Bunches of parsley, whole heads of garlic, handfuls of aromatics sweating in the pan. Bouquets of thyme; fistfuls of nutmeg and cloves, chilies and saffron. In this year's cookbooks, it's all about the seasonings — not the protein in the middle of the plate or even the sides and starches, but the invisible character actors who lurk in the background, unseen but quite impossible to ignore.
Of course, with 6,000 cookbooks published every year, any attempt to discern an annual theme is a little arbitrary. But — as a cookbook reviewer who sees at least 500 of them each year — I can assure you that the trend toward building fuller, deeper and stronger flavors has been on the rise for years.
So it comes as no surprise that there's a record catch of books emphasizing basic skills right now. Celebrity chefs and veteran cookbook authors alike are showcasing simple but powerful recipes that use kitchen arts to press the last mile of taste from a small list of ingredients.
As for ethnic cookbooks, learn to love your mortar and pestle (or at least press a coffee grinder into service), because amped-up, Indo-Chinese, Spice Road flavors are coming out in quantity for the season.
In previous years, we've seen comfort cookbooks, a blitz of entertaining books, even a massive outbreak of baking books after the Atkins backlash. But the good news about this year's emphasis on skills and seasoning is that the 2007 cookbook shelf has a stylish gift idea for everybody, from your grill-crazy carnivore of an uncle to your vegan massage therapist.
(You can print these titles, along with all our other year-end picks, using this master list.)