Each year, there are so many new cookbooks that catch my eye. But as you check off your Christmas lists this year, here are five standout books to consider gifting to those lucky recipients.
Back Pocket Pasta: Inspired Dinners to Cook on the Fly
By Colu Henry
Clarkson Potter, 240 pages, $28
Back Pocket Pasta is one of the cookbooks I’ve turned to most often this year. A call for weeknight pasta often seems like a last resort for getting dinner on the table, but with Colu Henry as a guide, this kind of dish manages to be both approachable and luxurious. Henry’s recipes draw inspiration from her Italian heritage, her current home in upstate New York near bountiful farmers markets, and working at Bon Appétit magazine. The foundation of it all is a well-stocked pantry: capers, chiles, anchovies — these and other powerhouse ingredients that bring an umami punch to dishes. By wielding those ingredients in clever ways, a home cook can get away with using fewer ingredients. Vegetables picked up during the week help round out these meals and keep them fresh. Everyone should own this cookbook.
Recipe to try: Sicilian Escarole and Sausage
Feed the Resistance: Recipes and Ideas for Getting Involved
By Julia Turshen
Chronicle Books, 143 pages, $14.95
Julia Turshen has followed up her lovely Small Victories, a cookbook released in 2016 that feels like a new classic, with this slim cookbook written in the wake of Donald Trump’s inauguration to the presidency. "Resistance is the new normal," Turshen writes, and she quickly found that her cooking and organizational skills were applicable and valuable to the world of activism — she could help feed community organizers with the comfort of a homemade meal. The political climate has moved the author and throngs of people to become more politically active in their communities, and this cookbook provides recipes that will nourish you and others, as well as concrete and practical ways to become an activist. (All proceeds from the purchase of the book are donated to the American Civil Liberties Union.) Know anyone who attended the Women’s March earlier this year or is seeking a way to become more involved in his or her community? This handbook would be a great stocking stuffer.
Recipe to try: Chocolate Espresso Pie Bars
One Pan & Done
By Molly Gilbert
Clarkson Potter, 256 pages, $17.99
Molly Gilbert’s first cookbook, Sheet Pan Suppers, captured the sheet pan trend before it became ubiquitous, and her latest book expands on the one-pot meal interpretations. Beyond the sheet pan, her recipes in this cookbook turn to the Dutch oven, a cast iron skillet and a casserole dish. Helpful icons accompany each recipe to let readers know at a glance what tool a recipe calls for, and the book covers everything from breakfast to dessert. The common thread is the use of the oven, which means less work for the home cook. I’ve made the lamb meatballs countless times, and it’s a recipe that seems to be an exception to the law of diminishing returns; I can never get enough. This cookbook also introduced me to a new approach to shrimp. A quick roast of shrimp and chickpeas topped with a flurry of fresh dill and crunchy celery yields an irresistible lunch in under 20 minutes. With Gilbert’s friendly and approachable tone, this is a cookbook that will appeal to many.
Recipe to try: Lamb Meatballs With Spinach and Orzo; Curried Red Lentil Soup
The Fearless Baker: Simple Secrets for Baking Like a Pro
By Erin Jeanne McDowell
Rux Martin/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 384 pages, $30
After contributing to more than 60 cookbooks as a food stylist, recipe tester and recipe developer, Erin McDowell, a popular contributor to Food52, has produced her own book. It is jam-packed with instructions and alluring flavor combinations — like Peachy Coconut Macaroons and Chocolate Puff Pastry — for cookies and bars, cakes, pies and tarts, pastries, and custards and creams. The cookbook is peppered with guidance, with steps that can be done ahead of time as well as pro tips (like how to adjust recipes for different cake pans or how to reconstitute buttercream) that will save bakers in a pinch. The author also takes the time to explain why recipes work. By learning what certain ingredients or techniques contribute to a finished product, home bakers will be more informed and confident going into the next baking project. While the book provides classic recipes for baked goods such as buttermilk biscuits and both fudgy and cakey brownies, McDowell also offers up some totally fun recipes like DIY sprinkles and Caramel Corn Layer Cake. This book is a treat for anyone who loves to bake.
Recipe to try: PB & J Whoopie Pies; Chocolate Puff Pastry
Dining In: Highly Cookable Recipes
By Alison Roman
Clarkson Potter, 304 pages, $30
For anyone who enjoys dinner parties as much as trying the newest local restaurant, this 2017 cookbook is a must-have. Alison Roman’s Dining In is filled with more than 100 recipes that capture the kind of food I want to eat right now. Though Jessica Koslow’s Everything I Want to Eat, released in 2016, captured of-the-moment recipes, Dining In hits that same note with recipes that stretch a bit broader than her beloved California. It’s a bit more approachable for most home cooks. She has stunners like Whole-Roasted Snapper With Harissa and Sun Gold Tomatoes and Slow-Roasted Pork Shoulder With Garlic, Citrus and Cilantro. Gorgeous photography and styling with a fresh and vibrant tone throughout the book match Roman’s approach to food, and it’s enough to give home cooks the final push to get in the kitchen — like, now.
Recipe to try: Baked Eggs With Crushed Chickpeas, Chorizo and Bread Crumbs; Salted Butter and Chocolate Chunk Shortbread
Ileana Morales Valentine can be reached at [email protected]