Book Reviews!

Oh my, I’ve been bad and haven’t posted these reviews from Kristina in some time. K, please forgive me. But they’re as good as ever, I promise. Take it away, Kristina! –mattt

I’ve been away for a long time.  The last time I was writing, there was almost three feet of snow on the ground.  Now it’s hotter than the fourth of July.  Which, actually isn’t all that true, because I spent the fourth of July in Nashville, and it was 105F then.  It’s just 104F here in Rome now.  Summer to me is all about American food.  I don’t know why.  In winter, I really crave all the Italian stuff.  In summer, I crave the freedom and simplicity of a barbecue and a great cobbler.  Even though we’re nearing the end of summer, the temps still feel like the peak, so this week, I’m doing American cookbooks, plus one.

Here’s the plus one:  

POLPO:  A Venetian Cookbook (of sorts) by Russell Norman; Bloomsbury 2012.  Photography by Jenny Zarins.  Don’t wait for this book to be released in the US.  Buy it now from the UK.  It’s that good.  I bought this a few weeks ago and a day hasn’t passed that I haven’t had it in my hands.  From the binding to the cover and graphic design, to the photography, and most importantly the recipes, this book is my #1 book of the year.  The meticulous care that went into making this book is exactly what went into making Polpo the restaurant.  Norman’s intro concludes with a quote by Antoine de Saint-Exupery which he feels described the dishes in his restaurant Polpo in London: “Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.”  He kinda got it right on the money.  I am guessing this is a Venetian cookbook (of sorts) because not all the recipes are Venetian, but it doesn’t matter.  You will love the pizzette, polpette, risotti, fritto misto, pork belly with radicchio and hazelnuts, cod cheeks lentils and salsa verde, warm octopus salad, bigoli in salsa, and everything else.  Norman has scraped up almost every single dessert made in Italy, except for the Neapolitan and Sicilian ones, too.  And has even included a few cocktails.  All in all, if you could have only a few Italian cookbooks, you’d never get tired of this one.  Ever.  You can see more about the design of the book and the inner pages on the designer, Praline, website.

I will admit that my first experience at Polpo in London was 90% negative (the 10% is that they have the best Dark & Stormys I’ve ever had), but knowing everything that has gone into the restaurant, its menu, and seeing these recipes has totes made me believe it was some weird fluke and I can’t wait to go back!

Now on to America

People’s Pops: 55 Recipes for Ice Pops, Shave Ice, and Boozy Pops from Brooklyn’s Coolest Pop Shop by Nathalie Jordi, David Carrell, and Joel Horowitz;  Ten Speed Press 2012.  Photography by Jennifer May.  Last year’s Paletas by Fany Gershon holds a special place in my heart, but People’s Pops is inching its way in.  This is a fruit lovers book.  It’s full of popsicles made with interesting fruit and herb combinations such as plum/yogurt/tarragon, blueberry/cardamom, blackberry/rose, and apricot and salted caramel (I know salted caramel isn’t an herb!).  The heat doesn’t seem to be subsiding, so you may as well make some part of it enjoyable!

The Back in the Day Bakery Cookbook by Cheryl and Griffith Day; Artisan 2012.  Photography by Squire Fox.  Summer is all about American food to me.  Cheryl Day (or “Shurl” and we say in the south) and her husband Griffith run a bakery in Savannah, Georgia.  They have put together the quintessential American baking book.  Cinnamon sticky buns, brown sugar banana bread, apple brown betty, sterling cheesecake.  There’s a savory section too!  I loved the vintage and homemade feel to this book so much, I had to buy a copy for my family.  If you love American baking, you’ll love this book.

Martha’s American Food: A Celebration of Our Nation’s Most Treasured Dishes, from Coast to Coast by Martha Stewart; Clarkson Potter 2012.  Photography various artists.  Last year’s My Family Table by John Besh featured American classics at their finest.  It remains one of my favorite books in the category.  Now that regional American food is having a bit of a revival, I think any basic collection of American cooking books would be enriched by this volume.  This is basically the best of Junior League recipes meets Martha Stewart, and is everything you love and hate about US cuisine.  Sloppy Joes, skillet cornbread, Hoppin’ John, pigs in a blanket, pecan cheese balls, “moon pies” (a recipe to make similar cookies), layered dips, ribs…  This is a very good gift for anyone who enjoys American food and wants all the ‘classics’ in one volume.

The Great American Cookbook: 500 Time-Tested Recipes: Favorite Food from Every State by Clementine Paddleford, edited by Kelly  Alexander; Rizzoli 2011.  No photography.  This is an edited version of How America Eats by Clementine Paddleford.  It took her 12 years to write and is based on over 2,000 interviews with Americans all over the US.  This is an encyclopedic collection of recipes from every state.  It’s a trip in time to many dishes I’ve never heard of and would probably never eat!  Nonetheless it is a valuable archive of the history of food in the USA.  This is more a reference book for authenticity and historical/cultural curiosity than a book you’re likely to cook from.  All the same if you’re someone who likes stories and food, you’ll love this book.  And if you’re like me, and you like to compare recipes and see how they differ from place to place, you’ll also love this.


  1. says

    Thanks for sharing this! I appreciate it, i might convince my wife to make some of these! I own a cooking ebook website myself all about cooking ebooks! Nice to see fellow sites doing so well! keep it up :)

  2. says

    Great list here! You have totally intrigued me with your description of Polpo’s cookbook. And who doesn’t love a good Southern cookbook?! Back in the Day Bakery might have to be added to my collection too.

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