The other day I was trying to think of a new recipe to try. Of course I scanned around online. But I also went to my tried and true kitchen bookshelf to see what inspiration I could draw from the cookbooks on my shelf. It made me start to think; which cookbooks do most of us own? Which ones do we refer to over and over again - for great recipes and/or for inspiration? Is this what makes them a sort of "standard"? Is there a set of cookbooks we should own? I thought I'd take a stab at a list of a few that fit into this category.
I have to admit, my criteria was pretty loose. These are books I (and others I know) have and refer to over and over again. I looked for books that seemed broad in their coverage - had lots of recipes, a regional, national cuisine, or a broad style of cooking. I selected ones that just really seem to make a difference by introducing us to new ways of cooking or new cuisines - or seemed to impact the way we look at food. So, like I said, it's a pretty loosely defined list of characteristics.
Mastering the Art of French Cooking (by Julia Child)
This is of course a classic (1961). But it's also very, very involved. If you want to learn the art of French cooking (and are willing to invest the time) this is a great one for your bookshelf. Step-by-step instructions and over 100 great illustrations will help you through. This is one of those cookbooks that can be used by experienced as well as beginner cooks. And I love how she takes us through the entire spectrum of cooking - from selecting and preparing the produce all the way through the recipe.
Plenty or Jerusalem (By Yotam Ottolenghi)
These two Ottolenghi cookbooks are worthy of checking out. Plenty is a wonderful Mediterranean take on fresh and seasonal produce and vegetarian cooking. The photography is so beautiful.
Jerusalem is a story unto itself - a collaboration between Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi - both born in Jerusalem (Jewish side and Arab side, respectively) and both successful London restauranteurs. The recipes are approachable and beautifully photographed.
Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking (by Marcella Hazan)
This one was a trendsetter. It changed how many people looked at cooking Italian food. It truly introduced America to the inventiveness of Italian cooking by sharing new ideas for pasta dishes and sauces and by using fresh ingredients and seasonal produce. This cookbook changed a lot of people's minds about what Italian cooking really is.
Momofuku (by David Chang and Peter Meehan)
This cookbook has some impressive meals in it. Some recipes are pretty simple (but great) - and some will stretch you as a home cook (which is not altogether a bad thing). These guys make restaurant-quality Asian fusion available to us at home. And it shares some recipes from Chang's incredible New York restaurants - recipes that so many people wanted to get their hands on.
Mexico One Plate at a Time or Mexican Everyday (by Rick Bayless)
Rick Bayless is superb at bringing authentic Mexican cooking to American cooks. We've all eaten (and loved!) Mexican dishes, but how many of us have really cooked authentic ones ourselves? The truth is that many truly authentic Mexican dishes can take a loooong time to prepare. Bayless's cookbook tries to take that into account and makes Mexican cooking fit in our modern lives.
The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook (by Ina Garten)
Ina Garten's backstory about how she left a White House job to open a specialty food store is a fascinating one. This cookbook takes us on a journey through many of the classics - including using all that "good" stuff like real butter and cream. There are dozens of great recipes and lots of notes that share super ideas for cooking for parties and entertaining.
My Paris Kitchen (by David Lebovitz)
This book is just beautiful. It includes a lot of stories, French recipes, and great photography. It's one you'll simply enjoy looking at every once in a while - and cooking from. If you want to get a sense for Paris and its almost undefinable food and cooking culture, you'll get it here.
How to Cook Everything (by Mark Bittman)
This book is HUGE and lives up to its name. You can find almost anything in it. It's mostly simple recipes that are written in a cook-friendly way. And you'll appreciate how he uses everyday ingredients and equipment and tools that are probably already in your kitchen. This is a great "primer". It's not fancy - but isn't meant to be.
The Moosewood Cookbook (by Mollie Katzen)
This one's been out a long, long time (over 40 years).But it was truly a watershed book. It was hugely influential when it came out. It turned us on to the wondrousness of simple vegetarian cooking - and that it could actually be GOOD. It makes vegetarian home-cooking accessible to the masses.
The Joy of Cooking (by Irma S. Rombauer)
I hesitated to put this one on the list. It seemed a little cliche. But you know what? It's a classic for a reason. When you realize that some of those recipes that seem simple to cook, really need a recipe. This is the one that's going to have all those standards you thought you knew but then realized you needed a recipe for. Or maybe just wanted to double-check yourself before you cook something. Think meatloaf or chicken _____.
So, there you go. There's my list of some must-have cookbooks. I think if you pick up this group of cookbooks, you'll have enough recipes and inspiration forever.
I'd be interested to hear what you think. These types of lists are always great fodder for debate. Did I leave one off that should be here? Do you think I should drop one from the list? Why?
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