There are billions of great cookbooks in the world. Here’s my own list of the ones that inspire, educate and feed me.
The Silver Palate Cookbook, Sheila Lukins and Julee Rosso
Even though it was first published in 1979, these recipes still taste current and fabulous today. I’ve never made a single recipe that wasn’t terrific, and some of our family’s legacy meals are based on them. Favourite recipes: Beef stew with cuminseed; Orange cake; Carrot cake; Gingerbread; Basil and tomato pasta; Italian sausage & pepper pasta sauce; Tarragon chicken; Chicken marbella.
Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Julia Child with Simone Beck and Louisette Bertholle
The night before I started my first official restaurant job I read this book cover-to-cover as prep: It’s an education in classical French cuisine without the bullshit. Favourite recipes: Potage parmentier; Hollandaise; Boeuf Bourguignon; Crème pâtissière; Ratatouille.
Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking, Marcella Hazan
What Julia is to French cuisine, Marcella is to Italian. If you want to cook it, she’ll tell you how, and in no uncertain terms: Marcella is renowned for her imperative instructions. Favourite recipes: Egg pasta dough; Celery risotto; Veal osso buco; Bolognese.
Martha Stewart’s Baking Handbook, Martha Stewart
My go-to baking bible, this book is chock-full of everything baked from crisps and muffins to wedding cakes, croissants and black-and-white cookies. From this, you can learn most of what you need to know about baking. The recipes work beautifully, and taste and look incredible. Favourite recipes: Slab pie; Gingerbread cookies; Focaccia.
Jerusalem, Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi
Many of us met Ottolenghi via Plenty, his glorious first vegetarian book. It’s a stunning book, packed with fabulous recipes. But then came Jerusalem. It’s a masterpiece. Yotam and Sami’s recipes include flavour combinations that are so much more than the simple sum of their parts — they’re unforgettable. Favourite recipes: Lamb shawarma; Roasted butternut with za’atar; Barley risotto with marinated feta.
River Cottage Meat, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall
Even if you never make a recipe from Meat, reading the introduction will forever change the way you eat and cook with meat. One of his over-arching philosophies (that I’ve adopted as my own): almost all the work of making meat delicious is done before you even buy it; so invest in meat that is raised well. And then there are killer recipes too! Favourite recipes: Pork pie; Donnie Brasco pork; Yorkshire puddings; Roast beef.
Indian Cookery, Madhur Jaffrey
And as Julia and Marcella are to their cuisines, Madhur is to Indian. Although the cuisine is so rich and varied it would be impossible to cover more than a tiny fraction of it in one book, nonetheless you’ll get a great overview of Northern and Southern styles of Indian cooking. Favourite recipes: Moong dal; Mixed veg in mustard-cumin sauce; Egg curry; Chicken with coriander and coconut.
China Express, Nina Simonds
Simply the best Chinese cookbook I’ve ever encountered. This was the first book (in my sphere) to use correct Chinese ingredients like black vinegar and fermented black beans, but in a way that’s so approachable it never feels intimidating—and Nina gives easy supermarket substitutions as well. But the proof is truly in the eating and these are recipes that over-deliver again and again and again. Favourite recipes: Saucy braised eggplant; Black bean tofu; Northern-braised tofu.
The first book I ever cooked from (I was 11 and there are great rookie mistake tales). “The Joy” is a different type of culinary education, one in home-cooking from a time when that meant anything from homemade pancakes to strawberry jam to fancy dinner parties. Try to find a copy from before the 1997 revision. Favourite recipes: Sour milk pancakes; Brownies; Skillet corn bread; Harvard beets; Braised red cabbage.
The Moosewood Cookbook, Mollie Katzen
It’s a vegetarian cookbook from an era before vegetarianism was weird. There’s no chia, coconut oil or cashew cheese, there’s just fantastic recipes that don’t include meat. Favourite recipes: Lentil soup; Hungarian mushroom soup; Black bean soup; Calzones; Zucchini pancakes.
This book is a bible in the industry for chefs and developers alike. It’s a seemingly simple collection of flavour-pairing lists (think: 25 ingredients that pair well with hazelnuts) woven together with anecdotes and advice from America’s top chefs (the real top chefs, not the erstwhile tv stars of today).
Whether it’s a notebook or a box of recipe cards, everyone needs a place to keep great recipes we encounter. I’ve had mine since 1996 and it’s still the most-used book in my library. A favourite from mom’s kitchen? Neighbour’s go-to appetizer? Something you made up that turned out great? Write it down, tweak it as much as you want, take notes in the margin.