Our favorite cookbooks of the year

Once again I asked my food-writing colleagues to tell me their favorite cookbooks of the year and why, and give me a good recipe or two from each. Here, in time for holiday gift-giving, are our favorites. If you want to tell us what your favorite cookbook of 2012 is and why, email us at food@post-gazette.com or send it to Food, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 34 Blvd. of the Allies, Pittsburgh, PA 15222 and we'll share the best responses.

-- Food editor Bob Batz Jr.


-- By Marlene Parrish

Picking through this year's pile of cookbooks sent as review copies, I sorted them into four piles.

• Cookbooks written by chefs (and their not-very-much-lauded co-writers) are mostly big, flashy sells of the restaurants they represent -- good for reading in bed, but really, is anybody likely to make many, if any, of the multi-stepped precious dishes?

• Reference cookbooks such as Diane Morgan's "Roots" and Bruce Aidells "Great Meat Cookbook" are well-researched keepers; when you need them, you have them.

• The giveaways are an odd lot of one-subject book-ettes donated to the library for their book sale.

• Everyday, get-dinner-on-the-table cookbooks written by trusted professionals are the ones I really use, truth be told. With an empty nest, just the two of us and almost half a century of cooking under my belt, I just don't need or want to "try" some big-deal fusion recipe "created" by a 20-something with a blog.

My pick of year goes to "Gourmet Weekday: All-time Favorite Recipes from Gourmet Magazine," RIP, edited by Sara Moulton, former chef at Gourmet's test kitchens, a television teaching personality and best of all, chief cook and bottle washer for her own family. The cookbook is a compilation of the best quick and simple recipes from the mag, most of them developed by Gourmet's food editors. They are simple to make, international, seasonal and budget-friendly and would pass muster at a dinner party. Most of them come in with under 30 minutes of hands-on time in the kitchen.

I've made Fish Fillets with Olives and Oregano, Mussels in Lager, Ginger Garlic Green Beans and, oh, why don't I just list the whole index here.

"Gourmet Weekday" has a sister book, "Gourmet Italian," which is just as good with the same format. If the publisher is smart, she might follow-up with salads, appetizers and desserts.

Shrimp and Pancetta on Polenta

PG tested

The cookbook explains, "Shrimp and pancetta join forces with creamy instant polenta in an Italian take on a Southern favorite, shrimp and grits." I have to confess, though, that I substitute regular polenta made the long way in a double boiler so I'll have plenty left over to make a big pan of mush. Fire-roasted tomatoes are better than plain, and use a heavy hand with the hot pepper flakes; both will ramp up flavor.

-- Marlene Parrish

  • 1/2 cup instant polenta

  • Salt

  • 1/4 pound pancetta, chopped

  • 2 garlic cloves, minced

  • 1/4 teaspoon hot red-pepper flakes

  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided

  • 14-ounce can diced tomatoes in juice, preferably fire-roasted

  • 1 pound cleaned large shrimp

  • Black pepper

  • 2 tablespoon chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

Cook polenta according to package instructions in a heavy medium saucepan until thickened and creamy, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and season with salt, then cover.

Cook pancetta, garlic, and red-pepper flakes in 2 tablespoons oil in a 12-inch heavy skillet over medium heat, stirring, until garlic is pale golden, 2 to 3 minutes. Add tomatoes with their juice and simmer until liquid is reduced to about 1/4 cup, 6 to 8 minutes.

Add shrimp and cook, stirring occasionally, until shrimp are just cooked through, about 3 minutes. Season with salt.

Spoon polenta into shallow bowls and top with shrimp mixture. Drizzle with remaining tablespoon oil, season with a good grind of pepper and sprinkle with parsley. Makes 4 servings.

-- "Gourmet Weekday: All-Time Favorite Recipes" (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, May 2012, $20)

Charred & Scruffed

-- By Gretchen McKay

Early each spring, a spate of grilling and barbecue cookbooks start piling up on my desk. Yet as excited as the new titles get me about once again cooking outdoors, it's usually the same old same-old bundled in a pretty new package. That's why I loved this book from barbecue's go-to guy, Adam Perry Lang.

"Charred & Scruffed" takes barbecue to the next level by showing backyard chefs how to cook meat, chicken and fish where they usually wouldn't -- directly on those dusty coals -- and somehow making it sound and look delicious. (You can find Larry Robert's lip-smacking slideshow on how to "clinch" a steak at www.post-gazette.com/stories/life/food/to-cook-meat-directly-on-the-coals-is-to-clinch-and-its-a-cinch-645287/). You also can't beat Mr. Perry Lang's conversational tone, peppered with made-up words. A perfect example can be found in this luscious side dish recipe in which potatoes aren't just tossed, but also "scruffed."

Scruffed Carbonara Potatoes

PG tested

  • 3 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and cut into 1 1/2-inch pieces

  • Sea or kosher salt

  • 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil, or as needed

  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter

  • 9 slices bacon, finely chopped

  • 12 garlic cloves, crushed and peeled

  • 2 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves

  • 1 tablespoon fresh rosemary leaves

  • For sauce

  • 1 cup extra-virgin olive oil

  • 1/2 cup clarified butter, melted and still warm

  • 6 large egg yolks, beaten

  • Sea or kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

  • 3 to 4 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

  • 3/4 cup freshly grated pecorino Romano

  • 1/4 cup finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

Put potatoes in a 4-quart pot with cold water to cover; add 1 tablespoon salt and bring to boil over high heat. Reduce heat to a gentle simmer and cook until potatoes are just tender, about 10 minutes.

Drain potatoes in metal colander, reserving 1/4 cup of the potato water, and allow steam to dissipate for 5 minutes. Toss potatoes in colander and allow to stand for 5 minutes longer.

Begin to scruff the potatoes by shaking the colander vigorously from side to side about 15 times. Flip potatoes and give them another 15 shakes.

Divide olive oil and butter between two nonstick skillets that are large enough to hold potatoes in 1 layer and heat over medium-high heat until foaming. Add half potatoes to each pan and cook, without stirring, for 6 minutes. Toss potatoes and cook for 6 minutes longer, or until the potatoes are golden brown.

Push potatoes aside to clear a small space in center of each pan; if the pan seems dry, add a splash of olive oil and heat until sizzling. Add half the bacon, garlic, thyme and rosemary to each pan and cook until herbs are fragrant and garlic is lightly golden, 2 to 3 minutes. Toss garlic, bacon and herbs with potatoes and cook, stirring occasionally, for 3 to 4 minutes. Transfer to colander to drain briefly.

Meanwhile, make the sauce: Mix oil and warm clarified butter together in a measuring cup or bowl with a spout; set aside.

Combine egg yolks and reserved 1/4 cup potato water in a large stainless steel bowl, set over a pot of simmering water, and whisk vigorously until mixture has doubled in volume and has a velvety texture. Immediately remove from heat, season with salt and pepper and add the lemon juice to taste. Gradually whisk in clarified butter and olive oil.

Cover bottom of a warm platter with egg sauce and arrange the potatoes on top. Sprinkle with grated pecorino, shower with chopped parsley, and serve.

Serves 8 to 10.

-- "Charred & Scruffed: Bold New Techniques for Explosive Flavor On and Off the Grill" by Adam Perry Lang (Artisan, May 2012, $24.95)

The Farm

-- By Rebecca Sodergren

Ian Knauer's first full-length cookbook hits all the right notes: It's lovingly written, it's beautifully photographed, and every recipe just sounds scrumptious. This is simple cuisine -- many recipes have ingredient lists that are quite short -- but it gives a starring role to the vegetables and fruits that abound on Mr. Knauer's family farm in Eastern Pennsylvania. Some dishes even sprout from Pennsylvania Dutch roots (think pickled beets and Lebanon bologna). This cookbook is well timed, given the recent popularity of the fresh-and-local movement. Look for more from Mr. Knauer as he launches his first PBS cooking show in 2013.

Garlic-roasted Brussels chips

PG tested

  • 1 pound Brussels sprouts

  • 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped

  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted

  • 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt

  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees with a rack in the upper third. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil.

Cut off and discard the bottoms of the sprouts so the outer leaves can be peeled away. Pull off the outer leaves and reserve. Thinly slice the sprouts crosswise. Toss the outer leaves and the sliced sprouts together with the garlic, oil, butter, salt and pepper.

Spread the leaves and sprouts in one layer on the baking sheet. Bake until the leaves become browned and crisp, 10 to 16 minutes, checking frequently after 10 minutes. Remove the leaves as they crisp and transfer them to a serving bowl. Serve hot.

Serves 4.

-- "The Farm: Rustic Recipes for a Year of Incredible Food" by Ian Knauer (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, April 2012, $30).

Food 52 Cookbook Volume 2

-- By Miriam Rubin

One of my choices is "The Food 52 Cookbook Volume 2: Seasonal Recipes from Our Kitchens to Yours" by The New York Times' Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs, along with contributors to their popular website, Food 52. In a way, it's not so different from my other choice, "House Cooks Every Day" by Melissa Hamilton and Christopher Hirsheimer, as both are organized seasonally and both contain delicious ideas and flavors.

Roasted Broccoli with Smoked Paprika Vinaigrette and Marcona Almonds

PG tested

I like that you saute the garlic just a little, so it doesn't taste raw.

  • 1 large bunch broccoli, cut into florets

  • 1/4 cup extra virgin oil, plus some to drizzle on broccoli

  • Kosher salt

  • 1 garlic clove, minced

  • 1 teaspoon sweet smoked paprika

  • 1 1/2 tablespoons sherry vinegar

  • 1/4 cup Marcona almonds (I used toasted pecans)

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. On large baking sheet, toss broccoli with drizzle of oil and hefty sprinkling of salt. Roast about 20 minutes, until tender and browned in spots.

Meanwhile, make vinaigrette: Heat the 1/4 cup oil in heavy, small skillet over medium heat until quite warm, about 2 minutes. Stir in garlic and paprika; remove from heat. Let stand 10 minutes.

Put sherry vinegar and pinch of salt in small bowl. Slowly whisk in paprika oil, leaving most of garlic and paprika in skillet.

Put roasted broccoli in heated bowl. Toss almonds on top. Drizzle with vinaigrette. Toss and serve immediately.

Makes 2 or 3 servings.

-- Adapted from arielleclementine in "The Food 52 Cookbook Volume 2: Seasonal Recipes from Our Kitchens to Yours" by Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs and the Food 52 Community (Morrow, Dec. 2012, $30)

Gretchen McKay: :gmckay@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1419 or on Twitter @gtmckay. Rebecca Sodergren: pgfoodevents@post-gazette.com. Miriam Rubin: mmrubin@gmail.com or on Twitter @mmmrubin. First Published December 13, 2012 5:00 AM


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