The seduction of cooking
The Zuni Café Cookbook (Norton, $35, 504 pages, ISBN 0393020436) is a very special cookbook, one you'll want to read, rather than skim through for a recipe that catches your eye (though, of course, many will). The author, Judy Rodgers, is a cook's cook, passionate about what she does and able to pass along the passion and culinary wisdom that has infused the cooking at the superb Zuni Café in San Francisco where she is chef/owner. She says she wrote this book for those "who consider cooking a labor of love," for whom "food is only part of the seduction of cooking." Her charming introduction is followed by especially sound thoughts on "what to think about before you start, and while you're cooking," developing the "habit of tasting and finding flavor balance" and practical advice on tools and techniquesadvice that seasoned old kitchen hands and beginners alike can learn from. The recipes come from the entire Zuni Café repertoire: innovative appetizers, from variations on the familiar pairings of prosciutto and melon to bite-sized gougères and three versions of a Savory Onion Tart; leafy salads that can liven up an often repetitive, lackluster green hodgepodge; hearty main courses conjured from seafood, poultryincluding her signature Zuni Roast Chicken with Bread Saladbeef, lamb, pork and rabbit; and simple, bright, mostly fruit-based desserts, with lots of refreshing sorbets and granitas sure to spark even sated appetites. This is a cookbook to linger over, one that may really inspire you to try the unfamiliar and improve on the more traditional.
Mediterranean melting pot
When most of us hear "Marseille," we think of the crowded, crime-infested streets of The French Connection, of a Mediterranean city shadowed by the Corsican Syndicates, the Sicilian Mafia and the Neapolitan Camone. Think again, Marseille is merveilleuse. The sun is shining on France's oldest and second largest city, and packs of Parisians and international travelers are heading for this now trendy destination, many lured by the sensational cuisine marseillaise. Even if you can't hop a plane, you can enjoy the gustatory delights of Marseille by cooking with Daniel Young, who has gathered a wonderful selection of recipes in his new book, Made in Marseille: Food and Flavors from France's Mediterranean Seaport (HarperCollins, $32.50, 288 pages, ISBN 0060199377). Marseille owes much of its culinary tradition to the sun-kissed staples of Provence, but it owes more to its ancient and ongoing tradition of immigration and cultural integration. The resulting mélange, with an emphasis on seafood, is crowned by its world-renowned bouillabaisse. Young devotes a whole chapter to this beautiful soup, taking great pains to find suitable components from our Atlantic waters. And, beyond bouillabaisse, he offers up superlative starters, dips, sauces and savory jams, fish dishes galore, unusual beef and chicken, interesting veggies and desserts with a different kind of dazzle.
Everything you need to know
Two new cookbooks, at polar ends of the gastronomic gamut, offer full disclosure on their very special subjects: sushi and brownies. The Ultimate Brownie Book by Bruce Weinstein and Mark Scarbrough has a subtitle that lets you know exactly what you'll find insideThousands of Ways to Make America's Favorite Treat, Including Blondies, Frostings and Doctored Brownie Mixes. The totally tempting variations range from healthy, almost fat-free Applesauce Brownies to divinely decadent Marble Cheesecake Brownies.
Sushi Taste and Techniques by Kimiko Barber and Hiroki Takemura (DK, $20, 256 pages, ISBN 0789489163) demystifies this increasingly popular Japanese delicacy by explaining what sushi is, how to make it and how to eat it at home or at a sushi bar. Illustrated with hundreds of full-color photos.
Sybil Pratt has been cooking up this column for more than seven years.