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

Mary Taylor Simeti Author Of Sicilian Summer: An Adventure in Cooking with my Grandsons
By Mary Taylor Simeti

The Books I Picked & Why

The New Book of Middle Eastern Food

By Claudia Roden

The New Book of Middle Eastern Food

Why 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.


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Verdura: Vegetables Italian Style

By Viana LA Place

Verdura: Vegetables Italian Style

Why 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.


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The Art of Eating

By Joan Reardon, M. F. K. Fisher

The Art of Eating

Why 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.


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The Culture of Food

By Massimo Montanari

The Culture of Food

Why 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.


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Feast: Food of the Islamic World

By Anissa Helou

Feast: Food of the Islamic World

Why 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.


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