7 Cookbooks with Jersey Roots to Upgrade Your Isolation Cooking Routine

Count on these Garden State authors to inspire you to cook while practicing social distancing.

Shelter-in-place cooking can feel like an amazing escape or an obligation. If you’ve already cooked through your own go-tos, these cookbooks will offer a jolt of inspiration.

FOR BAKERS: Modern Jewish Baker, Shannon Sarna

As the reality of shelter-in-place sets in, cookbook author and editor of The Nosher Shannon Sarna hosted a Zoom challah class. While she demoed braiding techniques, her youngest daughter strolled into the scene—and it was kind of perfect. In that moment, Sarna was all of us, wrestling pets and kids as we try to work. Sarna’s book covers heavy hitters in the Jewish baking canon, from challah and babka to rugelach and matza. Yet she’s not a traditionalist, offering creative riffs for each master recipe. (Think s’mores babka.) Bonus: Kneading dough is incredibly soothing right now. If you’re nervous about technique, relax. The book is packed with photos. Besides, as Sarna said to the class: “If your challah isn’t absolutely perfect, you still made fresh, homemade challah, and all bread is delicious.” Cheers to that.

FOR PANTRY CHEFS: Onions Etcetera, Kate Winslow and Guy Ambrosino

Lambertville couple Kate Winslow and Guy Ambrosino’s homage to the not-so-humble onion begins with the story of “fried water.” Ambrosino’s aunts long reminisced about a “magical soup that their mother made when the pantry was bare.” It started with onions (as most good things do). First, she sizzled them down in olive oil until they turned golden. Then into the water they went, creating a savory broth. Paired with egg and stale bread, the dish was transcendent. “It’s a wonder how a couple of onions can be combined and stretched to feed a large family,” the couple writes. While some ingredients may be tough to find right now, alliums offer ample inspiration—especially in Winslow and Ambrosino’s hands. No wonder: Winslow is a Gourmet alum, and Ambrosino’s photographs grace the cookbooks of legends like Fabrizia Lanza.

FOR TRAVELERS: Tasting Rome, Katie Parla and Kristina Gill

It may be a while until we travel, but cooking the world is the next best thing. Here, Jersey-born, Italy-based Katie Parla and co-author Kristina Gill bring Roman cuisine to life. As with most things, simplicity yields the richest rewards. Yet the book offers more than recipes. In thoughtful headnotes, the book traces the evolution of Cucina Romana from ancient times to today, presenting both traditional and new-school dishes that craft a portrait of the Eternal City. From suppli (Roman rice croquettes) to cacio e pepe, these recipes are high on comfort and flavor. Bonus points to the suppli with cacio e pepe seasoning. Also essential is a stellar cocktail chapter that will put your Campari and prosecco to good use. Zoom Apertivo hour, anyone?

FOR HEAT SEEKERS: Peppers of the Americas, Maricel E. Presilla

At Maricel E. Presilla’s Cucharamama in Hoboken, peppers create a culinary heartbeat across the menu. While the restaurant is temporarily closed in the wake of COVID-19, her capsicum-centric tome reveals the research that informs her cooking. A three-time James Beard award winner, Presilla approaches her subject like a historian, delving into an ingredient she deems “the great staple food of the New World.” Yet the writing is personal, revealing how the peppers in her backyard garden have shaped her perspective as a chef. Raised in Cuba, her culinary heritage was “less fiery,” she reveals. Yet research into Latin American cuisine sparked a love affair with peppers. Here, she tells the story of nearly 200 peppers, with selected recipes along the way.

FOR A PERSONAL TAKE: Pow! My Life in 40 Feasts, Jesse Jones and Linda West Eckhardt 

From his childhood in Newark and summers at his grandparents’ Southern home to experiences working for top Jersey chefs and the heartbreak of opening and closing his restaurant, Jones draws on real life as the frame for his cookbook. Pairing personal memory and a year’s worth of culinary feasts, the book serves as a reminder that food and memory are indelibly linked. Fittingly, the book begins with a spiced molasses cake in homage to his grandmother. In the headnote to its spice glaze, he summarizes his culinary perspective: “I always feel I have the best of both worlds, with my heart in New Jersey, but girded by the soul of the south.” That makes for some delicious reading.

FOR JERSEY PRIDE: Dishing Up New Jersey, John Holl

John Holl is known as one of Jersey’s preeminent beer writers, but he also knows his way around the state’s kitchens. With the restaurant industry firmly in the eye of the COVID-19 storm, his book serves as a reminder why they deserve our support. Holl’s writing reverberates with Jersey pride, and an ample dash of droll wit. From diner food on up to the fancy plates, he offers a smart snapshot of Jersey’s culinary scene. While we collectively daydream about future days when bar pies with friends are back on the table, it’s the next best thing to a 3D visit. Recipes cover everything from the ideal ratio for a pork roll, egg and cheese; to Boardwalk fudge from Jenkinson’s; shrimp with garlic sauce from Seabra’s Marisqueira; and beyond.

IN TRIBUTE: Flavorwalla, Floyd Cardoz

As we went to press, the food community was reeling from the loss of Verona resident chef Floyd Cardoz from complications related to COVID-19 at a hospital in New Jersey, which he called home. Known for his groundbreaking Manhattan restaurants Tabla and Bombay Bread Bar, the Mumbai-born Top Chef Masters alum was a multiple James Beard Award nominee. In Flavorwalla, he reveals how he translated the flavors he came to love over a lifetime of professional cooking at home. “I’m the flavorwalla,” he writes, “because I have made my mark as a creator of bold, exciting food with balanced layers of flavors and textures that play off each other.” May that legacy live on in the years to come.
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