When someone asks a cook if they really need another cookbook, the answer is almost always yes. Why settle for one baking book when there are three more just as worthy?
But cookbooks are more than just a pretty cover; they earn their spots on the shelf. Cookbooks can provide a sense of adventure, feed our curiosity and educate us, no matter how long we've been in the kitchen. They introduce us to new cuisines, encourage us to shop at unfamiliar markets and support local farmers all while helping to satisfy our sweet tooth, teaching us how to use the hot new appliance, adapt to a meatless diet or make an exquisite cocktail.
And, if we're lucky, we find one that speaks to us, nourishing both our soul and our families.
There is a stunning number of cookbooks published each year, and shelf space — both at bookstores and in our homes — is at a premium. Each year, the Taste team culls through the new releases, earmarking our favorites and cooking with abandon. There are some we turn to time and time again; others we politely donate.
This year our top picks run the gamut from quick-hit dinners to cocktails and an authoritative guide to pasta. Plus, we take a peek at the new offerings from the talented pool of local cookbook authors. We hope there's room on your shelves for one (or several) of them. Happy reading.
Fun, functional and dream-worthy
When selecting reading material, we tend to gravitate toward books that not only fit our interests, but also our lifestyle. The same holds true for cookbooks.
Enter America's Test Kitchen's "Five Ingredient Dinners" ($30), which will quickly become a busy cook's best friend. The juggernaut that is ATK churns out an extraordinary number of books, all featuring fail-proof recipes and detailed techniques that can teach even the most experienced cooks a thing or two. This book is no exception. More than 100 recipes do indeed feature five ingredients (plus pantry staples), along with serving suggestions. There are chapters on chicken, meat and seafood as well as noodles, meatless meals and grilling, and a handy table points you to recipes that use up the open jars of rice vinegar, soy sauce and capers, to name a few.
Recipes may be on the simpler side, but the flavors aren't. Gnocchi with Sun-Dried Tomatoes, Ricotta and Spinach comes together in less than 30 minutes, and the Grilled Pork Tenderloin with Hazelnut Browned Butter and Broccolini was lick-the-plate good. But the best part? Those who love to cook but struggle with finding the time or energy to plan meals can feel good about what they're putting on the table.
Following the frenzied-cook theme, "Milk Street Tuesday Nights Mediterranean" by Christopher Kimball (Voracious, $35) aims to make one of the world's healthiest (and flavorful) cuisines attainable for weeknight meals. A follow-up to 2018's "Tuesday Nights," Kimball categorizes the Mediterranean meals by fast (45 minutes or less) faster (30 minutes) and fastest (25 minutes), with additional chapters on supper-worthy soups and salads, vegetarian meals and flatbreads and sandwiches.
But food that's fast doesn't mean it's fast food. The recipes are filled with flavor and, despite the name Tuesday Night, there are plenty of options suitable for a nicer family meal or entertaining. (The recipes also include origins and details.) Make a from-scratch Chicken Shawarma sandwich, classic Green Shakshuka or get a taste of Sicilian flavors with Shrimp and Couscous with Tomatoes and Toasted Almonds. The world, or at least the Mediterranean coast, is all yours.
Many cooks need a creative challenge, too, and thanks to the new "Baking With Dorie: Sweet, Salty & Simple" by Dorie Greenspan (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $35) they have one. This book marks Greenspan's 14th, and her 30th year as a cookbook author.
Included are both savory and sweet recipes, twists on old favorites (chocolate chip cookies) and inventive quick breads (Goat Cheese-Black Pepper Quick Bread), and too many can't-wait-to-try recipes (Double-Chocolate Rhubarb Tart). It also oozes with charm. An example: Greenspan designates a handful of recipes in each chapter as her "sweetheart" recipes, ones that she kept coming back to while writing the cookbook, that are marked with a heart.
She also dispenses this pearl of wisdom, perfect for this time of year: "Bake something and share it. It might change your life. It changed mine." And if you need a suggestion, she provides 150 of them.
With the national spotlight shining bright on Sean Sherman's restaurant Owamni and Indigenous cuisine, the timing of the "New Native Kitchen: Celebrating Modern Recipes of the American Indian" by Freddie Bitsoie and James O. Fraioli (Abrams, $40) couldn't be better. The book celebrates the food of Native cultures across North America and the Pacific islands, so in addition to bison and wild rice, you'll find recipes that include prickly pear paddles and coconut milk. Bitsoie, a Navajo cook who is the former executive chef at the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian, modernizes the recipes without taking away the basic fundamentals of Indigenous cooking, and gives mini history lessons of tribes along the way. It's a fascinating — and very clean — way of cooking and eating that is worth every bit of attention it's getting.
It wouldn't be the holidays without a wish list, and Modernist Cuisine's "Modernist Pizza" by Nathan Myhrvold and Francisco Migoya is definitely a splurge with its $425 price tag. Modernist Cuisine goes beyond recipes to explore the science, history, techniques, equipment and just about everything else about pizza in this four-volume tome, and it's exquisite. Thanks to the Modernist Cuisine Lab's army of chefs, scientists, researchers, engineers and photographers, no pizza stone is left unturned. From more than 1,000 recipes, dozens of dough styles, must-have equipment and ingredients and recommendations for the best places to travel for pizza (in the U.S. it's Portland, Ore.), this is the gift that will keep on giving for the pizza lover on your very nice list.
New meets old, and mixing things up
Every year, I find myself surprised that another cookbook dares to take on the wide world of Jewish cuisine. Is there really any improving on matzo ball soup at this point? Yet, here we are once again, with another great entry into the canon of Jewish cooking. "Jew-Ish: Reinvented Recipes From a Modern Mensch" (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $30) is author Jake Cohen's playful take on Ashkenazi Jewish mainstays for the Instagram age, with recipes such as a delightful galette filled not with fruit, but cream cheese and lox, everything bagel seasoning sprinkled around the edges. Or a panzanella salad with challah bread cubes. Or a Passover-friendly tiramisu that substitutes matzo for ladyfingers. Interspersed with whimsical re-creations of Shabbat and holiday classics are a number of fragrant and sophisticated Middle Eastern recipes that acknowledge flavors from Cohen's husband's Persian-Iraqi heritage. And yes, there is a recipe for matzo ball soup, which Cohen somehow manages to make cheekily suggestive. Guess you can improve on the age-old hits after all.
The proprietors of Don Angie, a Michelin-starred Italian restaurant in New York's Greenwich Village, also find a way to cast a new light on a cuisine everyone thinks they already know. In this case it's the comfort food of Italian-American immigrants, with some liberties. "Italian-American: Red Sauce Classics & New Essentials" (Clarkson Potter, $35) by Angie Rito and Scott Tacinelli is brimming with mouthwatering reimaginings of the stuff on "The Sopranos" dinner table: shrimp parm meatballs; pinwheel lasagna; pepperoni rice; Campari ribs. The recipes, far more labor-intensive than opening a jar of sauce, are best saved for project cooking days, and enjoyed for Sunday supper.
Keeping true to the old-meets-new trend, Abigail Johnson Dodge updates a tried-and-true cafeteria heavyweight — the sheet cake. In "Sheet Cake: Easy One-Pan Recipes for Every Day & Every Occasion" (Clarkson Potter, $23), she puts the workhorse half-sheet pan to exceptional use, with dozens of recipes for easy sheet cakes that she spiffs up with a variety of fillings, frostings, sauces and soaks. Turn out an extravagantly decorated cake without any unusual kitchen tools, such as a stacked-up Boston cream or a rolled-up matcha cake. Or, simply do as I did, and snack on a better-than-the-box cake right out of the pan.
There are recipe cooks (raises hand) and pantry cooks who can improvise their way around whatever they have in the house. If you fancy yourself somewhere between the two — or wish you were — "Ottolenghi Test Kitchen: Shelf Love" (Clarkson Potter, $32) might be the only guide you need. Recipe followers can use it like a regular cookbook and browse the Middle Eastern-inflected recipes from famed chef and cookbook author Yotam Ottolenghi (with Noor Murad). But the real utility lies in a kind of reverse table of contents at the front of the book, which sorts recipes by what's in your cabinet/fridge/spice drawer. I had to use up extra chicken stock before it turned, which led me to a recipe for an amped-up tomato soup with pasta and caramelized onions that is going to be my go-to.
Serious home bartenders — of which there are now many, thanks to the pandemic — have a new training manual from the cocktail experts behind New York City's Death & Co. and the James Beard Award-winning "Cocktail Codex." Alex Day and David Kaplan, with Minnesota-based author Nick Fauchald, have assembled a luxe coffee table book that doubles as the definitive textbook for at-home libation experimentations, called "Death & Co.: Welcome Home" (Ten Speed Press, $40). With their guidance, you can train your palate to detect a balanced cocktail, find a shopping list to stock your home bar, take the fear out of making your own cordials and, of course, make the perfect cocktail with hundreds of recipes.
Italy, Paris, the South and more
It's probably safe to say that New York City chef Missy Robbins has written the book on pasta. "Pasta: The Spirit and Craft of Italy's Greatest Food, With Recipes" (Ten Speed Press, $40) is the summation of a career immersed in the craft of pasta making. Robbins, collaborating with her partner Talia Baiocchi, channels her priceless professional experience into this master class of a cookbook, breaking down the process into home cooks' terms and then offering concise, vastly appealing recipes. Other reasons to love? The beautiful photographs, practical how-to illustrations and deep-dive attention to detail. And like so many in her profession, Robbins is an engaging storyteller.
Another gifted wordsmith is Cheryl Day. The Savannah, Ga., bakery owner has a pair of previously published cookbooks — both co-written by her husband and business partner (and Minneapolis native), Griffith Day — and baking from them is a total treat. In a new solo act, "Cheryl Day's Treasury of Southern Baking" (Artisan, $40), Day celebrates her baking-rich heritage, reaching back to the legacy of her great-great-grandmother, Hannah Queen Grubbs, a prolific baker who was born enslaved in 1838 in Alabama. Day's easy-to-follow recipes — Golden Buttermilk Chess Pie, Apple Brown Betty, Old Fashioned Caramel Cake, cheese straws — are equal parts culinary travelogue and history guide.
Thanks to the gorgeous "World Food" series, we can get a taste of Mexico City (last year's introductory title) and now the City of Light. In the engaging page-turner that is "World Food: Paris" (Ten Speed Press, $26), author James Oseland — he was Saveur magazine's well traveled editor for nearly a decade — vividly whets the appetite for All Things Paris by breezily encapsulating a parade of markets, restaurants, shops and home kitchens. Fifty evocative recipes, quick-hit rosters of Parisian essentials (cheeses, wines, breads) and photographer James Roper's scene-setting images are icing on the gâteau.
The path-breaking "Black Food: Stories, Art and Recipes From Across the African Diaspora" (4 Color Books, $40) is the kind of conversating-sparking title that will be continually carried from kitchen to nightstand and vice versa. Editor Bryant Terry — the California chef and educator behind a number of excellent plant-based cookbooks — has curated a riveting collection of essays, poetry, recipes and imagery from 100 leading Black cultural figures.
Even in this age of Google, an encyclopedic cookbook (think, "Joy of Cooking" or "How to Cook Everything") remains a handy kitchen resource, and "The Essential New York Times Cookbook" (W.W. Norton & Co., $55) nicely fits into this fraternity. Editor Amanda Hesser wisely takes a global approach when exploring the newspaper's vast, well tested recipe archive, tapping the knowledge and passion of top chefs and food writers and adding helpful commentary. File the book's hundreds of user-friendly recipes under "T" for "timeless."