, unpacking and shelving my library only slightly tempered my cookbook purchases this year. Looking back over 2022, publishers released several outstanding titles. I share, in alphabetical order, my picks for the five best cookbooks of this year.


Arabiyya-Recipes from the Life of an Arab in Diaspora by Reem Assil, Ten Speed Press 


Gâteau-The Surprising Simplicity of French Cakes by Aleksandra Crapanzano, Scribner


I Am From Here-Stories and Recipes from a Southern Chef by Vishwesh Bhatt, Norton


Mission Vegan-Wildly Delicious Food for Everyone by Danny Bowien with JJ Goode, Ecco


Pasta Grannies – Comfort Food by Vicky Bennison, Hardie Grant


A little about each of these books.


I find the food presented in Reem Assil’s Arabiyya both tempting and familiar to many of the Armenian dishes I grew up eating. Ruz Arabi (Spiced Rice with Fried Vermicelli) reminds me of Armenian Pilaf (here), save Assil’s recipe incorporates a Seven-Spice mix instead of a mere pinch of cayenne, and calls for oil, not butter, to brown the vermicelli.  Her Lahm Bi Ajeen (Crispy, Spiced-Meat Flatbread) closely resembles Armenian Lahmajoon. Assil jokes that “..if the Arabs and Turks are fighting over their claim to [a certain food], chances are, it’s Armenian.” But what I really love about Arabiyya is Assil’s consciousness of identity and place, before and after her diaspora. Hospitality and remembrance brightly glow in each of the book’s five parts: How to Host Like an Arab; The Arab Street Corner Bakery; The Arab Table; An Arab Finds her Vegetable Roots; and An Arab Finds her (Food) Way. I hope Assil follows up this excellent cookbook with a deep dive into baking.


And speaking of deep dives into baking, Aleksandra Crapanzano’s Gâteau opens with nine takes on yogurt cake and 50+ variations on pound cake. In Gâteau’s Introduction, Crapanzano writes “[t]he French bake at home far more than we imagine. But, maybe more important, they bake far more simply than we imagine, and mostly from a range of classics that lend themselves to seasonal riffing and improvisation.” This truth plays out in the 150 or so recipes that Crapanzano shares in this tight, well-written cookbook. Chapters include: The Simplest of the Classics; Regional Classics; Chocolate Cakes; Cakes to Layer; Madeleines, Financiers, Visitandines; Holiday Cakes; and Savory Cakes. I’ve earmarked Crapanzano’s recipe for Rouleau Fraise-Rhubarbe, Glaçage au Citron (Strawberry-Rhubarb Rouleau, Lemon Buttercream) to bake when spring arrives.


Like Reem Assil’s Arabiyya, Vishwesh Bhatt’s I Am From Here shares how an immigrant transforms heritage recipes with newly found ingredients. Bhatt further adapts the classics recipes of his chosen home (i.e., America’s Deep South) with the flavors of his birthplace. Born in the Indian State of Gujarat, Bhatt settled in Oxford, Mississippi, and identifies as a Southern chef. His cooking earned him the James Beard Award for Best Chef: South (2019) and induction into the Fellowship of Southern Farmers, Artisans, and Chefs (2022). Bhatt divides his fabulous cookbook into thirteen chapters: Rice; Peas and Beans; Okra; Tomatoes; Eggplant; Corn; Potatoes and Sweet Potatoes; Peanuts; Greens; Shrimp; Catfish; Chicken; and Pork and Lamb. Sounds pretty Southern, right? In part! Flip through the Rice chapter and find his grandmother’s Khichadi recipe along with recipes for Dirty Rice Grits and for Jambalaya. The Okra chapter has Bhatt’s take on Okra Chaat and, recognizing the diversity of his American South, a Lebanese Lamb, Okra, and Tomato Stew dish called Bamia (which, if you take out the cinnamon, allspice and cloves, closely resembles my favorite Armenian lamb, okra and tomato stew also called Bamia, which means okra in Armenian). I really love I Am From Here and predict it will win critical acclaim.


A new cookbook by Danny Bowien is exciting news! I find his The Mission Chinese Food Cookbook (2015) massively interesting. Mission Vegan-Wildly Delicious Food for Everyone continues Bowien’s creative evolution. The book shares recipes from his Mission Chinese Food restaurants that just happen to be vegan. Of the Asian offerings the book skews toward Korean. Bowien writes “[e]ating and cooking has long been my way of exploring who I am. My identity, like the food I make, is constantly evolving. Which is why in this book, you’ll find pasta pomodoro in the same chapter as chewy Korean buckwheat noodles topped with dragon fruit ice, tofu skin in the style of cumin lamb, and green tea noodles that taste like Vietnamese pho.” I particularly like Mission Vegan’s chapter on Sauces and Seasonings. I made Mushroom Seasoning Powder and use it whenever I want to add deep richness to a dish. Mission Vegan’s photographs pop off the page and are as intense and bold as Bowien’s food.


Vicky Bennison’s Pasta Grannies – Comfort Cooking makes my list of 2022’s best cookbooks because nearly every single recipe tempts me to cook it. I especially love the book’s numerous baked pasta recipes, like Adi’s Anelletti al Forno alla Palermitana (Baked Pasta from Palermo) and Iginia’s Princisgras (Porcini and Prosciutto Lasagna from Macerata), that, for me, epitomize comfort food. Another baked pasta I want to try: Enrica’s Torta Verde Con Prescinsêua (Cheese and Chard Pie from Genova). Each well-written recipe in the book includes a QR code that, when scanned, takes the reader to a video showing the nonna making her dish. If you love Italian cooking, you will want to check out this excellent cookbook.


I conclude my list with a few of the 2023 cookbooks on my radar. In March, Phaidon offers BAO by Erchen Chang, Shing Tat Chung and Wai Ting Chung, and in May publishes Japan: The Vegetarian Cookbook by Nancy Singleton Hachisu. Katie Parla has a new cookbook due out in March titled Food of the Italian Islands that I plan on checking out. I’ll report on any other interesting offers as they arise.


Now that my move is over and I feel more settled, I hope to post more often in 2023. I look forward to exploring my old stomping grounds and making a lot of pasta. I recently took the plunge—finally—and purchased an electric pasta extruder from Emiliomiti (here) in San Francisco. We’ll say hello to Dolly in 2023.

Tuesday, April 19, 2022

Nettle Powder Pasta Revisited

For the last few years I’ve made paglia e fieno (“straw & hay’) pasta (here) for Easter dinner. I used 2 grams of stinging nettle powder (here) to make the green pasta. This year I wondered: how many nettle leaves do I need to pick to make 2 grams of nettle powder? Answer: between 15 to 20 young leaves.

When foraging for nettles, I carefully snip off the top third of young, medium-sized plants. I wash the nettles to remove any grit and insects, cut the leaves from the stems, and then gently pat the leaves dry before placing them in a dehydrator for 8 to 9 hours at 95°F/35°C.


This year I rolled my pasta with a mattarello (here). I used 100 grams of Central Milling 00 Normal flour, a medium egg and 2 grams of nettle powder to make the green pasta and the same amount of flour and egg to make the yellow. I found the green pasta a bit harder to roll out than the yellow, so next time I might play around with the green’s ingredients.


Things will be quiet here at A Serious Bunburyist for a while as my wife and I move. I packed up all my pasta gear and hundreds (and hundreds) of cookbooks. Stay tuned for new posts, hopefully soon.

Friday, January 28, 2022

Bronze Pasta Dies Revisited

I recently corrected a couple of my old blog posts that focus on bronze pasta dies, specifically dies that work in Bottene’s Torchio Model B manual pasta press. Here’s why. 

Back in 2011, I contacted Emiliomiti (here) to inquire whether it sold additional dies for a Bottene Torchio Model B that I purchased in 2010. My Model B came with two dies, one to make bigoli and another for gargati. Emiliomiti replied that although it occasionally receives different dies made specifically for the Model B, heavier bronze dies made for an electric extruder should also work in my hand cranked torchio. To test this out I purchased a No. 464 Casarecce die (here) and—yes—the die worked perfectly in my torchio.


In my 2011 post about this experiment, I wrote that this No. 464 die was designed for La Monferrina’s Dolly electric extruder. In fact, the die I received was designed for Bottene’s Lillo electric extruder and not the Dolly.

With hindsight, this makes perfect sense because Bottene makes both the electric Lillo extruder and manual Torchio Model B handpress (and not the Dolly). I should have picked up on this sooner because back in 2017 I bought a No. 171 ridged macaroni die (here) that didn’t quite fit my torchio. I know now that I inadvertently received a Dolly-compatible die instead of a Lillo die. No big deal: Emiliomiti replaced the Dolly die with a Lillo/Torchio Model B-compatible die.


All this die information came to light this January 2022 when I spoke to Emiliomiti about buying an electric extruder. I’m looking at La Monferrina’s Dolly III and Bottene’s Lillo Due. I learned that one benefit of buying the Lillo Due is that this electric extruder can use certain dies that that I already own and use in my Torchio Model B, specifically any die that has a round hole drilled into its back like the die picture below.

This hole seats the Lillo’s motor-driven auger. A Torchio Model B die that does not have a similar hole drilled out in the die's back will not work in the Lillo even though the die works in the Torchio Model B.

Simply stated, Bottene made it possible to use any Lillo die in its Torchio Model B, but not every Torchio Model B die will work in a Lillo.  Finally, dies made for La Monferrina’s Dolly extruders will not fit in either the Lillo Due or the Torchio Model B. The face of a Dolly die is too wide to seat properly in Bottene's Lillo and Torchio Model B die holders.