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Memo from celebrity chefs: Embrace your own kitchen

By spreading the simple message of eating good food at home, the season’s newest cookbooks bring a bit of activism to the table

(Aram Boghosian for The Boston Globe)
By Devra First
Globe Staff / September 28, 2011

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Each fall brings a new crop of cookbooks, welcoming us back into the kitchen for a season of soups, braises, and baked goods. This year, we see volumes with a keen sense of place, from near (Kathy Gunst’s “Notes From a Maine Kitchen’’) to far (Debra Samuels’s “My Japanese Table’’). Italy is a particular focus. Celebrity chefs and renowned restaurants make a strong showing, too, with upcoming books from “Top Chef’’ alums, lifetime achievers, and critically acclaimed establishments.

Perhaps the biggest theme to emerge is one that seems axiomatic: home cooking. Of course cookbook authors feel people should prepare their own food; they’d be out of business otherwise. But these books are written by some of the world’s top restaurant chefs. The likes of Jean-Georges Vongerichten and Mario Batali encourage us to stay home and eat with our families. They join Jamie Oliver, who also has a new book, in spreading this message. There is a rising sense of alarm about poor nutrition and obesity, which affect so many. Famous names help increase awareness. These books are a chef’s form of activism. And the dishes they offer are delicious.

Here are just a few of the season’s standouts.

LOCAL FLAVOR

“WILD FLAVORS: ONE CHEF’S TRANSFORMATIVE YEAR COOKING FROM EVA’S FARM’’ BY DIDI EMMONS Emmons is founder of local nonprofit Haley House Bakery Cafe and author of “Vegetarian Planet.’’ Eva Sommaripa grows herbs and greens for top Boston-area restaurants. The two are longtime friends; this personal book is based around the seasons in Sommaripa’s garden. Recipes include ginger tofu in beet broth, caramelized parsnip spread, and fish chowder with lovage. (Chelsea Green, $34.95)

ALSO NOTABLE: “The Apple Lover’s Cookbook’’ by Amy Traverso; “Notes From a Maine Kitchen: Seasonally Inspired Recipes’’ by Kathy Gunst.

AS AMERICAN AS . . .

“THE GREAT AMERICAN COOKBOOK: 500 RECIPES: FAVORITE FOODS FROM EVERY STATE’’ BY CLEMENTINE PADDLEFORD, EDITED BY KELLY ALEXANDER In the 1930s, journalist Paddleford flew her plane around the country collecting regional recipes from home cooks. They were first published in 1960 as “How America Eats.’’ From clam chowder to arroz con pollo, some of the best are collected here, adapted for today’s cooks. (Rizzoli, $45)

ALSO NOTABLE: “American Flavor’’ by Andrew Carmellini; “Basic to Brilliant, Y’all: 150 Refined Southern Recipes and Ways to Dress Them Up for Company’’ by Virginia Willis.

FARTHER AFIELD

“THE FOOD OF MOROCCO’’ BY PAULA WOLFERT Wolfert is one of our best-known guides to Mediterranean cuisine. This latest will teach you how to make delicious couscous, tagines, and other regional specialties. And it offers a taste of the country in more ways than one, with beautiful photos of spices and souks that make you feel as though you are there. (Ecco, $45)

ALSO NOTABLE: “Cooking Without Borders’’ by Anita Lo with Charlotte Druckman; “My Japanese Table: A Lifetime of Cooking With Friends and Family’’ by Debra Samuels.

OBSESSED WITH ITALY

“LIDIA’S ITALY IN AMERICA’’ BY LIDIA BASTIANICH What she did for Italy, Bastianich now does for Italian America. This cookbook accompanies a new public television series. Traveling the country, she collects classics such as eggplant parm, deep-dish pizza, and spaghetti and meatballs from communities in Gloucester, the Bronx, Chicago, Philadelphia, and more. (Knopf, $35)

ALSO NOTABLE: “The Country Cooking of Italy’’ by Colman Andrews; “The Mozza Cookbook’’ by Nancy Silverton; “Rustic Italian Food’’ by Marc Vetri.

HOME STYLE

“MY FAMILY TABLE: A PASSIONATE PLEA FOR HOME COOKING’’ BY JOHN BESH The Louisiana chef, who operates a slew of restaurants, here advocates for homemade food. Many of the recipes featured are uncomplicated: garlicky baked oysters, beef noodle bowls, pizza on the grill. Glamorizing celebrity chefs, he writes, takes cooking away from the family sphere and discourages people from simply making dinner. He’s penned this book to help change that. (Andrews McMeel, $35)

ALSO NOTABLE: “Home Cooking With Jean-Georges: My Favorite Simple Recipes’’ by Jean-Georges Vongerichten with Genevieve Ko; “Jamie Oliver’s Meals in Minutes’’ by Jamie Oliver; “Molto Batali: Simple Family Meals From My Home to Yours’’ by Mario Batali.

CHEFS AND RESTAURANTS

“ESSENTIAL PEPIN: MORE THAN 700 ALL-TIME FAVORITES FROM MY LIFE IN FOOD’’ BY JACQUES PEPIN On TV and through his many books, the French chef has spent his life teaching people how to prepare his country’s cuisine, simply, properly, and deliciously. He offers 700 recipes from his 60-year career, from ratatouille ravioli to seared calf’s liver with tarragon lemon sauce to his own mother’s chicken ragout. (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $40)

ALSO NOTABLE: “Cooking in Everyday English’’ by Todd English; “Eleven Madison Park: The Cookbook’’ by Daniel Humm and Will Guidara; “The Family Meal’’ by Ferran Adrià; “Girl in the Kitchen: How a Top Chef Cooks, Thinks, Shops, Eats & Drinks’’ by Stephanie Izard.

BAKE

“MOMOFUKU MILK BAR’’ BY CHRISTINA TOSI In 2009, the cookbook “Momofuku’’ featured savory dishes from David Chang’s New York restaurants. But that didn’t help the legions obsessed with Momofuku Milk Bar pastry chef Christina Tosi’s crack pie and cereal milk ice cream. This book fills that void. Let the compost cookie baking begin. (For the uninitiated, they contain pretzels, potato chips, butterscotch, chocolate chips, and more.) (Clarkson Potter, $35)

ALSO NOTABLE: “The Art of French Baking’’ by Ginette Mathiot, translated from the French and edited by Clotilde Dusoulier; “Baking Style: Art, Craft, Recipes’’ by Lisa Yockelson; “Vegan Pie in the Sky: 75 Out-of-This-World Recipes for Pies, Tarts, Cobblers, and More’’ by Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terry Hope Romero.

SHAKE

“THE PDT COCKTAIL BOOK: THE COMPLETE BARTENDER’S GUIDE FROM THE CELEBRATED SPEAKEASY’’ BY JIM MEEHAN New York’s PDT helped revive the speakeasy-style bar. (The initials stand for “Please don’t tell,’’ but it is a terribly kept secret.) Now renowned mixologist Meehan collects recipes for drinks such as the Aperol Spritz, 100 Year Punch, and the Corpse Reviver No. 2. (Sterling, $24.95)

ALSO NOTABLE: “The American Cocktail: 50 Recipes That Celebrate the Craft of Mixing Drinks From Coast to Coast’’ by the editors of Imbibe magazine.

TECHNIQUES

“RUHLMAN’S TWENTY: 20 TECHNIQUES, 100 RECIPES, A COOK’S MANIFESTO’’ BY MICHAEL RUHLMAN Ruhlman teaches people to cook rather than follow recipes. His latest claims cooking boils down to a grasp of techniques: saute, grill, fry, chill, think (the last quite useful in spheres beyond the culinary, too). Then it teaches and applies the crucial skills in dishes such as braised pork belly with caramel-miso glaze, spicy roasted green beans with cumin, and citrus-cured salmon. (Chronicle, $40)

ALSO NOTABLE: “All About Roasting: A New Approach to a Classic Art’’ by Molly Stevens; “The Intolerant Gourmet: Glorious Food Without Gluten & Lactose’’ by Barbara Kafka; “Whole Beast Butchery: The Complete Visual Guide to Beef, Lamb, and Pork’’ by Ryan Farr.

TAKING IT OFFLINE

“THE FOOD52 COOKBOOK: 140 WINNING RECIPES FROM EXCEPTIONAL HOME COOKS’’ BY AMANDA HESSER AND MERRILL STUBBS Hesser and Stubbs believe the best recipes come from home cooks. That’s why they started Food52, an online gathering place for those cooks to share and showcase their recipes by means of weekly contests. The result is this volume, a collection of winners put together over the course of a year, and the first officially crowd-sourced cookbook. You’ll find smoky pork burgers with fennel and red cabbage slaw, savory bread pudding, and feta frozen yogurt with blood orange and mint granita. (William Morrow, $35)

ALSO NOTABLE: “The Homesick Texan Cookbook’’ by Lisa Fain (see Page 35); “Serious Eats: A Comprehensive Guide to Making and Eating Delicious Food Wherever You Are’’ by Ed Levine.

Devra First can be reached at dfirst@ globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @devrafirst.