Thursday, December 14, 2023

Best Cookbooks of 2023

I read a lot of 2023 cookbooks. My takeaway: what a great year for Japanese cookbook fans! In alphabetical order, I share my picks for the five best cookbooks of 2023.


Japan: The Vegetarian Cookbook by Nancy Singleton Hachisu (Phaidon)


Love Japan: Recipes from Our Japanese American Kitchen by Sawako Okochi and Aaron Israel with Gabriella Gershenson (Ten Speed Press)


Pasta: The guide to the most loved Italian food by ItaliaSquisita


Rintaro by Sylvan Mishima Brackett with Jessica Battilana (Hardie Grant)


Scandinavian from Scratch: A Love Letter to the Baking of Denmark, Norway, and Sweden by Nichole Accettola with Malena Watrous (Ten Speed Press)


Japan: The Vegetarian Cookbook  When I survey Hachisu’s oeuvre—from Japanese Farm Food to Food Artisans of Japan—it strikes me that she consistently presents simple and refined Japanese food. Japan: The Vegetarian Cookbook treads this same path with dishes distilled to a featured ingredient’s essence. She organizes her latest cookbook into these chapters: Prep; Before the Meal; Dressed; Vinegared; Deep Fried; Steamed & Simmered; Stir-Fried & Grilled; Soup; Pickled & Preserved; and Sweet. Recipes that standout: Spring Cabbage Soup; Yuba and Sesame Salt Nori Rolls; Simmered Turnips with Negi; and (surprise!) Potato Chip Salad with a curry vinaigrette. Phaidon produced a lovely book with beautiful, elegant, wow photographs by Aya Brackett.


Love Japan: Recipes from Our Japanese American Kitchen  Okochi and Israel own a Brooklyn restaurant called Shalom Japan. Love Japan covers the food that they cook for their family, primarily homey Japanese dishes sometimes with a nod to Jewish cuisine (e.g., Rolled Cabbage in Dashi). What a wonderful cookbook! Almost all the recipes tempt, but especially the classic poultry offerings:  Tsukune (Chicken Meatballs); Karaage (Japanese Fried Chicken); and Oyakodon (Chicken and Egg over Rice). The chapter on Sandos covers making Shokupan (Japanese Milk Bread) and then shares recipes for a majestic Veggie Deluxe Sando with Shiso Pesto and for a Tamago Sando. If you want a cookbook on Japanese comfort food enhanced by two chefs, then buy this excellent book.


Pasta: The guide to the most loved Italian food In April 2023 the English-language version of Pasta arrived, so this newly translated cookbook makes this year’s Best Of list. Technically two separate books, entitled Fresh Pasta and Dry Pasta, these paperback volumes fit cheek by jowl in a bright yellow open-sided book sleeve. Pasta contains “more than 100 recipes by the great Italian chefs”. Its publisher, ItaliaSquisita, asks and answers “among the pasta dishes by chefs in Italy today, which are the most interesting and celebrated?”  Pasta presents an Italian pasta masterclass with recipes geared to cooking professionals and advanced makers. The Dry Pasta volume explores some really interesting cooking techniques rarely covered, such as Infusion and Passive Cooking. What’s Passive Cooking? “This technique, also known as ‘off-fire cooking’, has origins as early as 1700 when Benjamin Thompson—one of the founding fathers of the principles of thermodynamics—declared that pasta reached its cooking point not for the water boiling, whilst the more for the continuous heat (between 70 and 80C) it managed to keep for a prolonged amount of time even after reaching a boil.” If this type of knowledge floats your boat, you will love ItaliaSquisita’s Pasta. Yes, this collection is not for everyone, its translation wonky and it’s certainly not cheap at $75.00 (especially for two thin-ish paperbacks), but I’m glad to add it to my cookbook library and recommend it to advanced pasta makers and anyone interested in high-level Italian noodle craft. 



Rintaro Brackett subtitles his restaurant cookbook “Japanese Food from an Izakaya in California”. The Golden State subtly informs rather than transforms the cookbook’s collection of classic Japanese dishes. Rintaro’s recipes mostly play friendly in a home kitchen. Brackett divides his cookbook into ten chapters: Dashi; Sashimi; Dressed Dishes; Tofu and Eggs; Yakitori; Fried Dishes; Simmered Dishes; Rice; Udon; and Desserts. I’d rather Rintaro the restaurant source pristine seafood for sashimi, but I’m game for making Brackett’s udon noodles (and I have, based upon a udon recipe that he shared in Sunset magazine in 2014). I recently wrote about tsukune-inspired meatballs (here). Brackett provides his restaurant’s recipe (which includes skin-on whole chicken legs for the perfect ratio of meat to fat). Finally, I love Rintaro’s fun, bold graphic design and handsome photographs by...Aya Mishima Brackett.



Scandinavian from Scratch: A Love Letter to the Baking of Denmark, Norway, and Sweden  I’m always on the hunt for a great baking book. This year I recommend Nichole Accettola’s Scandinavia from Scratch. Accettola’s book focuses on bakes and smørrebrød from mostly Denmark, but also Norway and Sweden. Don’t expect the breadth of Magnus Nilsson’s epic The Nordic Baking Book (2018) which, in addition to Scandinavia covers Finland and Iceland. Rather, Accettola penned a home-baking friendly book that includes recipes from Kantine, her Scandinavian bakery and café in San Francisco. She divides her book into six main sections: The Cookie Tin; Simple Cakes and Celebration Desserts; Let’s Fika!; Rise and Shine; Rye Bread and Smørrebrød; and Winter Therapy. To my taste, the Simple Cakes and Celebration Desserts chapter stands out with offering like Coconut Dream Cake; Lemon Moon Cake; Blackberry Tosca Cake; and Royal Party Cake. The open-face sandwiches look amazing, too, especially the Egg and Shrimp Smørrebrød. Lovely, clean design and type selection add to the cookbook’s appeal.


For want of diversity, I left Emiko Davies’s Gohan – Everyday Japanese Cooking (Smith Street Books) off the list, but think it a beautiful book and highly recommend it if you want a book on Japanese home cooking. I also enjoyed reading Paul Fehribach’s Midwestern Food (University of Chicago) and share his Chicken and Noodles recipe (here). The Simple Art of Rice by JJ Johnson with Danica Novgorodoff (Flatiron Books) warrants a look. And I like The Food of the Italian Island by the self-proclaimed prolific (and, in the case of this title, self-published) Katie Parla.


And that’s nearly it for 2023. Looking forward to 2024! If I don’t get another post up, here’s to A Merry Christmas and A Healthy and Happy New Year.