I podcast your show Good Food every week and it’s inspired me to start cooking more! I’m getting better and better at it, and have found a couple of cookbooks (especially Alice Waters’s The Art of Simple Food) to be so helpful and really informative in helping me to understand what happens/what works best when you mix ingredients and heat them up. My question is: With a beginning home/hobby cook in mind, what cookbooks would you recommend, both for pastries and savory foods.
Ask Evan: What cookbooks would you recommend for the novice cook?
First of all I want to congratulate you on your new found relationship with your kitchen. You’ll have a lovely life together. It’s always easy to point to the latest crop of seasonal cookbook offerings but there are some true oldies but goodies available either new or lightly used online. Here are a few of my favorite from the past:
Cucina Fresca and Cucina Rustica by Viana La Place and Evan Kleiman: OK, it’s a shameless plug, but the books have to be pretty decent to still be in print after 20+ years, right? CF is based on the ease of cooking ahead and serving (mostly veggies) at room temperature. It’s a great summer book, especially well suited to the way we shop at the farmers markets. CR goes farther to give you year round ideas. Someone told me yesterday that she’s used it so much it’s held together with a rubber band. Easy doesn’t begin to describe the recipes which are all based on the simple and delicious rustic Italian way of eating.
Anything by Nigel Slater but especially Tender: A Cook and His Vegetable Patch.
And this year there are some intriguing new offerings. A particularly good crop of really wonderful Italian cookbooks were published this year. I’m sticking with Italian because the food is ingredient rather than technique based and keeps you going in the same vein as Alice’s TAOSF. By the time you cook your way through these books you’ll be able to throw anything together for a simple good meal.
Cucina Povera by Pamela Sheldon Johns. Pamela is an expat living in Italy. She has been teaching home cooks simple Italian cooking for decades. She is a prolific author but here concentrates on the food of her heart. The recipes are simple and the stories ground the recipes in the land and culture they come from.
Rustic Italian Food by Marc Vetri takes the ideas from the culture that created Cucina Povera and moves them into a slightly more sophisticated point of view you would expect from a restaurant chef who trained in Italy.
Ruhlman’s Twenty, by Michael Ruhlman: I would say this is the essential technique book of the year unless you want to dive into Essential Pepin by Jacques Pepin which would actually be like taking a class. He’s wonderful.
And lastly, for a new baker you couldn’t do much better than Emily Luchetti’s new book, The Fearless Baker.