Favourite cookbooks of 2011

ROCKPOOL BAR & GRILL, Neil Perry, Murdoch Books, hbk, $79.99
The big, glossy restaurant cookbook makes a comeback. This 450-odd-page portrait of the steakhouse group is as big as the rib-eyes that come off the restaurants' woodfired grills. The recipes are signature Perry in their simplicity (including one for the famed wagyu burger), but for me, the magic happens when the story turns to the people behind the restaurants; the producers, the waitstaff, the chefs, the diners. Earl Carter's photographs of the dining rooms in full flight (especially the magnificent art deco building of the Sydney location) are moody and evocative, the fly-on-the-wall portraits especially so. Yes waiter, I will take that second Manhattan. Anthea Loucas, editor

VEGETARIAN, Alice Hart, Murdoch Books, pbk, $39.95
If the title didn't give it away, you might not even notice the lack of meat on the pages of Alice Hart's Vegetarian. With its pretty illustrations, handy instructions on how to make labne or tofu, and recipes that are genuinely enjoyable to cook (and eat!), this celebration of all things ground-grown is a must for even the most loyal carnivore's kitchen shelf. In fact, Hart's 141 colourful recipes celebrating fresh, seasonal ingredients are so damn hearty that the prospect of switching to meat-free eating doesn't seem too daunting at all. Kate McInerney, designer

TASTING INDIA, Christine Manfield, Lantern, hbk, $89.95
You might never master the art of fermenting rice flour and black lentils in a bid to make dosai. Nor might you have a tandoor oven to call your own, meaning naan is off the menu. But Christine Manfield's new ode to Indian cooking quickly immerses you in the colour, spice, strong flavours and glorious chaos of the subcontinent. Anson Smart's striking images and recipes handed down through generations makes this a cookbook that's practical, yes, but also full of heart. I dare you not to be inspired to join the Sydney chef on her next Indian odyssey. Frances Hibbard, managing editor (travel)

THE ART OF PASTA, Lucio Galletto and David Dale, Lantern, hbk, $59.95
People often ask me what I like cooking most. The answer's easy: pasta. This beautiful book gives me even more reasons to hit the kitchen and brush up on my pasta skills. Illustrations of perfect pasta (courtesy of the talented Luke Sciberras) tumble across the pages prompting me to get my nonna skills on. Additions to my new-year recipe repertoire will include rag pasta with tomato, herbs and goat's cheese and the intriguing "priest stranglers" with sage butter. Alice Storey, assistant food editor

HESTON BLUMENTHAL AT HOME, Heston Blumenthal, Bloomsbury, hbk, $65
I have a chef-crush on the bespectacled HB. Admittedly this contributes to my admiration for this glossy book, but it's by no means the only reason why if I were to buy only one cookbook this year, this would be it. You'll find simplified versions of well-known Fat Duck dishes (bacon and egg ice-cream, red cabbage gazpacho) and classics selected with home cooks in mind, each of which Blumenthal approaches with his rigorously analytical mind. The dessert chapters are the proverbial icing on the cake, from salted butter caramels wrapped in edible cellophane to chocolate chip cookies. Emma Knowles, food director

THE ART OF FRENCH BAKING, Ginette Mathiot, Phaidon, hbk, $49.95
It's not going to revolutionise the way you cook - there are no sous-vide baguettes and no smears of anything - but The Art of French Baking will make a lot of people very happy this Christmas. If pretty pictures are high among your cookbook selection criteria, then you'll be sold on the exquisite illustrations alone. But that would be to overlook the many gift-making opportunities this timely book affords: I'm thinking palmiers for Uncle Luke, super-simple avelinettes for Mum. The recipes are by France's late great doyenne of home cooking, Ginette Mathiot, so they're the real deal, but if that's not enough cred, Pierre Hermé has contributed the recipe for his legendary Ispahan. Sold. Bianca Tzatzagos, deputy chief subeditor

PS DESSERTS, Philippa Sibley, Hardie Grant, hbk, $49.95
It's not news that pastry cookery is a science - there's a lot that can go wrong and a small margin for error. In PS Desserts, the queen of pastry has produced not only a book filled with beautiful recipes but a clever dessert-making 101. Easy-to-follow steps and images give a very clear idea of how to do things right. If you've ever wanted to know how to make the softest of sorbets, say, and then form it into perfect egg-shaped quenelles, this is the book for you. Lisa Featherby, food editor

VEGETABLES FROM AN ITALIAN GARDEN, Phaidon, hbk, $49.95
I'm always sold on smart design and lured in by all things Italiano, so this book was an instant favourite. With its beautiful photography and easy recipes following the seasons, it's an inspiring and mouth-watering read. I can't wait to try the artichokes with parmesan and the fluffy potato gnocchi with tomatoes and basil. For vegie-gardener wannabes, the harvest charts in the first few pages are exciting and helpful in getting started. Vegetables from an Italian Garden is going straight to the top of my Chrismukkah list - vegie garden here I come. Carli Fainsinger, designer

CUMULUS INC., Andrew McConnell, Lantern, hbk, $59.95
Simply presented, skilfully prepared food that tastes even better than it looks - and the pared-back industrial interior of Melbourne's Cumulus Inc. - have always appealed to my tastebuds and my design sensibilities. So when the book of the same name appeared in the office, I hoped its execution wouldn't let me down. Silly me. Smart design, detailed close-ups and recipes I want to make on every page: this book perfectly captures the restaurant, inviting us into the world of Cumulus Inc., highlighting the care that goes into all of chef Andrew McConnell's dishes and his skill in keeping things simple. Every dish is ever so tempting, not least the coconut rice with fresh mango and coconut syrup, next on my list of must-make desserts. Lou Fay, creative director

KITCHEN SECRETS, Raymond Blanc, Bloomsbury, hbk, $59.99
Give the man a prize for best and most extensive footnotes ever published in a cookbook. There's something incredibly reassuring, even touching, about the lengths to which UK-based chef Raymond Blanc has gone to ensure that his recipes, which make the very best of seasonal produce, will not be misconstrued. His gratin turnip dauphinoise consists of layers of thinly sliced turnip and potato finished, importantly, with a potato layer, and a footnote reiterates: "The starch in the potatoes will give you a golden caramelisation. If, instead, the top layer was turnip slices, they would dry out and curl up." It's as though Blanc is standing at your elbow in the kitchen, a reassuring presence. Blanc's recipes are perfectly grounded rather than ground-breaking - watercress soup, navarin of lamb, fig tart - but when I want to make any of these classics, this is the book I will turn to. Kerryn Burgess, chief subeditor

THE URBAN COOK: COOKING AND EATING FOR A SUSTAINABLE FUTURE, Mark Jensen, Murdoch Books, hbk, $49.99
Mark Jensen is a man on a mission - a mission to spread the word on cooking and eating for a sustainable future. The Urban Cook is the result of his passion for a better planet, with chapters focusing on the provenance of the staple vegetables and proteins we consume and encouraging the use of seasonal and ethical produce where possible. Recipes are simple and nourishing, but nonetheless full of flavour - the Asian-style minced pork salad is a breeze to prepare and a delight to eat. Knowing that by preparing and considering dishes the way Jensen has intended you are in some way doing your part for the environment will make you feel even better for putting them on the table. Maya Kerthyasa, editorial coordinator

BOCCA, Jacob Kenedy, Bloomsbury, hbk, $69.99
At London's Bocca di Lupo, the regions of Italy are chef Jacob Kenedy's culinary playground, and it's the same in his book. Bocca is packed with recipes that are distinctive and unusual, and whether it's tripe with potatoes and cloves from Friuli or Neapolitan brioche gelato sandwiches, Kenedy captures them with a winning, very readable style that combines equal parts verve and savvy research. For all that Australia is in love with the idea of more authentically regional Italian cuisine, the repertoire of dishes available at our Italian restaurants is still curiously limited, which makes the discovery of the likes of Umbrian duck "cooked like a pig", Sicilian pistachio gnocchi or Sardinian-style roast lobster feel all the richer. Bizarre diversions such as Kenedy's impersonation of a scallop, his grandfather's poem about grilled fish, or the "recipe" for the card game posso only serve to make the book all the more worthwhile a buy. Pat Nourse, deputy editor

PHOTOGRAPHY WILL HORNER STYLING AIMEE JONES

This article is from the December 2011 issue of Australian Gourmet Traveller.


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