Growing up watching my grandma cooking, I was always intrigued when she was sending me to get a certain book from the upstairs room. Why does she need a cookbook, I was thinking, doesn’t she know how to cook everything?!
I opened the index and started searching with my finger for the recipe she told me.
Most of the times I had to look after a dessert. Other times just pickles or some very complicated stew with meat.
She told me to measure the flour, sugar and butter very meticulously and that if I make a mistake the cake won’t rise. I knew how bad it was for a cake not to rise, so I always got scared.
Seeing me like that, she would always make a joke and say “oh no big deal we’ll make another one and we’ll feed the kitties with the failed one”. Then she kept teasing me while measuring and would help me when she saw that I lost focus.
When losing my focus, I would just sit on the bench and watch her agile hands work so flawlessly. Or I would start to write and draw on the back of her cookbooks.
She cherished this memories so much. Every time I went home she used to show me the cookbooks and start reading out loud my testimonies: ‘my name is Anamaria Victoria Rusu (that’s my full name) I was born on the 25th of December and I just washed my hair. I am in the outdoor kitchen with my grandma and we are making a cheesecake. It’s raining now. Today is 17th of May 2000. Bye-bye’
I was 10 years old. I remember it like it was yesterday.
So that’s how I first met cookbooks.
I think we all have a repertoire of favourite and very cooked dishes. And what I understood then was that flavourings are endless and it's refreshing to surprise ourselves and others with new flavours.
Over the years, I collected some beautiful cookbooks that I always return to when developing recipes or
want to get a bit creative in the kitchen. I also just love to read them and make experiments in my head on how the dishes could turn out.
No doubt the Silver Spoon is one of my all time favorites.
Silver Spoon is also called ‘the bible of authentic Italian cooking’ and for a good reason. All the recipes sound so well thought, the techniques are simple, all the ingredients required are whole and fresh and flavourings are just on point. Sounds like the essence of Italy, right?
Look at this one:
Crauti con funghi e patate
Sauerkraut with mushrooms and potatoes
25 g butter/olive oil
1 onion, chopped
200 g sauerkraut, drained and rinsed
200 g mushroom caps, sliced
300 g potatoes, thinly sliced
Melt the butter/olive oil in saucepan, add the onion and cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes until lightly browned. Add sauerkraut and mushrooms, increase heat to high and cook, stirring frequently, for about 8 minutes. Add potatoes, season with salt, reduce the heat, cover and cook for 45 minutes, adding a little water if necessary.
Like this recipe, lots of them are naturally plant based.
It has a huge veggie chapter and the book walks you through each veggie or ingredient with at least 5 recipes. Some even have 20. It’s a big book but it’s beautifully structured. It talks about cooking techniques, tools, equipment and gives you a good amount of ‘building-blocks’ recipes like doughs or sauces.
And you can definitely find something for each moment of any season.
Another favourite of mine is The Glorious Vegetables of Italy by Domenica Marchetti.
This one has a focus on vegetables and offers a mix of tradition and innovation.
The first recipe that caught my attention was the Carrot Polenta Cake with Marsala which I instantly went and cooked it.
As Domenica Marchetti said ‘This book is my tribute to Italy’s many glorious vegetables, from the tender green fava beans of early spring to the bright, sweet orange-fleshed pumpkins of autumn.’
Did I mention the beautiful photography in this book? Love it.
This book is my tribute to Italy’s many glorious vegetables, from the tender green fava beans of early spring to the bright, sweet orange-fleshed pumpkins of autumn.
Did I mention the beautiful photography in this book? Love it.
Regarding sourdough, there are only 2 cookbooks for me and they are Tartine Bread and Open Crumb Mastery by Trevor J. Wilson (e-book).
I started baking with Tartine and it taught me so much. Everything I need (for now) I can find in this book and it is perfect for beginners as well as for advanced bakers.
It comes with step by step pictures and everything looks divine. It’s very well written so you’ll understand no matter how complex the wild yeast seems to you.
As for the Open Crumb Mastery, well… I have no words to describe how much of a surprise was discovering him on Instagram. Through his book, he gave me a solid understanding of the whole sourdough process and how to achieve various crumbs; so much more detailed compared with what I was used to read about sourdough.
Other cookbooks I frequently return to is the dessert cookbook of Pana Barbounis, Pana Chocolate the Recipes. If you’re trying to master the raw chocolate game, this is the book.
The Art of Pasta is also an old friend of mine since I received it from my sister a few years ago. I find the Making and Cooking homemade pasta chapter and the uncooked sauces chapter very useful.
The Noma Guide to Fermentation is more on the experimental side, but holds lots of knowledge and is fascinating me everytime I open in. It definitely tackles my creativity.
And let’s not forget about romanian classic cookbooks like Silvia Jurcan’s Carte de bucate which are true gems. Always check these out especially when making desserts - exactly like my grandma. And the savoury recipes are so diverse and interesting, I was shocked!
But what was I expecting knowing that our romanian cuisine is a blend of so many european cuisines?
While Romania was somewhat at the border between Europe and the Middle East, it remained in an almost permanent state of conflict throughout history. Turkish, Tatar, Slavic, Austro-hungarian, German, Russian invasions and occupations led to a mix of cultures, and thus a mixture of cuisines from all sides. Romania was left with adapted but still incredibly flavourful variations of dishes, be it veggie or meat based.
So sad there is no translated option for these amazing cookbooks. But no worries, I am here to share with you as many recipes as I can, maybe a nice idea would be to make a distinctive category for them? Hmm, nice idea indeed.
In another train of thought, I am currently reading an extraordinary book that stole my heart: On food and cooking,The science and lore of the kitchen by Harold McGee.
On Food and Cooking pioneered the translation of technical food science into cook-friendly kitchen science and helped give birth to the inventive culinary movement known as "molecular gastronomy." Though other books have now been written about kitchen science, On Food and Cooking remains unmatched in the accuracy, clarity, and thoroughness of its explanations, and the intriguing way in which it blends science with the historical evolution of foods and cooking techniques.
A must, for sure!
What are your favourite cookbooks? Do you use them frequently, love to collect them or you're more of a google searcher?