Six Picks From a Crop of Cookbooks

From an abundant harvest, these few selections are among the best

No one knows better than Rebecca Wood how popular grains have become in recent years. Each chapter in her new cookbook, The Splendid Grain, begins with a brief history of a featured grain, taps the mystique of lost cultures and foreign lands, then follows with tips on cooking, storing, and even growing them. As rich as the text is in these introductions, the recipes put history to work in the modern kitchen.

Quinoa, a savory South American kernel used by the Inca for many centuries before Spanish conquistadors banned its cultivation, makes a surprise appearance in a dessert that Ms. Wood calls Quinoa Butterscotch Brownies. To such staples as oats, rye, wheat, and rice, Wood adds Old World exotica like tef and sorghum. Although some dishes are complex, refreshingly simple recipes such as That Corn Dish bring the panoply of grains within delicious reach.

Joyce Goldstein, garrulous teacher of culinary arts and lover of all things edible, has said, "If you can't trust your own mouth, you can't trust anything." Moreover, she says that cookbooks tend to frighten and robotize people. In her latest cookbook, Kitchen Conversations, she goes out of her way to placate the robots in us all, weaving humorous anecdotes, kitchen klatsch, and rhetorical questions into easy-to-read recipes inspired by the food of the Mediterranean.

Throughout, black-and-white snapshots of the author hamming it up remind us not to take recipes too seriously.

It can be said that trade on the Mediterranean has for millennia blurred the lines of cultural identity within each of its seaboard nations. But throughout its many guises and despite its influences, the nation of Turkey has managed to emerge as a culinary entity unto itself. At least, that is what Ghillie Basan would have us believe. Ms. Basan has just published Classic Turkish Cooking, a book that demonstrates how singular and profound Turkey's culinary repertoire is. Cooks who know kebabs, for example, might find Turkish meatballs and stews an enticing change of pace. Even eggplant-wary chefs will find a dozen new uses for what Basan calls the "one vegetable that could sum up Turkey." Although the text includes sometimes confusing European nomenclature (aubergines for eggplant, courgettes for zucchini), recipes eschew the metric system and are simple and easy to follow.

In his cookbook introduction, Pierre Franey writes, "Even after sixty years of cooking, I still feel I can learn something new." No words could better sum up one of America's best-loved Frenchmen, the host whose charismatic television guise brought millions into the kitchens of his friends and fellow chefs. Shortly after the book's completion, Pierre Franey passed on, leaving behind a legacy of fraternity in the food community.

Pierre Franey Cooks With His Friends marks the first time a cookbook of his has featured photos of Franey dancing, dining, shopping, and just relaxing. All which remind us of his affable presence. To its credit, the book does not overindulge in the pageantry of tribute, but rather paints an honest picture of the man behind the great white toque.

Throw out all your Lee Bailey cookbooks. The avuncular food writer from New York who made waves 14 years ago with his first cookbook, "Country Weekends," has just published The Way I Cook, a compendium of his favorite recipes. The prolific nature of Mr. Bailey's writing career - which consists of 18 cookbooks and innumerable articles over a span of about 20 years - has rendered this new guide inevitable.

True to form, the author would not allow a book of this scope to come up short in the recipe department, so no less than 1,300 recipes cram the pages.

Fans of Bailey's straightforward style will surely go for this encyclopedia of delightful dishes. All the simple salads, "surprise sandwiches," traditional desserts, and Southern specialties that made him famous, are here, as are 90 new recipes for those who have already exhausted his previous efforts.

A spacesaver for collectors, this book might have been called "Lee Bailey's Greatest Hits."

Just when it looked as though the culinary world could not bear the weight of another Italian cookbook, Carol Field brings us In Nonna's Kitchen, a warm, sincere tribute to the dwindling resource we call Italian grandmothers. Thank you, Ms. Field; the book resounds with vivid descriptions of kitchens and the women who use them, stressing the importance of family and tradition in today's eat-and-run society.

In an attempt to preserve the old ways, "In Nonna's Kitchen" does not serve up light reading for the hurried gourmet. Rather, the book's personal profiles and time-consuming recipes beg the reader to slow down and appreciate the alchemy of cooking. No one will ever replace Nonna's food, but this book reminds us of what we should aspire to.


Rustic Lamb and Fennel Soup

2 pounds lamb riblets

4 cups chicken broth, preferably homemade

4 cups water

2/3 cup finely chopped fennel fronds

2 teaspoons fennel seeds, lightly crushed

1/2 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley

1/8 teaspoon red pepper flakes

1 spring onion (scallion), finely sliced

2-1/4 pounds vine-ripened tomatoes, (about 4 large), peeled, seeded, and chopped

Salt to taste

6 slices stale country-style bread

Freshly grated pecorino cheese (optional)

Trim lamb riblets of all fat. Place them in a 4- or 5-quart pot, preferably terra-cotta. Cover riblets completely with the chicken broth and water, and bring to a boil. Skim off the foam during the first 15 minutes of cooking, then add the fennel fronds and seeds, parsley, pepper flakes, onion, and tomatoes. Let simmer over very low heat until thick, about two hours.

Remove riblets, scrape the meat off the bones, and return the lamb meat to the pot. Let the mixture simmer for 15 more minutes. Add salt to taste at the very end.

Chill the soup in the refrigerator to make it easy to skim off the fat before serving. You can make this a day ahead and reheat it.

While the mixture is simmering, preheat the broiler. Place the slices of bread on a broiler pan 4 to 6 inches from the heat source and toast lightly until golden on each side. Serve the soup with a slice of grilled bread at the bottom of each soup bowl. Sprinkle a little grated pecorino cheese over the top if you wish.

Serves 6.

- Recipe adapted from 'In Nonna's Kitchen,' by Carol Field


By Rebecca Wood


394 pp., $30


By Ghillie Basan

St. Martin's Press

224 pp., $29.95


By Pierre Franey with Claudia Franey Jensen


214 pp., $30


By Lee Bailey


332 pp., $32.50


By Joyce Goldstein


378 pp., $25


By Carol Field


451 pp., $30

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