Sure, you may have a dozen newly opened gastropubs within Yelp distance from where you live. Or food trucks. Or, arguably best of all, neighborhood taquerias. But in summer, when L.A. farmers markets are loaded with gorgeous produce, sometimes it's more fun to cook your own dinner. Just to prove you still can.
For such moments, we turn to our favorite cookbooks — or more specifically, certain of our favorite cookbooks. Because in this weather, and with some pretty stunning fruit and vegetables available every day of the week somewhere, you're probably not going to be making cassoulet. Rather you might be looking for cookbooks that focus on produce, with lots of vegetarian options, with salads and whole grains, and maybe the occasional foray into spice and heat. Turn the page for 10 of our favorite cookbooks for summer, listed alphabetically by author. Sure, it's a subjective list (most all of them are). If we've left off your absolute favorite, just let us know. You can never have too many great cookbooks.
10. Ripe: A Cook in the Orchard, by Nigel Slater:
This is the British cookbook author's follow-up to Tender, his book about vegetables, in which Slater turns his attention to the fruit in his enviable backyard, a 40-foot garden in London. And this is not just a cookbook about pies and crumbles: Slater has an impressive scope, giving us recipes for savory dishes (pheasant with apples and cider or verjus; a plum tabbouleh), drinks (sloe gin) and salads (a salad of peaches, mozzarella and basil).
Impressive in length — coming in at 581 pages — and with stunning photos by Jonathan Lovekin, it's a book that's worth carting with you to the farmers market when you go. And just because Slater does more than desserts here does not mean you should ignore them: the blackberry focaccia alone is worth the price of the book. (Ten Speed Press, 2012.)
9. Mediterranean Harvest, by Martha Rose Shulman:
A vegetarian cookbook by local author and New York Times “Recipes for Health” columnist Martha Rose Shulman, Mediterranean Harvest is encyclopedic in scope, which more than makes up for the lack of photographs. With creative and easy recipes — fattoush; grilled zucchini, goat cheese and mint panini; fennel and scallion pie — the book also includes recipes and tips for the basics. Not the super boring stuff, but truly useful things like how to properly steam store-bought couscous.
Shulman has also helped write many chef cookbooks, including those by Sherry Yard, Wolfgang Puck and Mark Peel; maybe because of this, her tone is both authoritative and good-natured, as if writing in her own voice is easy by comparison. Do not overlook the grilled feta in grape leaves on p. 132. (Rodale Books, 2010.)
8. The Soul of a New Cuisine: A Discovery of the Foods and Flavors of Africa, by Marcus Samuelsson:
Before Marcus Samuelsson published his new memoir Yes, Chef, before he cooked for the Obamas (twice!), before he opened Red Rooster in Harlem, he wrote an excellent cookbook spotlighting the cuisine of his native Africa. Or rather, his unique — New York City by way of Sweden and Ethiopia — take on it. Is The Soul of a New Cuisine the most authentic African cookbook you'll find? No. Does it matter one bit? It does not.
Samuelsson's book is a fantastic tour of the chef's own spice route, with fine recipes for inventive dishes like duck skewers with green masala, shrimp piri piri (both of which dishes this author has made multiple times; they're great and they work perfectly), callaloo, crab burgers and harissa-roasted turkey breast. Samuelsson is wonderful with sauces (not surprising for a chef trained in the classic French tradition), and he plays with heat and spice in this book to wonderful results. (Wiley, 2006.)
7. Arabesque: A Taste of Morocco, Turkey and Lebanon, by Claudia Roden:
A follow-up of sorts to her A Book of Middle Eastern Food, Roden's examination of the cuisines from Morocco, Turkey and Lebanon only seems slim by comparison to that other book — an almost encyclopedic masterpiece. Arabesque is lighter (literally and figuratively) and filled with reworkings of classic dishes plus modern takes on whatever Roden, an anthropologist as much as she is a cook, found appealing along her journey.
Bits of history and stories are laced with stunning photos by Jason Lowe and lovely recipes: artichoke and fava bean salad with preserved lemon; tagine of lamb with caramelized baby onions and pears; zucchini fritters; grilled sea bas flambéed with raki. Roden, Egyptian-born and London-based, is a story in and of herself. Read Jane Kramer's 2007 New Yorker profile while you're waiting for that tagine to cook. (Knopf, 2006.)
6. Plenty, by Yotam Ottolenghi:
Plenty is one of those few books that actually deserves to be on the coffee table: It's prettier than an art book, more inspirational than most hymnals, and holds those coffee mugs well, being inexplicably made with a slightly squishy cover, like the books they make for your kid to read in the bathtub. Ottolenghi is an Israeli-born, London-based restaurateur and author, not just of books but of a highly regarded column in The Guardian. Although he writes mostly about vegetables and vegetarian-oriented food, Ottolenghi eats and cooks meat as well; maybe it's this catholicism that gives so many of his meatless dishes their depth, as if he made them that way from choice rather than necessity.
Deeply flavorful and endlessly creative, the dishes in this book are informed by various cultures as well as by the seasonal produce they champion. Hot yogurt and fava bean soup. Quinoa salad with dried Persian lime. Banh xeo. Coconut rice with sambal and okra. One could go on. And on. (Chronicle Books, 2011.)
5. Jamie at Home: Cook Your Way to the Good Life, by Jamie Oliver:
Say what you will about Jamie Oliver — people either love The Naked Chef or they do not — but the prolific British cookbook author, television host, food celebrity and activist can write a fun book. Jamie at Home is one of the best, particularly for seasonal produce. Oliver is his customary chatty and irreverent, and the recipes are fun and inventive: Creamy rice pudding with the quickest strawberry jam, for example, has you mush the berries with your hands.
This book, one of Oliver's sixteen and counting, focuses on the garden, with the chapters divided according to season. They're simple recipes that highlight basic techniques, like a roast carrot and avocado salad with orange and lemon dressing that has you make a citrus vinaigrette with the juice from the halved lemons and oranges that you roast with the carrots. It's easy and kind of brilliant, just as Oliver himself can be when he feels like it. (Hyperion, 2008.)
4. Local Flavors: Cooking and Eating From America's Farmers' Markets, by Deborah Madison:
Long before farmers markets were super hip, New Mexico-based cookbook author extraordinaire Deborah Madison wrote this book — structured around markets and celebrating them. She spotlights markets from around the country in various seasons as she gives us one stunning recipe after another: Brussels sprouts with cauliflower and mustard-caper butter; pasta with golden fennel; nettle frittata with green garlic and sheep's milk ricotta; cornmeal crepes with plums and honey ice cream, and myriad more, including this writer's all-time favorite recipe.
The photography, by Laurie Smith, is gorgeous and the writing (Madison writes all her own stuff) is wonderful: chatty and informative and easy. This book may be ten years old, but it's still more timely than most of the current books out there, with a great chapter on basics at the end that includes a pie crust recipe that puts those in most pastry books to shame. (Broadway, 2002.)
3. Sunday Suppers at Lucques, by Suzanne Goin and Teri Gelber:
If you — presumably an Angeleno and somebody who likes to cook or maybe likes somebody else to do it for you — do not yet own this book, just go get it right now. It's that good, and it's that important to the culinary scene of this town. The first book by Suzanne Goin (Lucques, A.O.C., Tavern, The Larder at Maple Drive), Sunday Suppers is our version of Alice Waters' Chez Panisse cookbooks, a book born from a particular restaurant but more the mission statement of a chef and her style of cooking. If you know and love the book already, you only have to wait another year for Goin's long-awaited second book: the A.O.C. cookbook is due out from Knopf next fall.
Goin's cookbook is sorted by season and by menu, and she called out local farmers long before it was trendy to do so. Small orchestras of sauce and season and flavor, the dishes are at once inventive and classical: ricotta gnocchi with chanterelles, sweet corn and sage brown butter; cranberry-walnut clafoutis with Bourbon whipped cream; grilled halibut with herb salad and Meyer lemon-green olive salsa. If you've been to Lucques any time in the 14 years it's been open, the dishes will seem familiar. If you have not, no matter: The food now simply feels like the best of Los Angeles. (Knopf, 2005.)
2. Nature: Simple, Healthy, and Good, by Alain Ducasse:
Alain Ducasse is perhaps not the guy you'd expect to write a cookbook with the subtitle “simple, healthy and good.” The legendary French chef (at one point, his restaurants held three Michelin stars in three cities simultaneously; he's held 19 throughout his career) had previously written Grand Livre De Cuisine, literally his own massive culinary encyclopedia. But even the most decorated of classical French chefs apparently likes to make tomato and bread soup in his spare time.
Ducasse's most recent cookbook is filled with homey recipes, gorgeous photography and chatty side notes (“this pastry is particularly rich in healthy fiber”). Because who wouldn't want to make a pesto soup; a squash gratin; some socca with Niçoise-style vegetables; a strawberry granita, if one of the greatest French chefs around gave you his recipe?(Rizzoli, 2012.)
1. Summer Cooking, by Elizabeth David:
Originally published in 1965, this was the fourth of the famed British cookery author's many books. David (1913-1992) was ahead of her time over half a century ago, emphasizing the importance of seasonal cooking and writing books about the cuisines of the world.
“I think it is rather dull to eat the same food all the year round,” David writes in the introduction to this edition (the forward is by Molly O'Neill), suggesting that “lighter dishes [be] served in the summer; dishes which bring some savor of the garden, the fields, the sea, into the kitchen and the dining room.” With an overview of herbs, chapters on quick cooking for holidays and picnics, and great recipe after great recipe (Gnocchi alla Genovese, La Poule au Pot, gooseberry fool), this is a terrific book for the season — and yet another reminder of David's genius. (NYRB Classics, 2002.)
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