University of California Press, $39.95, 296 pages
Dedicated foodies and food snobs will most likely enjoy this volume, but for the average home cook, it is a waste of shelf space. The recipes are a collection of the last 25 years of Edward Behr’s food writing. “I am grounded in the cooking of France and Italy” sums up the kind of recipes you’ll find here – traditional French and Italian. A food writer and food historian, Behr introduces each recipe with lengthy head notes, many over a page long. These are good readings, interesting, and informative mostly for the food snobs.
Many recipes are reasonably simple, but most are quite involved, well beyond most home cooks’ interest. Instructions with each recipe are lengthy, more involved than necessary for the cook’s convenience. You must have easy access to a specialty food store and green grocer. If you don’t live in a major metropolitan area, forget it. Where else would you find fresh hyssop leaves, Belgian fruit beer, fresh sour cherries, or Nebbiola wine? Behr is very particular about most ingredients (“excellent fresh tasting olive oil”), ambiguous about others (“somewhat waxy potatoes”). Besides simple sketches, there are no illustrations. Recipe layout is only fair. Index is very good and well cross-referenced.