The Best French Cookbooks
This culinary tour de force includes recipes that read as if you're working from Greenspan's handwritten recipe cards. Each begins with a headnote, always containing a tidbit about method. Often there are comparisons to more familiar American recipes that will disarm anyone unfamiliar with—or intimidated by—a recipe or its title. Ever practical, she also offers substitutions and storage tips.
"This is elbows-on-the-table food ..." she promises. "It's the food I would cook for you if you visit me in Paris—or New York City."
GIVE THIS TO: Confident cooks who want to learn more about French cuisine and technique. —Vanessa Pruett
Jacques Pépin is a luminary: He has six decades as a cook and thousands of recipes to his credit. And this book reads very much like his summing up.
Pépin combed through his massive archives and chose 700 favorites. Some required only dusting off, but many have been updated. The results are delicious, classic, never-boring French dishes. From soup (Split Pea Soup with Cracklings: yum!) to frozen desserts like Blood Orange Sorbet—perfectly sweet-tart and vibrant—Essential Pépin has it all. He covers seasonings, stocks, drinks, relishes, and pickles, such as Pickled Hen-of-the-Woods (mushrooms).
The book is treasure enough, but it comes with a DVD of Pépin—he of sparkling eyes and soothing accent—telling a cook pretty much everything she needs to know. This book (and DVD) aren't simply the essentials: They are, per the title, essential Pépin.
GIVE THIS TO: All present and future Pépin fans. —Deb Wise
Richard Olney moved to Provence in 1961 and had the good fortune to befriend the owners of Domaine Tempier. The Lulu of the title is spirited and a great cook, natural hostess, and sailor.
This book is more than a collection of recipes. It begins with an account of the love affair between Lulu and Lucien Peyraud and their struggle to establish their now-celebrated Bandol winery.
Then we go into Lulu's wondrous kitchen, where Olney offers a seat at her celebrated table. We see the comfortable exchanges between friends: Lulu cooks, and Olney takes his notes. He shares her staples, including Lucien's Soup, a pureed potage of leeks, potato, and turnip, a meal "I fix for Lucien every evening when we're alone," Lulu says.
There is succulent Pot-Roasted Leg of Lamb with Black Olives with Zucchini Gratin, and Gratin de Pommes de Terre à l'Oseille (Potato and Sorrel Gratin), delicious with just six ingredients. There are plenty of simple recipes, but Bouillabaisse is a fascinating 10 pages long.
GIVE THIS TO: Francophiles, country-cooking romantics, and wine lovers. —Tiffany Vickers Davis
Straightforward, rustic country cooking at its best from another American known for her experiences of France. The subtitle makes a key point: This book doesn't seek to be the first and last word on Provençal cooking but instead a collection of the sort of meals Wells finds herself whipping up while at her enviable 10-acre hideaway in Vaison-la-Romaine. We get Wells' favorite speedy ratatouille; a garlicky-cheesy summer pistou soup; and other classics from the sun-beaten region.
This book is personal, and, unlike several other tomes in this collection, it's not massive. And, written by an expat, it occasionally betrays a little wanderlust: Inspired by the flavors of France's Bresse region, Wells combines tarragon and vinegar in Chicken with Tarragon and Sherry Vinegar, a delicious yet simple chicken stew finished with a bit of cream. She also includes a recipe for très riche potato gratin Dauphinois from the neighboring Dauphiné region.
There is nothing we haven't heard a thousand times before in Wells' philosophy, but her recipes allow the cook to follow this guidance: "Keep it fresh, keep it simple, respect the seasons, and allow the integrity of an ingredient to shine through."
GIVE THIS TO: All Francophile cooks. —Tim Cebula
The purpose of a weighty, comprehensive cookbook like Glorious French Food is to provoke a cook out of his or her narrowing habits. The obligations of the author: to gather a great deal of delicious recipes and to write with a tricky balance of authority, originality, and voice. All this James Peterson achieves with ease.
Most chapters begin with a classic recipe such as Pork Noisettes with Prunes, then dive into core cooking techniques associated with that dish, and then provide related recipes that build on those techniques. This focus on benchmark recipes adds a nice rhythm.
A wry tone prevails, but there's lots of meaty detail to chew on along the way. And, by the way, the recipes work: Duck with Turnips—a dish with five ingredients, though one of them is homemade stock—was earthy, sweet, and tender.
GIVE THIS TO: Good cooks seeking to expand their repertoire. —Scott Mowbray
Everyone to whom I've shown this substantial book responds with the same dreamy sigh: There are pages and pages of beautiful photographs of the people, animals, farms, and landscapes that make up rural France. Chapter openers praise soups, savory tarts, snails and frogs, charcuterie, and the like, explaining their significance to French rural cuisine. Sidebars dig deeper into the particulars of, for example, Alsace and Lille, or stinky cheeses and fresh chestnuts, or Monsieur Milbert, the gardener who has "dug the earth seven days a week for a half century." Recipe headnotes offer origins and history of dishes, as well as fine substitutes for ingredients that are hard to find outside of France.
GIVE THIS TO: The intermediate cook in love with the romance of France. —Ann Taylor Pittman