Find our top 8 picks for the best single-subject cookbooks of the past 25 years.
July 18, 2012
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1 of 9Photo: Mandie Mills
Top 8 Single-Subject Cookbooks
The focused, almost obsessive nature of the single-topic food book makes a cook grateful that other cooks fall under the spell of the infinite variations possible in just one thing, whether it's meat, frozen desserts, or delicious little bites. It's not that you'll cook even a fraction of the 500 casseroles in a casserole book. But it's comforting to have such a book on hand, tucked away, and comforting to know that the taxonomy of the casserole has been laid out so lovingly.
There must be as many pasta books as pastas at this point, but this is a favorite, a handsome nod to the simple and the unusual. Domenica Marchetti—an American of Italian heritage—begins with the fundamentals: fresh pasta dough, stocks, sauces. The classics are here, along with black spaghetti with crab ragù; roasted carrot and ricotta gnocchi; bigoli with spicy sardine sauce; and "showstoppers" like codette, a pasta that looks like a long string bean.
GIVE THIS TO: Pasta lovers with a pasta machine. —Phoebe Wu
200 approachable ideas for appetizers in a no-nonsense volume that, without fanfare, gets down to business. No pages of philosophy, just recipes, organized by how the food is handled: passed and plated, spread and scooped, stuffed and skewered. Wonder how much fat is in that feta dip? Every recipe has nutritional information.
GIVE THIS TO: Party-food people. —Tiffany Vickers Davis
By including a tagine, a goulash, and a rarebit in her collection, Beatrice Ojakangas co-opts most things baked for her casserole categorizing, including appetizers and desserts. The old-fashioned concoctions stand out: Sweet Onion, Rosemary, and Cheese Slather; Baked Chicken Chowder; and Three Cheese Breakfast Casserole. Freezing and thawing are covered, as are the basic sauces.
GIVE THIS TO: The comfort-food cook. —Mary Goodbody
Jeni's Ice Cream in Columbus, Ohio, is perhaps the best maker of artisanal frozen treats in the country, and here Jeni explains the principles not just of flavor but also of texture, sometimes involving cream cheese, cornstarch, and corn syrup. The payoff is a creamy dessert that doesn't freeze up to a hard block. Flavors are glorious: The Darkest Chocolate Ice Cream in the World; Blackstrap Praline; Riesling-Poached Pear Sorbet.
If you thought veggies had to be boring, this book will convince you otherwise. The new wave cookery is vibrant and thrilling, and the English seem to have a particular bead on it. Ottolenghi brings Middle Eastern zing to dishes like roasted eggplant with buttermilk sauce; caramelized garlic tart with goat cheese; and hot yogurt and fava bean soup. Gorgeous photos make you want to raid the garden and dive right in.
GIVE THIS TO: Bold cooks and farmers'-marketeers. —Scott Mowbray
A definitive fish book, with ultra clear instruction and photography. The 67 techniques get very specific: butterflying raw shrimp for broiling; sautéing fresh roe; braising a whole large flatfish. Then come the recipes, equally clear and appealing. It was one of the early efforts at promoting sustainability, so the facts may be dated, but we applaud the spirit and effort.
GIVE THIS TO: Seafood lovers of all scales and stripes. —Adam Hickman
A meaty celebration of the resurgence of American butchers. Guggiana takes a broad interpretation of the term "butcher" with recipes and profiles of manly butchers, farmers, and chefs, along with a few "female meat mavens." Josh Applestone's Horseradish-Crusted Roast Beef is simple and simply delicious. If you're into pig trotters and beef heart, there's offal, too.
GIVE THIS TO: People who love to cook or eat the whole beast. —Julianna Grimes
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Sauces By James Peterson, John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2008. Hardcover. $50; 612 pages
Peterson is the Stephen King of the single-topic food book—staggeringly prolific—and this, the third edition of a volume first published more than 20 years ago, is pretty much an advanced degree in technical sauce making. If you didn't know the difference between an integral meat sauce and a brown sauce, you will now. Recipes include simmered stews, such as classic Pot au Feu and roasted hunks of meat with sauces to pair with them. Peterson delivers his trademark mixture of detail and clarity (his books really do read well). This is professional grade but also a fantastic resource for novice cooks ready to study at the apron strings of a master.