Many also assume a fair amount of knowledge, though, or at least cooking sense. Probably because a different type of cook will be attracted to them, not all recipes are spelled out in Julia Child-dense detail, which is fine if you're supremely comfortable at the stove but can be a problem if you're not sure how long fish needs to simmer before it starts to fall apart.
Some of these books are meant for weekend cooking, when you're looking for recreation and have the time to lavish on one duck that needs to be stuffed, poached, chilled, carved into serving pieces and finally grilled.
Others make the old "60-Minute Gourmet" seem 45 minutes behind the times. Many of the vegetable recipes in "The Silver Spoon," for instance, take all of three steps (cut carrots into matchsticks, melt Roquefort with milk, combine).
It's hard to pin down what's behind this burst of seriousness, and it may just be cyclical. Cookbooks always go through fat and lean times. But even Nach Waxman, the owner of the Kitchen Arts & Letters bookstore in New York City, and the oracle of the American stove, says: "I'm not sure I can talk about trends, but I feel pretty good about what I'm seeing this year."
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Make room on your shelves
Of the many cookbooks out this fall, these are some of the meatier choices:
"The Arab Table: Recipes and Culinary Traditions" by May S. Bsisu (Morrow, $34.95) A serious overview of the traditional cooking and pantries in the Middle East and North Africa, with an excellent mix of the familiar (tabbouleh) and the surprising (beets with tahini).
"La Bonne Cuisine de Madame E. Saint-Ange" by Madame Evelyn Saint-Ange and Paul Aratow (Ten Speed Press, $40) A reissued version of a 1927 French cookbook that's very much of its time.
"Dough" by Richard Bertinet (Kyle Cathie Limited, $29.95) A sensual lesson in bread-baking by a British cooking teacher complete with step-by-step color photos and a DVD.
"Cheese: A Connoisseur's Guide to the World's Best" by Max McCalman and David Gibbons (Clarkson Potter, $32.50) A lavish primer on everyone's new favorite food: how to choose it, how much to buy, where it's from and what makes it great, with seasonal notes and wine pairings. Every cheese gets its own page, with essay and details and a photo you can almost taste.
"Cucina Romana" by Sara Manuelli (Interlink Books , $29.95) Part food guide, part vicarious journey, but mainly a solid exploration of Italy's most distinctive urban cuisine, traditional and innovative.
"How to Cook Italian" by Giuliano Hazan (Scribner, $35) Maybe the world didn't need yet another pasta-to-tiramisu primer, but Marcella's son acquits himself by including dishes that don't turn up everywhere, particularly a zucchini casserole and a sausage-stuffed duck.
"India With Passion: Modern Regional Home Food" by Manju Malhi (Interlink Books, $35) A British food writer's lively and beautifully photographed guide to a cuisine that can be daunting but here is streamlined.
"Mangoes & Curry Leaves" by Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid (Artisan, $45) Beautiful photos, conversational text and accessible recipes transport you to India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Nepal.
"Moroccan Modern" by Hassan M'Souli (Interlink Books, $29.95) The chef of Out of Africa in Sydney, Australia, makes a persuasive case that \o7harissa\f7 and couscous can seem hip and new.
"The New Spanish Table" by Anya von Bremzen (Workman, $22.95, due by Thanksgiving) An admirable blending for anyone who finds Ferran Adria's wizardry (or mad science) a bit daunting and Penelope Casas' classics a little too familiar.
"The Silver Spoon" (Phaidon Press, $39.95) A dense collection of 2,000-some recipes translated from an Italian bestseller first published in 1950.
"True Tuscan" by Cesare Casella (Harper Collins, $24.95) A New York City chef's "flavors and memories" of his birthplace, heavy on the herbs but without all the cliches. The side notes on history are enlightening.
-- Regina Schrambling
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Sogliole in salsa picante (sole in piquant sauce)
Total time: 20 minutes
Note: From "The Silver Spoon" by the editors of Phaidon Press.
2 salted anchovies, heads
removed, cleaned and
filleted, soaked in cold water for 10 minutes and drained
4 sole, cleaned, trimmed and skinned
Flour for dusting
6 tablespoons ( 3/4 stick) butter, divided
Juice of 2 lemons, strained
2 tablespoons capers, drained and rinsed
2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1. Chop the anchovy fillets. Lightly dust the sole with flour. Melt half the butter in a skillet, add the sole and cook over medium heat until browned on both sides. Sprinkle with the lemon juice, transfer to a serving dish and keep warm.
2. Melt the remaining butter in a small pan, add the anchovies and capers and cook over medium heat 2 to 3 minutes to heat through, then pour over the fish. Sprinkle with the parsley and serve.