Cookbooks provide insight into creative cuisine
The Christmas season produced a groaning board of great cookbooks, and I intended to review them for possible gift ideas. Alas, I didn't get it done, but the books are still out there, with enticing recipes and fascinating insights into cuisine and culture. Here are three books you should check out, and I'll get to the others before the nextholiday season.
• "Lidia Cooks from the Heart of Italy," Lidia Matticchio Bastianich and Tanya Bastianich Manuali:Lidia is a familiar face to public TV foodies, as well as a force to be reckoned with in cookbook publishing and restaurants. This is her fifth book, a companion to the "Lidia's Italy" series on PBS, and in it she peels apart Italian cuisine by region, with gorgeous illustrations of both the food and local attractions. Not all of the recipes really make sense for a Minnesota kitchen — braised octopus with spaghetti seems like an unappetizing waste of space, for example — but the best cookbooks take you places you'll never go, and this one does, with informative text and great design. Most unusual recipe: You mean other than the octopus? Maybe the Wedding Soup. (Knopf, 411 pages, hardcover, $35)
• "A Taste of the Gunflint Trail," by Women of the Gunflint Trail:Especially in mid-winter, when few of us have a chance to get to the Gunflint, this cookbook offers a reminder of what makes the north country special. The 60-mile road from Grand Marais to the innermost areas of canoe country is forever a part of Minnesota culture, as are the public lodges and private cabins along the way. This paperback gathers up recipes for some quintessential northern Minnesota foods, such as blueberry pie and moose jerky, and garnishes them with photos and personal stories of the people who helped build up the trail and make it available to all of us. Some of the proceeds from the book go to the Gunflint Trail Volunteer Fire Department. Most unusual recipe: Justine's Muskrat Stew. (Adventure Publications Inc., 400 pages, $19.95.)
• "Healthy Bread in Five Minutes a Day," by Jeff Hertzberg, M.D. and Zoe Francois:Sound too good to be true? Of course it is, but this book might inspire you to take the few extra minutes per day to make your own bread, with whole grains, fruits, veggies and some gluten-free options as well. The authors' previous book, "Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day," made the same far-fetched promise, and the secret is this: You don't knead the dough. You mix the ingredients, let them sit for two hours, shape it, let it rise for 90 minutes and bake it. Yeah, that's more than five minutes, but the results, including the personal satisfaction of making bread that actually rises and tastes good, is worth the investment. Hertzberg's a doc at the University of Minnesota Medical School, and Francois also hails from Minneapolis. Most unusual recipe: Red Wine and Cheese Bread. (Thomas Dunne Books, 324 pages, hardcover, $27.99.)