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May 30, 2013

My Favorite Cookbooks

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My Favorite Cookbooks

I get my recipes from many sources - my mother, family, friends, the internet.  But my most consistent and most reliable source of recipes is a small set of cookbooks I’ve collected over the years, and that I consider to be the best in class for their types of cuisine.  I bought the first two over 30 years ago, when I was visiting London as a 16 year old.  At that time the selection of cookbooks in Israel was limited, so London’s bookstores offered me a remarkable opportunity.  I’ve added many more over the years, but here are my favorites:

A Book of Middle Eastern Food by Claudia Roden:  I bought my first copy of this book during that visit to London when I was 16.  The book had been written 10 years earlier, and it was already considered a classic, the book that introduced Middle Eastern cooking to the West.  Claudia Roden grew up in a Jewish family in Cairo, and the book draws a lot on the dishes of her youth, but includes recipes from as far as Turkey, Greece, Morocco and Tunisia.  Almost every cuisine of the region is well represented in it.  She has since written an updated version, called The New Book of Middle Eastern Cooking, but my favorite is still my dog eared copy of the 1967 edition.  With the wonders of Amazon you can still find used copies of the out-of-print first version, or get them both.

French Provincial Cooking by Elizabeth David, the 1970 edition: Another book I bought on that trip to England, and in this case I still have my original copy.  Elizabeth David is largely credited with introducing continental cuisine to England – the Julia Child of the U.K. - and in this small paperback book you can find all the basics of regional French home cooking, from Paris and Brittany down to Nice. It’s my go-to book whenever there’s a classic French dish I want to cook.

Essentials of Classical Italian Cooking – by Marcella Hazan:  This book consolidates Marcella Hazan’s two landmark books – The Classic Italian Cook Book and More Classic Italian Cooking.  Considered the premier documenter of Italian cuisine, Marcella Hazan is very methodical and didactic in her descriptions, and I find this book to be excellent not only for its recipes, but for its superb descriptions of the basic techniques of Italian cooking.

The Classic Cuisine of the Jews of Italy – by Edda Servi Machlin:  Italian Jewish cooking may seem like a small niche, but in fact Italian Jews, because of their affinity for travel and their broad family, social, and business connections, were great innovators of Italian cooking, and their cuisine held great variety.  Add to that Edda Machlin’s extraordinary culinary skills and meticulously detailed recipes, and you have a book where virtually every recipe is a winner.  Here too there are two versions.  I prefer the 1981 original, but the newer 2005 version, titled Classic Italian Jewish Cooking, is good as well.

Vegetables by Alice Waters:  If there’s one restaurant I’d like to be able to emulate, it’s Chez Panisse.  I’ve been there only a few times, but each time I’ve been amazed by the quality of the ingredients and the precision and pristine execution of the cooking.  Alice Waters has published several cookbooks.  This one is my go-to book when casting about for different ways to cook our abundance of local vegetables.

Jerusalem by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi – I feel a special closeness to this book.  First of all because I, like Ottolenghi and Tamimi, was born in Jerusalem.  Second, because Yotam Ottolenghi’s father, Michael, like my own father, emmigrated to Israel from Italy, part of a small and to me, endearing, community. But even without that connection, I admire their extraordinary ability to punch up the flavors of classic dishes, and the exceptional quality and precision they bring to their recipes. While I still find myself making changes – some of their dishes are overly flavored to my taste – this book, and Ottolenghi's other two books, Plenty, and Ottolenghi, are the source of many of my best recipes.

There are a few other books I occasionally draw upon.  While they don’t have the consistent and exceptional quality of the ones above, I still have found some of my favorite recipes in them:

Aromas of Aleppo by Poopa Dweck - Syrian cooking from the city of Aleppo.
The Sultan’s Kitchen by Oczan Ozan - Turkish cooking.
Stella’s Sephardic Table by Stella Levi – Jewish cooking from the island of Rhodes.

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