Friday, April 6, 2012

400 Cookbooks and Counting

I read cookbooks with the passion and concentration of my husband, Jon nose-deep in the latest Robert Jordan mystery. I read them in bed at night. I take them on book tours. I buy them where ever I go. I have about four hundred of them. I cook a lot and read even more and have decided that since I like the two habits equally well, I will continue.

To me, cookbooks are fantasies of great meals in much the same way that travel books are fantasies of perfect vacations. They produce visions of perfect paellas and eye-rolling souffl├ęs. As I pour through them, I can almost smell the house filling with the savoury smells of a cassoulet. I visualize my dinner guests dunking chunks of crusty bread in the dark wine and garlic-rich veal Marsala sauce. Of course, the dried out, even burnt reality of cooking, as we all know so well, is often far removed from the fantasy pages of my cookbooks.

Because I still have cookbooks stacked in the kitchen and almost every other room in the house, people have asked me which are my favorites. So, here are some that I'm working with now.

Pasta Classica by Julia della Croce (Chronicle Books). I bought this book on a trip to Florence, Italy so it is filled with many memories. It’s a basic recipe on how to make almost any kind of pasta you want from macaroni to spaghetti. There is a section of classic sauces and my favourite section, the one I use most often is the baked section. This book has taught me there’s more to baked pasta than lasagna. There’s a fantastic recipe for an eggplant and sausage timpano, the one that was served in The Big Night movie.

My latest love is Ottolenghi by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi (Ebury Press). Two Middle Eastern chefs offer recipes from their London restaurant. The dishes are full of remarkably meaty salads made from quinoa, cous cous and lentils. Irresistible vegetable dishes like Caramelized Endive with Sarano Ham I’ve morphed into caramelized fennel with proscuitto and I can’t count how many times I’ve made the Chargrilled Broccoli with Chilli and Garlic.

On a recent trip to London, England I discovered the series of Michel Roux cookbooks (Quadrille Publishing). I have the book on Sauces, Pastry and now Only the Best. Each one stretches my culinary muscles with simple dishes prepared elaborately. Sure there are some ingredients that aren’t common in Canada, but they’re easy enough to substitute.

Here are three of the ones I’m working with right now. Of course, my own cookbooks are the best of what I’ve learned from my 400 teachers, what’s worked, what’s easy and what I love to share with everyone who cares to cook.

Check them out

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