I have always been fascinated by recipes. When I was in college, I would spend hours browsing Epicurious and Martha Stewart (the only recipe websites that existed back then) and was constantly flipping through my only cookbook, The New Basics by Sheila Lukins and Julie Rosso. Fast-forward 12 years, and my love for recipes is illustrated by a collection of cookbooks that is getting seriously out of control. There’s no room in my bookshelf for any more cookbooks, so I’ve started stacking them on my fridge, but the pile is precariously high. If I had to whittle my collection down to the most important cookbooks, the ones that no home cook should live without, here are the 10 I would keep. New (and old!) home cooks, take note: These cookbooks are the ones you will actually use and can trust to make delicious and beloved dishes over and over again.
The New Basics Cookbook by Julie Rosso and Sheila Lukins ($14)
Although Julie Rosso and Sheila Lukins are best known for the Silver Palate Cookbook, their second book, The New Basics, is the one I prefer. It’s a no-nonsense, all-encompassing cookbook that includes recipes for everything from cocktails to sauces to cookies. There are no photos but hundreds of recipes, charts, menus, tips, and hand-drawn black-and-white illustrations. The recipes are easy to follow, classic, and comprehensive. In the pasta section alone, there are countless pastas: fresh summer tomato sauce, bolognese, macaroni and cheese, and squid ink fettuccine with mussels, clams, and squid. As for the rest of the recipes, some personal favorites include Canadian cheese soup; chicken, avocado, and cheddar melts; black bean vegetable chili; party ham with pineapple and bourbon; and blueberry, raspberry, and blackberry cobbler.
Plenty Cookbook by Yotam Ottolenghi ($22)
Yotam Ottolenghi is one of London’s most significant chefs. He has a small restaurant and deli empire and writes a weekly newspaper column that features mouthwatering recipes. His second cookbook, Plenty, is arguably his most popular. Plenty features magnificent, vibrantly colorful photos and is completely vegetarian. This is the sort of cookbook that you want to slowly read from cover to cover while wrapped in a blanket and sipping wine. The recipes are arranged by category—think roots, mushrooms, tomatoes, cereals, etc.—and the dishes feature an eclectic mixture of Middle Eastern, Southeast Asian, and Latin American flavors. Must-makes: the zucchini and hazelnut salad, broccoli and gorgonzola pie, and multi-vegetable paella.
Salt to Taste Cookbook by Marco Canora ($26)
Marco Canora is an Italian-born chef and James Beard winner based in New York City. He competed on a season of the Food Network’s The Next Iron Chef and has a handful of wildly popular restaurants in New York: Hearth and Terroir Wine Bar. His cookbook Salt to Taste came out in 2009 and quickly became my go-to for all things Italian. It’s filled with comforting Italian dishes, beautiful photos, and insightful culinary techniques. The recipe for Italian seafood stew, a heavenly mixture of squid, shrimp, clams, and mussels in an amazingly fragrant tomato broth, is worth the cost of the entire book. It’s one of my family’s all-time favorite dishes and celebratory enough to serve on Christmas Eve. It’s also an impressive stew that’s the perfect thing to serve to a sibling or friend’s new significant other.
The Joy of Cooking by Irma S. Rombauer ($24)
America’s original cookbook, first published in 1931, The Joy of Cooking is still a valuable resource today. Over 18 million copies of the book have been sold, and it’s been published continuously since 1936. Although there are new editions—the latest and eighth came out in 2006—if you come across an older copy, snap it up. There are no pictures, but the recipes are straightforward, and it’s a wonderful place to read about cooking techniques. You’ll learn the proper way to braise, steam, roast, sauté, and deep-fry as well as how to can, salt, smoke, and preserve. The recipes vary from a 10-minute stir-fry ideal for a weeknight to showstopping slow-cooked baby back ribs.
Damn Good Sweet Cookbook by David Guas and Raquel Pelzel ($17)
Damn Good Sweet is David Guas and Raquel Pelzel’s dessert cookbook and ode to New Orleans. Part travelogue and part memoir, Damn Good Sweet has 50 sweet recipes that are synonymous with the South. The red velvet cake calls for an entire bottle of red food coloring, but it’s the best red velvet cake I’ve ever tasted. Same goes for the banana pudding: It is to die for. If you’re a fan of beignets and bananas Foster, you’ve got to get this cookbook.
Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child ($24)
One of the most well-known cookbooks of all time is Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking. This is an exceptional cookbook and one that every home cook should have, but as noted in the movie Julie and Julia, it’s not the easiest cookbook to follow. The recipes are complex and often involve multiple steps that require you to cook up another recipe in a different section of the book before you even begin the dish you want to make. If you’re not familiar with certain cooking techniques, it can be hard to make the recipes. That being said, you can’t beat Julia’s most famous recipes for sole meunière, boeuf bourguignon, and coq au vin.
Super Natural Cooking Cookbook by Heidi Swanson ($15)
No cookbook collection is complete without an all-natural cookbook that focuses on well-being. Heidi Swanson, the founder of the blog 101 Cookbooks, is an excellent expert on the matter and proved so with her 2007 tome, Super Natural Cooking. The nutrition-packed dishes are scrumptious and satisfying, and you’ll learn everything you need to know about alternative fats, grains, flours, and sweeteners. The book is not preachy, but informative and friendly, and you’ll feel as if Swanson is your older, more health-conscious sister. Recipes include acai popsicles, quinoa crepes, and risotto-style barley.
Latin Grilling Cookbook by Lourdes Castro ($15)
Lourdes Castro is a New York–based food instructor with a huge knowledge of Latin American cuisine. In Latin Grilling, she teaches the American home cook how to host a traditional Argentine parrilla and Patagonian asado. The book has glossy pages and mouthwatering photos, and the recipes are authentic and effortless. The chapters are separated into countries, and each features a party menu, including cocktail recipe, native to each region. There are typical Mexican dishes, like guacamole, crema, and quesadillas, and less-archetypal fare, like chorizo sliders with guava ketchup, and salt-crusted beef tenderloin. If you’re into outdoor entertaining and the flavors of Latin America (and who isn’t?!), you need this book.
Chez Panisse Menu Cookbook by Alice Waters ($15)
Alice Waters, the mother of the farm-to-table movement and the restaurateur and chef behind Berkeley’s famed Chez Panisse, has published many cookbooks. My favorite and the one I find to be the most inspiring is the Chez Panisse Menu Cookbook. The book assembles 120 of the restaurant’s most iconic menus and includes special occasions and holidays. The recipes are somewhat complicated, and there are no pictures, but this book is an awesome resource for inspiration that I turn to over and over again. Her menus are seasonal and based on an event, be it Thanksgiving dinner or a midsummer meal, and provide wonderful insight as to what ingredients and dishes go for each occasion.
Ratio Cookbook by Michael Ruhlman ($11)
Ratio: The Simple Codes Behind the Craft of Everyday Cooking is not a pretty picture book of a cookbook. It’s for the foodies out there who are ready to step up their culinary game and start creating their own recipes. In Ratio, Michael Ruhlman, a cookbook writer and home cook, argues that all recipes start with simple ratios. If you know the ratio of certain dish, you can try out hundreds of variations. For example, biscuit dough is three parts flour, one part fat, and two parts liquid. The kinds of flour, fat, and liquid you use will change the flavor of the biscuit. Use white flour, vegetable oil, and buttermilk and you’ll get a different biscuit from one made with wheat flour, butter, and cream. It’s a slow read, but worth it if you’re really into recipes and cooking.
What other cookbooks would you add to this list? Tell us below.
Opening photo: Dana R. Keller