Here’s what doesn’t make sense: The season that gives us the biggest bang for our food bucks is the same one in which we attempt to flee the kitchen — all because of the heat? C’mon, people. Install a fan or become bakers and canners of the night. Learn how to wrangle a recipe by prepping in the cool of the morning or by placing a griddle on a gas grill for long simmers.
Because the cookbooks of summer will tempt you. They are handsome and charming and informative. They manage to offer blendings of flavors and cultures you might not have thought of on your own. I’d wager you’ll be inspired to make more than three recipes from any one of them.
These are listed in order of preference within their categories.
• Home Made Summer: by Yvette van Boven (Abrams; $35, 130 recipes). This pleasant collection of recipes lends a certain European sensibility to seasonal cooking, and it could be just the ticket for shaking up a standard rotation of grilled this-and-that with salads on the side. Look for carrot pie with apple and goat cheese; rolled up feta and garlic bread with radicchio and mint; and stuffed, marinated zucchini blossoms with lavender salt.
• Fresh Food Nation: Simple, Seasonal Recipes From America’s Farmers: by Martha Holmberg (Taunton Press; $22.95, 125 recipes). No reason to keep hounding your produce provider. This is a comprehensive self-help guide for the farmers-market community-supported-agriculture-member set, with mini profiles of CSA farms nationwide.
• A History of Food in 100 Recipes: by William Sitwell (Little, Brown; $35, 100 recipes). What food lovers will be reading at the beach; the format delivers culture in fascinating, digestible chunks. The inclusion of Rice Krispies’ Treats signals the absence of culinary snobbery.
• Smoke & Pickles: Recipes and Stories From a New Southern Kitchen: by Edward Lee (Artisan; $29.95, 130 recipes). I believe he can fry: The cheftestant we came to know as the Snarly One on Season 9 of Top Chef brings new ingredients and technique to the kitchen art that tends to scare off home cooks the most. His flavor combinations are compelling, and his tips read like a mentor’s blessings.
• Fresh Happy Tasty: An Adventure in 100 Recipes: by Jane Coxwell; $35). The adventure comes by way of the South African author’s work as a private chef to the yachted rich and famous — most recently, for power couple Diane von Furstenberg and Barry Diller. Seafood’s the largest chapter, naturally; recipes are written simply, with some techniques highlighted by process photos, such as cleaning squid.
• Bakeless Sweets: by Faith Durand (Stewart, Tabori & Chang; $29.95, 100 recipes). Those would be puddings, custards, mousses, individual jellies, icebox cakes and whipped-cream desserts. And I would be remiss not to mention the Salted Caramel Risotto. Many good variations on baked items, too, including brownies, Meyer lemon bars and creme brulee.
• T he Animal Farm Buttermilk Cookbook: Recipes and Reflections From a Small Vermont Dairy: by Diane St. Clair (Andrews McMeel; $27.99, 100 recipes). Recognize the author’s name? She supplies butter and buttermilk to the likes of chefs Thomas Keller and Barbara Lynch. The book’s small history lessons go down as smooth as a creamy, cold glass of the stuff in summertime. With this on the shelf, you’ll never again wonder what to do with the rest of a bottle.