Frances Mayes has lived under the Tuscan sun for more than two decades and has opened her home and her heart to us in her best-selling books. Now, with The Tuscan Sun Cookbook, embellished by 150 gorgeous full-color photos, she and her husband Ed invite us into their kitchen to share the treasures of la cucina Toscana. The Mayeses have learned about Tuscan food from the inside out, from the locals—friends, neighbors, restaurateurs, butchers, cheese and winemakers—and they’ve acquired the Tuscan obsession with food and the joy in preparing and sharing it. Most of the recipes (more than 150) are simple and traditional, ranging from antipasti to dolci, with stops for a passel of perfect pasta—including spaghetti with arugula and pancetta and Orecchiette with Shrimp—and classics like Chicken with Artichokes, Sun-Dried Tomatoes and Chickpeas and Green Beans with Black Olives. Whether Frances is writing recipes, invoking the essence of real extra-virgin olive oil or the “liquid sunlight” of a lemon, she infuses everything with her lyric love of this place in the sun.

REGIONAL RICHES
Texas Eats is Robb Walsh’s unabashedly admiring ode to the many cuisines that call Texas home. Our second largest state has more than 30 ethnic groups that have adapted their specialties to the varied Texan landscape, forming a fabulous hodgepodge of gastronomic hybrids. Though Tex-Mex, now internationally known, is the most famous, Walsh highlights many others, like Czech-Tex. He’s organized the book by region, highlighting the signature dishes that each produces, with a side order of local food lore and intriguing history. In the Coastal Bend area we’re treated to the glory of Galveston Oysters—scalloped, grilled, fried, in nachos and on the half shell—spectacular shrimp dishes and the growing influence of the Cajun Invasion. And so it goes, chapter after tempting chapter, from Goulash and Rehwurst to King Ranch Casserole, Texas Sugo, Texas Pho and Spicy Viet-Tex Mayo. Deep in the heart of Texas there’s a marvelous melting pot of multi-ethnic food.

TOP PICK IN COOKBOOKS
Always passionate about cooking, Crescent Dragonwagon is back with Bean by Bean, a super-celebration of beans, always cheap and now chic, too. She’s collected and concocted more than 200 recipes to demonstrate their virtuosity (all tagged for dietary predilection: vegetarian, vegan, omnivorous, etc). Beans can start a meal (check out the Marrakech Melange), star in soups and salads and serve as amiable entrĂ©es in curries, casseroles and, of course, chilis, as well as sensational sides, bread and even dessert, as in Red Bean Ice Cream. Crescent starts with Bean Basics—choosing, using, nutrition and cooking methods, including de-gassification. As good a writer as she is a cook, her notes and short essays are fun, informative and brimming with her inimitable enthusiasm.

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