The best books about food catering to the plate, the eye, and the mind

Why am I passionate about this?

As an American living and cooking in Sicily for almost sixty years, I have soaked up Sicilian cuisine and culture both through research and by osmosis, delighting in discovering how the food I was preparing reflected the island’s position in history and geography, a meeting point for almost all the civilizations of the Mediterranean. My first book, a memoir of my life here entitled On Persephone’s Island, was followed by Pomp and Sustenance. Twenty-five Centuries of Sicilian Food, the first book on Sicilian cuisine to be published in English. Six more books on different aspects of Sicilian food and culture, in English or in Italian, have followed.


I wrote...

Sicilian Summer: An Adventure in Cooking with my Grandsons

By Mary Taylor Simeti,

Book cover of Sicilian Summer: An Adventure in Cooking with my Grandsons

What is my book about?

Join me and my four grandsons as we cook the boys’ favorite summer dishes and prepare a birthday dinner for their grandfather. With this book I welcome you once again to the Simeti farm in western Sicily, first described in my earlier book, On Persephone’s Island, and to the dinner table where three generations of my family gather each summer to celebrate our multicultural heritage with good food and great affection. Part memoir, part family recipe collection, part delightful photographic record of an extraordinary experience, it is also a meditation on the role that food can play within the family in bonding, creating memories, and consolidating tradition and identity.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of The New Book of Middle Eastern Food

Mary Taylor Simeti Why did I love this book?

Sixty years ago when I first started cooking in Sicily, local ingredients were of topnotch quality but very limited variety, so my American cookbooks and food mags were useless. The discovery of Claudia Roden’s book opened up a whole new world: recipe upon recipe with Mediterranean ingredients and delicious results, and fascinating notes on the origin of the dishes, notes that made me want to know more about culinary history.

By Claudia Roden,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The New Book of Middle Eastern Food as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Claudia Roden's A Book of Middle Eastern Food is your ultimate cookbook and guide to the rich and exotic recipes of the Middle East . . .

'Meticulously collected, compellingly assembled, lovingly told . . . Informative, delectable and incredibly useful' YOTAM OTTOLENGHI

'Roden's great gift is to conjure up not just a cuisine but the culture from which it springs' NIGELLA LAWSON
_______

When it first published, Claudia Roden's bestselling classic Book of Middle Eastern Food revolutionised Western attitudes to the cuisines of the Middle East.

Containing over 500 modern and accessible recipes that are brought to life with…


Book cover of Verdura: Vegetables Italian Style

Mary Taylor Simeti Why did I love this book?

I am apt to come back to the kitchen from the garden or the farmers’ market with a large bag of irresistible vegetables that I have no idea what I’m going to do with. More often than not I turn to Viana La Place’s book for a simple and satisfying recipe that uses Italian ingredients with a touch of California thrown in.

By Viana LA Place,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Verdura as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Fresh ingredients and ease of preparation characterize the recipes for every course of Italian food, from the antipasta to pasta and risotto, from soups and stews to sandwiches, and from main dishes to salads. With recipes for bruschetta topped with roasted tomatoes and country stews fragrant with saffron and rosemary, to tantalizing puddings, this book covers the full range of Italian cookery.


Book cover of The Art of Eating

Mary Taylor Simeti Why did I love this book?

Whenever I feel a stab of nostalgia for my American childhood, I turn to M.F.K. Fisher, one of the most delightful food writers ever. The Art of Eating is a one-volume edition of six of her books, all written before I graduated from high school: it gives a funny and informative account of American (and other) eating habits before the great foodie revolution of the ‘80’s altered everything. It offers mostly food for the mind but the palate is also served by recipes I’d forgotten all about, often given both in their comfort food guise and in fancy dress.

By M.F.K. Fisher,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Art of Eating as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Ruth Reichl - 'Mary Frances [Fisher] has the extraordinary ability to make the ordinary seem rich and wonderful. Her dignity comes from her absolute insistence on appreciating life as it comes to her'. Julia Child - 'How wonderful to have here in my hands the essence of M.F.K. Fisher, whose wit and fulsome opinions on food and those who produce it, comment upon it, and consume it are as apt today as they were several decades ago, when she composed them. Why did she choose food and hunger she was asked, and she replied, 'When I write about hunger, I…


Book cover of The Culture of Food

Mary Taylor Simeti Why did I love this book?

A really satisfying read for anyone with an appetite for culinary history. Montanari, a medieval historian who teaches at the University of Bologna, describes the evolution of European cuisine as the clash between the wheat-, grape- and olive-based Mediterranean food traditions of the Roman Empire and the beer-, pork- and animal fat-based cooking of the Teutonic tribes that descended from the North. The invaders introduced their foods to Northern Italy, while the monks traveling north to spread the teachings of Christianity carried with them the wheat and grapes essential for celebrating the Eucharist. A slow assimilation ensued.

By Massimo Montanari,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Culture of Food as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This book is about the history of food in Europe and the part it has played in the evolution of the European cultures over two millennia. It has been a driving force in national and imperial ambition, the manner of its production and consumption a means by which the identity and status of regions, classes and individuals have been and still are expressed. In this wide--ranging exploration of its history the author weaves deftly between the classes, regions and nations of Europe, between the habits of late antiquity and the problems of modernity. He examines the interlinked evolutions of consumption,…


Book cover of Feast: Food of the Islamic World

Mary Taylor Simeti Why did I love this book?

Feast is indeed a feast, served to the eye and the mind as well as to the palate. This Lebanese food writer has traveled from Senegal to Indonesia and to all the Islamic countries in between to gather recipes that are almost painfully tempting, lushly illustrated, and amply annotated. Reading it, one discovers how we in the West impoverish our idea of Islamic food when we equate it only with that of the Middle East.

By Anissa Helou,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Feast as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A Sunday Times Book of the Year (Bee Wilson)

A sweeping culinary journey across the Islamic world, and a celebration of its most iconic recipes.

A diverse and rich culinary tradition has evolved in every place touched by Islam, always characterised by deliciousness and fragrance, a love of herbs and the deft use of spices.

Anissa Helou's Feast represents an extraordinary journey through place and time, travelling from Senegal to Indonesia via the Arab, Persian, Mughal or North African heritage of so many dishes. This exploration of the foods of Islam begins with bread and its myriad variations, from pita…


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Crossing: A Chinese Family Railroad Novel

By Lisa Redfern,

Book cover of Crossing: A Chinese Family Railroad Novel

Lisa Redfern Author Of Phases of Gage: After the Accident Years

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

Author DNA genealogy researcher California history storyteller & media maker Cartophile Close-call kefir exploder A philomath with too many books

Lisa's 3 favorite reads in 2023

What is my book about?

Crossing is a vividly human re-imagining of the love, sacrifices, and accomplishments that two Chinese brothers - American Immigrants - experience as they travel to California to build the Transcontinental Railroad. 

Crossing: A Chinese Family Railroad Novel

By Lisa Redfern,

What is this book about?

Crossing is a vividly human re-imagining of the love, sacrifices, and history that laid tracks for the North America of today.

Leaving behind ancestral Chinese homelands and their family, brothers Yang and Lee face harrowing challenges as they join countless immigrants seeking a better life in the 1860s.

This story follows their remarkable journey across the ocean to San Francisco, then into the Sierra Nevada Mountains, where they'll labor to build the Transcontinental Railroad. Surrounded by California's new marvels, and carrying their cultural traditions in their hearts, Yang and Lee find themselves in precarious situations. Their passions, struggles, dreams, and…


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