F&W sorted through hundreds of books to find the 19 spectacular ones here—all perfect for the passionate cook, wine lover or reader.
This might be the only Italian cookbook you'll ever need. Superstar chef Mario Batali has compiled more than 300 recipes from all over Italy, from 10 years of his Molto Mario TV show as well as from his extensive travels. Beautiful and incredibly easy to navigate and use, the book is peppered with Batali's humor, tips and historic references. But ultimately there are those swoon-inducing recipes: baked pasta with ricotta and ham, for instance, and pork chops with peppers and capers.
Sunday Suppers at Lucques
Ever since opening her Los Angeles restaurant Lucques seven years ago, chef Suzanne Goin has served casual, fixed-price Sunday suppers that remind her of the meals she ate with her family when she was growing up. This excellent book is a compilation of her favorites. Recipes are tempting, innovative and absolutely doable—from a Green Goddess salad with romaine, cucumbers and avocado to succulent lamb skewers with lima bean puree and feta salsa verde. Despite the homey title, this is an indispensable cookbook for anyone who likes to entertain—on Sundays or any night of the week.
Don't Try This at Home
Ever fantasize about becoming a chef? This book will persuade you otherwise. Edited by Kimberly Witherspoon and Andrew Friedman, it's a dishy collection of stories by 40 star chefs about their most outrageous cooking disasters—dropping a giant tray of cheesy pasta shells into a fish tank (José Andrés), struggling to feed a room of drunk diners who become so unruly one tries to throttle a waitress (Anthony Bourdain). While some anecdotes are told with greater gusto than others, all are lively additions to the Kitchen Confidential genre.
This A to Z guide is a primer on maître fromager Max McCalman's favorite 200 or so cheeses. Each selection is accompanied by a photo of a perfectly ripe wedge, along with the author's opinionated views about the top producers. Infinitely helpful are McCalman's wine-pairing suggestions as well as his advice on buying cheese (shop no more than a day before you're planning to eat it) and storing and serving it.
Robbing the Bees
"One year during the tupelo harvest Donald Smiley fell asleep while taking off his boots." From the first sentence of Robbing the Bees, Holley Bishop writes engagingly about the complex world of the industrious insect. Whether describing the life of a professional beekeeper, her own hobbyist efforts or honey's historical context, she exhibits a lovely, dry wit. She even provides some ancient Roman recipes made with honey. "At best the results are delicious, at worst they are 'interesting,'" she writes. "If 'interesting,' add more honey."
Julie & Julia
Nearing 30 and feeling lost in her life, aspiring actor-turned-secretary Julie Powell hit on an unlikely raison d'être: Before her next birthday she would attempt to tackle all 524 recipes in Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking. This book details her successes (perfect crêpes) and setbacks (emotional meltdowns, creeping weight gain). Funny and likable, Powell is terrific company. But if she invites you to her house in Queens for dinner, don't expect to eat before midnight.
Although New Orleans's Galatoire's survived Hurricane Katrina relatively unscathed, it's impossible to look at this book without feeling that the restaurant will never be the same. Filled with photos depicting the well-heeled customers, the seen-it-all waiters and the plates and plates of French-Creole food, Melvin Rodrigue and Jyl Benson's book captures the buoyant essence of the place. Recipes pay tribute too, especially a crunchy fried chicken (the secret is simple: a good, thick coating of flour and egg) and a rich bread pudding with banana sauce.
Seasoned in the South
You wouldn't necessarily expect a cookbook to tell a good story, but Bill Smith's does, with disarming directness. As Smith, the chef at the venerable Crook's Corner in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, writes, "I prefer meals that are to be eaten and not dissected at the table." Notable among his clever-yet-approachable Southern recipes are an ingenious spicy green Tabasco chicken and a crisp and refreshing green-peach salad.
Despite its lush and dreamy photos, this book by Michael Recchiuti, owner of Recchiuti Confections in San Francisco, is as much a cookbook as a coffee-table book. Recchiuti is a master, adroitly working with infusions and caramelized sugar to add flavors and textures to his chocolates. Although techniques like these may sound intimidating (this is a book for more experienced cooks), with the help of co-author Fran Gage, Recchiuti gives numerous tips to demystify them. The range of recipes is vast, from truffles and barks to drinks, but the go-to pages are in the snacks chapter, with recipes for fluffy Whoopie Pies and sultry burnt-caramel pot-au-crème.
Mangoes & Curry Leaves
Toronto-based authors Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid have traveled throughout Southeast Asia for 30 years, studying, photographing, eating and immersing themselves in the culture. Here they focus on the everyday cooking of the Indian subcontinent, including India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka. To help readers negotiate the recipes, a section in the book groups them into categories like "To Delight Children" (yogurt-marinated chicken kebabs) and "For Adventurous Eaters" (spicy Bhutanese cheese curry). A thrilling gift for the confident cook.
Paula Deen & Friends
Southern cook Paula Deen already has one TV show, two restaurants and three cookbooks. In her latest book, she tackles her least favorite aspect of parties: "The hardest part of entertaining has never been the actual cookin' but the menu planning, which I think is a chore!" In an exaggerated drawl (you can almost hear it), Deen and co-author Martha Nesbit talk through their menus, some more predictable and others pleasantly unexpected: "A Georgia Bulldawg Parking Lot Tailgate" and "A BIG Cocktail Buffet for Out-of-Town Wedding Guests." The satisfying recipes come from Deen and her wide circle of friends: praline French toast casserole, Kentucky country ham and Plantation iced tea.
Chef Marc Meyer was antibrunch when he opened Manhattan's Five Points six years ago. But when he caved in, he was determined to go beyond the basics—and Five Points became a sleeper hit. His new book contains his most popular recipes, many combining sweet and savory (the best thing about brunch): a "master frittata" with nine variations; crunchy panfried chicken sandwiches. Meyer points out that brunch is one of the easiest ways to entertain. These recipes might inspire you to try it.
The New Spanish Table
Anya von Bremzen's latest book is well-timed: Spain's avant-garde chefs have captured the world's attention with their brilliant ideas. But while von Bremzen is passionate about these chefs, she stresses that Spanish cooking is firmly rooted in tradition: "The divide between high and low, haute and homey, classic and iconoclastic, rustic and refined can be deliciously blurred." She's as enthusiastic about old-fashioned dishes like salt-baked pork in adobo sauce as she is about innovations like cherry-beet gazpacho.
Everything I Ate
Voyeuristic and fascinating, this photo journal by Tucker Shaw documents a year's worth of meals and snacks. It's a diary of thirtysomething life today told through food, starting on January 1 (cold pizza at 2:34 p.m.) and winding through Christmas (standing rib roast, Yorkshire pudding, roasted root vegetables and peas at 7:15 p.m.). An introduction puts the author's year in context, so readers can flip to see what Shaw ate on significant occasions, like the day of his grandfather's funeral.
Gourmet Shops of Paris
This magnificent book by Pierre Rival and Christian Sarramon is a window on Paris's new and established shops, spotlighting dazzling places to buy chocolate, pastry, tea, coffee, bread, cheese, wine and snacks. There isn't a clunker among them; these are the addresses Francophiles use when they're competing among themselves to show who knows more about Paris.
The Herbal Kitchen
In The Herbfarm Cookbook, chef Jerry Traunfeld of The Herbfarm, just outside Seattle, offered his restaurant's best dishes. He created the recipes in The Herbal Kitchen at home, so they're simpler and speedier, with fewer flourishes. As Traunfeld writes, "I love to fiddle at home, but not fuss." He still uses herbs in extraordinary ways, as in spicy verbena meatballs and tarragon chicken with buttery leeks. A section on planting and tending a garden encourages readers to grow their own herbs.
Judgment of Paris
George M. Taber takes the famous 1976 Paris blind tasting in which top French judges stunned the wine world by choosing California "unknowns" over French greats, and from it spins an absorbing history of modern wine. The only reporter who was present at the tasting, Taber brings readers back to Napa Valley in the '70s and the ambitions that led to that pivotal day—which launched winners Chateau Montelena and Stag's Leap Wine Cellars as America's first international superstars.
The World's Greatest Wine Estates
Robert M. Parker, Jr.'s definitive accounting of his taste assesses 175 wineries he feels provide the measure of greatness. In addition to providing copious tasting notes, Parker includes portraits of the most intriguing personalities and properties: recent sensations like California's Sine Qua Non and legends like Bordeaux's Château d'Yquem. The book will be a touchstone both for collectors and for anyone who hopes to understand the myriad ways a winery can aspire to the title "world class."
Don and Petie Kladstrup, authors of Wine & War, return with this fast-paced anecdotal history of Champagne. From courageous figures like Louise Pommery (who stood up to Wilhelm I's troops) to flamboyant ones like buffalo-hunting "Champagne Charlie" Heidsieck, the region has had more than its share of remarkable characters, and the Kladstrups evoke them vividly.