hether the cook on your holiday gift list is interested in reading about family and food in Soviet Russia or the preparation of classic French dishes such as jambon au foin (“leg in hay”), baking pies or making authentic pasta carbonara, this fall has been an excellent season for food and wine books.
Here are highlights of the cookbook season.
“The World Atlas of Wine, Seventh Edition” by Hugh Johnson and Jancis Robinson (Mitchell Beazley, $55)
British wine writer Hugh Johnson’s “The World Atlas of Wine” has long been every wine lover’s bible. Johnson is an erudite and engaging writer, pouring decades of wine knowledge into succinct paragraphs that place each country and region in context. And the brilliantly detailed maps have been essential to understanding why certain vineyards and appellations produce the wines that they do. For the last few editions Johnson has been joined by another stellar wine writer, Jancis Robinson. The two have just signed off on the seventh edition of “The World Atlas of Wine.” It’s also available in an e-book format for the iPad. Of course, the world of wine today is very different from when the book was first published in 1971. There are now about 215 maps, including those for coastal Croatia, Swartland in South Africa, northern Virginia – and Ningxia in China.
“The New California Wine: A Guide to the Producers and Wines Behind a Revolution in Taste” by Jon Bonne (10-Speed Press, $35)
Jon Bonne’s new book is a wonderful, engaging read with a cast of characters who think outside the box, care about sustainability and have a strong curiosity and work ethic. This is a new generation of California winemakers who aren’t hedge fund directors or dot-com entrepreneurs. If they want to buy a piece of land to plant a vineyard, it takes years to save up. Some are children of winemakers, others grew up in wine country and always wanted to do something with wine, and still others are hard-core dreamers with an itch to make wine. Their wines can be classic or wildly experimental, definitely hands-on and most often made in small quantities. They tend to be lower in alcohol, more subtle in style than the wines that have garnered top scores in recent years.
“Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking: A Memoir of Food and Longing” by Anya von Bremzen (Random House, $26)
Hunger, to paraphrase the old line, makes the best sauce. Judging from Anya von Bremzen’s splendid new “Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking,” it also makes for a pretty good memoir. The essence of “Mastering” – named after Julia Child’s first book with what seems a very Soviet-style mix of cynicism and irony – is Von Bremzen’s personal history of growing up in the Soviet Union. While most food memoirs are recollections of meals past, “Mastering” is more about meals missed – in both senses of the phrase.
“Daniel: My French Cuisine” by Daniel Boulud, Sylvie Bigar, Thomas Schauer and Bill Buford (Grand Central Life and Style, $60)
Is there anyone who has done more for French cooking in the United States than Daniel Boulud? If you have any doubts, you need only pick up his new cookbook, “Daniel: My French Cuisine.” This is one seriously gorgeous book, and it has the air about it of a magnum opus. While previously he has mostly aimed at home cooks, “Daniel” is a full-fledged chef book, a kind of document of where his cooking stands at this stylistically advanced stage of his career.
“Manresa: An Edible Reflection” by David Kinch and Christine Muhlke (10-Speed Press, $50)
David Kinch’s cooking at Manresa restaurant in Los Gatos looks like it comes from another world, yet it is definitively Californian and rooted in nature, whether it’s the soil of Love Apple Farm or the Pacific Ocean. Leafing through the pages of his new cookbook, that becomes utterly clear. Eric Wolfinger’s photos of Kinch’s plates, utterly abstract yet perfect, alternate with his equally gorgeous shots of land and sea (the cover is the exterior of an abalone shell shot so close it looks like Japanese raku pottery). It’s some trick, plating food so that it looks absolutely perfect but almost accidental, but Kinch has it mastered.
“Sauces & Shapes: Pasta the Italian Way” by Oretta Zanini De Vita and Maureen B. Fant (W.W. Norton, $35)
Why in the world would we need another pasta cookbook? Surely everything that possibly could be said has been covered to death by now. Well, pick up “Sauces and Shapes” and find out just how wrong you are. It’s the companion piece to 2009’s “Encyclopedia of Pasta” by the same authors. One of the most delightfully nerdy books around, “Encyclopedia” was more than 350 pages of everything you could possibly want to know about pasta history, geography, literature and, yes, cooking – without a single recipe. This new book fills that gap, thoroughly, admirably and entertainingly.
“In the Charcuterie: The Fatted Calf’s Guide to Making Sausage, Salumi, Pates, Roasts, Confits, and Other Meaty Goods” by Taylor Boetticher and Toponia Miller (10-Speed Press, $40)
One of the best-known of the new charcutiers is the Bay Area’s Fatted Calf, so it’s probably only reasonable that when founders Taylor Boetticher and Toponia Miller wrote a cookbook that they should call it “In the Charcuterie,” despite the fact that that title sells the book short. “In the Charcuterie” is much more than a guide to hams and salumi. In reality, it’s nothing less than a thorough overview of our growing infatuation with good meat. But where the book really shines are on the kinds of quick-cooked charcuterie items that any reasonably ambitious home cook can easily approach: pâtes, terrines, confits and meat pickles.
“One Good Dish: The Pleasures of a Simple Meal” by David Tanis (Artisan, $25.95)
Amid this season’s flurry of massive cookbooks from important chefs comes this modest entry from a former Chez Panisse chef. What he means by one good dish is “tasty, simple and real,” i.e., something a home cook could make without devoting the entire weekend to one recipe. Browsing through sections named “Eating With a Spoon (Pleasure in a Bowl),” “A Dab of This and That (Superior Homemade Condiments)” and “Strike While the Iron Is Hot (Scorched, Seared, and Griddled),” I kept slipping torn pieces of paper next to recipes I want to try. At the end of an hour, my book was bristling with strips of paper.
“Bountiful: Recipes Inspired by Our Garden” by Todd Porter and Diane Cu (Stewart, Tabori & Chang, $35)
You know that the photos will be gorgeous. You know the recipes will make you drool. After all, it’s the handiwork of professional food photographers Todd Porter and Diane Cu, also known as the creative voices behind the popular food blog White On Rice Couple. But the real reason to put this handsome cookbook on your holiday gift list (to give and receive) is that it’s the inspirational story of an Orange County couple whose simple dream is to enjoy a garden-to-plate life.