Wednesday, November 30, 2005

International Cookbook Roundup

Where would you like to go for the holidays? Italy? Spain? Japan? How about just transporting yourself through the creations in your own kitchen? There are several new exciting cookbooks that have just come out featuring the cuisines of these countries. All of these books will serve to break through the standard stereotype of cuisines that we think we know so well.

First off, Italy. When I learned to cook in Italy I did it the old-fashioned way. I observed home cooks in their element. Several of them in fact. I watched and took notes so I could replicate the dishes when I came back home. I also learned that each Italian cook has his or her own way of making recipes their own. None of them used a cookbook. Needless to say, I can be very critical of Italian cookbooks!

Without a doubt, The Silver Spoon is by far the most comprehensive Italian cookbook I have ever come across. Over 2,000 recipes. Even if you don't follow the recipes exactly, this book will give you a good sense of how Italians cook. Unless you've spent some time in Italy in all four seasons, visiting all regions from the top of the boot to the tip, you may not know the variety of foods that are eaten in Italy. Swiss chard, lentils, pumpkin. You probably don't think of those as typical Italian food, but they are. This is a book that anyone serious about Italian food should own.

Not just one but two great Spanish books are worth reviewing. When traveling in Spain it's easy to eat the same things over and over again. Paella, gazpacho, tapas, flan. The Cuisines of Spain succeeds in showing the variety of regional cooking. The recipes are easy to follow and range from the simple Bread and Garlic Soup with Poached Eggs to the exotic Rabbit with Chestnuts. The book is organized by region. It is a beautiful coffee table style cookbook and a great gift to anyone with enthusiasm for Spain.

By comparison, The New Spanish Table, now available in paperback, is almost like a personal travelogue. Here you'll find similar recipes but with more stories attached. The recipes are organized by type of food rather than by region. More contemporary recipes are given equal status in this book. Interestingly both books come with glowing recommendations by Ferran Adria, the master of cutting edge Spanish cuisine. You really can't go wrong with either of them.

Finally an amazing Japanese cookbook, Washoku. This is a book about Japanese home cooking and a philosophy of harmony and balance in food. While an elegant book, the recipes are mostly of the more rustic variety. They use the healthy ingredients that the Japanese are known for, tofu, sea vegetables, fresh herbs, seeds, nuts and fish. In San Francisco both Medicine Eatstation and Maki serve some of these types of dishes. But this is the first cookbook I have seen that focuses exclusively on this style of cooking. It's a treat for the senses and will make you think about the food you eat in a new way. Do check it out.