The Summer's Best (and Most Difficult) Cookbooks

I have no idea where to even begin the process of procuring an 8-pound half of a pig's head. As I typed "half pig head ... New York" into Google, I couldn't help but feel that Franny's: Simple, Seasonal, Italian, which is being lauded as one of this season's best cookbooks, was belligerently lying to me about the "simple" part.

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I have no idea where to even begin the process of procuring an 8-pound half of a pig's head. As I typed "half pig head ... New York" into Google, I couldn't help but feel that Franny's: Simple, Seasonal, Italian, which is being lauded as one of this season's best cookbooks, was belligerently lying to me about the "simple" part.

Sure, you can spend this summer reading the classics-lite or bemoaning summer reading lists ... or you could spend it cooking. With Summer Fridays (people still have those, yes?), beach houses, lazy weekends and summer shares, there's enough time to learn new recipes and enough people around who will be more than happy to help you taste the results. Here are some of our favorites.

The Book That Discouraged The New Yorker

Franny's: Simple, Seasonal, Italian by Andrew Feinberg, Francine Stephens, and Melissa Clark

The Recipe: Pork Cheek and Beef Tongue Terrine

Franny's is based on the cuisine of Franny's, the popular Brooklyn restaurant that has been named one of the best Italian spots in town. But just because its food is delicious doesn't mean it's easy to make. I wasn't the only one perplexed and mystified by the assertion that the "Pork Cheek and Beef Tongue Terrine" dish, which features the aforementioned eight-pound pig head, was "simple" and "seasonal." That recipe also gave The New Yorker's Emma Allen pause, leading her to conclude that it is one of the recipes she will never attempt. She explains,

[A]s one is striving to master their recipes, the 'easy grace' that seems to extend to the lives of Feinberg and Stephens can grate. The pair met at the Savoy, where she bartended and he worked in the kitchen; seven months later, they jetted off to Italy and were married, by the mayor of Amalfi ... their two kids, Marco and Prue, spend happy hours at farmers markets and eat (not fried) squid—because those are things that kids do!

Yes, you have that right—Franny's out-pretentioused and out-precioused the pretentious and precious folks at The New Yorker. And we sort of admire that.

The Book That Will Impress Your Friends

World-Class Swedish Cooking by Bjorn Frantzen and Daniel Lindeberg

The Recipe: Blood Dove From Loire Flavored with Pistacio and Green Pepper

"Hey, you know what's so hot right now? Swedish cooking," said none of your friends ever. But Eater assured us that "the restaurants of Sweden are the new hotness." So, with a leap of faith, we jumped into Bjorn Frantzen and Daniel Lindeberg's World-Class Swedish Cooking and found this recipe. Yes, they're talking about real doves ("mild gamey character in color, flavor, and texture"). And despite all that blood, and all the dove talk, it sorta sounds delicious (blood orange vinegar and "vanilla tones"). But good luck finding the main ingredient. And please, don't go hunting for it in Central Park. We don't endorse that sort of thing.  Maybe just stick with squab.

The Book That Will Help You Win Top Chef

Smoke & Pickles by Edward Lee

The Recipe: Piggy Burgers with Sun-Dried Tomato Ketchup

Korean food is good. Southern food is good. That said, we are pretty sure we would like the food in Smoke & Pickles—the KoSo fusion from Brooklyn-bred and three-time James Beard Award finalist Edward Lee. Lee was also on Top Chef, which he did not win, partly because I was not a judge. Then again, I am easily swayed by any meal that incorporates ingredients you'd find in a low country boil (shrimp, crab, potatoes, corn). And, yes, Lee has a boil recipe ... which I'd pay more attention to if my kitchen had burners big enough to orchestrate that type of meal. Instead, I settled for Lee's pork sliders, which he says are a take on a pork burger he found in a McDonald's in northern Spain. By "take," Lee means upgrade. Toppings like kimchi (which Lee shows you how to make) and pork cracklin' (yes, these are as tasty as they sound) turn that McDonald's pork burger into something you can be proud of.

The Book That'll Turn You Into a Pescatarian

Seafood by Par-Amders Bergqvist and Anders Engvall

The Recipe: Haddock Ceviche with Tostones

Regardless of what our completely unscientific poll on everyone's favorite summer food (tomato sandwiches, really?) says, summer is the time for seafood. And it's also a time for not turning on the oven, which brings us to Seafood and its ceviche recipe. As you surely know, "ceviche" is loosely translated to mean "spicy miracle from heaven." And Bergqvist and Engvall have a good one that incorporates passionfruit and mangoes with haddock. The cool thing here is that each of the book's 52 recipes has a suggested rock album pairing, meaning Bergqvist and Engvall sorta want you to be listening to Bad Religion while you're, say, shucking oysters. Everybody wins.

The Book That Will Teach You How to Speak Tagalog

The Recipe: Lumpia Shanghai

Full disclosure: I'm a Filipino, and nothing pleases me more than Filipino food turning into a very popular trend here in Manhattan. Part of that happiness is derived from the fact that I now can procure sisig (sizzling, spicy, pork cheek) without having to go to Queens. There's also a part of me that loves sharing the food my mom cooks with my friends. And now, with Adobo Road, everyone can cook for me! (Muahahahah). Just kidding, but if you do ever want to warm a Filipino person's heart, please learn how to make lumpia, the Filipino version of spring rolls. They're more sturdy and a bit more hearty than the rolls you'd see in Vietnam, but, at the same time, they're lighter than what you tend to find in Chinese restaurants. And if you make these, and learn how to wrap them (a trick that Gapultos deftly guides you through), I will heartily applaud you ... right before inviting myself to dinner.

The Book You Need Because Desserts Don't Make Themselves

Peanut Butter Comfort by Averie Sunshine

The Recipe: Caramelized Peanut Butter and Banana Upside Down Chocolate Cake

Okay, we're sort of pleased that there is a person out in the world with the last name Sunshine who specializes in making peanut-butter inspired desserts. And the Peanut Butter Banana Upside Down Cake is a doozy, turning 16 ingredients into a shiny, peanut butter-sauced behemoth of a sugary calorie-bomb. Sunshine calls the cake an "ultimate favorite" and claims that this cake "has it all going for it." That may sound like hyperbole, but it's not entirely unjustified. Specifically, Sunshine is referring to the chocolate cake foundation of the dessert — it's her go-to, she claims. We'll take her word for it. 

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.