The Piglet Tournament of Cookbooks has a long and storied past. There are illustrious judges, controversial decisions and upsets, comment squabbles galore, and really solid books. If you're with us for your very first Piglet (which starts next Tuesday, on March 5—huzzah!), you can read all about how it works here.
But seriously...about those books. Each year, the title that takes home the prized Piglet trophy (yeah, there's actually a trophy) is the best of the best, the crème de la crème, the cookbook we couldn't live without. Collectively, they're the books we turn to time and again, the ones that have changed the way we cook and bake. They're the stuff of legends.
So, to get us all in the Piglet spirit—newcomers and superfans both—I am proud to share your Piglet winners through the famed history of the tournament, so you're all caught up for this year's action. You'll also see some recipes from each winner, so you get a sense of the deliciousness that earned the book its top spot.
Seven Fires: Grilling the Argentine Way by Francis Mallmann & Peter Kaminsky
This book, at its best, will totally change the face of your outdoor cooking game. And at its worst, will teach you how to fire up some really good char-grilled meals, Argentinian-style.
According to judge Gail Simmons: "It was Seven Fires that I kept coming back to. Not only did I learn a great deal about this style of cooking, but I felt a sincere sense of familiarity with the author and his fierce passion for the foods of Argentina. I loved that Mallmann gives a realistic indoor and outdoor option for every dish and a thorough explanation of its significance. And his voice, conveyed by American food writer Peter Kaminsky (who has also co-authored books with Daniel Boulud and Gray Kunz), is commanding and dramatic, imparting a sense of romance that I doubt could be pulled off by an American. Mallmann skillfully captures the vast expanse of his country’s cuisine and leaves me wanting more.
Also, Nora Ephron nearly cut her finger off while making the Potato Dominoes. It was worth it. (Recipe below—caution, or a mandoline hand guard, is advised.)
Good to the Grain: Baking with Whole-Grain Flours by Kim Boyce
If you're gluten-free, or are just interested in learning about alternative whole-grain flours, like amaranth or teff, this book is your baking-sherpa (TBH, wish I had one of those all the time).
Deb Perelman of Smitten Kitchen, who knows a thing or two about baking, said the book was a "clear winner". "Cookbooks these days seem full of promises: that they will make your life easier, your jeans size smaller, your time in the kitchen shorter and the earth a better place through a blend of fresh/organic/local/free-range ingredients and I am delighted, because these things are important to me, too. But in the end, I am a glutton and if a recipe doesn’t work well and the food does not taste good, I don’t want to eat it. Whole grains or not, the recipes in Good to the Grain will go on repeat in your kitchen, not because they are chock full of ingredients we should have more of in our diets, but because they work, and they are delicious."
If you don't believe Deb, check out the recipes below. Those whole-wheat chocolate chip cookies speak for themselves.
The Art of Living According to Joe Beef: A Cookbook of Sorts by David McMillan, Frédéric Morin, and Meredith Erickson
This book is about inspiration as much as really tasty food. In the debut cookbook from the celebrated Montreal restaurant, Joe Beef, you'll find recipes (though they're anything but standard) for the requisite smoked meats and foie gras. But you'll also find "Kale for a Hangover" and "Carrots With Honey."
Per Dorie Greenspan and her son Josh, "A book like this is rare. The writing is too good to miss, the people in the book are too deeply interesting not to spend time with, and the food is too lusty not to revel in the indulgence. It's not a perfect book—the recipes work, though some of them are a little less polished than the prose used to write them—but it's an exciting book, an inspiration and a bright star for other talented cooks and writers to follow."
There's a little somethin' somethin' for everyone in Joe Beef, and the recipes below reflect that.
Critically-acclaimed chef April Bloomfield may have written this ode to her pig (clearly welcome in our world), but she celebrates so much more in this book.
Kurt Andersen liked "the way Bloomfield's plainspoken regular-girl voice comes through strong, such as her description of being a blotto English teenager, her "eyes squinty like two piss-holes in the snow." Her dishes are mostly like that as well—simple (what she calls 'rustic') but tasty, vivid, and idiosyncratic, pub food rethought with care and originality. My dinner of Carrot, Avocado and Orange Salad and Sausage-Stuffed Onions was delicious. And hereafter I will cook oatmeal with half water and half milk, and feel unwise for buying (inevitably crappy) tomatoes in winter."
See the famous oatmeal recipe below.
The New Persian Kitchen by Louisa Shafia
For your primer on the Persian cuisine of Iran—traditional recipes and more modern takes—look no further than Louisa Shafia's book.
April Bloomfield (hey, Piglet friend!) sang its praises: "When I’m looking to cook from somewhere other than my own memory, I look for clearly written recipes. I look for easy-to-follow steps. But above all, as a professional chef, I’m drawn to adventurous cookbooks, especially those that are bright and colorful and that draw me in—and away from what I normally make in the kitchen. Those are the types of books I can sit down with and read in just a day. The New Persian Kitchen is one such book—and because of that, it takes the win."
"Bright and colorful" is right! Just look at these following lively-hued dishes.
The brainchild of the former pastry chef of famed N.Y.C. restaurant, Del Posto, some of these kooky, quirky, utterly delicious desserts take a second to make (as well as a bit of imagination, and some special equipment). But the results are well-worth the effort.
Bill Buford raves. "It is humble. It is brave. It is extreme. It is wacky. It is by far and away the best anti-cookbook cookbook I have ever read. I will be reading it again and again. It is genius. Bravo, Brooks Headley!"
The Hot Bread Kitchen Cookbook: Artisanal Baking from Around the World by Jessamyn Waldman Rodriguez
Bread from around the world. Bread from around the world! Plus, the book's recipes come from the amazing multiethnic N.Y.C. bakery with a fantastic mission—to bring together immigrant women-bakers from across the globe.
Yotam Ottolenghi couldn't have better things to say about the book. He remarks on how "many things I wanted to try, to make, to eat at home. At the same time as having a really clear focus—the book is full of recipes from women from all over the world who have come together to work at the bakery in exchange for training and education—it is absolutely rammed with all sorts of other information. We get baking tips and tricks, in page-long instructions and little quick-fire tidbits both; we get baker profiles; we get business advice for those wanting to set up their own company, and snippets on what the author has learned about juggling her career and family life. All of these weave together to give the book such a strong identity; it’s the sort of volume you want to have in both the kitchen and in bed, simply to read for pleasure at night."
I'd like to read the book and snack on the below Persian flatbread in bed, thankyouverymuch.
Asha Gomez's cookbook connects the author's past and present, bringing together the bright flavors of Kerala, in South India, with iconic recipes from the American South.
As Talia Baiocchi puts it, beautifully, "My Two Souths is a compelling invitation into a kitchen that is singular in its perspective and striking in its ability to weave in ingredients like kodampuli and garam masala, but still read, firstly, like a cookbook about American Southern food. It is a testament to the very spirit of this country’s culinary present: American cooking is as much about mining our country’s past and indigenous flavors as it is about a cook like Gomez mining her own."
If the below Kerala Fried Chicken is the country's culinary present, I'm even more excited to learn about its future.
Kachka: A Return to Russian Cooking by Bonnie Frumkin Morales
This book, which has the same name as Bonnie Frumkin Morales' popular Portland restaurant, is a love letter to the cooking of the chef-owner's heritage. It's also so comforting, you'll want it to tuck you into bed.
Carmen Maria Machado praises the book for being part-cookbook, part-memoir, and "an exploration of the space Russian cooking occupies in Morales’ life. I was delighted that the section about infused vodkas ends with a discussion of drinking culture and a list of toasts, and spreads about Russian markets, pantry staples, and sample menus. I admire how the author approaches the thorny nature of the Russian/Soviet Union diaspora; how she tackles the multifaceted identity of her cookbook’s food in relation to a constellation of nations and peoples, cast against the width and breadth of the region’s history. The text is sharp, funny, playful, and informative, and the biographical opening is beautiful—the story of the origins of the cookbook’s name made my nose tingle like I was about to cry."
The soulful, stick-to-your-ribs meals in the book—like in the two recipes that follow—just about make me cry, too.
Made you look! We don't know this one yet, because the upcoming Piglet is going to help us find out. Will it be 2018's "Buzziest Cookbook", or the newest installment from the author of The Baking Bible? Only time will tell.
But I will tell you—now—who's going to help us decide. Without further ado, here, in alphabetical order and definitely not the order of the tournament (you'll have to tune in next week to get that info), are the 15 illustrious judges who will put this year's books to the test:
The Piglet—inspired by The Morning News' Tournament of Books—is where the 16 most notable cookbooks of the year face off in a NCAA-style bracketed tournament. Watch the action and weigh in on the results!GET THE LATEST