If 2007 was all about fast, faster, fastest foods, then 2008 marked a return to the simple life, la dolce vita, getting back to basics. Some of my favourite cookbooks of the year reflected that shift, perhaps partly because more people were dining in than eating out.

 

Giada’s Kitchen: New Italian Favorites by Giada De Laurentiis
I’ll begin with Giada. Not only is she lovely to look at, but you have to give her credit for her straightforward recipes. Not one of them have gone astray in my kitchen. From this cookbook, I have made asparagus lasagne, sweet and sticky chicken drumsticks, and plan to make the hazelnut mascarpone cake for my dad’s birthday. I’ve also flagged the rigatoni with squash and prawns and the prosciutto mozzarella pinwheels. As with most of Giada’s cookbooks, the glossy photos are plentiful, and she offers helpful tips about freezing and cooking ahead above each recipe.

 

Cooking for Friends: Food from My Table by Gordon Ramsay
I have to say I adore Gordon Ramsay, but I was disheartened after buying one of his “fast food” cookbooks. Not only were some of the ingredients ones you won’t find as readily in North American groceries, but the recipes weren’t as accessible for guests who may not be adventurous. This book, however, is perhaps even more simple and direct than its “fast food” peer. From this book, I made the broccoli, Stilton and pear soup, the farfalle with bacon, peas, and sage, roasted tomatoes with marjoram, and I’ve flagged the coffee and almond crunch cake. All of the recipes I made were elegant to serve to guests, but also delicious and uncomplicated.

 

Barefoot Contessa Back to Basics by Ina Garten
Ina, Ina, Ina. The world would be a much sadder place without you. She writes the kinds of recipes that make people go mmmmm and renounce their diets. From this cookbook, I made the tomato and goat cheese tarts, and the French chocolate bark. I plan to make the affogato sundae and homemade granola bars, among other recipes. But what I like best about Ina Garten’s cookbooks is that she often features helpful tips about entertaining, like the CDs she plays for her guests, or in this one, 10 things not to serve at a dinner party (like beets, offal, corn on the cob, or poppy seeds.) Some are common sense, others are simply savvy tips from the ultimate entertainer.

 

David Rocco’s Dolce Vita
Perhaps I put my foot in my mouth when I dismissed Rocco as just a pretty boy who doesn’t know how to cook. When I received his cookbook, my jaw fell open. Indeed, he is a pretty boy, in pretty photos of pictaresque Italy but he is also a storyteller and a passionate foodie who has introduced new places and people to armchair travellers around the world. His cookbook is no exception. While the recipes are simple, the cookbook brings the food to life with stunning photos. From this book, I made the hot pink beet risotto and butternut squash soup. While I am more apt to reach for my Jamie Oliver cookbooks or tattered Marcella Hazan and Giada De Laurentiis recipes when in the mood for pasta, this is the kind of book you can flip open at random as you would a travel book, as it takes you into the homes, gardens, and kitchens of Italian people. This is the kind of book you’d keep away from the kitchen counter to avoid oil splatters.

 

More Fast Food My Way by Jacques Pepin
While walking to the cafeteria at my workplace, I clutched at my coworker’s elbow. Is that Jacques Pepin, I whispered? She didn’t know who I was talking about, but insisted I introduce myself. I spluttered and kept walking, embarrassed and not knowing what to say. He was there to appear on our morning show, that day. I am still kicking myself. I left this book last because I haven’t tried any of the recipes – yet. But, I plan to make several, including the cod in olive-tomato crust, sauteed stuffed figs with blueberries, apricot clafoutis, and roasted split chcken with mustard crust. True to his promise, this is a no fuss, no muss cookbook with short ingredient lists and a brief set of directions for people who are afraid to cook, pressed by time or limited by a poorly stocked supermarket.