Catherine Phipps, guardian.co.uk, Updated: April 19, 2013 14:04 IST
An inspirational volume on preserving food, a gorgeous guide to pasta and some serious baking manuals complemented the familiar TV-promoted fare this year.
Jamie Oliver has done it again. For the second year running, his latest book, 15-Minute Meals, is occupying the No 1 slot on Amazon's best-selling list. He and the other big names in food (Nigel Slater is a few spots down) are helping cookery books outsell every other genre. Of course, all the best-selling food books are backed up by TV, but this doesn't stop them being good - I still rate just about everything brought out by the River Cottage empire (this year, Three Good Things) and I'm delighted that the gloriously stylish, eclectic Jerusalem also makes Amazon's top 15.
Baking books also dominate. This year I liked those with focus. Richard Bertinet's Pastry is pure masterclass, which offers much to those with baking experience. Gaitri Pagrach-Chandra's Sugar and Spice is as much about confectionery as baking and is a must for anyone who loves marzipan. I have also baked my way through Signe Johansen's Scandilicious Baking, which includes all those warmly spiced breads and pastries you would expect, but has plenty more for those without a sweet tooth.
The art of preserving food is really capturing everyone's imagination - to the extent that it could become the new baking. Easily my favourite book of the year is Diana Henry's Salt, Sugar, Smoke. It is not definitive or the most knowledgeable on preserving basics, but it is absolutely the most inspiring. I love the personal way in which it is written and the broad sweep of recipes, which show how each food culture puts a unique stamp on some fairly universal types of preserving. This book was years in the writing, and it shows.
I have no problem with Nigella Lawson's glamorous interpretation of Italian food, but I also want books on the Mediterranean with more authenticity. Claudia Roden's The Food of Spain is immaculately researched; the food is given proper cultural and historical context and the recipes are terrific. There is some overlap between it and Caroline Conran's similarly thoughtful Sud de France on the food of Languedoc, but both are worth buying. Sticking with southern Europe, I loved Polpo, but for something completely different, look at Maddalena Caruso's Love Italian Food. Caruso is ebullient and unashamedly unsubtle in her flavour combinations, and pulls it off - just. Finally, the most beautiful book of the year is for me The Art of Pasta, which also has some excellent pasta recipes as well as making me yearn for beechwood corzetti stamps, clearly designed for the cook who has everything.
Moving vaguely south-eastwards, Kaushy Patel's book on vegetarian Indian cooking is worth it for the flatbreads alone and I found myself cooking frequently from Fuchsia Dunlop's Every Grain of Rice. The commentary is fascinating and the recipes are simple, well-balanced and accessible. The same can be said for the pared-down recipes in Peter Gordon's Everyday. Flashes of trademark fusion sit with more personal dishes from his New Zealand childhood. It even had me enjoying tinned spaghetti for the first time in 25 years, thanks to some moreish white bread tartlets.
Tinned spaghetti was a childhood treat in our household, but mince was a staple. Josceline Dimbleby's Marvellous Meals with Mince is updated and extended from her original 1980s book for Sainsbury's but is still filled with dishes you will remember with nostalgia. We all (kids included) loved the blue cheese meatloaf, the piglet pie and the Atlas Mountain Soup.
Of the non-recipe food books, two stand out. Dorothy Hartley's Lost World is a chatty, pre-war Rural Rides full of minutiae. Bee Wilson's Consider the Fork traces a history of how we eat food via the implements we use to cook it. It's beautifully written and researched with interesting analysis - I love the section on measurements and a particular paragraph on the ways in which we make our morning coffee. Both of these books made me commit that cardinal sin of reading out passages to my ever-patient partner, just because I had to share.
Have I missed any gems?
A book about pasta was Catherine's choice for the most beautiful food book of the year. Photograph: Linda Nylind for the Guardian