For those of you still gift hunting (or who haven’t even started yet) I wanted to share a list of my favorite cookbooks from the last year (or so). Whether you’re looking to please the experienced home cook, or providing pleasant distraction for the armchair cookbook reader who just likes to look at the pretty pictures, this selection hopefully provides a little bit of everything.
1. The Food of Morocco by Paula Wolfert. Wolfert is arguably the authority on Mediterranean cooking, and her latest cookbook on traditional Moroccan cuisine is eye-opening and perfect for someone looking to branch out of their repertoire of American/Italian/French dishes. Just looking at the photos is an experience in itself, but then there’s also the recipes for tagines, lamb kebabs, couscous with pomegranate that you will want to return to time and again. Ideal for the more intellectual (egghead) cook in your life or the person pining for a bit of the exotic.
2. Mozza Cookbook by Nancy Silverton. I haven’t yet had the opportunity to eat at Mozza—the restaurant and pizzeria in Los Angeles co-owned by Mario Batali—but I was lucky enough to attend a special dinner cooked by Mozza’s head chef and co-owner Nancy Silverton to promote her new cookbook. Basically it was one of those unforgettable meals where you do more moaning than talking. Since then I’ve dedicated myself to making as many things as I can from this sturdy Italian masterpiece–from the pizzas to the braised squid in garlic mayonnaise and then there’s the garganelli with ragu bolognese (one of my favorite dishes of all time). It’s not a beginner cookbook but the more confident and enthusiastic home chef will want to dive right in.
3. Neue Cuisine: The Elegant Tastes of Vienna by Kurt Gutenbrunner. One of my most cherished memories from when we used to lived in New York City was having lunch or coffee with pastry at Cafe Sabarsky: a wood-paneled cafe which was once a former library within the mansion that is now the Neue Galerie museum. I loved not only the ambiance of Sabarsky but I also became completely smitten with Austrian cuisine after my meals there. Now the cafe’s wonderful chef (Gutenbrunner also owns two other Austrian restaurants in NYC) has created an elegant cookbook with recipes for Austrian dishes like spatzle with white corn, brussel sprouts, mushrooms, and tarragon; pork schnitzel with bacon, chanterelles, and cream sauce; and cherry strudel… This book is for the urban sophisticate in your life who also just loves a fine meal.
4. Cooking in the Moment by Andrea Reusing. Reusing— the chef of a popular restaurant in Chapel Hill called Lantern—has created a cookbook that’s like a lovely scrapbook. There are the simple yet full-of flavor recipes like escarole in broth with lemon and eggs, or old-fashioned baked beans with smoked bacon; the gorgeous photos (like her collage of different varieties of tomatoes); as well as stories from the south. Lovely for that friend who likes to moon over the Anthropologie catalog but isn’t afraid to shuck an oyster.
5. Home Cooking with Jean-Georges by Jean-Georges Vongerichten. My restaurant obsession over the last year or so has been ABC Kitchen in NYC (and not just because I once sat next to the actress who plays Joan on the tv show Mad Men). So I was thrilled when the chef and owner, Vongerichten, wrote a book with many of my favorite recipes, including crab toasts with sriracha mayonnaise and one of most amazing roasted carrot salads you will ever have in your life. Perfect for the boss (or mother-in-law) you may be wanting to impress.
6. An Everlasting Meal by Tamar Adler This is not just a cookbook, it’s actually more of a read, with Adler (who has worked as a chef at places like Prune in NYC) sharing her thoughts on ingredients, cooking, and the table. There are useful home recipes as well for things like minestrone and marinated goat cheese, but it’s her advice on being a more aware, thoughtful, and efficient cook that is the most unique and refreshing. Her inspiration is the writings of M.F.K. Fisher, but there’s also the spirit of authors like Michael Pollan, Simon Hopkinson, and Angelo Pellegrini in her philosophy. Perfect for the person in your life who secretly wants to runaway and become a farmer.
OK–and the rest of the best:
The Apple Lover’s Cookbook by Amy Traverso. Not just terrific recipes—from crisps to salads— but also lots of information on apple varieties and which to use when.
The Food of Spain by Claudia Roden. Everything you could ever want to know and learn about Spanish cuisine, also lovely to behold.
All About Roasting by Molly Stevens. A bible dedicated to roasting (something I find myself doing more and more). This is a terrific addition to any cookbook library.
Perfect One-Dish Dinners by Pam Anderson. For the super-busy parent who still wants to cook from scratch whenever possible without losing their mind, a collection of one-pot meals that will be a life-saver.
Salad As A Meal by Patricia Wells. From the doyenne of French cuisine, a lovely book for someone looking to eat more healthfully without sacrificing taste and enjoyment.
A Southerly Course by Martha Foose. Sequel to one of my faves, Screen Doors and Sweet Tea; Foose also was the food consultant on the film The Help.
American Flavor by Andrew Carmellini. From the chef behind the popular/too-cool-for-school restaurants Locanda Verde and The Dutch in NYC, a vibrant cookbook featuring recipes with unique, southern-influenced flavor combinations like wax beans with popcorn and meatloaf stuffed with macaroni and cheese. Kind of perfect for the cooking dude in your life.
**And a special note before you go shopping: This op-ed piece from the NYTimes, written by the wonderful novelist Richard Russo, presents a strong argument for doing your shopping at a local bookstore, as opposed to Amazon. Check it out: Amazon’s Jungle Logic.