What makes a good cookbook? There are a lot of answers to that question…
I’d argue that a good one introduces us to a new world, or gives us techniques to take beyond its pages, or is simply a beautiful object to pore over or share with a friend. The greatest cookbooks do all that and go one step further — they inspire us to head straight for the kitchen. With that in mind, here are my favorite cookbooks from fall 2022. Ogle them, use them, give them.
The Woks of Life: Recipes to Know and Love from a Chinese-American Family, by Bill, Judy, Sarah & Kaitlin Leung
“Our family cares a lot about food. Like a weird amount.” So begins the cookbook from the Leungs, who started a food blog together in 2013, devoted to recipes from both old-world Shanghai and Bill’s Chinese restaurant in the Catskills. The conversational, hey-you-can-do-it cheerleading tone is evident on every page, and you’ll fall in love with all four them…if you hadn’t already. (Bonus: the lifestyle photos were taken by our beloved Christine Han!)
Try these first: Shortcut Dan Dan Noodes; Kung Pao Chicken; Tomato Egg Stir-Fry, which, they write, “probably holds the record for most appearances on Chinese family dinner tables around the world.”
Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking, by Marcella Hazan
A gorgeous 30th-anniversary edition of the beloved cookbook that introduced Americans to authentic Italian recipes and technique. Written with Hazan’s trademark precision, warmth, and loving authority, and beautifully designed and repackaged, this book is under the tree for both my daughters this year.
I Am From Here: Stories and Recipes from a Southern Chef, by Vishwesh Bhatt
“I want people to see me as I see myself,” writes James Beard-Award winning chef Bhatt in the introduction. “An immigrant, a son of immigrants, who chose to make the South his home, and in doing so became a Southern chef.” A very personal collection of recipes influenced by his vegetarian upbringing in both the Gujarat region of India and Oxford, Mississippi, where he runs the popular Snackbar.
Try these first: Slow-Cooked Okra with Garam Masala and Yogurt; Grilled Shrimp with Mango Chutney Glaze; Smoked Catfish Pâté.
Via Carota: A Celebration of Seasonal Cooking from the Beloved Greenwich Village Restaurant, by Jody Williams and Rita Sodi with Anna Kovel
There’s no better testament to the concept of simple-equals-sophisticated than a meal at Via Carota, the rustic Italian, quintessentially New York restaurant run by Williams and Sodi. The namesake cookbook is infused with personal stories (how they met and married), organized by season, and packed with serious inspiration, especially in the vegetable department. Though the dishes will taste best with high-quality produce and provisions, the recipes rarely call for more than a handful of ingredients. That’s how you know it’s authentic. And Italian.
Try these first: Carabaccia (Onion and Bread Soup); Insalata Frutti di Mare (Chilled Seafood with Salsa Verde); Lasagna Cacio e Pepe.
Delectable: Sweet & Savory Baking, by Claudia Fleming
Her first book, The Last Course, inspired a generation of both restaurant and recreational bakers, and now, 21 years later, the onetime Gramercy Tavern pastry chef is back with a collection of baked goods “stripped down” (her words) for the everyday enthusiast. Somehow, though, all the confections still look museum-worthy.
Try these first: Dad’s Favorite Cookies (basically gourmet Mallomars, shown above); Maple Shortbread; Chocolate Doughnuts with Espresso Glaze.
Simple Pasta, by Odette Williams
Williams oozes that “oh-this?-I-just-threw-it-together” vibe and, as I wrote back in September on CoJ, if anyone can convince me to make from-scratch pasta on the regular, it’s her. (She always includes instructions for using store-bought pasta, too.) Come for the linguine alle Vongole and cacio e pepe, stay for the Champagne towers and salted caramel ice cream.
Try these first: Pasta with Vodka Sauce; “Yum, You’re Lovely” Classic Bolognese Lasagna; Creamy Potato, Caramelized Leeks & Gruyère Pansotti (aka Italian pierogis).
In this collection of 100-plus recipes, The Great British Bake Off star blows up the conceit of many popular cookbooks by staying away from the idea that novelty is what people want. “We try to cook ourselves better somehow — maybe into a different body or a bigger kitchen or a more perfect persona,” she writes. What if, instead, she posits, “We meet our hungers here and now, as we are.” The result? Pantry meals, flexible daily prepping, and what she calls “normal perfect moments,” e.g., small, nurturing snacks. It’s messy, fun, and, yes, novel.
Try these first: Kelewele (fried plantain with chili and peanuts); 15-minute Cream of Tomato Soup; Pea, Mint and Chili Toast with Crispy Paneer.
Home is Where the Eggs Are, by Molly Yeh
Even though the onetime food blogger hit the big time as a Food Network Star (she’s filmed 10 seasons of Girl Meets Farm), Molly’s approach will never not feel down-to-earth and utterly charming — the recipe photos, almost all of which are shot in her kitchen, are un-slick and motivating in the best possible way. Here, she presents her take on kitchen life with two young kids underfoot, and she is as reliably hot dog- and hot dish-loving as ever, folding in recipes that reflect her Chinese-Jewish-Midwestern heritage. For all the hype surrounding her these days, let’s not forget: the woman can cook.
Try these first: Hand-Pulled Noodles with Potsticker Filling Sauce; Hot Dog Chop with Avocado Ranch (!); Farro Bowls with Poached Eggs and Green Tahini.
Extra Good Things, by Noor Murad, Yotam Ottolenghi, and the Ottolenghi Test Kitchen
I confess, initially I wasn’t going to include this. I wondered, Do people need another Ottolenghi cookbook? But then I lived with Extra Good Things for a few months and found myself opening it more than almost any of the others listed here. It focuses on how we can add surprises or twists to everyday food. There are the trademark Ottolenghi eight-zillion-ingreident recipes here, too, but those are outshined by just as many inspiring ideas for taking your daily cooking from good to great with sauces, drizzles, condiments, and pickled everythings.
Try these first: Rösti with Cream Cheese, Dill Pickle, and Everything Seasoning; Butternut Squash Crunch Pie with Pickled Chiles; Baked Polenta with Feta, Béchamel, and Za’atar Tomatoes.
Smitten Kitchen Keepers: New Classics for Your Forever Files, by Deb Perelman
Chances are you already have many, many keepers in your recipe files from Perelman, the woman who practically invented food blogging over 16 years ago, but this book anoints 100 fuss-free dishes (from breakfast to dinner to everything in between) as her favorites. As always, a big part of the appeal is the way she writes a recipe introduction. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been convinced to try something based on the encouragement and anecdotes she offers before her recipes. (Looking at you, falafel.)
Try these first: Falafel; Charred Salt and Vinegar Cabbage; Devil’s Food Cake with Salted Milk Chocolate Frosting; Cauliflower Cheese Baked Potatoes.
What else have you picked up lately? I’d love to know!
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