Years ago, after my mother’s first glance at the kitchenette of my first rent-stabilized apartment, she quickly gifted me The New Basics Cookbook by Julee Rosso and Sheila Lukins. A very accomplished chef herself, she knew it was a manual all the culinary-handicapped children of my generation should be armed with as they leave their nests, lest they become fast food addicts or regulars of the processed food aisles of supermarkets everywhere.
I can actually remember looking up cooking times for making hard boiled eggs in my copy of The New Basics Cookbook. Who knew there are two ways to make hard boiled eggs? Rosso and Lukins do, and they shared it with the world between these covers.
Not only does this 849-page classic cookbook contain entry-level primers on the right pot for risotto to wine pairing with different pasta sauces to a quick primer on major olive types, but novices can quickly tackle more complicated efforts. The authors cover everything from Springtime Quiche to Enoki Saute to Chocolate Mousse. From cocktails to desserts, these ladies have you covered.
The book features two-color printing throughout, with line drawings featuring varying amount of stippling. Don’t look for insanely-detailed breakdowns and why young cooks need to do things when executing these recipes. Think more in terms of encyclopedia as opposed to novel. The authors cover anything and everything for a graduate student to knock out their roommates, or the newlywed who wants their spouse to be amazed at what he or she can do in the kitchen.
The book unfortunately relies on a little too much butter throughout, but this can be fixed by substituting with alternatives such as Jenn’s well-documented use of virgin coconut oil. Like any art, trends and tastes change, and we’d love to see a major update to this classic reference point reexamined with healthier choices. Even if you get a first edition of this book in a used bookshop, you won’t be disappointed. There’s plenty of healthy dishes and useful tables you’ll use for a long time.
It’s important to note that as with any early influence on young talent, the lessons Rosso and Lukins impart in this tome can stay with anyone, whether they move on to study at the Culinary Institute of America or simply make home cooked meals for their family for decades to come. Study The New Basics Cookbook and you’ll know how to make a decent pizza dough or a standard omelette for the rest of your life. Not a bad bunch of lessons to have in one place on your shelf which you can and will refer to for years to come.
If you were sending anyone into a kitchen to fend for themselves for the first time, this book is the one to arm them with. Jenn and I still turn to it when we’re stuck trying to remember some detail when we’re half-way through a classic dish. Keep a copy handy, give one to someone young and whom you love, as my mother did for me many years ago. They will thank you and remember the kitchen it came from.