Just when it seems like there couldn’t possibly be room for another cookbook on our shelves, a flood of irresistible new tomes lands in bookstores. This fall, local chefs and food writers are at the top of our holiday wish lists with delicious coffee-table inspirations, master classes on bread, pizza and pasta making, spicy ethnic cooking and thought-provoking literature that we’ll be cuddled up with all winter. So clear out some space in your culinary library and get ready to get cooking.
“Della Fattoria Bread: 63 Foolproof Recipes for Yeasted, Enriched & Naturally Leavened Breads” by Kathleen Weber ($29.95, Artisan): Bread-baking isn’t for the faint of heart, despite being one of the simplest foods we eat. Water, flour, yeast and time are about all that’s required of the baker, but it can take a lifetime to perfect the perfect loaf. Petaluman Kathleen Weber of the legendary Della Fattoria bakery and cafe has the art of wood-fired breads down to a science, with many top chefs throughout the Bay Area (including Thomas Keller) clamoring for her rustic Pugliese Boule and sweet baguettes, while locals snap up her homey Pullman loaves by the armful. Her cookbook includes “foolproof” recipes for 63 types of bread — from dinner rolls and sticky buns to naturally leavened rustic loaves, crackers, flatbreads and the dressy Pain d’Epi loaf (a loaf that looks like a stalk of wheat). Interspersed are spreads and accompaniments (olive tapenade, panzanella salad) and slice-of-life stories about Weber’s life and love of Sonoma County. Don’t miss the story about their visit from Martha Stewart, who helicoptered into their farm.
“Inside the Test Kitchen, 120 New Recipes Perfected” by Tyler Florence ($35, Clarkson Potter): At a recent event, Marin’s Tyler Florence pulled an advance copy of his new cookbook, a faux journal (think Moleskine) filled with recipes that seemed too simple to need, well, a recipe. But that was just the point. Crowd-sourced from his Twitter followers (#tftestkitchen) and tested by friends and family in his Mill Valley test kitchen, it’s a compendium of perfected classics like meatloaf and grilled cheese (they “stretch-tested” cheeses); they gave an update to spaghetti and meatballs, tarted up tired old pork chops and created what’s destined to be the definitive cornbread recipe using corn meal fried in bacon fat. (We didn’t say these were healthy recipes.) It’s a tasty romp through Tyler’s frenetically creative world, complete with handwritten margin notes and plenty of pictures to make sure you’re on the right track.
“New Napa Cuisine” by Christopher Kostow ($50, Ten Speed Press): Three-Michelin-starred chefs don’t write cookbooks. They create aspirational works of food art that double-dog dare you to even attempt cooking them — that is, if you could actually find acorn flour, trimoline (a sugar syrup requiring a Ph.D. to prepare) and mallow leaves at your local supermarket. Kostow, who has been called “one of the greatest chefs of our generation” by his three-starred peers, is executive chef at St. Helena’s Meadowood Resort, earned his elite status before the age of 40 and is heir-apparent to fellow Napa chef, Thomas Keller. With 100 recipes (frog ravioli, grappa marshmallow, cockscomb spelt porridge), stories of Kostow’s charmed life and his favorite local purveyors, just paging through this epic coffee-table book, filled with moody tableaux of local preserves, foraged vegetables and wild game, is reward enough. Leave the recipes to the professionals.
“The Pizza Bible” by Tony Gemignani ($29.95, Ten Speed Press): Making pizza, according to a chef who’s dedicated more than half his life to the craft, isn’t as easy as throwing together some flour and water. For 11-time world Pizza Champion Tony Gemignani (with restaurants in San Francisco and Rohnert Park), every pizza is a quest for pie perfection. And while not everyone gets the subtleties between Neapolitan pizza versus Chicago-style, Roman, Sicilian or Californian, “The Pizza Bible” inspires cooks of any skill level to lean into the dough and knead. There’s a step-by-step dough-making master class, providing exhaustive detail on ingredients, tools and technique, including a guide to different types of flour. You’ll never look at a pizza the same way again.
“Fog Valley Crush” by Frances Rivetti ($20, Fog Valley Press): Everyone in Petaluma knows British-born writer and gal-about-town Frances Rivetti. For years, she’s written about the people, places and food purveyors of southern Sonoma County with a combination of wit, humor and passion in her popular blog, Southern Sonoma Country Life, and in the Argus-Courier. Including her larger-than-life band of friends, neighbors and family, the book documents her foraging for food at a “tribal dinner” on a friend’s ranch, tolerating her husband’s obsession for garage winemaking, traveling the back roads of west Sonoma County tasting regional cheeses, wine and olive oils, and celebrating the distinctly west county cast of characters with terroir under their nails, a wheel of Red Hawk in the fridge and a farm table set for 20. Self-published, Rivetti’s charming tome is truly a “love letter to a micro-region of farmers, food innovators, artists and dreamers.” Recipes complement the narrative.
“Spice to Plate” by Savory Spice Shop ($24.95, available at Savory Spice, 317 D, Santa Rosa or online at savoryspiceshop.com): Exotic herbs and spices can be intimidating, like the bottle of Vadouvan (a blend of French and Indian spices) that’s been sitting on a shelf for a year, taunting. Taking the fear out of kicking your dinner up a notch is this simple little cookbook that includes 30 recipes inspired by 10 Savory Spice signature blends. Ranging from creamed corn and chorizo-spiced flatbread to grilled chicken lettuce wraps and chicken biryani, it’s a primer to expanding your palate. The book comes with one free blend, but makes a great gift with four or even all 10 of the spice combos to boot.
“Local: The New Face of Food and Farming in America” by Douglas Gayeton ($35, Harper Design): The co-founder of the Lexicon of Sustainability and force behind hundreds of photo/art pieces about food, farming and sustainability, Douglas Gayeton is hard to describe. He and his wife live on a goat farm in Petaluma (she is the force behind Laloo’s and his co-conspirator), making it their mission to help all of us understand the language of sustainability through photography, art, movies and discussion. Dive into Gayeton’s colorful world, and learn the words and ideals of a more perfect food system.
“Tacolicious” by Sara Deseran ($22, Ten Speed Press): Food writer and co-owner of SF’s Tacolicious restaurants, Sara Deseran has modern Cal-Mexican antojitos (street food) dialed in. Not to mention infused tequilas, margaritas, horchatas and other libations perfect for pairing. Recipes aren’t especially challenging (and even include the legendary chile con queso with Velveeta), but you’ll need to get familiar with a variety of dried chilies and ingredients like achiote paste, banana leaves and really good corn tortillas to make the recipes properly.
“Flour + Water: Pasta” by Thomas McNaughton ($35, Ten Speed Press): It’s hard to explain the kind of passion Italians — and specifically the Bolognese — have for pasta. With hundreds of shapes, sizes and colors, each with a unique purpose or geographic heritage, included, this cookbook, by the chef of SF’s popular Italian eatery, Flour + Water, is an education in craft, seasonality and tradition. Starting with creating a perfect dough, through complicated pasta folding (tortellini, or the unusual scarpinocc) and rich sauces, “Flour + Water: Pasta” is an education for even the most savvy of Italian gourmets.
“French Roots” by Jean-Pierre Moulle and Denise Lurton Moulle ($35, Ten Speed Press): The story of two cooks, who eventually married, through food. Jean-Pierre is a former executive chef at Chez Panisse and Denise imported French wine in the Bay Area throughout the 1970s and ’80s.