I know. It seems so passe. Everything’s on the Internet these days. No one uses cookbooks anymore.
Well I do.
Nevermind, all the Epicurious searches or lunches spent surfing food blogs, I still have opened up Better Homes and Gardens‘ red and white classic so many times you can spot the flour and cookie dough. Page 85 lemonade base; page 117 cornbread. But even that classic I could do without. Many of its recipes, most tried and true, can be found elsewhere.
So I took a look at my shelf and narrowed it down. What cookbooks could I really not live without. Here they are:
The Silver Spoon. Call it the Better Homes and Gardens of Italy or Mastering the Art of Italian Cooking. It breaks down all the standard Italian recipes and ones you won’t find on the Internet. The type you get handed down from nana. Since my family’s originally from Sicily, it’s also nice to see what the northerners do. (Although, the southerners do it better.) The book’s organized by ingredients, but it’s alphabetical in Italian, so you’ll need to use the index unless you already know the Italian alternative. For example, swordfish comes before halibut in Italian. You can learn everything from how to clean squid to how to make ice cream the Italian way, which is to say correctly.
Charcuterie: The Art of Smoking, Salting and Curing. (Michael Ruhlman & Brian Poleyn) Unless you have the stomach for watching sausage being made, and being elbows deep in meat, this book probably isn’t for you. Have the time to spend eight hours smoking meat? Fantasize about building a shed to cure salami in your backyard? Then this is the quintessential book for you. It helped us perfect sauerkraut and bratwurst.
The Bread Bible (Rose Levy Beranbaum) You knead this. Sorry, couldn’t resist. I learned to knead dough and throw doughnuts in high school, working in a bakery. In baking, so much depends on the feel of the dough. The rest takes guidance, and really good recipes. Store-bought bread is expensive and it doesn’t hold a candle to what you can create with your own two hands. The book spends ample time on technique and breaks down using a mixer or food processor, versus kneading by hand. Recipes can be advanced, but many are accessible, even for beginners.
Mastering the Art of French Cooking (Julia Child). For the record, we got this for a buck, before the movie came out. And no, we haven’t tried every single recipe. There’s a reason the word art is in the title. The recipes are exquisite, masterful. The technique is unparalleled. My wife can’t stand the flip back involved. Spinach gratin (page 471) calls for spinach braised in stock (earlier on page 471) , which calls for chopped spinach (page 469). As an Italian, I find French cooking somewhat overrated. Too much butter, not enough olive oil. But they’ve got their sauces down. I’ll give them that. Not to mention Julia Child was exceptional at making a country’s cuisine accessible to anyone who was interested.