Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Great Summer Cookbooks

Winter is the easiest time of year to feel motivated to cook. When it's cold outside nothing is better than hunkering down in a cozy kitchen to braise and bake and simmer the day away. Summer time is perhaps the toughest season for cooking. Who wants to be in the kitchen when the weather is beckoning you to stay in the sun? When I think of Summer I think of tomato salads, guacamole, ceviche and big antipasto platters served al fresco. And of course anything and everything on the grill.

There are tons of grilling cookbooks and each season a new batch comes out (in fact you can find a recent round up of grilling book reviews on MattBites). But this year there are two Summer cookbooks that go way beyond just grilling, giving you many more options when things heat up. They are very different books, though either would be perfect to take with you on Summer vacation to a beach house or mountain cabin, or make a great hostess gift.

The Big Summer CookbookThe Big Summer Cookbook is a soft cover book with 300 recipes written by author Jeff Cox who seems particularly attuned to what is ripe and in season. The book starts with a Summer seasonality chart and perhaps even more interestingly a section on how to stock your Summer pantry. This would be helpful in planning meals for a week at a Summer house. There are recipes for no-cook dishes such as Mango Watermelon Salad and Caprese Skewers as well as some baked goods that you will want to eat during the Summer such as Plum and Nectarine Crisp and Sour Cream Breakfast Cake. Recipes I have bookmarked include a No-Cook Blackberry Pie that features a graham cracker crust and a Couscous Salad with Pine Nuts and Summer Fruit. The vegetable and fruit recipes are more interesting in general than the meat recipes which tend to be standbys such as burgers and grilled chicken. There are some new ideas in this book, but it's really more about the basics. Read an excerpt.

Recipes from an Italian SummerBy contrast, the substantial hardcover Recipes from an Italian Summer will make you dream of Summer in a villa eating dishes like Grilled Sardines scented with Orange, Wild Duck with Figs, and Spaghetti and Lobster. It begins with a seasonal food calendar and features nearly 400 exciting and adventurous recipes. These are primarily Italian recipes, many you have not likely seen before. With a few notable exceptions, they are generally not complicated dishes and in tune with the season but written for someone who is a confident cook. By "in tune" I mean things you might want to eat in Summer, as there are recipes using ingredients not strictly available in the Summer like apples and radicchio. Here and there the recipes suffer from less than optimal translations. But they are the things you will want to eat when you get bored of tomato salad and grilled chicken. The book has gorgeous photos of food in a rustic style and lots of photos of Italy. If you love Italian food you will find this book deeply satisfying because of the many fresh ideas it presents although there is some overlap with the Silver Spoon cookbook. Personally I can't wait to make dishes like Potato Pizza and Sunflower Petal Salad. It's a book that inspires. Look inside the book.