The best cookbooks to buy for Christmas gifts 2023
Tailored to the people you’re thinking of giving them to
ETDT recommendations and round-ups are normally for paying subscribers but ‘cos it’s Christmas and ‘cos I love books this is a free post. (For moneysaving wine tips, recipes and restaurant recommendations you can help keep this show on the road by signing up for as little as £4.50)
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. There is no such thing as a best cookbook any more than there is a best wine. It depends who you’re giving it to. Some will be looking for inspo for easy midweek meals, others to be stretched or luxuriate in bed with a good read.
That said I thought it might be helpful to indicate which books I would like to have been given if I hadn’t already got them so I’ve put an asterisk against them. But frankly any of these is a joy not least because they’re in hardback. Isn’t there something wonderful about cooking from an actual book rather than a web page?
The list is not comprehensive - there are books that have been shortlisted elsewhere that I haven’t managed to get my hands on yet (Ravinder Bhogal’s Comfort and Joy for example) and I haven’t yet cooked from many of the ones I’ve highlighted though they’re generally from authors whose recipes I rate. I might add to this post as and when I do.
I also haven’t linked these titles to Amazon ‘cos I try - not always successfully - not to buy from them. If you can’t find them in a local bookshop try bookshop.org, hive.co.uk or Waterstones if you’re in the UK.
For Italian food lovers who appreciate beautiful books
Russell Norman’s Brutto* £32 Ebury Press
Ironically Brutto means ugly but this collection of Florentine recipes couldn’t be more beautiful - a fitting tribute to its author Russell Norman who tragically died last week. It tells you how to make his legendary negroni (though at £5 a pop it’s probably cheaper to drink it at the restaurant) and his penne with vodka and tomato sauce and pappardelle with rabbit, lemon and herbs both of which I’ve enjoyed there. I love the fact that the binding, as well as being stylish, enables you to lay the book out flat when you’re cooking from it.
For French food lovers who appreciate France’s multicultural heritage
Alex Jackson’s Frontières £30 Pavilion
This highly original cookbook by the excellent Alex Jackson of Noble Rot is French food seen through the prism of the départements that border France’s boundaries so there is food from Alsace, the Alps (including Noble Rot’s chicken with morels and vin jaune), the Riviera, south-west France and, perhaps more tenuously, North Africa (though who doesn’t want to. make a seven hour roasted leg of lamb spiced like a mechoui “adapted for someone who doesn’t want to dig a huge pit in their garden”?) The quatre-epices ham with baked potatoes and choucroute which he suggests for New Year’s Day also sounds epic. For an ambitious cook who likes a big project.
Writers you can never have too much of (and whose recipes actually work)
Diana Henry’s Roast Figs, Sugar Snow* £22 Aster
This reissue, twenty years on, of one of Diana’s earliest books is obviously designed to keep us going until we wait for her seminal book North. Even if you - or your recipient - has the original version, it might well be falling apart by this time so it’s worth investing in this handsomely produced update.
It could easily have been rebranded as a Christmas book there are so many tempting recipes to make over the coming weeks including the Danish roast pork with pickled prunes (one of Diana’s own favourites), gin and juniper cured salmon with apple and fennel cream and ‘snow biscuits’. Magical.
Sabrina Ghayour - Flavour £26 Aster
There are always 3 or 4 recipes in any Sabrina Ghayour book I end up cooking on repeat - which is apparently what most people make from any cookbook they own. I currently have my eye on ‘hummus’ salad, sweet and fragrant mushroom salad which Sabrina says she made 3 days in a row and the harissa, tahini and lamb spaghetti but there are so many clever and inventive ideas. A must for Ghayour fans
Claire Thomson’s One Pan Chicken £20 Quadrille
Claire, aka 5oclockapron on instagram, is the queen of family cooking and since chicken is a staple in most households you’ll find this collection of one pot dishes immensely useful too. I tried her chicken braciole when we were making a reel together which is easily good enough to be a dinner party dish and am aching to make her chicken piccata and lemongrass, lime leaf and ginger chicken.
For veggie friends who need to get out of a rut
Joe Woodhouse’s More Daily Veg* £22 Kyle Books
I loved Joe Woodhouse’s first book Your Daily Veg and this is just as enticing. The added bonus of Joe also being a photographer is that it has a picture of every recipe. As a Brussels sprout fan I can’t wait to make his roast Brussels sprouts with whipped tahini and spicy tomato chutney, the whole baked baby squash with cheddar, cream and oats and the Urojo-Zanzibar potato soup - who wouldn’t with a name like that?
For someone who wants to cook more sustainably
Jenny Chandler’s A Good Appetite £20 National Trust
Jenny wrote this book for the National Trust and as a friend and neighbour I can vouch for the fact she lives the life she recommends - shopping from small shops, buying in season and minimising waste. While many of the recipes are vegetable-based her suggestions on how to incorporate meat into your diet in a sustainable way are particularly helpful. Try her ‘eke out the meat’ beef stew which stretches 500g of meat to feed 6-8. A practical and inspiring guide to eating well.
For someone who might feel slightly guilty about having another cookbook
These delicious things £25 Pavilion
An anthology of recipes might not be immediately appealing. It doesn’t have the ‘voice’ of a solo-authored cookbook but a) it’s in aid of a good cause (Magic Breakfast) b) all the food writers and chefs involved who include Jamie, Nigella and Ottolenghi are putting forward one of the recipes that mean something to them personally and c) it’s got a great marmalade recipe in it (my mum’s)!
For those who like to take a cookbook to bed (of whom I am definitely one)
Bee Wilson’s The Secret of Cooking* £28 Fourth Estate
There are so many categories of reader to whom this widely acclaimed book would appeal - someone who loves to read, someone who always grappled with and lacks confidence in their cooking and someone who’s seeking solace in the kitchen after a breakup, as indeed Bee did herself, to name three. Even the chapter headings - Be your own guest (cooking alone), welcome all eaters and cook for the life you have (and make it better) are empathetic. Just a wonderfully kind and inspiring book
Paul Flynn’s Butter Boy* £35 Nine Bean Rows
Paul Flynn is one of the least cheffy chefs I know and I mean that as a compliment. This is a terrific collection of recipes from his tenure as cookery writer for the Irish Times - dated so you can look at, say, November 27th and find what he was making (sticky duck, date and potato cake as it turns out.). His burrata with red cabbage, pomegranate and orange is apparently a Christmas favourite in the Flynn household. It may become one in mine. One of those books where you find you’ve post-it-noted practically every recipe.
For friends who love to read about food but don’t need pictures or recipes
Fuchsia Dunlop’s Invitation to a Banquet £25 Particular Books
When I picked this up I was expecting extravagant multi-course menus for celebrations such as the Chinese New Year but in fact it’s a deep dive into Chinese ingredients, dishes and techniques that will make you appreciate this most misunderstood of cuisines so much better. Dunlop manages to be both scholarly and wildly funny at times. The chapter on ‘tongue and teeth’ alone is worth the cover price. For the food geek in your life.
Anya von Bremzen’s National Dish £22 Pushkin Press
Another great bit of story telling about the evolution of seven iconic dishes - pot au feu, ramen, mole and pizza among them through the cities that shaped them. Anya brings a journalistic eye to the book with great descriptions and conversations with the people she encounters. I love this from the tapas chapter - ‘eating curls of exalted quality jamon has the mildly intoxicating effect of a slow release endorphin bomb’. It finishes with an immensely personal and moving chapter on the heritage of borsch which is ironically claimed by both Russia and the Ukraine.
Eat This, Drink That is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.