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Gifts for food lovers: Books for cooks (Recipe: slow-roasted tomato pesto) {vegetarian, gluten-free}

Part Five of an eight-part series.


There are two schools of thought about giving cookbooks to people who love to cook.

Give the classics, the books that last forever.

Or, give the new, the trendy, the books that are hot hot hot right now, the books everyone is talking about, the books laden with photographs, printed on expensive paper, objets for a coffee table, the beautiful, irresistible cookbooks.

Me? I'm from both schools.


Like many food lovers, I enjoy reading cookbooks as much as I like to try the recipes in them. Park me on the couch on a rainy afternoon, with a cup of coffee and a warm blanket, and I'll happily read about molecular gastronomy, the history of the hamburger, apprenticing in a French hotel kitchen, or enchanted broccoli forests.

Here are a few no-fail suggestions for every food lover on your holiday gift. All books are available and discounted on Amazon.com and Jessica's Biscuit, except as noted.

Good general cookbooks (for all cooks)

  • The Joy of Cooking (every cook should have this)
  • Martha Stewart's Cooking School
  • The New Basics, by Sheila Lukens and Julee Rosso (The Silver Palate girls)
  • Everyday Great Food Fast, by Everyday Food Magazine
  • Fine Cooking Annual, volumes 1 and 2
  • How to Cook Everything (revised edition), by Mark Bittman
  • Nantucket Open House Cookbook, by Sarah Leah Chase
  • Baking from My Home to Yours, by Dorie Greenspan
  • Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone, by Deborah Madison
  • Home Cooking and More Home Cooking, by Laurie Colwin

Cooking for families

  • Kids in the Holiday Kitchen, by Mark Strand
  • Cooking Italian with Kids, by Liz Franklin
  • The River Cottage Family Cookbook, by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall
  • Vegan Lunch Box, by Jennifer McCann
  • American Grub: Eats for Kids from All 50 States, by Lynn Kuntz, Jan Fleming, and Mark A. Hicks
  • Kitchen Playdates: Easy Ideas for Entertaining That Includes the Kids, by Laura Bank Deen
  • Picture Yourself Cooking with Your Kids, by Beth Sheresh


For experienced cooks

  • Ottolenghi: The Cookbook, by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi (a beautiful gift from Kalyn when she visited me in Boston)
  • The Complete Robuchon, by Joel Robuchon
  • Charcuterie: The Craft Of Salting, Smoking, And Curing, by Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn

For experimental cooks

  • Alinea, by Grant Aschatz
  • A Day at El Bulli, by Ferran Adria


Ethnic cuisine classics, old and new

  • Dok Suni, by Jenny Kwak and Liz Fried
  • Couscous and other good foods from Morocco, by Paula Wolfert
  • Arabesque: A Taste of Morocco, Turkey, and Lebanon, by Claudia Roden
  • Rick Bayless Mexican Kitchen, by Rick Bayless
  • Classic Indian Cooking by Julie Sahni
  • The Breath of a Wok: Unlocking the Spirit of Chinese Wok Cooking Through Recipes and Lore, by Grace Young and Alan Richardson
  • Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking, by Marcella Hazan
  • The Foods and Wines of Spain, by Penelope Casas and Oscar Ochoa
  • A Taste of Old Cuba: More Than 150 Recipes for Delicious, Authentic, and Traditional Dishes, by Maria Josefa O'higgins

Rare, collectible, unusual, and out-of-print cookbooks

  • Abe Books: The Top 10 Weirdest Cookbooks
  • Manhattan Rare Book Company: Les Diners de Gala, by Salvador Dali, signed. $4,400. A bit of a splurge.
  • Kitchen Arts & Letters: more than 12,000 volumes, to browse at the store in New York City or order by phone.
  • Eagle Trading Company: no web site, but call owner Chuck Williams at (508) 644-9880 if you're looking for something special. This little shop, in a small village north of Fall River, Massachusetts, is my secret source, but I'm happy to share it with you.

Reference books a food lover might not have

  • Schott's Food and Drink Miscellany, by Ben Schott
  • The World's Healthiest Foods, Essential Guide for the Healthiest Way of Eating, by George Mateljan
  • Cookwise and Bakewise, by Shirley O. Corriher


Food literature
You'll discover lots of wonderful books (travel, history, romance) on Bookworms in the Pantry, our readers' list of more than 100 non-cookbooks for food lovers.

Cookbooks by food bloggers

Tastebooks (recipe collections from your favorite blogs)
Spiral-bound, expandable cookbooks from Simply Recipes, 101 Cookbooks, Karina's Kitchen, and others.


Afraid your favorite food lover already has every cookbook she or he could possibly need? Never fear -- a cook will always find room, somewhere, for one more book.


And a gift certificate from Jessica's Biscuit, where even brand new cookbooks are always discounted 30-70%, doesn't take up any room at all.

My primary (but not my only) cookbook bookcase, 9 ft x 5 ft.

[Next Tuesday: Gifts of food]
[Last Tuesday: Gifts of art and craft]
[Previously: Gifts from travels near and far; Gifts for kids who love to cook; Think outside the box]

Slow-roasted tomato pesto

If you didn't get some slow-roasted tomatoes into your freezer this summer, use sun-dried tomatoes in this recipe, from Diana Henry's Crazy Water Pickled Lemons. Makes enough pesto for 4 servings of pasta, or a great slather on bruschetta.


4 plum tomatoes, chopped
4 slow-roasted tomato halves, chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced (if your slow-roasted tomatoes have garlic, cut this to 1 clove)
2-1/2 oz blanched almonds
Large handful of basil leaves
Leaves from 4 sprigs of fresh oregano
Kosher salt and fresh black pepper
2-1/2 oz extra-virgin olive oil
2 oz pecorino cheese, grated


Place first seven ingredients in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a metal blade, and pulse until coarsely chopped, adding the oil slowly as you go. (Should be more coarse than a traditional genovese basil pesto.) Remove to a mixing bowl, and stir in the cheese.

[Printer-friendly recipe.]

More recipes in The Perfect Pantry:

Basil pesto
Pasta with slow-roasted tomatoes
Linguine with tomato-olive sauce
Chicken paella with slow-roasted tomatoes

Disclosure: The Perfect Pantry earns a few pennies on purchases made through the Amazon.com links in this post. Thank you for supporting this site when you start your shopping here.


Great list of cookbooks, and there are quite a few there that I want but don't have yet. Of course, you can never have too many cookbooks. (Will tell you more later about why I'm awake at this hour!)

Great article, Lydia - and I'm glad to see I'm not the only one with a cookbook habit. Now if I just had enough room to have them all on shelves...
Love your strategically placed chair - perfect for perusing cookbooks!

oh, no , what have you done to me? I can´t resist a list of must haves

The cookbook theme brings back a favorite memory of learning to cook with my mom. She would say, "Hmmm, we have some ____ on hand." Then we'd browse for that item in the index of many cookbooks, looking for inspiration. I still do this.

A deliciously dangerous post

Wow! this is quite a comprehensive list. I just got "The Flavor Bible" by Karen Page and Andrew Dornenberg which is a great reference for cooks who want to learn how to cook without recipes as it guides you in flavor pairings.

i have to say that the Martha Stewart original cook book is still in my favorite repertoire - she has never steered me in the wrong direction. But I have to say, I must be the only person who was disappointed with the Silver Palate recipes - I made a few years ago and didn't like them. I still need to procure the famed Deborah Madison vegetarian book - it looks amazing. What about Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child? Would you consider that a classic?

Oh, and I thought I was the only one living within walls of cook books. Actually, the Boston Globe ran an article about this not long ago and told about one woman who bought a bigger house to fit her cook books! It's a lovely addiction and I'm delighted be among kindred spirits. I've already been shopping at Jessica's for Christmas gifts.

That's a fantastic list. I would agree with "radish" that a Julia Child book would be a good addition to the list -- for me, totally classic.

What a terrific list - I have some, but you've given me some new ideas! When my father ribs me again about having too many cookbooks ("Dad, it's MY house!") I'm going to give you credit this year! I wish my cookbook library was so organized. Could you start a blog called "The Perfect Cookbook Library?"

wow...that's quite a collection of books (and a lot of dusting to do :). Great Pesto recipe. I definitely plan to try it. Thanks.

That's a great list of cook books. I'll be spending some time updating my Amazon wish list now...I'm always looking for some goodies to add to my collection! And a few others I'll throw out there while on the book subject:

Julia Child's Mastering the Art (classic)

The Bread Baker's Apprentice (everything bread-related you could ever imagine)

Le Cordon Bleu's Complete Cooking Techniques (great broad overview of terms, techniques, and a little bit of everything)

Thank you for the recommendations. I'm going to be checking them out to see what to add to my cookbook wish list.

I noticed 'Starting with Ingredients' in one of the photos. I've read it's description and it looks interesting. What is your opinion of it?

I love cookbooks but have really done a pretty good job lately of refraining from buying any. You just made my wish list grow by a mile :)

We have so many of the same books! Isn't Recipe of Memory great? I totally agree... rainy day + cookbook + cup of warm beverage = bliss!

Kalyn, glad there are some things here to add to your cookbook collection. This list includes many of my personal favorites.

Laurie, like the big highway project in Boston that was obsolete before it was completed, my bookcase was full before it was built. You are not the only one with a cookbook habit!

Lobstersquad, neither can I.

Lucia, one of my favorite moments was when the kids in my cooking class went up to the "library" to research some recipes they wanted to try.

Marcia, yes it is.

Julia, I'll add that one to my own wish list.

Radish, Mae, Mike: Of course Mastering the Art is a classic, but I'm assuming that most cooks already have that one in their collection. And, honestly, though I have it (as well as most of Julia's books), I hardly ever open it, because I just don't cook in the French way very often. Julia's books from her TV later series (Julia Child & Company, Julia Child & More Company, Cooking with Master Chefs) are ones I use all the time.

Michele, I've suggested buying a bigger house...

TW, it's crossed my mind....

Joan, dusting? Hmmm.

Carol, I love the book, and as a blogger who focuses on ingredients, I find it a great resource. Not exhaustive, of course (how could it be?), but really, really helpful.

Kristen, if you're like me, you cannot hold out forever. I try not to walk into bookstores or browse on Jessica's Biscuit when I feel the urge to buy coming on.

EB, I love Recipe of Memory! Glad to know I'm not the only one who loves to read cookbooks.

What a wonderful list! Makes me want to curl up with tea and cookbooks right now. I agree with The New Basics - I cooked my way through it in earlier days - and there's no gift for reading food lovers like Laurie Colwin.

Did I want to really know how much more reading I have to do? Of Course!!!

My daughter just asked for a vegetarian soup cookbook for Xmas, any ideas?

I'd like to suggest another essential ethnic cookbook - a Russian one:

"Please to the Table: The Russian Cookbook" by Anya von Bremzen

another stellar post. thank you, dear lydia for constantly expanding my horizons.

Love the shot of the cookbook case! It is even bigger and fuller than mine. You are my hero!

there's something for you here.

I need to make a list. People always ask me what cookbooks I would recommend. Good to see I am not the only one with a ton of cookbooks.

vote for veg soup cookbook: Nava Atlas; also has good go-withs. vote for favorite new cookbook: The Cornbread Gospels, Crescent Dragonwagon (and the Passionate Vegetarian) -- she's another cook who is fun to have at your side. Lydia, I love the photos of your kitchen (the books, the utensils, the art, etc)

I enjoy seeing your wall of cookbooks - so nice to see a kindrid spirit.
One more to add to your collection is Maria Helm Sinskey's new one called Family Meals. She is a wonderful chef with a profound sense of real, rustic cooking.

Marilyn, you've spotted Laurie Colwin on my bookshelf. I wouldn't want to be without her.

Neil, see Susan's comment; she's given you some great suggestions for veg cookbooks. I'd also add Soup Makes the Meal; it's not specifically vegetarian, but there are many great soups to choose from.

Jessica, if you look closely (or with a magnifying glass), you'll find this book in my bookcase! I agree, it's a good one.

Bee, so glad you enjoyed it.

Natashya, I'm embarrassed that all of those books piled on top don't actually fit in the bookcase. I'm searching other rooms for a home for the overflow!

Peabody, I try to recommend books I think you'll want to use again and again. I have many books that I thought would fall into that category, but I find I really don't use them.

Susan, great ideas for Neil -- thank you. So glad you're enjoying peeking around my kitchen and library. If your travels bring you down to RI, you'd be most welcome to visit.

Karen, Family Meals is new to me -- I'm excited to check it out. Thank you.

Good list but also a very well written post!

If you don't mind I would add a few more.

On the "extravagant" beside to El Bulli there is the new book from Heston Blumenthal on how to prepare his tasting menu (almost impossible to do but very intriguing)

On the "cool" side the Les Halles recipe books from Bourdain (love the introduction)

For the Indian kitchen I simply adore "50 great curries" from Camellia Panjabi. Great recipes but also a very interesting introduction.

How exciting to discover some great new cookbooks. I too am out of shelves but keep buying them anyhoo. One thing I really like to do when on vacation or even visiting a new area is look for a regional fund raiser cookbook - like from a church guild or not-for profit. Althought the recipes are sometimes similar (some version of crab dip, casseroles, etc.) I like the idea of supporting a good local cause and it's fun to cook regional dishes when I'm back home to remind me of the trip.

What a great list! And I am glad to know that there is someone who has a bigger book collection than I do. the hubby calls my book case ...the bookstore.

Thank you, Lydia. That is exactly the input I was looking for. :-) 'Starting with Ingredients' is going on my wish list.

I agree - I never thought I'd see more cookbooks than I have in my library! You've outdone us all. Thanks for the new ideas... I am working on my Christmas list now!

Paolo, fantastic additions to my gift list. I do have 50 Curries -- it's a wonderful book. I'd love pretty much anything from Bourdain, to add to the books I already have.

HB, I do exactly the same thing. Some of my favorite cookbooks are locally produced in countries I've visited, and I'd never find them here. I love Junior League or church bazaar cookbooks, too. Cookbooks and wooden spoons are my favorite travel souvenirs.

Veron, and now you've seen my "bookstore". If my hubby calls it that, he doesn't do it when I'm around!

Carol, I'm always happy to add to someone else's wish list!

Katharine, now that I see the photo (and I didn't have the courage to confess that there's another smaller cookbook bookcase in the same room...), I wonder whether I really have room for more. But, of course, there's always room...

I'm showing my husband your bookcases! He thinks that I have enough cookbooks, I keep telling him that there is no such thing!

Oh my word---I covet your cookbook bookcase. That's quite the collection you've got there, Lydia. I'm impressed! (And I thought my collection was big...peshaw!)

This is a superb list, Lydia! You've covered all the bases and have helped a lot of people make their gift choices.

Pam, you are right, and he is wrong.

Sandie, it's a wonderful place to sit and browse. I do get inspired!

Susan, thanks -- though I think all of the suggestions in the comments are great additions to the list, too.

I LOVE those bookcases. And I see lots of books in your list and among your collection that I know and love, and some that are new to me. I'm off to check some of these titles on Amazon.

I think cookbooks are the perfect gifts for almost every occasion. I am just a little bit jealous of your cookbook bookcase hehe

It's nice to know that so many other people have a ton of cookbooks. I add to my collection every time I walk into a bookstore. I just can't resist browsing the cookbook section.

Kitchenography, I have fun organizing the bookshelves from time to time, but then a certain random organization creeps back in. Glad that you had fun "browsing"!

Noobcook, I'm quite fond of the bookcase, but more because it's in a room that is wonderful for sitting and reading. It has a small sofa and a very comfy chair. I do love it.

Gloria, seems we cookbook collectors have lots of company among readers of this blog!

So glad you included Laurie Colwin's Home Cooking books. I have had them for years, read them again and again and they still make me laugh.

While I have The Joy of Cooking, my favorites for general recipes and reference are the Fannie Farmer Cookbook and Baking Book.

Love your choices, thanks for including my book! Laurie Colwin is an all time favorite of mine too. Another classic on my shelf is the Victory Garden Cookbook by Marian Morash. When I am looking for something new to do with (fill in the blank with vegetable of your choice) Morash always steers me in the right direction.

Constance, without Laurie Colwin my library would not be complete. Her sense of humor has seen me through many a cooking disaster.

Amy, you would definitely find The Victory Garden Cookbook on my bookshelf. Her recipe for countertop pickles (and a completely seductive photo of same in the book) is one of my all-time favorites.

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