1,001 cookbooks you must spatter before you die - Page 2

... beginning with this indispensable handful by local chefs

I rely, instead, on her Back to Square One (Morrow, 1992) and have made her versions of Mexican cauliflower soup and spicy Indian lentils from that book so often that I no longer need to consult the recipes. The soup recipe, in particular, is quintessential Goldstein: a brief list of easy-to-get ingredients, a few steps briskly described, and a beguiling result that's more than the sum of its parts.

If you just can't face cauliflower and you have stale bread in the house — onions too — try Goldstein's recipe for Italian onion soup with bread and sage, from Kitchen Conversations (Morrow, 1996). This simple soup resembles its more famous French cousin — onions caramelized in butter, sage, melted cheese on top — and is yet another example of Italian cleverness about not wasting food, in this case stale bread. (Hint: the soup is mighty fine when made strictly according to the recipe, but it's a little richer if you use beef stock instead of plain water.)

My copy of the original Greens cookbook, The Greens Cookbook (Bantam, 1987), is more than 20 years old now and has spatters even on the frontispiece. Inexplicable. The book's author is Deborah Madison, who will be recalled by those with elephant memories as the restaurant's first chef when it opened in 1979. The book was my first vegetarian cookbook, and it still has a favorite-blanket aura in that respect. But the recipe I still use over and over is the one for bread — focaccia, to be precise. The would-be baker of bread in this cold city is beset by terrors and frustrations, mainly having to do with the lack of the fabled "warm, draft-free place" bread dough must be placed in if it's to rise properly. But Greens' focaccia is hardiness itself: it rises even in gray winter, it's soft, it takes dimpling beautifully, it bakes quickly, pops right out of the pan when done, and everybody loves it no matter what you put on top.

Cindy Pawlcyn has launched some of the Bay Area's most beloved and durable restaurants (including Fog City Diner and Mustards Grill), but lately she's been revealing herself to be an excellent recipe writer for the home cook. My copy of her Big Small Plates (Ten Speed, 2006) has a big spatter on the gougères page and another on the papas bravas page. Gougères are tasty little cheese puffs and are, with some champagne, a wonderful treat to serve guests before dinner, at least if you serve them warm, but their glory is of the brief, summer-in-Antarctica variety, and they cool all too quickly to forgettability. The papas bravas (paprika-scented Spanish-style potatoes), though less finger-friendly, are a little more forgiving; they cool along a gentler arc and are still perfectly fine even when approaching room temperature.

For meat cookery, I rely on Bruce Aidell's The Complete Meat Cookbook (Houghton Mifflin, 1998). It manages to be both authoritative and friendly, it's full of wonderful recipes that aren't complicated (including bulletproof versions of the venerable Tuscan pork roast called arista and charcoal-grilled Florentine beef). Even in years gone by, when I cooked a lot more meat than I do now, I never felt the need to seek out guidance elsewhere. It's as canonical as a cookbook can be.

Cookbook canons tend to be narrow, in part because of personal taste and because shelf space is limited, but occasionally a new entrant does join the elect. One such recent addition, for me, is The Spanish Table Cookbook (The Spanish Table, 2005) by Steve Winston, who not coincidentally is one of the owners of The Spanish Table in Berkeley, a rich resource not only for seekers after pimentón and piquillo peppers but paella pans and cazuelas. The book itself, with its simple black-and-white sketches, is a refreshing throwback to pre-porn days.

Also from this author

  • The last supper

    Food writer Paul Reidinger bids farewell after more than a decade covering the San Francisco food scene

  • Radish

    Staging well-crafted feats of new all-American, neatly tucked away from the Valencia Street h-words

  • Boxing Room

    A warm Hayes Valley spot that punches up the Cajun trend with lagniappe, mirilton, and po'boys