Cookbooks for an unforgettable holiday meal

Books
Book jacket image for Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking by Marcella Hazan

Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking

An Italian-born friend, who is a very fine cook, once texted me a recipe for Bolognese sauce. The recipe, she explained, was by Marcella Hazan, and the meal we made from it was a gorgeous triumph. You can find that recipe on page 210 of the new edition of Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking, a classic tome now outfitted in cheerful bright yellow for its 30th anniversary. Hazan, who died in 2013, is often credited as the most significant teacher of northern Italian cooking in the United States, and her guidance on fresh pasta, sauces and vegetables is without match, her objective “not to astonish, but to reassure.” Hazan’s cooking is unfussy, powered by good, fresh ingredients (which she explains in loving detail) and firmly rooted in family memories. 

Book jacket image for A Dish for All Seasons by Kathryn Pauline

A Dish for All Seasons

A Dish for All Seasons: 125+ Recipe Variations for Delicious Meals All Year Round is a collection of 26 recipe templates and suggestions for how to mix them up for each season—in other words, a brilliantly useful concept. For example, quesadillas: an easy weeknight favorite, but possibly a bit boring? Not so when stuffed with steamed root veggies in winter or grilled corn kernels in summer. Or consider pesto four ways, depending on what’s in season. Kathryn Pauline, a Saveur award-winning writer, provides a meal-making approach suitable for all levels of kitchen wizardry. Beginners can develop fluency through repeating familiar go-tos with simple twists, while those with kitchen skills will jump at the opportunity to improvise within constraints. “Use what you’ve got” is advice that never grows old, and this book puts a clever, adaptable spin on it. 

For something uniquely comforting, check out these four cookbooks perfect for browsing while you’re snug as a dormouse.

Book jacket image for I Am From Here by Vishwesh Bhatt

I Am From Here

In Vishwesh Bhatt’s cooking, the flavors and foodways of Mississippi and India converge in dishes like okra chaat, saag-style collards and succotash with garam masala. Until now, one had to visit Snackbar in Oxford, Mississippi, where Bhatt is executive chef, to experience that fare. Now, I Am From Here: Stories and Recipes From a Southern Chef showcases the inventive cuisine on which the James Beard Award-winning chef has made his name. A dinner might include grown-up stir-fried rice (based on a snack from Bhatt’s childhood in Ahmedabad, India), collard-wrapped catfish and Mom’s rice pudding. Stories of Bhatt’s mother, who kindled his early interest in food, pepper these pages. The book beautifully represents an individual immigrant’s experience through food; at the same time, it is a welcome addition to the canon of elevated Southern cooking. 

Book jacket image for Chinese-ish by Rosheen Kaul

Chinese-ish

Rosheen Kaul and Joanna Hu, the two young Asian Australians behind the delightful Chinese-ish: Home Cooking Not Quite Authentic, 100% Delicious, encompass a wealth of identities and influences between them: Kashmiri, Singaporean, Filipino, Malaysian, Indonesian and, of course, Chinese. Their collaboration, born during the COVID-19 pandemic, dances merrily through all of that territory with insouciant verve and a dash of humor. There are sections called “Chinese-ish snacks that feel kinda wrong” (including Beijing hot chicken and prawn toast) and “A few desserts we don’t hate” (such as mango pudding and pumpkin cakes). Hu’s watercolor illustrations play so nicely with the vivid photography throughout, and the recipes are remarkably accessible. Get yourself a carbon steel wok (as my husband did recently; he’s loving it), hit up the supermarket’s international aisle or your local Asian market, and you’ll be dishing up variations on fried rice, Sichuan-style noodles and chiffon omelets in no time.

Book jacket image for Bread Head by Greg Wade

Bread Head

“The bread I’m going to teach you to make is a little rough around the edges, a little louder than is polite, and stupid good.” That’s Greg Wade, head baker at Chicago’s Publican Quality Bread, in Bread Head: Baking for the Road Less Traveled. Wade’s bread is “an eff-you to the factory-farmed, industrially made versions” ubiquitous in supermarkets, as he often forges standard wheat for organic heritage whole grains such as barley, buckwheat and millet. Or how about a sorghum and rosemary ciabatta, or a rye naan? Wade’s creations pull from around the globe; for example, there’s khachapuri, a fermented dough stuffed with cheese and eggs that sounds like the stuff of my wheatiest dreams. Even if you burned out on sourdough during the pandemic, this book will make you want to try again.

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